Sunday, November 12, 2006

Wise Words and the Future of Publishing?

Today, in a lazy sort of way, I have been preparing for the classes I will have to teach next week, along with doing various chores. As background for one of my classes, I decided to re-read Marx and Engel's Manifesto of The Communist Party. The German edition of this work was initially published in Leipzig in 1872. In this text, I found and was struck by, the following remark,

"In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations becomes common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature."

Marx, K. and Engels, F. (1872), reprinted in translation in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works in One Volume, Progress Publishers (Moscow), p. 39. [The section that includes this passage is available on-line here.]

This passage is interesting for a number of reasons. The first of these is that, in some sense, these remarks appear to almost anticipate the internet. What, one wonders would Marx and Engels have made of the complex of texts, literatures, images, sounds and video clips available to anyone with a connection across the world today? This though raises a more interesting question of whether the rise of the net will lead to a single world literature? On the face of it, this is problematic, not least because of the barriers presented by language. That being said, as automatic translation tools, like those available from Google and outfits like Babblefish improve, perhaps these barriers will be transcended too.

Another things that is interesting about this passage is that it throws into question the work of certain 'theorists' (the term is used loosely here), who are interested in so-called 'post-colonial theory'. As a number of these theorists also embrace Marxism, one is left wondering what they make of this remark. Perhaps they just ignore it. Who knows.

This remark also makes us mindful of the trend of globalization, that currently grips many business areas. The burger I eat in Beijing, should be the same as the one I eat in Moscow, Chicago and New York. I for one think that this is a shame. Local variation is one of the things that makes travel interesting. With globalization, this is increasingly lost.

I recently had a 'globalization' experience. I received an e-mail from India, telling me that the proofs of a paper that I had recently had accepted in a rather good journal were ready. The e-mail sent me to a web site, where I could download the proofs, instructions, forms and all that stuff in .pdf format. The odd thing about all this is that the editorial board of the journal is almost entirely based in the U.S., whilst the publisher is Dutch! Such is the global world in which we now live and which the Internet has made possible.

However, the thing that makes the above quoted remark a little bit sad, is the extent to which the Utopian vision it seems to suggest is prevented from coming to be, by commercial interests. It is not the case that the intellectual property of the world is becoming universally available. The predatory behavior of large corporate copyright holders is making the wide availability of certain texts, images and the like an impossibility, unless fees are paid. This is a shame.

Consider the case of the academic paper. I work for a University that is part of the State school system. What this means is that, to a large extent, my salary is paid by tax payers of the State. One of my primary job duties is to do research and produce papers describing novel and original results. However, once a paper is accepted for publication in almost any respectable journal, I am required to sign over the copyright of my work to the publishers of the journal. The publishers then wish to sell my University library a subscription to the journal for a large fee. Publishing in respectable journals is the only way to get, and stay, ahead in academia. People who do not publish, or who publish in out of the way places, will fail to get promoted and lose the respect of their peers (if their peers even manage to get to hear about them in the first place).

This system is on the face of it, a little ridiculous. There are papers that I have written that I cannot access in our library. The people of my State have paid for this work, yet they cannot access this work either, without paying more. Moreover, these payments are made to large publishing houses that are often out-of-State, or even out of the country! This makes no sense to me.

It is because of these issues that I advocate supporting efforts like Cogprints. This is an archive of paper drafts in the format they were in, just before the authors' were required to sign away their copyrights. This provides a means of giving access to the fruits of research, without all the fees. This is also the reason why academics everywhere should consider supporting the efforts of outfits like Eprints and allied organizations. We academics should also all actively self-archive our work and make it available on the Internet. If we all do this, then perhaps the World of literature that Marx and Engels imagined may become a bit closer to a reality.

The CP


Blogger Tenured Radical said...

I agree, CP. What is particularly awful about academic journals nowadays is that often, to get published in history, the journals want pictures -- the rights to which have to be purchased, and for someone in 20th c. US this is very, very expensive, particularly since Congress in its wisdom has extended copyright for ever.

Thanks for the comment on my blog -- I appreciate it enormously, and hte link. I'l check to see of I linked you, and if not, I shall. And also, your instructions on writing html were crystalline.


5:35 PM  

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