Congratulations. Over three decades of sustained labor, CSSAAME has tracked breaking scholarship and scanned long- term trends. Its continued existence will fill an important institutional need, but it will also entail — not to be left out — the ugly, rugged work of maintaining a journal. For those who do not know, the work of publishing a journal is relentless and unappreciated. It is, moreover, remarkably badly “theorized,” given the centrality of journals to scholarship and intellectual debate and the key role that editors and reviewers play in shaping how initial thoughts become structured, publishable ideas.
Your statement delights in the arrival of postdisciplinary interstitial university spaces, where research and publication shall take place in a brave new world to come. How can I fully disagree? I have also operated in a few of these spaces. Rockefeller and Luce Foundation grants, the generosity of an impoverished state university, and the largesse of a wealthy private one have kept alive the journal I founded and edit, positions: asia critique — but stewarding scholarship hand-to-mouth is a hard role to maintain, year in and year out. The spaces that you celebrate may disappear without warning. I am less celebratory, of course, but then perhaps it is my temperament to understate, to avoid the evil eye.
How does a phoenix journal rise from the ashes of its past? To me, new media are only one possible avenue for rebirth, and one that requires scholars to be already engaged in a struggle to define them. positions has welcomed “new media flows,” a Montreal-based collective that fuses so- called post-area studies with new media critique. Their first issue is in the positions hopper now. My point is cautionary. Get together with emergent scholars who already know this struggle firsthand. Collaborate with them. Support their efforts. Change your style.
What sort of submissions should you seek? At positions, we stopped soliciting because we found we did not need to solicit. Projects come to us. I would say, issue an initial call and projects will contact you to sell their ideas. Given the chance, they will propose why a topic or debate is timely or, in the case of antifoundationalist efforts, absolutely urgent.
What is the purpose of a journal? I have thought about this question a long time. Walter Benjamin said that the journal is the central element that marks the extant scholarship of the times. It is not that the editor goes around asking for scholarship to be written, so much as the editor must never publish anything they do not believe in, and must scan the environment to find scholars and works that speak to the political moment. Now, of course, Benjamin never published a journal. He had no real idea what sort of labor it requires. However, I take his point. A journal is born with a purpose. The purpose of positions was to find out what “post-Cold War” and “after Orientalism” would mean in practice for a Cold War Asian studies that had gone defunct already. In those dramatic days, people fought like animals to establish a thought or politics about the future of the corpse of “Asian studies,” so there was never a question about the journal’s purpose. Purpose and its vigilant editor arose out of a conjuncture. Where is the conjuncture CSSAAME finds itself in now?
If you do commission projects, I urge you to use a debate structure. The debates can involve historiography, geography, ideology, periodization, virtually anything. But the point must be a general one and the invited scholars have to come in bands or groups, so that the pure implications arising from the ground of struggle can be shown in bright contrast. These are not the fake debates where truth is alleged to lie in the middle. I am talking about debates where genealogies of scholarship are aired. Where in the current debates over neoliberalism and globalization, for example, do new Marxisms belong? What must we unearth about that scary and weird period when theoretical Maoism transformed continental philosophy? What schools of scholarship have arisen around the great midcentury traumas? We all know them, but what if we were to meet and debate earnestly the strengths and weaknesses of these coteries, some even attached to independent journals? Why not hold a great meeting of journal advocates to delineate differences in approach, to draw ideological and political inferences?
On the topic of review essays, I have not had luck publishing this genre in our journal, in part because it is a hornet’s nest (who wants to offend anyone these days?), and in part because review essays are a thankless task. I wrote one myself for another journal and I liked it, because I no longer have trepidation and I do have pronounced opinions, overviews to contribute. Get older, established scholars to write review essays. I think we owe it to the fields to be frank and critical.
The best conferences in my experience are those that organize around a set of problems. The “After Orientalism” conference in 1992 set the agenda for positions’ first two years. The journal’s recent MLA prize-winning special issue — War Capital Trauma — arose out of a conference held at the University of Washington, funded by a Rockefeller Grant in the Humanities for “The Trauma Project.” Younger scholars also like conferences that address practical questions about the overlap of individual careers and political engagement. This would suggest a topic about publication venues and new strains of research. Any conference that brings generations together in comfortable dialogue and company will likely be successful.
One final thought about our fields. What if, in the projects of the journal itself, you intervene to show what a field was or might be, or is currently, in ways that help shape the future? Twenty years ago “queer” was a scary word. Now it is a field, and positions publishes queer studies. “Postcolonial” was not a field then either. Neither was “theory” something you could study formally in school. It seems to me that journals like positions have helped shape what is acceptable as a field precisely by employing a strong double-blind review process, enabling editors to be aggressive, and walking into hornet’s nests fairly regularly, particularly in the early years of their existence.
Warm collegial thoughts for collaboration in your brave new future.
© 2013 by Duke University Press