Author Blog

  • Author Copy with Bradley Buchanan

    My first published academic book had been commissioned by an editor of a British series, and once I'd finished that project, I wasn't sure I ever wanted to write another scholarly book. Not that this first experience had been a bad one, but I wasn't at a school that demanded a second book for tenure, and I felt I had my hands full with a young daughter, a 4/4 teaching load, and an incurable penchant for writing poetry. Still, time passed, and over the course of a year or so, I freed up enough intellectual space to re-read my dissertation with an open mind. It had been more than 5 years since I'd even glanced at it, and while it wasn't as bad as I'd feared it might be, I knew it would not make a real book without significant work. It was too long, too diffuse, and too concerned with displaying my mastery of a body of knowledge. Basically, it was an extended and intricate plea for a job, a plea I was lucky enough not to have to repeat.

    The next step was the most important one: I did some research about the process I hoped to complete. I bought and read Eleanor Harman's classic The Thesis and the Book: A Guide for First-Time Academic Authors (University of Toronto Press, 2003) as well as William Germano's helpful From Dissertation to Book (University of Chicago Press, 2005). I don't trust myself to paraphrase the many useful messages of these books here, but in essence they convinced me of the need to shorten my manuscript even more than I'd planned, to distill its essence, to retitle it, and to focus on a single argument throughout.

    This proved easier conceptualized than done, though some changes were no-brainers. For instance, my dissertation was entitled "Oedipus Disfigured: Myth, Humanism and Hybridity in Modernist Anglo-American and Post-Colonial Literature." I had added the topic of hybridity in a late revision of the dissertation because I wanted to address an issue I knew to be central to Post-Colonial Literature (a field I had long suspected, rightly, would be one I would be expected to cover in my first job). The "Post-Colonial" element in the dissertation was a chapter on Nigerian writers which, though it had been valid and useful at the time, was essentially a digression from my main area of interest, which was British Modernism. So I dropped the discussions of hybridity and Post-Colonialism, and changed the working title of the manuscript to "Oedipus Against Freud: Myth, Modernism and the Death of the Human." (I had realized that few would recognize or be enlightened by the allusion to Paul de Man in my original title, and I liked the agonistic and paradoxical sound of "Oedipus Against Freud.")

    Then I got lucky. In the years between the writing of my dissertation and my revision of it, Cambridge University Press had published an edition of D.H. Lawrence's manuscript novel Paul Morel (the unpublished precursor of Lawrence's breakthrough novel Sons and Lovers). I got a hold of this book and soon realized that it would greatly enhance my argument about why Lawrence reacted to Freud's theory of the Oedipus Complex by attacking humanism. I knew that publishers would want assurances that I had revised and updated my dissertation before it reached them, and a contrast between Paul Morel and Sons and Lovers would fill that bill very conveniently. It would also set my work even more obviously apart from previous Lawrence scholarship, which was important in my own mind.

    The initial rewriting process took a month or so; I sat in my cluttered office, spread my notes and scribbles on a chair, a desk and the floor and pounded out a number of new thoughts and opinions. I had a built-in deadline in that we had planned a trip to Europe for mid-summer, and by the time we left I had a new draft. It was still far too long, of course, so I offered my wife the invaluable chance to read it. She hesitated, naturally, but she was working as a copy editor at the time, and her professional curiosity got the better of her. She helped me to shorten the manuscript considerably (as she did once again later on after another round of revisions), and gave me a few pointers on how to improve my query letter to publishers. I tend to sound overly diffident in such letters, and she induced me to get rid of the traces of (usually false) modesty that sometimes creeps into my prose. She also urged me to call my particular scholarly intervention "crucial," a claim which I still think is a bit overstated, but have grown to like. Allow me to put in a plug for professional copy editors here: they are worth every penny you care to spend on them (I suppose my wife might be said to have read my work for free, but I have bought her a few presents over the years). I firmly believe that any topic that commands enough of your mental space to fill a book will also make you forget all those good writing habits you undoubtedly try to teach your students. Copy editors will see things in your writing that you will never see and which no academic colleague will want to point out: wordiness, jargon, pet phrases, pointless digressions etc. They will also help you to remember that you're no longer writing for a committee of faculty advisors who have coached and guided you through your research process (which had been unusually labyrinthine, in my case). They will demand the sort of concision, clarity, and vivacity that an acquiring editor will want to see in your prose.

    Then came the hard part: sending off all those query letters and sample chapters, and then waiting for a response. In my case, I got a relatively quick nibble from a British publisher for one, and then another university press also nibbled then said no, and I knew I needed to make some changes. Part of the problem, I realized, was that in trying to "sex up" my book's title, I had created some unwarranted. Some readers seemed to feel that, since I had mentioned the M-word in my title, I had to offer a comprehensive summary of all other theories of Modernism before I could address my own topic. I disagreed, but soon realized that they were trying to tell me something, albeit in an unhelpfully destructive way: my book wasn't really about Modernism as a whole. Yes, its argument explained a certain feature of Modernism (i.e. the anti-humanistic rhetoric of people such as Lawrence, Wyndham Lewis, and T.S. Eliot), but that argument worked equally well to account for the Oedipal features of pre-Modernist works such as H.G. Wells's The Time Machine, or of Postmodern texts such as Christine Brooke-Rose's THRU and Zadie Smith's White Teeth. So I ditched "Modernism" and arrived at the book's final title: "Oedipus Against Freud: Myth and the End(s) of Humanism in Twentieth-Century British Literature." This gives readers a much better sense of what to expect from the book itself, though I will confess that I miss some of the alliterative magic of "Myth, Modernism etc."

    After that, things went much better, though there were still some twists and turns to navigate. I was lucky enough to attract the attention of Richard Ratzlaff, my wonderful editor at University of Toronto Press, who inquired as to the availability of my manuscript. I told him it was unavailable, but I quickly withdrew it and offered it to Richard. He found two willing readers almost immediately, they responded with helpful, positive comments and a few suggestions, and another (much more hopeful) revision got under way. It was a great relief, and very inspiring, to react to constructive, thoughtful advice from readers and an editor who understood what made my book unique and valuable. Thus, I was perfectly happy to spend another few months effecting another overall reduction in the manuscript's length, as well as doing some new research and writing some new sections on the "Posthuman" (a concept I had briefly dealt with, but which the UTP readers had encouraged me to expand upon). The book is both much richer and much more unified as a result of these final revisions, and I'm very proud of the final product.

    I enjoyed the process of selecting an image for the cover. The Assistant Editor contacted me to ask if I had any ideas about the cover, and although I hadn't given the matter much thought, I embarked on a quest for the ideal image. As it turned out, the Oedipus story has inspired many disturbing and memorable images; Francis Bacon and Max Ernst created some especially powerful modern takes. We ended up settling on Henry Fuseli's Oedipus Cursing His Son, Polynices in part because of the sheer dynamism of the image, and in part because the confrontation it depicts reflects the antagonism suggested in the title of my book. The final design for the cover is very effective, in my opinion, though I'm no doubt rather biased on this subject, since I have been told that the basic idea stems directly from a suggestion I made to Richard Ratzlaff about featuring the words "Oedipus" and "Freud" in prominent juxtaposition to each other, with the unexpected addition of "Against." I love the newspaper column-like effect achieved by the designers' take on my unrefined idea, and the idea of putting "Against" in a red box was brilliant, in my view.

    So as you can see, UTP couldn't very well have a more enthusiastic author than me, though I think my positive attitude is warranted: they successfully shepherded my manuscript through a long but salutary process of readings and revisions, and have produced a fantastic-looking book. Although the glimmerings of my next book-length scholarly project are as yet very faint, my experience working with Richard Ratzlaff et al has motivated me to try and find ways of shaping my raw materials and ideas into a form which might be worthy of UTP's attention sometime in the coming years.

    -Bradley Buchanan

  • Earl H. Fry's Lament for America

    I have been preparing Lament for America: Decline of the Superpower, Plan for Renewal for several years. I am a Californian who attended public school in the San Francisco Bay Area when these schools were considered among the best in the world. Today, California, with 37 million people and the world's 8th largest "national" economy, has some of the worst-performing public schools in the country and the lowest state government bond rating in the U.S., even lower than the bond ratings of Kazakhstan and Lebanon.

    An adage asserts that "as California goes, so goes the nation." If this is true, the United States will face some difficult headwinds in the foreseeable future.

    Lament for America pinpoints three critical headwinds facing the United States: (1) the rise of competitor nations or groups of nations such as China and the European Union; (2) the potent combination of globalization, rapid technology change, and creative destruction; and (3) 15 major "fault lines" within the U.S. itself.

    In abbreviated form, the 15 fault lines include: (1) Beltway follies; (2) a corrosive campaign financing system; (3) massive government debt; (4) a burgeoning external debt and the dwindling importance of the U.S. dollar; (5) an unsustainable entitlement explosion; (6) unaffordable health care; (7) a faltering educational system; (8) the plight of the American household; (9) a new Gilded Age and Wall Street's debacle; (10) infrastructure deterioration; (11) intergenerational strife and festering cleavages; (12) a dysfunctional immigration system and failure to attract the best and brightest; (13) haphazard federalism; (14) general apathy and paucity of civic engagement; and (15) an overextended U.S. foreign policy.

    Tom Brokaw referred to those who fought in World War II and constructed the post-war international system as the "greatest generation." In no way can similar praise be heaped on those who directed U.S. affairs over the past generation. In the words of Linus van Pelt from the Peanuts' comic strip, "there's no problem so big you can't run away from it." A whole generation of leaders situated in Washington and in many state capitals has wholeheartedly embraced this advice.

    Americans and many others around the world are likely to experience more dramatic change in their lives over the next few decades than at any other time in human history. Some experts estimate that the human information base is doubling every six years, with a group of IBM scientists even predicting that the base will soon double every 11 hours. In 2050, what will be the standing of the United States in a vastly changed world, and how will national governments, peoples, businesses, and civil society interact with one another?

    Lament predicts that the United States as a superpower will decline in relative terms between now and mid-century. The big question will be the severity of the decline. For example, a mild relative decline globally which still leaves Americans with a much better quality of life at home would not be catastrophic at all. A more precipitous decline, however, would result in shockwaves reverberating around North America and the world in general.

    The book also includes a chapter highlighting the many positive features of America and then provides specific policy recommendations on how to surmount the fault lines - recommendations which will be extremely painful in the short term.

    The fate of the United States still resides primarily in the hands of the American people. Throughout history, those who settled the United States have tended to be a resilient and resourceful people, able to adapt creatively to a plethora of challenges. Can they do so again, or is their nation, arguably considered as the most powerful superpower in history, on the same downward trajectory as Great Britain early in the 20th century or Rome in the 3rd century?

    Earl H. Fry, Professor of Political Science and Endowed Professor of Canadian Studies, BYU

  • Trends in Canadian Internet Use: 2009 - 2010

    For this entry in my UTP blog I decided to talk about online video use within a video - using the medium to discuss the medium. The result is hosted on YouTube and can be viewed below. Herewith follows a brief reflection on the process of video blogging.

    First of all, communicating by online video is by far the most time-intensive form of networked communication (and here I speak with almost 20 years of online experience!). Although the final product seen below is rough around the edges - clearly a largely unscripted, homemade production - it nonetheless took 90 minutes to put together. This included two failed attempts which were filmed, uploaded, annotated, then deleted due to various flaws. There are still flaws in my final presentation, but I prefer to go by the general rule 'good is good enough' when it comes to my amateur video productions.

    Nonetheless, regardless of the time involved, the project left me thinking more about YouTube videos as a promotional tool for the book (which I shamelessly promote in the video below). I intend to make numerous videos that analyze current trends in Internet and online video use and use these as tools to promote Watching YouTube to business and academic audiences. Use the medium to discuss the medium and reach readers who are searching the medium for insight into the medium. The medium is, well, everything.

    Dr. Strangelove

  • Amateurs: The New Common Culture

    Time, the magazine that declared YouTube as the Person of the Year in 2006, recently released a list of YouTube's top fifty videos. How this list was determined we do not know, but it is a marker of current tastes that merits attention.

    In Time's list of YouTube's top fifty videos fifteen are commercial productions, such as clips from news broadcasts, television shows, and music videos. Seven are made by semi-professional entertainers, such as the YouTube child star behind the Fred show. Over half, twenty-eight, are amateur videos featuring a wide range of subjects, from babies, children, puppets, assorted animals, and home-made music videos.

    While it is only five years old, YouTube continues to demonstrate that we are entranced by content coming from amateur videographers. This defies long held expectations within the media industry that only professionals would be able to develop and deliver content that would attract a mass audience. Indeed, amateur content may yet prove to be a serious source of fragmentation and competition for eyeballs within the media ecology. Exact numbers are not yet available, but I strongly suspect that amateurs account for the majority of the 25 hours of video that is upload every minute to YouTube.

    There are far more amateurs armed with video cameras than there are sources of professional content production. There are literally billions of amateur photographers and videographers in the world today, along with 1.7 billion Internet users. This means that we have entered into a fundamentally different paradigm of cultural production - one in which amateurs account for the majority of video-based cultural production. This situation, this shift in representational power, is unlikely to change.

    The commercial sector will continue to have a distinct advantage in production values and capital investment, and the audience will continue to enjoy the blockbuster movies that Hollywood and Bollywood produce. Yet when I try to talk about movies or television shows with my undergraduate students I face the effects of a highly fragmented audience. Few of them will have seen the show that I wish to discuss. If I want to talk about something from the past, for example, the excellent 1976 movie Network, staring Faye Dunaway, maybe one or two out of sixty students will have seen it. But if I ask how many of my students have seen the video parodies of Hitler in the Downfall movie, or Laughing Baby, or a cat playing piano, or David after Dentist, the majority will have seen what I saw on YouTube.

    And here we come to the crux of the matter. Television no longer offers a common culture. It is losing its position as the dominant source of shared stories. Increasingly, we find ourselves sharing the experience of having seen something on YouTube. And more often than not, that something was made by amateurs like us.

    Dr. Strangelove

  • Watching YouTube with Dr. Strangelove

    Four years ago when I started to contemplate writing a book about YouTube I was aware that Internet companies can grow and fade faster than crocuses in the Spring. Would there be any Tube to watch by the time the lengthy process of research, writing, and publishing a scholarly book ran its course? Google snapped up the young Internet start-up and made history with what was to become one of the fastest growing Web properties. While the future remains unwritten, it is clear that YouTube will be around for a while, and more importantly, amateur online videography is now a permanent part of media culture.

    This new UTP blog will follow current events in the world of online video and YouTube. Each day the world press brings new stories to our mailboxes about online video, and here we will ponder the social, economic, and political consequences of this rapidly growing new medium. How big is online video? Google reported in May 2009 that every minute sees 20 hours of video material uploaded to YouTube.

    Cisco reports that 90 per cent of consumer Internet traffic (which makes up the lion's share of total Internet traffic) will be video by 2013. What this indicates is that in the very near future the majority of our Internet use will involve engagement with online video. Just as television and cinema became the central focus of the audience in the 20th century, and evolved into the premier arbiter of fame and celebrity, so too is the moving image becoming the central focus of the online audience. We see an early indication of this in Australia, where the most common online activity at work is watching YouTube. We would rather watch than work.

    What is it about YouTube that has our attention? Consider some of the events that have put online video in the news thus far in March. Two 14-year-old American high school students were arrested for exploding homemade bombs. They learned to make the bombs by watching YouTube videos on the subject. As I note in Watching YouTube, there are thousands of videos on YouTube that show Americans making and exploding homemade bombs. This is a peculiar aspect of American culture that has received little attention in media, anthropology, and popular culture studies.

    Meanwhile, a Georgia man was arrested by the Atlanta police department after posting a video to YouTube in which he held a sign that said 'Elton John must die.' It is unclear as yet as to whether the man suffers from mental illness or is just another homophobic religious bigot.

    Yet another American, known to the press as 'JihadJane', was arrested on terrorism charges after being approached by a Taliban recruiter who made contact via the comments section of a YouTube video. Indicative of the addictive nature of our new networked screen culture, a South Korean couple were so absorbed in an online video game that they left their child to starve to death.

    Not all the stories are as dark as these, and there are many positive aspects to the rise of amateur online videography.

    Each week I will explore the cultural significance of online videos and examine our collective addiction to watching YouTube.

    Dr. Strangelove

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