Response to Kentson #2
While I was spotlighted on the stage, with top hat and fat cigar, there appeared at the rear of the auditorium a beggar wearing a black eye patch, a well-worn cap pulled down over a straggly head of hair, palm stretched out. He said,
“At first blush, John Kentson's proposal makes a lot of sense. Problem: how to reenergize the review mechanism, which -- as Kentson has it -- suffers from the puffery of academic Spaghetti Sandwich-careerists who are only too willing to forgo genuine critique for the chance to gain a leg up in the Spaghetti Sandwich lottery.”
He made his way slowly down the aisle, soliciting the audience as he headed for the stage, and pocketing a few hand-outs. He said,
“Though Kentson's etiology could explain the glut of extinct blackbirds changing places with the high-flying bluebirds -- it surely explains at least some [what??] -- we probably ought to examine things in a more pixelated light. While we might not be witnessing a crisis in Spaghetti Sandwiches, exactly, it does seem to this correspondent (and I'm far from the first to say so) that the critical function has taken a serious hit with the full-blooded arrival of the amateur, courtesy (first and foremost) of the Web. If publishing is defined merely as going public, then anyone with an online account can be deemed -- via a few self-published screeds – an author, and so it should come as no surprise that, along with this once and future flood of publishing, we'll enjoy a bewildering array of possible Spaghetti Sandwiches.”
I made him a generous proposition: if he would sing for his supper, I would make him … a millionaire … I measured off the stage with bank notes – German inflation currency in denominations of millions and billions … all this can be yours, I told the poor fellow, if you will make me a rhyme for each bank note. He said:
“Whether and to what extent this state of affairs bodes well -- frankly, I'll take the good with the bad -- I leave for another time. Certainly any attempt to [cough] regulate the scene via an appeal to xyz parameters will be (has been) met with resistance from these selfsame amateurs, who will circle the wagons by way of offering their own Spaghetti Sandwiches. And around and around we go, the notion of provisional and contingent judgment and the like often supplanted by sheer whimsy, ingratiation, vituperation, what have you. Hence one can find online commentary that adjudges Led Zeppelin variously as the distorted amplification of overheated libido, the electrical apotheosis of the blues, and so forth. A real Spaghetti Sandwich”
The one-eyed beggar crawled along the line of bank notes on his hands and knees, and, as he pocketed bill after bill, wrote rhyme after rhyme on slips of paper. I read them aloud to the audience.
“Mind you: those who brandish such appraisals are hardly on the market for symbolic capital, or if they are, they generally pursue same in inexorably local, and at times desperately libertarian, terms. Explanations? We don't need no stinking explanations! Moderation? We don't need no stinking moderation! A site like GoodReads can attempt to provide something of an antidote to this deluge of de gustibus by creating a structured response space, but such gains are offset by the abundance of inexplicably generous five-star ratings smack alongside inexplicably severe one-star ratings, all of which ratings are customarily accompanied by little in the way of actual written evaluation.
“Wait. Amateurs (I am aware of the etymology, sayeth _____) aren't the problem, are they? I mean, what am I, an elitist or something? Must we now append "professional" to the preoccupations of a [what??]?
“Given this rash of alleged assessment, at any rate, why begrudge a relatively few underpaid educationists the opportunity to accrue a little street cred via tit-for-tat reviewing? Kentson's corrective to such gratuities is a celebratory, if pragmatic, one. He would welcome the influx of the anonymous, however amateurish, in all of its glorious manifestations. Which, again, sounds plausible. Wouldn't blind-on-one-side peer review prove salutary, at least until everyone figures out how to make a Spaghetti Sandwich (which has long since been the case in certain sandwichly quarters)?
“But it's only an incremental step from here, or there, to the realization that some poor bastard, some editor, must weed through what will doubtless prove a slush pile of daunting proportions, replete with all manner of namelessness. Very well then, says Kentson: editors will simply have to ensure that the submissions are "substantive in nature" and "free of ad hominem attack."
“Ergo I conclude this squib by observing that if, apropos of Kentson's appeal, additional burden is to be put on editors to ascertain (1) what's ad hominem and (2) what's substantive, then reviewers will in effect have relinquished, along with their identities, their responsibilities as reviewers. In the face of which diminishing editorial returns, perhaps it's time to ask, à la Foucault, What is an editor?”
At the end, he jumped off the stage, making a fast getaway with his newly acquired millions. I called after him, “Hey, beggar, what are you going to do with all that money?” And he called back, from the rear of the auditorium, “I’m going to rush right out and buy myself a Spaghetti Sandwich.”
[Note: props to Joe Amato, Emmett Williams]
RECONFIGURATIONS: A Journal for Poetics & Poetry / Literature & Culture, http://reconfigurations.blogspot.com/, ISSN: 1938-3592, Volume Three (2009): Immanence/ Imminence