On embeddedness; or, I wrote a thing

I wrote a thing. I called it “Embedded Together: Artists and Audiences and YouTube.”

It’s one of many responses to a bigger question on the thick, rich site MediaCommons: “What is the role of the digital humanities in transforming and responding to the arts?” (Was the word humanities always there? If so, I wasn’t thinking of it in my answer; I was just thinking of intersections between DIGITAL and ARTS. Oh well.)

You can read it if you want; I like it. But what I’m thinking about here is the effect of time on how we view revision. Because that piece went through a lot of revising. The original draft was probably twice as long as it was supposed to be, and then I worked really hard to get it down to a place where it was only 2/3 too long, and then I cut out my entire heart to finally get it down to where it is now. (I thought about counting the number of comments I went through with smart editor Alex Nielsen, but it’s too many to count. He’s a good editor; I’m perhaps too insistent on my rambly style. Good job, Alex.)

editing-screenshot

There was a lot of this.

So reading it this morning after weeks of actually forgetting it even exists (and prompting this post), I was wondering this basic question: does it feel empty, short, sad, in its final form?

Mostly, no. It holds together, even though it feels very different from the genre of the other answers to the question (which I’m fine with). I’m proud of it. Here, in this blog post, I’ll tell you all about it, look at me, not ashamed.

But the one thing that feels off: I’m not giving a lot of time/space here to my friend Ian Scarfe, who spend so much time on smart, long emails to me about these questions. He got cut a lot; in editing the piece, I edited him. And even with the distance of time, it’s hard for me to get a sense of if he sounds the way I want him to. Is he more of a soundbite, a quotable, a few links, then let’s move on to the other stuff? Or are there hints of the real human that speak up under my edit, the sounds of his piano drifting through the screen?

Of course, I ask because of other projects: I’m editing a longer piece (the introduction to an edited collection), which currently means editing out a lot of the voices that I’ve collected. Where do those voices go after I hit delete? Where do their ideas go after I’ve stopped listening?

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2 responses to “On embeddedness; or, I wrote a thing

  1. Kyle,

    This just popped up on my feed, and I wanted to respond because I want to tell another side of this editorial narrative and the way those anxieties manifested on the other side of the screen.

    I felt your overview of the editing process was a bit unfair – to you. I have been thinking about your post, and the process of working with you, and the impossible task (and question) I set out for you. Your prompt, by the way, was earlier than the question going live; you’re right that the word humanities didn’t appear in yours (though it did appear in many others). I didn’t sweat that change because what you generated was emphatically a product of thinking on the humanities, and digitality, and all the topics that the MediaCommons editors want to hold conversations on.

    What you submitted was digital, and human, and asked necessary questions that DH scholars should consider when dealing with production in the multimedia age. But more than that, what you wrote originally, it was beautiful and personal, and painful, and necessarily verbose. You’re very kind to credit me with assisting you in editing down the product; still, I can’t stop thinking about the failure my part to do the right thing in representing the human voice behind your words, the same as your concerns with Ian.

    I should have done what my heart told me to do; I should have emailed you “this piece is doing important work that deserves the loving attention you gave it, and we should find another way to share it. We should feature this as a separate experience, find a new home for it elsewhere in the MediaCommons schedule where it has room to breathe and say what it has to.”

    Instead, I said (and I quote) “I’m working on suggestions. This thing is hard to cut more than just a 3 word introductory phrase here and there […] I’m setting myself a hard limit of 1000 words. We can’t run over that, if only to avoid slapping other folks in the face who trimmed down to 600.” In this moment, I’d already admitted that the piece did work that required more than the hardline stance I took to fit a format that I asked you to shoehorn your argument into.

    As we chatted around the revisions, I kept finding myself working to rhetorically position myself “on your side” as the editor–to prove to myself as much as you that I was an ally, and not adversary, in telling your story. I commented that “it’s really hard to get this work done, because I keep switching back over to watch Stereo Hideout’s Brahms v. Radiohead concert.” True, but a feeling that my cuts took from your readers.

    I noted that “the perfect storm from the Stereo Hideout cross-content is great for this argument – remix, the hybridization of digital and analog, what is lost in that translation. If [we] had a 1000 more words, there’s a whole other essay about that.” If only, right? I was the editor. I had that in my power; so what stopped me?

    The whole time I was reading and advising on your piece, I was screaming to myself “this is wrong! This pieces shouldn’t be shortened–it should be expanded, reconsidered in media and format!” I wanted to embrace the digitality and embeddedness of your exploration, to ask you to come back to it as a podcast, an interview with Ian, something that could truly layer your voice, and Ian’s, and the art that played over your experiences and your thoughts. I wanted to say “these are the kinds of voices we fail to consider all too often in the DH, and I’d love to hear you and Ian speak in your own voices.”

    And I didn’t, because I had a deadline, and I’d put you on a deadline, and the job of an editor isn’t to [X], and Kyle understands why [Y] has to go, and I was hungry, and million other things that made it easy to tell myself that 1000 words to tell a 3000 word story is better than no story at all.

    I don’t know how much this response answers your questions in the end; I think a big part of it is that those ideas don’t have to go away, because we should never stop listening as editors. That those voices still exist even if you do click delete; and that as editors we have an obligation that is all too easy to ignore. And maybe the stakeholder-centered ethos of the humanities shows where the editorial process fails to be humanistic–gives into systems and forgets the voices behind the quotables, the excerpt-y goodness that populates “good scholarly writing.” Maybe we should remember (and be more open about) what was lost in the pursuit of exigencies–and work outside the confines of those exigencies to find a home for good ideas, even if it hurts our own products to do so.

    Thanks for your kind review of the work we did together. I hope we can collaborate again soon.

    -Alex

    • kstedman

      The short answer:
      1) You’re nice.
      2) You’re overplaying the degree of awesomeness the piece had pre-edits. I think in most ways it’s probably better now for most audiences than it was when it was, say 500 words longer.
      3) I’m glad you commented here, because this is such an interesting conversation for people to see, laid bare (perhaps especially for new writers, new scholars, new editors?). We should acknowledge and celebrate that there’s a human angle under all acts of writing. I’m glad we do here, in post and comments.

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