25.0 Another GOOD rejection
August is the month that editors catch up. (I did it when I edited IJL, so it makes sense.) I have some revisions on my plate, and I have this rejection, which I post because it is very good. It's from a small cultural studies journal (primarily affiliated with Rhetoric and Composition). And it is a thorough engagement with my submission, lucidly identifying my expository problems while simultaneously making clear the things that the editorial board was looking for that I wasn't interested in addressing.
It's fascinating, and I would heartily submit to this journal again and will recommend it to others.
The piece was about Norman Finkelstein, the person who was denied tenure at DePaul, then reinstated. It claims that the most interesting thing about his case was not the intrusion of Alan Dershowitz, who wrote the Chancellor to argue against his tenure. Instead, it is Finkelstein's rhetoric, as he confuses the role of academic with parrhesia, "speaking of truth to power." Further, it argues that if Finkelstein's activities in "parrhesia" are protected by academic freedom, then he is failing to meet Foucault's criteria for parrhesia and, more importantly, he is putting his students and junior colleagues at risk, as well.
In short: if the inflammatory books are protected by academic freedom, then what risk has he taken in writing them? None. And what risk do his students take, in following him? A lot more. And that asymmetricality of risk is vital to understanding the case.
(It's clear from this reply that I didn't make this clear enough, and that's important, too. The editor thought that I was diminishing the academic work, when in fact, I think that the shield of academic freedom diminished the public work.)
This is the excellent response:
Dear Professor Beard,
I apologize for the delay in correspondence. Thank you once again for
allowing us to read your submission to the Works and Days Academic Freedom
and Intellectual Activism in the Post-9/11 University volume. After careful
review, our editorial board has decided reluctantly to decline your essay.
The divisions you were attempting to cultivate in Finkelstein's -between his
roles as academic and public intellectual-were somewhat unclear. In your
attempt to outline the thesis "Finkelstein must instead learn to ethically
and responsibly negotiate a third voice in his writing, one that addresses a
complex ethical relationship to his reading, listening, and learning
audiences," you, on the one hand, acknowledge his meeting the parrhesiastes
criteria, while on the other hand suggest that the role of advocacy in
scholarship (as you claim Finkelstein's later work moves toward) somehow
diminishes its academic function.
Beyond the Finkelstein case, several academics whose work has moved outside
the academy into the public discourse come to mind: Cornel West; Noam
Chomsky; Stanley Aronowitz; Edward Said (whom you mention); Michel Foucault
(whom you mention); among many others. Some of the persons in the
aforementioned list have faced various controversies with respect to their
negotiation of academic intellectual activism and public intellectualism,
and yet their tenures were never revoked or seriously compromised in any way
(in fact, Chomsky, in particular, shares a similar adversarial role as
Finkelstein when it comes to Alan Dershowitz and Edward Said faced similar
scrutiny with respect to his Pro-Palestinian positions).
Some of the larger questions we were hoping you would address include the
ways in which the post-9/11 political conservatism has impacted cases such
as Finkelstein's (as well as other Middle East Studies scholars Joseph
Massad, Nadia Abu El-Hajj, (and religious studies/philosophy adjunct,
Douglas Giles, etc.). The Israel-Palestine debate itself functions as both
academic and public discourse, so the larger topical investigations (of
which the Finklestein case is a part), continue to circulate around the
permissibility to have such discussions (and the ways that contrarian
positions to U.S.-Israel policies are thus persecuted). The political
realities and their effects on academic freedom are a significant matter
related to the topic you chose to investigate, which you do not expand upon
in your essay.
Additionally, various transitional elements seemed to move fleetingly and at
times seemed abrupt without your expanding their premises (particularly in
the early portions of the essay when you shift from Finkelstein's "academic"
work to those texts you deem as transcending beyond academic criteria (e.g.
Beyond Chutzpah). When introducing the latter book, it might have served the
context of the essay better to include more of the background information on
the engagement with Dershowitz, not as a "public intellectual," but as a
"scholar" (see debates posted on Finkelstein's site with links to Democracy
Now 2003, and others). At the heart of the Finkelstein debate has been the
charge(s) from Dershowitz of ad hominem attacks, while Finkelstein regarded
his investigations not of a personal, but an academic and "forensic" nature.
Thus, the argument probably should have not been framed around the need for
a third-voice in Finkelstein's work or the notions of speaking "truth to
power," so much as the ways in which his academic freedom was subverted by
the political structures of power reflecting within the academy.
Further, in many respects, Alan Dershowitz remains on the opposite side of
the Finkelstein debate, also walking the line similarly between academic and
public intellectual. Where and how does the third-voicedness you require of
Finkelstein apply to those who find themselves aligned with dominant power
structures? Should you choose to develop the essay at a later date, it might
be interesting to include some comments about how the critical spaces that
exist between the academic and public spheres are shaped.
We certainly hope you understand once again how much we appreciate your time
and your effort and regret having to share this news with you. Please accept
our best wishes for your future publishing success.
It's not for (lack of (not)) trying
10 hours ago