elden on open access and book publishing

In response to a recent post by Graham Harman, Stuart Elden makes some very sound remarks about the economics of making PDFs of books available too soon after publication. He also raises the important question of why print-on-demand and certain e-books are so expensive, even though in the former case the quality is often not as good as the original run and in the latter there is no physical copy of the book that needs production.



I’ve been absent on here for a while. I’m trying to get back to blogging, but sometimes it’s difficult to blog when I’m feeling guilty about not getting too much written. Speaking of, I’m working on a book and waiting to hear from publishers about a couple book projects. Also, enjoying the summer. Hopefully I’ll soon be more active here at Plastic Bodies. Thanks for your patience if you’re watching this space.

schliesser on the continental/analytic divide

I found Eric Schliesser’s short critique of a recent piece in the NYT by Gary Gutting to include a number of new ways of conceiving what continental philosophy is up to and why it cannot be easily (or completely) translated into analytic philosophy. It’s also refreshing to hear someone express a reservation about the supposed clarity of Anglo-American philosophical writing. For someone with a background in the history of philosophy, rather than the ‘standard’ analytic undergraduate training, I often find analytic writing difficult. Yes, it’s partly because I’m more comfortable reading continental thought, but it’s also because there’s a certain affected casualness that permeates a lot of analytic writing, a casualness whose rhetoric suggest that what is being said is communicable in ‘plain English’, but which often ends up remaining opaque (Schliesser’s term) and elusive/allusive.

Schliesser’s post also works to undermine the standard criticism of continental philosophy used often by Brian Leiter, who is always taking the easy shot at the style of continental writing. Schliesser makes some plausible suggestions regarding the reason, if not the necessity, of continental ‘jargon’. This is not to excuse that writing which is truly terrible, which exists, of course. It is to challenge the critics to make their complaints a bit sharper by saying something specific about the deficiencies of a particular continental author, rather than just quoting that author out of context and at his/her weakest stylistic moment.

the slowest contributor

As someone currently involved in a couple of editing projects and at the mercy of referees and reviewers, I’m thinking a lot about deadlines and the failure on the part of academics to meet the deadlines they willingly agree to. In a recent post, Harman explained his aversion to contributing to anthologies by citing several practical reasons. Among them is that they ‘move at the speed of the slowest contributor….” This is absolutely true and in a real respect unfair to the other contributors involved. In principle, the ‘slowest’ contributor should be the one who submits their piece at the zero hour. Instead, the slowest contributor is more likely to be someone who fails to meet the deadline, often by weeks or even months.

From my experience, the deadlines set for academic writing typically are framed in terms of a window. Say, 4-6 weeks, 3-4 months, etc. This builds leeway into the deadline and tries to honor the fact that writing is not an exact science and writers have their own methods for getting things done. Given 4-6 weeks, some will only hear ‘6 weeks’ and make that their deadline. Others will pretend like the deadline is 4 weeks, probably for the sake of their own time management idiosyncrasy. Of course, it is not just writers who must meet deadlines. There are also reviewers–of books, journal articles, dissertation drafts…

It is not atypical for academics to miss, severely, their deadlines. A week or two seems reasonable if there is no good reason forthcoming. But more than a couple weeks seems to be clear evidence of willful neglect. In the case of anthologies, this does an injustice to the other contributors who get their pieces in on time. It not only slows down the project, but it may very well affect the job, tenure, or promotion prospects of one of the other contributors. One might object that in cases of radical tardiness, the editor should decide to cut loose the delinquent contributor. But losses like this can sometimes jeopardize the integrity of the project, either at the level of its content or its prospects for publication or success. Moreover, this overlooks the fact that what seems to be the case is that an ethical defect has been normalized in academe. Missed deadlines are to be expected, forgiven, or forgotten. What else can we do, threaten the negligent?

I’m not suggesting that delinquent contributors and referees should be punished or shamed, because these folks are often working to provide a service (refereeing) or writing a piece that has been solicited by someone else, which is occasionally analogous to a service. What I’d like to suggest is that the norm should be to only accept deadlines that are likely to be met. Barring unforeseen circumstances (many of which will not prevent a person from meeting the deadline window), most of us know whether or not we are good at meeting deadlines. Why should it be okay to neglect them when there are many persons involved who may be negatively affected by such negligence?

Something tells me that there’s an unwritten rule about exposing this kind of thing, and that I’m dragging it out into the light at my personal peril. Please set me straight if so, or provide a defense of the willful neglect of deadlines.

pathetic readerships and journal articles

The proverbial wisdom is that the great majority of academic journal articles will only be read ‘by a handful of people’. The numbers are there to back up this folk fact. But if only one of those readers–who will, most likely, be a scholar or specialist on the hunt for ideas that they themselves can use–decides to cite that article in a piece of their own, the ideas and concepts in the original idea have the opportunity to spread. And, in fact, such citations often generate more readers for the original article because they stand as a kind of verification of the usefulness or perspicacity of its content. And once the ideas begin to spread, who knows where they’ll end up. Academics are made to feel pathetic about the statistics on journal article readership, but it takes only one reader to push your pathetic ideas into circulation. Having your idea circulating in the history of ideas is nothing to sneeze at, so stop feeling sorry for yourself and tell that wet blanket to eat its statistics.

gimme fiction

Over the Thanksgiving break i had the luxury of reading Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler. Marvelous book. I’m now reading DeLillo’s Mao II. Here’s a line from it:

Home is a failed idea. People are no longer home or not home.

It’s true. I should always have a fiction text underway. Read it in the morning, first thing. Fiction always gets ideas flowing, especially philosophical ones. Maybe that says something about the things I write, or the nature of philosophical ideas in general.  If philosophy is not at least in part about fiction, or fiction itself, I don’t know what it is or is about.