Saturday, December 23, 2006

How to have all men against you

George W. Bush, Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People (2001):
Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.

Friedrich Nietzsche, "The Wanderer and His Shadow"(1880):
How to have all men against you. -- If anyone dared to say now, 'Whoever is not for me, is against me,' he would immediately have all men against him. -- This does our time honor.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Other Voices, Public Works


Issue #45 of Other Voices, edited by Cris Mazza, is out. You can read my review of Christopher Grimes' Public Works: Short Fiction and a Novella on the reviews page of the Other Voices wesbite.

My review is rather short, due to editorial constraints, not choice. Other Voices is primarily a journal of new fiction, so it reserves only a few pages for reviews. The maximum number of words permitted was 750. I had much more to say about Grimes' short fictions, and my first version was about three times as long (and even in this draft I was aspiring to be concise).

At some point I expect to return to this material and incorporate it into a piece of literary criticism - a review essay rather than a book review. The distinction might not be immediately apparent to those not in the field, but it's a difference that matters.

On the topic of appearances, you might not know it, but I spent several weeks on this review, reading and rereading Grimes' stories, pinning down the ones that best exemplified the elements I wanted to foreground in my review, and, of course, writing and rewriting countless drafts of this essay. As I mentioned previously, Cris Mazza provided some excellent editorial assistance, enabling me to make cuts that were extremely painful. After spending hours crafting a few sentences, watching the words rapidly disappear as you hold down the delete key can be an agonizing.

But here's the really frustrating part: I've been told that since Other Voices is creative, not academic, journal my efforts won't count for much in terms of professional advancement. I can put the review down on my CV, sure, but book reviews, particularly ones appearing in a non-peer-reviewed publication won't count for much, if anything, in the eyes of most hiring-and-promotion committees. Such reviews are not regarded as real scholarship and might even be viewed as a diversion.

I appreciate the need to make a distinction between academic and non-academic writing, but given the systemic economic exploitation of intellectual laborers that is pandemic to academia, especially in the humanities and English departments in particular, there should be some credit given for efforts to write and speak to a non-specialized audience.

That's not likely to happen anytime soon. The paradox is that as university and scholarly presses publish fewer titles, the professions continues to raise the bar when it comes to the publications necessary to get - and remain on - the tenure track.

At least I'll know Public Works thoroughly when I teach it. If nothing else, the review could work to kickstart a class lecture. That's assuming, of course, that the teaching opportunities remain there. One shouldn't presume anything, particularly when it comes to work and universities, both public and private.