Today I have for you the second post planned about ongoing faculty research projects. This one is written by Professor Kathy Acheson. She, like so many of our colleagues, combines literary and rhetorical study in her work, and makes a unique contribution to Early Modern Studies.
Please read, enjoy, and, if you feel like it, comment. Personally I’m still trying to make sense of the visual image she includes, which I am having great fun deciphering, and I’m always impressed by anyone who sets out to write a scholarly book.
As this project proceeds, Dr. Acheson will keep us up-to-date, so please watch for part 2 later.
There’s a facebook page called “Working on My Book” that has 515 “likes” but absolutely no content: no posts on the wall, no info, no profile photo. I take this to be a poststructuralist joke: “working on my book” is a floating signifier that can mean anything from “eating chips in my pyjamas while playing solitaire on the computer” to “cleaning out forgotten closets” to “deleting the sentence I wrote yesterday.” But it can also mean what you think it might mean: it can mean writing a book.
I sent off the manuscript of my most recent attempt to write a book in December of last year. I had a contract with a publisher: in 2006 I submitted a sample chapter, an outline, and a prospectus to several publishers, and had two offers of a contract. A contract like this does not oblige the publisher to publish the book, but it does require them to consider the full manuscript – to send it to readers, to pass the results by the editorial board, and to proceed with publication if the manuscript passes those tests. I say I “had” a contract, however, because – as is often the case when one is “working on my book” – I was grossly optimistic about when I would finish the manuscript, and the date passed some time ago. In addition, the nature of the book changed quite a bit as I wrote it: originally it was going to be about visual rhetoric and early modern English print culture, but as I was working I realized I wanted to investigate the relationship between visual and other ways of thinking, and I decided the “other ways” I could handle were those found in poetry. Either of these are reasons the publisher could consider the contract broken, and with academic publishing the way it is these days, I was a little concerned that my publisher would take the excuse to get out of putting out yet another expensive book that will sell in the order of 300-400 copies.
Luckily for me, the publisher seems still keen to have the book and has tracked down a reader for what they call the “clearance review” who will report back by the end of January. The publisher is also sending the manuscript to the editors of a series the book will fit in well with. What I am a little apprehensive about now are the comments and suggestions the reader might make. Challenging suggestions would include something like “should consider these observations in light of theories of visual cognition” (an area I’m not well-versed in) or “please incorporate broader history of the book in early modern Europe” (a field that is sprawling and gigantic and would test my knowledge of languages beyond my native tongue). The worst comment is some version of “unclear argument: needs re-working” – that’s when you have to re-evaluate and re-conceive your thinking. But most likely the comments will be helpful ones such as “see X’s work on Y” or “could refer back to Chapter 2?” and I will be able to respond to them and strengthen the book.
Any revisions will require reading, note-taking, re-reading, re-writing, and re-writing again. But if the scope of revisions is modest, I’ll be able to get them done this term, while teaching. I also have to secure some photographs of printed images, and get permissions from the libraries that hold the original books and take the photos for me. I have to pay for these, but fortunately I have a small grant that will take care of that end of things. Then I have to make sure to attach the correct caption information to every photo. After that will be indexing, proofreading, and more corrections. And some chips, some vaccuuming, some long walks to no place. I’ll update you here on next steps when I get the readers’ reports.
Photo: From Henry Hexham, The principles of the art militaire (London: 1637), p. 41. Photograph courtesy of the Folger Shakespeare Library.