Thursday, December 20, 2007
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Monday, December 17, 2007
For those of you with grammar questions--or, for that matter, for those of you with grammar guilt--this is the place to go. Mignon Fogarty is an authority on the subject, and her posts and podcasts will tell you all you need to know about how to make your prose sing. What I especially appreciate is her sense of English as a living language, and thus her sensitivity to the history of its grammar. So, for example, my high school English teachers drilled the "never split infinitives" rule into my head ad nauseum, presumably because most had had the rule driven into their heads ad nauseum. Fogarty, however, explains that the rule is a hold-over from the world of Latin declensions, and that it's little more than a vestige in the English language. There are lots of other gems like this, so I'm grateful to my friend, Suzanne Enck-Wanzer, for turning me on to the site.
An anonymous commentator on my last post turned me on to this site. As a professor of media and cultural studies, I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't know about its existence beforehand. In a nutshell, SourceWatch is a wiki site dedicated "to produc[ing] a directory of the people, organizations and issues shaping the public agenda." In other words, it's dedicated to peeling back the layers of public information, in an effort to shine a light on all the public relations and advertising folks who are working behind the scenes. The site is a project undertaken by the Center for Media and Democracy and, of course, by its many contributors. (I just wonder how they keep all the PR mavens from spinning their own entries.)
The Century of the Self
This video was recommended to me by my friends Elaine Vautier and Timothy Roscoe. It's a four-part documentary directed by Adam Curtis, and it focuses on the history/uptake of psychoanalysis in the United States and Britain in 20th century. What's especially fascinating is to see how different approaches to psychoanalysis fell in and out of favor over time, and how the vicissitudes of the profession affected the way in which psychoanalytically-inclined press agents and advertisers imagined both their audiences and their work. The third installment is the most interesting to me, in that it charts the rise of the "empowered" self. There seem to me some fascinating connections to be made here to the rise of so-called "active audiences" in cultural studies.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
If that's not enough for you, you might want to subscribe to the SPARC Open Access email newsletter. You can do so by clicking here. The newsletter's a great way to stay up-to-date on the latest in the world of open access. This information is especially important, given recent initiatives by opponents of open access to roll back some of the gains O.A. advocates have made.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Did somebody say, "thinly veiled PR front?"
What struck me most about the story was this particular passage, which refers to "a lack of critical engagement with copyright issues at the university level and the result that students often don’t understand the logic behind prohibitions on illegal file sharing."
For my part, I can only imagine teaching about intellectual property critically, and trying to cultivate a critical sensibility in my students with respect to I.P. issues past, present, and future. Indeed most of the folks I know who teach about I.P. do exactly the same thing, trying their best to balance a healthy respect for the law with a recognition that, at least in some cases, I.P. law may well have been extended too far beyond the parameters set forth in the United States Constitution.
The question I'm left with is this: since when does "critical engagement" really mean "acquiescence?"
P.S. You can check out Siva Vaidhyanathan's (somewhat off-the-cuff) thoughts on the so-called Copyright Alliance by clicking here.
Sunday, December 09, 2007
No, not that end. I’m talking about the end of the semester, the time when everyone I know starts scurrying frantically to finish up projects and to take/administer exams before we finally get to recess for the holidays. For my part, the students in my graduate seminar on cultural studies are turning in papers this Monday, and my teaching assistants and I are administering a final exam in my undergraduate class on—get this—the very last time-slot on the very last day of final exams here at Indiana University. No one’s thrilled, but what can you do?
A recent blog post from one of my former students (and current TAs) reminded me of just how much writing angst emerges around this time of year. I thought it might be worthwhile, therefore, to share a bit of writing-related advice that I’ve accumulated over the years. Maybe it will help some of you, who find yourselves stuck, to break through whatever impasses are getting the better of you.
(1) “Just write…”
This piece of wisdom was given to me by one of my former mentors, John Nguyet Erni, while I was writing my undergraduate thesis. I had hit a roadblock and told him I couldn’t go on; my head was just empty, my creativity, tapped. He responded by telling me to “just write.” I subsequently learned an important lesson about myself as a writer: I often write best when I start with a writing “riff.” Instead of trying to begin by forming complete sentences, I often compose short, half-formed phrases that I subsequently develop. Just getting something down on paper sometimes can be the key.
(2) “There’s a problem…”
I inherited this little pearl from another one of my mentors, Lawrence Grossberg, when I asked him for his advice about what causes academic writers to block (I was blocked at the time—notice a pattern?). He told me that writing blocks often result from specific errors or problems that can be easily fixed. These have tended to take two forms in my experience. First, they can be organizational, as in when I include material in the body or conclusion of my paper-in-progress that really belongs in the introduction. Bad architecture makes bad buildings, as it were. Second, these problems can be research related. I’m embarrassed to say that on too many occasions I couldn’t write because I simply didn’t have sufficient data to write about. I know enough about myself as a writer now to recognize when this is happening, and so I get myself back to the library immediately.
(3) “Thank You…”
This one I picked up during my research on Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club. Long about the year 2000 or so, Ms. Winfrey invited author Andre Dubus III onto her TV show to talk about his novel House of Sand and Fog, which she’d selected for the Book Club. There, he mentioned having discovered the writing diary of his father, Andre Dubus II, who was also a novelist and who’d recently passed away. Whether Andre Dubus II had written six or six thousand words on any given day, he chronicled the number in his diary and unfailing appended two words thereafter: “thank you.” Being able to write anything was something to be grateful for, as far as Andre Dubus II was concerned. He never beat himself up about not having had a stellar writing day, every day. Instead, he focused on the positive aspects of what he actually managed to accomplish. I’ve learned from the Dubus’ that maintaining an affirmative disposition can help you to avoid writing paralysis.
(4) “It’s not f-----g Shakespeare!”
This one also comes from TV. A few years ago I watched the American Film Institute’s tribute to actor Sean Connery. During the show, Andy Garcia reflected on what he’d learned as a relatively young actor when he appeared with the veteran Connery in The Untouchables. In one scene, Garcia recalled, his character simply had to answer the telephone and utter a few utilitarian lines; thereafter, the scene was Connery’s. There was just one problem, though. Take after take, Garcia couldn’t get it right. He flubbed his lines several times and over-acted them even more. Frustrated, Connery finally turned to Garcia and shouted in that thick, Scottish brogue everyone’s so fond of imitating: “My god! It’s not f-----g Shakespeare!” Garcia apparently delivered the lines successfully on the very next take, having been relieved of the feeling that his small contribution was supposed to carry the whole scene.
There seems to me a useful parallel to be drawn here when it comes to writing. Sometimes, you just need to be a hack who gets through the unimportant stuff so that you can focus on the really significant material. Now, I know what you’re probably thinking: isn’t it all important? No, it’s not. Get over it, and get over yourself. The trick lies in figuring out when to linger on certain aspects of your prose and when to let other aspects go. But at the end of the day, you must remember: much, and perhaps most, of what you’re writing isn’t “Shakespeare.”
Thanks to my colleague John Lucaites for passing along the link. Share and enjoy!
Thursday, November 29, 2007
I'm still working out what to post where, or if I should just cross-post everything I write. In any case, rest assured that D&R won't be shutting down. And to that end, I thank all of you, dear readers, for your continuing support.
Monday, November 26, 2007
That's starting to change with Amazon.com's recent announcement of Kindle, its electronic reading device. It's been featured on the cover of last week's Newsweek and in stories by NPR; it's also whipped the technology wing of the blogosphere into something of a frenzy. (D&R is no exception here.) Suddenly, ebooks and e-reading are sexy again, the stuff of public commentary and conversation.
I'll be honest: having researched and written at length on the history and technology of ebooks, I'm skeptical of Kindle's possibilities for success. Every few years an ebook "revolution" seems to flare up, only to flame out shortly thereafter. Witness all the hoopla surrounding the Rocket Ebook and other such devices, which were touted in the late 1990s as the Next Big Thing. Where are they now, other than selling for pocket change on eBay?
Though I may not be optimistic about Kindle's future, there are a few significant differences that set it a part from earlier stand-alone e-reading devices. The most significant factor for me is probably Amazon.com, which is unusually well-positioned to market and sell the reader. But even more interesting to me is the careful messaging that's going on around Kindle. In contrast to many earlier forays into the realm of ebooks and e-reading, Kindle isn't being marketed as a replacement for printed books. Instead, media reports about the device, and indeed the marketing surrounding it, all speak reverentially about the smells, sounds, and textures of printed books. The Newsweek article I mentioned earlier even touted the printed book as having one of the best "interfaces" (to impose an anachronism) of all media hitherto created. Kindle's being sold not as a replacement for printed books, but rather as a supplement to them, or even as a way of augmenting them. This definitely shows signs of having learned from past mistakes.
Here are a couple of the rubs for me. First, Kindle can only hold 200 books. Now, that may sound like a lot, but at a time when iPods and other such devices can hold thousands of megabyte-consuming songs, couldn't the designers of Kindle have done better with what is, after all, mostly text? What's more disturbing to me, though, are the terms of service Kindle and many other ebook devices attempt to impose. Once you buy a book and download it to your Kindle, you're done--as in, you can't pass it on to anyone else due to embedded digital rights management technology. This "friendly" new e-reading device, like many digital technologies abounding today, is working actively, if quietly, to undermine the First Sale Doctrine. This basically says (among other things) that once someone has sold you some good, she or he is no longer at liberty to dictate to whom you can give or sell it. Kindle thus represents yet another salvo in the book publishing industry's ongoing war against the used and pass along book trades. Worse, now a major bookseller is in cahoots with the publishers.
I can understand why the book industry, as well as the Author's Guild and the sellers of new books, might be discomforted by the passing on and resale of books. None of these groups profits directly from the circulation of these objects in the after market. But I wonder: is it as simple as that? Does cutting off the ability to circulate books after their first sale really help authors and publishers? Or is this an unimaginative way of creating demand by manufacturing artificial conditions of scarcity, a way that neglects the degree to which informal and unauthorized economies of exchange actually can increase people's desire for at least some consumer goods? (Here I'll refer you to Yochai Benkler's The Wealth of Networks, which addresses these concerns more cogently and in more detail than I can here.)
All that to say, if you really want to revere the printed book (and I'm talking to you, Amazon.com), you need to respect its ability to circulate more or less freely and to create ebook devices that do the same. Lock down culture all you want. I'm not buying until I start seeing some keys.
Coming soon: my reflections on this little ditty from Amazon.com, which now appears on the page for a book I co-edited called Communication as...: Perspectives on Theory: "Upgrade this book for $9.19 more, and you can read, search, and annotate every page online. See details...." Sigh.
Friday, November 09, 2007
Differences and Repetitions began in many respects as a blog about the individual and collaborative writings of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. It's always been about more than that, of course, but many of my earliest readers/interlocutors were fellow admirers of their work. I'm writing now to propose an experiment involving those of you with an interest in Deleuze and Guattari, and those of you who might be intrigued to participate for other reasons.
I've just completed a draft of a short paper on Deleuze and Guattari, which I'm scheduled to present at the US National Communication Association convention next week in Chicago, Illinois. It's part of a panel organized by my friend and colleague, Mehdi Semati, on the theme, "Against Communication: On the Deleuzoguattarian Ethics of Refusal (to Communicate)." Here's the deal: each of the panelists has chosen a short passage from the duo's work that says something about communication. My selection, which comes from What Is Philosophy? is this: “We do not lack communication. On the contrary, we have too much of it. We lack creation. We lack resistance to the present” (108; emphasis in original). Our task is to explicate and complicate our respective passages, in the strong sense in which Deleuze uses those terms. "To seek the truth is to interpret, decipher, explicate," he writes in Proust and Signs. "But this 'explication' is identified with the development of the sign itself" (2000: 17).
This is where you come in. I've set up a page on wikidot.com, which, like Wikipedia, allows users to view, comment on, and edit the document I've drafted. You can access the paper by clicking here. You don't need to do anything special to edit it; no registration or login is required. All you need to do is click the "edit" box near the bottom of the page, and the rest is more or less self-explanatory. If you'd rather not actively edit, you're always welcome to read the paper and email comments/ responses to me: email@example.com. Alternatively, you can leave your comments here on D&R.
I'm interested in soliciting your input and collaboration for several reasons. For starters, I'd love some advance feedback on the piece before presenting it. But beyond that, having read Yochai Benkler's The Wealth of Networks, Henry Jenkins' Convergence Culture, and related materials, I find myself becoming increasingly interested in the creative possibilities of distributed peer production. Wikis and other such technologies seem to me commensurate, at least in principle, with Deleuze and Guattari's injunction from A Thousand Plateaus: "Write, form a rhizome..." (1987: 10). I thought it might be intriguing to try something like dissolving the speaking (or writing) subject in a piece ostensibly about "communication."
Anyone who contributes will, of course, get appropriately credited on the piece. I thank you in advance for your input and look forward to seeing how the essay shapes up.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
About a year ago, I posted a short piece on the State of Indiana's decision in early 2006 to adopt daylight savings time. For those of you who don't know, most of Indiana used to observe Eastern Standard Time all year round. Basically, this meant we spent half the year on Eastern Standard Time and the other half of the year on Central Daylight Time. If you're confused, join the club. Nobody ever seemed to know what time it was in Indiana, except maybe those of us actually living here.
For most of last year, I considered Indiana's move to observe daylight savings time a welcome one, since it put us on the same time year round as my friends and family living back east. There were other benefits that followed, too, since Indiana was now effectively the western edge of the Eastern time zone. The best part was how the daylight lasted deep into the evening. In summer, sunset occurred close to 10:00 p.m., and even in winter, daylight would linger until about 5:30 or 6:00 p.m. That was a far cry from when I lived in New Hampshire. There, sunset in December happened around 4:15 or 4:30 p.m.
Anyway, the U.S. Congress has gone and mucked it all up by extending daylight savings time by two weeks this year. Those who observe the time change set our clocks ahead one week earlier than normal this past April, and this coming weekend--one week later than normal--we'll set our clocks back. The result has been the incredible darkness we've lately been experiencing each morning here in Indiana. By the time we do set the clocks back, sunup won't happen until close to 8:15 a.m.
Let me tell you, it's hard getting out of bed when it's that dark, even when you know, rationally, that you normally get up at 7:30 a.m. or thereabouts.
Needless to say, I'm looking forward to the restoration the move back to Eastern Standard Time will bring. Regrettably, it's only a temporary respite. The days keep getting shorter until the third week in December, which means, just about then, sunup won't happen until 8:00 or 8:15 a.m. again.
Who knows? Maybe the old, two time zone system wasn't so bizarre after all....
Thursday, October 18, 2007
As it happens, the revelation I just had about my own work reminds me of a pearl of fortune cookie wisdom I received after dining at a local Chinese restaurant here in Bloomington. It reads: "It is harder to ask the right questions than to find answers to the wrong questions."
Indeed. And isn't that an almost a perfect description of the work cultural studies is supposed to do? It sort of reminds me of something my mentor and friend Larry Grossberg once said. To paraphrase roughly, if it seems too easy, you're probably not doing cultural studies.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Sigh. You can read Gil's full post here, as well as his follow-up. The AFSCME strike website has even more detailed information about the strike and the reasons why the U of MN clerical, technical, and health care workers decided they couldn't hold out any longer.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Anyway, I thought D&R readers might be interested in what the good folks at Collapse have been up to. They seem to be doing something quite engaging indeed, so please pass the word on to others who might be interested.
We are delighted to announce that COLLAPSE Volume III will be published in mid-October and is now available for advance purchase online at http://www.urbanomic.com/order.
Collapse Volume III: 'Unknown Deleuze' contains explorations of the work of Gilles Deleuze by pioneering thinkers in the fields of philosophy, aesthetics, music and architecture. In addition, we publish in this volume two previously untranslated texts by Deleuze himself, along with a fascinating piece of vintage science fiction from one of his more obscure influences. Finally, as an annex to Collapse Volume II, we also include a full transcription of the conference on 'Speculative Realism' held in London earlier this year.
Whilst books continue to appear at an alarming rate which claim to put Deleuze's thought 'to work' in diverse areas outside of philosophy, we submit, in this volume, that his philosophical thought itself still remains enigmatic, both in its detail and in its major themes. The contributors to this volume aim to clarify, from a variety of perspectives, Deleuze's contribution to philosophy: in what does his philosophical originality lie; what does he appropriate from other philosophers and how does he transform it? And how can the apparently disparate threads of his work to be 'integrated' – what is the precise nature of the constellation of the aesthetic, the conceptual and the political proposed by Gilles Deleuze, and what are the overarching problems in which the numerous philosophical concepts 'signed Deleuze' converge?
The volume includes two newly-translated articles by Gilles Deleuze along with contributions from Arnaud Villani, Thomas Duzer, Quentin Meillassoux, John Sellars, Éric Alliez & Jean-Claude Bonne, Haswell & Hecker, Robin Mackay, Mehrdad Iravanian, J.-H. Rosny the Elder, Graham Harman, Iain Hamilton Grant and Ray Brassier.
For anyone wanting to go right to the core of Deleuzian philosophy and to experience the challenge of Deleuze's thought, the articles collected in Collapse III will provide a virtually inexhaustible treasury of insights. As the featured authors shed light on this challenge from different points of view, they produce unexpected points of convergence, providing important resources for a more complete conceptual 'portrait' of Deleuze, and suggesting further lines of thought to be investigated. For anyone looking for an alternative to the emerging orthodoxy seemingly bent on broadcasting an 'image of Deleuzian thought', Collapse III provides a wide-ranging but uniformly rigorous and innovative survey of Gilles Deleuze's thought, and an illustration of the fact that, even if it is already fashionable to evoke a 'post-Deleuzian' era, we have not yet begun to draw the properly philosophical consequences of this thought.
– Mathesis, Science and Philosophy, written by a 21-year-old Gilles Deleuze, has never before appeared in print in English and is published in Collapse in a new translation. Written as an introduction to a 1946 republication of a 19th-century esoteric philosophical work by Dr Johann Malfatti de Montereggio, this text offers a fascinating glimpse, set in an unexpected context, into the themes of Deleuze's early work, as they emerge, in an already characteristically-dazzling style. Meanwhile, in the brief but illuminating 1981 interview with Arnaud Villani, Answers to a Series of Questions (also appearing here for the first time in English), Deleuze provides some tantalising intimations regarding the enduring concerns of his work over the years.
– In his own contribution to the volume, philosopher-poet Arnaud Villani (whose 1999 The Wasp and the Orchid was one of the first books to be published in France treating Deleuze's work as a whole) reflects on Deleuze's affirmation that he considered himself a 'pure metaphysician': what, precisely, does metaphysics mean for Deleuze? Through a sophisticated reading utilising the resources of aesthetics, poetics and philosophy, Villani not only defines the object of this metaphysics, but also shows clearly why it cannot be severed from its links with these other realms of thought, or from the question of the political or moral 'decision'.
– This allusion reminds us that an examination of Deleuze today would be unthinkable without reference to Alain Badiou's provocative Deleuze: The Clamor of Being, and in his article In Memoriam of Deleuze, Thomas Duzer undertakes, through a survey of the major axes of Deleuze's philosophy, to locate the precise nature of their now famous 'nonrelationship'; his defence emphasises that the positive features of Deleuze's thought cannot be reduced either to a 'phenomenology' or to Badiou's polemical opposite.
– In an exclusive translated extract from their new book Matisse-Thought: Portrait of the Artist as Hyperfauve, philosopher Éric Alliez (former student of Deleuze's and author of The Signature of the World) and art-historian Jean-Claude Bonne analyse the revolution inaugurated in painting by Matisse during his ‘Fauvist’ period of 1905-6, discovering that the rigorous 'quantitative' conception of the intensive which Matisse proposes allows not only a new understanding of the significance of Fauvism for his later work, but also clarifies and reaffirms the philosophical pertinence of a Nietzschean-Deleuzian thinking of intensity and extensity, the qualitative and the quantitative.
– On the basis of an examination of a 'fragment' from Deleuze and Guattari's What is Philosophy?, Quentin Meillassoux, in a philosophical tour de force, meticulously reconstructs the nature and the measure of Deleuzian 'immanence', proposing finally a 'subtractive' reading drawing on Bergson's Matter and Memory, allowing us to understand, step-by-step 'from the inside' the construction of that singular network of concepts found in Deleuze's work.
– Sound artists Russell Haswell and Florian Hecker contribute some strange and beautiful images taken from the electronic 'score' of their new sound work Blackest Ever Black, an 'introduction to synaesthesia' created using composer Iannis Xenakis's computerised UPIC system to transform contemporary images into sound. An accompanying text by Robin Mackay analyses the affinities between Xenakis's conception of a musical 'polyagogy' and Deleuze's 'transcendental empiricism'.
– Examining Deleuze's famous use of the supposedly Stoic theory of Chronos and Aîon in Logic of Sense, John Sellars (author of The Stoics and The Art of Living) examines just how much it owes to actual stoic theories of time, thus providing both a case-study in the Deleuzian 'ventriloquism' in the history of philosophy and an informative example of the 'stratigraphic' time in which, according to Deleuze, philosophy takes place.
– Iranian architect Mehrdad Iravanian constructs a 'graphitext' which, taking as its starting point a page from Deleuze's The Fold, undertakes a non-interpretative 'ex-pli-cation' of its content. Employing a hybrid methodology at once literal, textual and architectural, he brings to light structures secreted within the folds of the text itself.
– One of the many obscure 'personae' in the background of Deleuze's Difference and Repetition, the mysterious figure J.-H. Rosny the Elder not only supplied that work's repeated formula for the nature of intensity-as-difference, but, as both philosopher and pioneering science fiction author, was also a living embodiment of the notion that 'philosophy is a kind of science-fiction': in his astonishing 1895 tale Another World, appearing here in English for the very first time, Rosny evokes an alien world of abstract lifeforms intersecting with our own, and examines with philosophical acuity the process of bringing such unknown beings within the purview of scientific knowledge.
– As if all this were not enough ... Following the 'dossier' on Speculative Realism in the previous volume of Collapse, Volume III also includes a full transcription of the colloquium of the same name held at Goldsmith's University of London in April 2007 featuring presentations by Ray Brassier, Iain Hamilton Grant, Graham Harman and Quentin Meillassoux on the problems, and the promise, of this renewal of speculative philosophical thought. Running to well over 100 pages, this is an important and exciting document of contemporary philosophy in the making, proposing new conceptual approaches, exploring the borders between science and philosophy, and mining the history of thought for fresh insights into Nature, objectivity, and the legacy of 'correlationism'.
Advance online orders for Volume III are priced (including postage) £10 (UK) / £13 (Europe) / £16 (Elsewhere).
(Unfortunately a vastly increased page count, together with regular unpredictable postal rate rises, have necessitated an increase in price for this volume.)
***4-Volume subscriptions are also available online at a reduced price.***
Readers will shortly be able to download a preview of the introduction to Volume III from the website http://www.urbanomic.com/dl.php, where introductions to Vols I and II are already available.
Help us: if you are able to post a notice in your place of work or study, please download and print the flyer for Collapse Volume III from http://www.urbanomic.com/dl.php. We would also welcome and reciprocate all links into the Urbanomic website from blogs, etc. Finally, please forward this bulletin on to anyone you know who is not on our mailing list but who may be interested.
COLLAPSE Volume III
Paperback 115x175mm 515pp (TBC)
Limited Edition of 1000 numbered copies.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
As it happens, Kembrew also published a great op-ed piece in today's LA Times called, "Uri Geller's YouTube Takedown." As with all of Kembrew's work, it's at once insightful and painfully funny. The piece looks at how Uri Geller, everyone's favorite spoon-bending TV psychic from the 1970s, has been been using threats of copyright infringement to censor video that discredits his act. Definitely check it out--though Uri Geller fans, beware: you might want to keep a tissue or two handy to dab the tears.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
The all-you-can-eat packages of voice, video and Internet services offered by phone and cable companies may be convenient, but they represent a potentially significant threat to people's privacy.
Take, for example, Time Warner Cable, which has about 2 million customers in Southern California. The company offers a voice-video-Net package called "All the Best" for $89.85 for the first 12 months.
You can read more here.
Friday, September 14, 2007
The first of these stories spotlights James D. Jordan, President and Director of Columbia University Press. Last month, he courageously resigned from the Executive Council of the Association of American Publisher's Professional and Scholarly Publishing division. He did so, notably, because he opposed Prism and its efforts to restrict open-access to publicly funded scientific and medical research. If you're a Chronicle subscriber (unfortunately, the publication's not open-access), you can read the whole story here.
The second story ups the ante even more. Other university press officials and the Association for Research Libraries are speaking out publicly about how Prism misrepresents its constituency and makes erroneous claims about the nature of open-access journals. The story also recounts how some open-access supporters are beginning to resign from the editorial boards of journals whose publishers support Prism. Here's an excerpt:
Reactions to Prism have been widespread and vigorous, with some commentators calling for a boycott of the association. The news provoked one university-press director, Mike Rossner of Rockefeller University Press, to make a public request that a disclaimer be placed on the Prism Web site "indicating that the views presented on the site do not necessarily represent those of all members of the AAP." Mr. Rossner continued, "We at the Rockefeller University Press strongly disagree with the spin that has been placed on the issue of open access by Prism."
The Association of Research Libraries sent its members a talking-points memo, dated September 4, that deals with some of the arguments made on the Prism site. The librarians' group wrote that Prism "repeatedly conflates policies regarding access to federally funded research with hypothesized dire consequences ultimately resulting in the loss of any effective system of scholarly publishing. Many commentators agree that inaccuracies abound in the initiative's rhetoric."
One of those commentators, Tom Wilson, took his own advice that "academics should resign from editorial boards of journals published by the supporters of Prism": He posted an open letter on the Information Research Weblog announcing his resignation from the editorial board of the International Journal of Information Management. Mr. Wilson, a professor emeritus of information technology at the University of Sheffield, in England, was founding editor of that journal. He is also publisher and editor in chief of Information Research, an online, open-access scholarly journal.
There's much more to the story, of course. In any case, I hope you can see just how much momentum the effort to resist Prism seems to be gaining. What's especially encouraging, as I think I mentioned last time, is the fact that individuals and groups from across a whole range of fields and professions are joining together to support the cause.
The decisive battle has yet to be won on Capitol Hill, of course, and so the fight's long from over. But it's precisely this mobilization of pointed counter-arguments, coupled with a refusal to support publishers who actively oppose open-access, that must persist in the short term.
P.S. I have to give a shout-out once again to my friend Julie Bobay, the Director for Scholarly Communication Initiatives at the IU Libraries, for passing links to these stories on to me.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Well, on your second anniversary, in an effort to help the AFSCME strike here at the U of Minnesota, me and some folks from the people's confernece set up a website of daily media analysis: check us out: http://peoplesconference.blogspot.com/.
For more about the strike, you can check out this post from Gil Rodman's Revolution on a Stick and the ongoing commentary over at Socialism for Gunslingers, a blog authored by a great group of graduate students at the University of Minnesota.
And please...offer whatever support you can for the strike. The AFSCME is asking mainly for a cost of living adjustment commensurate with the cost of living. Sounds reasonable enough to me.
** An update from Ron who writes: "a key support website for the AFSCME Strike at the University of Minnesota is www.uworkers.org."
Monday, September 10, 2007
To celebrate the big event, I've made some changes here at D&R. They're mostly cosmetic, though some are designed to make the site more participatory and interactive for all you readers. The changes were facilitated by my switching over at long last to the new Blogger template system, which I should have done a year ago. (I was frightened off by the prospect of losing all of my existing template modifications.) The switch allowed me to introduce a more user-friendly archiving system, display an index of tags for simpler cross-referencing, and update my site syndication link to one that's more encompassing. On the downside, the formatting on some of my older posts has been rendered somewhat haphazardly, though everything, thankfully, is still entirely readable.
The biggest change, though, are the "DIGG IT" tags you'll see next to each of my posts. (And I owe a shout-out here to Lawrence Lessig, on whose blog I first discovered how cool it is to digg.) If you like what I've written, feel free not only to comment, but also to "DIGG IT." Clicking the tag will redirect you to digg.com. This in turn will give you an opportunity to share my post with the larger, Digg community, allow the good folks there to vote on its worth, and potentially introduce a broader readership to something you found on D&R. And don't worry--it may sound complicated, but it's all really simple.
Thanks, everyone, for celebrating two years of my musings and for contributing your thoughts and perspectives to D&R. Here's to you!
Friday, September 07, 2007
CULTURE MACHINE 9 (2007)
Edited by Paul Hegarty and Gary Genosko
The latest issue of Culture Machine asks: What is the current state of aural art media in ‘an era of digital reproduction’?
Contributors to ‘Recordings’ consider the residues of technologies, the anachronisms, the failures, the less-than-excellent, the dated, the outmoded, and even the yet-to-work. Taking into account the material (or dematerialised) art object, they also ask about collecting cultures, recycling, destroyed and broken media (the TV thrown from the window… ), new broadcast media, turntablism, noise, radio and its avatars, podcasting, any casting, the range of material ‘supports’ (vinyl, the 8 track, betamax, different audio files).
Has the digital and informational swamped the world in a mass encoded simulation? What and where are the resistances? Are they within or outside of the digital? In the junk heap of analogue machines? In Ebay dreams? What are the material forms/formats that offer critical models, avant-gardism, metacommentary and so on? What is the status of the art commodity, non-commodity or hypercommodity?
The ‘Recordings’ issue features:
Plus, new in Culture Machine's InterZone:
CONTRIBUTING TO CULTURE MACHINE
Culture Machine publishes new work from both established figures and up-and-coming writers. It is fully refereed, and has an International Advisory Board which includes Geoffrey Bennington, Robert Bernasconi, Sue Golding, Lawrence Grossberg, Peggy Kamuf, Alphonso Lingis, Meaghan Morris, Paul Patton, Mark Poster, Avital Ronell Nicholas Royle, Tadeusz Slawek and Kenneth Surin.
Culture Machine welcomes original, unpublished submissions on any aspect of culture and theory. All contributions to Culture Machine are refereed anonymously. Anyone with material they wish to submit for publication is invited to contact:
Culture Machine c/o Dave Boothroyd and Gary Hall
e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
All contributions will be peer-reviewed; all correspondence will be responded to.
ABOUT CULTURE MACHINE
Culture Machine is an umbrella term for a series of experiments in culture and theory.
The Culture Machine journal: ttp://www.culturemachine.net
Culture Machine Reviews: http://culturemachine.tees.ac.uk/bk_rev.htm
Culture Machine InterZone: http://culturemachine.tees.ac.uk/InterZone/index.htm
The Culture Machine book series, published by Berg, and including:
The Culture Machine open access archive, CSeARCH: http://www.culturemachine.net/csearch
For more information, visit the Culture Machine site at: http://www.culturemachine.net
Dr Gary Hall
Co-editor of Culture Machine http://www.culturemachine.net
Director of the Cultural Studies Open Access Archive, http://www.culturemachine.net/csearch
My website http://www.garyhall.info
Sunday, September 02, 2007
In the interregnum, I've been doing my best to stay on top of trends in this no-longer-so-small corner of the academic publishing universe. (It's a multi-billion dollar industry, in case you didn't know.) And I've been fortunate in this regard that Julie Bobay, a colleague of mine at IU and Director for Scholarly Communication Initiatives, has put me on her mailing list. A week or so ago she sent me a copy of this Washington Post article, which reports on an organization called Prism. Its job? To fight open-access journal publishing, beginning in medicine and the sciences.
For those who don't know, open access refers to a range of publishing initiatives, all of which are designed to make knowledge cheaper and more readily available to researchers and the public at large. In some cases publications may be made freely available on a website; in others, they may be placed into sophisticated digital repositories, where they're not only made accessible, but they're also massively cross-referenced with other published research. In most cases, open access tends to respect authors' and users' rights better than the scholarly publishing industry. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
The case for open access is especially--though by no means uniquely--acute where the research in question has been funded by public money. Consider this: a state university (for example) may subsidize a given professor's research. She or he is then expected to sign away key rights (e.g., copyright, translations rights, electronic publishing rights, terms of access, etc.) to whatever press has agreed to publish journal articles related to this work. The university then will essentially have to buy back that research, typically in the form of a high-priced journal subscription. Now, this isn't to suggest that traditional academic journal publishers don't add significant value to the work they produce. They do. But it is an odd situation, don't you think, when universities and other institutions are expected to pay for their employees' research on both the front and the back ends?
Prism apparently is a none-too-thinly-veiled public relations front for the Association of American Publishers (AAP), whose aim is to convince scholars, administrators, and especially government officials that cheap and accessible knowledge is a very bad thing. You'll see from Prism's website (if you care to go there) that it's "on message" and fairly, if predictably, astute from a rhetorical perspective. I say "predictably," because one of its main tropes against open access is the tired old saw, "big government." One of the organization's main aims is to convince you, or whoever cares to listen, that open access portends government control, and worse yet censorship, of published research; it also claims that the established publishing industry, and only the established publishing industry, can safeguard the rigorous peer review standards that help give published research its legitimacy.
I won't refute Prism's arguments here. That work is already well underway elsewhere. For now, I merely want to point out one significant danger that Prism poses: it has the ear of the US government. The AAP is headed by Pat Schroeder, a former US Congresswoman, who no doubt was hired because of her contacts in Washington. The Prism website also has lots of nifty wizards that make it easy for you, dear reader, to generate emails and letters to send to your Congressional representatives, proclaiming the evils of open access publishing.
I take comfort in the fact that librarians, scientists, doctors, mathematicians, and others outside of the humanities are rather well-organized in opposing Prism and what the organization stands for. It's my sincere hope that more scholars in the humanities will become aware of the issues, realize they affect us as well, and sign on to this important cause.
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
The summer was a reasonably productive one, as I'm sure readers of D&R already know. When I wasn't writing, reading, prepping for fall classes, or traveling, I spent a good deal of time watching reality TV. It seems as though that's becoming an annual occurrence for me, as one of my posts from last summer attests and as my colleague, Jon Simons, reminded me today during one of our orientation sessions. This year I got sucked into two cooking competitions, Fox's Hell's Kitchen and Bravo's Top Chef, in addition to On the Lot (a competition to become a feature film director) and So You Think You Can Dance. (Yes...I watched So You Think You Can Dance. Snicker all you want.)
Most of these shows wrapped within the last week, and so with a little critical distance under my belt, I'm moved to reflect on their significance as a genre. I'm especially intrigued with shows like On the Lot and So You Think You Can Dance, both of which, like American Idol (Pop Idol for my readers from across the Pond), base their weekly contestant eliminations on audience call-ins, text messaging, and internet voting.
This is marketing research, and a clever form of it at that. It's so clever that rather than costing money, it actually generates income for show producers who subsequently sell the already-proven skills of the contest winner in the form of CDs, music downloads, movies--you name it. Think about it for a moment. Rather than someone from some random opinion-polling firm calling you up during dinner, bothering you with questions about whether you'd prefer to see this or that type of film, TV program, or performing artist, viewers contact these shows of their (our) own volition to provide essentially this type of information. We do it en masse. Now, this isn't perfect research, to be sure. People typically can vote as often as they'd like within an allotted period of time. But even so, what's essentially happening is that the unsexy drudge-work that used to be hidden away in mass culture's "back office" (i.e., opinion polling) now is emerging front-and-center as a key aspect of the entertainment value of these shows. And of course, it's never called "opinion polling" or "market research." In good "democratic" spirit, these shows always stress audience interactivity and empowerment. (I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard Ryan Seacrest proclaim, "America voted, and here are the results....")
All this is part of a larger set of trends. From bar codes becoming things that people other than cashiers now pay close attention to, to the widespread, public testing of "beta" versions of products and more, the boundaries between what used to be called "production" and "consumption" are increasingly fuzzy. And oftentimes, it seems, this fuzziness provides not only for a richer, more potentially informed and interactive relationship with TV programs and other cultural consumables; it also opens up weekly, hour-long opportunities to test-market products in front of millions of viewers.
Focus groups are just sooooo 20th century, aren't they?
Monday, August 06, 2007
Overall, the conference was a good show. Anything with a keynote by Stuart Hall is bound to be excellent, as far as I'm concerned. I also enjoyed the plenary sessions featuring Kuan-Hsing Chen, who talked about "Asia as Method," and Ien Ang, who offered a provocative reflection on where cultural studies might be headed. I regret having missed Rosi Braidotti, though I'd never been to London before and, well, London was calling. The panels I attended generally were quite good, and for my part I was pleased to present my work-in-progress on cultural studies and the politics of academic journal publishing. Gil "Revolution on Stick" Rodman and Melissa "Home Cooked Theory" Gregg have posted their thoughts on the conference, so you might want to check out their responses, too.
As you can see from the subject header, this post isn't really about London, or about "Cultural Studies Now." It's about the side-trip I made after the conference to Paris, France. It's an amazing city, and it's long been a dream of mine to go there. I wasn't disappointed. The art museums, the food, the architecture, the people, the language--it's just a remarkable place. I'll have to go back sometime soon...and maybe next time my near non-existent French will be a bit more existent.
Last year, when I traveled to Italy, I made a point of swinging by Rome's Protestant Cemetery, where the Marxist activist and political theorist Antonio Gramsci is interred. In the same spirit I tried tracking down the burial sites of some of my favorite French philosophers before heading to Paris. Unfortunately, I didn't get very far. Michel Foucault apparently is buried somewhere in northern France, Jacques Derrida in a Parisian suburb. Félix Guattari may be interred at La Borde Clinic, where he worked, and who knows where Gilles Deleuze is?
Anyway, I did discover that France, unlike the United States, cares a great deal about its intellectuals. As such, the country has a habit of naming public places after the most prominent among them. I visited two such spots. The first was the Place Sartre-Beauvoir, which is a good-sized square located off the Boulevard Saint-Germain. There I had coffee at Les Deux Magots, which, along with Cafe de Flore, was one of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir's favorite hangouts back in the day. I also dropped by the College de France, where I had the pleasure of stumbling across the Square Michel Foucault. I'm sure there must have been other, similar sites that I missed. Even so, it was a treat just to find these two. Both seemed to embody how people and their ideas can matter.
P.S. This is post #100 on Differences & Repetitions. Thanks to all for your readership, comments, and encouragement.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Now, to all you Potter fans out there, you can rest assured that I'm not going to spoil any of the secrets. I like the books myself and respect your love of the series too much to do that. And to those of you who are hoping I'll spill the beans, sorry. You'll have to go elsewhere for that. My point in writing is to comment a bit on the Harry Potter security phenomenon. I talk about this at length in my upcoming book, The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control, which includes a chapter called "Harry Potter and the Culture of the Copy." Here I'll make just a few offhanded observations.
First, I take this security meltdown, and those preceding the release of the previous two Potter installments, as an effect of what in The Late Age of Print I call "the mass production of scarcity." Think about it: 12 million copies of Deathly Hallows have been printed in the U.S. alone. By now they're in bookstores all over the country, doing absolutely nothing as they sit locked away in stock rooms...other than generating hype.
Since Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the boy wizard's publishers have been enforcing what the book industry calls "global lay-down dates," which, the publishers say, ensure that the books' surprises remain sacrosanct. Clearly, they don't. Even so, global lay-down dates do perform a kind of magic: they make Harry Potter, a mass-produced commodity if there ever was one, disappear despite his sheer ubiquity. And as anyone who's taken Business 101 will tell you, scarcity tends to augment demand.
My second observation pertains to the fact that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows made its way online in the form of digital photographs rather than, say, scans. The folks over at PC World have noted that, in doing so, the culprit may well have inadvertently revealed her or his identity:
In an interesting development it appears that the person who took the pictures of the book left his camera meta info attached to the image files. This is significant because with the camera meta data you can extrapolate the serial number of the camera. And with that information and time authorities could track down who took the pictures.Little did I--someone who studies digital culture--know that digital photos contain this kind of personal information. I suppose it's naive of me not to have realized this, since privacy is nothing if not compromised online. In the end, what a cautionary tale it will be if the pernicious Potter pilferer is apprehended because of the digital trace she or he has left behind.
And finally, despite most, if not all, of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows' secrets already having been revealed, I have nothing but confidence that all 12 million copies of the book will eventually sell--and then some.
Monday, July 16, 2007
The book, in a nutshell, is about two types of "code": what Lessig calls "East Coast code," or law, and "West Coast code," or the algorithms that make computers and other digital technologies work. There's too much depth and subtlety for me to do justice to the argument, but suffice it to say that Lessig's interested in the ways in which both types of code are (or can be) used to regulate digital environments. He seems most anxious about the increasing use of "West Coast code," since it tends to be private/proprietary and therefore exists significantly outside of democratic process. (And here, there's an obvious resonance with my own rants about digital rights management [DRM] technology.)
It occurred to me in reading Code v2.0 just how ill-equipped the American citizenry (myself included) is when it comes to living in the world Lessig describes. I gather that the vast majority of computer classes taught these days are geared toward basic "computer literacy." This I take to mean general instruction in how to run major commercial applications such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and others. More advanced training in actual programming tends to occur in the realm of post-secondary education, and only then with a small, largely self-selected group.
Now, don't get me wrong. I don't think learning how to run major commercial applications is a problem per se. What is a problem, though, is that most of us knows next to nothing about what goes on "behind" the windows we see. Really, these windows are also screens, because they hide at least as much as they reveal. Put differently, most of us at best have only a basic working knowledge of West Coast code. And given all the ways in which, as Lessig shows, this type of code is coming to regulate our lives--quietly in the background, as it were--we need to know much, much more about how it works, and about how to manipulate it, in order to become a better informed citizenry.
I'm not saying that all we need to do is to become computer programmers in order to be better citizens. I don't buy the "netizen" argument, and I haven't fallen under the spell of The Matrix trilogy that much. I am saying that computer programming ought to be a primary subject taught in our schools, just like math, science, foreign languages, and social studies. It's not just a practical skill anymore. Increasingly, it's a matter of civic responsibility.
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
A couple of parts stood out most to me. The first revolved around a young man who, after receiving a cancer diagnosis, returned to his native France for treatment after living for a decade or so in the United States. Upon completing chemotherapy, the man's doctor asked him how much time he wanted off from work. This type of leave is customary in France, I gather, and it's 100% paid (65% by the government, 35% by one's employer). The young man decided to spend his time convalescing on the beaches in the South of France.
Now, the story itself wasn't what jumped out at me per se (though it's always profound when someone shares a story about her or his struggle with cancer). What did jump out was my own reaction; initially, I felt myself scoffing at the man's decision to spend three subsidized months relaxing in the South of France. Shouldn't he just get back to work, I wondered? Wasn't that an abuse of the system? It was at that moment that I realized just how engrained American health care ideology and moralism have become, even in me--someone who bends Left and who therefore ought to know better. I mean, c'mon...isn't it sensible to give someone a little bit of time off to gather strength and regroup, especially after having to fight the fight of one's life?
What also struck me most about Sicko was one particular line. I don't recall now who uttered it, but basically, it went something like this: "In the United States, the people are afraid of the government. Elsewhere, the government is afraid of the people." Now, I realize this must be something of an over-statement. Yet, it does cut right to the heart of why (a) people in the U.S. feel so disempowered politically, and (b) why the government can get away with so many abuses of civil liberties and the like. This is especially true under the current administration.
In the spirit of Sicko, I'll share one health care "horror" story of my own. Thankfully it didn't affect me directly, but it's shameful nonetheless. A dispute involving doctors at my local hospital and my insurance company resulted in the latter refusing to cover hospitalizations here in Bloomington, albeit with some exceptions (e.g., pregnancy). Their dispute dragged on and on for months. The bottom line was that each party's greed resulted in people like me essentially losing coverage at our local hospital. I can't imagine what I would have had to do in the event of an emergency, or if I had become ill. I suppose I would have had to drive 40 miles to the next closest "in-network" hospital.
All that to say, those of us living in the United States not only need to see Sicko, but more importantly, we need to change this broken health care system of ours. It can work more or less well, sometimes, but too often it's a disgrace.
Friday, June 29, 2007
Now, I haven't had sufficient time to review the case or the decision closely, but according to The New York Times: "The Supreme Court on Thursday [June 28th] abandoned a 96-year-old ban on manufacturers and retailers setting price floors for products. In a 5-4 decision, the court said that agreements on minimum prices are legal if they promote competition. The ruling means that accusations of minimum pricing pacts will be evaluated case by case."
A few reactions:
Back in September, I posted my thoughts on the film, V for Vendetta. I speculated there on how the movie and its reception might suggest not the end of cultural politics per se. They may, however, register something like a shift away from the prominence cultural politics enjoyed in the decades both immediately preceding and following the Second World War. Leegin v. PSKS, like V for Vendetta, only underscores that point. Our relationship to consumerism and culture are becoming more and more tenuous--juridically, economically, and technologically. Thus, it's becoming increasingly difficult for people like you and me to marshal the kinds of resources that have long made cultural politics possible. It also suggests that, in order to effect meaningful change these days, we might well need to direct more of our political energy beyond the realm of culture.
Friday, June 15, 2007
I loved McKenzie Wark's A Hacker Manifesto (Harvard U.P., 2004), and so I was thrilled to pick up Gamer Theory (Harvard U.P., 2007) at the Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa this past April. I wasn't disappointed. Though perhaps a tad uneven compared to Hacker, Gamer Theory is definitely worth reading if you're interested in everyday life, digital (and non-digital) gaming, and what it may be like to live in what Gilles Deleuze has called "a society of control." (This is a theme I develop in my forthcoming book, by the way.)
I met Alex Galloway, author of Protocol: How Control Exists After Decentralization (MIT Press, 2004), when we were graduate students (he at Duke, me at nearby UNC-Chapel Hill). At the time I didn't really know what he was working on, so I became intrigued when I ran across Protocol about a year or two ago. I knew I'd like it, but I just never had the time to read it--until now. It's a gem. Not only is it an insightful elaboration of how control works in contemporary networked societies, but it's smart about the technical aspects of computer programming and networking. I'd describe it as a "must read" for those interested in new/technology studies.
Friedrich A. Kittler's Discourse Networks, 1800/1900 (Stanford U.P., 1990) is a book that's been in my library for some years now. I've only just begun reading it, so I don't have a whole lot to say at the moment--except that I should have read Discourse Networks ages ago. The foreword provides a wonderful contextualization of Kittler's work, and I'm especially enjoying the "1900" part of the book.
There are two more books that I've been sent recently, both of which I'm hoping to get to before summer's end. Last year on D&R I reviewed Daniel Heller-Roazen's amazing book, Echolalias (Zone Books, 2005). By the good graces of the folks at Zone, Heller-Roazen's latest tome, The Inner Touch: Archaeology of a Sensation, arrived on my doorstep. I can't wait to read it. It's about the perception of perception--a heady topic that couldn't be in more capable hands.
Last but not least on my list is Tarleton Gillespie's Wired Shut: Copyright and the Shape of Digital Culture (MIT Press, 2007). I had the good fortune of meeting Tarleton at an intellectual property symposium in Iowa in 2005, and we've corresponded off and on since then. As with several of the books on my summer reading list, I suspect it's going to have a lot to say about control. And did I mention I just love the title?
Okay--that's it for now. Of course, I'd welcome any suggestions for further reading.
Thursday, June 07, 2007
I'm likely to get some smirks for telling the world this, but I download music from Apple iTunes. I know they're not the friendliest of companies when it comes to music downloading, especially since they've long maintained Digital Rights Management (DRM) schemes that regulate what you can and cannot do with your paid-for music. I'm not a huge music downloader, though, and so I've never really bothered to look elsewhere, despite my professed uneasiness with DRM.
All that's just a lead-up to tell you that I receive regular emails from iTunes, telling me about new music releases and other pertinent news. The other day, this message arrived in my inbox:
Now you can download music and videos from EMI that are free of DRM rules and restrictions. With iTunes Plus, you can burn the music you download from iTunes to as many CDs as you need, transfer it to as many computers (Mac or PC) as you want, or sync it to as many devices as you like. And because it's encoded in 256 kbps AAC, your iTunes Plus music is virtually indistinguishable from the original recording. Hear it for yourself — you can preview all iTunes Plus songs before purchasing. iTunes Plus music is available now for many EMI artists, such as Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Norah Jones, Coldplay, and many more. DRM-free EMI music videos are still $1.99 and music tracks are $1.29.I'd been aware of Steve Jobs' mention a few months back of how he thought music should be stripped of its DRM. Needless to say, I was pleased to see some movement on the issue from Apple.
Something strange is happening to property, in other words. We're slowly creating a system in which there are "haves" and "don't quite haves." I'm also troubled by the way in which these companies are beginning to leverage the mere prospect of DRM to extract more money from consumers.
I'm not altogether sure what my solution to the issue would be. I'd be inclined to say get rid of the DRM altogether, though I'm sure that wouldn't sit well with intellectual property producers and distributors. Then again, maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing after all.
P.S. If you want a copy of the article to which I linked above, you can email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunday, May 27, 2007
• Do not be shy about asking senior colleagues you admire and trust to introduce you and your idea to her editors (or editors she knows and who want someday to publish her). Editors trust the judgement of respected people in the field. They know their blurbs help sales. And editors like to do favors for authors they would like to publish.
• Understand that academic presses are businesses, but not very efficient ones. Even if you convince an editor that your work is brilliant and important, the editor must convince her marketing people and board of directors that the book has a clear and definable market.
• Therefore, never claim in your proposal or cover letter that your market/audience is a "general readership." There is no such thing. Delineate your field, the courses in which your book might appear (very important), and professional or interest groups beyond the academy that might take a liking to your work. Be realistic.
• If you are writing regionally, publish regionally -- i.e. if you have written about Western Native American history, the first places you should go are the University of Oklahoma Press and the University of Nebraska Press.
• Expect rejection. Everyone knows there are too many books chasing too few buyers and the price of production only justifies books that can sell more than 5,000 copies. Of course, too much rejection can mean career death for an academic. But them's the breaks.
• Meet editors at conferences. They love to hear quick, clean, effective pitches from authors who are excited about their projects. When the editors are sitting at tables full of books, you can get a sense of whether your project would fit the trajectory of the list.
• Start early, but be patient. If you have just started a tenure track job, do not expect to have a real book in your hands by third-year review. But do plan to have a contract and many pages ready to show your department by third-year-review. Many academic books can take four years from contract to book.
• No dissertation is ready to be a book. If you are rewriting your diss for publication, wipe your committee from your mind. Write for your colleagues and students instead.
• Course assignments matter. That's how academic presses justify many of their titles. Tailor the writing and length to course-usable standards.
• Write short. Most academic publishers want their books (especiallly first books) to be shorter than 250 pages when published. More than 250 pages, the price of the book goes up.
• Talk to librarians early and often. They know which books are likely to get picked up by their peers. They know which presses do good work.
• Do not expect reviews beyond the scholarly journals. Do not expect scholarly journal review within a year of publication.
• Double dip. Get as much of your work out in journal form as possible. That way, if something goes wrong on the way to book publication, you can demonstrate that your work has passed muster.
• Read your publishing contract carefully. Cross out the "options clause" pledging your next book to the press. Be a free agent.
Oh, one more:
• A first -book author should not aim for the academic press pantheon (Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, U of Chicago, California, Yale, etc.). These presses carry huge lists every season and do not treat books by first authors with care or interest. Instead, aim for the smaller university pressses that treat their authors with care and dignity and are deeply appreciative or honored to have those books (Rutgers, NYU, Minnesota, Columbia, Stanford, Oklahoma, Georgia, North Carolina, Penn State, UMass, etc.). A good editor is far more important to a young scholar than the brand name of the publisher. A quality book from a smaller press can have a much bigger effect on the field than a sloppy book remaindered by a big press. If your first book is a success, then consider Oxford.
Monday, May 14, 2007
Caraf is hereby bestowed with the title of WINNER!!! and is presented with the following certificate, which, no doubt, will find a prominent place among her other honors and awards.
Thanks to all of you who shared your time and creative energies. Please don't feel discouraged if you didn't win. It was, honestly, a pretty competitive pool. And besides, I'll probably have another caption contest next year, assuming that I can find an interesting enough image.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
You can enter by leaving a comment below. Have fun, keep it reasonably clean, and enjoy. The deadline for entries will be, well, whenever I decide....
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
There is a major crisis in our media taking place right now; it is getting almost no attention and unless we act very soon the consequences for our society could well be disastrous. And it will only take place because it is being done without any public awareness or participation; it goes directly against the very foundations of freedom of the press in the entirety of American history.
The U.S. Post Office is in the process of implementing a radical reformulation of its rates for magazines, such that smaller periodicals will be hit with a much much larger increase than the largest magazines.
Because the Post Office is a monopoly, and because magazines must use it, the postal rates always have been skewed to make it cheaper for smaller publications to get launched and to survive. The whole idea has been to use the postal rates to keep publishing as competitive and wide open as possible. This bedrock principle was put in place by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. They considered it mandatory to create the press system, the Fourth Estate necessary for self-government.
It was postal policy that converted the free press clause in the First Amendment from an abstract principle into a living breathing reality for Americans. And it has served that role throughout our history.
What the Post Office is now proposing goes directly against 215 years of postal policy. The Post Office is in the process of implementing a radical reformulation of its mailing rates for magazines. Under the plan, smaller periodicals will be hit with a much larger increase than the big magazines, as much as 30 percent. Some of the largest circulation magazines will face hikes of less than 10 percent.
The new rates, which go into effect on July 15, were developed with no public involvement or congressional oversight, and the increased costs could damage hundreds, even thousands, of smaller publications, possibly putting many out of business. This includes nearly every political journal in the nation. These are the magazines that often provide the most original journalism and analysis. These are the magazines that provide much of the content on Common Dreams. We desperately need them.
What the Post Office is planning to do now, in the dark of night, is implement a rate structure that gives the best prices to the biggest publishers, hence letting them lock in their market position and lessen the threat of any new competition. The new rates could make it almost impossible to launch a new magazine, unless it is spawned by a huge conglomerate.
Not surprisingly, the new scheme was drafted by Time Warner, the largest magazine publisher in the nation. All evidence available suggests the bureaucrats responsible have never considered the implications of their draconian reforms for small and independent publishers, or for citizens who depend upon a free press.
The corruption and sleaziness of this process is difficult to exaggerate. As one lawyer who works for a large magazine publisher admits, “It takes a publishing company several hundred thousand dollars to even participate in these rate cases. Some large corporations spend millions to influence these rates.” Little guys, and the general public who depend upon these magazines, are not at the table when the deal is being made.
The genius of the postal rate structure over the past 215 years was that it did not favor a particular viewpoint; it simply made it easier for smaller magazines to be launched and to survive. That is why the publications opposing the secretive Post Office rate hikes cross the political spectrum. This is not a left-wing issue or a right-wing issue, it is a democracy issue. And it is about having competitive media markets that benefit all Americans. This reform will have disastrous effects for all small and mid-sized publications, be they on politics, music, sports or gardening.
This process was conducted with such little publicity and pitched only at the dominant players that we only learned about it a few weeks ago and it is very late in the game. But there is something you can do. Please go to www.stoppostalratehikes.com and sign the letter to the Postal Board protesting the new rate system and demanding a congressional hearing before any radical changes are made. The deadline for comments is April 23.
I know many of you are connected to publications that go through the mail, or libraries and bookstores that pay for subscriptions to magazines and periodicals. If you fall in these categories, it is imperative you get everyone connected to your magazine or operation to go to www.stoppostalratehikes.com.
We do not have a moment to lose. If everyone who reads this email responds at www.stoppostalratehikes.com, and then sends it along to their friends urging them to do the same, we can win. If there is one thing we have learned at Free Press over the past few years, it is that if enough people raise hell, we can force politicians to do the right thing. This is a time for serious hell-raising.
From the bottom of my heart, thanks.