Why I Post Under a Pseudonym

Under a false name

Lately I’ve been leafing through the Penguin Classics version of Søren Kierkegaard’s Papers and Journals.  One of the major themes is his relationship to the pseudonyms under which he wrote.  For example, on page 204 we find this passage, dated 9 February 1846:

Up to now I’ve been of service by helping the pseudonyms to become authors.  What if I decided from now on to do in the form of criticism what little writing I can allow myself?  I’d then commit what I have to say to reviews in which my ideas developed out of some book or other, so that they could also be found in the book.  At least I’d escape being an author. 

I suppose my use of the pseudonym “Acilius,” together with the preponderance of “Periodicals Notes” and Quick Links here, is among other things a strategy to avoid becoming an author.  But that isn’t the whole story.  Returning to Kierkegaard, here is a passage from later in 1846, found on page 225 of the book:

The idea I expressed in my life to support the pseudonymous writings was in total consistency with them.  If, with such an enormous productivity, I had led a secluded, hidden life, seldom appearing in public and then with a serious mien as befits a thinker, a professor face, heaven help me!  All that crawls of silly girls, young students, and the like would have discovered that I was profound.  That would have been hugely inconsistent with my work.  But what care fools about consistency- and how many wise men are there in each generation? 

When I first read this bit two or three weeks ago, I had just been thinking about my reasons for blogging under a pseudonym.  Coming upon it helped me formulate three specific reasons.

First, I teach at a college.  Many of my students look me up on Google.  If I blogged under my real name, they would immediately find this site.  I already catch them spouting opinions which they take to be mine in an attempt to make points.  If I were to make hundreds of posts in which I give my opinions about virtually every possible subject so easy for them to find, I could expect to encounter that sort of thing every day. 

Second, I often tell little stories about people I know.  Since I use a pseudonym and do not identify these people, the reader cannot be expected to know who they are.  Even readers who know me and recognize the characters may find something of the detachment of fiction in a story published under a pseudonym.  If I were to use my real name, however, I would have an obligation to give the others a right to rebut what I have written about them. 

Third, I am not the sole author of this site.  Others post here, still others comment here.  Some of these are people who are connected to me in some identifiable way (for example, my wife) and who may occasionally make remarks here that they would not want to share with everyone in the world.  If I obscure my identity by using a pseudonym, those others may be able to preserve some measure of privacy.

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3 Comments

  1. Your comments found an attentive reader.

    I have been posting stuff pseudonymously for decades, maintaining blogs for the last four years. It’s been political mostly, and I put out hard to nourish a steady readership and commentariate. Lately, I’ve been less political. I sense a growing desire to become more known among my closer friends in the real world. I feel I am poised on the brink of the cliffs of Dover. If I place mistaken trust in confidentiality among certain friends in the real world, my cover will be blown, possibly without me really knowing about it. At first. And you can’t put the tooth paste back in the tube.

    I guess I feel that you may not hope for the best of both worlds: you can’t be both known and unknown. Isn’t blogging an exercise to enjoy writing as a process and as a private enjoyment? Shouldn’t that be enough?

  2. acilius

     /  August 15, 2010

    Thanks for the thoughtful remarks, Doc! It’s gratifying to have a readership and even more gratifying to have attentive commenters, but it’s rare that any writer can have both anonymity and a sizeable audience. So I agree that if you choose anonymity, you have to be content with writing for its own sake.

  3. A helpful consolation…

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