Saturday, December 24, 2016

More Rambling (on a Saturday Morning)

I normally take a shower every other morning. I lead a sedentary life and really, there’s no need to shower every day. But I made an exception this morning (I’d showered yesterday). I’m going to visit my sister in Philadelphia and figured I ought to be clean and smooth-shaven.

Glad I took the shower. Showers are good for thinking. Baths, long baths, mind you, are better. By I don’t have a tub, so showers it is.

Review the Journals and their Reviewers

As I indicated the other day, my article was turned down for publication at New Literary History. I’m still mulling that over, working a blog post – which has been growing and growing – and perhaps two or three posts. We’ll see.

One thought I had is that we need a more or less public way to evaluate journals. Here I’m thinking not so much about quality – these days we’ve got impact factors, which is public enough; and journals have reputations – but about how they treat authors and prospective authors. NHL promises a 4-month decision on your submission; which is very good (I believe) for humanities journals. I got my decision in two and a half months. That’s very good indeed, even if it’s not the decision I wanted.

But I’ve got a bad taste in my mouth about the reviewer’s report. It’s clear that he or she really didn’t understand what I was up to and was not sympathetic to it. I just wish the reviewer would have owned up to it, perhaps by saying something like this:
I don’t really understand what’s going on in this essay. The author is arguing for things that seem obvious and is using strange diagrams that don’t make any sense to me. And computation!? If it doesn’t make sense to me, it’s not likely to make sense to readers of NLH.
THAT makes sense to me. I don’t like it; it’s not what I wanted to hear. But I understand and have little trouble accepting rejection on those grounds.

But the reviewer acted as though he or she was perfectly competent to evaluate my work and that much of what I did was of little apparent value. THAT bothers me, and as a consequence I don’t know quite what to do with the reviewer’s comments.

I know, of course, that my work does present problems for literary journals. Like all scholars they’re used to evaluating work of a familiar kind. Most pieces submitted to NLH, or any other journal, aren’t going to present that kind of problem. For all I know, NLH is exemplary in the reviews it gives to authors – and, given its prominence in the field, most of those authors will be rejected. And perhaps most of the rejected authors have found useful advice in the reviewer’s report.

If so, then there ought to be a public forum where that information can be available. Just how that would work, I don’t know. But we’ve certainly got the technology to do it.

Three Kinds of Writing

Another thought I had was that I do three levels of writing: Private, Informal, Formal. Private is just that, for me only. Sometimes it’s just words and phrases and references. And sometimes it may be a whole run of more or less coherent paragraphs, but still, intended for no one but me.

Informal writing is what I put on blogs, mostly here and New Savanna, but a one or two other places as well. This work is intended to be read by others. For the most part I write in whole sentences. These pieces range from less than 100 words to several thousand.

Some of these can be intellectually intense, but, still, they’re informal. These are the posts I collect into working papers.

I’d say that my posts at 3 Quarks Daily ride the borderline between informal and formal. They aren’t so long, closely argued, or heavily cited as my New Savanna Blog posts, but I do work on them a bit more.

Formal writing is just that, writing intended for formal academic publication. These pieces are long, 5000 to 25,000 words or more, and are intended to be published in academic journals. They’re densely argued and have lots of citations.

And then there’s everything else.

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