The Valve “is a literary weblog dedicated to the proposition that the function of the little magazine can follow this form. We mean to foster debate and circulation of ideas in literary studies and contiguous academic areas.” All that’s up right now is John Holbo‘s introductory post, but it’s long and meaty and deserving of your attention. After a fine blast of Trilling:

From the democratic point of view, we must say that in a true democracy nothing should be done for the people. The writer who defines his audience by its limitations is indulging in the unforgivable arrogance. The writer must define his audience by its abilities, by its perfections, so far as he is gifted to conceive them. He does well, if he cannot see his right audience within immediate reach of his voice, to direct his words to his spiritual ancestors, or to posterity, or even, if need be, to a coterie. The writer serves his daemon and his subject. And the democracy that does not know that the daemon and the subject must be served is not, in any ideal sense of the word, a democracy at all.

and an encomium to the “little magazine,” he digs into the depressing subject of the publishing crisis in the humanities, and specifically the problem of too many academic monographs chasing too few readers. His prognosis is both plausible and heartening:

Humanists – particularly in overcrowded, monograph-ridden literary studies – should embrace e-publishing. No dibble-dabbling skeptical toes to see if the water is just right. ‘Let’s not be hasty’ is not prudence but confusion or status anxiety (‘everything the internet touches turns to crackpot’.) Which just needs to be gotten over. Let us hear no false dichotomy arguments to the effect that the book is still valuable. No one is proposing the things are to burn. It is a question of ratios. Electronic-to-paper will tip increasingly steeply in favor of the former. Good. Form should follow function. Academic publishing is supposed to get rarified stuff out to the few. Books that exist in editions of 200 are, well, rare books. Sprinkling the academic world’s libraries with probably non-optimal assortments of (over-priced) rare books is not the best method of pairing these products with the rare readers. PDF or HTML, served up free online, makes more sense. (And searchable. And ready to be marked up and tagged in intelligent ways. Imagine if we had Thinkr, an academic-journalistic version of Flickr. An electronic environment in which academics could compose elegant bibliographic glass bead games, to guide colleagues to the good and warn them off the bad. How delightful! Just a thought.)…
If overproduction is inevitable, which I grant, the primary question is not how to fund it but how to ameliorate the damage it does us. (Having gone overboard by describing excess scholarship as ‘effluent’ I should probably add: producing things no one wants to read is perfectly harmless so long as these undesired things do not collectively block the road.) The question (I’ve asked it before) is how to overproduce with intellectual dignity? (See also, Tim Burke’s reply to that post.)
The answer, I think, is that a supplement is needed to a pre-publication peer review process that inevitably hyper-produces hypertrophic ‘conformist excellence within the heuristic contraints …’ The supplement should be a hyper-efficient post-publication peer review process that tells you what you might actually want to read.
A simple normative principle. Every scholarly book published in the humanities should be widely read, discussed and reviewed – should have it’s own lively blog comment box, not to put too fine a point on it. Because any scholarly book incapable of rousing a modest measure of sustained, considerate, intelligent chat from a few dozen souls who specialize in that area shouldn’t have been published as a book – i.e. after several years labor and an average production cost of $25,000. Turning the point around: any book worth that time and expense, that fails to be widely read, discussed and reviewed – that is not given its own blog comment box – has been dramatically failed by the academic culture in which it was so unfortunate as to be born.

His style is lively, his thoughts are provoking, I will be returning regularly to see what his co-valvulators come up with, and I wish this new creation every success.


  1. I may have some trouble remembering the name…it’s something both genital and cardiac…
    “What was it? Clot? Angina? Oh, I remember, it’s Valva!”

  2. Sphincter would have been more vivid.

  3. Steve – sorry for being so abrupt- but could you please blog about Dundes? I would do it myself but I am not going to resurrect Glosses just for this, and you have a much bigger audience.
    You can email me if you want. I was in that seminar.

  4. Lest I be misunderstood, while I think that “The Valve” is a rather odd name, this enterprise is an estimable one, and in my culture references to sphincters are in no way derogatory or demeaning, but entirely honorific. I was playing off Abdul-W.’s comment.

  5. Yeah, Renee, what happened to Glosses? I feel orphaned…

  6. “Abdul-W.”? Who is that? Makes me sound like George W.’s long lost Palestinian brother.
    No, my fellow, the name’s Abdul-Walid.
    I approve of sphincters, the inspired little puckers. That would be a GREAT name for a literary enterprise.

  7. Oh, I dunno, LH…
    Your recommendation worth loads, so I went and spent my first-coffee-cup high on the introductory statement.
    My conclusions:
    1. If Mr.Holbo is sincere about his intention of engaging non-academic types (who can’t afford to languor on his virtual patio indefinitely while being on paid time) his enterprise’s presentation style would benefit from some editing.
    2. Connected to the p.1.
    The length of the introduction is a symptom of author’s lack of clarity on a subject, in my eyes. A manifesto should be brief and clear, to stick. And to underline uniqueness of this particular publication: if one of the functions is to provide room for interdisciplinary academic debate, how is it different from, say, “Crooked Timber” or other chatters?
    3.And it shows in the banner/headline, too. Is the main goal of this new e-publication “to improve circulation” [in academia, I presume]? Or to “vent steam”? Or, as one of the commenters elegantly quoted from OED,[Ent] to “serve to attach the male more firmly to the female in copula”? All very valuable functions; each one could afford a solid niche in the blog “market” to a magazine (what John Holbo is concerned about, as I understand) – separately. Dude, make up your mind!
    4. If, on the other hand, this intro is intended as a poll of readers’ opinions on what should be a content (much better approach, IMO,) -then why not to be frank about it? By resulting comments you’d see the size of your exclusive-club/non-democratic target audience and range of subjects that interest them. IMO, again.
    In short: my impression – too many intentions in too many words in a too narrow column format with too wide margins (although I rather liked that particular shade of mossy green)
    And wth is ALSC?

  8. 1. If Mr.Holbo is sincere about his intention of engaging non-academic types (who can’t afford to languor on his virtual patio indefinitely while being on paid time) his enterprise’s presentation style would benefit from some editing.
    As Confucius said, “Give away free ice cream and people will complain.”

  9. PS I have had the thought that it would be a curious literary exercise — well, “stunt” might be a better word — to maintain a blog consisting entirely of unauthorized, anonymously edited, shorter versions of John Holbo posts, as a service to the larger blogging community. Since he does often seem to ramble a bit. But I would disagree with the implication that the stated aims of Valve put him under any obligation to do other than what he has done there with his inaugural post.
    More seriously, the energy of the responses both positive and negative to the Valve announcement suggest that the project is “on to something”, i.e. that it uncovers not just one but perhaps several possible previously-unrecognized directions for online publication!
    As Senator Palpatine said, we shall regard its future career with great interest.

  10. Pierre, as Engels said, ” free cheese only occurs in moustraps”

  11. I agree – for possibly the first recorded time ever – with Tatyana: Holbo would be a better writer if he was (“were”) a worse typiste.

  12. But what if he has one of those speech-to-text softwareses?

  13. Pierre:
    haven’t you paid attention? ” but I can’t reach my shelf and am typing{bold is mine} too fast to stop” (Maestro HimSelf)
    “Couldn’t beleive it myself. But it’s a good thing(!?)” (c)John Emerson

  14. …something both genital and cardiac…
    The cockles of your heart?
    Tell me, where is Cockle bread,
    Or near the **** or near the head,
    How begot, how nourishèd?
    Reply, reply!
    ‘Tis kneaded there, by maidens’ thighs:
    Between the knees, and it will rise
    As it’s baked, before your eyes.
    Let us sing, and cock’ll swell:
    I’ll begin it – ding dong bell.
    All: Ding? DONG? Sheesh…
    With apologies to… well, just about everyone.

  15. I often agree with Tatyana, except when she’s disagreeing with me.

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