July 20, 2004

This morning, Lindsay Waters's Enemies of Promise: Publishing, Perishing, and the Eclipse of Scholarship. I'm sort of interested in how the academy deals with the pressures of changing publication norms. In part because the poetry subculture has already gone through a version of this and not only survived but thrived. And so a lot of this talk often seems alarmist to me. Or sometimes I think it is worries by those at the top of the heap that the heap will level out. Which is pretty much what happened in the poetry publishing world. A book published by Penguin and a book published by Subpress can easily sell the same number of copies. And this levelling out has been overall a good thing for poetry. It has taken poetry back to communities. It has encouraged poetry to be something that is shared among friends. (The bad part has been that has let a sort of myopia overtake the genre but I'm not sure that support from big publishing companies was helping prevent that all that well back in the days of Lowell and Frost and poetry books on the big publishing houses.)
But poetry subculture is in many ways the opposite of the academic one. There is not the same huge network of institutional support. There is not the publication pressure. Waters wants to keep the book (which I also want to keep but I also think that it has to be in dialogue with the electronic more than he does; I think electronic publication might be perfect for most academic work since it seems to be so accepting of having such a short shelf life). And also the idea (which I also like and think is what this discussion should be all about). And he is also supportive of that argument that academics shouldn't have to publish (which came up in the PMLA a few years ago). Which I more or less feel mixed about. I'm not convinced that less publishing pressure helps anything. Waters says it will improve quality which I don't think is true; good work happens outside of all this. And I also remember in Hawai`i, which didn't have huge publication pressures, feeling sort of annoyed that colleagues who are smart and have crucial things to say are not getting their ideas out, ideas which I felt I needed to read and see in print and if they were in print they would help us as a department be better or let us have a more complicated discussion about things like anti-colonialism. I felt that their work would matter. In other words, if you think that most academics don't have anything to say, not publishing might be a good idea. But if you think academics have something to say or should have something to say, then you don't want this. And I guess I think some academics have something to say and some don't. And so the answer is more pressure on this (and less thinking about whether publication should be required or not).

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