- Editors' Note:New Technologies, Academic Freedom, and the Archive
The five-volume A History of Private Life provides an interesting point of departure for our note to the "Art of Engagement" Forum. As a series that wholly depended on letters, telegrams (new technology in another era), art, architecture, ephemera, everything it takes to cobble together an archive to provide a context for creating a social history, for understanding the interior lives of a society, one wonders if social media too would have its role to play in an imagined Volume Six on identity and the postmodern era? What will an archive look like years from now? How will we, as scholars, gain access to it, since third parties (Internet service providers and such) mediate much of our interior/private lives?
Certainly, the debates that the reviewer and author gave life to raged on in status reports on Facebook, in e-mails, on blogs, and even in text messages. Indeed, a text message and a digital radio interview (where the moniker "the prince of third wave feminism" emerged fully formed) and their inclusion in a scholarly review have seemed to rattle certain quarters of the academy, not to mention the question of "tone." That reviews can be caustic, partisan, mean, scathing (Can we say Camille Paglia calling Stanley Fish a "Totalitarian Tinkerbell," or Carlin Romano's rapacious review of feminist antipornographer Catherine MacKinnon's Only Words?), complimentary as well as fawning is a given. That they may recount encounters with an author in the interest of transparency are not unusual either. These characteristics alone do not make them unsuitable for scholarly publication. There are simply too many instances of the existence of all of the above to claim otherwise. But does a review become "inappropriate" when it uses the new social media to drive home a point about academic freedom and the best practices of feminist politics? Indeed, Lomax's review has seemed to cross a Rubicon, taken us into a realm that many us of had never considered and would have preferred not to go to, with respect to what counts as "text," or at least appropriate academic "text," and issues of [End Page 161] privacy. Other professions use "texts" with regularity to adjudicate all manner of matters; most famously, it was a lie about an affair and the discovery of a cache of texts to the contrary that undid Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.
There is, though, something ironic about a new technology being called a "text" only to have its very textuality challenged. There is something even more ironic that a "text" sent by the author to the reviewer about a "text" (the review) and her critical interpretation of his "text" (Erotic Revolutionaries) be discounted as not germane when all of these "texts" were related to a scholarly enterprise.1 And for the record, we, the editors, verified the authorship of the text message as well as consulted several leading legal experts about Internet privacy, text messages, and academic freedom, and we have been assured that unlike letters, texts are not protected by privacy laws despite a sender's desire for such privacy. They are also up for interpretation despite authorial intent, as even a cursory read of Roland Barthes's "Death of the Author" suggests. Moreover, in the case of Lee and Lomax, one has to question whether, given the contents of the text (message), any expectation of privacy was entirely realistic. Do we endorse the use of text messages in future academic endeavors? Not unless they are part of a verifiable archive used as evidence directly related to research objectives.
There are those who will argue that it was not Lomax who crossed the Rubicon, but Lee who sent the text in effort to obviate academic freedom. As editors, we would be remiss not to disclose that the first review, while lengthy (an exhaustive eighteen pages, which thus required paring down), began and ended quite differently, and the reviewer still found herself on the wrong side of the author—hence the text message.
In speaking on behalf of our editorial board, our first priority is to uphold academic freedom and encourage the exchange of scholarly ideas, which...