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From the Editor

A little over four years ago, I wrote in this column that MFS would undertake the task of questioning the terms of its own title (modern fiction studies) in the work that it publishes and would seek to publish work that attempted transformations of knowledge that falls within the journal’s boundaries. Now, as I take my departure from the editorship of MFS in order to assume the duties of Chair of the English Department at Michigan State University, I look over the twenty-one numbers produced under my editorship (concluding with the Fall 1997 special issue on “Technocriticism and Hypernarrative,” guest-edited by Katherine Hayles) with a sense of success raised by the excellence of the essays we have published and an acknowledgement of how much more remains to be accomplished in our enterprise. Having screened over 1,200 essays for the journal during these years, I have often been confronted with the complexity of the role that editors of scholarly journals play in this era of “professionalization,” downsizing, and tight job-markets in the humanities. More and more, journal editors, press editors, and editorial boards are becoming the gatekeepers of the academy: what we publish—or, more precisely, who we publish—plays an increasing and, perhaps, overdetermined role in who gets hired, who gets tenured, and who constitutes the academic body of the future. Thus, how we view our enterprise, either as merely reproducing the conditions of knowledge that prevail at the moment, or as working to transmute those conditions, is crucial to the quality and (dis)contents of intellectual life well beyond the present moment. Yet, [End Page 291] because the academy is increasingly commodified, and because knowledge itself is a commodity-form that runs the course of least resistance in the mode of reproduction, much of what we actually produce as intellectuals (and this applies not just to scholarly books and journals, but also to curricula, exams, dissertations, etc.) merely replicates what is already known, already packaged and consumed, without testing the limits of this (re)productive process. If we add to this situation the fact that younger scholars (particularly graduate students) face spiraling pressures to publish their work quickly in compressed periods of time, then the chances that what is produced will be in the reproductive, rather than transformative mode—as is the case with far too many of those 1,200 essays that I’ve read—are dramatically increased. The challenge that we continue to face as journal editors, press readers, board members, dissertation directors, and graduate teachers is a common one: how, in this time of reproductive global capitalism, to encourage new work that maintains its radicality while remaining attentive to the practicalities essential to the survival of journals, scholars, teachers, and students under the current regime. It is an immense challenge, and one that no editor or author can afford to ignore as we go about our work.

I look over what MFS has published over the last four and half years with the strong recognition that, despite the claims often made about the scholar’s solitary existence, intellectual work, made public, is inevitably a collaborative enterprise involving authors, editors, readers, and reviewers; indeed, it is in collaboration, in the collective interaction which attends publication, that the possibilities of transformation most deeply reside. If the critical work published in MFS bears any of the transformative character I have mentioned, it is most certainly due to the authors’ labors, but also to the labors of the journal’s editors, board members, and outside reviewers. As the editor of MFS, I owe debts of gratitude to my fellow editors, first, Ellen Carol Jones, and then, Nancy J. Peterson; to the members of the Purdue Advisory Board and the MFS Editorial Advisory Board whose advice is of the essence in what we publish; to the guest editors of the special issues published during my editorship, including Aparajita Sagar (“Fiction of the Indian Sub-Continent”), Nancy J. Peterson (“Toni Morrison”), Timothy Dow Adams (“Autobiography, Photography, Narrative”), Judith Roof (“Sexuality and Narrative”), Marianne DeKoven (“Gertrude Stein”), Donald Pease (“National and Postnational Narratives”), and N. Katherine [End Page 292] Hayles (“Technocriticism and Hypernarrative...