Thursday, June 30, 2005

Anonymity and Pseudonymity

To my surprise, people have been discussing the Dark Cabal in blogs here and there, and the discussion is mostly about-- anonymity.
People seem to be mostly against it.
I'd rather discuss fiction, but since far too many of the discussions here end up with people commenting on anonymity, if I put it in a separate topic, at least we will have a rightful place for the discussion.
My thinking on the subject has very much evolved. The anonymous thing did seem sort of silly to me, at first. My initial thought was, what the hell, I'll go along, but I didn't really make much of an attempt to conceal my identity.
Now that the cabal is in motion, I am seeing that there are practical advantages to anonymity. I think that maybe the secret masters of the cabal really did have some clue.
Onyx posted, right up at the beginning, one motive: Onyx doesn't want to be sent books with the hope (by the sender) that the book might be talked up (or-- worse-- that the sender might be fishing for a Nebula recommendation).
Well, we all have reasons-- probably, we all have different reasons. That one doesn't ring my chimes.
I'm just about the opposite: I love books, and getting free books in the mail sounds like Christmas to me. Great, bring 'em on, send me more!
(but, chances are something like one in a million that I'd end up writing about it here, or rec it for a Nebula. My "To read" stack right now is about nine feet high, and my reading tastes are peculiar.)
I've noticed other advantages, though, to being pseudonymous. It does give some amount of unexpected freedom. Primarily, I am realizing that in normal life I self-censor a lot. Yes, that's right, I worry what people think about me. Yeah, I'm sure you're so high-minded, you never worry about what people think. Sure. So call me a coward.
Pseudonymously, I don't have to worry about what a friend might think if I write something less than glowing about his/her work. And editors, as well. Editors do read, and if I decide to dis a particular publication, or an editor's tastes, or publisher, well, under my own name I'd think twice about that. I might be trying to sell to that editor next month, and I'd probably think better of it, even if they deserve it.
Conversely, I don't have to worry that people are going to think I'm trying to suck up if I write a glowing review about a work, or about an editor.
As a psudonymous persona, I don't have to worry about expressing a controversial opinion. I don't have to worry that if people going to think I'm a Philistine if I criticize a writer who seems to be regarded as a god in the field (but whose fiction I find unreadable). I can express controversial political opinions, if I want, and not worry that people will think me a Neanderthal, nor weak-livered liberal scum. I can even express opinions that might get me fired at work, if that's what I happen to be thinking.
Overall, I have a lot of more freedom to write what I'm thinking, and not worry what other people are going to think of me.

Been Peek posted in his blog Livejournal posted a comment from the film director Paul Schrader when a member from the audience asked him why he didn't critique film any more. His reply: " You can't be a filmmaker and a critic at the same time. To fulfill either task, you have to be in the position where you're not worried about upsetting anyone.
Exactly.
So, those were my reasons for continuing to post pseudonymously. Maybe next week I'll think differently, and you won't see me around. Maybe you'll start seeing my real name (Kurt Vonnegut) posting here, and people will say, "what ever happened to that guy Johnny Dark, used to post here?"
If those reasons don't make sense, well, here's an alternate reason for anonymity.
We're setting up a cabal; a secret society, and if we're going to have a secret cabal, let's do it right, damn it! What kind of self-respecting secret society would it be if everybody knew who we are-- not a very secret one, now, is it? If we're going to have a cabal, masks and portentous names are de rigueur.
So there.
So, I'll say, fuck 'em if they can't take a joke. This is a spot where we came together to discuss fiction pseudonymously. If pseudonymity bothers people, they should have gone somewhere else, like here or here or here

I've been using the words anonymous and pseudonymous without a whole lot of distinction so far. As a final note, let me advocate for pseudonymity over anonymity. In some of the threads here, people have been taking advantage of the ability to post anonymously, with some degree of resulting confusion: one person made a reply directed at somebody who was posting as "anonymous," which was responded to by a different person who was posting as "anonymous," and both were somewhat confused with yet another person posting as "anonymous" -- purely for the sake of following the discussion, there's an advantage in using the "other" option to post-- you don't need to use your real name, but it's helpful if you do use a name.

P.S. My real name is not really Kurt Vonnegut. (It's John Updike.)
P.P.S. OK, it's really not John Updike either.

26 Comments:

Anonymous Tacky said...

My concern isn't that you're pseudonymous. My concern is that so far, your pseudonymity is being used not to make a stand against some of the politically entrenched rottenness of the SF/F world but to make fairly banal observations that don't really merit the level of drama you've attached to your secret cabal.

It's a bit of sound and fury, is all. If you'd come out swinging at the idiotic restrictions on Hard SF, or the stupid relationship between SF and F, or the crap that (Insert Major Publisher Name) is putting out these days, I'd be all behind the Dark Cabal. But right now, you're like the guy in the "Kids in the Hall" sketch who wears a mask and dares anyone to guess his secret identity while participating in a local racquetball league. Nobody cares what your names are, because you haven't done anything yet.

Maybe you've got really deep powerful stuff lined up, in which case this isn't a failure of concept but a failure of planning -- perhaps you should have gotten some really powerful stuff out the door on day one, prepping for it beforehand. But sitting in a dark corner shouting "Look at me! You can't see who I am! I can say anything! Oh, and, uh, the fiction market... boy, sure is some interesting stuff there, huh?" isn't making anybody think that this is a subversive yet powerful group of iconoclasts. It's making most people think "Wow, it's like the Singularity crit-blog, only more bland, and they're scared to use their real names while posting this crap."

1:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

johnny dark said, "So, I'll say, fuck 'em if they can't take a joke. This is a spot where we came together to discuss fiction pseudonymously."

I'd say my concern with this is doing it in public--online. If you want to discuss fiction using psuedonyms to hide your identities from one another, in a sort of private venue (like a club or list one has to join), that's one thing, where everyone plays by these rules. But you foregrounded it--and you aren't using pseudonyms, with each other, . You know who you are, right? You know that johnny dark is really___ etc.

It seems a rigged game.

1:59 PM  
Blogger Brickworks said...

that don't really merit the level of drama you've attached to your secret cabal.

That's the beautiful thing, we haven't attached any drama to it. Other people have been doing that for us.

2:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't worry--we weren't confusing you with Updike or Vonnegut.

Look, I don't want to be mean, and you may even be someone whose work I really like and who I admire as a person, but in this particular context, I do think you're acting in a cowardly manner. Plain and simple. If the atmosphere really is such that you *can't* express these very moderate and pretty much non-controversial thoughts and opinions under your own name...you'd be duty-bound to post them under your own name if you had any backbone at all.

The way you've gone about this is not only insulting to the community at large--in your supposition about who might or might not get offended (and about what) and in the clear message, even before you stated it, that you're worried about how not being anonymous might affect your careers--it's insulting to those writers, readers, and critics who do have the guts to not only express perhaps unpopular opinions, but to do so under their own names.

On the other hand, this is such a small community that eventually you will no longer be anonymous, if anyone even cares by that point. I mean, Onyx has already been revealed and I'd be willing to bet that some of those editors you're worried about already know who you are.

Some interesting discussions have been generated by this blog, and that's a good thing. But they would have been generated whether you were anonymous or not.

Jeff VanderMeer

2:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

johnny dark wrote "So, I'll say, fuck 'em if they can't take a joke."

Um...isn't part of the joke abusing people wearing funny masks? Including verbal masks? Isn't mocking you part of the game?

(And if not, why?)

2:37 PM  
Anonymous Tacky said...

"That's the beautiful thing, we haven't attached any drama to it. Other people have been doing that for us."

So this is a "non-dramatic super-secret DARK CABAL"? Really? Isn't that phrase an oxymoron, like "jumbo shrimp" or "gutsy anonymous blog post"?

2:39 PM  
Blogger David Moles said...

I agree with "anonymous" that reverse mockery is clearly part of the joke.

But I do have to ask: So how is this about me? Or rather, about us, where us is the SF world in general? I see a lot of arguments for why your pseudonymity is a good thing for you; I don't see many for why it's a good thing in general.

Put another way: It's clear why it's good for Bruce Wayne if he dresses up like a bat when he fights crime. (If he didn't dress up like a bat, he'd probably get arrested.) It's not as clear why it's good for society if Bruce Wayne dresses up like a bat when he fights crime. (In the real world, we have these things called "evidence" and "probable cause" and the Fourth Amendment, don'tcha know...) You haven't made a good case yet for why the SF world needs masked vigilantes.

And, while I don't think I feel as strongly about this as Jeff does, for heaven's sake, if you're going to dress up like a bat, at least do fight crime, know what I mean?

2:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And David's post leads to the inevitable "SF needs the Dark Cabal like the bat suit needed those damn rubber nipples!"

2:56 PM  
Blogger Safe Light said...

Okay, I'l admit the fake names were orginally my idea, and honest to god (while there were some rationalizations) it was mostly for a giggle.

I didn't expect it to piss folks off as much as it did, and it's been really interesting. There has been a lot of anger pointed at what is basically a set of interetsing but not earthshaking conversations. I don't think we're reformed the molecular structure of the genre here. Jeff's even taken us to task for not saying things that were more contoversial.

I mean we could come out with "The New Weird is a pointless exercise in imagery over character and content. China Meiville's work has everything it needs to be great except characters the reader can care for, a comprehensable plot line and a soul." but that seems if anything more an abuse of anonymity than trying to keep it civil.

So it's gotta be the masks and funny names (M&FN)

I'm still working on my read on that. I've got some opinions forming, but they aren't really cooked yet. It seems like M&FN are on some level an attack against folks who don't have 'em.

Also, Jeff said:

But they would have been generated whether you were anonymous or not.

I don't know that's true. I've got a blog running under my real name, and I've *never* seen this kind of traffic.

4:02 PM  
Blogger Johnny Dark said...

Safe Light wrote: I don't know that's true. I've got a blog running under my real name, and I've *never* seen this kind of traffic.

That's because you haven't had the benefit of the incisive & insightful (and even ineluctable) posts by me, Johnny Dark, on your real-name blog!

Now, if I only knew who you were, I would go trotting over and post,...

5:33 PM  
Blogger David Moles said...

I didn't expect it to piss folks off as much as it did, and it's been really interesting.

It's a really weird dynamic. I think if you'd just started posting stuff under a pseudonym, nobody would have complained. Part of what irritated people to begin with is that you made such a big deal about it. And also that in your case (as opposed, to, say, Fafblog's) it was clear from the beginning that there was a good chance you were someone we knew.

[Note that here and in later references when I say "you" what I probably really mean is "some Cabalist or another".]

There has been a lot of anger pointed at what is basically a set of interetsing but not earthshaking conversations. I don't think we're reformed the molecular structure of the genre here. Jeff's even taken us to task for not saying things that were more controversial.

Well, exactly. Making a lot of noise about how pseudonymity liberates you to say what you really think is naturally going to raise expectations that you're going to say something extra-interesting. It's no good dressing up like a bat and then calling in a noise complaint or an anonymous tip about aggressive panhandling.

I mean we could come out with "The New Weird is a pointless exercise in imagery over character and content. China Meiville's work has everything it needs to be great except characters the reader can care for, a comprehensable plot line and a soul." but that seems if anything more an abuse of anonymity than trying to keep it civil.

Well, look, sine ira et studio doesn't mean you can't criticize; it just means you shouldn't get personal. Can you make a good case for it? Can you say something about it that hasn't been said over and over again? Can you say something about it that doesn't make you look like Dave Truesdale, or like those wankers on the Asimov's and Night Shade boards who bitch about how SF was taken over in the 80s by fantasy-reading commie perverts? Can you say something that has been said over and over again, but in a new and entertaining way?

If you did, people might be arguing with you about your content rather than your presentation -- and surely that'd be preferable, wouldn't it?

9:15 PM  
Blogger David Moles said...

P.S. The New Weird is a pointless exercise in imagery over character and content is uncivil, yes. (Who are you -- hypothetically speaking -- to decide what's pointless?) But China Meiville's work has everything it needs to be great except characters the reader can care for, a comprehensable plot line and a soul is a fair criticism, and an issue on which reasonable people can disagree.

See? It's easier than you think.

9:18 PM  
Anonymous gwenda007 said...

I do hope you realize that in the tiny universe of SF top minds are working right now to figure out your identity -- and they will, if they haven't already. Pseudonymity hardly ever lasts forever.

(Just a reminder, y'know ... )

10:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the biggest problem is that being anonymous squelches debate. There will be people who won't post their opinions because they're afraid the members of the DC might shaft them later on career-wise, in some context, for expressing that contrary opinion. And never know it. It all feels like a power thing to me.

10:23 AM  
Blogger David Moles said...

There will be people who won't post their opinions because they're afraid the members of the DC might shaft them later on career-wise, in some context, for expressing that contrary opinion.

Then, um, why not post those opnions pseudonymously?

12:10 PM  
Blogger Safe Light said...

gwenda007 sez:

I do hope you realize that in the tiny universe of SF top minds are working right now to figure out your identity -- and they will, if they haven't already. Pseudonymity hardly ever lasts forever.

Hell, Tim Pratt knew who I was as soon a started yapping about gender issues. Apparently my rhetorical tags are... um... recognizable. [grin]

3:44 PM  
Blogger Safe Light said...

someone sez:

It all feels like a power thing to me.

Yeah, I can see that it does, but I can't quite figure why it does. I mean, if I was attaqcking folks in a way that I could not myself then be attacked, I grok that. But since we've been careful to be civil, the power thing is *just* the M&FN (which, as David pointed out, is actually available to anyone who wants to post to the joint too).

The whole project defeated my expectations. I figured we'd be pretty much ignored until (and if) we started saying things about individual peices and the converstion between the folks on the blog got going. That is to say, I thought that if folks read us, it would be in response to the content, not the context.

I called that one dead wrong.

3:54 PM  
Blogger David Moles said...

See, I go back and forth on which way the power dynamic works. Sure, you can say whatever you want and get away with it, more or less, but its rhetorical force is weakened by the knowledge that you're not willing to stand behind it in public. That gives the nymous an advantage, too, I think.

Really, though, I think the bitching about the names has burned itself out by now -- or would have if not for this post. (Arguing about anonymity and pseudonymity is so last week!)

4:10 PM  
Blogger Johnny Dark said...

Uh-oh! Jeff
VanderMeer has uncovered all the tentacles of the Dark Cabal, and illuminated them with -- gasp-- light!

He must be stopped, or he'll learn the true extend of Dark Cabal's multifarious interconnected plans to conquer the world for our Stygian masters, and foil all our plans! Quick, call out the minions!

11:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Masking can be productive, for both masker and community.

It seems, however, so far, the point of this particular concealment remains unclear.

Are the Cabal on the side of liberation, like the Mardi Gras Indian tribes testifying for their masculinity and lost culture(s) or on the side of the Ku Klux Klan, who, of course, were the anti-Mardi Gras Indian tribes?

Foxe

8:19 PM  
Blogger David Moles said...

I think they're more like Santo in Santo vs. the Vampire Women.

4:34 PM  
Blogger Safe Light said...

You say that like it's a bad thing. :)

11:24 AM  
Blogger David Moles said...

Nah, just that I think Foxe is barking up the wrong tree.

3:26 PM  
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