the crisis of scholarly publication: a regurgitating choragraphy of CCCC 2009

My CCCC 2009 experience was bookended by vomit, literally, though fortunately not my own. On the BART train in from SFO, the doors opened at a Mission district stop just in time to perfectly frame a young man vomiting. I recognized this immediately as hailing me into the orbit of urban life. A few days later, as I stepped out of the SF Hilton following the final session, a young woman stood on the side walk and barfed into the street.

Better out than in, I suppose.

Maybe regurgitation was the hidden theme of CCCC 2009: nausea caused from all those waves. Then again, perhaps put cynically, regurgitation might be the general operation of the conference, not just C's but the conference in general. I attended many computers and writing panels. How often is it the same old, same old? How many times do we hear the same questions, year after year? "But my college wouldn't never let us do that in comp." "But how does that teach 'writing'?" And, "what do you mean by 'web 2.0'?" It's regurgitation. I imagine it is often the same in other areas of interest in our field. "What should we do with the fact that Heidegger was a Nazi?" An important question? Maybe. Maybe they are all important questions. But did we need to travel thousands of miles and bloat our carbon footprints to regurgitate the answers?

One noted difference at the conference was the disappearance of publishers. We've been talking about this "crisis" for most of this decade at least, but the recent economy has changed the tenor. We see Clay Shirky and Steven Johnson talking about the future of the newspaper and essentially arguing that the old model is going, going, gone but that news itself will mutate into a variety of forms. As Shirky astutely observes,

When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers,
they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a
revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break
before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that

ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be
spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous
practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to.

I think it is fair to say that we are in a related situation in terms of scholarly journals and books. Arguably the old system must break before a new one will have a chance to emerge. In the interim, and already, we can see a variety of measures and experiments–from blogs to online journals like Kairos to WAC Clearinghouse and Parlor Press to open source textbooks. If we follow Shirly's logic, none of these may replace traditional scholarly publication. Some may take up parts of the old, but more importantly something new needs to come along.

I don't want to regurgitate, again, the discourses surrounding digital scholarship. I think this will quickly become a non-argument as traditional publication simply becomes an economic impossibility. Given the choice between re-evaluating the scholarly quality of digital publication and subventing humanities scholarship, what choice do you think academia will make?

The more difficult task will be extricating ourselves from the remediating horseless carriage of the PDF file and the digital monograph. Who knows how long we will need to continue to toss up the scholarly essay? No doubt we will get to experience a decade of dry heaves. In the end though, a networked, collective/participatory intellectual compositional practice will, I imagine, look very different from the atomized writing model, the overdetermined, citational management of the network, and limited interactivity of contemporary scholarship. But that is likely a long way off. You can try and swallow that if you want, but it will probably just come back up.

In the empty space of missing book displays at CCCC, there were posters of Wordle images made from panel titles from various decades. Make of this knowledge what you will. To me, it is always supplemental. But it is clear that the words Writing and Composition keep coming back up. Not surprising, right? When will we be done regurgitating these words?

Maybe the answer to scholarly publication lies in that question.

Better out than in.