Crowdsourcing Scholarship.

I was quite excited to see this Jordan Center post by Eliot Borenstein, in which he discusses blogging his new book:

I started my academic career planning a dissertation and book about my favorite Russian author, Yuri Olesha. Depending on whom you ask, Olesha was either a talented novelist and playwright driven by Stalinism to abandon prolific writing for prodigious drinking, or he was an unprincipled hack who spent most of the 30s and 40s producing embarrassing Soviet drivel for the central newspapers. Olesha’s last book had to be assembled postmortem by his surviving frenemies, but he had already chosen its title long ago: No Day without a Line.

As a title, “No Day Without a Line” is almost heartwarming in its optimism, given how much difficulty Olesha had putting pen to paper. When working on my dissertation, it struck me as a much more encouraging motto than the song that kept playing in my head: Elvis Costello’s “Every Day I Write the Book.” One hinted at discipline and possibility, while the other suggested waking each morning to an impossible task.

As I write my third book, I have decided to put my money where Olesha’s dead mouth is. More to the point, I want to take the opportunity afforded me by modern technology, the safe entrenchment of a tenured position, and the ongoing crisis in scholarly publishing to try something different.

I’m going to write my book on a blog. […] I see several benefits in giving this a try. First, it will impose short, regular deadlines (I want to post at least once a week). Second, it will allow me to crowdsource some of the minor points that always come up during the writing process (suggestions for sources and footnotes, for instance). Third, it will provide an informal peer-review process before the manuscript is even seen by the press’s reviewers. And, finally, I hope to prompt further reflections on just how it is that we share our research with our colleagues and the world around us.

I think this is a wonderful idea, and the book, Plots against Russia: Conspiracy and Fantasy after Socialism (“a study of the role of paranoid fantasy in contemporary Russian political discourse and culture”) sounds quite interesting. If you go to the blog page, you can sign up to be notified by email when new posts go live; needless to say, I have done so. (Also, I love Olesha’s writing and am looking forward to reading the book mentioned in the first paragraph.)


  1. Quoth Wikipedia, Nulla dies sine linea ‘Not a day without a line [drawn]’. Pliny the Elder attributes this maxim to Apelles, an ancient Greek artist. Laudator Temporis Acti post.

  2. Right. I don’t think linea can mean a written line. But even dictionaries are crowdsourced now. “How would you define colonate?” asks But maybe is a satire. O please Lord…

  3. marie-lucie says

    I should adopt this motto.

  4. As an undergraduate and subsequently lecturer I loved Olesha and would present students with extracts from ‘Ни дня без строчки’ for translation. Your posting sent me straight to my shelves to extract it – it’s clear I bought it for flumpence in the 1960s at Collet’s in Museum St near the British Museum. Now Vodolazkin’s ‘Лавр’ has to fight with it for my attention.

  5. I don’t know anyone who would call the author of Envy, The Three Fat Men and Liompa a “hack.” Despite decades of (alleged) heavy drinking, No Day without a Line (which sounds like a quote from Mayakovsky in Russian – intentionally, I’m sure: O. worshiped M) leaves the impression of having been penned by a highly intelligent, introspective modernist. Olesha is the only Russian writer of his time whose writing can be mistaken for Nabokov’s while predating his, and who probably influenced Nabokov’s Russian novels starting with Luzhin.

  6. Jeffry House says

    So I guess Olesha wasn’t referring to a line of cocaine, eh?

  7. No, but this guy would. (And I see from that Wikipedia article that Nikita Struve has alleged his book to be “the work of another Russian author employing a pen name, Vladimir Nabokov”! One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.)

  8. Indeed, Lewis & Short gives ‘linen thread’ as the basic sense of linea, with specific cases ‘cords of a net’, ‘fishing line’, ‘plumb line’, and ‘bowstring’. Extended senses include ‘region, tract’, ‘mark made with a pen or pencil’ (evidently the relevant one here), ‘geometric line’, ‘boundary path’ > ‘path’ and ‘boundary’, ‘line of descent’, and ‘sketch, design’. ‘Line of verse’ was not a Latin metaphor, evidently.

    Colonate, to insert colons into a text.

  9. Saved too soon.

    But as the LTA post makes clear, in later times of lower Latinity, linea was applied to lines of verse or prose. And my definition of colonate should have had a smiley.

  10. This 8-year-old post by Laudator Temporis Acti is pertinent and well worth reading, as is the one it links to on Bestiaria Latina:

  11. Well, that was stupid: I could have sworn I checked to see that no one else had linked LTA, and the first comment did. Oh well, our host should feel free (though not obligated) to delete both my comments.

  12. Humbug, sir, the mere sight of your name in the thread gives me pleasure, links or no links. Ave!

  13. Better than one of those impossible Russian names (present company excepted, of course!)

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