Benjamin Geer on Thu, 23 Aug 2007 02:28:00 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> personal life, impersonal writing

On 20/08/07, Kimberly De Vries <> wrote:
> I think we could all come up with lots of examples, but what shall we
> do about it?

I have a suggestion:

The legal concept of conflict of interest sometimes leads people to
disclose their personal connections with the subject matter that
they're writing about, e.g. when they write about their current or
former employers.

I'd like to suggest extending this practice to include emotional
connections to the subject matter. An example comes to mind, a book
I dimly remember reading many years ago on the Palestinian-Israeli
conflict. The writer was American and Jewish, and was clearly aware
that, because of his personal background, readers would expect
him to take a certain position on the conflict. Therefore, in the
introduction of the book, he candidly and self-mockingly described the
feelings and biases that his upbringing had given him concerning the
conflict, and how he had come to question and critique them in order
to be able to study the subject more fairly. When I read something
like this, I mentally thank the writer: now I know how to read his
book. Not only do I know which bias to look out for, I also have
an idea of the extent to which I need to make allowances for that
bias. (For example, I know I'm not dealing with a work of propaganda
disguised as scholarship.) In other words, this kind of personal
disclosure helps me decide to what extent I'm willing to trust the

When a writer doesn't disclose his personal feelings about the subject
matter, I find myself constantly reading between the lines in an
effort to identify those feelings. This can seem like a game of
hide-and-seek. Why not just come right out and tell readers what they
want to know?


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