Monday, October 19, 2015

Sometimes, a journal brings bad news . . .

Stephen Vincent Benét

When four referees agree that a paper is not up to snuff, they must be right. I aimed at a literary journal too high with my brief article on Stephen Vincent Benét, but that doesn't mean I accept everything that one of the referees wrote, e.g., the following:
Introductory paragraph reliant on fixed clichés "fearful US," "better future," "broader horizons." The paper is also critically hesitant. The use of Benedict Anderson at the opening lacks analytical depth. Writing is awkward and critical thesis not apparent: the argument that his nationalism, which made him popular but become the very source of his decline, is not fully supported. Assumptions operate as analytical evidence, a poor strategy as in "No doubt his nationalist writings have also not fared well in our time of political multi-culturalism."
What this referee refers to as my introductory paragraph is actually my abstract:
This paper looks at the case of Stephen Vincent Benét, writer of novels, screenplays, radio dramas, short stories, essays, poetry, and propaganda. Benét died in 1943 while in his most productive period, fighting fascism through American broadcasts to an uncertain, fearful US public that trusted him to help find a way through a harsh present to a better future. His death was widely mourned, perhaps by the entire public, but he was quickly forgotten and has been generally ignored since the late forties despite the quality of his literary style. Benét was a writer who believed in an American culture that united all differences, and this perhaps accounts for his continuing obscurity in a time of ethnic and multicultural fragmentation of American literature. Perhaps he is due a revaluation.
I contend that the American public was fearful. America was in the middle of WWII and couldn't know the outcome. Of course, Americans were fearful! But Benét's literary efforts and political broadcasts did indeed give them hope of a better future. As for "broader horizons," the expression occurs neither in my introductory paragraph nor in my abstract but in the paragraph just before the conclusion:
In fact, Benét's civic-national 'Americanism' – despite his aim of composing a uniquely American literature – moved toward broader horizons. This is evident from his attack on fascism in the 1930s, wherein he extended American civic nationalism to Europe no longer simply as judgment but more as solution and assistance. Broader horizons are also notable in his choice of the Faustian theme, for the story of a man making a deal with the devil, exchanging his soul for knowledge and power, entails a basic mythos of Western Civilization, the original sin of mankind having been precisely this sort of bargain, namely, one's soul for knowledge and power. Unlike the original mythos, however, but like in Goethe's Faustian reinterpretation, Benét gives the story a twist, such that the devil is defeated. Civic nationalism in America can even overcome 'sin'! It can also therefore – as in "The Blood of the Martyrs" – help purge the extreme corruption of European fascism! Such optimism!
As can be seen, "broader horizons" is precisely right - and thus no cliché. I might add that the referee misses some irony in this paragraph, but scholars who lack that sort of interpretive skill are not rare, so let that pass. As for the remark that "Assumptions operate as analytical evidence," it is a reference to this statement of mine about Benét:
No doubt his nationalist writings have also not fared well in our time of political multiculturalism.
The referee spells the word "multi-culturalism," but let that also pass. What the referee calls an assumption is, in fact, an inference - and undoubtedly an accurate one. Finally, this remark:
Writing is awkward.
No, my writing is not "awkward." It is elegant. But anyone who states, "Writing is awkward and critical thesis not apparent," has no reason to complain about style, anyway. I won't bother to explain why I used Benedict Anderson's definition of a "nation" - I've already said enough.



At 11:11 AM, Blogger Sperwer said...

The evidence does not support your statement that you aimed too high. Rather it suggests that you aimed to low, or that the journal itself did in its choice of reviewer. S/he obviously is an unprincipled academic hack, who couldn't be bothered to actually read the article itself, instead of just the abstract, and whose own writing speaks volumes about his/her lack of understanding of anything but perhaps current academic convention.

At 3:29 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Sperwer. I appreciate your confidence in me.

I aimed too high in the sense that I knew my article lacked the engagement with the critical theory that respected journals expect. And I can't dispute the issue when four referees agree upon rejection. I need to rework it a bit and try a different journal.

As for the referee concerned, I think that the referee did read the entire paper since one of the 'clichés' came from the penultimate paragraph. However, I don't think my paper received the engagement suited to it.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:52 AM, Blogger Linda Ryan-Harper said...

Hear ye all! (Or, hear y'all, as I abide in the Southlands of les États-Unis.) Your writing is very elegant, Master Hodges. I cry, "Foul! Pish posh! Balderdash!" The pointy-headed referees are more suited to the physical arena of wrestling by heavy set men in leotards and not the intellectual arena of word wrestling. Yes, I say you should rework it and resubmit. It shall be interesting to see if they recognize the corrections owed to their criticisms. (BTW, I only know of SVB because of my love of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. I've always meant to read him and now you've provided me with renewed impetus. Well done. There, now I've said enough.)

At 12:36 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, LRH. SVB is very good, sometimes even great (cf. "Blood of the Martyrs")

I even borrowed him - and from him - for my novella!

Jeffery Hodges

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