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November 13th, 2006 by slewfoot

Music: The Mission: Children (1988)

Like most Commies, I’m current prepping for NCA this week in San Antonio. I echo Debbalicious’ appreciation for her panelests! Thanks to my panel people getting their papers to me on time, I’m finished composing two responses . . . and a whole three days ahead of time. Woo-hoo.

I’ve also just finished my “script” for what will prove to be a fun time, “Manuscript Rejection Letters: A Reader’s Theatre.” It’s a panel on Saturday at three, I think. I thought I’d share my script here, which I will preform in character for each different review. These are all real selections from manuscript reviews I have received in the past four years. And for the record, three of the four essays “rejected” below were eventually published somewhere (the other one is still in review). Enjoy!



I dislike the piece considerably with its tasteless approach to complementing a pseudo-analysis of [Nine-eleven] . . . .


I do not usually resort to quotations from movies when I write manuscript reviews, but my reaction to this manuscript was akin to Tom Hanks when he examined a toy: “I don’t get it.”

To be clear from the start, I am not a fan of either psychoanalytic theory as it is applied to, or performed via, rhetorical theory, nor am I convinced that the literature of deconstruction offers us anything particularly valuable that could not be found elsewhere. . . . this positions me at the outset as a skeptical reader.

This essay speaks with an unearned authority. . . . the essay, or rather the author, . . . throws into the trash bin—without what could be called a reasonable trace of discrimination—thinkers of diverse traditions . . . talents . . . and intellectual purposes. . . . To extend while also condensing, the author . . . seems as derivative as it is condescending with respect to secondary literatures . . . . At the end of the journey, this reader remains both unconvinced and annoyed at the price of admission relative to the show, and what a show it turns out to be! To conclude, then, the promise of a “demonstration” of critical precepts extracted from [Walter] Benjamin not only falls flat. It collapses into trivializing impressions of [Nine-eleven] that require as little thought as they reflect insight. At best, it’s a poor footnote to an already cluttered reference sheet.

I fail to discern any contribution at all to the literature on [Huey P. Long]. Nor does the essay contribute to the much larger theoretical discussions of the rhetoric of demagoguery and/or charisma. Indeed, the essay’s rendering of those two concepts is fundamentally a-rhetorical, even anti-rhetorical, locating their essence in “psychical structures” (whatever that means) . . . . [My essay on the subject] is completely overlooked, and other important works on . . . southern demagoguery . . . are also ignored or simply dismissed.

I think it is safe to say that you destroyed your initial credibility with at least two of these readers by the sloppy way you constructed the manuscript. Errors of spelling, grammar, sentence construction, and usage—not to mention tone—do count in scholarly writing. I urge you to proofread your essays before submitting them.

This is a good piece of scholarship on an interesting incident in cultural history. I find the essay well researched and skillfully written. However, I don’t think the piece . . . has much chance of being widely read or cited; people are not going to find it all that interesting except as a piece of antiquarianism.


You stupid fuck! How can you submit to us an article with this incredibly stupid footnote? You obviously have not learned anything. . . . Keep playing around with Walter Benjamin and you will have a brilliant career among assholes such as yourself.

In your verbose reply you forgot to include an apology and an explanation. Do you know anything about . . . what we have published on the subject? Your arrogance is only matched by your ignorance. Before writing anything this stupid it would pay to read some of the relevant text. Your two contributions [to this journal in the past] were pretty mediocre and we had to edit out the nonsense. You should be grateful we took all that time to straighten out your incoherence and politically correct obsession with trying to reach the proper “Left” conclusions that do not follow. Enough with incompetent graduate students. Read more before making a fool of yourself.

You are a stupid fool to submit anything with so many errors and so many dubious assertions . . . Your nonverbals are just plain dumb.

Finally, just a word about the “explanatory power” of a “psychoanalytic theory of demagoguery” . . . . The analysis rests on the dubious, anti-historical assumption that we can’t really understand [Huey P.] Long’s “actual speech-craft” because it has been “filtered through contemporary symbolic structures.” The analysis also rests on he controversial assumption of “posthumanist” theory—that we are obliged (because Biesecker said so back in 1992?) to “displace the solitary individual or agent” . . . . Those are hardly assumptions widely shared by rhetorical critics . . . . [and after them] the discussion begins to read like a parody of psychoanalytic jargon. I apologize if my judgments sound harsh. Perhaps I’m responding in kind to the whole tone of this essay, which I found remarkably self-indulgent and at times even arrogant and offensive. I personally rebel against authors who pontificate about “our charge” as rhetorical critics . . . as if, in their superior wisdom, they finally have discovered the “right” way to do rhetorical criticism. And I especially resist suggestions that we must all change our rhetorical thinking to embrace this sort of wacky, psychoanalytical approach.

13 Responses to “rejecta-rama

  1. Shaun Says:

    oh… my… god. I will definitely have to see this just so I can listen for the sound of sphincters puckering amidst the predictable bellylaughs of the audience.

    The academia machine of discipline and punishment may just blow a gasket! :)

  2. slewfoot Says:

    It’s certainly a must-see, Shaun-ster. My colleague Matt McGlone will be reading a rejection letter from George Lakoff that literally ends–and I quote–“ngah, ngah!” Other readers include: Barbara Biesecker, Tom Frentz, John Jordan, Rosa Marty, Tracy Stephenson, E!, and Jennifer Stromer-Galley. It will be “moderated” by David Depew. And, to make it easy, it’s on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at the Convention Center in room 202 B.

    I suspect there will be a lot of laughing, however, we’re taking the underlying issues pretty seriously; they’ll be a more earnest though good spirited discussion of the peer review process after the “performance.”

  3. jenny Says:

    I love this idea so much that I might ask to steal it from you for the next CCCC.

  4. Kenneth Rufo Says:

    Hmm, I don’t have much to contribute, as I just don’t send out enough things, but I can share two paraphrased nuggets. The first was from a fifth reviewer (the essay was sent to 5 people for review *shrug*), and read loosely “This is the worst reading of X I have ever seen.” Something about Hyde Park posturing was thrown in there as well, though I had to look that up to understand the insult. The second came more recently, from a piece under review for about 17 months. I received a single paragraph review that included a sentence that said something like: “This piece has so many obvious errors it’s not worth further consideration.” In a wonderfully helpful manner, the only “obvious” error highlighted was my use of the word “aligned”, which the reviewer thought was a poor verb choice. I kid you not. I have since learned my lesson, and am avoiding the use of “aligned” in the future.

  5. Joshie Juice Says:

    Ken: “this is the worst reading of X . . . ” One rejection that I didn’t include in my script–mostly because I cannot find it–was along these lines. In an essay I wrote on Walter Benjamin I cited something I published on Benjmain elsewhere. To maintain “blindness,” I referred to myself in the third person: “as Gunn notes in X . . . .” The reviewer said something like: “Gunn’s work on Benjamin represents the worst, most sloppy kind of reading” and then blasted him for not reading Benjamin in the original German.

    As for “Hyde Park posturing,” I have no clue what that means. Googling it doesn’t help. I’m assuming this is not Hyde Park Chicago, but Hyde Park London. What is the insult? (Strange for a reviewer to insult so abstractly; maybe s/he is British?)

  6. Shaun Says:

    Benjamin in the original German? Sweet Mary & Joseph, as someone who has perused German versions of Frankfurters and Marx, I can confidently assert that the experience is about as helpful as some of these comments. When debating NeoMarxist accounts of ideology with a senior scholar, I was once trumped for having not read Marx’s dissertation in the original German. Until then, I didn’t even realize Marx had written a dissertation. Still, nice red herring to play the translation card, since it sweepingly invalidates about 85% of American theory and research.

    Hyde Park is the British version of The O’Reilly Factor meets Jerry Springer… mostly shouting fanatics, performative spectacle, and conspiracy nuts wearing aluminum foil helmets.

    More over pints at NCA, kemosabe!

  7. slewfoot Says:

    Oh Shaun, I miss you so. You are so close . . . but so far away. Exigency is a good thing. I think we should both don aluminum helmets for one NCA . . . along with our “deadbeat” name tags. Looking forward to the bear-hug, and the pints.

  8. Jonathan Says:

    Marx’s dissertation was on Greek atomism, I believe, so I’m curious to know how that would have been relevant to your discussion.

    Could you perhaps give a list of journals, more than there are quotes here for confidentiality’s sake, including those where you got these reports? The “stupid fuck” one–I can’t see that coming from Modern Philology exactly…

  9. slewfoot Says:

    All of the following journals are represented here: Communication Studies, Quarterly Journal of Speech, Philosophy & Rhetoric, and Rhetoric & Public Affairs. The “stupid fuck” comment is from an editor at the journal Telos.

  10. Shaun Says:

    Marx’s diss on “The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature” also dealt with dueling ontological metaphysics perhaps relevant to Marx’s own presumptions regarding human nature and being. eh. There was beer involved.

    You’re naughty, Joshie, but not yet as naughty as the TomCat!! heh heh, his original composition in your honor was indeed a delight!

  11. dhawhee Says:

    How did it go??? The answer probably requires a new entry.

  12. Faber Says:

    The session was terrific and the room was filled beyond capacity. The readings were funny, but also raised some important concerns. Although the “you stupid fuck” variety of response played great with the crowd, I would almost find this easier to take than the more subtle and discouraging comments where the reviewer is being clever and witty at the author’s expense. It seems to me that reviewers should note that when evil laughter is the soundtrack for their writing, the response may not set quite the right tone . . . I really appreciated the willingness of the panelists to share their rejections. It seems “safer” to do so once an essay has actually been published, or when the selected passages cast the reviewer in a bad light (rather than point to some legitimate or embarrassing problems with an essay). After attending this session, I came home to re-read my own reviews and realized that they weren’t all that negative. Getting a sense that the response is never “This essay is perfect—change nothing!!” makes it much easier to read over minor suggestions for revising and resubmitting.

    After enjoying this site for a while, it was nice to finally meet Josh, who was not quite how I had imagined him . . .

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