Larval Subjects has been fairly successful in the 6 years that it has existed. It is now approaching 3 million visits. It grew to this size from about 100 visits a day. These days it receives about 2,500 hundred visits a day. How did that happen? I honestly don’t know. I do, however, have some hypotheses.
First, the don’ts.
1) Don’t be an academic. If your blog entries have footnotes you have a problem. Blog entries are not conference papers nor articles. They are meant to be occasional and an alternative to the tight suits of academia. If you have footnotes in your post, you’re basically saying that you accept the conference/article paradigm of interaction. You’ve missed the entire point. It’s one thing to put page number references in parentheses, but c’mon, are you so identified with the academy that you feel the need to use footnotes on a blog?
2) Don’t put your CV or course schedule on your blog. Again, this is a form of interacting outside SPEP and the APA. Again, if you do these sorts of things you’re just showing everyone you’re another academic suit that is much more concerned about what the major journals in your field think than about engaging in any sort of discussion. Don’t do that. If you feel compelled to do that, then do an anonymous blog.
3) Don’t be a dick. Okay, we’re all dicks on occasion, but if your blog posts mostly consist on denouncing others, talking about how wretched they are, how you’ve been wronged, etc., you’re really not worth reading. Rather, you’re just an unpleasant dick. Nobody wants to read someone who is consistently an unpleasant dick. If you’re always whining about how you’re wronged, that’s a problem. If you’re constantly bitching about how everyone else is wrong, that’s a problem. Don’t do that.
4) Abandon your scholarship at the door. Your audience has changed in this medium and your style has to change accordingly. You’re no longer writing for a journal that is devoted to your pet fetish like phenomenology, Deleuze, or pragmatism, nor are you presenting for conferences devoted to special topics. You’re writing for everyone, both inside and outside the academy. It’s one thing to be committed to a particular school of thought or discipline, it’s quite another to write for that discipline. If you want a large audience you need to speak for a large and diverse audience. This means explaining why particular questions are important and giving lots of examples.
5) Don’t be a pedant. This probably goes more for blog comments than posts, but it is a good rule of thumb across the board. If you find yourself lecturing and correcting, you’re a dick. It’s okay, we’re all dicks sometimes. It happens. But if you’re an academic and blogging and you find yourself trying to teach and lecture other academics at the graduate and professional level, you’re going to make enemies pretty quick. We didn’t go through all this education to have some idiot on the internets tell us about Kant’s categorical imperative or Aristotle’s four causes. Shove it. We’re not your students, we’re your equals.
1) Be a dick. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know this violates principle 3 above, but let’s face it, controversy sells. Part of the point of blogging is finding disgruntled dicks like yourself. The thing with disgruntled dicks is that they think they’re alone. By publicly articulating your dickishness you’re serving the very important public service of creating a community of dicks. You’re telling other dicks that they’re not alone. There’s a lot of ugliness and stupidity in the world. It’s important to express this so dicks can rise– pardon the pun –organize, and demolish this idiocy. The thing is that you just need to be careful about not being a dick when you’re a dick. It’s important to be a dick with style. Again, if you’re constantly insulting others, degrading them, spitting ad hominems at them, and whatnot, you’re being a cock, not a dick. Don’t be a cock.
2) Dare to be unoriginal. Sharing is caring. Your neurosis might tell you that you must be original on the order of Heidegger or Badiou, but it’s likely that the rest of the public just doesn’t care much about your brilliant insights. What they might value is your ability to explain difficult thinkers. Don’t forget that the fact that something seems obvious to you does not mean that it’s obvious to everyone else. Taking the time to really explain, say, Badiou’s account of the event is really appreciated by folks that have heard of him but who have not read him, or who have read him but who have not read him as thoroughly and extensively as you. Become a clear commentator on the thinkers you love. Disavow originality. Just articulate, share. Others will appreciate it. Besides, we can never anticipate being original, we only find out that we were original after the fact when others tell us. If there is any single reason Larval Subjects has been successful, it’s been that I’ve dared to be unoriginal. I’ve taken the time to explain points in Lacan, Deleuze, Hegel, Badiou, Luhmann, Meillassoux, and a host of others. I’ve given examples, illustrations, and outlined texts and arguments. I’ll repeat, I’ve given examples. All writing should contain copious examples. Folks who criticize me say “I’m unoriginal”. So be it. I’ll never know whether I’m original or not. I’m happy to be a radio tower conveying ideas from others so that they might become a bit more present in the world. I think it’s largely appreciated.
3) Link, link, link. If you want traffic to come to your blog, you need to link to other blogs. If someone says something interesting, share it on your blog and do a little commentary on it. It won’t always be returned, but increasingly you’ll earn the gratitude of other bloggers and you’ll attract more traffic to your blog. They might even link and comment on you.
4) Share, share, share. Discuss whatever you’re reading, even if it’s only a passing impression or quote. Others will appreciate being exposed to things they hadn’t come across and you’ll also be more likely to appear on search engines. Hopefully your motive is the former rather than the latter.
5) Be generous. This is hard and is a corollary of being a dick. Be generous to people. Interpret their remarks in the most forgiving and rationally charitable light until, after repeated exposure, they prove you wrong. Forgive them. Forget when they were asses. Who knows, they might have been drunk. At any rate, if you find a smart, well educated person making absurd claims, chances are your interpretation is the problem, not their claim. If you write a post or blog comment either attributing a stupid claim to them or trying to educate/correct them, you’re being a dick in the bad way. Generosity is a tough concept to define. What does it mean? I can only give a thumbnail sketch, but I think it minimally means these things. First, you begin with the premise that your intelocutor has good intentions. They aren’t out to get you. Second, it means that you begin with the premise that they have pretty good reasons for claiming what they claim. In other words, you don’t treat them as hostiles and don’t attribute stupid and ignorant claims to them. If they say something you find absurd, you begin with the premise that they are saying something other than you might have thought. This is, of course, a moving target. If your interlocutor is a known racist, for example, it’s okay to suspend this premise. If you have a repeated experience of “woodeness” with them, it’s also okay to give up on this premise. The point is that you start here and continue this premise as long as possible. You try to leave your prejudices at the door. That’s generosity.
6) Be genuine. Talk about your personal life– within limits –and what you really love: hiking, your dog, cooking, your child, documentaries, etc. If you’re a Derridean that delights in playing Xbox, chances are your relation to Xbox is more interesting than your thoughts about Derrida. Here is a place where you really have the chance to contribute something to academic and theoretical discussion. Theorize these things, talk about them, bring them into discussion. Others will value it. Don’t be ashamed of it. That’s part of what makes you the unique critter you are and what makes your blog worth reading. Don’t overdo it though. People are alienated in academia, they want an alternative space.
7) Dare to experiment. Did you see something worth thinking about at a performance art show? Talk about it and share it.
8) Be fragile and vulnerable. You aren’t superman. Express what wounds you, what’s hurt you, what you find painful and egregious. Yeah, you’re showing your weakness, but others have those weaknesses too. Often they’ll appreciate that.
9) Be willing to say you’re wrong and to grow as a result of your encounters. Nothing is worse than a person who always has to be right and who argues their position hell or high water. Cop your errors and build on them as theoretical opportunities.
10) Write often. If your blog only updates every few weeks, chances are you’ll lose your audience. Don’t be afraid to share every half-formed thought that occurs to you. You’ll benefit from the criticism of others.
11) Delete the comments of trolls and stalkers. There are a lot of sad people out there and you’ll never reach them. Just ignore them to the best of your ability.
12) Participate. Participate in discussions with others. This is one of the saddest things about one of my internet stalkers, CIP. Had he just participated and talked with others, had he been generous and hadn’t been a dick, he might have gotten what he wanted. Instead participation was beneath him. He thought it was enough to blog without interacting in the blogosphere with the work of others. If you want relationships with others you should generously interact with them. You shouldn’t demand. Your recognition of others will often be rewarded with recognition. Blogs are like gardens. You need to water them for them to grow. Some of that watering involves content and how you conduct yourself, some of it involves how you relate to others. If you want a successful blog, plant often and tend your garden.