This #100hardtruths was shared with me by my friend, a scholar and leader within Digital Humanities,  Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Associate Executive Director and Director of Scholarly Communication of the Modern Language Association:

“The health of nations is directly related to the depth of knowledge applied to public decision-making.” So says former chairman of the NEH (and former Republican congressman) Jim Leach. The #hardtruth is that our nation is not healthy.  As Tom Nichols has recently explored, our top decision-makers today not only disregard the advice of experts but actively reject the notion that their knowledge is any more worthy of consideration than anyone else’s opinion.

The other hard truth is that we are all responsible for finding new ways to re-engage with the public, to find ways to interest them in the knowledge we produce, and to demonstrate to them that facts persist even when master narratives are long gone.

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Following closely on the heels of my last post on Jodi Dean and the possible affordances of writing and publishing some of our scholarly new media writing online, I’m happy to be able to look at Nick Mirzoeff’s “‘We are All Children of Algeria‘: Visuality and Countervisuality 1954-2011,” recently “published” by Duke University Press as an extension of his book The Right to Look. Built in the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture’s Scalar—”born-digital, open source, media-rich scholarly publishing that’s as easy as blogging”—the work sits in proximity to my own Learning from YouTube in that it was supported by many of the same institutions and collaborators (I did not write in Scalar, however, but rather in an earlier version of their authoring tool. Many of my cumbersome requirements for linking text and media became routinized with Scalar).

While Mirzoeff provocatively begins by suggesting that “whether or not you work ‘on’ or about Algeria, there is an ‘Algeria’ in your work,” I find that there is another shared metaphor, nay structure, that fuels possible intellectual connection: form. For, as seems definitive for many of our contemporary efforts in transformative scholarly communication, he writes as much about his writing and its structures, shapes, and tools as he does about his proper subject: “how can we “see” Algeria, its decolonization and revolution?”

He suggests that “this format, allowing as it does for a set of intersecting and interfacing threads to compose the whole, is better suited to reclaiming and exploring these histories than the linear text-based narrative.” And then he calls this kind of writing and reading a “march” because he understands it as “militant research.” This designation seems both apt and critical to me for many reasons. Mirzoeff notes how affect is set into play differently within digital writing practices, so that qualities of an experience (something that many of us have pushed writerly metaphor to reach towards [and one reason I also author in video]) become more readily a part of the expressive reach of the form, as does then, also, an altered relation (of trust) between writer, reader, and text. Kathleen Fitzpatrick has recently blogged that digital scholarship allows a “shift … from an implicit, buried acknowledgment that scholarship’s serialization practices are based on multi-directional exchanges to an explicit emphasis on such exchange.” Exchanging we are, and shifting, and sometimes even marching, if not exactly forward: “it’s not about getting to the end, this is not a video game. It’s about who you want to be, not as a consumer, but as a citizen: for we are all citizens of the International.”

Mirzoeff’s decidedly, abashedly, romantically political aims are what might be best-suited to the form. His militancy. And here’s the rub I often mention when touring my own overtly political digital media pub. It’s full professors who currently have enough institutional safeguarding to make these dangerous formal deployments even as its our junior colleagues who should be leading the vanguard. He writes: “In the end, the disciplinary form—in all senses—of the monograph finds itself yielding to a form that has no real name: Intergraph? multigraph? videograph? The videograph (say) depends on a relation of trust.” But these are dangerous times, as we know, given the paucity of jobs and tenure, not to mention the real punitive ramifications for some politicized scholarship in our ever more timid or corporate intellectual institutions.

Feminist, queer, and AIDS activist mediamakers have long theorized “trust” as a part of our authoring apparatus, and our more committed, ideological, intellectual and political digital connections are what I have been holding against some Internet theorists‘ fear of fickle or superficial “friends” and warranted subjectivity. Perhaps it is not so bold for those like Fitzpatrick, Mirzoeff, or myself, backed as we may be by powerful institutions and tenure (and Nick took the “easy” route by publishing a “real” book too…), to make and promote innovative formal work, however I do so with the trust that my comrades inside academia and out will join me here, in exchanges that demonstrate more radical ways not just to be professors, but as Nick suggests citizens.

My friend and colleague, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, has written much and more on the state of academic publishing (and I recently edited a section on this in Cinema Journal) so I won’t go there again here. Kathleen’s recent book, Planned Obsolescence, is being openly peer-reviewed, on-line, at MediaCommonsPress: “open scholarship in open formats.” In this spirit of openness and full disclosure, I share my recent escapades in the dodgy realm of the “blind” review. For, “blind” reviews certainly achieve many things, including the cloaking of shoddy practices of those in control, the hiding of labor and promises behind shields of anonymity, and the use of outdated methods that have lost touch with current technologies as well as practices of publishing.

About two years ago I applied to write for an edited anthology (by two of Cinema Studies’ most esteemed statespeople), to be published by a pre-eminent discipline-specific press, about Teaching Media Studies. How proud was I to be accepted! I wrote and re-wrote my little manifesto about teaching media production within media studies classrooms, with the close help of my editors. A lot of time was spent, and the piece was perfected for this particular place. Quite recently, I was rather summarily dismissed from the enterprise, after being told in a professional but not particularly supportive way, that there were too many words in the anthology, and mine had been, not surprisingly, given its edgy and marginal goals, selected to go to reduce word-count. In the meantime, the uncountable hours of revision were wiped away, “blind” to all but me.

Now much too short for just about any place (the requirements of the anthology) and entirely re-directed to address the editors’ and anthology’s concerns, I naively set out to try to re-place my effort elsewhere. I chose to send it to one of the pre-eminent journals in the field because the book version had itself been written for a lofty forum and a field-specific audience. The journal has a nifty little on-line submission template, so imagine my surprise, after the cumbersome effort of filling in all their required fields, and taking my name off the front of the article, to be asked to re-submit. I include my correspondence about this for one reason: to prove that these creaky old rules, that make less and less sense in our on-line world (where a quick google search could identify anyone anyhow, if anyone actually cared), can be re-thought to be more responsive to our needs as writers and thinkers, critics and learners.

Dear Dr. Juhasz,

I write you in regards to manuscript #x which you submitted to Y. Y is an academic journal which peer reviews all its essays. As per the instructions to authors on our website, all the files you upload, apart from the cover letter, must be blinded, ie not give any information as to your identity. The manuscript you have now submitted twice is not blinded for review. Please can you log in again and resubmit it, with the cover information in a separate file. When you resubmit, please can you answer all the questions fully (ie  not “already answered” in place of essay title etc). Your previous versions will not be visible to our reviewers, so the latest version needs to have all relevant information fully completed.

Sincerely,
Z

—–Original Message—–
From: Alex Juhasz
Sent: 02 March 2010 18:19
To: Z
Subject: Re: Decision on Manuscript ID X

There must be some misunderstanding here. The version I am uploading has no cover information on it. Is there something I am missing? Thanks,

Alex Juhasz

——-

On Mar 4, 2010, at 8:06 AM, Z wrote:

Dear Alex – your name is listed several times in the contents of your essay. Any info identifying you must be uploaded separately, as a cover letter.

Z

—–Original Message—–
From: Alex Juhasz
Sent: 04 March 2010 17:26
To: Z at Y
Subject: Re: Decision on Manuscript ID X

I am a feminist scholar who writes about my own media work in conjunction with production and scholarly traditions that inform it.  Taking out references to myself in the piece seriously changes the fundamental theoretical, political, ideological and stylistic program of the piece. Not really sure what the best response is…Happy for your advise.

Alex

—–

On Mar 8, 2010, at 2:32 AM, Z wrote:

Dear Alex

Blinding essays so the author cannot be identified is a long-established process in peer-reviewed journals. If you feel you cannot remove references that identify you without compromising the piece, I’m afraid Y cannot accept your essay for peer-review.

Best wishes
Z

——-

From: Alex Juhasz
Sent: 08 March 2010 16:45
To: Z
Subject: Re: Decision on Manuscript ID X

Z:

I will re-send this truly blind, as you request. In the meantime, I an requesting that you bring this matter to your Editorial Team. As a feminist scholar who has looked to (and published in) Y for my entire (nearly twenty-year) career, and has applauded its role in allowing feminist practices and concerns to have a central role in the (re)shaping of the field of Cinema Studies, I am somewhat stymied, or perhaps disappointed, that the “long-established process of peer-review” trumps careful decisions about particular pieces that fall inside and outside these cherished rubrics. The challenging of such common-sense institutional practices was once a focus of your journal. I have a long and steady career of writing about my own work in the first person voice and theorizing from this position. I am not alone in such a writing style and method: one theorized by feminists in these very pages over the course of twenty-plus years. In fact, in the 1980s, I published a piece in Y about making AIDS activist videos, where my presence, work, and personal relationships were central to the theoretical meaning(s)of the piece. I do not remember striking references to my videos, or myself when this writing was reviewed. I will continue to insist that by taking the web-site that I discuss (and made) out of this piece in the name of “blind review” you do a greater disservice to the meanings of the piece, which are that real people make the culture they need by looking to past practices, sharing their own experiences, and building communities of conviction. I hope you understand that it is your institutional practices that are of real concern to me. The matter of my piece is pretty incidental.

Alex Juhasz

—–

Dear Alex

I’ll check this out with the editorial board. It does sound as if this piece needs to be seen as is, so please hold off resubmitting another version for now – I’ll just need to run it past them and I’ll get back to you.

Best wishes
Z

——–

09-Mar-2010
Dear Alex

I’ve checked with the editors as requested and in this case they’ll accept your original version of “TEACHING MEDIA PRAXIS”. So, I’m sorry for the inconvenience but please can you upload original version again.

Best wishes,
Z
Administrative Asst, Y