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May 30, 2019


Ray Saunders

I used to think the Internet had democratized information and [regretfully] accepted that what allowed the good to rise from anywhere also allowed bad to arise and we just had to sort through the dross for the pearls. Lately, however, I've begun to suspect that rather than democratizing information, the Internet is becoming simply another sales venue, just as the potential of TV was betrayed to establish what Joe Bageant called the Hologram, aimed at controlling the Masses and (of course) profit.

The Golden Age of blogging has been swamped by Social Media, a term which has redefined the meaning of "social" and not in a good way. The few bloggers I still read, aside from you, have resorted to an annual donation drive. You might explore that angle.

I do not patronize sites with a paywall, like NYT and WaPo, even though I'm interested in their content. It's not that I object to the paywall per se, but that even behind the paywall I find myself bombarded by clickbait. Maybe a site with nothing behind the paywall except good writing would be an option. I'll contemplate what it would take to make that happen.

Ignotas Artes

One wonders by what reliable epistemic procedure you have come to this view of editing and editors, if "every" one of them you "have ever worked with is, personally and individually, wonderful." Is it not a terrifically convenient feature of this folk theory of blame that it can be leveled at diffuse "structural problems" but never at individuals or particular institutions? It saves you from having to jeopardize a relationship you might otherwise find useful. As Andrea Long Chu wrote last fall about the Avital Ronell affair, "Structural problems are problems because real people hurt real people." A good editor of this post might thus have informed you that your disclaimer reads as protesting rather too much. (To take my tongue a bit out of my cheek: perhaps you meant the phrase "personally and individually" restrictively, suggesting -- however underhandedly -- that the goodness of the editors you've worked with does not extend beyond those personal limits into their professional work.)

In any case, not all editors are out to excise the pearls for the sand. I edit at one of those "boutique" publications in the U.S. (not one you mentioned or have published in), with no ads or paywall. I get to work both with writers and with fellow editors, including many philosophers, who tend the garden of stylistic and substantive richness you nicely eulogize here. For our part, all those tracked changes we send back are in the service of greater precision and nuance, not less of it. Perhaps you submit only the most alembicated and controlled of drafts for review, but most writers don't (aren't virtuosos very rare?), and surely you can imagine why we might want to give a less than perfectly formulated piece a chance, rather than reject it out of hand. (There's only trouble on this front when Nabokov complexes get in the way, but if the reader isn't always right, neither is the writer.) Conversely, I suspect you would be among the first to acknowledge that difficulty or preciosity should not be prized in itself, and in my own editing I often find myself proposing a more precise complexity for a vague or even inscrutable one.

Perhaps, in short, you are choosing to publish with the wrong people. You can sell out to the bigger or more well-known publications. Or you can support those smaller "boutique" media outlets, where you may find the virtuoso editors you seek.

Justin E. H. Smith

Thanks for your comments. Andrea Long Chu is a genius and I reflexively affirm everything she says (sometimes later having to backtrack when I realize I don't, in fact, agree with her). A very good example of the denaturing process I was attempting to describe was her own account on Twitter of what the NYT editors forced her to take out of her op-ed piece. I was heartbroken and angry on her behalf.

That said, my distinction between the structural and the individual is really just me trying to cover my ass. I don't want to alienate anyone I've worked with, and it is true that individually, as human beings, I like them, even when I really just wish they'd get out of my way and let me speak for myself.

Virtuosos are rare, but so much writing that was published before everything became so streamlined and formatted (and, I would add, all this largely in order to please the algorithms) would only come to appear as virtuosic after the fact, because of its idiosyncratic meandering -- I would cite here, e.g., Henry James, Thomas Browne. Let your authors meander; see what seeds they drop along the way and how these subsequently grow; and fuck the algorithms and the market, or at least stop pretending you are representing something other than these when you are repackaging perfectly fine idiosyncratic prose for mass consumption.


Not needing money and being tired of most websites, I restrict my writing to my blog. Hardly anyone reads it, but at least I am able to express myself exactly as I please. Though this provides almost no opportunities for discussion, I long ago concluded that the internet is usually not a good medium for that purpose.

Betsy Anne

Jesus Christ, man, you should back to drinking. Having a given text published by a media organization is not something you're entitled to. If media organizations adopted this black-and-white, publish-or-worship approach to most of the texts they receive, everything would be written by staffers. This means a more elite and insular media ecosystem in which a select handful of voices dominate, while other, more marginal voices are excluded. While you personally seem like an excellent writer, most people are quite bad it.

I also completely disagree with the pretentious labeling of phrases that the reader has to look up as "jewels." To whom does this have value? As if the writer's words were a gift that the reader should feel honored to receive?

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