Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Happy Thanskgiving. And Hanukkah. And Thank YOU.

In the Middle wishes all who are celebrating a holiday or two over the next few days a festive one. And if you're not celebrating anything in particular, we still wish you happiness and merriment. We're grateful for your readership. 


Monday, November 25, 2013

An Interstellar Raft of the Medusa: Critical/Liberal/Arts 2 @CUNY


It's been almost two months since some of us (well, many of us, actually, since we numbered close to 100) gathered at The Graduate Center, CUNY for the second installment of the BABEL Working Group's bi-coastal symposia series, Critical/Liberal/Arts, the first of which happened at UC-Irvine this past April. The proceedings from both events will be published in a special issue of postmedieval, edited by the series organizers, Myra Seaman, Allan Mitchell, and Julie Orlemanski, in 2015, but in the meantime we are fortunate that one of the NYC's event's contributors, AW Strouse, has offered a review and summary of the day at the online journal Hortulus, HERE, and I now also have audio files to share, for those who could not be there, but would like to join in some of the fun of the embodied performances -- by Henry Turner, the Hollow Earth Society (Wythe Marschall + Ethan Gould), Eleanor Johnson, Ammiel Alcalay, Bruce Holsinger, AW Strouse, Eirik Steinhoff, Jamie "Skye" Bianco, Michael Witmore, and Marina Zurkow + Una Chaudhuri -- that resulted from this prompt:
We hazard that many of the categories used to distinguish modes of knowledge production are in practice overlapping or entwined: distance and involvement; criticism and aestheticism; sensation and reflection; detachment and attachment; interrogation and incorporation; interpretive qualification and quantified data; analysis and speculation; control and loss of control before the objects of our study. A survey of the humanities and social sciences at present turns up projects that transcend traditional rubrics and do not remain in their respective fields at all — but rather, cross out of academia and continue on to other planes of social practice. These projects represent serious commitments to tinkering, mapping, constructing, organizing, blogging, protesting, ornamenting, fantasizing, digitizing, occupying, and more. We invite accounts of practices from inside and outside of the university that might be counted among the new arts of critique, or new modes of critical creation.
Presenters have been encouraged to avoid post-critical hype and anti-critique retrenchment. Polarizing these issues has helped generate powerful critiques-of-critique as well as strong defenses of traditional critical frameworks (such as Marxism, feminism, queer studies, race studies, postcolonial studies, post-structuralism, and the like). But we are interested in exploring theories and practices beyond the polemic. To wit: What are the new scenes or spaces of critical invention? What different faces might critique have? What does it feel like? What does it do? How does historical consciousness play a role in generating new forms, tools, or ideas? What does it mean to be “uncritical”? Is there an erotic hermeneutics, pace Sontag, or an eros of critique? How do we engage criticism and art and techne against the actuarial interests of the corporate university? Can we “afford” to nurture speculative creation, or pure science, in an age of austerity? Do delight, rapture, or the drift of daydreams have a role in criticism? Is there value in maintaining what separates the injunctions to critique and to create? How might our practices cross-pollinate the sciences and the fine arts? Or politics and aesthetics? Or the future and the past?
As AW explains in his review for Hortulus, partly quoting Christopher Newfield from Ivy and Industry, “academics are neither artists nor bureaucrats but both at the same time: we are vexed by an oppressive double-consciousness, trying to produce humanist work but measuring ourselves according to anti-humanist standards.” Part of the spur for the two events, in both Irvine and NYC, was to experiment with what Eleanor Johnson called "parallel play," moving back and forth between so-called "academic" discourse and the multiple performances of "something else" -- which "something else" is still "critical," but in a different register. Or as AW puts it (again) in his review, we sought, collectively, in these two events “to form a rapprochement between the dream-angel of individual talent and the monastery of academic tradition.” Further, and again in AW's words, “Participants experimented with new forms of artful and critical expression, making art critically, doing critique artistically, and practicing all manner of liberality, with the largesse and romanticism of an Arthurian knight.” And there were invitations to many things, including Henry Turner's just-then-unveiled "Society for the Arts of Incorporation": JOIN!

So, without further ado, here are the audiocasts (but with a HUGE APOLOGY to Eirik Steinhoff and Jamie "Skye" Bianco, because the sound technician -- ME! -- somehow forgot to turn on the microphone during their presentations -- BUT: we will thankfully have those in written form in the special issue of postmedieval, albeit their gorgeous performances and charismatic presences remain, for the moment, ephemeral and in memoria).

Critical/Liberal/Arts 2 @The Graduate Center, CUNY
27 September 2013

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Do Stones Have Souls?

by J J Cohen

[read Karl on the origin of the Easter Bunny first, because it's awesome]

Lithic ensoulment is one of many strange questions I have pondered in the course of writing this book. Well, not me: Albertus Magnus. But let him be my Aristotelian proxy. From the chapter that, after five revisions, is nearly done:

Lithic Soul

An oval of salt and pepper granite sits on my study’s sill, a lithic egg. I spotted the stone while walking the ocean’s edge in Maine and found myself stooping to pick it up, hand grasping before I was aware of making a choice (Bruno Latour calls this the “slight surprise of action”).[i] So many of the rock’s qualities allure, calling me to continued contemplation, calling me to introduce this stone to you. Speckled granite is indigenous to the hard geography where some of my family has lived since fleeing Russian pogroms in the 1880s. I discovered the stone in a liminal space replete with childhood memories, daughter and fellow beachcomber beside me. It was an impossibly lucid, undeniably singular day in December, and neither of us cared that frozen foam marked the tideline. Formed deep in the earth under inconceivable pressure, a piece of tumbled mountain worn to a globe by tidal pounding, the rock bears the impress of aeonic force. My career is predicated upon studying temporal distance and depth. Something about its being ovate, too, draws me: those flecks on a white surface promise a secret interior, some yolk of futurity inhabiting the shell of its impenetrable past. I collect medieval narratives in which rocks really are eggs, with toads or greyhounds or dragons slumbering inside, awaiting discovery. I seized a round stone on a winter beach in Maine because it dwelled already inside my history. But what if the stone seized me? What if the petric ovum, so perfect for the palm, holds more than density, obduracy, and an accidental power to draw human hand and story? What if it is not anthropomorphizing to speak of a stone’s ability to resist, its power to attract -- and even of its sympathies, alliances, inclinations and spurs? And let’s up the outrageous ante even more: what if within my ready-to-hand rock is not just a willfulness, an incipience, an agency, but that principle of vitality that in the Middle Ages was supposed to set humans apart from everything else in the world?

Gossamer conveyors of identity, souls are easy to imagine even without the human bodies they animate: personhood before birth, a ghost, a denizen of heaven or hell. A soul might even be trapped temporarily within an alien object without challenging the intimacy of soul to human form. Barbara Newman gives the vivid example of Madre Juana de la Cruz (d. 1534), who heard a rock from her brazier cry out and came to understand that a sufferer from purgatory was incarcerated within.[ii] Medieval souls were typically represented as miniature versions of people, corporeal yet intangible semblance. The illustrator of James le Palmer’s encyclopedia Omne Bonum bestows a historiated capital upon the entry for anima in which God uses pincers to measure or grasp a small, naked figure. This soul is suspended precariously while God renders his judgment.[iii] Carol Zaleski labels images of this type “somatomorphic”:

On the tympana of cathedrals, in colorful miniatures illustrating the lives of the saints, in bas-relief on the tombs of princes, and in the ‘art of dying’ woodcuts, the naked and childlike soul is extracted from the body by angels who carry it up to heaven in a linen napkin, or by demons who drag it down to hell, while around the deathbed the pious mourners or greedy expectant relatives gather.[iv]
Sometimes the human soul might be represented as something other than a homunculus, something inorganic and nonhuman. Caesarius of Heisterbach describes it as an all-seeing glassy sphere, perhaps “like the globe of the moon.” Other writers envision bubbles, sparks, flames or birds.[v] Yet when the soul-bubble pops, a human is typically disclosed inside, so that nonanthropomorphic representation yields quickly to familiar bodily form. Depiction of the soul as a miniature embodied person derives not from theology so much as popular tradition. Medieval souls are complicated, since they are at once distinctly human (guarantors that identity survives corporeal decay) as well as a vitalizing force shared with plants and animals.

The second creation story in Genesis (2:7) connects human liveliness to God’s breath, exhaled into the clay of which Adam is formed. Related in Latin to the words for animal and respiration, terms that suggest the proof of life is movement (animare, “to put into motion”), souls are substance-permeating mechanisms for triggering vital activity. In classical and medieval science the soul enters the flesh just before breathing begins, the spur to quickening. In the wake of the rediscovery of Aristotle in the thirteenth century Latin West, souls became objects of passionate, often contradictory clerical discourse. Having been translated from Greek and Arabic into Latin, Aristotle’s metaphysical and scientific texts roiled the academic landscape with their challenges to Christian orthodoxy.[vi] In 1210 Aristotle’s works on nature were banned in Paris under pain of excommunication, but by 1255 they dominated the university’s curriculum.[vii] Difficult labor was required to reconcile his philosophy to ecclesiastical doctrine, engendering an era philosophically turbulent and intellectually generative. The Aristotelian opus is heavily citational, so that along with his writings were conveyed a great many excerpts from Greek thinkers. These classical texts arrived in medieval universities mediated by translation and accompanied by the commentaries of Islamic, Eastern Christian and Jewish scholars. Especially influential were Ibn Sīnā (Avicenna) and Qusta ibn Luqa (Costa ben Luca). Problems of heterogeneity and potential incompatibility are well illustrated in contemporary scholarly rumination over the concept of soul. In classical Greek philosophy “soul” was more scientific principle than individualized entity, while in Christian theology it was more likely to be the enduring essence of a person, a principle of agency and identity separable from the body at death, even if difficult to envision outside particular embodiment.[viii] Writing in the middle of the thirteenth century, Bartholomaeus Anglicus undertook a comprehensive overview of what “soul” means, collating Aristotle with the Church Fathers, attempting a convergence of the term’s heterogeneous vectors in the hope of an orthodox synthesis. Bartholomaeus emphasizes that the soul is a divinely bestowed agent of corporeal animation, “joined to the body in two manners, that is, as mover to the thing moved, and as a sailor joined to his ship.”[ix] This navigational charge also extends to its governance of the flesh, as he makes clear by invoking a declaration attributed to Augustine that the soul is provided for the body’s “reulinge”[governance].[x] The soul is that good thing seated in the human heart, rendering humans close to angels and triggering divine yearning. The font of rationality, free will and intellect, this immortal portion will at death be released to the bliss of heaven. Yet classical tradition also makes clear that the soul is a neutral phenomenon diffused throughout the entire body to imbue vitality, not unique to humans but found also in animals and plants. Philosophers provide so many contradictory definitions, Bartholomaeus observes in exasperation, that “what thing a soul is, is unknown to many men” (On the Properties of Things 3.4).

Bartholomaeus stresses that ensoulment is multiple and not exclusively human. In an Aristotelian mode he describes through secular language three types of souls: vegetal, to bestow life; sensible, to provide feeling; and rational, to grant reason.[xi] He explicates the properties of these souls at great length, dividing each into constituent qualities and detailing with geometrical precision the various abilities they grant their possessors. Plants harbor a bare kind of life through their vegetal souls, envisioned in the shape of a triangle. The three angles are formed by the lively virtues of reproduction (“gendringe”), digestion (“norschinge”), and development (“wexinge and growing”). Procreation, ingestion, and change over time are therefore quietly established as the traits without which life does not exist. Conversely, anything that eats, reproduces and grows possesses vitality, and therefore the most fundamental of souls. A sensible soul enables animals to experience sentience but not reason, rendering them “vnskilful.” Sensible souls are like quadrangles, that is, two triangles that combine to form a square: they contain the vegetal soul but exceed it through the sensory and corporeal abilities they confer. The rational soul, a perfect circle encompassing its angular forerunners, bestows rationality as well as vivacity and feeling, rendering humans the apex of embodied creation, containing all things in microcosm. The constitution of humanness through a tripartite soul means that a “good two thirds of man’s functions are shared by other animate and sentient beings,” a complicated embedment within a material ecology.[xii] Yet despite an emphasis on mundane entanglement, little space exists within this resplendently geometric scheme for the liveliness of anything lower on the ladder of nature than “plants and roots” (3.7).

Aristotle and his medieval followers held that souls provide plants, animals, and humans their particular abilities, so that matter becomes lively only upon ensoulment. Yet what about supposedly lifeless matter that does things, that acts? What if the inert refuses immobility? Separating the inanimate from volition-filled beings is typically the first cut made to organize a taxonomic system. In the sixteenth chapter of On the Properties of Things, dedicated to rocks and metals, Bartholomaeus describes these substances as “completely without soul or sensation, as all things that grow under the ground and are engendered in the veins of the earth.”[xiii] Stone is mere substrate. Yet we have seen repeatedly in this book how the lithic undermines rigid category, challenging the stability it is charged with founding and exhibiting a geological vivacity. Differences between the human and the lithic, the inorganic and biological, the material and the creaturely see firm but prove porous. A writer contemporary with Bartholomaeus, just as enamored of Aristotle, therefore found himself in the uncomfortable position of having to argue that stones do not demonstrate any of the qualities of life. They do not reproduce, do not digest, do not grow or mature, and certainly possess no souls. Albertus Magnus energetically refutes lithic vitality. He also quietly conveys its truth.

As he set about composing his magisterial Book of Minerals, this thirteenth-century Dominican friar, bishop and polymath wrote in frustration “We have not seen Aristotle’s books about [minerals], but only some excerpts from them.”[xiv] Aristotle’s surviving works offer little on the subject of minerology, just thirty lines at the end of his treatise on meteorology describing how dry subterranean vapors spawn stones and earth, while wetter exhalations create metals.[xv] The excerpts from the Lapidary of Aristotle to which Albertus refers were not from a work authored by the Greek philosopher at all, but fragments of a text that seems to have been composed in Arabic in the ninth century under the philosopher’s name and later translated into Latin.[xvi] Albertus decided to recreate what he thought to be a lost Aristotelian work from what he could glean from the sources available to him, especially Avicenna, framing his text within the kind of taxonomy he supposed Aristotle would have used. In the process he brought into being an entire scientia de mineralibus, a mineral science.[xvii] A cosmopolitan churchman who studied in Padua, taught in Paris, and helped to found a university in Cologne, Albertus was fervid in his desire to reconcile Aristotle with Christian doctrine. He found himself in uncertain territory when composing The Book of Minerals (c. 1250). Breathtaking in its epistemological reach, the Book was intended to be a kind of summa of stone lore. A comprehensive scientific survey, with almost one hundred different entries, the text proceeds carefully, defining its terms and probing earlier works while elaborating a capacious system of classification. Albert’s minerals are, like all matter, composed of the four elements in varying concentrations, earth and water predominating. Gems, for example, are defined as a subset of stones in which water prevails, aqueous coagulation yielding the translucence mere earth cannot grant. For Aristotle form rather than substance determines inherent qualities. Albertus therefore writes that the power of a stone to counteract poison, cure an abscess, or attract or repel iron derives directly from its specific form. Lithic materiality becomes active – becomes capable of protecting, igniting, drawing or emitting – through its singular manifestation as diamond, coral, jet, or topaz. Albertus repeats the Aristotelian doctrine that unformed matter is inert, with particular arrangement imbuing qualities. Substantial form provides each type of stone with innate but limited functions “performed by necessity” (1.1.6), and its potentiating form is in turn bestowed by the “formative power” of celestial bodies. Stones are therefore meager in their latent possibilities and mechanistic in their deployment. Like stars, they cannot choose when or how to radiate their powers. Yet within Albertus’s detailed explications, individual stones become complicatedly envitalized through ecological enmeshment, so much that they change over time and even die: “the specific form of individual stones is mortal, just like humans [mortalia sicut et homines]; and if [stones] are kept for a long time away from the place where they are produced [extra loca generationis], they perish” (2.1.4).

Such a vivifying conceptualization renders form a functional soul: in Dorothy Wyckoff’s gloss, “the essential being, or identity of a thing; in living things, the ‘life’ or ‘soul.’”[xviii] Albertus, however, argues strongly against such equivalence. Though some alchemists hold that sulphur and quicksilver inhabit stone as its soul or spirit, with petric materiality as a kind of body, he states dismissively that he is not composing such an occult treatise (1.1.1). Yet, he must confess, philosophers have described actual souls within stones. Democritus, a Greek metaphysician famous for his theory of atoms (and known in the Middle Ages for alchemical treatises attached to his name), argued that all things made from elements necessarily possess soul as a condition of existence. Without a soul stone could not come into being, Democritus insists, and therefore “there is a soul in stone” (1.1.4). Ensouled stones possess quite a long tradition in Greek thought. Thales, first of the great Greek philosophers, argued that magnesium manifests an animating psyche when it draws iron.[xix] Albertus mentions this possibility of petric souls twice in his Book of Minerals, disagreeing firmly each time:

There have been some who, even though they assign special powers to stones, attribute these to a soul in the stone. These are certain of the Pythagoreans ... of which in many respects Democritus was a follower, since he said ... in stones … there is a divine part which he called the soul of stones, extending to things roundabout, on which it acts. But this is the height of absurdity ... It is true that anything whatsoever may have within it something divine, or similar to the divine, by means of which it seeks and pursues divine being ... but … stones do not have any souls. (2.1.1)
Stones are not like plants, animals and humans because they possess “no function corresponding to a soul” (1.1.4). They do not consume food. They do not have senses. They demonstrate no “vital activity.” They cannot breed: “We never see stones reproduced from stones … a stone seems to have no reproductive power at all” (1.1.4). Yet this keenly reductive logic from Albertus quickly becomes entangled and dilates into rich story.

Albertus knows that stones act through a force (virtus) that is not seminal, not fecundating: non-vitalizing, non-reproductive, non-creaturely. Stones are not generated from lively seed but through “mineralizing force,” a phenomenon that enables him to state that stones can actually generate more stones, but “their production is not like the reproduction of living plants, and of animals which have senses” (1.1.4). Yet when Albertus must detail this mineral force in action, he admits that its function is just like [sicut] that of animal seed [semine animalis] since it forms and produces specific types of stones.[xx] Stones are not animals, and yet act as if alive. Mineral virtue makes it difficult to say if stones in Albertus’ account are organic or inorganic, for they appear to be (as Valerie Allen notes) “both and neither.”[xxi] Paradoxically, even as a stone is not alive and cannot really reproduce, in Albertus’s account “reproduction remains the only way of understanding” petrogenesis.[xxii] His vocabulary for lithic activity describes stones as if they were creatures gestated within the earth, producing in turn their own lapidary offspring. Albertus’s Latin is replete with verbs of reproduction and parturition.

Yet that sicut, that complicated “as if,” does not suffice for granting a stone a soul. “Stones possess forms but not souls.” Albertus repeats a version of this definitive statement twice, insisting that “the first function of the soul is life; but no characteristics of life are found in stones” (1.1.6). He knows from Aristotle’s treatise De anima that a soul is not separable from the substance of the thing in which it is found, but is a capacity for life inherent to the forms that organize matter. To be considered living, a thing must demonstrate digestion, change over time, and reproduction. This definition is built around the exclusion of the lithic, for Aristotle had used rocks as an example of matter without the capacity for life. So Albertus writes that stones do not eat: “for if a stone used food, it would necessarily have pores or channels by which food would sink into it ... like the roots of plants or the mouth of animals” (1.1.6). Lithic compactness is argument enough against the existence of alimentary organs. A stone is simply too dense to take anything within itself. Nor do stones procreate. “We have never seen stones reproduced from stones,” Albertus observes. Stones take nothing from the world. They lack “vital activity.” They are insensible matter, not even dead because never alive. Even if stones perish over time, that death is also another sicut, another as if, mere metaphor.

The insistence in the Book of Minerals that stones possess no soul is eroded, however, by recurring textual demonstration of lapidary liveliness. Albertus argues against those who describe stones as inert, those who insist that “the powers of stones ought to belong to living beings” (2.1.1). Experience proves, he insists, that magnets attract iron, diamonds restrict this allure, sapphires cure abscesses, some gems bring victory, others reconcile arguments or expel venom. After his discussion of the various ways in which stones attract or repel other objects (iron, flesh, silver, fire, bones, wine, fish), he writes that it is “as if there were in these things something pleasing to the stones, or a soul by which they were moved.”[xxiii] Stones radiate a potency that derives from substantial form along with the relative order of their constituent admixtures of elements with heat. Such lithic power is marvelous, mortal, innate and mobile. Even though Albertus insists that lithic power does not constitute being, rocky force does an excellent job of imitating life, especially when stone and human form an alliance. Corallus, for example, can staunch bleeding and protect against epilepsy. To wear corallus around the neck is to be guarded from storms, lightning and hail. Powdered and dissolved into water, it will fertilize herbs and trees, “multiplying their fruits.” Corallus connects human bodies, bodily fluids, the weather, and the vegetal world. Like all the stones Albertus describes in his alphabetical lapidary, coral is not a passive material to be harnessed to specific uses. Its virtue is innate, always emanating, always seeking the connections that will allow the rock to become an agent so powerful it can rebuff tempests, so fecundating it can compel the vegetal to superabundance. Coral’s force, moreover, encompasses an entire ecology: water permeates wood and petrifies through the power of place (1.1.7).

Other stones act with similar vigor. Chryselectrum changes its colors during the course of the day. Because it fears fire, when held in the hand it reduces fever. This communion in the palm is suggestive. The stones Albertus catalogues yearn for union with the biological. Many are themselves progeny of lithic and animal commingling, and must be ripped from bestial bodies to be attained: borax from a toad’s head, celidonius from a swallow’s stomach, celontes from shellfish, alecterius (a kind of medieval Viagra) from the crop of a cock. Torn from the brow of a snake, draconites dispels poison and bestows victory. Even when they do not originate in flesh themselves, stones desire to touch and transform bodies. Diamonds (adamas) can be mined through the softening effect of goat’s blood strong in parsley or fenugreek (animal-vegetal-mineral union), and protect against insanity, nightmares, poison and enemy attacks. Powdered and mixed with wine, ematites dissolves the excess flesh of wounds. So similar to the organic are Albertus’s stones that carnelian is described as “the color of flesh, that is red; when broken it is like the juice of meat.” Its power is, of course, to staunch bleeding in humans. Albertus insists that stones cannot choose when to radiate their powers, and yet provides numerous examples of gems withdrawing themselves when those who would confederate with them prove unworthy. He articulates at length the networks through which rocks and gems ally themselves with fleshly bodies, so that they stir with activity.

But then we remind ourselves that Albertus insisted that “no characteristics of life are found in stones” (1.1.6). They do not eat, he says, and it is probably stretching the truth too much to see in the ability of ematites to dissolve wounded flesh a kind of microbe-like devouring of the organic. Yet Albertus describes sarcophagus as “a stone that devours dead bodies … Some of the ancients first made coffins for the dead of this stone because in the space of thirty days it consumed the dead body” (2.2.17). Because of this lithic property, he adds, stone monuments are to this day called sarcophagi. He declares that rocks do not reproduce, and yet he details peranites, which conceives and brings forth little stony children (concipere et parere 2.2.14). Like balagius, it also possesses a gender, male or female. It would be difficult to uphold that these gendered gemstones lack “vital activity,” even if the petric life they demonstrate is not exactly anthropomorphic. At the same time, however, stones are very like humans. Petrogenesis occurs through the mixture of earth with water – that is, in clay (1.1.2). Albertus is a classical Aristotelian, for whom (as Bartholaemeus puts it when he quotes the philosopher) the difference between earth and stone is moisture.[xxiv] Albertus must have known that this description of petrogenesis is uncannily similar to Augustine’s account of the creation of Adam.[xxv] In the Commentary on Genesis the bishop of Hippo wrote:

Just as water collects, gels and holds the earth together in a mixture of water and earth, thus creating clay, in the same way the living-spirit [anima] of the body gives life to the material of the body.[xxvi]
Humans and stones are intimate in their materiality. They are also queerly contiguous in their vitality. Albertus states that stones are not alive because they do not digest, reproduce, or change over time, but he provides examples of stones that do each of these things. Stones do not have souls, and yet they seem extraordinarily similar to things that do, including the humans who are formed of exactly the same substance: humans are, in Augustine’s account, mobile rocks. No wonder Albertus had to deny lithic ensoulment so resolutely.

Yet what if stones require nothing of the human in order to thrive? What if the animating principle of soul diminishes their vitality and domesticates lithic challenge? Medieval writers developed a sophisticated vocabulary for lithic liveliness that did not necessarily concern itself with anthropomorphic reduction, a vocabulary for conveying a full-fledged creatureliness within stone indifferent to the question of soul.

[i] See the title of chapter nine of Pandora’s Hope, as well as p. 281, on being overtaken by action.
[ii] From Virile Woman To WomanChrist 121. Juana realizes that many such stones contain souls, some of which had been imprisoned for centuries. She has them placed within her sickbed so that through her suffering and prayer they may be set free.
[iii] British Library Royal 6 E VI f. 94v, viewable online at http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/ILLUMIN.ASP?Size=mid&IllID=2208
[iv] Otherworld Journeys 51.
[v] Carol Zaleski’s review of the possibilities is thorough in Otherworld Journeys 51.
[vi] On the changes to medieval clerical conceptualizations of matter and the “metaphysical worry” that Aristotle introduced – as well as the continuities with earlier, more Ovidian models -- see Caroline Walker Bynum, Christian Materiality 234-37.
[vii] Robert Bartlett charts the challenges Aristotle’s works posed, especially to conceptualizing nature, in The Natural and the Supernatural 29-32.
[viii] Soul and body form, in the words of Caroline Walker Bynum, “a psychosomatic unity” (The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, esp. 5, 11, 13, 135). On the implications of this model of embodied psyche see especially Susan Crane, Performance of the Self 90-91.
[ix] “ioyned to þe body in twey maners, þat is to menynge, as mevere to þe þing þat is imeued, and also as a schipman is i-oned to þe schip” (On the Properties of Things trans. John Trevisa, 3.3).
[x] Bartholomaeus quotes extensively from the Liber de spiritu et anima, thought at the time to have been composed by Augustine.
[xi] “vegetabilis þat 3eueþ lif, sensibilis þat 3eueþ felinge, racionalis þat 3eueþ resoun” (3.7).
[xii] See the excellent discussion of Aristotle and human “indistinction” in Jean E. Feerick and Vin Nardizzi, “Swervings” 2-4. This Aristotelian definition of soul corresponds to the third entry for “soule” in the Middle English Dictionary. The primary signification of the word was far more spiritual; it could also mean ghost, person, or capacity for religious experience, emotion, or imagination.
[xiii] “clene withoute soule and withoute felyng, as alle thing that groweth undir grounde and is ygendrede in veynes of the erthe.”
[xiv] Book of Minerals 1.1. Cf. “I have not seen the treatise of Aristotle [on stones], save for some excerpts, for which I have inquired assiduously in different parts of the world” (Book of Minerals 3.1.1).
[xv] See Dorothy Wyckoff in the introduction to her translation of Albertus Magnus Book of Minerals xxx. Wyckoff writes that Aristotle is implying that he did compose a text on stones and minerals and that it did not survive, thus leading to Albertus’ frustration at discovering only fragments (1.1.1, 2.3.6, 3.1.1). She suggests a date for Albertus’ completion of his text of 1261-3 (xl).
[xvi] See Lynn Thorndike, “The Latin Pseudo-Aristotle” 243.
[xvii] On Albertus and the inauguration of mineral science, see J. M. Riddle and J. A. Mulholland, “Albert on Stones and Minerals” 204. The geologist Dorothy Wyckoff made a similar argument for Albert’s originality and influence in her edition of the Book of Minerals.
[xviii] See her introduction to the Book of Minerals, xxxiv. In his treatise on The Soul (2.1.3), and cf. p. 258: “for any living thing, its form is, first of all, its ‘aliveness,’ that is, its soul ([De anima] II, I, 412 a 3 ff.) … Later commentators speak of three souls – vegetative (or nutritive), sensitive (or appetitive), and rational (or intellectual), but for Aristotle these seem to be merely different aspects of ‘being alive.’” Albertus distinguishes between two kinds of form, that which is connected to “the nature of the natural body” and that more closely related to the divine which “is an incorporeal essence, moving and perfecting the body.” See 1.1.6.
[xix] David Macauley examines Thales and souls in Elemental Philosophy 51-52, where he writes that for Thales “what manifests the capacity to stir and change of its own accord is animated.”
[xx] “virtus formans et efficiens lapides et producens ad formam lapidis hujus vel illius” (Book of Minerals 1.1.5)
[xxi] Valerie Allen, “Mineral Virtue” 130. Virtus is a medieval word intimate to the medieval elaboration of how the soul works, making the possession of virtus by rock an intriguing problem for Albertus rather than (as in the lapidaries) an astonishing force to be celebrated. I will discuss virtus at much greater length later in this chapter. See also Kellie Robertson's excellent discussion of Aristotle, rock, and substantial forms in "Exemplary Rocks."
[xxii] Valerie Allen, “Mineral Virtue” 134.
[xxiii] Book of Minerals 2.3.6. Albertus is quoting while considerably expanding the Lapidary of Aristotle, which makes this claim only for magnetite. See Wyckoff’s note in Mineralia p. 150.
[xxiv] “druynesse [dryness], ouercomyng alle moisture, suffreþ no3t erthe turne into sadness [solidity, permanence] of stone” (16.1); see also the entry for clay (16.2), where it is observed that through coldness water mixed with earth freezes so that “erthe turneþ to stone,” while oily earth can be heated into petrification.
[xxv] See G. Ronald Murphy, Gemstone of Paradise 48.
[xxvi] Quoted Murphy 44

A Rabbit Post for Rebels

Image from the Morgan Library.

Obviously, you should read Eileen's post below first, and then Jeffrey, and then have mine only for dessert.

Here's one for Fumblr, the Academic Failblog:

Some years ago, while chatting with my students about hunting, I told them that medieval badgers were ferreted out of their holes and then bashed, as they emerged, with clubs. "Like Whack-a-Mole?," they asked. "Yes. Precisely."

And the next day I had to confess I'd made it all up, and not even deliberately.

Nets, not clubs: nets are the thing if you want to hunt a badger.

And then last night: I realized we'd slogged through nearly an entire semester of The Canterbury Tales without once mentioning the risings of 1381. The Nun's Priest's Tale ("Certes, he Jakke Straw and his meinee" &c, VII.3394 ff.) gave me my entrance, and the animal theme led me to my grand finale: the story of the St Alban's rebels, who, to show their contempt for the poaching laws, crucified a rabbit.

My students immediately understood the significance. "Is that where the Easter Bunny comes from?"

"I'm...I'm not sure." I offered what I knew: "The French, they have an Easter bell. Instead of a rabbit."

"Yes, but they crucified a rabbit. Maybe that's why we have an Easter Bunny."

"I'll ask my friends."

My friend, in this case, is Thomas Walsingham. And forgive my Latin, because neglect. Feel encouraged to correct me.
Ceperunt quemdam cuniculum vivum, inter eos in plano campi per multitudinem populi vi captum, et in quadam hasta coram se ferri statuerunt, et super collistrigium in villa Sancti Albani, in signum libertatis et warrenae sic adeptae, difixerunt (303)
They seized a certain living hare, taken by force by them in the open field by a great crowd of people, and had it carried among them on a spear and fastened it upon a "collistrigium" (a pillory) as a sign of the liberty and warren thus obtained.
Something quite other than a crucifix.

Still, while searching for collistrigium, I found this odd bit of, I hope, forgotten child-rearing practice:

From here.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Time for Radical Hope: Freedom, Responsibility, Publishing, and Building New Publics


I was very lucky to be invited recently by George Washington University -- more specifically, GW's new Digital Humanities Institute [Alexa Huang], GW's Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute [Jeffrey Cohen], and the Gelman Library [Geneva Henry and Karim Boughida] -- to give a talk on the state(s) and future(s) of open-access publishing, and in order to make this talk more accessible, I am sharing it here [in augmented form]!

A Time for Radical Hope: Freedom, Responsibility, Publishing, and Building New Publics

Professional Challenges. Amateur Solutions.
~The Bruce High Quality Foundation

For what may we hope? Kant put this question in the first-person singular along with two others -- What can I know? What ought I to do? -- that he thought essentially marked the human condition. With two centuries of philosophical reflection, it seems that these questions are best transposed to the first-person plural. And with that same hindsight, rather than attempt an a priori inquiry, I would like to consider hope as it might arise at one of the limits of human existence [such as the collapse of an entire culture]. . . . What makes hope [in the face of such a collapse] radical is that it is directed toward a future goodness that transcends the current ability to understand what it is. Radical hope anticipates a good for which those who have the hope as yet lack the appropriate concepts with which to understand it.
~Jonathan Lear, Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devestation 

The Bruce High Quality Foundation is an anonymous collective and unaccredited art school, formed in 2004 by graduates of Cooper Union art school in New York City, who wanted to “foster an alternative to everything,” especially in New York City’s rarefied art world. Bruce High Quality is their whimsically invented figure-head: a sculptor who supposedly perished, along with all of his works, in the 9/11 attacks, and whose memory and legacy the collective seeks to maintain. One of their first interventions, or acts of institutional critique, happened in 2005 when the Whitney Museum wanted to honor the legacy of the illustrator Robert Smithson by constructing an actual “floating island” based on one of his drawings, “Floating Island to Travel Around Manhattan Island.” The constructed island, complete with living trees, was pulled by a tugboat around New York Harbor. The Bruce High Quality Foundation responded to the event with their own performance, titled “The Gate: Not the Idea of the Thing but the Thing Itself,” in which members of the collective pursued the Smithson island in a small skiff carrying a model of one of the orange gates by Christo and Jeanne-Claude that had been displayed in Central Park earlier that year. In 2007, they donned football gear and “tackled” public sculptures. They also produced a film in 2008 in which zombies take over the Guggenheim, and the Bruce High Quality Foundation fights them with the actual art collections (for example, decapitating the zombies with Brancusi sculptures while the art critics hide and cower in the museum's cafeteria). In 2010, and despite the Bruce High Quality Foundation’s efforts to remain anonymous and iconoclastic, they were included in the Whitney’s 2010 Biennale. We'll call this the "coming full circle" narrative, from inside the institution (Cooper Union) to its radical Outside and then back in again (the Whitney).

            I open with this brief anecdote about the Bruce High Quality Foundation to call attention to some of the really interesting movements, events, and projects (including new galleries, schools, journals, zines, presses -- a whole host of what I will call alt-cult, or “alternate-cultural” organizations) that have been founded in the past 10 or so years by students but also by post-grads without secure footholds in the academy (or museum) proper who are just deciding, with some faculty and other collaborators, to make things happen: things like the Brooklyn Institute of Social Research, the Organism for Poetic Research (in New York City), continent. journal and Speculations journal and TAG (3 of the most exciting new multidisciplinary journals run by over 10+ grad. students and post-grad. adjuncts spread out around the globe), The Public School New York, the Department of Eagles in Tirana, Albania, the Confraternity of Neoflagellants (in Edinburgh, London and Montreal), the Art School within the Art School (in Syracuse, New York), the Dublin Unit for Speculative Thought (D.U.S.T.), Silent Barn (a performance-incubation space in Brooklyn), the Leeds Weirdo Club, the Vancouver Institute of Social Research, and one of my personal favorites, The Hollow Earth Society, a group of artist-scientists based in Brooklyn who believe in the application of scientific rigor to dreams. I have been interested in these groups and projects for a long time now, especially for the ways in which they mine, from historically-invested perspectives, the interstitial spaces of institutionality and also bring into being new para-institutional spaces. These are not groups who reject the museum, the gallery, the conventional publishing world, or the university -- rather, they seek to inhabit the position of the ‘para-‘ [the ‘beside’], a position of intimate exteriority, or exterior intimacy.

Pedagogies of Disaster, joint project between the Department of Eagles (Tirana, Albania) and punctum books

          I have personally been inspired by the energies and projects and products of these groups, while I also worry a lot over their long-term sustainability. It may be that the ephemeral nature of such movements and group formations is perfectly all right, and just par for the course -- think of something like the anti-gallery and anti-museum and anti-stable art "products" Fluxus network in the 1960s and 1970s (which included figures such as John Lennon and Yoko Ono) and which produced many "happenings" and ephemeral art projects, and which no longer really exist, but they did found SoHo, after all, and institutions such as The New School for Social Research also arose out of such rebellious and radically innovative alt-cult social formations. 

At the same time, I’m keenly interested in seeing how we might create new institutions for fostering such innovative work and helping it to thrive, especially because I believe we need such creative provocations right now regarding what we do “in here,” and also because I would like to provide some dose of radical hope for the youngest members of our humanistic professions and trades who are currently grasping for what is less and less hospitable space within our institutions (of higher education, of the fine arts, of the cultural industries, etc.), and because I also believe, with Jonathan Lear, that hope requires courage, and courage is a collective affair, and further, following Aristotle, that "courage aims at what is fine," but also "paradigmatically involves the serious risk of serious loss and of enduring certain pains," and yet nothing could be so necessary now within our current institutional situation. So, on one level, punctum books was founded to respond to the “siren call” of these groups, and to try to devise some sort of institutional and corporate shelter for them that would not, nevertheless, impinge in any way on these groups’ radical energies and creativity, which partly depend upon, frankly, being anti-institutional. But let’s pause to reflect as well that there is almost no act of anti-institutionality that does not also aim at a reform of the institution, and therefore also represents some sort of investment in, and even love for, that institution. Let us pause (again) to reflect: institutional critique, and even occasional radical departures to the Outside, are forms of love for the institution. Take Diogenes, for example, our original Cynic. If he hated Athens so much and thought it was so corrupt, why did he set up shop in a large jar in the marketplace where he could be seen and heard haranguing the citizens of Athens all day long?

            Regarding what goes on within the institution, punctum books was also founded to respond to what I hope we can agree is a sort of crisis in academic publication (with “publication” here understood not only as the primary vehicle for the dissemination of our thinking, but also as the production of actual publics, without which intellectual and cultural life cannot flourish nor be shared). We are currently witnessing a period of unprecedented technological innovation (that promises substantial benefits for the production of our work, its dissemination, its analysis, and its safekeeping as archive, or memory), while we are also experiencing the rapid and austere contraction of financial and other forms of support for producing the most rigorously evaluated, closely edited, and aesthetically appealing scholarship. You don’t have to search too far to find all sorts of examples of this contraction, even sometimes embedded in announcements for the most newly innovative publishing platforms.
            So, for example, we might survey some recent experiments by university and commercial academic presses to cultivate and produce shorter-form e-books and “gray” literature (i.e., Princeton Shorts, Stanford Briefs, University of Minnesota Press’s Forerunners, and Palgrave Pivot),[1] that are intended to “pull in new readers for serious scholarship,” and at a time, moreover, when “academic libraries have ever-smaller amounts of money and space to lavish on [longer] books, which often have more pages than they have readers.”[2] Paul Harvey, the new director of Stanford University Press, explains that these books will beaccessible but not simplified, and should be digestible in one or two sessions -- bite-sized -- and not require a month of reading”[3] (as if that’s a bad thing). At the same time, we are witnessing the launching of new (and frankly, EXCITING) academic publishing initiatives, such as Anvil Academic, a platform for “born-digital” and “born-again-digital” “post-monograph” (non-book) research that is pinning its hopes for the future of academic publishing on networked and “digital-only” environments that would “free scholarly argument from the limitations of the printed monograph and allow authors to bring the full force of technology to the presentation of their work.”[4] So now, somehow, the monograph is a limitation, as opposed to a unique genre of scholarly writing that might still serve particular purposes alongside other sorts of new genres that might be activated through newer technologies (for a really important recent conference at the British Library on the possible futures of open-access monographs, go HERE). (I must pause to note here, however, that Anvil Academic, along with Open Humanities Press, is actually my favorite digital publishing initiative, because rather than building one particular type of digital platform and asking authors to shape their work within that platform -- whatever it might be -- they have taken the riskier move of offering infrastructure and other types of support services that would be uniquely designed to meet the desires and needs of whatever creative and complex types of born-digital scholarship might be conceptualized by individual scholars, and I consider that incredibly progressive and exciting.)

            At the same time, under pressure from the UK government and the recommendations of the Working Group on “expanding access to published research findings” (otherwise known as the Finch Report), which is insisting that all faculty at UK research universities publish only in open-access platforms (and actually won’t receive credit for their work in the national research exercise unless they do), we’re seeing the rise of initiatives such as Open Library of Humanities (where, full disclosure, I serve on the Editorial Committee), which has decided that the so-called “bound codex,” and even the PDF, is dead, or almost-dead, and which is placing all of its bets on a PLOS-style megajournal where we all would simply upload our research to a sort of open-access cloud-like entity, but with “filters” (i.e., some sort of specialist gatekeeping), and then afterwards, we can all “aggregate” this material however we like into “overlay journals” or Mendeley-style shareable databases. This is actually a kind of groovy, almost Napster/Pandora/Spotify way to publish and share scholarship but having sat in on the meetings, I can tell you that all the money talk seems to be focused on platform and coding costs, with the assumption that so-called “editing” isn’t really necessary (as long as certain experts determine what gets in and what doesn’t get in), or if it is necessary, it will remain as the service work it always has been (a system that is seriously broken in certain respects), and what falls away here is the idea that certain groups of scholars and their students -- call them associations, societies, groups, fields, specialties, whathaveyou -- might need specific sorts of platforms, infrastructures, modes and genres of delivery, and specific products around which certain types of communities would not only gather, but flourish and thrive, as well as produce distinctive styles of scholarship. Herein lies the critical link between publishing and public-ation, or the making of distinctive publics which must needs be diverse, each with their own voice, values, modes and styles of enunciation, and so on. CONFESSION: I am concerned with style, especially as it is not just an adornment laid on top of content: it is, in fact, what generates content. Another way of putting this is: form matters. “One megajournal to rule them all” is a phrase that sometimes disturbs my sleep at night. (Please also go HERE and HERE to see how new OA initiatives are shaping up within the University of California system and also at Harvard.)

            Now, Open Library of Humanities, admirably, is faculty and library-driven (indeed, OLH favors library-partnership-subsidized article processing charges over the author-pay model that PLOS uses), so how, then, are commercial publishers in the UK responding to the open-access mandate? Palgrave recently announced Palgrave Open, which allows individual authors and institutions to pay to have their work published in open-access form: $2,000 for individual articles, $12,000 for shorter-form Pivot books, and $17,500 for monographs. That’s Gold Open-Access. (Please insert a pregnant pause here.) Or, you can go with Green Open-Access, which is a bit of a misnomer, because it means that Palgrave can keep your material locked behind various paywalls for a certain length of time (they call that an "embargo"), after which authors are allowed to place, or “self-archive” their work in a repository at their university where it can be shared with that university’s users, but the self-archived version must be “the original pre-peer-reviewed version or the post-peer-reviewed pre-copyedited version of the manuscript.” (Please insert another pregnant pause here). If that seems too steep to you (Gold OA), or too weird (Green OA), don’t worry, you can do things the old-fashioned way with Palgrave, where your book gets peer-reviewed thanks to the tireless unpaid efforts of fellow scholars, and then receives no close editing whatsoever, is outsourced to companies like NewGen for some earnest but nevertheless rife-with-errors-proofreading, issued in a print run of no more than 150-200 copies priced at an unaffordable $100 each (or more), sold only to university libraries who increasingly can’t afford that, then dropped off the publisher’s list altogether. Enjoy that one copy you get for yourself which no longer even has a dust-jacket, because that’s too expensive, is hard to read because the type is so small (to ensure lower page-counts which helps with printing costs), has a title that Palgrave insisted upon over the one you wanted because they no longer allow so-called “metaphoric” titles (for ease of universal cataloguing purposes, which supposedly help their sales thanks to things like recognizable “tags”), and in the case of the new Pivot “minigraph” series, has one of five bland cover templates, because designing actual covers to highlight the content of your work is no longer allowed, or apparently, cost-effective, and might also get in the way of getting your title out more quickly, which is supposedly what we want now. OH, and by the way, those little Pivot books retail around $65 in print and $40 for the Kindle version, which means: a) Palgrave has invested in the most restrictive e-reader technology imaginable (i.e., how you gonna read this, or share this, without a Kindle?), and b) the pricing is so out of whack with the trade market for short books that it’s obvious Palgrave doesn’t even care about the trade market (to be fair, that's not their market, but I think it should be!), and once again, it’s time to gouge the libraries, who are encouraged to buy these books in subscription “packages,” as with journals. I like to call this the cable tv model of academic publishing: what you really want is HBO, but in order to get it, you have to also purchase channels you will never watch, and never even wanted to watch. [Indeed, on the dangers of the ways in which corporate interests are more than willing to capitalize on "open-access" platforms, see Christopher Newfield on that subject HERE.]

Library of Babel (Borges)
                   I share this admittedly woefully brief and selective overview of current trends in academic publishing initiatives simply to highlight their austerity of imagination as well as their “heavy” managerial structures.[5] For even while I applaud the initiative of these initiatives (I am a pluralist, after all), I also despair a little at the ways in which they are each, in their own way, also locked into certain structures (whether corporate, academic, technological, or even ideological) that determine in advance what is and isn’t (supposedly) possible and what is (supposedly) necessary now -- such that, for example, the monograph is now “out” and shorter books (or serialized e-extracts from longer works) are “in,” e-texts are more desirable (and supposedly cheaper to produce and disseminate) than traditional print media, it is necessary to shift (and even dispense with) certain publishing modes to meet the demands of currently popular text-delivery technologies (such as iPads, Kindles, and smart-phones), expert and specialist peer review of a certain traditional stripe is still necessary for “legitimacy” yet isn’t well supported, multiple layers of hierarchical and bureaucratic academic-managerial oversight still obtain while at the same time certain layers of important editorial care and curatorship drop away (due to lack of time, lack of staff, lack of money, lack of readers’ attention spans, lack of space, etc.), and further, the material archive (the dream -- or is a nightmare? -- of Borges’s Babelasian library or even Richard Fenyman’s 24 million library volumes etched on the head of a pin[6]) should simply be abandoned, and so on.  

The new Library of Alexandria, Egypt

                 CONFESSION: I am an unrepentant utopianist who is also a recovering medievalist. And here I want us to reflect on the fact that the relation between publication (the dissemination of our research but also the creation of publics) and what a university is, and does, is extremely important, and the the library -- one of the most ancient institutions in human culture that, at Alexandria in ancient Egypt, was housed within the Institution of the Muses where it served as both universal memory and the hive of scholarship  -- this Library (capitalized to indicate its status as Ideal) plays no little role in this relation as well, although that fact is often obscured by the fact that less and less people are actually going IN to the library anymore, and thus are also becoming less and less aware of the library’s function as a sort of thrumming brain of the university, especially also because many of the university library’s functions have been taken over by, quite literally, corporate and other types of pirates. But libraries, as orderly and ordered as they may appear, with their neat rows of books and catalog numbering and storage protocols and databases and so on, are also beautiful messes -- great, unmoored galleons -- that contain within all of their ultimately fragile and incomplete systems of control and order, the most baroquely disorderly house of wild thought ever built that could never be domesticated. That is also my working definition for the humanities, the sciences, and the university more largely: these are the very sites, par excellence, for anything being possible at all. And this is what we need to protect. And this is where the utopianist and recovering medievalist part of me comes in because I believe that if we have today more technological tools than we have ever had before, then what we should be doing now is maximalizing what it is possible to say, do, and publish, and in as many material forms as possible, and not winnowing down, or streamlining, the possible modes and platforms for our work and its dissemination, or else we risk turning our enterprise into Amazon.edu. One size never did fit all and where did that expression come from, anyway? Sounds like a bad sales pitch to me. 

            One of the fibs modernity likes to tell itself is that supposedly we have more choices, and more things, and more modes of expression, and more platforms for the delivery of the things we want to express and produce now than we ever did in the past. But the reverse is true: in the Middle Ages there were more genres of writing than there are now. It would take me hours to list all of them, whereas I could tell you how many genres of writing predominate the world book market in about 20 minutes. In modernity, we like to figure out what works best, and most efficiently, and most cheaply, and then we throw everything else out the window. History is filled with the junk heaps of discarded forms, and one of the jobs of a publisher, I really believe, is to keep all forms in play, precisely because it is in keeping all forms in play (which forms are themselves always being reshaped in some fashion as they come into contact with each other) -- that creativity has the widest possible purchase on how things might turn out. This means that publishing, as a system, must also always be open to productive errancy. punctum books and punctum records, for example, have both partly been designed, as enterprises, to attract work that both recuperates discarded forms (the medieval breviary, for example, or the cassette tape, or the inter-office mimeographed memo, or the epic, and so on) and also requires modes of delivery that did not exist until particular works called them forth. 

            For a very long time, and especially in my academic-activist career as it currently manifests itself in my work with the BABEL Working Group, punctum books, and more recently, punctum records, my vision of the university and the public commons the university helps to constitute has been inspired by words written by Michel Foucault in his Preface to Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus. These are, as it were, the starting premises for what might be called as-yet still unrealized futures for cultural-intellectual life and thought and the publishing enterprises that might nourish those. In his Preface, Foucault argued that “the art of living counter to all forms of facism . . . carries with it a certain number of essential principles,” such as, 
  • Develop action, thought, and desires by proliferation, juxtaposition, and disjunction, and not by subdivision and pyramidal hierarchization. 
  • Withdraw allegiance from the old categories of the Negative (law, limit, castration, lack, lacuna), which Western thought has so long held sacred as a form of power and access to reality. Prefer what is positive and multiple, difference over uniformity, flows over unities, mobile arrangements over systems. Believe that what is productive is not sedentary but nomadic. 
  • Do not think that one has to be sad in order to be militant . . . .[7]
What I want to pose today is the hypothesis that the future of academic publishing, as well as its ability to create and sustain more capaciously-imagined and also radically innovative publics, rests upon its willingness to take up these principles in direct embrace with what Jacques Derrida called “the university without condition,” which Derrida believed would "remain an ultimate place of critical resistance -- and more than critical -- to all the powers of dogmatic and unjust appropriation," and which had special safekeeping by way of the humanities, entailing the “principal right to say everything, whether it be under the heading of fiction and the experimentation of knowledge, and the right to say it publicly, to publish it.”[8] Derrida’s university “without condition” is, in some important respects, a guarantor of the freedom of thought. For Derrida, it was always a futural project, one that Derrida claimed could take place tomorrow, but that tomorrow, as far as I am concerned, is now. The future, of necessity, needs to remain always open to the unforeseen -- this is the matter, and the determinative time, of justice -- but there is no reason to defer everything. Certain decisions can be made -- every day, in fact -- that can be designed to keep the future productively open, which is also a way to keep the Now creatively messy and unsettled. This will also mean understanding that the other critical term here, in addition to freedom, is responsibility. Someone, or some distributive collectives of someones, needs to take responsibility for securing this freedom for the greatest number of persons possible who want to participate in intellectual-cultural life, and for enabling the greatest possible number of forms of such life, thereby also ensuring the creative robustness of the larger social systems within which we are all enfolded together, whether university, whiskey bar, apartment building, city park, subway car, kitchen, church, cruise ship, bedroom, or polis. A publisher is a person, or a group, or a collective, or a multiplicity, or a consortium, or a desiring-assemblage, who accepts responsibility for this.

[1] See Princeton Shorts: Short Takes, Big Ideas, http://press.princeton.edu/Prince tonShorts/, and “‘Bite-sized’ Reading from SUP,” Stanford University: The Dish, May 17, 2012, http://news.stanford.edu/thedish/?p= 19315. There is something delightfully silly in how the titles of both these book series conjure up images of men’s underwear, and it also reminds me that not many university presses are run by women.
[2] Jennifer Howard, “Ditch the Monograph,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 14, 2012, http://chronicle.com/article/What-If-Tenure-Didnt-Require/135108/.
[3] “‘Bite-sized’ Reading from SUP.”
[4] “About Anvil Academic,” Anvil Academic, http://anvilacademic.org/about-anvil-academic/. See also Adeline Koh’s interview with the head editor of Anvil, Fred Moody: “A Digital Solution to Academic Publishing? Introducing Anvil Academic,” ProfHacker [Chronicle of Higher Education weblog], September 24, 2012, http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/a-digital-solution-to-academic-publishing-introducing-anvil-academic/42828. I will note here that Anvil was conceptualized and is admirably (collaboratively) managed by a consortium of institutions (such as the Council on Library and Information Resources [CLIR], the National Institute for Technology in Library Education [NITLE], and University of Michigan Library’s MPublishing office, which is also partnered with Open Humanities Press), university scholars, and academic librarians, and is partly funded by various universities with an intensive interest in the digital humanities (such as the University of Virginia, Washington University in Saint Louis, and Stanford University, among others).
[5] I would note here that I am in deep admiration of the work of Open Humanities Press (http://openhumanities press.org/), and am especially keen on their experimental writing + publishing modes as evidenced in their Living Books About Life series (http://www.livingbooksabout life.org/) and Liquid Books imprint (http://liquidbooks.pbworks.com/w/page/11135951/ FrontPage), edited by Clare Birchall and Gary Hall, as well as in some of their journals, such as Vectors (http://www.vectorsjournal.org/issues/index.php?issue=6). From my vantage point, OHP has been consistent in thinking “outside the box” of traditional university and commercial academic publishing and they have published some of the most radical new thinking in the humanities (albeit somewhat slowly), but they cannot be viewed as completely “independent” of the university milieu from which all of their Editorial and Open-Access Board members, as well as the members of their Steering Group and Partners, hail. I simply seek a more radical, even anti-peer departure out of the academy for so-called “academic” publishing, while at the same time I support the idea of the university as one place among others where more radical publishing modes might be cultivated (as is the case with Anvil, OHP, Stanford Shorts, etc.).
[6] See Richard Fenyman, “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom,” Engineering and Science 23.5 (February 1960): 22–36; also available at http://www.zyvex.com/nanotech/feynman.html.
[7] Michel Foucault, “Preface,” in Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Schizophrenia and Capitalism, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen Lane (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), xv–xvi.
[8] Jacques Derrida, “The Future of the Profession or the University without Condition (thanks to the ‘Humanities,’ what could take place tomorrow),” in Jacques Derrida and the Humanities: A Critical Reader, ed. Tom Cohen (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 26 [24–57].