Note: This is part of our ongoing series of posts highlighting new work by scholars in our field.
The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Writer
Writing a book is a lonely, isolating endeavor. But maybe it doesn’t have to be.
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.
In itself, this is not a new idea. Several successful novels began this way (David Wellington’s Monster Island is one of my favorite examples). Years before that, Harlan Ellison would compose short stories in book store windows as a publicity stunt for both himself and the stores. But I want to combine public writing with academic scholarship. Already, scholars have used the Internet and MediaCommons for comments on an already completed manuscript (Toby Miller and Kathleen Fitzpatrick). But, to the best of my knowledge, none of these scholarly books have been posted as works in progress, in real time. The closest cases I know are a series of non-fiction books for a non-scholarly audience by the best pop culture critic you’ve never heard of, Philip Sandifer.
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.
Plots Against Russia
The book that I will write on this blog, Plots against Russia: Conspiracy and Fantasy after Socialism, is a study of the role of paranoid fantasy in contemporary Russian political discourse and culture. Rather than simply to respond to every conspiracy theory that makes the news, or to assume that conspiracy is somehow an exclusively Russian disorder, Plots against Russia is an examination of the frameworks that have allowed conspiracy to flourish. In particular, by devoting careful attention to less immediately legible genres of popular fiction, to Internet fan communities, and to a variety of recent political and philosophical tracts, I will show that some of the more extreme manifestations of conspiratorial thought in the contemporary Russian media owe their prominence (and relative coherence) to these very phenomena that were only recently dismissed as the irrelevant fringe.
A provisional table of contents is appended below.
I will continue to edit and contribute to All the Russias, but the Jordan Center blog is not an appropriate venue for an ongoing, individual project (especially since so many subscribers receive these posts in an email blast). My new blog site, plotsagaisntrussia.org, is now live. The first post (the book’s preface), is available here. The second (the beginning of the Introduction) should go up on Monday.
My hope is to post at least once per week. If you’re interested in receiving updates, just fill in your email address in the site’s sidebar, and you’ll be informed every time a new post goes up. I welcome comments and suggestions on plotsagainstrussia.org, by email, or on Facebook (where I’ll also be announcing new posts as they come).
With luck, I’ll have news about a book contract soon. When the book is finished, the blog will go down. But for the foreseeable future, I’ll be writing on the Net without a net.
Table of Contents
Russia as an Imaginary Country
Conspiracy as Information: The Afterlife of Bad Ideas
Secret Societies for Creative Anachronism: Conspiracy as Melodrama
American Horror Story: Liberalism and the Dystopian Imagination
Russian Orc: The “Evil Empire” Strikes Back
Flights of Fancy: The Malaysian Airliner as Rorschach Test
The Talking Dead: Articulating the “Zombified” Subject under Putin
On the Edge of Reason: Ukraine, Novorossia, and the Fantasy of the Primordial Nation