Monday, July 21, 2014

Samizdat Blog: How I Wrote Certain of My Books

Samizdat Blog: How I Wrote Certain of My Books

I believe that we should listen to Bob because he has written the books to back up his opinion. He is a productive scholar. His method might not work for everyone, but it is a good example of how one productive scholar gets it done.

Crowdsourcing review

Would crowdsourcing peer review work? Probably not, at least in fields I know anything about. What you need for a peer review is the guy (the gal). The gal or guy who knows the lay of the land, who can compare the article with existing literature. Crowd sourcing works best with lowest common denominator tasks. If I were to ask someone to read an article or chapter for me, it would not just be any old person. Of course, you can also have a reading by someone who knows nothing about your particular topic. Then the reading serves a different purpose, because you have to be more clear about your assumptions to convince that kind of reader.

The reader slightly out of your field can be good, to bring another perspective. So I might be a good reader for your paper on French poetry, say. I wouldn't have any hobby-horses about the subject matter.

But generally you want the guy.


I am keynote speaker for this conference.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Peer review

This article by Rebecca Schumann is really, really bad. Peer review works really well, actually. Of course, anyone can collect horror stories, but even these must be taken with a grain of salt. Some stories amount to: my article was rejected. Curiously, the comments to her article just skewer it, pointing to its multiple inaccuracies. There are 271 comments and most are critical of her argument. She is losing a lot of credibility because academics know she is full of shit. One comment compared her perspective to that of the typical grad student gripe session. How true.

I've probably done an average of 6 reviews a year since 1990 or so. I've also been on the other side of the process for a quarter century. I know I'm good at it because the editors who use me keep asking me to do it again.

In my view, what is more important than peer reviewers is a good editor. This editor will

*Redact or simply not use reviews that are unhelpful.

*Stop using reviewers who are dilatory or too hostile in tone.

Problem solved!

Rebecca's suggestions make no sense because they are addressed to a misconceived notion of what the problem is. She states that someone should earn the right to submit to a journal by doing peer reviews. But a good editor will only ask established scholars to do reviews. Her notion that most reviews are done by grad students or recently minted PhDs is simply not true.

I haven't agreed with all my peer reviews. I have had a few articles rejected. Usually a grown-up will just learn from those experiences and move on. It is probable that a reviewer has saved me from the embarrassment of publishing something that was not yet ready to be published.

My recent experience suggests that articles being submitted are worse than ever. This is likely to increase the number of horror stories, since someone clueless enough to submit utter crap might be clueless enough not to know that a reviewer is saving him / her from embarrassment.


One question is whether it is legit to say that an article should cite me. I have mixed feelings. Sometimes I have felt that an article should cite me, but haven't said so. Instead, I'll give a list of other scholars that also should have been cited. Sometimes, I'll include myself in a list of names that the article should have cited. Sometimes, I feel that if have written on the topic, in a way relevant to the article, and my name is on the editorial board of the journal, the writer should have known that the article would be sent to me.


I have had people cite me and disagree. That makes it very hard for me to reject an article, because I would never want to reject someone because they disagree with me.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Sorry, NC

The literary community of NC was outraged by an amateur poet being appointed as laureate. She quickly resigned before even really taking the post. But I wonder whether the pro who was laureate before is also not an amateur:

"Joan and I were in Raleigh together
for the first time to take the tour
for new vista volunteers
at North Carolina’s Central Prison..."

Ouch. It's fine to use seemingly plain language, etc... but no rhythm, nothing going on in the language. This kind of writing just causes physical pain to me. From my vantage point the other woman appointed carelessly by the governor is not much worse:

"I’m grateful for my car, he says,
voice raspy with hard living.
Tossed on the seat, a briefcase
covered with union stickers,
stuffed with unemployment forms,
want ads, old utility bills,
birth certificate, school application
papers for the skinny ten-year-old
sitting beside him who loves baseball..."

More is going on in her language, actually. It's not exactly good, but it's salvageable, with some concreteness there at least.

Sorry, NC.

Lowered Expectations

Lowering expectations is right.
Conversely, we often pad our arguments with citations to things we haven’t read well or at all. Not only because that’s what's expected but also because doing so allows us to cover our arguments with a supposed mastery of a literature that is virtually impossible for any one person to master. Whoever says that he or she hasn’t done as much either is lying or hasn’t published.
Well, no. I would never cite something I haven't read. If I haven't read it "well" then I will cite it for a peripheral point, not for something central to my argument, as Zizek did. This is an extremely weaselly article and I recommend that you read it and kick some ass in the comment thread. Someone is wrong on the internet!

I do, in fact, master my field. That's the point of being a scholar. I would suggest that this person, so much in awe of Zizek, does not even know enough to know whether Zizek is full of shit or not. After all, if you don't master the same body of philosophy and theology and psychoanalysis that (you assume) Zizek masters, then how do you know he does? He could be totally full of shit and you wouldn't have any clue, right? I guess the argument that all scholars are incompetent is convenient if you yourself don't really know enough not to fake it yourself.

Friday, July 11, 2014


Swallows in circles bewildered
whirl from the dark iron bells,
and over the square the gitana
cannot work her spells.
The room is shadowy, tall,
and filled with the murmur of rain.
Indians crouch in the corner
with moonlike saucers of grain.
The bottles of Lachryma Christi
are stored on the spidery shelves,
and the saints of tomorrow groan
as they flagellate themselves.

So what do you think? Dose this sound like a translation from Lorca's gypsy ballads (or imitation) or not? Expain your answer. For bonus points guess the author (without googling please). If you want to google to find out who it was, then does the answer surprise you?

(Hint, an author not primarily known for his poetry.)