Centrifugal Force

Taking refuge inside a profession . . . is only taking refuge; it is not answer to the goads all of us receive just by reading the morning’s news. —Edward Said

What’s the role of an editor, now, in the academic public turn? We can issue a call, and get out of the way; we can tend our own gardens, and, like so many of our colleagues, recalibrate our pedagogies; we can, perhaps most saliently, remind our authors that the public is not singular, and was always already there.

I thought about this again today as I edited our next entry in the “In These Times” blog (David Farley’s eloquent account of how his research into modernist travel led him to local activism), began to compile a list of readings for next semester’s graduate seminar on “Modernist Women as Public Intellectuals,” and turned once more to the never-pleasant task of writing rejection letters.

I had no idea, when I signed on as co-editor of Modernism/modernity, just how often I’d be using the term “centripetal,” or how loaded that term would feel. It’s the word that most often comes to mind, in correspondence with prospective authors, when I’m trying to explain why a piece just doesn’t work for us yet—because it doesn’t sufficiently look beyond the concerns of its own immediate subfield to engage with the range of our readership. In this moment, the understanding of audience, as we all learned (and taught) it in comp classes, feels particularly necessary: how in the world can we reach beyond the profession to the “public” if we can’t address a non-Woolfian, or the art historian across the hall?

On this site, this digital arm of our journal, we’ve congratulated ourselves for our outward-facing scholarship—open access, engaged discussion, overt activism. But at this juncture it's worth remembering that this outreach isn’t merely the province of Print Plus. Indeed, it’s the core mission of our entire journal, both platforms of it—to move beyond niche scholarship, to escape the hermeticism of departments and subfields, to engage our multidisciplinary readership with centrifugal force.

Debra Rae Cohen