- Intellectual Work in an Age of Transition
Holly Laird asked the editors who spoke to the CELJ at the MLA meeting in December 1996 to address the problems, frustrations, and pleasures that come with trying to move an established journal into new areas of study, especially as these involve increasingly interdisciplinary work and the necessity to attend to the diversity of literatures and cultures demanding attention. I have found few material reasons for frustration. There are more than enough people eager to publish in these new areas. Sometimes frustration comes from the very nature of such a journal: it’s hard to be timely—we plan in advance, we do special issues, etc. But to deal with the immediately contemporary—this is hard and I have failed in all attempts to do this despite efforts to set aside space for last minute pieces to be included, and so on. Frustration rises at a another level: boundary 2 is edited by a collective and as such it is hard to find agreement on certain matters of intellectual importance. I take it that in what I assume is a transitional age such difficulty is of historical and not merely personal interest.
Starting some time around January 1991, I attempted to get the editorial collective to agree on an agenda, on an editorial and publishing policy that would revise and at the same time focus the journal in the areas of new knowledges and new thinkings. I have failed repeatedly in my efforts to achieve consensus. Why is this? I ask not to indict my editorial colleagues—indeed, my best friends are my colleagues—but because I think it worth examining as a problem. In fact, I think Bruce Robbins was in the room on many occasions when I attempted this. (I should tell you that Bruce flies under two covers here: co-editor of Social Text, he is also one of the most valuable members of the boundary 2 advisory board.)
Let me give you some idea of what I was trying to do by quoting from a memo I sent to all members of the collective on August 7, 1993:
During the last two years, I have been trying to provoke, within boundary 2’s editorial collective, a discussion of the journal’s purpose and direction. I have been contending that we have a unique opportunity to consider the roles a journal rooted in literary, theoretical, and cultural work might carry out in a world vastly different from that in which boundary 2 began twenty years ago and even more different from the world in which literary and critical journals began to emerge and then to become professional. [End Page 455]
boundary 2 can, I think, do something of value, namely, try to understand the defining characteristics of our world, its needs and directions, and ways in which intellectuals such as ourselves might pursue our work. Specifically, the collective, with the full participation of the Editorial Board and Advisory Editors, can set up a publishing program to guide the journal in the next five years, identifying areas to be treated, intellectual criteria to be met, and methods of work that establish new sets of relations to other journals, institutions, and individuals.
In asking the collective to carry out this rethinking, I have often recalled the earliest days of the journal, when its greatest success came from promoting new work. I have also insisted that we cannot measure the journal’s success in professional academic terms; rather, it must assume the responsibility to think anew the questions provoked by global transformation.
Despite considerable support from certain colleagues who made their own valuable additions to my call, we achieved no consensus or agreement on either the value of such a goal nor, obviously, on its likely content. That does not mean boundary 2 did not go on to make many of the changes I asked for. Many I simply made by myself with the cooperation of some others, either through the process of reading submissions or through the addition of new members to the collective. Not quite imitating FDR’s effort to pack the court, I nonetheless looked for...