What would it take during the production process to make you withdraw an article that had already been accepted for publication? At what point would the intrusions of the copyediting just be too much?

Academic publishing has always been an odd business. The publishers get the work for free; the writers compete for the prestige of being published. And, of course, readers aren’t exactly waiting at the docks for the next installment of fill in the blank to hit the stands. But, as long as the economy was humming along and everything depended upon the printing press, everyone involved could ignore the readership question.

With the economic downturn, however, universities have suddenly gotten wise to the flaws with this relationship: they pay the faculty to conduct research; the faculty then write up the research and get it published; and then the universities subscribe to the journals, in effect buying back the research they originally funded.

The Internet poses a yet bigger threat to publishing, in general, and academic publishing, in particular. I offer a case in point for consideration.

Author A presents a talk at a conference and is invited by the editor of Journal A to write it up and submit it for consideration. Author A accepts–it’s always nice to be asked and, well, he thinks the piece engages issues of concern to the readers of Journal A. The article is accepted, copyediting begins, and Author A notes that his spacing in the article has been changed throughout. He asks that the paragraph indents be removed, the blank lines between paragraphs returned, and the ornamentals between sections of his argument be re-instated.

The copyediting is thorough–many errors are caught, infelicities in phrasing are cleaned up, consistency in punctuation and capitalization is instituted. There’s no question: value has been added. No question, either, that being published in Journal A would be a welcome event. The problem is: Journal A declines to re-institute the original spacing for the article on the grounds that these spacing decisions violate the house style for the journal.

Is it crazy to pull the piece because it won’t look the way you want it to?

It may be, but that, dear reader, is what I did.

And I did so not thinking, as I have in the past when I’ve been unable to resolve conflicts with editors, well, I’ll just shop it at Journal B or C. Rather, since the article itself is about attending to how things look, I thought, well, now’s the time to see what it looks like self-published, with a creative commons license added.

Self-published means no line on the c.v.–at least, it did in the old model of publishing. But what if self-publishing results in your work finding readers? Academic ideas only have value in circulation. It may be that, in the new model of publishing that is evolving before our eyes, we can begin to ask questions about which ideas circulate, which ideas have influence, and which go begging for a readership.

“Reading in Slow Motion” discusses how the processes of reading and writing have been changed as a result of our movement from a time of information scarcity to information superfluity. Drop me a line or post a comment, if you feel so inclined. All feedback is welcome.

Reading in Slow Motion pdf version, 6M

6,500 words, 17 pages printed out, multiple screen shots


***Update: I learned on 10/16/2010, via Twitter, that “Reading in Slow Motion” had been assigned in an undergraduate writing course. The journal the article was to appear in has yet to be published.

More significantly, from my perspective, is the shift in perspective that this act of self-publishing has produced for me as a writer and thinker. Suddenly, I actually want to write.

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November 24, 2010



Thanks for the feedback! I like both your suggestions: darting and layered reading. The “slow motion” phrase is appropriated from Reuben Brower: you probably know his ’63 essay, also titled, “Reading in Slow Motion”? I love that piece, but I also wanted to show how the kind of close reading that made sense in a time of information scarcity needs to be redefined in the time of information superfluity.

One thing I learned early on in trying this approach out is that the very object relationship that defines close reading–the representation of the book being studied can be studied productively for a lifetime–doesn’t work in the slow reading class. When I taught Scarry for a second time, I was endlessly frustrated because I was returning to ground I could navigate in my sleep, owing to having read her with such care for a semester with a group of some of the very best students I’ve ever had. The second time around showed me that I needed the main text to be new to me, so the exploration/creation of surrounding layers can remain open.

I should clarify: the insistence was that the white space and the ornamentals dividing the sections had to go. The only way to justify such a change, from my side, is to agree that the white space and the ornamentals are without meaning. And this obviously isn’t the case–even if they are dismissed as “merely aesthetic” or as a “stylistic affectation,” those designations grant that they carry meaning. I think they do more work than that for me: they emerged while I was writing “Writing at the End of the World” and are now central to how I experience the act of composing.

And anyway, what’s wrong with peace, love, and affectation?

Thanks for reading…

I loved “Reading in Slow Motion,” and the proof of my engagement is that I want to quibble with some of what you have to say. Because it doesn’t seem to me that the sort of reading you’re describing is “slow” at all. Sure, you and the students move deliberately through the assigned text, but the word that occurred to me as I read your piece was “darting”—students seem continually to be moving away from the assigned text, toward other ones, and then quickly back again. The motion of reading doesn’t seem slow so much as recursive, circling, iterative.

All of which are great habits of mind to teach—indeed, habits I strive to teach, although perhaps less overtly. But I emphasize them here in order to suggest a distinction between “close” and “slow” reading which you hint at but, I think, don’t quite make. Close reading, at least mediocre versions of it, really could turn into what you call a kind of “reading in place”—a fixation on phrasing (even if often very illuminating!) that drew on other reading but rarely called on it explicitly. What I admire about the pedagogy you describe here is that it asks the question: What else do you need to read in order to understand the text you’re now reading? It seems more a layered than slow form of reading to me.

So, great essay, thanks! Two quick befuddlements:

1) As someone who has edited academic journals and books, I simply don’t understand the refusal of the journal editor to observe your “carriage returns”—because without them the piece wouldn’t make much sense! So I’m a bit reluctant to view this as some sort of hinge moment between print and post-print cultures, since it seems much more readily explained as the result of an obtuse editor making a poor decision. But, still, I’m glad it has spurred you towards a new sort of writing!

2) And JSA Lowe (J-lo?), what’s with the jibe against comp/rhet journals? Do we need to rehearse old biases as we try to chart new ground?



You had me at Burnt Norton, but I actually burst out laughing when I got to “Dr. Jed’s Pedagogical Lightning in a Bottle.” Fabulous article, in both senses of the word—it’s so hard for me to imagine getting to teach a course like this, but the thought makes me fairly salivate. The genius idea of students having to fill three whole hours with their thoughts, thus requiring them to formulate some! It makes me rethink my whole if-you-can’t-beat-’em-join-’em FYC teaching approach, blurred with speed and ADHD task-switching as it is, featuring way too much rhetorical analysis from the Daily Show. This is what I’ve become as a community college adjunct—moving among the laptops, asking students to close Facebook and navigate to the library website, pausing to admire someone’s image of Jesus riding a velociraptor whilst asking him what that has to do with his paper’s argument….

I will only add that the way you’ve done the footnotes (spanning two pages at times) distracted me, in a way that a paper about the rewards of rereading might have intended…but which I found nonetheless mildly annoying.

(The other thing about your having published it yourself is that I got to read it, and I would never have done so had it appeared in a comp/rhet journal.)

You’re right about how annoying those footnotes are! I will reformat and make them endnotes.

Thanks for the feedback!

p.s. I’d love a copy of Jesus on the Velociraptor–I’d use it in my apocalypse course in the fall.

Alex, thanks for the thoughtful post here–and on your own blog!

I like to joke that the companion for this course is "Reading at the Speed of Light." I'd actually like to put a course like that together, too, for, as you say, one can't do one or the other exclusively. And, indeed, experienced readers find ways to move between the two modes as the situation and the material demands. (A colleague remarked once, during a faculty meeting, where everyone was huddled over a memo, parsing its every inflection, "Some texts don't reward close reading.)

I don't know that this course, as such, is useful for FYC, where students are learning about drafting, revising, peer response–and, too, ideally, getting a taste of what happens when one re-reads. More generally, I am really struck by the absence of time for re-reading assigned materials in any course and any level, even though we all know that you only learn how to read by re-reading. That produces an environment where everything is skimming, general ideas, bullet points. I'm much more comfortable with situations that foster confusion–without that confusion, there can be no insight.

Where I do think this comes in for FYC is for the TAs: what happens if you treat student writing as if it rewarded close reading? Beginning teachers expend so much time and energy commenting on papers (the diligent ones, at least)–they read quickly and comment slowly. T think reading through the first time, pen down, getting a sense of the overarching project can help set up better commenting. It's the flip side of the response to "Sontag is boring." Maybe, but what's her project? So too with student paper X: boring, perhaps, but what's the writer's project? Using the FYC as a place to learn how to read student prose slowly and carefully can yield very good results, over the course of the whole semester.

Thanks Richard. Publishing this way probably also means getting to see your article a year early than we otherwise would. I had two initial responses. The first, more abstract, was to think about reading and intensification. Speed is a kind of intensity but so is the meditative focus of slowness, where maybe intensity gathers to be unleashed in the network of research. I think of my own reading experience where some texts float along, some demand concentration, and yet others continually spin me out with ideas and questions. So "slow motion" is nice in the title as it is unexpected in the context of the networks that interest you here, and it is an accurate description of course. And I am still left wondering about the role that speed really plays here. It seems more variable in interesting ways.

My second, more pragmatic response as a WPA is to wonder how I would present this to my lit studies phd TAs teaching FYC. As English majors ourselves, we are all too familiar with the ways in which reading is taught without any real investigation of how reading connects with writing. I appreciate your account here of how that worked in your senior seminar. How does it work in composition? How does this approach connect with the work done in FYC at Rutgers (my alma mater, btw, 1991)?

Share your thoughts.

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