Monthly Archives: October 2013

Credentials and our new editorial board

One of the key challenges of a new project such as sdvig press is of course obtaining academic credentials. It is all very well to design a nice logo, think of a name, publish a few books and make them available online. If the quality of the books is up to standards and we maintain a certain production over a number of years, we might even accrue a certain amount of name recognition and respect. But in order to get initial funding and to really get the project going, it is also paramount to demonstrate the project’s legitimacy and seriousness immediately.

The most obvious way of quickly demonstrating that we are not just a vanity press reprinting some public domain stuff (I am surprised at how many of the texts we are intending to re-issue have already been reprinted and are available from huge, miscellaneous catalogues, often at not especially cheap prices) – is to have recourse to the trusted institution of the editorial board. The prime reason for establishing an editorial board for each of our series is of course to obtain crucial advice and guidance, and make sure the books are indeed up to the quality we want them to be. But at the same time getting half a dozen of respected specialists to sign up and show support for each of our various series would mean obtaining a visible and immediate endorsement from the academic establishment.

Last week I therefore set about writing a few emails in order to put together the editorial board for our flagship “figures of structuralism” series. I have an existing network in that field, but I also wrote to a couple of people whom I have never met. The answer has been extremely quick and positive. We already have 6 board members from all over Europe:

Natalja Avtonomova of the Russian Academy of Sciences, a leading Russian philosopher and former colleague of Jacques Derrida at the Collège international de philosophie in Paris;

Tomáš Glanc of the Humboldt-University in Berlin, a highly respected expert on Jakobson and Central and Eastern European literary theory;

Tomáš Hoskovec, Masaryk University in Brno, the acting secretary of the Prague Linguistic Circle and a keen agitator for the cause of European structuralism

Mihhail Lotman of the University of Tartu, an international eminence in verse theory and semiotics, as well as, incidentally, the son of the great semiotician Jurij Lotman;

Michal Mrugalski, a Humboldt-scholar at the University of Tübingen with rare knowledge of Germano-Russo-Polish intellectual exchanges;

Michael Silverstein, University of Chicago, a former student of Roman Jakobson and a world-class theoretician of semiotics and linguistic anthropology;

Christian Puech of the Sorbonne in Paris, the man who has done most to further a broader historical understanding of structuralism in France;

Klaas Willems of the University of Ghent, a distinguished linguist with a very strong background in the epistemology of linguistics and philosophy of language.

Needless to say, I am much honored and absolutely excited at this response and am looking forward to editing the series even more than I was up to now. I am pretty confident we can get a similar response for our other series as well. In any case, this bodes very well for the future of sdvig press. The rapidity of the response to my solicitations leads me to think, moreover, that the sdvig press initiative is in fact responding to a latent need in the academic community for ambitious publishing ventures, and that the scholarly manpower, so to speak, is just waiting for the opportunity to collaborate.

It’s been a great Open Access week for us.

From « archives » to « figures »

You may have noticed that we have recently changed the name of one of our series from “archives of structuralism” to “figures of structuralism”. Along with the name, the whole concept behind the series has also been modified, a change that is very revealing of the possibilities offered by combining a large online database of texts with print series (and of the need for us at sdvig press to understand these possibilities as soon as possible)

Initially, our plan was to publish “everything” that was remotely relevant to structuralism in that series, hence its title of “archives”. Yes, this sounded slightly ambitious, would take time and we probably would have to wait for quite a few of the authors to go out of copyright. But we could start with Saussure, Trubeckoj, Brøndal, Tynjanov, and add all sorts of peripheral but important thinkers such as Pos, Paul, Marty, Koffka, Ehrenfels, Sievers, etc. This would be enough work to start with and provide a solid basis for the archives. Logistically it seemed, and still seems, absolutely feasible.

The problems however started almost immediately. After editing a collection of articles by Hendrik Pos (to be the first book in the series), I decided it would be good to re-issue his 1922 dissertation On the Logic of Linguistics. On the one hand, this text fitted perfectly in the concept of the archives, as it is a sort of echo of Saussure’s famous Cours de linguistique générale. On the other hand, however, it never quotes Saussure, its theme is more philosophy of language than linguistics and its gist is more neo-kantian than really structuralist. Later texts by Pos, I then reflected, are even less connected to structuralism and it would be in fact quite a stretch, indeed completely misleading, to include his whole work under the banner of structuralism. So should I include only part of Pos’s work in the structuralist series? Would I have to do the same with other authors? How to decide what to include and what to leave out? Wasn’t the concept of our broad, exhaustive archives defeated by this editorial cherry-picking?

Similar problems of editorial selection were raised moreover by the fact that we wish to publish the complete works of some authors (Marty for example). Should we publish some texts twice, once in the complete works, and once in the “archives of structuralism”? In the case of Marty, where only one or two texts would require this treatment, that might be possible. But what about with Tynjanov, or god forbid, Jakobson? Would it really be justified to have a double edition of 80% of their texts? Would that be fair and transparent with regard to the buyers of the books?

All of this, in a way, is nothing else than the typical problems of selection and redundancy any publisher or editor of a series will encounter. In the context of the sdvig project, the possible solutions to these problems however appear to be quite different. Indeed, regardless of the way in which we decide to publish the texts (as complete works, as thematic series, even as stand-alone books), we would still end up with an “archives” such as we had planned initially. The fact that all our books are available in an online database means that they exist there as a full archive. Moreover, the database can be structured so as to offer a selective access to the specific corpus of texts we deem relevant to structuralism. Additional search function can even allow the user some freedom to tweak the criteria and adjust the corpus to his own needs and conceptions.

As such, we discovered, we didn’t need a print series called “archives of structuralism” at all, in fact having such a series would be a hindrance, because it would allow less freedom online with the structure of the database. Instead, what was called for was a series that could serve as a curation tool, a sort of introduction or overview of a specific theme. Instead of stuffing every possible structuralist text into a mammoth and therefore somewhat pointless series, we could decide on a way to select some of these texts and highlight them, so as to create an immediately visible “map” of the field of structuralism.

That is when we changed the concept: instead of having everything in the series, we would have just one volume per author, with a selection of his most important “structuralist” texts. Luckily, that is exactly what I had done with Pos, so that book could stay. At one go, all the above problems were solved: we will still have a thematic series dedicated to structuralism, and we will still have our general archives. But we won’t have to force the complete works of some authors under the banner of structuralism, and we will only have to publish a very limited number of texts twice. What’s more, we’ll have a useful curation tool to structure our database and serve our aim of broadening the way people look at and understand structuralism. And best of all, this approach is replicable for our other thematic focuses and will even allow a productive criss-crossing between the different themes, at least on-line, thanks to the malleable structure of the database.