Infinite Summer and New Models of Online Scholarship

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(Crossposted at Arcade.)

I’d like to use my bloggy pulpit to draw your attention to a draft of Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s essay, “Infinite Summer: Reading the Social Network,” which discusses the origin and signifiance of an online effort to read Infinite Jest the summer after David Foster Wallace’s suicide.

This essay is destined to become part of a collection of essays on David Foster Wallace, which I am co-editing with Sam Cohen, called The Legacy of David Foster Wallace: Critical and Creative Assessments. The collection is forthcoming from the University of Iowa Press.

Beyond the content of the essay, I want to start a conversation about the future of scholarship and academic communities on the Internet. Along with group blogs (Arcade, The Valve, Crooked Timber, and countless group and personal blogs), there are journals that publish exclusively online (electronic book review), wiki-like resources dedicated to certain fields (Modernism Lab at Yale), and electronic “gateway” or aggregator sites (Nines).

What is new, as far as I know, about the model Fitzpatrick is using is that she is getting commentary on her drafts of written essays through an “open” peer review process. She has gone through this open review process with her new book, Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Internet (which is also forthcoming from NYU Press) and she has gone so far as to put her first book, The Anxiety of Obsolescence: The American Novel in the Age of Television (which Vanderbilt first published in 2006), online in full.

In a sense, Fitzpatrick is “blogging” this essay — she is using WordPress as a framework to make her essay available — but the open-source WordPress theme/plugin (CommentPress) she is using facilitates reading her text like a book and commenting on individual pages and paragraphs. There have been other projects that led to the development of this framework, including McKenzie Wark’s Gamer Theory, which was subsequently published by Harvard UP.

All of this leads me to ask a few questions: What are the advantages and disadvantages of showing work in progress online and inviting commentary? Is there any reason why, a few years after a work of scholarship has come out, and in the overwhelming majority of cases has sold most of what it will ever sell, we should not all be placing our books online? Are we too print-bound? Too locked into norms that guarantee that our work is inaccessible to vast majority of readers? Or are there good reasons for keeping our systems of scholarly dissemination more or less as they are today?

I ask these questions without much of an agenda. Rather, I’d like to spark a conversation that will help me think through these issues.