RhetNetFebruary 1995

Chaotic implications of interest as organizing principle (or somesuch blather...)

Eric Crump

Richard, his usual astute and critical self, said: "I think for the Cyberjournal to be a success, for it to be a factor in whatever it's focus may be, it needs some concept of itself and it's underlying rhetorical components. I'm not sure that the concept of "all" as peers will ensure that success."

Nicely put!

Ah, but it will! That 'concept of itself' is mapped out in the public presentation RhetNet already makes. Not so much the submitted texts we now make available but the philosophy and project description. Simply put, as a creature of the net, the publication is only being true to its native environment and its defining concept by being chaotic. It's underlying rhetorical principle, I think, might be described as a self-organizing system (I don't know my physics well enough! Would that MER were here!), that is, the conversations--and the politics of their persuasion--move according to the winds of collective will, unpredictable but not random (or not random for long). There are patterns and tendencies at work, but they don't resemble the tidy patterns of print conversation and publication with its inherent linearities and hierarchies.

Richard, you've presented a crucial dilemma here. Success. As you know, I don't think the standards used in print can appropriately be applied to this network journal. To do so would be a little like criticizing an automobile for its inability to gallop across a meadow. True enough. It gets weeds in its radiator and stalls over by the big willow. But so what? Cars don't do meadows, but they beat the hell out of horses on I-70.

But at this point, the only standards people have handy, in their desk drawers and on their nightstands, are print-based standards. I think you're suggesting that whatever it is we do will, whether E Crump likes it or not, be held to those standards. I think you're quite right about that. The sensibilities that have informed academic publication for the latter part of this century, at least, are deeply embedded in the collective academic psyche. To be successful in terms of respect and legitimacy from the currrent intellectual power brokers would require that the focus of any journal should allow for some continuity of familiar print-based sensibilities.

Witness the shape of the current crop of electronic journals. This quote from Change Jan/Feb, 1995, "Beyond E-Mail: Electronic Journals" G. Phillip Cartwright and Diane Kovacs (swiped from a copy posted to AAHESGIT):

   "E-journals, at this juncture in their development,
    emulate print journals in their professionalism, style, and stature.
    They make every effort to maintain a level of scholarship
    commensurate with prestigious print journals."

I think we've allowed for that residual possibility. Barry Maid and Stephen Doheny-Farina early on insisted that some concession to reality had to be made, that conventional texts had to have a place. I'm not trying to recant on that. Texts that are shaped by print conventions belong, and not just for political expediency. They still represent viable forms for intellectual exchange and will for a good while.

But how will we know if the thing succeeds if, as I claim, the nature of the endeavor is different enough from its print predecessor that the old rules have to be kept at arm's reach? What do we have to match this against if old standards don't apply except in special circumstances (as opposed to as the norm)?

We have the net.

We have the conversations that will inform this publication's content. How do you know when you're on a good mailing list? or a good newsgroup? or in a good MOO discussion? I know when I forget to eat(!) because the conversation is so gripping, is generating so much heat or light or pain or laughter that I don't even consider getting up to fetch a beer. Diapers go unchanged. Deadlines get missed. The phone rings and rings. Good, here, may be measured by its ability to command and hold our attention. It's good if it not only makes us think but compels us to dive in and participate.

Near as I can tell, this journal will not fail even if it fails by print standards. If it is messy, uneven, irritating, chaotic (all nightmares to a print editor, right Victor?) it might still succeed by being provocative, by being interesting, by capturing the interesting stuff of the net (that old 'archival intent' bit).

It may be impossible or at least improbably for 'all' to be editors, but if the identifying concept is an intent to mirror the social shape of the net, then it has to be an open, participatory thing. Congregation by interest is one of the fundamental characteristics of net communities. Anybody who wants to can join most listserv lists. Anybody can read any newsgroup. Anybody can drop into a MOO discussion. But not everybody does! That's the point. Everyone won't be editors, not at the same time, anyway. Only people who care about the subject at hand and its treatment will participate (according to the theory anyway).

yes, it will be chaotic. I hope!

Date:         Wed, 1 Feb 1995 01:22:34 -0500
Sender: CyberJournal for Rhetoric and Writing 
From: Eric Crump 
Subject:      Re: all: editing?

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morphing editors fred's reply john's reply