Monday, February 23, 2009

PUBLISHING: SHIT OR SHINE

People have been asking me why I don’t gather all of my writings with view to systematically publish with solid publishing houses. Well, yes, one can elect to do that, and one does, particularly when the pressure from above gets tight – if you’re an academic. But as far as I’m concerned, I don’t give a flying fuck as to who gets to publish what and where. In fact, I much prefer the more honorable business of publishing myself, which I do, both in print and on the internet – apart from the other shit, that is, which one also does as a necessity. With myself in charge, however, at least I get to design everything. And as to balancing between theory and analysis according to my own senses, the fact that I get the final word on how serious I want to be about it pleases me a great deal. There are qualified readers, to be sure, but I hand pick them myself when I go about asking them to assess what I have to say. This activity saves me in the final analysis from having to invest any unnecessary energy in explaining to myself why in another context, while some readers love my ideas, others don't. Depending on where one submits the stuff, when one does, it never ceases to amuse me how different mentalities are. For instance, the ability the French have to value some shit is amazing compared to the anal types that populate the Anglo-American world, who are more often than not very quick at pointing out just what is wrong with your stuff, which, ironically, has already been deemed quite divine by the French. Talk about sheer arbitrariness. Now, some may ask, why this attitude towards the academic publishing industry? Are you envious, or frustrated? Maybe, or maybe not. Meanwhile, here are a couple of reasons:

1. I’m way too old to presume that what I write should have a major impact on anything or anybody whatsoever. Here I much prefer the occasional comment from random people as to the efficiency of some formulation, and if some think that some sentences are down right elegant or beautiful, then that is already more than I can wish for.

2. I’m way too silly to take any discourse seriously. Including my own. Nothing is as cutting edge or as original as we like to delude ourselves is. Therefore, where publishing is concerned, if there’s anything that I do take seriously then it’s the kind of philosophy such as the one formulated by Gertrude Stein: “the smartest ones publish themselves.”

3. I’m way past the naivety which holds the belief that Harvard and Oxford publish people without first getting ‘serious’ letters of recommendations from established scholars willing to vouch for the quality of thought of this or that aspirant. Here, I still vividly remember Gayatri Spivak, a renowned scholar at Columbia University, yelling over the phone on a weekly basis at an editor with one of these houses, and in the presence of just about anybody, that if they didn’t listen to her and publish one of her protégés, then they’ll have to suffer the consequences of losing her own writing. Right. Now, I don’t mean to suggest that all those who submit to Harvard and Oxford have to kiss somebody’s ass in order to get in, but as it’s a fact that just about the whole world fancies being published by these guys, and consequently swamp the poor editors with book abstracts, the fact that no one gets to be reviewed before a hot shot had put a word in for the candidate is much more likely than unlikely.

So where does that leave us? The self-proclaimed brilliant ones? The arrogant ones? The insufferable ones? The ones who fancy their writings as subversive and unabashed? Well, it leaves us with a mountain we can inhabit the day our mighty and uncompromising selves will get fired for not complying with the norms. I say this while in the middle of peer-reviewing a volume for Sage Publications – I’m fair though, and my ass hasn’t been entertained yet – while all the while, however, wishing that the whole world would go for open source, eradicate copy rights, and let whatever is there to flow, flow. As to action, or what we choose to do or not do, let’s give Gertrude the final word. She was after all a genuine and bona fide genius: “Generally speaking, everyone is more interesting doing nothing than doing anything.” So then, we’ll go with that. And this: “It is awfully important to know what is and what is not your business.”

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