During the hour I'd be codifying my stray silliness into material suitable for you, dear readers (you no doubt remember my schedule) I'm
- frantically preparing for next week's talk and how to deal with the inevitable, nay, threatened interruptions
- finishing a related article on book-events and the (hopelessly busted) professional reviewing apparatus, and
- polishing the London chapter while researching the Wharton (as per my afore-posted itinerary).
Posting for the next few weeks will, of necessity, be related to one of those itemized adventures ... but that doesn't mean we can't keep things lively. Take tonight, for example. I could've posted some extremely dull noodling about Jack London, telic action, and collective stupidity, but I didn't. Why?
Because that would be boring. Instead, I present to you one of the paragraphs from the article on book-events. Not because I'm particularly proud of it. Just the opposite, in fact. I'm extremely unhappy with it in all its many, many iterations. So I ask for your assistance. The point is that I want this to be as terribly accurate as possible ... only when I'm accurate, the passage is needlessly, tediously, soporifically overlong. Too many words and it becomes a disposable complaint; too few, a cryptic, unjust grievance. I need to squeeze more terrible into fewer sentences, and I ask for your assistance in this. Here is what I have:
Consider the life of the average scholarly monograph. At first no more than a glimmer in the mind of a graduate student preparing for her qualifying exams, over the next three years it becomes something more. Chapters are polished and delivered to the disciplinary flagships—ELH, American Literature, Critical Inquiry—then to their period escorts—Nineteenth Century Literature, Twentienth Century Literature, Postmodern Culture—before landing in the holds of the undead authors—The James Joyce Quarterly, The Henry James Review, &c. A few respectable publications to her name, the reversion from independent articles to interdependent chapters begins. Large sections are reconceptualized in an effort to create a manuscript more representative of the sum of its parts. Years devoted to tinkering and conceptualizing, razing and reconceptualizing, rebuilding and resubmitting pass. Seven, perhaps eight years after winking into existence, her monograph is accepted by one of the few remaining reputable scholarly publishers. More corrections are made. Covers are designed and approved. Permissions are obtained. Ten, perhaps eleven years later, she holds her monograph in her hands. Friends and mentors who have already read it receive copies, as do the very journals which rejected parts of it years earlier. Her colleagues congratulate her—a raise is imminent, tenure now seems assured—but make little effort to read it. They have their own books to write. She moves on to her next project, and the process begins anew. Then, three years later, she finds evidence that someone other than herself has read her book: a 250-word review tucked away in the back of an academic journal. The review never engages her argument; neither praises nor condemns; and betrays little evidence of the reviewer having made it past the introduction. To paraphrase one of the great nineteenth century novelists, over the next few weeks she will acquire a passionate resistance to the confession that she had achieved nothing.
The next paragraph identifies the author (George Eliot), the work responsible for this manifestation of scholarly despair (Casaubon's The Key to All Mythologies) and says something clever. But I want to emphasize the horror that typically accompanies the publication of a scholarly manuscript—especially that first one—so that I might unfavorably compare it to the blessing that is one of our much-desired book-events. So please, tell me, what indignity have I missed? What crushing disappointment have I overestimated? How can I improve this paragraph?