“His music defines his heart / His heart defines his music.” –David Dondero, “Simple Love”
One of the central challenges for a digital scholarly community is getting a line on one’s fellow participants. We might like to think that all that matters is the ideas—that such a community will be a heady interchange of deep thoughts that will be bandied about and evaluated and responded to entirely on their own merits, with no regard to who the people are who actually articulated them—but that’s just not the way it works. So a corollary to the question of how to build digital cohorts and academic communities is this: How do we grapple with issues of identity in distributed communities?
As writing scholars, we understand that both our words and our selves are heavily influenced by others. Burgess and Ivanic have explored how we construct and perceive “selves” in writing, and Ivanic has discussed how writers construct a “discoursal self” in their writing by pulling from a range of acceptable personae in, say, academic discourse. LeCourt and others have stressed that such identity construction is a performance for a particular context rather than a static, one-time event. Let’s apply those ideas to digital cohorts and academic communities.
It’s important to recognize that in a distributed community, we aren’t limited to words when we construct our identities. In this era of social media, we might incorporate images—even fanciful and fictitious ones, as Megan Mize demonstrates in her piece, or humorous ones, as Danielle Roach discusses. Another option is music. The mix-CD or shared playlist allows us to craft a work that explicitly incorporates others’ utterances in an identity performance. The mix becomes a physical, portable representation of the author. Similarly to how readers construct a picture of an article’s author as they read, listeners will construct a picture of us as they listen to our CDs.
This is not really a new concept. Anyone who has made a mix for a potential romantic partner, agonizing over song choice and order, understands that a mix represents much more than a collection of songs. Mixes represent who we are, what we think is important, what feelings and thoughts and worldviews we privilege. Including Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” connotes a different person than including Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.” And when we create mixes for someone else, we weigh and measure those connotations, because we know that our listener(s) will use the mix to get a sense of who we are.
Many members of our graduate cohort made mix-CDs for each other the first summer we all met. Although the stakes for creating a grad-school mix may not be quite as high as trying to impress that special someone, we should recognize that we constructed discoursal selves in ways similar to those explored by Ivanic. Her focus is how non-traditional students construct discoursal selves that are acceptable in academia. Grad school also has acceptable identities, and consciously or subconsciously, we probably tried to align ourselves with those identities. Here, for instance, is my track listing:
1) "Music is My Hot, Hot Sex" by CSS
2) "Going to Georgia" by the Mountain Goats
3) "Furr" by Blitzen Trapper
4) "Home" by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes
5) "Buy Nothing Day" by the Go! Team
6) "Boyfriend" by Best Coast
7) "Hey, Snow White" by Destroyer
8) "While You Wait for the Others" by Grizzly Bear (Feat. Michael Macdonald)
9) "Walking Far from Home" by Iron and Wine
10) "Catcher Song" by Great Lake Swimmers
11) "Skinny Love" by Bon Iver
12) "Acid Tongue" by Jenny Lewis
13) "Someone Great" by LCD Soundsystem
14) "Sleepless in Silver Lake" by Les Savy Fav
15) "I Wish I Knew Natalie Portman" by K-OS
16) "A Good Name" by Shad
17) "Ring of Fire" by Social Distortion
18) "The Righteous Path" by Drive-By Truckers
19) "No More Workhorse Blues" by Bonnie "Prince" Billy
So what does this track listing say about me? Almost none of these bands are on major labels. Canadian bands feature greater representation than one might expect, a fact which probably references my liberality. Most songs hail from the alternative genre, and there are also several songs in electronica and rap, but despite my Canadian bias, Nickleback is not included. Artistic merits aside, that probably shows an aversion to more commercially successful artists, and perhaps an aversion to commercialism in general.
There are references to “cool” classics (“Ring of Fire”) covered by a punk band, a cool actress who appears in both big-budget and edgy movies (Natalie Portman), uncool singers (ironic Michael MacDonald) doing cool things (singing with an alternative band), anti-capitalism, and sex. There is a conscious and marked absence of Top 40 or commercial pop. When you listen to it, you’ll hear a variety of musical styles, but a common thread is good songwriting, especially on a lyrical level.
You can tell by this mix that I’m an NPR-listening liberal who views commercialism with disdain, thinks of himself as a connoisseur, and eats granola. You can also hopefully tell that I have a sense of humor and am not too gloomy. This identity works pretty well with an English doctoral program, where most people tend to be liberal and skeptical of commercialism, think of themselves as outside of the mainstream, are convinced they think about things a little deeper than the average person, and focus on texts that have depth. However, not everyone likes granola.
Certainly, a music exchange isn’t a vital recipe for success when establishing a digital cohort. But all of us who hope to be members of such a community DO have to engage issues of identity construction as we strive to be accepted and to have our words and ideas matter.
Burgess, Amy and Roz Ivanic. “Writing and Being Written: Issues of Identity Across Timescales.”Written Communication 27 (2010): 228-255. Print.
Ivanic, Roz. Writing and Identity: The Discoursal Construction of Identity in Academic Writing. Philadelphia: Johns Benjamins, 1998.
LeCourt, Donna. "Performing Working-Class Identity in Composition: Toward a Pedagogy of Textual Practice." College English 69.1 (2006): 30-51. Print.