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Back in March, when I was using my lj as a sort of research and writing sandbox as is usual for that time of the semester, I was working on a paper about the Pardoner's relic trade in the Canterbury Tales.  When I was about 48 hours out from the due date, I discovered Robyn Malo's "The Pardoner's Relics..." in the Chaucer Review 43 (2008), and posted asking for thoughts and/or assistance with locating the sources she cited for an argument she made about relic classifications.  Some very helpful back-and-forth commenting ensued.  In one thread, I fired off a comment, which I forgot about as soon as I wrote it, saying that I thought Malo was "full of shit" on a particular point she made in her article.  I hereby retract that and any other statements I made in which I wittingly or unwittingly insinuated anything about Malo as a person.  There's a line between "I find an argument unconvincing" and "the author is full of shit," and it's not a very fine one, and I didn't just veer over - I leapt clean across.  That was a careless turn of phrase.  Sleep deprivation, end-of-term-research-frenzy, and a perhaps too-familiar and easy relationship with expletives are not good excuses for my thoughtless behavior.

After my livejournal-supported research frenzies are over, I usually go back and lock the posts in question, sometimes because my sandbox-flailing is embarrassing, sometimes because I paste links that savvy readers could ferret a university library subscription from, sometimes because the sandbox-flailing is going to end up being submitted for publication somewhere.  I try not to leave too much public that has much to do with my academic life, actually - I have never associated this blog with my real name or location, never treated it as an academic blog, rarely proofread anything I"ve posted here, and never written in it intending for my writing to be read by anyone who was not on my livejournal f-list (meaning it just never occurred to me that anybody who didn't know me might even want to read anything in it).  I'm obviously aware that unlocked posts can be read by anyone - it just never occurred to me there was much here worth reading for people who might wander by (though people who don't know me have occasionally gotten a kick out of my relating something funny my daughter has said about relics or hell-mouths).  I'm furthermore aware that very many people know my real name and location, either because they know me in face-to-face life, or they read my "academic blog" and trip over this one somehow and put two and two together because of public posts here, or because I've left enough public here for determined people to ferret things out.  I'm not saying this is some "airtight anonymous" thing.  My point is just that I try not to make it too terribly easy for, say, my students to find this blog, or for a future employer to find it and ask me why one of my livejournal interests is "particularlie elaborate synnes."

However, as I learned today, the post in question has indeed been read by people not on my livejournal f-list or otherwise engaged in the "comment conversation" as it was unfolding.  Thus, were I to go back and lock it now without addressing this issue, I would be compounding my thoughtlessness with cowardice.  I have never intended to be the kind of person who hides behind "internet anonymity" in order to say cruel and shitty things to people when I would not say those things with my name attached.  And that was not my intent here.

I'm making this retraction at the risk of making a mountain out of a molehill, but I want to give a little backstory on why this is a big deal to me even though I am always surprised when anybody in the "medieval blogging community" reads anything I post here.  A while back, somebody - I do not know the identity of this somebody - began a series of very public, very nasty, and very ad hominem attacks on several bloggers in the medieval blogging community, most pointedly, from what I saw, on JJ Cohen and Eileen Joy over at In The Middle.  If you're reading this and don't already know the story, you aren't likely to care about the details; if you're reading this and already know them, you likely know them better than I. The person in question was the author of the short-lived blog In The Medieval Muddle, IIRC, and not only left nasty attacks at In The Middle, but proceeded to leave nasty attacks at the blogs of people who were readers of In The Middle.  So I won't go into it all, except to say that the line between "I find your use of Deleuze unconvincing in this chapter" and "you are a pompous narcissistic windbag who is destroying medieval studies" (or whatever flavor of crap s/he was flinging that week) was not just crossed, but was leapt across.  This person or persons hid behind internet anonymity, not just to disagree with some scholars' approaches to medieval studies or reading of Beowulf or whatever, but to act so viciously and relentlessly and personally, and with so much hatred, that it was breathtaking -- and disturbing.  It was the kind of shit I'd put out a restraining order for, were it happening in face-to-face life, and is a very near-at-hand and relatively fresh example of why that anonymity stuff can be a problem, and why I'm writing this post right now.

I want none of that kind of thing, and it appalled me then, and it appalls me in general when anonymous bloggers, and anonymous readers, and anonymous anybody-elses, say things under cover of a screen name or in the absence of a name that they would not say otherwise.  I have a foul mouth on this blog, and often in real-life too, but I want to make it clear that my efforts to keep this blog separate from my "walking around identity" are not made in the service of having a hole to hide in when I want to say crappy and mean things about people. 

  I want to retract what I said about Robyn Malo being "full of shit" a) because I didn't mean it. What I meant was that I found her argument unconvincing, not that I had any opinion or any right to one about her personally at all; b) sometimes the stuff we disagree with the most is the stuff that gets us really going.  Disagreeing with Robyn Malo got me fired up enough to write nearly five pages picking at her argument in a single short sitting, and that is a burst of writing energy that I really ought to thank her for; c) I want to lock down my research sandbox posts now that the term is over, but I want to make it clear that I'm not in the business of sneaking around the internet leaving anonymous digs at people, and my efforts to keep this blog semi-anonymous are NOT efforts to protect me from having to face consequences of things I say; d) Whether or not I agreed with Malo's argument at that bit, she and I obviously have a lot in common in terms of research interests, and I am upset with myself for allowing the possibility that a careless livejournal comment could mean we may never have a friendly conversation one day (assuming I pass my comps and don't say hang it all and take up working in that knitting shop down the street instead of chasing down primary sources on relics).  So, Robyn Malo, if any of this ever gets back to you, please accept my retraction of any statement I made herein where you and excrement were in any way linked.  That was, er, well, shitty of me, and I apologize.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Jun. 11th, 2009 12:02 pm (UTC)
your retraction
Very courageous of you to post this, and I congratulate you. Robyn Malo, who I know personally, has a wicked sense of humor and can in no way be thought of as someone who would not take your comments here to heart and also, frankly, forgive you. I cannot speak for her but know her to be someone who is neither arrogant nor so wedded to her own ideas/writing that she wouldn't mind some give-and-take, and I assume she will appreciate your retraction. All of us, at some point in both our personal and professional lives, say things we wish we hadn't said. Owning up to that is half the battle. Cheers, Eileen Joy
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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