Thursday, September 22, 2005

Guy Creese, Kathryn Laity, and Real Scholars

As regular readers know, I don't have internet access at home for this week, so when I'm at home, blogging is far from my mind. Last night, though, I suddenly found myself thinking about the gulf between academic disagreement and blogosphere flame wars.

Take, for example, the comments Guy Creese made about my post regarding his article. Now, I don't know Creese. Furthermore, my post was very critical of his article, citing it as an example of poor methodology. As of now, I still stand by my comments, primarily because his response to them seemed to be post ex facto reasoning -- though I reserve the right to change my mind and become convinced.

In most of the blogosphere, this exchange would have been a flame war instead, reading something like this:

Me: Guy Creese suxxors!
Guy: Nokes = Nazi
Me: Nokes rulz U! Woot!
Guy: IMHO Karl Rove and Cindy Sheehan conspired against me. And Nokes suxxors!

That's what I like about the academic corners of the blogosphere. The tone allows for pursuit of truth. Sure, we have our share of trolls lurking under the academic cyber-bridges, but we've also got some real scholars who know what discourse between scholars needs to be like.

Consider also Kathryn Laity. She and I have been working on editing a book of charm scholarship together for some time (and, as with all book projects, it remains behind schedule no matter how vigorously we harrass the contributors to get their stuff in on time). Now, Kate and I have views of the Anglo-Saxon charms that are seriously at odds with one another. Oh, we agree on many points, such as how much we hate Grattan & Singer and how important we think manuscript context is, but we disagree on a lot of substantive points, such as the role charm practitioners played and the relationship between Christianity and paganism depicted in the charms. So, why would I work with her?

Two reasons: First, she's hard working (I like that); and second, she's a real scholar. Scholarly discourse strenthens by being tested against these kinds of contentions. When I say something and Kate shakes her head and says, "No, I don't agree," that doesn't mark the beginning of a flame war -- that marks the beginning of a contest of ideas, where each position is tested against the others. Often there is no resolution, but real scholars aren't interested in Hollywood courtroom drama endings. We're interested in pursuing truth (or a construct of truth, depending).

So, here's praise for Creese, Laity, and all the other scholars who keep intellectual conflict alive without descending into slash-and-burn warfare.


  1. lvl 7 scholar lft: Nokes pwnt Guy's powerlvl grab! Guy's Haxxorz was teh suxxorz.

  2. Back atcha, Dr. Nokes. Belatedly (as is becoming usual during this semester of hurricanes and missed deadlines) I find your kind remarks and thank you. I really don't understand the climate of controversy that internet forums seem inevitably to spawn. I fear (and this is the teacher in me talking) that most often it derives from mis-reading or misinterpreting. But there is also an increasingly combative public arena which sees all debates in a closed dualism. I am right, so you must be wrong. Of course, we scholars do tend to find that there are truths rather than "truth" but who listens to us?