What it’s like writing for publication…

I’m posting this to give readers a general sense of what scholars do when they write for publication — specifically, the amount of reading and work involved. I’m not particularly exceptional in this area. I have friends who read faster and more than I do. The reading load I describe below constitutes a partial list of reading that I did for an introduction to and chapter of an edited anthology I’m working on. My chapter was on Plato and Derrida, and over the Spring 2018 semester and into a bit of the summer (maybe the third week of June), I did the following reading just for the Derrida part of my chapter, which makes up about 16 pages of a 32 page chapter. This reading also added about two to three paragraphs to my introduction.

  • Webpages: 4 (maybe 30 pages of text)
  • Articles: 41 (about 800 pages of text)
  • Books: 7 (about 2100 pages of text)
  • Book chapters: 2 (about 180 pages of text, and yes, one of them was about 150 pages)

I was tempted to list everything individually with page counts next to it, but I’m not any more up to posting that than you are up to reading it.

So I did a total of about 3000 pages of reading to write just under 20 pages of text, or I had to read about 150 pages of text for every one page of text that I wrote. This number is consistent with my experience writing my dissertation. My committee asked me to add about one paragraph covering a scholarly conversation in one area, and I found that I had to read over 100 pages just to add that one paragraph. I didn’t feel like I’d read that much.

Now I did this work over the Spring 2018 semester serving as department chair and teaching a four course load (which means reading for that — course materials and then grading). I was not working in a research position in which I only had to teach one class, and for all that reading, I still feel like I didn’t do enough.

I have not yet discussed the time I spent writing. Almost every time I would sit down to write, I would reread what I had written. If I write every day for three weeks, that means I read a document that started at 12 pages (my Plato section), went up to 15, then 20, then 25, then 30, then finished at 32, re-reading the entire draft as I had finished up (to that point) almost every time before I started writing again. So we’re talking about re-reading an average of probably 20 pages of text over a dozen times.

Not only that, I have some friends who read my work and provide feedback (thank you, you great people), so when they send me back my chapter with comments, I carefully go through their comments, revise my chapter, and then reread it again.

Again, I’m not particularly exceptional and do not have the reading load of research faculty. Your professors work hard in ways most of us haven’t tried to work. Respect that work.

Notes on Derrida

I’ve been reading Derrida for a forthcoming publication, so I’m just thinking out loud here. I invite other readers to join with me. Nothing I’m writing here attempts to engage the published scholarship on these topics.

Comments on Writing and Difference:

For being an atheist, he writes a lot about God.

His engagement with negative theology is needed and valid within the context of his argument in Writing and Difference. But it’s defective because he relies too much on Meister Eckhart (perhaps exclusively?), who was a thirteenth/fourteenth century Dominican monk. Eckhart was a German Catholic. His Catholic identity pressured him to pull back from the strongest expression of negative theology, which sounds heretical to Catholic ears. Derrida should have relied on Russian or Greek sources, but I don’t know what was available to him in French or German translation in the late 50s/early 60s. If he had, I think that would have led to a much more productive discussion of negative theology in Writing and Difference.

He’s a great close reader. He seems most interested in deconstructing the works that are most interesting and valuable to him. He doesn’t call it “deconstruction” in WD, though the word may appear there once. He uses the word deconstitution.

Since the chapters of WD are brought together from previously published articles, I’d like to list these chapters, along with his chapters in Of Grammatology and in Speech and Phenomena, all of which were published in 1967, in the order in which they were originally written, and then read them in that order, not in the book chapter order. I’d also like to list the pre-reading needed for each chapter. Order of publication in English doesn’t at all mirror order of publication in French.

Poetry at Millsaps Today

Earlier today, Millsaps College had scheduled the Jamaican poet Claudia Rankine to visit campus and read her poetry. She’s the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry at Yale University, and unfortunately her flight was snowed in, so she couldn’t make it. In her place, three local poets and authors — and one undergraduate sociology student — read from her poetry and discussed it. The topic of race came up quite a bit, of course, as it is a central concern of Rankine’s poetry, but one point that came out about Rankine’s poetry is that it didn’t offer any solutions to the problems of race. One of the worst of these problems is how we tend to be intractably identified with a series of racial characteristics that seem to define our behaviors for others even before we act. Her poetry seems to hope that if these problems with race are presented clearly enough that others could eventually discover solutions.

Her Jamaican origins got me thinking about Caribbean history and, by extension, postcolonial theory. One of the central problems with Caribbean identity is that it is hard to define: for the most part, any original islanders have long since been gone, so that island populations tend to be a mix of Africans, Indians (from India), Native Americans, and a variety of Europeans. Compounding the problem is the fact that few, if any, islands have a single European identity. Islands tended to change hands among the British, French, Spanish, and other European nations throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth century as treaty concessions.

So the question left with Caribbean nations — once they cut loose of the last European country to have colonized them — is, “Who are we?” They are too distanced from their African heritage to claim that as their own, and they are not just African anyhow. They seldom have a single European language or background, and if they did, it would be oppressive, so why keep that?

One solution that has come up, however, is the idea of hybridity. History has left most Caribbean nations a diverse mix of a variety of European, African, and Indian influences. They have been left by history a hybrid of many cultures and languages, and once they realized that, they realized they could form a new cultural and national identity out of that hybridity.

And then I realized the United States is a hybrid nation as well. And more personally, that I am a hybrid person. I grew up in a brand new Southern Californian subdivision alongside Scottish, Irish, Chinese, Mexican, Korean, Vietnamese, African-American, Puerto Rican, and mixed-race families. One couple was a Chinese man married to an African-American woman. Now when I say these families were Scottish, etc., I don’t mean really American with some Scottish background in the distant past. As Puerto Ricans we were all citizens of the United States from the start, but my mother grew up in Puerto Rico, as did my father’s mother, and Puerto Rico is very different culturally from the rest of the United States. Everyone else my age was first generation: first generation Scottish, Chinese, Irish, Mexican, etc. Their parents had moved to the US from those countries. My Chinese friend’s father didn’t even speak English yet.

So what is my culture? So Cal suburban? Yes, but a pretty diverse one, with many different languages, habits, and foods. But there’s more to it than that. I started thinking about Black culture and how much it made up my environment, and I realized that Black culture was a part of me. Among the hybridity that I experienced personally was a Black cultural identity. That was part of it too.

And while I realize this notion of hybridity is not an all-encompassing solution, I think it does present one possibility: every Black person in the United States can look at every white person in the United States and say, “My culture helped form who you are. It formed your history, your literature, your music, your art, your drama, your film, your sports, your science, your engineering. That means, like it or not, you’re part black. It’s not just that, as an American, I am part of your society. It’s that, as an American, you are part of mine.”

How might that change the terms of the discussion?

Reading Print Books Is Better than Reading E-Books

Yes, it’s true: the latest research indicates that reading material in print rather than in an electronic reader is better for you in the following ways:

  • Increased comprehension. The tactile experience of reading a printed book actually matters. Check out the research.
  • Related to the above, we’re more likely to read every line of printed material. When we read e-books, we tend to read the first line and then just the words near the beginning of the line after that.
  • We lose the ability to engage in linear reading if we don’t do it often.
  • Reading printed material for about an hour before bedtime helps us sleep. Reading ebooks keeps us awake.

I read both e-books and print books, and I’m grateful for my e-readers (really, the apps on my iPad) when I’m traveling. It’s easier to carry 1000 books on one iPad than it is to carry five in a backpack.

But I know what the researchers mean by the tactile elements of memory, the feeling of better control over your media with pages, etc. I do remember where to find things in books by their physical location in the book, which isn’t possible with an e-reader: you can only search terms and page numbers. I think the point here isn’t which search method is more efficient, but which reading style engages more of the brain by engaging more of our physical senses.

I’d like you to consider a few things about the way we developed our technologies:

  • The people who developed our technologies didn’t have our technologies. In other words, the people who built the first computer didn’t have computers.
  • The engineers who landed men on the moon did most of their work on slide rules.
  • The computers that they did use had less computing power than our telephones.

How Does Literature Mean?

Latest video lecture about how to read literature…

Music by Zoe Keating.

If you enjoyed this video, you also may enjoy reading Cassie Falke’s “Love and Reading” in the Fall 2012 issue of Integrite. It starts on p. 12.

On June 26th this video was further edited to slow down some text transitions and to add a section on individual readers’ responses to literature. Total video length is just over 5 minutes.

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