Disturbing the Wednesday-ish Business-as-Usual of the University Studium: A Wayzgoose Manifest
Monsters University, Walt Disney Pictures, forthcoming 2013
by Eileen A. Joy
This time it is not I who seek it out […] it is the element which rises from the scene, shoots out of it like an arrow, and pierces me. A Latin word exists to designate this wound, this prick, this mark made by a pointed instrument […] This element which will disturb the studium I […] call punctum; for punctum is also: sting, speck, cut, little hole—and also a cast of the dice.
—Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida
What enables us to risk change is the feeling that we are understood and (therefore) accompanied.
—L.O. Aranye Fradenburg, “Living Chaucer”
Professional Challenges. Amateur Solutions.
—Motto of the Bruce High Quality Foundation
In a short piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Ditch the Monograph,” Jennifer Howard surveys some recent experiments by university presses to cultivate and produce shorter-form e-books (i.e., Princeton Shorts and Stanford Briefs),1 and wonders if these books might not “pull in new readers for serious scholarship,” and at a time, moreover, when “academic libraries have ever-smaller amounts of money and space to lavish on [longer] books, which often have more pages than they have readers.”2 Paul Harvey, the new director of Stanford University Press, explains that these books will be “accessible but not simplified, and should be digestible in one or two sessions—bite-sized—and not require a month of reading.”3 At the same time, we are witnessing the launching of new academic publishing initiatives, such as Anvil Academic, a platform for “born-digital” and “born-again-digital” “post-monograph” (non-book) research that is pinning its hopes for the future of academic publishing on networked and “digital-only” environments that would “free scholarly argument from the limitations of the printed monograph and allow authors to bring the full force of technology to the presentation of their work.”4 It appears important to the academic collective at Anvil to continue to maintain and ensure certain protocols of peer review, but in ways that are “better suited to networked environments.” Conversely, Zero Books (an imprint of John Hunt Publishing, Ltd.), one of the more radical and exciting academic imprints out there today, is offering shorter-form books that are very much still books in print as well as available in e-book formats. In their mission statement, Zero inveighs (in somewhat hysterical tones) that a “cretinous anti-intellectualism presides” over a contemporary culture, “cheerled by hacks in the pay of multinational corporations,” and thus the time is ripe for a different set of discourses—“intellectual without being academic, popular without being populist”—and while Zero Books, indeed, offers a particularly electric and eclectic list of reasonably-priced, shorter-form books (Slime Dynamics, Nuclear Futurism, and Levitate the Primate are just a few samples of their bracing titles), they do not offer any of their publications in open-access form. Thus, their desire for a reinvigorated and non-bland, non-consensual sphere of public intellectual debate is still somewhat in the shadow of the multinational corporations (such as Amazon.com, to which all of their book pages link) that their mission statement scorns.5
The university will continue to be an important site for keeping open the question of thought10 and for fostering various modes of thought-dissemination, but I also think it’s time for a subter-fugitive, vagabond, gypsy para-humanities, especially at a time when so many of us are barely hanging on to the university by the skin of our teeth (or hands or minds).11 Let’s “get lost” now, taking the humanities with us like so many suitcases, portable libraries, and sacks of contraband diamonds. Let’s figure out inventive ways to radicalize (and thus sustain) the humanities by absconding with them to the streets, alleys, market squares, ateliers, lounges, coffee shops, bookstores, sofas, wine bars, clubs, kitchens, bedrooms, galleries, dive bars, park benches, garages, living rooms, deserted urban zones, and crumbling basements.12 In short, let’s re-boot, let’s situate ourselves, like Diogenes on the outskirts of Athens, on the edges of our cities and towns, never losing sight of the places (and institutions) we care about, while also saying, fuck this. Let’s embrace a radical, polyglot cosmopolitanism that enunciates a “shaggy heart,” where we will have “no fixed abode” and be “nowhere a foreigner.”13 Like practitioners of Hakim Bey’s amour fou, we should strive to be “illegal” now, “saturating” ourselves with our own aesthetic, engaging in publishing ventures that would fill themselves “to the borders” with “the trajectories of [their] own gestures,” running “on angels’ clocks,” our only goal the “ingestion of the Galaxy,” and never tilting at fates fit only for “commissars & shopkeepers.”14 One of the things we have lost sight of in the university, and especially in our publishing practices, is the importance of play—now is the time, again cadging from Hakim Bey, to “share the mischievous destiny” of runaways, “to meet only as wild children might, locking gazes across a dinner table while adults gibber from behind their masks.”15 Without non-utilitarian play, and without the right to flail, flounder, and fail while playing, we risk the frigid stasis of the status quo, of always being trapped in what has already been said, what has already been played out. How did we get here? How did the creative arts get so thoroughly de-cathected from the “liberal” arts? How will we give birth to heretic-misfit love-child thoughts without unbridled play?16
So much for ontologically anarchic poetics and Bey’s wild children and crazy love: what about practicalities? Fuck practicality; this ain’t practical. For me, the most exciting publishing and dissemination ventures going are those such as continent., Speculations, Itineration, Anarchist Developments in Cultural Studies, the Organism for Poetic Research (OPR) and its publication PELT, Uitgeverij Press, eth press: postmedieval poetries, the Hollow Earth Society, the Bruce High Quality Foundation, the Confraternity of Neoflagellants, and so on17—journals, presses, and alternative research-cultural organizations entirely run and managed by graduate students and post-graduates (and some faculty collaborators) with no financial support to speak of and only tenuous footholds in the university (our academic precariat) and who are publishing or fostering some of the most exciting work in the humanities and arts right now, work that eschews and also troubles the waters of disciplinary genre, “review,” privilege, and status.18 It is one of the aims of punctum books to assist these and other new (extra- but also para-institutional) publishing initiatives with various forms of regular and longer-term support (economic, editorial, aesthetic, technical, promotional, etc.), but who is paying for this? No one; at least, no one “official.” We’ve simply scraped together what we have; we’re running on the steam of an international all-volunteer staff and gift-share economies, also martinis, WD-40, loose change, old Talking Heads albums, matches, a glitter ball, and chewing gum. And yet, we actually believe that an open-access and print-on-demand model (in which all of our publications are both free and available for purchase) may actually lead to something like financial solvency and even jobs, but we’re not making that a condition of our future plans. We aim to grow through a vast network of talented persons (some situated in universities and cultural institutions with paying jobs, some not) dedicated to a radically independent publishing ventures that would not be beholden to any specific university or commercial academic interest, and to fostering the broadest possible range of open-access print- and e-based platforms for the sustenance of what we are calling a “whimsical para-humanities assemblage”—an assemblage, moreover, that refuses to relinquish any possible form of public-ation (the making of cultural-intellectual stealth “publics” that would seep in and out of institutional and non-institutional spaces, hopefully blurring the boundaries between “inside” and “outside”: an ultimate fog machine), and we are also intent on resuscitating what we are calling postmedieval and pastmodern forms of publication (from breviary and commentary and florilegium to telegram and liner notes and inter-office memo, from the Book of Hours to the cassette mixtape).
The term “para-academic” was devised by Nicola Masciandaro, one of punctum’s founders, to capture
the multivalent sense of something that fulfills and/or frustrates the academic from a position of intimate exteriority. Para-academia is that which is beside academia, a place whose logic encompasses many reasons and no reason at all (para-, “alongside, beyond, altered, contrary,” from Greek para-, “beside, near, from, against, contrary to,” cognate with Sanskrit para-, “beyond”). The para is the domain of: shadow, paradigm, daemon, parasite, supplement, amateur, elite. The para-academic embodies an unofficial excess or extension of the academic that helps, threatens, supports, mocks (par-ody), perfects and/or calls it into question simply by existing next to it.19
This accords well, I think, with some of the sentiments expressed by the editors of continent. and Speculations during an online conversation they conducted with each other on the “aesthetics of (para)academic practice,” where Michael Austin wanted to distinguish between academia and the university—“I take academia to be the culture of knowledge-communication, while the university happens to be the most notable site of such communication in present society. There is no necessary connection between the two, nor should we assume academia requires the university in order to exist”—and Paul Boshears added this important exemplification of Austin’s comments: “Both Academia and the University are imagined communities, to borrow Benedict Anderson’s phrase. However, the University is an institution that accredits, controls, and stamps the passports of those that would enter its territory. It is a striated space as opposed to Academia’s [more] fluid space.”20
It is punctum’s aim to occupy this more fluid space but to also de-territorialize the University itself, disturbing and disrupting the Wednesday-ish, business-as-usual protocols of both the generic university studium and its individual cells and holding tanks, while also extending the very important work of the University into new and often untended spaces. Because our press was founded and is directed by premodernists (medievalists and early modernists),21 we have some serious love of the book as a material art object, we believe in material scriptoriums and libraries, and we also embrace the idea of the itinerant and also the cloistered scholar. We also imagine that printed matter might be of some use during and after our own pre- and post-apocalyptic “Age(s) of Simplification,” while we are also intent on making use of whatever “generators of electrical essences” we can get our hands on.22 We want it all, and we’re not inclined to ask for permission to “pretty, please” let us publish whatever it is we want to publish. In this sense, we are also impatiently presentist: we want things now, as opposed to later and if we make mistakes, if we speak (or publish) too soon, too hastily, we’ll depend on what Kathleen Fitzpatrick has termed post-publication review23 to sort that out. What we need now is more, and not less, thought, with more words, ruly and unruly, jostling with each other across the pages and liquid retina displays of our dispersed yet still ex/timate “commons.” This is not to say that punctum books does not care about the quality of the work it publishes (we wouldn’t publish just anything but we would certainly publish almost anything if it were interesting enough and well-written and if it appears to take seriously what we say we are looking to “pimp”: “writing as risk, adventure, a going-forth without ‘papers’ or guarantees: falling through the hole/punctum, a falling down, free-fall [….] quixotic, sagely mad engagements that generate and satisfy noetic-erotic need, textual thought-bodies that give pleasures only to be possessed in their presence”).24 Nor is this to say that we do not lavish close and creative attention upon the editing, formatting, and creative design of our publications (indeed, we want to distinguish ourselves in this manner from university and commercial academic presses that increasingly either outsource this work or defer upon authors more and more the responsibility for editing and proofing and sometimes even formatting the layout of their own manuscripts). We are not interested in the maintenance of specific genres or disciplines (is it literary theory? poetry? philosophy? art history? memoir? sociology? cybernetics? speculative fiction? code? who can tell?), and thus we take seriously Derrida’s belief in a university “without condition” which has the task, especially by way of the humanities, of ensuring “the principal right to say everything, whether it be under the heading of fiction and the experimentation of knowledge, and the right to say it publicly, to publish it.”25 We want a radical Open of thought. This is thus also about freedom, something in very short supply in the university these days, and which also has something to do with well-being, with eudaimonia, or flourishing.
But we do not scorn the University-at-large, or even specific institutions (Harvard, University of Chicago, Brooklyn College, Eastern Carolina University, Berkeley, whatever), which is to note (again) that para– is also the space of the “beside” and the “near,” and more than wanting to go against or beyond the university, we seek a more supplementary (even inter- or co-dependent) relationship,26 if also an occasionally antagonistic one. And I am not sure I would draw the same distinctions that some of the editors of continent. and Speculations might want to draw between “academia” and the “university/University.” For me, the university (similar to how both Michael and Paul described academia/Academia) is everywhere and anywhere I am at any given moment, and this also extends to all who think and write alongside me, in whatever “location,” virtual, material, or otherwise. The university is not just the buildings and lawns demarcated by specific geographical coordinates (42° 22′ 25″ N, 71° 6′ 38″ W=Harvard), but anywhere we gather to disseminate: I define this as a practice of, quite literally (following the Oxford English Dictionary), “scattering [knowledge] abroad” and “sowing” things and “spreading [knowledge] here and there,” and “dispersing (things) so as to deposit them in all parts.” Obviously, in some cases, specific locations matter a great deal, and the very hard work of the faculty and student activists to preserve the formerly free system of public higher education in California or to maintain the disciplines of philosophy or paleography at certain universities in the UK are extremely worthwhile and important political-pedagogical causes that we should all support however we can. Wherever persons gather to pro-fess and learn, there is something of value worth protecting, while at the same time, the university proper is increasingly becoming less “liveable” for increasing numbers of teaching faculty and actual and potential learners, and we need to pay attention to that.27 While some people fight the good fight on the inside of specific campuses and even across specific campuses, some of us will have to be willing to create and foster new domains of thinking-together (which is not the same as thinking alike). This will require risk, and a willingness to fall and tumble into holes.
Speaking of holes: punctum, in the idioms of the Middle Ages and Roland Barthes (refer to my first epigraph above), is simultaneously the moment (Augustine’s punctum; writing as always momentary), the pricks and punctures and perforations made by awls punching holes in vellum (what makes writing, but even more so, books, possible, opening-to-writing/writing-as-opening), and also the “pointed instrument” that disturbs the studium, the sting, the speck, and the cut, into and out of which anything might fall or emerge, and by which we feel ourselves pierced (writing as shock to the system—ours, our minds, our bodies, but also systems more largely). punctum is also the cast of the dice: we’re taking chances out here. It’s a form of play, but it’s also work, perhaps the best precarious job at present in the humanities-at-large.
Piece originally published at Continent |
1. See Princeton Shorts: Short Takes, Big Ideas, and “‘Bite-sized’ Reading from SUP,” Stanford University: The Dish, May 17, 2012. There is something delightfully silly in how the titles of both these book series conjure up images of men’s underwear, and it also reminds me that not many university presses are run by women. Palgrave Macmillan also recently announced a shorter-form e-book series, Palgrave Pivot.
2. Jennifer Howard, “Ditch the Monograph,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 14, 2012.
3. “‘Bite-sized’ Reading from SUP.”
4. “About Anvil Academic,” Anvil Academic. See also Adeline Koh’s interview with the head editor of Anvil, Fred Moody: “A Digital Solution to Academic Publishing? Introducing Anvil Academic,” ProfHacker [Chronicle of Higher Education weblog], September 24, 2012. I will note here that Anvil was conceptualized and is managed by a consortium of institutions (such as the Council on Library and Information Resources [CLIR], the National Institute for Technology in Library Education [NITLE], and University of Michigan Library’s MPublishing office, which is also partnered with Open Humanities Press), university scholars, and academic librarians, and is partly funded by various universities with an intensive interest in the digital humanities (such as the University of Virginia, Washington University in Saint Louis, and Stanford University, among others). Anvil appears to not have fully made up its mind whether or not it would offer services to those who might want to publish monographs (whether longer or shorter), edited collections, and journals in digital form (at times, in their various statements, they seem to be saying analog-style digital publishing is passé and not their focus, and at others, that they would welcome helping academics with digital platforms for e-versions of academic monographs, etc.). What does appear clear is that one of their chief motivating impetuses and concerns seems to be ensuring the maintenance of traditional forms of expert peer review, albeit within newly innovative digital publishing environments, and yet, at the same time, what is not clear from their website or published pieces on their project is exactly how (or what) they plan to offer in the way of technical infrastructures, platforms, and ongoing support for those new (and increasingly networked) environments.
5. “About Us,” Zero Books. Zero Books is a subsidiary of John Hunt Publishing, Ltd., a trade publisher based in the UK, known especially for the books it has published in the genres of spirituality or “New Age” studies (through its O-Books, Dodona, Mantra Books, Moon Books, Soul Rocks, and Circle Books imprints) and also in the genres of parapsychology, esoteric and mystic knowledges, holistic health, juvenile fiction, and erotica, among other subjects. While Zero Books is a welcome imprint in the multiverse of what might be called “radicalized” para-academic publishing, it appears to offer practically no close editorial support to its authors. Why I bother to mention this at all will be more apparent as my little wayzgoose diatribe here gathers more steam. Let it be said, however, that I have regularly purchased titles from this imprint because they are publishing authors whose work I admire (Rob Coley and Dean Lockwood, Mark Fisher, Graham Harman, Steven Shaviro, Eugene Thacker, Ben Woodard, to name some but not all), even while I find Zero’s editorial oversight, such as it is, appallingly uneven.
6. In his opening remarks to the “All in a Jurnal’s Work: A BABEL Wayzgoose” session (2nd Biennial Meeting of the BABEL Working Group, Boston, MA, 20-22 September 2012), from which my remarks here are culled and expanded upon, Isaac shared with us that, “as we proceed into the autumn with our printing projects always ahead of us and to be done, we will tonight literally be bathed not only by the artificial candlelight of our screens, but as well, in part bathed by photons raining down on us at 186,282 miles per second,” and also that “these photons that are raining down on us, will rain down on us all winter, [and] have been raining down on us all year . . . had their origin in the combustion cores at a center of 9 cyg, 572 years ago, in 1440, the year which we point to today as the common year in which, as we all know, Gutenberg is said to have brought the movable type press to the western world, inaugurating an era that stretches farther into the past and future than [Marshall] McLuhan could justify.”
7. I would note here that I am in deep admiration of the work of Open Humanities Press, and am especially keen on their experimental writing + publishing modes as evidenced in their Living Books About Life series and Liquid Books imprint, edited by Clare Birchall and Gary Hall, as well as in some of their journals, such as Vectors. From my vantage point, OHP has been consistent in thinking “outside the box” of traditional university and commercial academic publishing and they have published some of the most radical new thinking in the humanities (albeit somewhat slowly), but they cannot be viewed as completely “independent” of the university milieu from which all of their Editorial and Open-Access Board members, as well as the members of their Steering Group and Partners, hail. I simply seek a more radical, even anti-peer departure out of the academy for so-called “academic” publishing, while at the same time I support the idea of the university as one place among others where more radical publishing modes might be cultivated (as is the case with Anvil, OHP, Stanford Shorts, etc.), more on which below.
8. See Richard Fenyman, “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom,” Engineering and Science 23.5 (February 1960): 22–36.
9. See Julian Yates, “The Briefcase of Walter Benjamin/Benjamin Walter’s Briefcase: An Invent/ Story,” rhizomes 20 (Summer 2010.
10. Here, as always, I defer to Bill Readings, The University in Ruins (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996). An important, more recent companion
to Readings’ book is Christopher Newfield, Unmaking the Public University: The Forty-Year Assault on the Middle Class (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008).
11. I’m thinking here especially of all the post-grads with no, or contingent, jobs, the adjunct teaching staff, but also those who, for various reasons (including economic constraints), have been cut off or distanced from university life, who hope that they can play a role in intellectual “life,” but who feel increasingly unable to participate.
12. And here I would also pause to praise para-academic educational initiatives and organizations, such as The Public School New York, The Saxifrage School, The Vancouver Institute for Social Research, The Art School in The Art School, and The Brooklyn Institute for Social Research, to name just a few, no matter how long- or short-lived, that take advantage of non-traditional, non-institutional, and anti-hierarchical spaces in which to craft new teaching and learning environments that still value embodied social-pedagogical practices.
13. Julia Kristeva, Strangers to Ourselves, trans. Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 140.
14. Hakim Bey, “Amour Fou,” in Hakim Bey, T.A.Z.: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism (Brooklyn, NY: Autonomedia, 1991).
15. Bey, “Wild Children,” in T.A.Z.
16. On the importance of artful play to the humanities as well as to well-being, see L.O. Aranye Fradenburg, “Living Chaucer,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 33 (2011): 41–64, where she writes that, “Playing and pretending are crucial to the becomings of living creatures, to adaptation and behavioral flexibility; . . . it is transformative and transforming. We can neither thrive nor survive without it” (57). See also Aranye Fradenburg, “Frontline: The Liberal Arts of Psychoanalysis,” Journal of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry 39.4 (Winter 2011): 589–609.
17. See Speculations: A Journal of Speculative Realism, Itineration: Cross-Disciplinary Studies in Rhetoric, Media, and Culture, Anarchist Developments in Cultural Studies, Organism for Poetic Research and PELT, Uitgeverij Press, eth press: postmedieval poetries, Hollow Earth Society, Bruce High Quality Foundation, and the Confraternity of Neoflagellants.
18. Or as Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei put it during our BABEL Waygoose session, “Fuck peer review.” And as Vincent also puts it in one of the five maxims for his press, Uitgeverij (meaning simply, “Publisher”), “Only experiment can present the present. We only care about the new, whether past, present, or future. We enjoy publishing anything that’s between categories, obscure, or witnessing the edges of language. For us, all audience is potential” (see footnote 17 for Uitgeverij’s website address, where you will find all five maxims in a variety of different languages).
19. Nicola Masciandaro, quoted in Eileen Joy, “PARTY! Or is it a Panel Discussion on Para-Academic Publishing, or BOTH?” punctum books [weblog], February 20, 2012.
20. Jamie Allen et alia, “Discussions Before an Encounter,” continent. 2.2 (2012): 136–147.
21. But is it important to note here that punctum books aims to publish books and other types of texts across a wide range of fields and disciplines, and our Advisory Board is made up of scholars and artists who work on diverse subjects, from political science to architecture to feminist philosophy to metal theory to new media studies to art history and beyond.
22. References to Walter M. Miller, Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1959).
23. See Kathleen Fitzpatrick, “Peer Review,” in Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy (New York: New York University Press, 2011), 15–49.
24. All manuscripts that arrive at punctum are subjected to so-called expert review (although often not “blind” and we believe in sending manuscripts to readers who will have some sort of pre-determined “sympathy” with the projects of the authors they are asked to read); at the same time, we have three basic questions for what we will and want to publish: Is it smart? Is it well-written? Is it weird?
25. Jacques Derrida, “The Future of the Profession or the University without Condition (thanks to the ‘Humanities,’ what could take place tomorrow),” in Jacques Derrida and the Humanities: A Critical Reader, ed. Tom Cohen (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 26 [24–57].
26. On the important possibilities of newly imagined co-dependent co-disciplinarities and radically open confraternities as one way of moving the work of the para-“University” forward, see Jonathan Hsy, “Let’s FAIL Together, yeah yeah YEAH!” In The Middle, October 5, 2012.
27. As Thomas Gokey, one of Speculation’s editors, has put it, “In the United States at least, universities have been turned into shell corporations for Sallie Mae. That might sound overly dramatic or overly cynical but I think it is the most accurate way to think about our current situation. Right now the community of questioning, learning, researching and teaching has been captured by a system whose primary function is to extract as much value out of academics as possible. The main thing that universities produce is precarious, indebted, docile workers. Universities are one of the primary tools used to produce and maintain class difference. For the most part the poorest get excluded outright, the richest pass “Go” and collect $200, everyone else gets buried in decades worth of crushing debt for the privilege of receiving an education that will be recognized. An academic is a battery that gets plugged into this dying machine” (Allen et alia, “Discussions Before an Encounter” continent. 2.2).