Updating papers

Posted on | December 6, 2012 | 2 Comments

One of the little pleasures of rewriting is forcing yourself to add nuance and further examples to test your overall argument or theme. This week I’ve been trying to improve a paper I started roughly a year ago for a conference on surveillance in everyday life, one that I’ve already submitted for publication in an edited book. So I’m torn between the temptation to start all over again, because I ‘finished’ the previous version, and the sense that there might be more to say, if I just add layers to what was already an OK skeleton.

I have no idea how people make decisions about this sort of thing. I feel like other academics know how to repurpose content in some smart way without people noticing or minding. But I get caught up in all kinds of neuroses about it, from copyright issues to concerns about being repetitive. So I never really published chapters from my monographs as journal articles, for instance. But is that stupid? Who is ever going to read my book anyway? Why can’t I be more pragmatic about publishing?

Maybe it’s some kind of delusion that your best published work should be good enough to stand alone in a singular version. But how realistic is that in an age of remix, piracy and download… when people read from Google scans or pdf grabs without ever feeling a text. Besides, I am always reassuring anxious students that their writing is never finished – it just takes particular shape for particular readers and institutional purposes. This advice is intended to help absolve the preciousness that can affect PhD writing. But what happens if you give up on the idea of a piece of work ever being complete – to your motivation, to your sense of achievement? Does it mean a life condemned to the abstract sensibilities in this description of writing? Is it possible that I share drafts too early, when they aren’t yet ‘cooked’ (but that’s kind of the point of this blog’s title, right?) What are the consequences? ? ?

All this is a roundabout way of saying that I have re-written the piece on adultery technologies that I first finished earlier this year. I would be grateful for any feedback! It’s being considered for a special issue of Surveillance & Society coming out of the February conference, so it is playing up to some of those concerns. Aside from the descriptive side of things, investigating the bizarre world of spouse-busting, I am trying to unpack the idea of truth as it comes attached to sexuality in the psychoanalytic and Foucauldian traditions. I’m looking for ways to theorise fidelity and loyalty that don’t depend on confession, since information and knowledge dispersal are so morbidly our currency in a knowledge economy. It’s about other things too – like the forms of solidarity and love that emerge in societies divided by digital literacy. But I’m not sure that all of these things belong in one paper.

Otherwise – just to finish this totally nerdy discussion about writing – another joy of redrafting is seeing the world come in to synch with what you are working on (even if secretly only you know it is happening!). During the week I accidentally watched this Clinton documentary which helped me nut out a few footnotes on adultery. In fact, in the process of editing I even decided to promote this mini-paragraph out of footnotes to its own transitional role in text.

That adultery anxiety continues to focus on the elite class is certainly evident in the routine tactics of electoral politics whether of the Right or Left. The 2012 resignation of CIA Director General David Petraeus following email evidence of an ongoing affair is a further example of the political stakes of mediatised infidelity. As in the Clinton scandal, the crime of adultery in high office is taken to be especially significant since it can be placed on a sliding scale of dishonesty – ending in treason.

Even if no one ever notices this tiny addition, even if it gets cut entirely during peer review… I’m going to remember this momentous decision!


2 Responses to “Updating papers”

  1. Kristian
    December 6th, 2012 @ 9:55 pm

    Comedians do this shit all the time and nobody is like fuck that Bill Hicks guy is repetitive.

    -If- [big if] we’re serious about being in the business of producing knowledge, testing ideas etc etc then I think it is actually really good practice to not think that any piece is ever “finished”. It might be “finished for now” or “finished pending new data” or “finished subject to reconsideration” or “finished but needs nuance” or “finished as best guess”. But never finished. Not being finished is -great-. Andrew Wiles thought he was finished with a proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem (the first time round), Whitehead and Russell thought they were finished with Principia Mathematica until Godel showed up. And these were mathematicians, in a subject area you’d think being “finished” is incredibly clear 🙂

    Anyway, my point being that to me the idea that we should have an expectation of being finished in our descriptions/exploration/understanding of culture is kind of absurd and also kind of… misleading.

    Also, additionally anyway, I really just wanted to say that I also -accidentally- watched that Clinton doco.

    Also, with respect to Petraeus – I see two intersections of surveillance: that of sex/marriage/adultery and that of the surveillance state. Let’s not forget that the only reason this Petraeus thing came out was that the FBI conducted a number of warrantless hacks into a number of email accounts initiated by an agent on behalf of a civilian friend who wanted to find out who was telling her to keep away from her man via email.

  2. Kristian
    December 6th, 2012 @ 9:59 pm

    Also, speaking of everyday surveillance – I have to log into FACEBOOK to download your paper from academia.edu! (though I can read it!)

    Or sell my soul and sign-up to academia. And I can’t do that because I already sold it to Zuckerberg.

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