Debra Rae Cohen is Professor of English at the University of South Carolina. She is the co-editor of Broadcasting Modernism and Teaching Representations of the First World War, and author of Remapping the Home Front; her current project is entitled Sonic Citizenship: Intermedial Poetics and the BBC. As former co-edtor of Modernism/modernity, she helped create the Print Plus platform, for which she curates the modernism and activism blog In These Times.
Debra Rae Cohen
I’ve been writing to you in this space since Print Plus was launched, touting the versatility of the platform and its potential for encouraging discussion, its ability to respond to the state and concerns of the field of modernist studies, its ability to accommodate new modes of academic discourse.
With the just-posted “Responses to the Responses to the Special
Issue . . .” Modernism/modernity brings to a close what we might call the Year of Weak Theory. We’ve run responses to the issue of September 2018 in five invigorating dollops—and now, in this sixth tranche, we let the authors from the special issue have the final say.
Except, of course, that it won’t be final. Just as the Print Plus platform couldn’t contain (or, perhaps, represent) the full measure of discussion about the issue—so too will the productive reactions to it, and to the responses, ripple out far beyond the journal. Or perhaps (thinking here in the spirit of Aarthi Vadde and Melanie Micir’s response) that is the wrong metaphor to use, reinforcing as it does a center-periphery model of modernist studies. Rather, let’s say, that just as the responses helped us redefine what we mean by a special “issue”—opening its borders—so too, the real, continued, life of that issue will be in “para-institutional” spaces.
The release of Megan Quigley’s Print Plus cluster on “The Waste Land” and #MeToo earlier this spring sparked a new round of a familiar plaint here at Modernism/modernity—“How can I get copies?” “How can I share this with my classes?” Given the media-savviness of most of our students, chances are that they could figure it out for themselves; but we’ve been missing a convenient link between page and pedagogy. Now, we’re happy to say, we have one.
M/m has partnered with the non-profit Hypothesis Project to incorporate into the Print Plus platform annotation software that makes it possible to mark up our web texts as a class, or in a reading group—or even as a solitary researcher. As a pilot project, we made this available a few weeks back to the British Association of Modernist Studies, who incorporated its use into their BAMS Training Day, working with Gabriel Hankins’s article from the Special Issue on Weak Theory (you’ll see their response, enabled by the use of Hypothesis, in the next batch of Responses to that issue).
Thank goodness for the vagaries of academic publishing, which often result in M/m’s January issue coming out late enough in February to allow me to deliver one more barrage of news under the rubric of “2018.” (As if we hadn’t heard enough from that year—I know.)
Though some of you may have heard this news through other media, I thought it was important to acknowledge here on the Print Plus platform itself the honor that we have just been accorded by the Association of American Publishers: the 2019 PROSE Award for Innovation in Journal Publishing. Conceiving, designing, building, and sustaining this platform—not to mention convincing change-resistant institutions of its rigor, vision, and utility—has, I have intimated all too often in this space, been an arduous process. It’s very heartening to see that vision and that labor recognized. Cognizant of the glut of awards shows in this season, I will keep the thanks brief: suffice it to say that without the support of the MSA board and the JHUP development team, mountains of extra work from Sunshine Dempsey and the rest of the editorial staff, and most of all, the extraordinary skill and acumen of Matt Huculak and, more recently, Emily Christina Murphy, this platform would not exist.
The recent MSA conference in Columbus—full of fabulous presentations as it was—reminded me anew that the real energy of such events gathers and builds in the roundtables. Or in the bar, or over coffee, or wherever discussion spills over beyond its allotted 90 minutes. We’re trying to duplicate that energy here on Print Plus.
The schedule for print issues of Modernism/modernity—like so many institutional features of the university—seems to be designed for a different time, a different model of the academic life.
Two years into this Print Plus project, the platform is both an established, integral part of Modernism/modernity and an ongoing experiment.
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 woke up yesterday morning to find my Twitter feed in an uproar, with outraged UK academics piling on to disparage, rebut, and generally mock the comments of Andrew Adonis, Chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission, on the subject of the “sacrosanct” academic “3 mth summer holiday.”
A year ago, Modernism/modernity, amid excitement and trepidation, launched this platform with the aim of renewing and enlivening the journal and extending its reach—making it possible to include a range of media as integral parts of articles, to introduce innovative new formats for publication and new modes of collaboration, to respond in real time to compelling events, to continue conversations (and take issue) across platforms, to grow and change in response to the needs of our scholarly community.
In These Times is a space for our community to explore issues of social justice, teaching, and research in uncertain times.
A journalist friend of mine complained a couple of days ago that “the downside of writing about the Trump era is you spend two hours writing and even worse shit has erupted in the meantime.” I know what he means. In the week since I set out to write this brief note—an invitation to continue, in a new blog forum, the work of Lesley Wheeler’s current posting on “Scholarship and Justice”—the very earth seems to have shifted beneath our feet. Threats have become reality. Neologisms have erupted. Websites have disappeared.
As Lesley Wheeler—and others—reminded us in last cycle’s Process blog, the model of the solitary academic has always been an inadequate and misleading one. All editors know this: collaboration is built into every stage of our process.
What is a journal “issue”? Glancing over to my bookshelf with its arrayed white rows of M/ms past, I see what James Mussell has called the periodical’s “dynamic of seriality” made manifest: each issue is new, unique, yet advertises its newness within a framework of repetition. With this second “issue”—perhaps better termed “cycle”—of M/m’s Print Plus platform, we begin to embrace the mode of seriality made possible by digital publication: rather than one discrete and contained “issue,” this and future cycles comprise a set of staggered uploads over the course of the life of, and complementing, augmenting, and even answering, the concurrent print issue. The experience of reading M/m across its platforms will thus change continually throughout the cycle, be made new with each successive visit.
In their editorial introduction to the first issue of Modernism/modernity, Lawrence Rainey and Robert von Hallberg declared their intention to “convey some sense of the grand ambition and scope” of the modernists by modeling in the journal the ferment of the period, “contestation . . . between old and new orders, of course, but also between various divisions of the intellectual endeavor.”