I am the latest academic to be interviewed on the excellent Canadian website, Figure/Ground Communications. My interview is here. I talk both about my own current research in Whitehead and speculative realism, and in science fiction, and about the current state of academia, at a time when “the university is under threat… from the relentless demands of capital accumulation, which has led to both the defunding of educational institutions, and their instrumentalization and monetization as nothing more than potential sources from which an economic profit may be extracted.”
Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category
Today marks the inauguration of REFRAME, “an open access academic digital platform for the online practice, publication and curation of internationally produced research and scholarship” on film, media, and music. REFRAME is edited by Catherine Grant, of the School of Media, Film, and Music at the University of Sussex; she also runs the invaluable Film Studies for Free blog.
Among other things, REFRAME is publishing Sequence: Serial Studies in Media, Film, and Music, a new, peer-reviewed open-access scholarly journal.
And I am proud to say that the first issue of Sequence features an article of mine about Lars von Trier’s 2011 film Melancholia, entitled “Melancholia, or the Romantic Anti-Sublime”. This is the most sustained work I have done since my 2010 book Post-Cinematic Affect; it is about 18,000 words long — which is too long for a conventional academic article, but too short for a book. I am thrilled, therefore, that it can now be published digitally, as the online format allows for more varied lengths than is possible with conventional print. I am also thrilled that this publication is open access: which is something that, I strongly believe, all academic work should be. In this way, my essay is available to contribute to future work by others, who may respond to it in all sorts of ways.
The new issue (#12) of the film journal La Furia Umana is out; it’s a special issue on Jerry Lewis! There are 23 articles (!!!) on Jerry, including my new piece on his late masterpiece Smorgasbord (aka Cracking Up). (Besides the Jerry Lewis material, the issue also contains, among other goodies Kim Nicolini on Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, and something I haven’t read yet by the great film critic Nicole Brenez).
UPDATE: Since the pdf available from the Furia Umana site has formatting problems, a cleaner pdf of my article on Smorgasbord is available here.
In other news, my web posting about “work for hire” has been translated into Haitian Creole by John Obri — for which much thanks.
A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned on this blog a situation I was in: that I was unwilling to sign a contract for an essay I had written in contribution an anthology of critical essays from Oxford University Press (OUP), because the contract stipulated that the essay would be regarded as “work for hire.” This would mean that I would have absolutely no rights as the author of the work. Whereas most academic press contracts ask you to sign away certain of your rights, by transferring copyright from yourself to the press, this contract from OUP meant that I would have no rights at all — if I signed, I would be agreeing that (as Gordon Hull put it — see the comments to the previous blog entry) “copyright was never [mine] in the first place — it belonged to OUP from the start.” It is obvious that, were this to become the norm in academic publishing, then intellectual enquiry and academic freedom, as we now know them, would cease to exist. Writers would become “knowledge workers” whose output belonged to the press that published them (or to the university at which they worked, in another variant of the scenario) in the same way that code written on the job at Microsoft, Apple, or Google belongs to those companies, and not to the writers themselves.
Well, the academics who are putting together the volume to which I was supposed to be contributing graciously asked OUP on my behalf about the work for hire provision. The response they got back was that the Press wouldn’t budge on work for hire. I don’t think I have permission to actually reproduce the words of the editor from OUP, so I will paraphrase. What he basically said was that traditional publication agreements are insufficient because they only give presses “limited sets of rights.” In other words, he was openly confessing that OUP seeks complete and unlimited control over the material that they publish. The justification he gave for this was that old neoliberal standby, “flexibility” — OUP is seeking to do all sorts of digital distribution, and if rights are limited then they may not be able to control new forms of distribution that arise due to technological changes. Of course, the mendaciousness of this claim can be seen by the fact that, as was confirmed to me by one of the people involved in putting together the volume, the “work-for-hire” provision was in place long before the Press even got the idea of supplementing physical publication of the volume with a (no doubt password-protected and expensive to acces) website.
Equally alarmingly, the editor said in his email that this “work for hire” provision was now standard practice for the press, at least as regards their very ambitious series of “Handbook” volumes. In other words, OUP is being quite systematic in usurping authors’ rights. If we don’t stop this now, it will become more and more prevalent throughout academic publishing. The volume to which I was supposed to contribute is quite an excellent one, with lots of great articles (I don’t want to mention its name here so as not to disparage the work of the three academics who put it together).
But I, for one, am determined never to write for Oxford University Press again, unless they eliminate this policy; and I would urge others to refuse to write for them as well. I know that people in less privileged positions than mine are pretty much compelled to sign odious agreements of this sort, because they need the publications for academic credit and recognition, and often specifically for tenure or promotion. So I don’t condemn anyone who does enter into so unfavorable an agreement — rather, I would hope that action by those of us who can afford to take our work elsewhere, or simply make it available for free, will lead to the elimination of such exploitative contracts altogether. I would advise all academic writers to look carefully at their contracts, before they commit themselves.
I will also not be buying any OUP books in the future — which is something of a sacrifice, as they are an important press. [I recently purchased from OUP, at an exorbitant price, the important new book by Stephen Mumford and Rani Lill Anjum, Getting Causes From Powers -- which I hope to write about on this blog or in some other forum soon. Should a future situation of this sort arise, I will just have to bite the bullet and wait until I can get a copy through interlibrary loan. I don't really expect that libraries will stop buying OUP books, and I think the dissemination of scholarship is important, so I cannot really say that I will refuse to read anything, no matter how important, just because it is published by OUP. But I do think buying less from them might have an impact on their profit line, and thus pressure them to cease their unfair practices].
As for my article itself — which is 8500 words long, which contains substantial arguments not found in anything else that I have written, and which cost me two months of my life — I will try to find another venue for it to appear in print. I will eventually make it available for free download from my own website as well (as I have done with most of my writings), but it still seems unfortunately to be the case that academic writings are not taken seriously if they do not have some “official” form of publication.
[This posting has now been translated into Haitian Creole by John Obri -- for which much thanks.]
Here we go again. I was asked to sign a contract for an essay I have written, which is scheduled to appear in an edited collection. Let’s leave aside the fact that I wrote the essay — it was solicited for this collection — in summer 2010, and yet it will not appear in print until 2013. I think that the glacial pace of academic publishing is a real problem. But that is not what is bothering me at the moment. The contract that I was asked to sign, so that my essay could appear in an edited volume published by Oxford University Press, contained the following clause:
WORK-FOR-HIRE. The Contributor acknowledges that the Publisher has commissioned the Contribution as a work-for-hire, that the Publisher will be deemed the author of the Contributior as employer-for-hire, and that the copyright in the Contribution will belong to the Publisher during the initial and any renewal or extended period(s) of copyright. To the extent, for any reason, that the Contribution or any portion thereof does not qualify or otherwise fails to be a work-for-hire, theContributor hereby assigns to the Publisher whatever right, title and interest the Contributor would otherwise have in the Contribution throughout the world.
I am unwilling to sign the Contributor’s Agreement for my submission to the Oxford Handbook of New Audiovisual Aesthetics as it is currently worded. In particular, I find section 2, defining my contribution as work-for-hire, completely objectionable. I entirely reject the notion that original academic work of this sort can be defined as work-for-hire. I think that this is demeaning to academic scholarship and disrespectful of intellectual labor.
Section 2 of the contract further stipulates that even if “the Contribution or any portion thereof does not qualify or otherwise fails to be a work-for-hire, the Contributor hereby assigns to the Publisher whatever right, title and interest the Contributor would otherwise have in the Contribution throughout the world.” I find this objectionable as well. Even if my contribution to the volume is exempted from being considered work-for-hire, I am unwilling to sign over my own rights to the publisher in this unlimited way. In particular, I insist upon retaining, among other rights, the right to make my contribution available for download on my own website and the right to include this contribution at some later date as part of a self-authored publication.
I published this on Google Plus some time ago, but I thought I should also post it here. The current ascendency of the egregious Newt Gingrich, now supposedly the front-runner for the Republican nomination, brings me back to the time when he was Speaker of the House. At the time I was making heavy use of an anagram-generating program, and it turned out that there were better anagrams for “Newton Leroy Gingrich” (his full legal name) than for nearly any other name or phrase I tried out. This inspired me to write a poem, founded in the Oulipo-style rule that every line had to be an anagram of Newt’s full name:
We’re crooning nightly,
Renewing thorny logic,
Cheerily noting wrong.
Coiling energy, thrown.
Wrongly enticing hero,
Ongoing wintry lecher,
Reigning theory clown,
Whining electron orgy
My edited volume, Cognition and Decision in Nonhuman Biological Organisms, has just been published as part of the new Living Books About Life series from Open Humanities Press.
I’m excited about the entire Living Books About Life series. It represents a new form of collaboration between scientists and scholars in the humanities. And it is entirely open access as well. Each volume contains a number of crucial science articles, collected (or curated) and introduced by a humanities scholar.
My own volume covers topics such as “free will” in fruit flies, moods and emotional tones in bees, and more generally processes of affect, cognition, and decision found not just in animals, but in other sorts of organisms (trees, slime molds, bacteria) as well.
When the biologist and science fiction writer Joan Slonczewski, in her recent novel The Highest Frontier , envisions plants that display a sense of humor, and that can learn to resolve “Prisoners Dilemma” situations with mutual cooperation, she isn’t extrapolating all that much from what we actually already know about “mental” operations even in entities that have few or no neurons.
My essay “Hyperbolic Futures” attempts to think about the ways that speculative fiction (i.e. science fiction) works in relation to speculative finance (of the sort that has screwed us over in the last several years). I take a look back at my 2003 book Connected, Or What It Means To Live in the Network Society, and think about what has changed in the world, and in SF’s relation to the world, since then. And I discuss two recent, great SF novels in particular: Richard K. Morgan’s Market Forces, and Lauren Beukes’ Moxyland.
The article was published in the excellent SF journal Cascadia Subduction Zone, published four times a year by Aqueduct Press. Each issue is published both in hardcopy and in pdf, and the pdf version is released free on the Internet six months after intial publication. The issue that includes my article (volume 1, # 2) is now available for free download, here.
The new issue (#10) of the online film journal La furia umana is out, and it contains lots of interesting stuff, including a roundtable discussion, featuring Therese Grisham, Julia Leyda, Nicholas Rombes, and myself on the two (to date) Paranormal Activity films. I think this was a great discussion — my own remarks were very much stimulated by Therese’s questions, and by Julia’s and Nick’s own quite different takes on the films. I think that — whether in spite of, or more likely, precisely because of, our divergences — the discussion stands up pretty well as a whole.
The journal also presents web-readable reprints of two chapters of my last book, Post-Cinematic Affect: the chapter on Gamer is here, and the Coda is here. (The introduction and the three earlier chapters were intially published here; or you can simply buy the whole book).