Theodore Pappas’s depressing tale (“The Life and Times of the King Plagiarism Story,” May) of having his Plagiarism and the Culture War rejected by some 40 publishers only begins to reveal the sorry state of today’s highly selective “information explosion.” Even all the other doleful Chronicles articles recounting the horrors of publishing constitute a mere beginning. There is a part omitted—the ease of “them” getting into print compared to “us.” Visit any decent bookstore or scan a publisher’s catalogue and one will see that “they” outnumber “us” by at least ten to one, perhaps more. Virtually every university press has a series devoted to “queer” subjects, while pro-Marxist books continue to issue from respectable houses as if the Evil Empire were about to triumph. Publishers Weekly (September 30, 1996) offered an incomplete listing of 123 new fall books on gay and lesbian topics. Meanwhile, my Conservative Book Club entices me with a diet of “get rich quick” schemes and similar offerings of modest intellectual content. A two-volume review of Marxist academic scholarship by Marxists themselves (hardly an upbeat crowd) was downright celebratory regarding the proliferation of books from respectable houses and fresh journals galore. The International Directory of Little Magazines and Small Presses 1997-1998 lists under “Lesbianism” 78 separate journals and 58 presses specializing in this subject (that’s 58 presses, not books). Interestingly, no entry existed for “Conservative.”
It is easy to dismiss this leftist outpouring with the usual “somebody is always willing to publish dreck, so what else is new?” After all, even worse stuff outsells this rubbish 100 to 1. But what is critical is not the dismal sales of books like Wolf Girls at Vassar: Lesbian & Gay Experiences, 1930-1990 (St. Martin’s). The significance of this avalanche is that it becomes the currency used to purchase the academy. It makes no difference if the nonsense is bought, read, or understood. As leftists of all stripes seek professorial jobs and eventually tenure, they are asked to provide scholarly publications as their admission ticket. With armies of anxious-to-please presses and specialized journals needing new material from a relative handful of “scholars,” academic advancement is a snap. And what dean is willing to announce that this dreary, turgid babble is not “authentic scholarship”? Why risk being deconstructed in full public view? Meanwhile, those who profess “dangerous” conservative ideas are asked for two forms of picture ID plus a birth certificate if they insist on paying with cash. It is no wonder that the academy has fallen so quickly to the left—they print their own money.
This is even more remarkable if one stops to think that “we” supposedly have the power and money (and the numbers and the correct answers, to boot). Can any group of smart, talented people be this inept? Obviously yes. Where’s the vast right-wing conspiracy when we really need it? Certainly not in publishing.
Theodore Pappas’s experiences raise some deeply troubling questions about taking care of our own. Perhaps he should title his third edition Martin Luther King as Martin Luther Queen: The Crisis of Textual Deviancy in the Modern Hero. If our society can have a Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist or Semi-Dwarf Quarterly (both real), we certainly can have well-researched books about public figures committing plagiarism. Complaining is good therapy, but all this fun should not obscure the lousy job we are doing in getting our ideas out.
University of Illinois Urbana, IL
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