Archives for category: adventures in academic publishing

The very long gap between posts has an explanation:

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Please buy my fucking book.

I have a bunch of projects on the new to-do list:

A collection on Albert Brooks that will be part of Edinburgh University Press’ ReFocus series.

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There’s also a project on infrastructure after the apocalypse in film-literature adaptations, which is getting started with something about The Postman (1997). I’ll have a post on Kevin Costner’s continuing weirdness some time in the week.

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There’s also a project on spy movies and geography because for some reason I can find something to write about in Bourne movies at the drop of a hat.

Bourne Identity control room 2.pngAnd I have more stuff about infrastructure and genre, going from Hollywood to non-Hollywood mostly because I want an excuse to write about Memories of Murder (2003)

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The reader reports for “Where Is France in French Cinema, 1976-2013” all noted that the tone was a bit….less than professional and academic. Thankfully, the editor of the special issue, Jane Stadler, didn’t mind me doing things like calling Brisbane a backwater and gleefully admitting that I hadn’t watched a bunch of movies and, probably most of all, saying that I’m not worried about being wrong because what I really care about it using visualizations of narrative settings to reconsider how we think of film history.

The marketing people at University of Edinburgh Press picked my inappropriate-tone article to highlight in the most recent issue of the hilariously named International Journal of Humanities and Arts ComputingIt’s right here.

It took them long enough – I submitted on 1 August 2014 and didn’t get any response until 25 March 2015, which is almost eight months – but PMLA finally made a decision on my submission, “Arthur Hailey as Richard Nixon. Workplace Safety in Airport.”

They said no, but their reader reports were, by leaps and bounds, better than any reports I’ve ever received. The “reject” reports said nicer things than the reports I’ve had that say “publish.” It’s certainly the first time I felt better after reading the reasons for rejection.

On the one hand, that feeling comes from the praise they embed in the rejection (more on that soon enough). But what really makes the reader reports good is that it’s clear they read my shit carefully and then wrote a clear and considered set of critiques.

First of all, there’s nothing worth quoting out of the positive, “publish” response. It makes a few suggestions about re-organization and further contextualization (which I did before I sent a revised version to another journal). When you can just pass over the report that thinks you’re just fine in favour of the reports that aren’t convinced of your overall greatness, you know you’re onto something.

From the negative pile, there’s the nice bit, “The section on the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization is especially well developed and includes some useful sources. Finally, I think the writer does well to reflect on Hailey’s status as a best-selling, mass-market author and the place of his works in popular literature.” That’s a decent enough series of attaboys.

But the tie-breaking reader has some real gems that made me feel like I got rejected for good reasons: “This is a brisk, intelligent essay, and it has at its heart some very important “crux” issues….I learned a lot from this essay, and I came away pretty convinced on the third front — that there was a certain kind of ideological alignment or compatibility between Hailey and, if not Nixon (too large a figure to encapsulate this specific a commitment), at least a “Nixonian” approach to labor and, perhaps, workplace safety. The essay does a fine job reading the representations of labor, managerial stress, and well-being in Hailey’s fiction, and its political context is important and nicely sketched.” At this point in my first reading of the report, I double-checked that it indeed said, “reject.” But it did.

I particularly like the way in which my admittedly thin contextualization of the PATCO stuff gives the reviewer pause:

I think the economic and political historicizing of this essay is still a bit thin as well, in that the author works too much from inside-out: from PATCO to the debates over air traffic control and workplace safety, but without any broad scale contextualization of where capitalism or federalism are in the moment he or she is describing. Don’t get me wrong: the author has persuaded me the argument could be made. But to make a more convincing case about “hegemonic” thinking in the polity as a whole, one just would need a fuller sense of the moment, politically and ideologically

When I got to the “don’t get me wrong” part, I almost died of pleasure. I’d like to think it’s the briskness of my prose that carried this reader along, convincing her/him that I was on the right track. Maybe it was even the force of my rhetoric, limited as it was by my thin contextualization. But it’s plain that the reader liked but didn’t love the submission. For once I wish the readers weren’t anonymous so that I could thank them. I even like that it was just a rejection, and not a ticket for the revise-and-resubmit treadmill. I can’t name them, but at the very least these anonymous readers must be encouraged.

Something terrible and predictable happens when you watch a film over and over and over to write about it, especially when it’s a film no one has written about. A film like Monkeys Go Home! I had to put the chapter away for a while, because I started to convince myself that Monkeys Go Home! was an unacknowledged masterpiece. I don’t want to give away too much, since Intellect will want the book to be as all-new as possible, but here’s an earlier draft of what I find kind of crazy about the movie: After dispensing with the political conflict underpinning the narrative conflict, Monkeys Go Home offers a magical, ideological solution to the narrative conflict itself – everyone works for Hank for free because he previously proposed to have his chimpanzees work at all the farms in the village gratis. Paired with this second-hand neighborliness is that old standby, the romantic couple. Not only do Hank and Marie pair off, but Marie provides a male chimpanzee for (one of?) the four female chimps. Father Sylvain, unlike Don Camillo, picks a side and overtly collaborates. He helps the American capitalist; for his efforts he is paired off with Paraulis, who finds religion, or at least finds sanctuary from the mob, in the church. The anti-imperialist communists, the village’s villains, are thus redeemed by the exposure of their faux-intellectual Paraulis (who does look a little like Jean-Paul Sartre). But Carlucci, the sincere communist who looked to have lost the argument about American imperialism, does not find religion, does not take part in the mass pro-American demonstration of volunteerism at the end of the film, and does not disavow his political beliefs. He just goes back, one assumes, to his dog-ravaged butcher shop to pick up the pieces, alone. The logic of the Hollywood/Disney happy ending mistakes Carlucci’s quiet departure and lack of romantic partner at the conclusion as being proven wrong, but otherwise Walt’s anti-union, anti-communist populism clearly and joyously wins the day. I will add some images later.

Added images:

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When I was a student at University of New Hampshire, I took a class co-taught by Jane Bellamy (who is now at University of Tennessee Knoxville). Two things she said that semester stick with me. The first is more a question of how she said things. She would talk about how a book is about concrete things (its plot/content), but about other things (its larger formal and ideological significance/s). When she said the second-meaning about, she would drop her voice an octave and add gravel to it. I stole this approach immediately, and use it to this day.

The semester after Bellamy’s class (which she co-taught with Sandhya Shetty), I took a class that Janet Aikins Yount taught. During one class, she told the class that anyone who does their standard reading on any and every text (what Jane Bellamy called “pouring the book into the theory grinder”) is doing the text and themselves a great disservice. Your reading of the text, she made quite clear, needed to emerge from the evidence in front of you. Thus, I wrote a not-particularly great seminar paper for that class. I took some solace in her comment that she was happy to see that I tried to stretch myself.

I’ve been thinking about Jane and Janet a fair bit as I’ve been watching Jack Nicholson movies for a chapter in Hollywood’s Imaginary Geography. I don’t really like Jack. If pressed, I’d probably say About Schmidt is my favourite Nicholson film. But so help me, when I sat down and looked at the films that get lumped together in the Hollywood Renaissance canon, I saw that he occupies a significant place in the canon. The empty space at the centre of the Hollywood Renaissance’s vision of America is especially clear in Nicholson’s films through 1980.

The pink dots are the more or less agreed-upon Hollywood Renaissance films, the grey the top 25 films from 1967-1980, and the green dots are Nicholson movies from 1967-1980. I can already see that I forgot to add in Richmond VA from The Last Detail and Estes Park CO from The Shining, but let’s leave that aside for the moment.

Hollywood Renaissance Jack Nicholson Top 25

What we can see in the Nicholson locations is the road trips his films take up the coasts (Five Easy Pieces, The Last Detail) and across the bottom third of the country (Easy Rider) with a few coastal locations (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Carnal Knowledge, Chinatown). There’s no middle America. In fact, the only distinctly middle American filmmaker in the Hollywood Renaissance is Peter Bogdanovich, who has Paper Moon and The Last Picture Show. But otherwise, the sense of “flyover country” is quite strong. To riff on the tagline for Easy Rider, when the film brats went looking for America, they couldn’t find it anywhere in the midwest.

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Chinatown Echo Park 1

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I would never have consciously decided to write about Jack Nicholson (at least not like I was happy to write about Burt Reynolds), but what his movies are about, in terms of their locations/geography, emerges quite clearly out of the data.

I really wish I’d have given up on an academic position much sooner. When I tell people about my job now, I always say, “If I’d known I’d have liked this job so much, I’d have looked for it much sooner.” A while back someone I follow on twitter approvingly linked to “No End in Sight: Academic Research and “Time Off”” In it, Amanda Ann Klein writes about her search for a job “that might actually pay me a salary commensurate with my rank and experience,” which is what I went through for five years as a trailing spouse. It made me an increasingly miserable and unlikable person. Then she did something that I cannot praise enough:

What happens when a professor no longer has any incentive to work at the breakneck pace at which she has been encouraged to work since she first embarked upon that great and arduous journey towards a career in academia?

Nothing. Nothing happens. And, dear reader, it is glorious.

I had much the same experience in “leaving” academia. I still work in a university, but I’m professional staff. I work with international ESL students, mostly from science and engineering, to help them improve their writing. And I get paid a lot of money. Like a fuckton of money: twice as much as I have ever made in my life (which doesn’t say much for my previous earning capacity but then again it’s still more than a tenured professor makes at a state university in the US, so small victory there). I make this wonderful amount of HEW8-rank money for working all of four days a week. I work 9 to 5 and when I get home my time is my own. Monday through Thursday I read or watch movies or surf online. On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, unless I have a soccer game, and when I’m not running errands, I do research during the day.

I get a lot done. Since March I’ve signed a contract for The Imaginary Geography of Hollywood Cinema, 1960-2000, returned proofs for two articles within 24 hours, finished/revised seven articles and one book chapter, finished the data-accumulation and written a two-page version of a book proposal about spy novels and clandestine geography that I will do after the imaginary geography book. I’ve also gone to two film conferences (one in town, one in Tasmania) because I make enough money as a not-contract-lecturer-without-institutional-support-of-any-kind to pay my own way to a conference. I did share a room with a postgrad to save money, but that’s more out of habit than anything else. I’ve also invited tp participate (travel and hotel paid for!) in the National Tertiary Education Union’s Insecure Work Conference. I got picked (and funded) because of my experience as an adjunct and, now, as a “soft-money”-funded professional staff member. It should be a combination of fury-inducing confrontations with the status quo and inspiring discussion of how the union can deal with it practically.

What I find most wonderful about this situation is that I do what I want to do because I want to do it. When we moved to New Zealand in 2008, I thought I just wanted to teach. But I found, in between hustling for tutor and lecturer gig and getting blacklisted by the PVC Arts that I kind of liked to do research. And that there wasn’t much that looked like mine. And that when I wrote about what I wanted to write about, I could write like a person rather than a research-unit-producing-staff-member.

So this is a rare happy story in the “adventures in academic publishing” category. I dusted off this draft because one of the editors I’m working with 1) praised my ability to turn around requested revisions quickly and 2) then asked for a very fast turnaround. When I felt OK with that, I knew that something was amiss, but in a positive sense.

I recently applied for a job in an academic department. I didn’t really want the job, but I wanted to know – I might even say needed to know – if I could least make the long list, the short list, or even the interview stage. I’ve stopped applying for academic jobs not only because I have a job that I really love, but also because I grew weary of writing carefully tailored cover letters. What I have grown even more weary of is the endless “will you be one of my referee?” emails. But I found referees on three continents to support this application and sent in the materials with a fair bit of confidence.

Needless to say, I didn’t even make the long list.

As I read the rejection letter, something one of my referees mentioned during one of our email exchanges immediately came to mind. This referee wrote, and I paraphrase, “you’d be a good hire, but they’re going to hire an Important Department Member’s former student, who is currently “stuck” teaching at a university in a sub-optimal location.”

Something Jonathan Wilson recently wrote about match-fixing in cricket seems to speak to inside-track, specially-written job description success in the academic job market. Wilson first tells a story about the press box in Romania greeting the news of Chelsea scoring two late goals to snatch a victory with the immediate response, “Fixed!” Then he tells a story about a cricketer he knows:

The former Test player told me about his greatest performance for his country. With the opposition chasing a gettable target in the fourth innings, he’d taken three quick wickets in the final session to help secure a narrow victory. He spoke of his pride, of the thought that whatever else happened, he’d helped his country win a memorable victory. Now, he says, he looks back and wonders. Was it genuine?

Why did that player hit the ball in the air from that delivery? And why had that other player missed that straight one to be lbw? The greatest hour of his professional life, he said, had been ruined by doubt, because now he wondered whether he had actually taken those wickets, or whether they had been ordered by some bookmaker on the other end of a phone.

That is terrible. It’s like finding out that the wife you thought loved you is being paid to stick around, like finding out that the friends who laugh at your jokes are actually resentful extras, like finding out that the glowing review for your new book was actually written by your agent’s best mate. It’s like realising you’re Truman Burbank. I can’t even begin to quantify how that must feel, to strive for years at a skill, to work and practise and hone and refine and then to produce under pressure at a key moment, and not to know whether you deserve the congratulations.

That former Test player had lost his faith in sport, and perhaps even a little in life. Those Romanian journalists were so browbeaten by the regular scandals of the game in their country at the time that they preferred to meet all sport with a carapace of scorn than believe a good team could score two late goals against a less good team.

And that is, in a nutshell, how academia has not changed. What used to be an old boys club is just a more diverse club. Or at least that’s a way to look at how the limited number of good jobs get distributed within the realm of possibility. I guess that counts as an improvement?

I just sent proofs back for my chapter, “New Zealand Lamb Is People: Bad Taste, Black Sheep and Farming.” There were two changes, one of which was a missing “g” in “includin”. But the other change was a non-change. The “offending” sentence reads like so:

But sheep remained important to New Zealand’s economic and cultural identity; their population may have peaked in the early 1980s, but sheep remain Kiwi as.

The book’s editor, Tom Hertweck, asked me about this when I sent him the first version of the chapter. I explained how “Kiwi as” and “Sweet as” and “WORD as” works. He saw that it fit in with the chapter’s larger argument: a chapter about sheep/lamb in the NZ cultural imaginary is a fair place to use NZ slang.  But the press’s editor wrote “If this is a NZ colloquialism, maybe delete?” Tom, to his credit, dusted off our previous correspondence to back up my desire to keep “Kiwi as.” He’s on the lifetime cool list for that.

Almost the entire point of using “Kiwi as” is to make a claim in the way that the people I’m talking about would make it. I mis-pronounce every placename in Brisbane that has either “wh” or “ng” in it because I completely internalised Te Reo Maori pronunciation so that I wasn’t That Kind of American. It’s not too much effort to “indulge” other English-speakers their language.


The cover art is cute, and the book will be out for Christmas (not that you should buy it from amazon)



There’s a special issue of Modern Fiction Studies deadline coming up for an issue on infrastructuralism. Originally I had planned an article about Philip Reeves’ Mortal Engines series, something along the lines of “a city travels on its sewers.” But I changed my mind and went for zombies instead. It may or may not have had something to do with Bruce Robbins, one of the editors, writing about zombies.

This is the current version of the first paragraph (I’ve removed the footnotes):

In Pretend We’re Dead: Capitalist Monsters in American Pop Culture, Annalee Newitz connects zombie narratives to, among other things, slavery, colonialism, and race relations. Her contention that, “Zombies, vampires, and mummies bear in their half-alive bodies the signs of great social injustice whose effects cannot ever be entirely extinguished” (Newitz 91) is true, but not exhaustive. Recent articles on zombies have read them in terms of, among other things, affect, AIDS, appetite, biopolitical governmentality, dehumanization, imperialism, military occupation, postcolonial hybridity, and precarity. This incomplete list points to how the figure of the zombie can combine social critique with sales. While this is another essay about zombies, it is not about zombies and race or gender or sexuality or class or biopolitical governmentality. At least not explicitly. Rather, it is an essay about zombie novels and infrastructure. If there’s a practical undercurrent to zombie apocalypse novels, it’s to be found in their engagement with the role and form of the infrastructure and planning in everyday life after the apocalypse. Novels like Max Brooks’s World War Z,Mira Grant’s zombie trilogy Feed, Deadline, and Blackout, and Colson Whitehead’s Zone One,imagine not just fighting the zombie horde, but also rebuilding after the zombie apocalypse. For these novels, arriving at something like zombie détente is a matter of public works. In other words, zombie apocalypses in early 21st century American literature stage the danger the crumbling US infrastructure – and the way of life it supports – poses to the nation getting about its everyday business, an ambient danger that practically precludes the collective action necessary to confront social injustices.

(In the Land of the Dead image a highway overpass has been turned into a defensive structure, not a roadway. In the Warm Bodies image the city has turned back to an ancient/Medieval city form, the walled city.)

Comments like this from peer reviewers:

Overall, the article is very readable, but there are a number of sentences which are somewhat clumsily put together. These have been indicated using track changes. Also, the tone veers away from the academic to the more journalistic on a number of occasions.

I would guess that the moments this reader doesn’t like look like this: “Bienvenue is not a great film; instead, it’s a perfectly acceptable comedy that seems to have appealed to nearly everyone in France, selling more than 21 million tickets in a country of 66 million.” Evidently it’s best to avoid this kind of overstatement in an academic article.

A similar complaint arrives in response to my claim that,

Hollywood films set in Paris will, inevitably, begin with an establishing shot of the Eiffel Tower; see, for example, An American in Paris (1951, Vincente Minneli), Sabrina (1954, Billy Wilder), Anything Goes (1956, Robert Lewis), as well as later films like An American Werewolf in Paris (1997, Anthony Waller), The Bourne Identity (2002, Doug Liman), and The Devil Wears Prada (2006, David Frankel), among many others.

To my peer reviewer, this is a gross generalization. It is a gross generalization that is also true (I had a longer list – three films from the 50s-60s-70s-80s-90s-00s-10s – but cut it for space).

And a great one, that admits that I’m right, but for the wrong reasons: “Lyon, in fact, is only invisible in terms of the criteria chosen for mapping. Nonetheless, I think this is a valid point, that Lyon isn’t seen as a cinematic location in the way the other two major French cities are.”