- Editing as Intellectual Community:A Retrospective Manifesto
IT WAS NOT ONLY TO ADVANCE the body of knowledge that Prooftexts was founded but also to create an invisible intellectual community. After the heady experience of graduate school and study in Israel, many of us found ourselves in our first jobs in the academy feeling dispersed and isolated. While members of English departments seemed to have an abundance of colleagues with whom to chat and dispute, we students of Jewish literatures, especially Hebrew, were sequestered in fractious Middle Eastern departments and often preoccupied with remedial language pedagogy. Although we were well warned that journal editing would add little to our chances for tenure, the urge to connect with other young scholars was too strong to renounce.
Yes, we wanted to see our work published, but even more than that, we wanted to see our work paid attention to. And that attention, it turned out, was largely to come before our articles appeared in print. From the outset, we saw the essential function of Prooftexts's small editorial board to serve as a forum in which manuscripts of the editors' own work would be circulated for substantive comment. We realized that we could no longer depend—and, in some cases, did not wish to depend—upon the kindness (or distemper) of our graduate directors and senior colleagues for response to our scholarship. We had to rely instead on one another, and forming an editorial board became a way of entering into a kind of covenant of mutual assistance. The sort of critique we sought was frank, substantive, and supportive; and in return for this precious, if not always pleasant, gift, we committed [End Page 273] ourselves to rewriting and revising as a matter of course. As a reified object, then, the published article that would appear many months later was in many ways less interesting, at least for its author, for its obscuring the give-and-take that had gone into its final formulation. Not all of the early editors realized that this was the process that they had signed on for. Critique and the exposure it entailed were not to the liking of some, and they departed.
The organization of Prooftexts owes much to the American generation during which it was founded. We had well observed, and experienced, the rancor that had characterized relations among some of the eminences in the field, and we wanted to conduct our collegial business in a different mode. We did not mind acknowledging the fact that as scholars, we were perhaps less eminent, if it meant that we could get on with one another more respectfully and agreeably. The sum product of our collective work, enriched through mutual critique and comment, might compensate for the lack of near-total mastery possessed by some of our teachers. We hoped, after the manner of American pragmatism, that the reasoning of several minds would give us a decent chance of getting closer to the truth. In putting together the editorial apparatus of Prooftexts, moreover, we sought to avoid what we saw on the mastheads of many another journal: long lists of famous scholars who, in fact, had little active and vital connection to the journal and who had merely condescended to contribute the glitter of their reputations. That was the only contribution these journals were likely to receive from these scholars; and in the case when a submission was indeed forthcoming, it would have to be accepted whether it was of the first quality or not.
We strove for an American voice also in matters of style. When it came to the shaping and formulating of academic writing about Jewish literature, we had grown up with two different models. The Israeli model came with the provenance of Wissenschaft des Judentums and Russian Formalism and reflected the concentrated and intensely contentious cultural world in which it was produced. It was marked by careful attention to texts, exhaustive and often exhausting references, polemical exuberance—and sometimes license—and, in its Tel Aviv incarnation, an aspiration to scientific formulation. The other model was the Anglo-American essay, which took seriously the idea of an essay as an essai, an...