About a week ago I stated that my professional career was at a crossroads, and indeed I think that it is.
At what point should a project be considered dead in the water? Off and on for the last eight years I have been co-editing a collection of critical essays on Paul Bowles. The project has been doomed from the start. Everything from health issues to death, from citations and formatting, through boredom (a very real symptom when it comes to scholarship, at least for me) to various technical and bureaucratic hurdles has plagued this project. Finally, last fall we submitted to a university press and hoped that we would finally be on our way.
At first the news seemed encouraging. The press accepted our proposal and passed the project on to an outside reader. About a month went by and I had all but forgotten the project and was on to new things. Then I received a voice message asking me to call the director of the university press. The news wasn’t good. The outside reader gave us some very negative comments, but (and this is where things get really strange) recommended publication! Needless to say, the director and I agreed that it would not be a good idea to go ahead with the project until we could do some serious editorial revisions.
I am one of those professors who feel that one must publish in order to be considered “legitimate” in the world of higher education. Yet, when I read the scholarship that has been published I become very depressed and want to leave the whole business behind. I once wrote an extensive article on Calvino’s Mr. Palomar using less than five scholarly sources. This wasn’t because I was too lazy to do my homework, it’s because I thought the scholarship on that book (at least in English) was inadequate. That article was turned down by the PMLA due to “lack of scholarship” and I haven’t looked at it since. Right now it’s sitting on a thumb drive in a sort of purgatory. I have hundreds of articles that share the same fate.
The “Bowles Project,” as I have liked to call it, was different. I wanted to join the conversation on Bowles, especially since his work means so much to me. We believed in this project and thought that it had something new to contribute. Now, the all-too familiar nightmare of years of wasted work has sunk its claws into my skin. The collapse of the project is one of the biggest disappointments of my professional career, but I refuse to stay silent on Bowles. Who knows, maybe something new will emerge from this stillborn project. I hope so.
So, my professional career is at a crossroads. I refuse to compromise on my scholarship, and I refuse to submit scholarship that looks and sounds like arrogant grad student drivel. Scholarship should mean something for all audiences, not just the 10 or so people who will read your article in some obscure academic journal. It should be accessible and interesting. It should draw the attention of readers to new and exciting connections. Perhaps all scholars should be moving toward a more “public” persona.
But more on that in another post.