The Hidden Implications Behind the Ideology of Passive Income

Passive income. Not to dream of labor. Retiring at 30. Drop-shipping. E-commerce. Digital products. You’ve probably already heard of these words, terms, life goals. They have been referred to quite a lot over the past years, marketed as one of the many fast and concrete strategies to generate money and expand your wealth. To me, they became noticeable when they started appearing on my Youtube, Instagram, and Medium feeds, just around the time when the pandemic struck. While a lot of us were quite severely attacked economically, others started to benefit from the digitalization of work and transactions. Perhaps you, too, have found yourself drawn to ads in which ‘making easy money’ is promised, with their strange and fascinating reality, educating you on the mechanism of this ‘new’ economy as well as its successful leaders. It can feel smooth and soft to be caught up in their discourses, listening to the voices of advertisers whispering about what seems to be the newest dream of our generation: passive income through digital products, and its promise of making money while doing (almost) nothing.

The advertised path of selling digital products

Figure 1, Screenshot from google search: How to make money online

Look up, if you will, the following in your search engine: Making Money Online. It is probably not universal science, but you will quite likely find similar answers to the ones listed above: ‘start drop shipping’, ‘try print on demand’, or, lastly, ‘make money with affiliate marketing’. If your algorithm by now did not yet recommend videos of ‘experts’ explaining their ‘leadership methods’, and if you still don’t have a clue what this is all about, you can easily find resources by typing ‘e-book’, ‘print on demand’, ‘drop shipping’, and ‘affiliate marketing’. Here, you’ll find a bunch of people sharing their knowledge very willingly, as well as their experiences so you don’t have to make the same mistakes as they did. Existing within a digital society where goods can be immaterial, reproducible and transactions can be facilitated to the point where they become almost invisible, it has never been so easy to make money online – if we are to believe these digital guru’s words. 

Figure 2, Screenshot from Youtube ads Free Challenge with the 7-day Revenue

For me, there is a dissonance in my relationship with these practices. They fascinate me as much as they make me question my own convictions. Being a by-product of this economy myself, and experiencing both what it gives and takes away, I am forced to admit that I, too, would not refuse the pleasures of absolute financial freedom. Given the current circumstances and crisis of the past two years, we all seem to understand the precious costs of life — the importance of doing something useful with our lives. Therefore extra earnings, and if possible sustainable ones, would surely make everyone feel more at ease in their own positions: the desire for this life of comfort needs no deconstruction.

Should we then condemn these e-commerce and internet-driven businesses, for given us (false) hopes or a capitalist way of life? No, because, in fact, they are quite genius. They enabled a form of independence for many individuals trying to escape their precarious lifestyle. In the article: ‘It’s bullshit’: Inside the weird, get-rich-quick world of dropshipping’,  writer Sirin Kale underlines what it means for young people to start a business. Quite often it means being financially and mentally free from the burden of loans, or the future’s uncertainty. 

‘I didn’t want the 250k in debt that would have happened if I’d continued with dentistry. My parents were so stressed. I saw them get older, right before my eyes, with the stress. I felt like this guilt, all the trauma like I was to blame. My sister almost went to community college because we spent all the money on me.’

Figure 3, Meme from the webpage Sheek Freaks, Post #25: The Best Ways for You to Make Money While You Sleep

Still, these financial dynamics should always be apprehended in the context of their history. It is important to understand why such individuals would give these businesses a try, and why they dream of becoming, one day, successful e-commerce business owners themselves. For who knows — later on, they could even become a mentor to those starting out. A lot of people of both the Millennial generation and younger are exhausted. They feel rejected, abandoned by this society. They don’t dream of doing more work, specifically ‘labor work’. But to dream of no labor often means getting individual financial freedom through questionable aims. 

While some of us might hope to get rid of our day-to-day work, this dream implies that there’s someone else doing this labor for us. Whether it’s your newsletter, filling in the e-mail list, repairing your computer CPU, or cleaning your kitchen: the labor always still needs to be done by someone. Therefore, in dreaming of the absence of labor and hopes of getting financial freedom, it is important to ask certain questions regarding the ethics of this new ideology. To become a boss and lead a business might be the new fantasy of our neo-liberal society, and a perfect example of how individual needs are moving front and center. By trying to survive in our own way, and perhaps even thrive, we might all be tempted to generate passive income and the peculiar strategies behind it. Still, the implications behind this money-making scheme go far beyond the individual.

The promise of a sustainable dream

With this aim of making money online and the attempt to generate passive income, there is a desire to gain (absolute) freedom. To spend more time with our loved ones, to do the things that genuinely excite us, and to generate a narrative for our lives that resonates with us. It is an understandable feeling, specifically given the uncertainty of our times. But let’s not forget: we are in the middle of a crisis. An economic and social one, that has been enhanced by climate conditions and ecological catastrophes. A crisis which has been aggravated by our current economy, the overproduction of goods and their transportations through the world by non-sustainable transport. While many individuals claim that leading businesses and generating wealth online is eldorado, this thought leads us to wonder, should we then all become ‘digital entrepreneurs’? 

E-commerce and digital products seem to propose an alternative to our more old-fashioned practices, our ways to consume, and show us the potential of financial liberation. But what exactly are the implications and dynamics behind these practices? Currently, there are three main practices: print on demand, drop shipping, and affiliated marketing.

Print On Demand

‘Print on demand is a printing technology and business process in which copies are not printed until the company receives an order, allowing prints of single or small quantities’.– Wikipedia

While this definition, given by Wikipedia, seems to imply a more sustainable means of production, the concept of print on demand enables anyone to become a shop owner and create lines of clothes or objects to be shipped anywhere. By looking closely at the many different seller options, we see platforms that are smoothly designed in a way that makes website creation and clothing design seem effortless. Once the product is created, printed, and sold, the seller earns his money based on the margin profit. In order to sell, they’ll also have to advertise their products. 

In looking at this production scheme, we don’t even have to ask if we need more T-shirts. What we must ask ourselves is whether it might not be more sustainable to buy one at your local shop, thus supporting a small business instead of a big corporation The way we’re being advertised these ‘genius’ strategies and their minimalist design, however, makes us tempted to design one, buy one anyway, and to even give the whole idea a try. If the strategy doesn’t work, the state of things seems to remain the same, but if it does, how will we then stop ourselves from participating in this economy without any critical notion?

 

Figure 4, RedBubble Spontaneous T-Shirts examples

In the article ‘Is Your Greta Thunberg T-Shirt Contributing to Climate Change?’ journalist Jasmin Malik Chua explains quite clearly the ambiguous relationship between trying to support your ideological hero and the actual consequences of merchandising: 

‘But the problem with T-shirts, even those purporting to promote climate action, is they’re especially hard on the environment. Just growing the cotton that goes into one can take 2,700 liters of water — enough for a person to drink for two-and-a-half years — and, if it isn’t farmed organically, a third of a pound of pesticides and other agricultural chemicals.’

While the initial ambition behind print-on-demand could help with the overproduction of products, it makes it possible for any individual to produce merch and advertise products that they’ve never seen or touched themselves. When platforms like RedBubble or TeeSpring emerged, intending to produce fewer goods, they may have had an inverted effect: if every individual starts their own brand, production will be limitless. If we believe in reducing fashion output, maybe we don’t need another cat t-shirt in our closet.

Yet who’s to blame? The platform, the digital gurus telling us to all get on board, or us, the consumers? Whether starting these businesses is ethical or not does not seem for the user/seller to decide. Still, behind the non-demanding aspect of these projects hours of labor are hidden. Labor that goes into producing the goods, but also labor that’s behind the effort and publicity to sell the product. The luckiest ones will surely sell their t-shirt, and their fantasy of ‘becoming rich fast’ will become reality. Many of these wanna-be entrepreneurs however will remain unsuccessful, desperately trying to find a new niche, trying to sell the customer something they never knew they needed. 

 Dropshipping

In the case of dropshipping, where digital entrepreneurs sell a cheaply imported product from a manufacturer overseas for a higher price, not only the quality of the products but also the conditions of the workers are important factors to take into consideration. Dropshipping providers and suppliers, quite often located in  America and Asia (such as Amazon, Alibaba, Ali Express, and many others), make their employees work terrible working hours in inhuman conditions. It is because the production costs are so cheap that the Western individual can profit from it. When analyzed, the power offered by drop shipping services and the potential individual financial freedom gained from these businesses has one big main cost: the living conditions of others down the production chain. Alibaba and Ali Express surely do not have a bright reputation, Amazon either. We all are aware of the awful settings of big manufacturers. For those who weren’t in the article, Green America noted in the article ‘Amazon: Labor Issues At Home And Abroad, ‘​​Workers report long hours, timed bathroom breaks, surveillance of work productivity/speed, intense isolation from others, physically demanding quotas, and other difficult conditions to work under. These working conditions take a physical and mental toll on the workers, who are often treated more as a data set or a robot than as humans.’

 

Figure 5, Website Design UK For Internet Startup Business Ideas Drop shipping Startup Website For Sale – Website Design UK

Dropshipping platforms are so easily and minimally designed so that anyone with an internet connection can become a shop owner and promote products in a matter of minutes. Numerous YouTube videos will teach you how to find the key product, the nice object, the valuable good which will surely sell. If everything goes smoothly, the drop shipper will hardly see any transactions happening. If the clients happen to be discontent about the products, they will then have to proceed to administrative follow-up with the providers, which sometimes happens to be difficult because of the provider’s location distance. So the next time our expensive water bottle from a chic website takes five weeks to arrive in the mail, we can guess where it was from. Once again, the question of the locality and transportations of the products arises. The crisis we are in demonstrated how every transaction and transportation is globalized and how limited we are when the world stops. But then, the sky got clearer, oceans were brighter. If we get back to how it was before and start to all partake in these digital economic transactions, what would have we learned from our previous lessons? 

Affiliate Marketing

 

Figure 6, Screenshot from the webpage Affiliate Marketing in 2021: How to Find High-Paying Programs and Start Your Affiliate Business

When it comes to affiliate marketing, it is, to say the least, non-laborious. Affiliate marketing is the process of earning money (commissions) every time you promote a company’s products or services and drive a sale. One click can generate profit. On the other hand, its sustainability very much depends on the products shared with the audience and the platform they are initially shipped from. Affiliate marketing links can be a great way to support certain industries by also being rewarded for it. Through each link and product bought, the seller can make interesting margins by, quite simply, sharing an URL. Sadly, it is quite often websites such as Amazon or other massive suppliers which offer these possibilities, as they remain the main owners of stocks. To partake in partnership with these companies would not be as problematic if these suppliers would somehow act and change their policy and treatment in terms of human conditions, climate change, and perhaps even commit to their promises. But they don’t. 

ʻDespite Amazon’s public commitment to renewable energy, the world’s largest cloud computing company is hoping no one will notice that it’s still powering its corner of the internet with dirty energy,” said Greenpeace USA Senior Corporate Campaigner Elizabeth Jardim. “Unless Amazon and other cloud giants in Virginia change course, our growing use of the internet could lead to more pipelines, more pollution, and more problems for our climate.

Greenpeace Finds Amazon Breaking Commitment to Power Cloud with 100% Renewable Energy 

While many argue that e-commerce has suppressed a lot of unnecessary costs of in-store shopping, perhaps even lowering the consumption of clients, let’s not forget that buying online will remain the new normal and that these actions have many other problematic implications. The report ‘E-Commerce and Its Environmental Impact, 2020’  emphasized the status of these businesses and how they infiltrated our everyday lives. Although the premises of e-commerce promised a more conscious behavior towards consumerism, the research notes:

‘Nevertheless, the determination of the environmental impact of E-Commerce is complicated by a range of considerations, including local transportation practices, and the type of delivery vehicles used by merchants, among others.’

Studies have demonstrated that even after the pandemic, people will quite likely continue to shop online. E-commerce and digital products will expand and remain, which makes this a great moment to reflect on the businesses partnerships we want to partake in.

On the relevance and power of digital goods

If you’ve read this text this far, you’ve probably been tempted to cross the line into e-commerce yourself. Perhaps you’ve contemplated selling illustrations on a silk-screened tee-shirt. Looked up cameras and gears on Amazon Affiliates. Maybe, just maybe, it’s even already too late. It is hard to resist the appeal of working with these companies and platforms because they make their transactions so effortless and because they are the main providers of products. As many gurus have stated: ‘It has never been so easy. Due to the hypocrisy behind these practices, it is also complex to be critical and reject the possibilities when these transactions are made to run so smoothly. It can be difficult to refuse these alluring financial gains when you’re living a precarious life. Sitting there, behind our screen, you’re being sold the idea that this is the only road towards independence, towards individual freedom, and therefore that this is a fair outcome. Perhaps it’s true that all of us can become e-commerce business owners, but what would happen if every individual actually started producing their own merch? Advertised products every single day? Drop shipped products from third world countries for rich people to buy? What would be the landscape of such a society look like? We will be almost 10 billion people in 2050; surely we’ll need more pencils, more online classes, more silly t-shirts. But more than that, we’ll need more care. As we will be both numerous and digitally literate, we also have to keep an eye on the many different ways in which these goods are produced and under which (harmful) conditions.

Existing in the same market, however, are sustainable digital products and e-commerce businesses. It is now possible to sell classes and courses offering a myriad of tools and knowledge which we can learn from, all made possible without having to travel, without the need for public transport, psychical aids, nothing more than our couch at home and our screen. The e-book, only printed selectively, has quite a sustainable effect on our paper consumption. Affiliate marketing can be an interesting way to mention valuable and ethical products. Interesting platforms such as Patreon and OnlyFans also exist, supporting different aims and businesses, offering more independence to their workers (although OnlyFans, of course, recently displayed a troubling attitude towards the sex workers using their platform). Selling online classes on Udemy, Skillshare or any other platform has made education more accessible and cheaper for people all around the world. The digital economy we now live in has enabled us to experiment and create new possibilities for ourselves, demonstrating the capabilities and potential of positive change existing within society.

As a result of this current climate, being an entrepreneur and owning a business is the new ‘do it yourself, sustainably’ lifestyle. It is, indeed, one of the ways in which an individual nowadays can follow their own path and become independent. While our economy is shifting towards a more freelance/gig-based economy, our economic status becomes more and more precarious. So then launching your own business and generating passive income seems like, the ideal opportunity to achieve true independence. The time is now to consider our own role in this digital creative economy. What if we turn it into something that is sustainable, shareable? It is tempting to take an individual, glorified path without questioning it. Perhaps to be critical is a privilege. Nevertheless, it is necessary and urgent to ask ourselves: how are our actions going to help the current situation we’re in? Not everyone has to come up with an ingenious plan. It’s not just the responsibility of the individual: both the companies and their transactions need to be fully transparent about the conditions of labor behind it, and the implications on humankind and on the planet. In this ‘survival mode’ where one desperately needs to succeed in life, let’s think about the outcomes of such attitudes. Let’s think of ways to use the (economic) digital space to create fairness and equity. It is a question of survival for both our intellect and our bodies, but also mainly for our world. Asking ourselves: how do we build wealth, and at what cost?

 

 

 

Articles

Cassady Craighill, ‘Greenpeace Finds Amazon Breaking Commitment to Power Cloud with 100% Renewable Energy’, Green Peace,  13 ​​February 2019,https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/news/greenpeace-finds-amazon-breaking-commitment-to-power-cloud-with-100-renewable-energy/

Green America, ‘Amazon: Labor Issues At Home And Abroad’, Green America https://www.greenamerica.org/amazon-labor-exploitation-home-and-abroad

Jasmin Malik Chua, ‘Is your Greta Thunberg T-shirt contributing to climate change?’, Fashionista, 24 October 2019, https://fashionista.com/2019/10/greta-thunberg-shirts-merch-climate-change

Sirin Kale, ‘‘It’s bullshit’: Inside the weird, get-rich-quick world of dropshipping’, Wired, 1st June 2020, https://www.wired.co.uk/article/dropshipping-instagram-ads

Report 

“The Environmental Impact of E-Commerce 2020”, DUBLIN, Jan. 23, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/e-commerce-and-its-environmental-impact-2020—amazon-alibaba–zalando-making-efforts-to-curb-their-impact-through-logistics-efficiencies-electric-vehicle-deliveries-recycled-packaging-materials-300992270.html

Websites

 

Only Fans, https://onlyfans.com/.

Patreons, https://www.patreon.com/

Red Bubble, https://www.redbubble.com/.

SkillShare, https://www.skillshare.com/home

Teespring,  https://teespring.com/.

Udemy, https://www.udemy.com/

 

Morgane Billuart is a visual artist and writer who investigates the ways technological and digital advancements can help us create tools and experiences that serve us best and permit some sort of emancipation rather than alienation. She believes this can only happen through self-organization and the alliance of disciplines as well as diverse forms of expertise.

 

On ‘A Handbook and Reader of Ottoman Arabic’

On 'A Handbook and Reader of Ottoman Arabic'

by Esther-Miriam Wagner

The Arabic of the Ottoman Empire presents an immensely fruitful linguistic topic. Extant texts display a proximity to the vernacular that cannot be encountered in any other surviving historical Arabic material, and thus provide unprecedented access to Arabic language history.

This rich material remains very little explored. Traditionally, scholarship on Arabic has focussed overwhelmingly on the literature of the various Golden Ages between the 8th and 13th centuries, whereas texts from the 15th century onwards have often been viewed as corrupted and not worthy of study. The lack of interest in Ottoman Arabic culture and literacy left these sources almost completely neglected in university courses.

To remedy this lack of attention to these fascinating texts, multi-national network of scholars got together at a seed conference in at the University of Cambridge in 2016, and discussed ways forward to focus attention on This network was then extended in subsequent workshops at Rutgers University in 2017 and at Cambridge in 2019, and after an AIMA gathering in Strasbourg in 2017. The contributors hail from various European countries, Turkey, Israel, Morocco and the USA.

The edited work is the first linguistic volume to focus exclusively on varieties of Christian, Jewish and Muslim Arabic in the Ottoman Empire, and make available a wide range of 15th to early 20th century Arabic sources, written in various alphabets. Transliterating sources originally composed in other alphabets into Arabic script opens up previously inaccessible materials to students of Arabic, and allows linguistic comparison between the different text genres and confessional varieties.  The book aims to be an easily usable source for course work for teachers and students in universities and other higher education facilities. In turn, it is hoped that this will stimulate interest among students and university teachers, and lead to an increase in research on the subject.

The Ottoman Arabic materials are presented in a didactic and easily accessible way. Split into a Handbook and a Reader section, the book provides a historical introduction to Ottoman literacy, translation studies, vernacularisation processes, language policy and linguistic pluralism. The second part contain excerpts from more than thirty sources, edited and translated by the diverse network of scholars.

The material presented includes recently discovered yet unedited texts, such as Christian Arabic letters from the Prize Paper collections, mercantile correspondence and notebooks found in the Library of Gotha, and Garshuni texts from archives of Syriac patriarchs.

A Handbook and Reader of Ottoman Arabic by Esther-Miriam Wagner (ed.) is now freely available to read and download here.

DOAJ publisher size analysis: Long-tail and APC charging trends

by : Xuan Zhao & Heather Morrison

Abstract

The 2021 DOAJ (The Directory of Open Access Journals) publisher group comprises a large number of very small publishers (typically with only one journal), and very few large publishers. Our purpose is to demonstrate publishers’ long-tail tendency and reveal its connection with the tendency of APC (article processing charge) or NO APC publications. As a result, we ascertain a “long-tail” of publisher size in all three groups and a “the smaller, the NO-APCer” tendency.

Introduction

Why does the relation between OA-APC (open access-) and publisher size need to be brought to the forefront? To answer this question, we need to understand a bit more about the context of OA publishing activities. As illustrated by Crow (2006), Edgar & Willinsky (2010) and Morrison (2012), from the mid-20th century onwards, the components of scholarly publishing began to shift: non-profit university and society publishers started to lose ground, while commercial publishers stepped into an era of rapid development. Unlike for-profit publishers with more robust survivability in commercialization, non-profit publishers, especially the smaller ones, are facing various internal and external challenges: “market consolidation”, “aggressive pricing”, “flat library budgets”, “migration to online distribution”, “structural constraints”, “undercapitalization”, etc., listed Crow [1]. We emphasize the “smaller ones” because “the vast majority of society and non–profit publishers run independent and very small journal publishing operations” [2]. Thus, the limitations mentioned above concern the plight of most society and non-profit publishers, especially for small publishers who prioritize academic quality or social needs, to the extent that they cannot balance profit and non-profit.

Several scholars proposed various recommended schemes. For example, Crow [3] suggests publishing cooperatives, which would allow small non-profit publishers “to remain independent while operating collectively to overcome both structural and strategic disadvantages”. Another solution is offered by Edgar & Willinsky (2010) and Morrison (2012): open access. Many studies have shown that open access could bring “growth
rates in new titles, participation rates from developing countries, and extremely low operating budgets”, and maximize “access to research and scholarship, as an alternative to traditional scholarly society and commercial publishing routes” [4].

Although the transition from offline to online open access publishing requires a human and material investment, it is increasingly an attractive option in the context of today’s widespread web presence. Until recent years, in addition to the large commercial publishers who dominate the major publishing markets, the global OA market is “marked by a very long-tail and extensive involvement by very small, often university or society publishers”, as Morrison pointed out in 2018 [5]. In Gold Open Access Journals 2011-2015. Crawford (2016) found that small journals are less likely to charge through abundant materials about the correlation between journal size, tendencies to charge/non-charge, and amounts of charges. In other words, the larger the journal, the higher the APC. We would like to corroborate these statements with our research of DOAJ 2021 metadata.

Definitions & Explanation

In this study, we consider DOAJ publishers who released 10 or fewer journals (at the time of being sampled) as relatively “small” publishers and those who released more than 100 journals as rather “large” publishers. The rest are grouped as “medium” publishers with 11-100 journals. These definitions only aim to better distinguish publishers of different sizes in our data scope.

We divide the DOAJ publishers into three primary groups: all publishers’ group, APC charging publishers’ group and NO APC publishers’ group. We use “mixed publishers” to describe publishers that appeared in both APC and NO APC lists. Our research is carried out from three aspects: observation of the three primary groups, observation of the “non-mixed” publishers’ group and observation of the “mixed” publishers’ group.

The data in this project was initially downloaded from DOAJ (Directory of Open Access Journals) metadata (15,691 journals, 4,292 APC journals, 11,399 NO APC journals), then cleaned up by our SKC (Sustaining the Knowledge Commons) team. The clean-up work revolved around correcting the wrong position of the data and creating a modified publisher name column for this exercise. During the work, we realized that creating a consistent publisher name list was challenging. As reported in Some Limitations of DOAJ Metadata for Research Purposes (Zhao, Borges & Morrison, 2021), there were a large number of variations and inconsistencies of publisher names, such as duplicates with differences in punctuation and/or characters (e.g. “Abant İzzet Baysal Üniversitesi” vs. “Abant İzzet Baysal University”), extra spaces at the beginning or the end of names (e.g. “Abant İzzet Baysal University” vs. “Abant İzzet Baysal University⎕”), invalid URLs, etc. More details can be found in the open dataset “DOAJ_metadata_2021_01_05_with_SKC_clean_up” (Zhao, Borges & Morrison, 2021).  

This research is only for the journals and publishers listed in DOAJ as of Jan.5, 2021. There are other fully open access journals and publishers not listed in DOAJ, or previously listed but then de-listed for some unknown reasons. We understand that it is challenging to create a precise list of publishers because of the complexity of publishers’ backgrounds (Morrison, 2019). In this study, we concentrate more on the trends rather than precise details. What’s more, we focus solely on whether the journals or publishers charge APC, not how much is charged.

Observation of the three primary groups

First, we separate the DOAJ publishers into three groups: all publishers’ group (Table 1 & Chart 1), APC’s group (Table 2 & Chart 2) and NO APC’s group (Table 3 & Chart 3).

Table 1 – ALL DOAJ publishers’ group (2021)

(Total DOAJ journals’ number: 15,691)

Chart 1 – ALL DOAJ publishers’ group (2021)

Table 2 – DOAJ APC group (2021)

(Total count of DOAJ APC journals: 4,292)

Chart 2 – DOAJ APC group (2021)

Table 3 – DOAJ NO APC group (2021)

(Total count of DOAJ NO APC journals: 11,399)

Chart 3 – DOAJ NO APC group (2021)

Individually, each group shows an evident “long-tail”. In the ALL publishers’ group (see Table 1 & Chart 1), among the 6,804 publishers identified in DOAJ, 1,349 published APC journals, and 5,807 published NO APC journals (the numbers do not add up to 6,804 because some of them are “mixed” publishers). 77% of this group are small publishers with only one journal publication. The small publishers still occupy the main part in the other two groups (see Table 2,3 & Chart 2,3), 76% for the APC group and 78% for the NO APC group.

In the second place, a comparison between APC and NO APC groups can be made. Although small publishers occupy a similar share in each of the three groups, we can notice a big difference in their numbers. As illustrated in Table 4 & Chart 4 below:

Table 4 – DOAJ ALL publishers – APC group vs NO APC group (2021)

Chart 4 – DOAJ ALL publishers – APC group vs NO APC group (2021)

In the range of “publishers with 1 journal”, the number of NO APC publishers (4,568) is about 4 times that of the APC publishers (1,034); in the range of 2-10, NO APC publishers are about 3 times more than the other; in the field of 11-25, the number is about 4 times more. However, for the publishers with 51+ journals, the number of APC publishers is more or equal to NO APC publishers. In the largest publishers’ range (200+ journals), there are 4 charging publishers and only 1 non-charging publisher.

Thus, without considering the “mixed” publishers’ situation, we assume that even both APC and NO APC groups showed a “long-tail” (76% of 1-journal-publishers in the APC group, and 78% of which in the NO APC group), small DOAJ publishers seemed more likely to publish non-charging journals; large DOAJ publishers seemed more likely to publish charging journals. We boldly name this tendency as “the smaller, the NO-APCer’ trend.

Besides, it is essential to notice some exceptions. Some large publishers release more NO APC journals (details in Table 7): Wolters Kluwer Medknow Publications has 46 APC journals and 161 NO APC journals; SpringerOpen has 96 APC journals and 114 NO APC journals; Sciendo has 44 APC journals and 257 NO APC journals. We will discuss more in the following sections.

Observation of the “non-mixed” publishers’ group

We identify 352 duplicated publishers by comparing the APC / NO APC group, which means 352 “mixed” publishers. For making the research results more rigorous, we exclude the “mixed” group and study the rest of the publishers. We find that the tendencies of “long-tail” and “the smaller, the NO-APCer” are still evident in the “non-mixed” group. Please see Table 5 & Chart 5 below:

Table 5 – “Non-mixed” publishers – APC group vs NO APC group (2021)

Chart 5 – “Non-mixed” publishers – APC group vs NO APC group (2021)

Among 6,452 identified “non-mixed” publishers, 82% are small publishers with only 1 journal. Comparing with the 77% 1-journal-publishers in the ALL publishers’ group (Table 1 & Chart 1), 82% is a similar “long-tail”.

“The smaller, the NO-APCer” trend is also evident. If we compare the percentages of APC and NO APC groups in this chart, 69% of 1-journal-publishers are non-charging, which is way more than 13% charging 1-journal-publishers.

Observation of the “mixed” publishers’ group

We study this group separately because, from the research above, we know that almost all the large DOAJ publishers (100+ journals) are “mixed” (except for Hindawi Limited with 229 journals which is a pure APC publisher based on our data scale). We are curious about whether the “long-tail” and “the smaller, the NO-APCer” trend also existed in this group.

The first discovery is an explicit “long-tail” because 75% of the “mixed” publishers are small. Please see Chart 6 below:

Chart 6 – DOAJ “mixed” publishers’ long-tail analysis (2021)

Then we see a recognizable “the smaller, the NO-APCer” trend. After a comparison between the count of APC journals and the count of NO APC journals published by the same “mixed” publisher, we identify three relations: “number of APC journals = number of NO APC journals”, “number of APC journals > number of NO APC journals” and “number of APC journals < number of NO APC journals”.

We consider the inequivalence (“>” and “< “) between the counts of APC journals and the counts of NO APC journals as “active” tendency indicators and the equivalence relation (“=”) as “inactive” elements. Thus, to highlight the tendency, we exclude all the “=” and only concentrate on”>” and “< “. By this step, Table 6 below has been created:

Table 6 – DOAJ “mixed” publishers’ trends (2021)

For those who release 3 journals, other than the 101-200 group who publishes more APC journals than NO APC journals, and the 200+ group with an “inactive” “=”, the other publishers with less journal volume are biased toward NO APC publication. At this point, we confirm “the smaller, the NO-APCer” trend in the “mixed” publishers’ group.

For further discussion, if we investigate the large “mixed” publishers’ group (100+ journals), as shown in Table – 7 below:

Table 7 – Investigation of “Mixed” Publishers with 100+ journals (2021)

In this group, 6 of them publish more APC journals than NO APC journals, while 3 of them publish more NO APC journals. The difference in counts of journals of those 6 publishers could be significant. For example, Wiley (133 charging journals > 8 non-charging journals), Taylor & Francis Group (143 charging journals > 21 non-charging journals), SAGE Publishing (151 charging journals > 23 non-charging journals), etc. Because of these enormous differences of counts, even though there are 166 “mixed” publishers publish more non-charging journals, which is way more than the other 92 who release more charging journals, the count of non-charging journals in total (2,608) is still very close to that of charging journals in total (2,583).

Discussion

APC trends can also be analyzed in terms of other influencing factors: publisher type, subject of journal, country of publication, etc. Researchers can perform more diverse analyses based on more layers of data, just as Crawford (2016) did. In in-progress research of SKC, Morrison and the research team (Morrison & al., 2021) investigated APC by publisher type (government, institute, non-profit, independent, society or institution, university press, commercial, society, university) according to DOAJ data in 2019. As a result, universities published the most significant number of no-fee journals (7,857, 75% of the 10,463 no-fee journals in total), and the society publishers came second (1,414). Commercial publishers stood out by having much more charging journals than no-fee journals (1,575 vs 275). Combined with our study, it can be speculated that most small DOAJ publishers are university or society publishers with a no-fee tendency. This discovery corroborates Morrison’s thoughts in 2018 (Morrison, 2018b). Besides, the tendency to charge fees of commercial publishers coincides with our study of large publishers’ group.

In addition, we must admit that if the amount of APC is included in the scope of the study, the results may change somewhat. Because some publishers charge modestly and some ask for very high prices (especially for-profit high prices), and it is unfair to mix them without careful investigation (Crawford, 2011). For publishers in the charging group, their listing does not mean that their fees are necessarily unreasonable. Therefore, it is necessary to emphasize that our study concentrates more on the rough trends of charging/no charging based on publisher size as a division.

For a more in-depth discussion, we add the perspective of longitudinal analysis. We focus our discussion on two contrasting groups, large and small publishers. From our study, we know that almost all the large DOAJ publishers (100+ journals) are “mixed”, and most of them are commercial publishers, including the four largest traditional commercial publishers (Elsevier, SpringerNature, which includes SpringerOpen and BMC, Taylor & Francis, and Wiley). Based on the research of the SKC (Morrison, 2018a), Elsevier, as the world’s largest scholarly publisher, are “mixed” by having a large number of non-charging journals in 2017. But despite attempts at strategies, Elsevier lost many non-charging journals produced in partnership with societies and universities in 2018. Now, as we can see in our study, they may have fewer non-charging journals.

From this point, we speculate that some publishers can conduct relatively more non-charging publications is probably because that they got support from universities and governments. For example, the large “mixed” publisher Sciendo has much more non-charging journals than charging journals based on our data. According to Pashaei & Morrison (2019), Sciendo added more than 300 OA journals in 2019, most of which were “published through collaboration with different universities and academic societies and institutions in Europe”. A recent study of OA diamond journals [6] also confirmed that the economy of these journals “largely depends on volunteers, universities and government” (Bosman, Frantsvåg, Kramer, Langlais & Proudman, 2021).

Even large publishers with relatively financial solid resources may losing journals due to financial problems or other reasons, so that we can imagine the more difficult situation for small publishers, especially for those with only 1 journal. Perhaps, the small non-profit publishers with limited financial resources should explore the possibilities of more no charging OA models, instead of going with the flow and just raising prices in the for-profit competition. It is important to maintain operations while guarding the freedom and fairness of academic publishing. Based on the current situation, we need more patience to establish a healthy competitive publishing environment.

Not only do small publishers need to figure out how to grow in the long run and attract more authors and readers, but authors can also reach out to small publishers and discover their value, and same for readers. Here comes another purpose of our study: to call attention to small publishers and encourage interaction between authors, readers, funding sources and small publishers. There are often misunderstandings between these groups that are harmful to the OA movement, as discussed by Peter Suber in an interview (Hulagabali & Suber, 2019). For example, “most OA journals charge APCs” and “most OA journals are low in quality”, which are widespread but not true. Our study helps to dispel these misunderstandings by demonstrating that many journals are entirely free and that many exist for academic purposes: just because they are small does not mean they are not of high quality.

In addition to the issues above, small publishers also face other challenges. For example, in terms of longevity of data preservation, small publishers are more likely to lose long-term access (Crawford, 2011, p. 32). On this point, DOAJ published an article in 2020 announcing that they would collaborate with the CLOCKSS Archive, Internet Archive, Keepers Registry/ISSN International Centre and Public Knowledge Project (PKP) to improve the preservation of small OA journals.

Conclusion

From the three observations above, we can conclude that no matter the “mixed” publishers are included or excluded in our research’s scale, the “long-tail” and “the smaller, the NO-APCer” trends are always evident. Small non-profit publishers, with such a large number, need to look for various breakthroughs if they want to survive and grow.

Notes

  1. Crow, 2006, “The market context for society publishers”.
  2. Crow, 2006, “The market context for society publishers”, with reference to the Ulrich’s Periodicals Directory in 2005, http://www.ulrichsweb.com/ulrichsweb/
  3. Crow, 2006, “Abstract”.
  4. Edgar & Willinsky, 2010, p. 1.
  5. Morrison, 2018b, “Abstract”.
  6. As indicated in The OA Diamond Journals Study. Part 1: Findings. Jeroen Bosman, Jan Erik Frantsvåg, Bianca Kramer, Pierre-Carl Langlais, Vanessa Proudman. (2021, March 9). http://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.4558704. p. 8. “OA diamond journals” are “journals that publish without charging authors and readers, in contrast to APC Gold OA or subscription journals”.

References

Bosman, J., Frantsvåg, J., Kramer, B., Langlais, P.-C., & Proudman, V. (2021). OA Diamond Journals Study. Part 1: Findings. Zenodo. http://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.4558704

Crawford, W. (2011). Open access: what you need to know now. American Library Association.

Crawford, W. (2020). Gold Open Access Journals 2011 – 2015. https://waltcrawford.name/goaj1115.pdf

Crow, R. (2006). Publishing cooperatives: An alternative for not-for-profit publishers. First Monday, 11(9). https://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/1396/1314

Directory of Open Access Journals. https://doaj.org/

Directory of Open Access Journals. DOAJ to lead a collaboration to improve the preservation of open access journals. DOAJ News Service. https://blog.doaj.org/2020/11/05/doaj-to-lead-a-collaboration-to-improve-the-preservation-of-open-access-journals/

Edgar, B. D., & Willinsky, J. (2010). A survey of the scholarly journals using open journal systems. Scholarly and Research Communicationhttps://src-online.ca/index.php/src/article/view/24

Hulagabali, S. C., & Suber, P. (2019), Peter Suber: The largest obstacles to open access are unfamiliarity and misunderstanding of open access itself. Open Interview. https://openinterview.org/2019/06/29/peter-suber-the-largest-obstacles-to-open-access-are-unfamiliarity-and-misunderstanding-of-open-access-itself/

Morrison, H. (2012). Freedom for scholarship in the internet age [Simon Fraser University]. http://summit.sfu.ca/item/12537 

Morrison, H. (2018a). Elsevier in 2018: Decrease in number of fully OA journals. Sustaining the Knowledge Commons. Retrieved from https://sustainingknowledgecommons.org/2018/12/13/elsevier-in-2018-decrease-in-number-of-fully-oa-journals/

Morrison, H. (2018b). Global OA APCs (APC) 2010–2017: Major Trends (L. Chan & P. Mounier, Trans.). ELPUB 2018. https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-01816699

Morrison, H. (2019). Publisher: N/A, or the complexity of understanding “the publisher” (method notes). Sustaining the Knowledge Commons. 2019. https://sustainingknowledgecommons.org/2019/08/22/publisher-n-a-or-the-complexity-of-understanding-the-publisher-method-notes/

Morrison, H. & al. (2021). A comparison of open access journals using article processing charges in 2011 and 2021. (In progress)

Pashaei, H., & Morrison, H. (2019). De Gruyter and Sciendo Open Access journals expanding in 2019. Sustaining the Knowledge Commons. Retrieved from https://sustainingknowledgecommons.org/2019/10/16/de-gruyter-and-sciendo-open-access-journals-expanding-in-2019/

Zhao, X., Borges, L., & Morrison, H. (2021). Some limitations of DOAJ metadata for research purposes. Sustaining the Knowledge Commonshttps://sustainingknowledgecommons.org/2021/02/10/some-limitations-of-doaj-metadata-for-research-purposes/

Open data references:

Directory of Open Access Journals; Zhao, X., Borges, L., & Morrison, H. (2021). “DOAJ_metadata_2021_01_05_with_SKC_clean_up”, Scholars Portal Dataverse, V1. https://doi.org/10.5683/SP2/G5LEXG

OBP Summer Newsletter 2021

OBP Summer Newsletter 2021
OBP Summer Newsletter 2021

Welcome to our Summer Newsletter!

We have information on our open CFPs, the most recent updates, new and forthcoming publications and latest reviews. Also, the latest set of MARC records containing all our new and past titles is now available here. There’s lots to explore below, so dive in to find out more about our plans for the months ahead...

Announcements

  • In memoriam: William St Clair
  • NatWest SE100 2021
  • Reader Survey
  • Ask an OBP Author
  • OABN: new recordings from Plan S workshops
  • COPIM: reports and updates
  • OAPEN Toolkit: a resource for authors

Books, Readership and Content

  • New Open Access Publications
  • Discussing OA Books: OBP & EIFL
  • Call for Proposals
  • New Blog Posts and Videos
  • Latest Reviews
  • Our Library Scheme
OBP Summer Newsletter 2021

We are immensely saddened to say that our Chairman, William St Clair, died on the evening of Wednesday 30th June.

In this post we share tributes that have been given in his honour, including by family and friends during his memorial at The Athenaeum on 23 July 2021, and by scholars whom he influenced with his pioneering work. Rest in peace William; you will be greatly missed.

William St Clair (1937-2021) was the Chairman of the Board of Directors. William was a Fellow of the British Academy and held fellowships at All Souls College, Oxford and Trinity College, Cambridge. He was also a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of English Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London and the Centre for History and Economics, Cambridge and Harvard. His publications include That Greece Might Still Be Free: The Philhellenes in the War for Independence (rev. ed. 2008) and historical studies of literary dissemination.

OBP Summer Newsletter 2021

We’re thrilled to have made it on this year’s NatWest SE100 Index highlighting the UK’s most outstanding in Social Enterprises.

We achieved a 9/10 social impact score in the SE100 Rankings 2019 and were also among the top 100 social enterprises in the NatWest SE100 2020. See the full list at https://immersives.pioneerspost.com/natwest-se100-.

OBP Summer Newsletter 2021

Help Open Book Publishers make the case for open access books!

Please answer a few questions about how you use our books. This will only take a couple of minutes, and it will help us to demonstrate the importance of making books freely available. Please share the questionnaire with your networks too.

Complete the questionnaire to be entered into a prize draw to win a free book of your choice!
Link: https://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/SPJM8K/

OBP Summer Newsletter 2021

If you want to find out more about what it’s like to publish with us, email Professor Caroline Warman (caroline.warman@Jesus.ox.ac.uk), author of The Atheist's Bible: Diderot's ‘Éléments de physiologie’ (2020) and translator of Denis Diderot 'Rameau's Nephew' – 'Le Neveu de Rameau': A Multi-Media Bilingual Edition (2nd ed., 2016) and Tolerance: The Beacon of the Enlightenment (2016).

OBP Summer Newsletter 2021

The Open Access Books Networks has recently released the Voices from the OA Books Community Summary: The Great Polyphony.

The draft document summarizing the sessions and an introduction highlighting key takeaways, are available here and will remain open until 12 August 2021. After that time, SPARC Europe will prepare the final version of the document, which will be presented to cOAlition S in early September 2021.

You can access this and other resources from the Open Access Books Network at https://openaccessbooksnetwork.hcommons.org/about-us/.

OBP Summer Newsletter 2021

Access the latest COPIM reports:

Exploring Models for Community Governance by Sam Moore

Jisc subscriptions manager is now live for Opening the Future and CEU Press by Tom Grady, Martin Paul Eve, and Work Package

Liverpool University Press join Opening the Future by Tom Grady and Martin Paul Eve

COPIM Newsflash! #3 Project Update May 2021 by Tobias Steiner and Lucy Barnes

COPIM/CEU Press Opening the Future initiative announced as a finalist in ALPSP Award for Innovation in Publishing by Tom Grady, Martin Paul Eve, and WP3

Experimental Publishing collaboration with POP, the Politics of Patents project by Julien McHardy.

OBP Summer Newsletter 2021

The Open Access Books Toolkit, hosted by OAPEN, aims to help book authors better understand their options in relation to open access book publishing, and to increase trust in open access books. You will  find relevant articles on all aspects of open access book publishing at different stages of the research lifecycle, along with an extensive FAQ section and a keyword search. Our Editor and Outreach Coordinator, Lucy Barnes, helped to create the Toolkit, so it comes highly recommended!

OBP Summer Newsletter 2021

OBP Summer Newsletter 2021

 

Shaping the Digital Dissertation: Knowledge Production in the Arts and Humanities
by Virginia Kuhn and Anke Finger (eds)

 

 

OBP Summer Newsletter 2021

 

On the Literature and Thought of the German Classical Era: Collected Essays 
by Hugh Barr Nisbet

 

 

OBP Summer Newsletter 2021

 

 

Technology, Media Literacy, and the Human Subject: A Posthuman Approach

by Richard S. Lewis

 

 

OBP Summer Newsletter 2021

 

 

Towards an Ethics of Autism: A Philosophical Exploration
 by Kristien Hens

 

 

OBP Summer Newsletter 2021

 

Politics and the Environment in Eastern Europe
 by Eszter Krasznai Kovacs (ed.)

 

 

OBP Summer Newsletter 2021

 

From Goethe to Gundolf: Essays on German Literature and Culture
 by Roger Paulin

 

OBP Summer Newsletter 2021

We have various Open Access series all of which are open for proposals, so feel free to get in touch if you or someone you know is interested in submitting a proposal!

Global Communications
Global Communications is a new book series that looks beyond national borders to examine current transformations in public communication, journalism and media. Special focus is given on regions other than Western Europe and North America, which have received the bulk of scholarly attention until now.

St Andrews Studies in French History and Culture
St Andrews Studies in French History and Culture, a successful series published by the Centre for French History and Culture at the University of St Andrews since 2010 and now in collaboration with Open Book Publishers, aims to enhance scholarly understanding of the historical culture of the French-speaking world. This series covers the full span of historical themes relating to France: from political history, through military/naval, diplomatic, religious, social, financial, cultural and intellectual history, art and architectural history, to literary culture.

Studies on Mathematics Education and Society
This book series publishes high-quality monographs, edited volumes, handbooks and formally innovative books which explore the relationships between mathematics education and society. The series advances scholarship in mathematics education by bringing multiple disciplinary perspectives to the study of contemporary predicaments of the cultural, social, political, economic and ethical contexts of mathematics education in a range of different contexts around the globe.

The Global Qur'an
The Global Qur’an is a new book series that looks at Muslim engagement with the Qur’an in a global perspective. Scholars interested in publishing work in this series and submitting their monographs and/or edited collections should contact the General Editor, Johanna Pink. If you wish to submit a contribution, please read and download the submission guidelines here.

The Medieval Text Consortium Series
The Series is created by an association of leading scholars aimed at making works of medieval philosophy available to a wider audience. The Series' goal is to publish peer-reviewed texts across all of Western thought between antiquity and modernity, both in their original languages and in English translation. Find out more here.

Applied Theatre Praxis
This series publishes works of practitioner-researchers who use their rehearsal rooms as "labs”; spaces in which theories are generated and experimented with before being implemented in vulnerable contexts. Find out more here.

Digital Humanities
Overseen by an international board of experts, our Digital Humanities Series: Knowledge, Thought and Practice is dedicated to the exploration of these changes by scholars across disciplines. Books in this Series present cutting-edge research that investigate the links between the digital and other disciplines paving the ways for further investigations and applications that take advantage of new digital media to present knowledge in new ways. Proposals in any area of the Digital Humanities are invited. We welcome proposals for new books in this series. Please do not hesitate to contact us (a.tosi@openbookpublishers.com) if you would like to discuss a publishing proposal and ways we might work together to best realise it.

OBP Summer Newsletter 2021


How To Read Russian Literature Backwards by Muireann Maguire  

Autism and Ethics: The Stories We Tell by Flora Kann Szpirglas

The Middle is Marching: Adam Roberts, on reading George Eliot’s 'Middlemarch' by Adam Roberts

1,000 pages of evidence for conservation actions by the Conservation Evidence Team

A View From under The Horse’s Tail. New Perspectives on Literature? by Roger Paulin

OBP Summer Newsletter 2021

Lucy Barnes, Editor and Outreach Coordinator, and Laura Rodriguez, Marketing and Library Relations Officer at Open Book Publishers discuss the creation and usage of open access books with librarians and researchers in a webinar hosted by EIFL in May 2021.

You can access the discussion at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4FyrFctVTjA&feature=youtu.be

OBP Summer Newsletter 2021

Chronicles from Kashmir: An Annotated, Multimedia Script by Nandita Dinesh

At  the  end  of  each  performance,  [audiences]  learn  something  very  special about  the  lived  experience  of  the  Kashmiris,  and  this  sinks  heavy  in  their consciousness. They become wiser about Kashmir than they had ever been. The  multimedia  script is very innovative  and  highly  experimental  in nature […] The  scenes  are  designed effectively  with  potent  symbols, and  the  sensitive  issues  are  presented  in  a balanced  way.  This  play  on "conflict  tourism” will  undoubtedly  create  ripples among theatregoers and people engaged in the politics of representation.

— Himadri Lahiri, Netaji Subhas Open University, India, Asiatic, Vol. 15, No. 1, June 2021, available online.

Conservation Biology in Sub-Saharan Africa by John W. Wilson and Richard B. Primack

The authors are to be congratulated on publishing an open-access book brimming with examples relevant to Africa. My fervent hope is that it will assist in some way in the training of a cohort of passionate and persistent leaders among the next generation of conservation biologists. We are going to need them.

—Van Wilgen BW. 'A valuable resource for African conservation students'. South African Journal of Science. 2021;117(5/6), Art. #9310. https://doi.org/10.17159/sajs.2021/9310

Text Genetics in Literary Modernism and Other Essays by Hans Walter Gabler

Gabler’s collection is a masterful lesson in textual genetics and scholarly editing by one of the field’s great masters. With examples from Joyce, Woolf, Shakespeare, and Bach, the essays present deep insights into textual scholarship and genetic criticism. The passion and sense of wonder that underlie them is contagious. Gabler’s argument for the future of scholarly editing and criticism takes us to a place where we can see the immense potential in what lies ahead. The collection will certainly, both in part and as a whole, become essential reading in the fields of Joyce studies, textual scholarship, and genetic criticism.

— Barry Devine, Heidelberg University, James Joyce Literary Supplement, Spring 2021

Introducing Vigilant Audiences by Daniel Trottier, Rashid Gabdulhakov and Qian Huang

A topical collection of works, 'Introducing Vigilant Audiences' is a useful collection to scholars within media and communication, social sciences, law, politics, and philosophy The accessibility provided by empirical studies and the depth of qualitative sources ensures that this book would also be of interest to those who are new to the academic study of digilantism more broadly.

— Amy L. Gainford (2021), International Review of Law, Computers & Technology, DOI: 10.1080/13600869.2021.1949826

A Fleet Street in Every Town: The Provincial Press in England, 1855-1900  by Andrew Hobbs

This book is not only rich in its arguments but extraordinarily generous in its methodological transparency [...] Coupled with the book’s open access format and Hobbs’s candid sharing of the limitations of his sources, this approach really feels like research sharing [...] Starting with the reader and understanding the local press as a national phenomenon, this book persuasively negates the idea that we can never really know how readers responded to the local press, providing compelling and well-substantiated answers to precisely this question.

— Holdway, Katie. 2021. Victorian Popular Fictions, 3.1 (Spring):  155-7.  DOI: https://doi.org/10.46911/JWWZ9478

OBP Summer Newsletter 2021

The Open Book Publishers' Library Membership Programme supports our award-winning Open Access monograph publishing programme. By joining the Programme for an annual fee of £300/$500/€400, libraries and their users both support and benefit from OA publishing. We would be delighted to hear from libraries considering joining the Library Membership Programme or interested in further information. You can find the list of benefits here. We are delighted to offer a special 10% discount to members of SPARC and JISC Collections - just mention your membership when you contact us!

Free membership for libraries in economically developing countries: For institutions based in economically developing nations some fees may not apply. If you are a librarian at a university or library in such a country, and would be interested in receiving more information on how to become a member, please contact our Marketing and Library Relations Officer Laura Rodriguez at laura@openbookpublishers.com.

‘No Place Like Home’: Dissonance and Displacement in Gimlet Media’s Fiction Podcast “Homecoming”

Promote International Podcast Day

In honor of International Podcast Day on 30 September, Sounding Out! brings you Pod-Tember (and Pod-Tober too, actually, now that we’re bi-weekly) a series of posts exploring different facets of the audio art of the podcast, which we have been putting into those earbuds since 2011. Enjoy! –JS

Last month, Gimlet media released the audio-feature length podcast The Final Chapters of Richard Brown Winters, starring Catherine Keener, Parker Posey, Bobby Cannavale, Sam Waterston, and Darrell Britt-Gibson, many of the same cast members from their critically-acclaimed podcast Homecoming, and also co-written by Eli Horowitz, Homecoming’s co-creator and co-showrunner. Along with the podcast’s famous move to Amazon TV in 2017, Gimlet’s podcast reunion prompted me to re-listen to Homecoming, trying to figure out how its signature use of audio—characterized by Horowitz as “letting the scenes and the conversation create the action instead of describing the action”—propelled the series to its success in the first place.    

Homecoming concerns characters connected with afictional military rehabilitation facility in Tampa, Florida, that ostensibly prepares soldiers suffering PTSD for a return for civilian life. The soldiers are subjects of an experimental drug treatment program devised by the US Defence Department-affiliated Geist Group to erase traumatic memories of combat and eliminate resistance to re-deployment.  Set in a specifically post-9/11 political milieu, the series plays out in the implied real world context of multiple and on-going US foreign military interventions. Homecoming foregrounds the sonic/auditory modes associated with war–in particular covert electronic surveillance–working to create an atmosphere infused with suspicion, secrecy and deception. In Homecoming’s dissonant sonic/narrative environment ‘home’ is as perilous as the frontline. 

Dissonance and displacement inherent in the auditory experience are overarching themes in Homecoming and manifest in an atmosphere of uncertainty regarding temporality, memory, identity and ideas of “home” itself. The sonic world of Homecoming is infused with a sense of discord—recorded audio is subject to manipulation and misinterpretation—and the voice is a site of multiplicities that destabilise concepts of identity and reality. The podcast’s pervasive “out of tune-ness” produces a heightened state of listening – a hypervigilance – both in Homecoming’s characters as they attempt to decipher multiple conflicting aural “intel,” and in the podcast’s audience as we do likewise. It is this dissonance that compels Homecoming’s listeners to prick up our ears and listen more keenly.

GETTING “SITUATED”

The series’ distinctive non-linear, explicitly sound technology-mediated storytelling style takes the form of an “enigmatic collage” of sound artifacts: recorded therapy sessions between Heidi Bergman (Catherine Keener), a case worker/counsellor at the Homecoming facility, and Walter Cruz (Oscar Isaac), a soldier whose recovery she is monitoring; fraught phone conversations between Heidi and the heavily-compromised senior management at Geist; covert surveillance tapes of interaction at the facility between Walter and fellow soldier, Schrier (Babak Tafti), and between Walter and Heidi; and a series of voice messages ostensibly left by Walter on a mobile phone he has given to his mother.  

In “Mandatory,” Homecoming’s opening episode, in a fragment of a recorded counselling session between Heidi and her client Walter Cruz, the second in a succession of these fragments that play out over Series One, Heidi tells Walter that her objective is to help to get him “situated” now that he’s back. Through abrupt temporal shifts between the recorded past and the present, the series reveals that this objective was always already thwarted and that Walter’s “situation” in the present is unfixed, unknown and potentially unknowable. Homecoming’s specific atmospheric aural/narrative mode conveys an unsettling sense of fractured selves in an ever-more fractured sonic landscape. Walter functions in this landscape as a reflexive site of multiple sonic presences. At once static and mutable, fixed and shifting he “exists” and is transmitted across a range of sound technologies. Though captured by these recordings, at the same time he evades capture by those seeking him out.

In Homecoming, Walter’s presence is constructed through absence, which positions him as a kind of acousmêtre, described by Michel Chion in The Voice in Cinema as “one who is not-yet-seen but is liable to appear at any moment” (21). Chion has described how “an entire story… can hang on the epiphany of the acousmêtre”…the quest to bring the acousmêtre into the light” (23). In considering the podcast form, being “seen” can be understood as the conveying of presence, that is, the technical and affective means through which a character is felt or experienced. In Homecoming’s specific reflexive use of sound technology to construct Walter as present yet “unseen,” Walter is everywhere and nowhere, always there but at the same time always not there. The series finds a means of achieving what Chion has suggested is unachievable in radio and, by inference, in the podcast – “playing with” presence, partial presence and absence (21). This affective ‘play with presence’ works too to challenge concepts of the ‘disembodied’ voice and speaks to Christine Ehrick’s call in “Gendered Soundscapes” for a more nuanced exploration of the voice/body relationship. As Ehrick puts it – “if the voice is not the body, what is it?”.

In “Mandatory,” Walter is specific about his willingness to adhere to the conditions of his treatment: “I want to be in compliance,” he tells Heidi.  Yet Walter’s multiple itinerant sonic selves seem to resist compliance. Though his presence in Homecoming is constructed through a series of seemingly fixed recordings that might suggest change is precluded, Walter is, paradoxically, a site of radical change. In his technology-contingent presence in the series, Walter, having removed himself from circulation, becomes a ‘soldier-body’ in revolt, resisting placement, compliance and commodification. Goldberg and Willse have identified the “soldier-body” as a “temporary” conduit of “the networks of technoscience and capital [that allows] these networks to adapt and survive” in “Losses and Returns: the Soldier in Trauma” (266-267). It is an argument that manifests in Homecoming in Geist’s covert pharmacological strategies to remediate the psychological fragmentation of war trauma in order to render the ‘soldier-body’ utterly compliant and redeployable. Walter’s perpetually withheld presence revokes his soldier-body’s viability as bio-capital and is framed in the series as an existential threat to the military-industrial complex.

“Redacted,” by Flickr User Bill Smith (CC BY 2.0)

“IF WE’RE NOT IN FLORIDA, WHERE ARE WE?”

Ideas of place and presence, particularly in relation to the non-compliant soldier-body, are further problematized in Homecoming in the sole interaction we hear between Walter and Schrier, another returned soldier, in yet another mode of voice recording. In Episode 2, “Pineapple,” within an internet-based call, Heidi’s boss Colin plays her a surveillance recording from the Homecoming cafeteria, one of several instances in the series of the multiple-layering of sound technology. We listen in as  Walter and Schrier eat the pineapple-based dessert they’ve been served and debate Schrier’s “pineapple-induced” doubts about their actual location. For an agitated Schrier, pineapple is pineapple-no-longer but a repository of a sinister excess of meaning – a sign that “they,” the military, are “really laying it on thick with this Florida shit.”  Are they in Florida or not? Schrier demands evidence: “the only reason we think we’re in Florida is because that’s what they told us”. These duplications, both actual (the recording) and suspected (a fake Florida), produce an atmosphere layered with dissonance and uncertainty.

While Shrier’s suspicion of a fake Florida proves unfounded, this other duplication (the surveillance recording) has catastrophic consequences for him. In Episode 6, “Hysterical”, we learn that after being dropped from the Homecoming treatment programme, Schrier was abruptly taken off the medication that was being administered to him without his knowledge (via the pineapple, as it happens). In yet another fraught call with a distressed Heidi, Colin matter-of-factly recounts the disastrous aftermath for Schrier: “he bit off a chunk of his tongue, spit it at an orderly, then he tried to hang himself. They’ve got him in restraints.”

Not only do the Homecoming soldiers bring traces of war home with them – traumatic memories and symptoms of PTSD – but the place to which they return turns out to bear traces of a war zone. The America of Homecoming is a liminal space, an environment that harbours hidden dangers. While ostensibly home turf, America is a space that functions, in an orchestrated clandestine manner, as an outpost of war, or rather, encompassed within what Ben Anderson has identified as the borderlessness of “total war” (169-171).  For Schrier, sonic capture within the Homecoming surveillance recordings pre-figures further physical capture. Ultimately, he ends up hospitalised and literally restrained.

“Declassification of Classified,” by Flickr User Bill Smith (CC BY 2.0)

“HEY MA, IT’S ME, IT’S WALTER…”

Though carceral, a place of enclosure that gestures toward the enclosure inherent in the idea of “total war,” the sonic space of the recorded voice artifact in Homecoming exists also as a site of resistance. Walter’s presence in Season Two manifests via a series of voicemail messages left on a cell phone he has given to his mother, Gloria (Mercedes Ruehl). In Episode 8, “Cipher,” Colin, masquerading as a lawyer taking a class action against the government on behalf of the soldiers maltreated at the Homecoming Facility (one of several fake identities he assumes), persuades Gloria to hand over this phone. As if also infected with Walter’s restlessness, the audio files of these messages migrate from Gloria’s phone to the Geist Server to Heidi’s laptop before we actually hear them. The messages provide a cartographic trace of Walter’s movements west, then north, then south and provide those tracking him, Colin and Heidi, with the first hard evidence of his possible whereabouts. Or at least they seem to.

Again Homecoming draws attention to technologies of reproduction and their influence in how we “conceptualise the voice and its powers” as Weidman states in her essay on “Voice” in Keywords in Sound (236). Walter’s phone is understood as an extension of his affective presence. When subsequent faked messages are left on the phone—the first constructed by Gloria to throw Walter’s trackers off the scent, the second by Heidi in order to entrap Colin—it is this aura of authenticity, the misplaced faith in the faithfulness of the sound recording that serves to legitimate the fakes. The messages, both real and faked, carry the aura of the original voice but their increasingly uncertain status signals “the ontological plasticity of the voice” that Nick Prior has articulated in “On Vocal Assemblages” (489), how “the voice sounds out in a social space comprised of a whole panoply of discourses, techniques and machines that objectify and posit it as a particular kind of object and information”(495). In this instance simulation is an act of ‘pushback’ against networks of power, against the seemingly-fixed borders of recording technology, it is an act that for Walter effects a kind of escape. He remains ‘un-situated.’ Perhaps the safest place for Walter, the only place like home, is in the ‘no place’ of the digital recordings in which he manifests.

Farokh Soltani describes the podcasting form as “the key transformative development in the history of audio drama” in “Inner Ears and Distant Worlds: Podcast Dramaturgy and the  Theatre of the Mind” because of the way it “detaches drama from the economic, institutional and political requirements of the radio broadcast” (189). The vast trove of alternative, ‘unsanctioned’ voices podcasting has made audible can be said to resonate with the discernible hum of difference, the form itself can be understood as inherently dissonant. Its fundamental alterity imbues it with the affective essence of dissonance that Sean Gurd articulates in Dissonance: Auditory Aesthetics in Ancient Greece (2016) as “extra-audible information…[a kind of] roughness, a richer, grainier, less-polished sound” (11). The sense of palpable auditory/affective ‘roughness’ or dissonance permeates Homecoming sonic world, frequently in the foregrounded presence of sonic ‘dirtiness’ but always in its distinctive non-linear assemblage and in its inherent critique of the far-reaching and devastating impacts of war. Homecoming’s audio and structural strategies, shifting both temporally and between sonic modes, demand too that we, the listeners, like Walter and Heidi, are actively and continually engaged in the urgent process of attempting to find our bearings, to get ourselves ‘situated.’

Featured Image: “American Redaction,” by Jared Rodriguez / truthout (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Miranda Wilson is a Creative Practice Ph.D. Candidate in Film Studies at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. Her creative and scholarly thesis (Supervisor, Prof. Annie Goldson) interrogates and experiments with the ways in which voice/image positioning in documentary can and might invigorate screen space as a site of common space and counter-space. Her research encompasses strategies of indirect representation, in particular with regard to gender and voice/image relations; ensemble narratives that work to de-centre the protagonist; low/no budget filmmaking methods that democratize the means of production and documentary practice that is as much about interrogating the documentary form as it is about the subject it engages with. The research project seeks to detect and articulate documentary space in which individuals cohere as a citizenry and everyday practices of democracy are enlivened. Miranda also holds a BA Honours (First Class) from the University of Auckland. Her graduate studies have encompassed research into sound and dissonance; sound/image relations; documentary theory and practice; and representations of spatial transgressions in cinema space.

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A View From under The Horse’s Tail. New Perspectives on Literature?

A View From under The Horse’s Tail. New Perspectives on Literature?

by Roger Paulin

This collection of essays is in the fullest sense occasional. Some chapters were originally written as reactions to stages of my career. Thus when I left Cambridge in 1987 I decided to write a tribute to Trinity’s Hare collection of books. On my return in 1989, the Education Reform Act prompted me to deliver an inaugural lecture on academic freedom. Some, such as my essay on Kleist,  were stimulated by others’ ideas, in this case Charles Tomlinson’s Clark Lectures on metamorphosis. Another (on the Schillerfeier) was a contribution to a Festschrift; the chapter on Wilhelm Müller grew out of a review article. Yet others were originally given in public lecture series (Landmarks) in Cambridge and still carry something of their oral delivery. Our Cambridge readings of Rilke’s Duino Elegies produced another. One or two, such as the chapters on August Wilhelm Schlegel and on public momuments (‘Under the Horse’s Tail’)  were first given as occasional papers and were only later reworked for publication.

In choosing the title ‘From Goethe to Gundolf’ I wish to emphasise the wide chronological scope of the collection, from the mid-eighteenth century to the early twentieth. This period, give or take, has also been the main area of my teaching. The title also expresses my firm conviction, based  on the study of texts,  that individual figures or works from different periods of German literary history can and indeed should be seen in interrelation to each other.  In addition, nearly all of the seemingly disparate literary events or manifestations that form my collection also relate to the two major topics on which I have worked for over 40 years: German Romanticism (my biographies of Ludwig Tieck [1985]  and August Wilhelm Schlegel [2016]) and the reception of Shakespeare in Germany (my monograph of 2003). Underlying all of these is however their relation to the history of style, of literary forms, in short, of poetry.

I have always believed that literary studies should be interdisciplinary, in that they reflect the historical, biographical and cultural events of their times. Two examples from the collection may illustrate this: the centenary of Schiller’s birth in 1859 also has political overtones, while the unveiling of a public statue can be an artistic and literary endeavour as well as an act of political will.  These sociologial interconnections inform several of the essays.  Their chief focus of the volume is however poetry  in it fullest sense , poetic language as expressed in the novel, the drama and in lyrical forms. Poetry is subject to renewals as well as innovations, and I trace these in well-known poets: Klopstock’s boldly experimental poem ‘Der  Zürchersee’, Goethe’s sensational best-selling novel Die leiden des jungen Werthers, Schiller’s Wallenstein, his crowning achievement as a dramatist,  and Rilke’s late Duino Elegies, balanced between despair and hope. I also draw on poets hardly received outside Germany, such as the fine woman poet Annette von Droste-Hülshoff, or Wilhelm Müller, who is otherwise only known as Schubert’s librettist.  Hand in hand with literary studies and the love of poetry goes my love of books and their history. They are the foundation on which literary studies are ultimately built. Hence books feature on the cover of my collection and in its final chapter.

From Goethe to Gundolf: Essays on German Literature and Culture by Roger Paulin is now freely available to read and download here.

In Memoriam: William St Clair

In Memoriam: William St Clair

Our Chairman, William St Clair, died on the evening of 30th June 2021. In this post we share tributes that have been given in his honour, including by family and friends during his memorial at The Athenaeum on 23 July 2021, and by scholars whom he influenced with his pioneering work. Rest in peace William; you will be greatly missed.

A tribute to William St Clair by Professor Anthony Snodgrass

At times, William St Clair seemed to have lived more than one life. Even in our supposedly 'globalised' age, it came as a revelation to many of his fellow campaigners for the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles, to learn that he was also an acclaimed literary and historical authority on the Romantic Era -- to the point where, on the strength of this, he had been elected a Fellow of the British Academy back in 1992. The same may have been partly true in reverse; and to both parties, it was surprising to find that he had served for years as a senior civil servant in the Treasury, whose research was at first a side-line. His later academic appointments are too numerous to list in detail here, but they covered Trinity College, Cambridge, All Souls at Oxford, the School of Advanced Study in London, Harvard and the Huntington Library in California.

With such a record, William must have seemed a 'safe' figure to the less progressive wing of the British Establishment (from which the Trustees of the British Museum were then often drawn): a scholarly, objective authority who could be relied on not to upset apple-carts. It must have come as a nasty shock to them when in 1998, to the third edition of his now thirty-year-old book Lord Elgin and the Marbles, he now added the explosive Chapter 24, entitled 'The Damage is Obvious and Cannot be Exaggerated' -- a quotation from the secret internal Board of Enquiry, set up by the Trustees in 1938 to investigate reports that over-zealous cleaning of the Marbles had seriously damaged them. What William had uncovered (but only after repeated requests under the Thirty Year Rule of the Public Record Act) was the full record of that near-forgotten scandal. He ended his chapter with an appeal for an honest, international inquiry into the events of 1938-39.

It is a reflection of his standing and influence that a version of such an inquiry was indeed set up within a year or so, but by the Museum itself, at the (creditable) instigation of its then Director, Robert Anderson. Attending this violently controversial event myself, I could hardly believe my ears when we heard one of the Museum's own Deputy Keepers, the late Ian Jenkins, say that 'the cleaning [of 1938] was a scandal, and its cover-up was another scandal'. It was William's victory that such words could now be openly uttered.

There are collections of plaster casts of the Parthenon Marbles all over Britain, and a few of them contain casts originally commissioned by Elgin himself, before any further effects of deterioration or damage could occur. One small such set was held by the University of Edinburgh, where I was then a Lecturer, and in the early 1960s I showed these to William.   It was absolutely characteristic of his generosity and long memory that, when he published his third edition in 1998, he sent me -- otherwise still a stranger -- a signed copy in gratitude. After that, we quickly became friends; when I invited him to talk in Cambridge, it was a tribute of a different kind that the then Keeper of Greek and Roman, Dyfri Williams, travelled up from London especially to challenge him.

Eulogy of William St Clair by his brother David St Clair at The Athenaeum, 23rd July 2021

So good afternoon and thanks very much for coming. I’m going to say a few words about William. I don’t think he would have wanted just some hagiography or some recitation of his CV, which you can get on Wikipedia. So I thought I might try and suggest that there was quite a lot about William’s character and biography that resonated with the people whose biography he either wrote about or tried to.

Lord Byron; romanticist, rebel, immensely witty, but touched with melancholy. Shelley; revolutionary, atheist, unacknowledged legislator of the universe. Godwin; massive intellect, whose life rose and then fell, and then rose again. And then his good friend Arthur Miller, who was not only a very influential person in the twentieth century, but who was tinged with guilt, Jewish guilt, which is quite similar to Scottish Presbyterian guilt, having left his wife and two children for the glamour of Marilyn Monroe. But I am aware there is quite a lot of biographical expertise and creative writing expertise in the audience. One of William’s favourite quotes however was ‘if a job’s worth doing it’s worth doing badly’.

So William was born on the 7th of December 1937, a date that was very easy to remember because four years later the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour and brought the United States into World War Two. He was born in London. His mother was an English teacher who had to give up work when she got married which is what you had to do in those days. She was a graduate of the University of Glasgow, avid reader, played the piano, sang contralto in choir. And our father who came from five brothers was, at the time, London representative of a group of Scottish foundries.

So he was one of five brothers (the one on the left was him). Trained as a draughtsman and very interested in pictures. And this one, anyone that’s been into William’s bedroom will have seen this one by Harlamoff. So it wasn’t just the usual Scottish dead pheasants, and highland cattle. And he was also very keen on the ballet. The Ballets Russes was in London at the time that they lived there. He went almost every night to watch the great and the good perform. But his biggest interest was mountaineering. Long before William was born he was keen on Lord Byron. “And ye mountains, why are you beautiful?” And this picture of Lord Byron was our father’s picture, not one that William bought. Again it was hung in William’s bedroom.They, both William and his father, were keen on mountains and hills. They weren’t so keen on the rustic, English countryside, which William used to say was so boring; cold houses, spiders in the bath.

William spent the first two years in London and then was evacuated back to Scotland. He nearly went to America with my mother, and it was all lined up, but they had cold feet and decided to stick it out. Happy childhood. He was very interested in magic. And this was part of his character; he loved mystery, suspense, trickery, bluff and counter-bluff and with his horn-rimmed round spectacles, you might even have thought he was Harry Potter.

And then when he was ten and a half his life was interrupted by John and myself arriving on the scene, which you can see from the pictures, changed his life. And it was a happy family, until our father died, when we were about five, from cancer. This I think had a profound effect on William’s life, because he was asked, along with my mother, to keep the diagnosis concealed from our father. And that bond between him and his mother, I think was too intense at that time. And I don’t think he wanted that degree of closeness to happen again.

So he went to Edinburgh Academy, a school that was actually set up during the Greek War of Independence to teach Greek, because you couldn’t get on in those days unless you knew Greek as well as Latin. And he was dux of the school, that’s academically top. And went to Oxford, St John’s, I think there are several St John’s people in the audience; well-known Oxford college. And he rowed in the first VIII and he was very proud of the fact that four years in a row they got four bumps, which meant you got an oar. And, yes, this is just him larking around. These oars, again, were in his bedroom; I’m assuming that not many people did go into his bedroom.

The other thing he did during his time at Oxford was go, with the help of a little local Scottish charity, on his first journey to Greece, where he went round all the famous classical sites and then actually went to Crete and saw the Mycenaean and Minoan remains.

And then when he graduated he joined the Admiralty. At that time when he was a civil servant, we had still a huge navy. And he got on well with the officers in Portsmouth, and they, as a prank, and I haven’t got the picture of William, allowed him to go on a breeches buoy between two destroyers, dressed in a bowler hat and umbrella.

When he was there he answered an advert in the Times, from a Mrs Longland in Abingdon, saying that I’ve got a lot of papers from my great grand uncle, Dr Hunt, who was on Lord Elgin’s first expedition to Greece, anyone interested and he answered it and said, yeah I’m very interested. And before we knew it he was married and he had produced this book, Lord Elgin and the Marbles, remarkably fast. And it happened to be just at the time that I was dux of Edinburgh Academy myself, and I got it as a prize. You can imagine from the picture on the left-hand side, which is rather contrived, John made to admire my medal, and he’s got a couple of books, whereas I’ve got a stack of books.

And then he went on to have a nice happy family. Anna came along, and then Elizabeth. And then with a great deal of help from Heidi, who did all the translation from German, he produced this groundbreaking book called That Greece Might Still Be Free, which I should think many people in this room may have read.

And then the marriage broke up, and it’s not clear why the marriage broke up. Heidi said William found her boring, and my mother was more direct and said that literary fame had gone to his head, and he had been tempted to stray. Anyway he left Heidi but still had a long and wonderful relationship with the two children. He saw them every weekend and loved to go to their concerts where Anna played the violin, and Elizabeth the cello. And he was so proud when they both got into the University of Oxford and then this lovely picture of Anna in 1989 graduating.

His time at the Treasury was not as great as you might think. His career was stymied, and one of the reasons was that, like Sir Humphrey, he was looked upon when Margaret Thatcher came along as an amateur. Sir Humphrey had a degree from, Drummond is it…Balliol College Oxford?, with a first in Classics [Drummond Bone responds, ‘The tie makes it clear unfortunately yes’]. And it wasn’t just that William had a degree in Classics that defined him as an amateur, but a worse crime was that he wrote books, and he wrote for the Financial Times, so was a dilettante, as well as an amateur, and these sorts of types the Thatcher regime didn’t want.

He did make good friends with Douglas Hurd, Foreign Secretary, and they used to swap stories because he wrote about Lord Elgin’s son and about how he had sacked the Old Summer Palace in Beijing. And William and I actually visited the Old Summer Palace about fifteen years ago. We both happened to be in Beijing at the time, as these things happen. And we reckoned he’d done a really good job, it’s been a ruin and it’s part of the century of humiliation that the Chinese have held against the West.

While he was at the Treasury, he did produce this little book called Policy Evaluation, a critical look at the objectives and how they are being met. And it has these little bits of humour; Napoleon checking his objectives; Moscow, Trafalgar, Waterloo. And inside, assumptions, you can’t make an assumption if you’ve got a donkey being pushed from the back side and the front side, and carrots. And this book was translated into French, Turkish and Arabic. It did actually make an impact on civil servants across a large part of the world, and he was immensely proud of it.

This is just a letter from Amartya Sen to him whilst at the treasury, which if Dominic Cummings had met him the time, it would confirm that he needed to be sacked, because he mentions the Financial Times, reviewing his book, looking forward to reading his new book etc.

And his next book was The Godwins and the Shelleys and it was a massive book about one of the most remarkable families in the history of ideas. It reinforced a lot of people’s view that it was a remarkable family. It reinforced in my mother’s mind that the Bloomsbury set were over-rated lightweights. This picture of Mary Wollstonecraft used to be on William’s mantlepiece.

And then when he was in his early fifties, he developed severe coronary angina. He was just about to go to Turkey and I said don’t go to Turkey, see a doctor; he hated seeing doctors. And in fact he required quadruple coronary bypass surgery: the prognosis of someone at that time getting that, I think was about ten years and I think that’s what made him want to get on ever more with life and shortly after that he retired from the Treasury on a pension that most of us would like to have as a salary.

He went to All Souls College in Oxford, and became very, very involved politically. He became involved in PEN; I think he may have even been the president of PEN in Britain. Got to know lots of other PEN writers including Harold Pinter and Arthur Miller; who he wrote to shortly after the Godwin and Shelleys book and wrote saying ‘I’d like to write your biography, how’s about it?’, and Arthur said ‘Well I’m not going to say yes until I get to know you a bit better’. And they became very good friends, and met up with one another multiple times on both sides of the Atlantic. And he was at the filming of The Crucible when Arthur was by then quite an old man, eighty. That’s Daniel Day Lewis who played John Proctor, his [Miller's] son-in-law.

Around the same time, 1992, Elisabeth got married, and after that he jumped ship from Oxford to Cambridge, Trinity College. And then not long after that he produced the third edition of Lord Elgin and the Marbles, and this included the explosive chapter 24 where he revealed, after sixty years of secrecy, that Lord Duveen had brought his labourers in to give the Marbles a good scrubbing to make them nice and white before they went into his new gallery.

And at the time the minutes of the Trustees said ‘The damage is obvious and cannot be exaggerated’ - but the message to the public was that there had been some minor innovations about how they were cleaned but no-one, apart from experts, would notice the difference. And then, I think this is one of William’s biggest best put-downs.

Far from admitting that anything had gone badly wrong, the Trustees now tried to take credit for the firmness and speed of their response. By describing as ‘innovations’, methods of cleaning marble which would have disgraced a municipal cemetery, they gave the impression that they were solid, reliable, old-fashioned, conservatives who could be safely trusted not to be seduced from their duty by the wizardry of modern science’.

You can understand why he wasn’t liked. Around that time Mary Beard said ‘I’ve been asked to edit a series of books on the Wonders of the World, buildings and monuments and I’d like William for you to write a book. Not about the Parthenon, because I’m doing that, not about the Colosseum, because I’m doing that’. But Frances, who is in this room, can comment on how, eventually, he arrived at doing a book about Cape Coast Castle.

These are pictures showing how the family was growing up; and now he had four delightful grandchildren, all of which are here? No.

Then he produced this other massive book (The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period), and academics wrote to him saying ‘you know it’s not fair of you to write these big books, us professional academics can’t churn out big books like that’.

And around the same period Arthur Miller died. Inge his wife had actually predeceased him. All his diaries William had access to and were promised to him, and he was expecting to use them as the basis of a very innovative biography. But Andrew ‘the Jackal’ Wylie, who is a notorious literary executor, moved into the family and said don’t let William get near this stuff. And he turned Rebecca and Daniel Day Lewis against William. And that whole opportunity that I’m sure William would have done a fantastic job of, was cawed from his feet by the Jackal.

But he went on to do again a very innovative book about Cape Coast Castle, the home for one hundred and fifty years of the headquarters of the British slave trade in west Africa. That’s not William in the picture, that’s Barack Obama. What he managed to find was that all the records of those one hundred and fifty years were in the National Records Office in Kew that almost no-one had ever looked at.

So his life was rising like Godwin's a second time, and from there it never stopped. He founded this book publishers, because he was very against intellectual property, especially in the book trade, where every form of gouging and what have you, had been going on for hundreds of years. They’ve now got two hundred and fifty books on their catalogue. Not again liked by a lot of the establishment, people like Cambridge University Press who loved charging ninety quid for this that and the next thing.

And this is a nice picture of Alessandra and Rupert with William at Trinity where the publishers is based. And then around the same time he joined the School of Advanced Study and again made some wonderful friends where he stayed for many years. He also got involved, after the Elgin Marble scandal was revealed and became a fervent member of the committee for the restitution of the Marbles to Greece. These are some of the people that just a few years ago, were on the committee. Some of them you may know, Tom Flynn, Alexei Kaye Campbell and Janet Suzzman.

The grandchildren were growing up. And this is taken on William’s eightieth birthday. This is him with his two monozygotic twins with his nephews included.

I met him just about five weeks ago in this crowded room which never looked anything like a living room. We get Homes and Gardens and I’ve never seen a room like that in there. And then sadly on the 30th of June just a week after Paulina and William went to the celebration of the 450th anniversary of the founding of Jesus College he died. Paulina told me that William had said he was arm candy at the event.

But his legacy will live on. He’s got this massive book coming out later in the year. Drummond was going to introduce William at a key meeting in Edinburgh in November. And then William planned a book launch in Trinity… Not to be.

Thanks.

Dedication to William St Clair by Paulina Kewes at The Athenaeum, 23rd July 2021

Back in 1994, my age-old friend Don McKenzie, who was a professor of bibliography and textual criticism at Oxford, said that I ought to meet a Mr William St Clair, who was then a visiting fellow at All Souls and was giving a series of lectures that were related to the topic of my doctorate. And he introduced me to William who was incredibly helpful and lovely, and since I had a JRF (Junior Research Fellow) interview coming up, he asked if I would like a mock interview. So I turned up at All Souls and William opened the door wearing his gown, and pretended that he was introducing me to the whole panel. I was supposed to give a five- or seven-minute presentation of my research and I started talking, I may have even been reading, and he said ‘No no no it’s all wrong, you can’t do it like that. Stop!’ And I was incredibly upset, and he said ‘You can only say three things; and you have to be looking at the people, you can’t be reading’. So I scuttled back to my Jesus College digs and I started practicing, crouching in front of the mirror on the wardrobe. Then I cycled back to All Souls because he had agreed to give me another interview. And it obviously worked because I got the JRF and after the interview I returned All Souls to tell him how it had gone, and we drank a bottle or two of wine, and by the time I got back to my digs and the Master rang I was completely sloshed.

And that was really William, he never really pulled any punches. When you were wrong he always told you that you were wrong, that you should do it completely differently, that you should be more ambitious, that you shouldn’t settle for the little things, that you should be more expansive. And sometimes its difficult to take when you’re feeling a little insecure. I felt I was just a Polish student who might not have a future in this country, Poland was not part of the EU, and if someone tells you ‘go outside your patch and do something inter-disciplinary’, ‘think outside the box’, ‘what were they doing in Europe or elsewhere in the world?’, it is sometimes difficult but that is something that William has really taught me. And he was someone who could be a bit of a bear, he was unbelievably stubborn, and there were some things you just couldn’t get him to change, but at the same time he was incredibly kind and mild and generous.

Even in the last few months he was seeing one of my students to help her with her undergraduate dissertation. He was always incredibly generous to younger scholars, to students, and would spend hours helping them. And he was a mine of fascinating stories. David was speaking earlier about William’s time in the Civil Service, and one of his prize stories from when he was working at the Treasury was when he needed to find out something about the Treaty of Utrecht of 1731. He asked for a copy of it and his PA brought him the real damn thing!

Or when he was working for the OECD and went to Turkey; the idea was for him and the other experts to tell the people of Turkey how to Europeanise and do things properly, and one member of the delegation, I think from France, said she might be late and miss a flight, so the minister in charge stopped all proceedings and gave her a police cavalcade and rang the airport and got them to stop the flight so that she could get on. And that was completely contrary to what they were trying to teach people in Turkey. And William was always telling people what he thought; for example he fell out with the OECD; because he was trying to tell people in Portugal what they should really be doing and that didn’t go down terribly well. I think he fell out with people at All Souls because of what he said to them, and at Trinity he probably would have loved to have stayed longer but he was really very scathing about how they were running their accounts and fell out with the Bursar. But he always stood his ground.

And of course the prize exhibit was what he did about the Marbles, and the cleaning of the frieze that David was talking about. And his work was just so remarkably diverse, sorry I should not say work, whenever I asked him ‘What are you working on today?’, whether it was when he was in London or when he was staying with me in Oxford, he would say ‘I’m not working, I’m not working’. I would ask him ‘When are you going to finish your Parthenon book?’ and he would say ‘I’m not writing to anyone else’s deadlines. I’m going to finish when I want to finish, it’s my own schedule.’

Whenever he was doing research and scholarship he was pushing against boundaries. He was on the one hand incredibly bold, ambitious and completely unfettered by disciplinary boundaries, but at the same time he could be incredibly humble. He would go to seminars; Classics seminars in London, Archeology seminars with students, and he was a very humble member of the group. But on the other hand he went to some at the Institute of English Studies and somebody was basically telling porkies, talking tosh, and he would probe and question, and then could never understand why they were a bit livid at the end, that he questioned what they said, but he didn’t mean to be hostile, he wasn’t going to be a bulldog, he was just going to ask the question that was fundamental to whatever they were doing.

In absolutely personal terms he was hugely generous, he was kind, he could be really really lovely and when I was ill, I got ill when I was in America, he said ‘Oh why don’t you just come and stay with me when you are on chemo at the Royal Marsden?’. He sat with me through all my chemo sessions and all my consultations, and he would be sitting with me on this little plastic seat and tapping away on his computer as I was sleeping away. But he could also get fed up. Obviously I was kind of depressed, I had lost my hair, my eyebrows, and I was whinging. And there was one time when we were coming back from the theatre the day before chemo and I was just whinging and he said ‘you know it’s not really pleasant to be with you when you are like that?’ And that sort of taught me to zip up and stop complaining. He didn’t like when you complained and he didn’t like when you said anything critical about anyone. So when I was whinging about colleagues, you could see his face sort of contract. He wasn’t going to sympathise with you if you were complaining about other people because I think that in his mind it reflected badly upon you that you felt that someone wasn’t nice or good.

And he was also an absolutely wonderful and intrepid traveller. We started travelling after I was ill and he offered if I would like to come to central Athens for a few days. Basically the deal was he told me what he wanted to see and where he wanted to go, and I booked the tickets and the hotel and did all the sort of menial stuff. When we went to places it was quite a struggle to convince him that the first thing we needed to do was get some food and water so that when we went off for the day and were in the middle of nowhere we could actually get some lunch. And when the lunch came he quite enjoyed it.

He knew exactly what he wanted to do and where he wanted to be. When we were in Sparta and had gone to Mystras it was quite a long trip, and we walked all the way down and I was completely exhausted and just wanted to go back to the hotel. But ‘no no no I need to see what the course of the river is, and this is significant for my book’. And that was that. I had to scurry back to the hotel on my own because William wanted to see where the damn river went.

But it proved a point that would be vital for the book, and the book will be absolutely magnificent. He was working so hard on it until the very last day and he made so many discoveries. David mentioned his discoveries about the Elgin Marbles and the archive in Kew for the Grand Slave Emporium. Well you will be amazed when you see how much he has discovered for the book about the Parthenon. It’s not just about how the Marbles were saved, but how the Parthenon was saved. It was because one of the British ambassadors had written to his Ottoman counterpart to say ‘If you don’t fire at the Acropolis you’re going to have a seat at the table of the civilised nations’. And they didn’t. He also discovered there was going to be a replica Parthenon in Trafalgar Square; I don’t know whether it’s a good or bad thing that it hasn’t been built.

Just a few days before he died, he loved the word scoop or scooplet, he had another scooplet. He was talking about the orations of ancient Greece, and the Pericles funeral oration, and the way Pericles looked at the head. All the iconic images of Pericles have the head elongated, and there is the helmet, and William had a hunch that it was to do with the swaddling of male babies in ancient Greece, and the swaddling of the head. He had a hunch he would find something in Hippocrates, and so off he went to Blackwells, and came back with the relevant book of Hippocrates, the one he said was not apocryphal, the one he said was actually written by Hippocrates. And there it was, they did swaddle babies’ heads.

And when we traveled, on the one hand you might think he was completely otherworldly, that you had to make sure there was food and there was drink. But there were other moments in Greece where you would think that he was absolutely indispensable. When we were in Sparta and wanted to go to Olympia, you have to take a bus to Tripoli first, so we rock up at the bus station and I go to the ticket counter and ask for two tickets on the 8am bus to Tripoli. And the woman says ‘Sold outWhen is the next bus?…9am….Can I get two tickets to that?…Sold out’ and I’m tearing my hair out, and at the taxi stand all the taxi drivers are in on it and they quote you some absolutely crazy sum of money to take you to Olympia. Well William was completely calm and said let’s just stand here, and I said ‘What do you mean just stand here? We need to do something!’ So we stand for about twenty-five minutes, and the 8am comes and has loaded up all the luggage and everything and is completely full. And then the driver looks up and says ‘do you want to go but you’ll have to stand?’. So of course we say yes we want to go. And we went on the 8am bus. And this was just the way it was with William. He always knew what to do or what to say to people. Similar when we went to Epidaurus, everyone just wanted to see the theatre and William really wanted to see the ruins of a Byzantine basilica. There were brambles and rubbish but we did get there and that was the most important thing, not the sort of beaten tourist path.

And his work on the book was being appreciated just a few days before he died. He told me ‘I have some news, I’ve been awarded a medal by the Greeks’. He told me it’s going to be ten thousand dollars and he will be able to decide who to give the money to, and so we had this long discussion about whether he should give it to the Classics Library in London or the British School in Athens or to split it. And later in the day when we caught up at lunch, he said actually he had misread the email and was just getting a medal. The three people who are getting the ten thousand dollars to give out are John Kerry from America and somebody else. But he was still very happy to get the Byron medal.

Similarly there was somebody called Constantine, a Greek from Switzerland, who asked William whether he could see William’s little card where William had prepared a list of all the Philhellenes who were involved in the War of Independence. And William enabled him to get all of this photographed for Constantine’s book. And the book was published, based on William’s records, and arrived and William was a bit miffed; there was nothing in the acknowledgements or in the title page acknowledging him. Then he looked in the preface and there it was, he was being described as the Nestor of Greek Studies. And he really loved this idea of being the Nestor of Greek Studies and was really dining out on this recently.

And he was working and working and working, and talking and thinking and writing till the very last moment. Another book that he ordered, arrived at my house just yesterday; he was buying things and was going to libraries and one day when he was in London for a check-up, he said he needed a book from the top shelf, he knew exactly where it was on the top shelf, and knew better than to go on the ladder, so he was poking with a broomstick and it came down and he got it but the lamp next to it broke as well; but that wasn’t really a problem for William.

And until the last minute he was just so completely caught up in the book. I think it was just the day before he died, and I don’t think many of you will know, but one of the chapters in the book is written in the form of a Thucydidean speech, as if it were something like a Periclean oration, where the speaker addresses the Athenians. And William said, ‘Well I was going to open the Thucydidean speech saying "Oh men of Athens" but I’ve now come across some source which is later and I think that I’ll now say "Oh fellow citizens"’. And I said ‘no that’s not quite right, men of Athens is better’ because firstly they were all men (women were excluded from any governance, as were slaves), but also because Athens identifies the place. And William didn’t like being criticised and he said ‘no no no it should be fellow citizens’. When we met later for lunch he said ‘okay I’ve put back "oh men of Athens"’. And that was the end of the story.

David already mentioned that William came to the Jesus College anniversary service, and although neither of us were religious, I wanted to go because I was heavily involved in organising the celebrations. And it was really lovely of him to come, and he said to Anna on the phone ‘Well Paulina wants me to come to the service, she obviously needs some arm candy.’ And he was the best arm candy that one could possibly imagine. The picture you see here is the 30th of June when we went to dinner at my friend’s, and this is just a typical William pose. He dressed up and I didn’t even know that he was going to dress up like this. Because there was a Zoom conference, and when I came out I said ‘Hey William are you ready to go?’, and there he was in this beautiful silk tie and white shirt. And I said ‘we’re just going round the corner to friends’, and he insisted ‘no no no I want to be dressed like this’.

And it was really wonderful because we had a great time and we were talking about the trip to Greece that we were planning to go on in late August, and then again in October. I wanted to do some beach holiday and William wanted to do sightseeing and to go to Paphos. And I hope he had a really lovely last day. He collapsed as we were walking back from the dinner and was apologising all the way for being a bit slow.

I want to conclude by reading out a poem which William recited, and he always had tears in his eyes when he recited it, especially when his dear dear friend John Stallworthy had passed.

They told me Heraclitus, they told me you were dead,
They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed.
I wept as I remember’d how often you and I
Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky.
And now that thou art lying, my dear old Carian guest,
A handful of grey ashes, long, long ago at rest,
Still are thy pleasant voices, the nightingales, awake;
For Death, he taketh all away but them he cannot take.

In Memoriam: William St Clair

Dedication to William St Clair from his brother John St Clair at The Athenaeum, 23rd July 2021

I could never compete with my brothers and I don’t think I can compete with David’s wonderful talk. I was just going to read, although Paulina’s already beaten me to it, a few passages from Thucydides, his speech attributed to Pericles, lamenting the dead in the Peloponnesian war. William admired it, and I think it encapsulates quite a lot of his public ideals and his private ideals, that he aspired to. Didn’t always succeed but he aspired to them and that is what ideals are for.

But before I go there I should mention first, there is a reason I have chosen that passage. The last time that I was in The Athenaeum, William organised a book launch for a book that we had written as an act of piety for my uncle that had fought in the First World War. And during that time, we had long discussions about the best way to memorialise people. And we saw all these pictures of this huge building programme, post-war, that took place on the Western Front, and we thought that this was really just a waste of time. Stop building monuments. And we thought of Odysseus shouting at Polyphemus, remember the name, remember the name. If your name can only carry on, some of you lasts. And we thought that was idolatry. And then Rudyard Kipling chooses from the book of Ecclesiasticus, their name liveth forever more. Again we thought that was rubbish.

And it just happened that around that time, we went to the war memorial in Edinburgh Castle, and came across the most, what we thought, moving inscription. And I’m going to just quote what they say in this book about the memorial; the most moving one is the one for the Royal Scots Fusiliers and this was the regiment that Churchill was exiled to when he left the cabinet in 1916, when the results of the Gallipoli campaign came out. And we think he was probably behind this war memorial. I wrote to the keeper of the memorial shortly after, asking about this but, typical archivist, there was no reply.

So I didn’t pursue it any further, but we know that Churchill was given a copy of Thucydides by Lloyd George just before he went to the Western Front. And this book says that perhaps the outstanding achievement of the regiment of the Royal Scots Fusiliers during these years was the defence by the Second Battalion for ten whole days against overwhelming odds in the first battle of Ypres. But for this the whole line could have crumbled and the enemy could have broken through and got to the channel ports. The most notable feature of this memorial, perhaps the most beautiful memorial of them all, is a space in the centre surrounded by a carved wreath of laurel devoted to a passage from Pericles historic oration, quoted by Thucydides, upon the Athenians who had perished in the Peloponnesian War.

And this is the inscription:

"the whole earth is the tomb of heroic men, and their stories not graven in stone over their claim, but abides everywhere without visible symbol, woven into the stuff of other men’s lives."

It was this expression, woven into the stuff of other men’s lives, that was coined by Alfred Zimmerman, who was the Professor of International Relations at Oxford between the wars. I think he was actually at New College, but that’s not really relevant to this. But woven into the stuff of other men’s lives; this expression is now standard in all translations of Thucydides.

And it just happened that shortly after we had visited and seen this memorial, (David has already mentioned William’s friend Arthur Miller) Arthur Miller’s wife, Inge Morath died and Arthur Miller was asking William is there any consolation and, William being a good god fearing atheist, said ‘no’. And then he hesitated and said ‘Well there is some consolation. She had a very wonderful and meaningful life’ and then this passage from Pericles came back, ‘but she does live on woven into the stuff of other men’s lives’, and that seems to have struck a chord with Arthur Miller because he kept mentioning it years afterwards, and that’s one of the reasons I’ve chosen this particular bit from Pericles.

I had three or four passages, but I think you’re probably getting bored with this St Clair double act - we’re not technically a double act - but it may come across as that.

So I’ll maybe give you two of them, the first is about respect for people’s private lives, of which David told you all about, quite how important this principle was. So Pericles says:

let me say that our system of government doesn’t copy the institutions of our neighbours; it’s more the case of ours being a model to others than of our imitating anyone else. Our constitution is called a democracy because powers are in the hands not of a minority but the whole people. When it is a matter of settling private disputes, everybody is equal before the law, when it is a question of putting one person before another in positions of public responsibility, what counts is not membership of a particular class, but the actual ability a man possesses.”

I’m not sure if the Tory party has been reading this recently.

“No one so long as he has it in him to be of service to the state, is kept in political obscurity because of poverty, and just as our political life is free and open , so is our day to day life and in our relationships with each other, we don’t get into a state with our next door neighbour if he enjoys himself in his own way. Nor do we give him the sort of black looks, which though they may not do him any real harm still do hurt people’s feelings. We are free and tolerant in our private lives. But in public there is a need keep to the law. This is because it commands our deep respect.”

So that is the ideal that the private life is meant to be private. I know that it is posthumous that my brother shed some life on William’s private life, but that was more an honour to the dead. And there is another passage in this address where he compares Athens to Sparta -- we don’t go in for military training. The Edinburgh Academy never had a CCF until you couldn’t get into the army unless you’d been in the CCF. It didn’t believe in military training the way that Sparta did. It believed in courage and elan and breeding and a liberal education.

So I think I’ll just end with the passage about woven into the stuff of other men’s lives. What he says is:

what I would prefer is that you fix your eyes on the greatness of Athens as she really is, and should fall in love with her, (this is addressing the people who are widows or orphans of soldiers who have been killed). So think of the city and that will help you take your attention away from your bereavement. When you realise her greatness, then reflect that what made her great was men with a spirit of adventure. Men who knew their duty. Men who were ashamed to fall below a certain standard. If they ever failed in an enterprise they made up their minds that at any rate the city shouldn’t find the courage lacking to her. And they gave to her the best contributions to her they could. They gave her their lives. To her and to all of us and for their own selves they won praises, that never grow old, the most splendid of sepulchres, not the sepulchre in which their bodies are laid but where their glory remains, eternal in men’s minds.”

And then he goes on to say that monuments all over are to heroic men, but their monument is not made of bronze or clay but it is that they are woven into the stuff of other men’s lives.

And the very final, and then you can get back to carousing or whatever you do in your private lives, I’m going to quote this book William had as a teenager. It is a book of the Roman poet Catullus’s poems and I came across this poem of Catullus, and it moved me. And I hoped I would never have to quote it. But Catullus wrote a poem, 101, to his dead brother.

And it says that

Multās per gentēs et multa per aequora vectus

I’ve travelled through many nations and over many seas to come to my brother’s funeral.

But he ends it by saying

accipe frāternō, multum mānantia flētū,

which means receive fraternal,

And then by saying

Atque in perpetuum, frāter, avē atque valē.

And for those that are not so quick off the old Latin as you used to be, that means…

please my brother, receive these rites, drenched in your brother’s tears, and forever my brother, hail and farewell.

——

For reference

Catullus’s poem 101

Multās per gentēs et multa per aequora vectus
adveniō hās miserās, frāter, ad īnferiās,
ut tē postrēmō dōnārem mūnere mortis
et mūtam nequīquam alloquerer cinerem
quandōquidem fortūna mihi tētē abstulit ipsum
heu miser indignē frāter adempte mihi
nunc tamen intereā haec, prīscō quae mōre parentum
trādita sunt tristī mūnere ad īnferiās,
accipe frāternō multum mānantia flētū.
Atque in perpetuum, frāter, avē atque valē.

Carried through many nations and over many seas,
I arrive, brother, for these wretched funeral rites
so that I might present you with the last tribute of death
and speak in vain to silent ash,
since Fortune has carried you, yourself, away from me.1
Alas, poor brother, unfairly taken away from me,
now in the meantime, nevertheless, these things which in the ancient custom of ancestors
are handed over as a sad tribute to the rites,
receive, dripping much with brotherly weeping.
And forever, brother, hail and farewell.

SO! Amplifies: Wu Tsang’s Anthem (2021)

SO! Amplifies. . .a highly-curated, rolling mini-post series by which we editors hip you to cultural makers and organizations doing work we really really dig.  You’re welcome! We are excited that today’s post on Wu Tsang’s Anthem, currently on view at the Guggenheim through September 6, 2021, is written by Freddie Cruz Nowell, co-author of the exhibition texts! He is related to the curator of the exhibition and cares deeply about the collaborative, creative endeavors of Wu Tsang & Moved by the Motion.

The artist and filmmaker Wu Tsang (b. 1982) creates atmospheric performances, video installations, and films that envelop audiences into spaces where narratives become sensually ambiguous, collective experiences. Tsang’s new site-specific installation, Anthem (2021), was conceived in collaboration with the singer, composer, and transgender activist Beverly Glenn-Copeland (b. 1944, Philadelphia) and harnesses the Guggenheim Museum’s cathedral-like acoustics to construct what the artist calls a “sonic sculptural space.”

Occupying the entire rotunda, Anthem revolves around an immense, eighty-four-foot curtain sculpture that flows down from the building’s glass oculus. Projected onto this luminous textile is a “film-portrait” Tsang created of Glenn-Copeland improvising and singing passages of his music, including a cappella descants and his rendition of the spiritual “Deep River.” Filmed during the COVID-19 pandemic, near Glenn-Copeland’s home in rural Nova Scotia, this non-linear video alternates between scenes of the musician performing with various instruments and stunning landscape shots of the eastern seaboard sky.


Instrument and Landscape View of Wu Tsang’s Anthem (2021), Images courtesy of The Guggenheim

Harnessing the generous sound-reflecting quality of the Guggenheim’s concrete walls, Anthem weaves Glenn-Copeland’s voice and body percussion into a larger tapestry of other voices and sounds placed along the museum’s circular ramp, building a soundscape that wraps around the space. When I asked the exhibition’s curator X Zhu-Nowell about the striking ethereal, translucent quality of the curtain sculpture, X remarked,

It was a collaboration with the textile company Kvadrat. Wu visited their showroom a few times to select textile from thousands of the samples. This particular textile called power is semi translucent (created almost a hologram feeling), but still able to capture the light from the projectors very well. Wu once said that ‘when there is a curtain in the space, it turns the space into a stage.’ Curtain is very important to Wu’s practice.

The installation’s dimmed light ambiance also veils the fourteen speakers that Tsang positioned along this darkened path, each of which plays a uniquely composed track that accompanies Glenn-Copeland’s music.

Working in collaboration with musician Kelsey Lu and the DJ, producer, and composer duo of Asma Maroof and Daniel Pineda, Tsang conceived this arrangement of sounds as a series of improvisatory responses inspired by the call of Glenn-Copeland’s voice. The musical responses created by this diverse group of musicians include ethereal string tremolos, dreamy whisper sequences, and impromptu drum patterns, among other ambient sounds that help cultivate an alluring and reverberant listening environment.

Harnessing the generous sound-reflecting quality of the Guggenheim’s concrete walls, Anthem weaves Glenn-Copeland’s voice and body percussion into a larger tapestry of other voices and sounds placed along the museum’s circular ramp, building a soundscape that wraps around the space. X Zhu-Nowell described the process for the exhibit’s speaker placement:

We had a few mock-up to test the speaker placement. The two loudspeakers are placed on the rotunda floor because it’s unique capacity to fill the entire rotunda. The 12 additional Bose speakers were placed throughout ramp 3 – 6. We evenly distributed them, 3 speakers for each ramp. Ultimately, the goal is to work with the unique acoustics of the building, and working with the decay, allowing the time and space for the sound to bound on the concrete walls. The piece is 18 mins long, and in a continuous loop. It was not designed to cultivate a single prime viewing location. Instead, the piece was built to be experienced as one move through the space, and 18 mins is around the pace of one walk from the bottom of the rotunda floor to the top of ramp 6.

Visitors are encouraged to traverse upward from the bottom of the museum to the top of the building, and vice versa, and explore how Anthem ascends and descends along the spiral path.


Alternative View of Ramp: Wu Tsang’s Anthem (2021)

The title of this exhibition, Anthem, draws from lesser-known histories of the word meaning antiphon, a style of call-and-response singing associated with music as a spiritual practice. Unlike a conventional anthem, which amplifies the power of a song through loudness and uniform sound, this installation enhances the call of Glenn-Copeland’s voice by combining it with ambiguous vocal timbres, changing tints of ambient sound, and other heterogeneous sonic and visual textures. Within this lush yet complicated auditory environment, Tsang’s Anthem also cultivates moments of quiet, rest, and reflection, reimagining the rotunda as a compassionate atmosphere for collective listening and looking. 

In addition to the immersive video installation on view in the rotunda, this exhibition also includes a touching companion film, titled “∞,” which visitors can access behind a luxe pleated curtain that divides the first floor side gallery from the main space. This video is a short interview that Tsang shot during the filming of Anthem of Glenn-Copeland and his partner, Elizabeth Glenn-Copeland, a theater artist, storyteller, and arts educator.

Wu Tsang: Anthem part of the exhibition program Re/Projections: Video, Film, and Performance for the Rotunda March 19-September 6, 2021, image courtesy of The Guggenheim

This dialogue captures autobiographical aspects of the couple’s intertwined creative process and artistic development, reflecting on myriad meanings of love in relation to their lives and work. Within the context of the oppressive and exploitive conditions of transgender “visibility” in contemporary culture, Tsang’s seemingly conventional yet uncommon record of this elderly and interracial couple exists in tension with the normative frame of transgender representation. It also extends the conversation within Tsang’s artistic practice around the centrality of collaboration, specifically long-term and intimate collaboration.


Photo of Wu and Glenn on set in Nova Scotia, from Wu Tsang’s IG feed

Since 2016, Tsang has frequently worked with a “roving band” of interdisciplinary artists called Moved by the Motion, cofounded with the artist Tosh Basco. Core members of this revolving cast include Maroof, Pineda, the dancer Josh Johnson, the cellist Patrick Belaga, and the poet and scholar Fred Moten. Anthem exemplifies how she uses collaboration as an aesthetic strategy for undoing conventional modes of authorship and to make space for marginalized narratives. For Tsang, “making art is an excuse to collaborate.”

On View at the Guggenheim, New York City, July 23-September 6, 2021

Featured Image: Still of banner/ installation View of Wu Tsang’s Anthem (2021) at the Guggenheim, courtesy of curator X Zhu-Nowell

Frederick Cruz Nowell is a Ph.D. Candidate in Musicology at Cornell University. He is a scholar with a specialty in historical avant-gardes, and cross-disciplinary research into the history of music theory, contemporary art, and popular music. His dissertation research (Supervisor, Prof. Andrew Hicks) lies at the occult intersection of artistic experimentalism, Euro-American counterculture, and the history of music theory in the early twentieth century. It traces how speculative music-theoretical concepts (i.e., cosmic harmony, biological rhythms, color-harmony, and ontologies of sympathetic vibration) fused into the practices of European avant-garde artists via fashionable occult religious movements  (i.e., Theosophy and Anthroposophy) and various cults of health and beauty (i.e., harmonic gymnastics, Eurythmics, free body culture (Freikörperkultur)). Intimately intertwined with one another, these social developments were integral to the larger infrastructure of the unwieldy “back to nature” Lebensreform (the reform of life) movement, which laid the foundations for progressive counterculture in the twentieth century. 

Before pursuing graduate studies in musicology, Frederick was a University Fellow at Northwestern University in the Department of Art, Theory, & Practice, where he received an MFA. He also holds a BFA from SAIC (the School of the Art Institute of Chicago). Since 2018, he has co-curated exhibitions with X Zhu-Nowell under the moniker Passing Fancy.

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Teaching Soundwalks in a Course on Gentrification, Black Music, and Corporate America

On May 5, 2018, the C-ville Weekly, a newspaper based out of Charlottesville, Virginia, published an article titled “Sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll: new apartment complex promises at least one of those.” The headline referred to the complex being built at 600 West Main St. in Charlottesville. The complex has since been completed and studio bedrooms currently cost more than $1000 a month. As the C-ville Weekly headline shows, the developers were using the term and connotations of “rock ’n’ roll” to sell exclusive – and in many ways unaffordable – housing.

After reading this headline, I began to develop an idea for a summer course at my institution, the University of Virginia (UVA). I ultimately titled that course “Black Music and Corporate America” which I offered online during the summer of 2021 (syllabus available for download via the link above). Although the course discussed varied content – from the multi-ethnic, multi-racial, and multi-gendered histories of rock and roll to the endorsement of conspicuous forms of consumption in hip hop – I wanted to spend one unit focusing on the interrelationship between music, corporate America, and gentrification. I strove to solidify this connection by assigning two related articles. The first article, by geographer and sociologist Brandi Thomson Summers, argues that black residents in Washington D.C. adopt go-go music as a form of reclamation aesthetics to combat their city’s increasingly rampant gentrification. In the second article, ethnomusicologist Allie Martin conducts a soundwalk of D.C.’s Shaw District to forefront the experience of a black woman in the city and help displace white hearing as the default standard of interpreting sound (see Sounding Out!’s Soundwalking While POC series from Fall 2019). These two articles served as a foundation for one of the assignments the students had to complete in class: conducting a soundwalk of their own in which they had to walk around a field site of their choosing and think critically about the sounds they were hearing.

Throughout the summer sessions, students completed three main assignments related to the course topic. They had to think about marketing themselves and thus wrote a cover letter for a job or internship they were interested in pursuing in the future. We also, as a class, sent a suggestion to literary scholar John Patrick Leary, who has created a list of “keywords of capitalism:” buzzwords that get adopted in corporate lingo; we suggested “rockstar” as a term and offered him a brief explanation why:

Students also had to conduct a soundwalk. I asked them to model it after Martin’s and to also take into consideration Summers’ arguments about gentrification, white policing of black sound, and a community’s response to attempts to silence their music and culture.  

Rainbow Rush 5K, Ix Art Park, Charlottesville, VA, Image by Bob Mical (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The soundwalks I received merit sharing with readers of Sounding Out for three primary reasons: 1) The assignment benefited from the online format, especially since students could conduct soundwalks in Charlottesville as well as in their homes across the country. 2) the students made compelling arguments that deserve recognition. 2) the students brought up issues that teachers interested in assigning soundwalks in the future might want to preemptively address.

Students who walked around Charlottesville focused mostly on The Corner, the portion of the city where most of UVA’s student body eats, shops, and drinks. As one student noted, during the regular semester, hundreds of students populating The Corner on any given day during the semester can silence out – literally – the concerns of the homeless and the panhandlers who make the area their home. However, over the summer, Charlottesville’s Corner becomes significantly less populated and, as this student noted, much more silent. As a result of this silence, pedestrians might be much more attuned to Charlottesville’s rampant inequality. This student, over the course of their summer soundwalk on The Corner, came to a radical conclusion: while communities might need moratoriums on evictions, or moratoriums on construction, maybe Charlottesville needs a moratorium on student noise as well.

“The Corner, Charlottesville, 2011” Image by Peyton Chung (CC BY 2.0)

In addition to focusing on inequality, many students’ soundwalks pointed out discrepancies between what they saw and what they heard while on their soundwalks. Another student writing about The Corner noted how, as a transfer student, the music that they heard emanating from a barbershop helped make them feel at home in Charlottesville. Businesses on The Corner have historically not been entirely welcoming to people of color. Additionally, most pedestrians and patrons of The Corner are white. However, this student remarked how comfortable they felt on The Corner because they could hear one of their favorite artists, Moneybagg Yo, playing from the sound system of the barbershop they were going to visit. Long before they could visually see the business, the soundscape let this student know they were welcome. In this way, this barbershop helped create a sense of community in a similar way that the broadcasting of go-go music from Shaw’s many businesses helps create in Washington D.C.  

BLACK LIVES MATTER poster in the front window at Logan Circle in the 1800 block of 13th Street, NW, Washington DC on Tuesday afternoon, 20 October 2020 by Elvert Barnes Photography (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Another student focused specifically on the contradictions between the activism they “saw” demonstrated in their upper-class Boston suburb and the activism they “heard” while walking around their neighborhood. This student noted that residents of their neighborhood strove to create an inclusive atmosphere by putting up “Black Lives Matters” and “Immigrants Welcome” yard signs. However, they also cited Jennifer Lynn Stoever’s work – who we read in class – and noted the presence of what Stoever calls the “sonic color line.” As this students’ own field recordings of their neighborhood illuminated, most residents of this neighborhood valued silence. Harlemites during the 1940s and 1950s, as Stoever writes, certainly appreciated restful nights, but her scholarship also demonstrates how dominant narratives constructed black communities as “noisy,” “chaotic,” and “dangerous,” and white ones as “silent,” “efficient,” and “disciplined.” Although residents in this Boston suburb think of themselves as progressive and demonstrate their liberalism through visual signifiers such as yard signs, this student concluded that they still live in a community that privileges certain (silent) soundscapes. In doing so, such communities continue to perpetuate the sonic color line.

Admittedly, several students living in America’s suburbs struggled to conceive of the sounds they heard as worthy of discussion. For instance, the sounds of cars made frequent appearances in their writing but were often dismissed as inconsequential. Instead, students lamented that they were not experiencing a vibrant public sphere that resembled the setting of Spike Lee’s 1989 film, Do the Right Thing (a film we watched together in class), as if that representation wasn’t a very particular historicized and localized representation. On an individual basis, I tried to get students to think more critically about the sounds of cars in their neighborhood. We read about the role of automobile in the development of G-Funk during the early 1990s as well as the death of Jordan Davis, who was murdered in his car for playing rap too loudly. However, neither article resonated with students’ experience on their soundwalks since they were simply hearing cars passing by their houses or driving down the street. Most of the time, they could not tell what type of music was being listened to at all inside the car nor could they hear it emanate onto the street.  

Therefore, teachers, depending on the living conditions of their students, might want to preemptively include discussions of car culture within American society. After all, more than go-go music broadcasted from storefronts, or second line parades, or music playing from boomboxes, or the noise of nature, (my) students typically hear cars in their day-to-day life. As a result, teachers assigning soundwalks may want to talk about the role of highway construction and the automobile industry on suburbanization and white flight. Discussions of automobiles within the context of environmental racism might also be useful for students to consider. Steph Ceraso’s Sounding Composition also discusses the immense time and energy corporations have devoted to car sounds and soundscapes within cars, buffering occupants from car noise as well as that of the neighborhoods outside.

Route 29 Solutions, 2011, Virginia Department of Transportation, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In addition, I found that students need a more robust historical understanding of suburbanization in the United States, particularly alongside an understanding of their own racial and ethnic histories. Some students living African American suburbs could have benefited from some contextualization about when and how they came to be. Talking about suburbanization in general, the development of White suburban liberalism in the 1970s and 1980s would have helped the student living in a Boston suburb make more sense of the politics of their neighborhood. Karen Tongson’s Relocations also provides context for shifts in America’s suburban landscape after sweeping changes in immigration law in 1965, as well as a rethinking of expressions of sexuality in the suburbs. These are just some topics I wish I had focused on more to help prepare my students for their soundwalks.

Future teachers may feel inclined to refer to the conclusions my students came to, as well as the literature I wish I had included in course, as they think about assigning soundwalks in their own classes. Both my students and I appreciated the soundwalk assignment and its invitations to listen differently. Teaching soundwalks in a course focusing on “Black music and marketing strategy” prompted my own necessary meditation as a non-Black scholar working in this field. Guided by Loren Kajikawa’s new research on “Music, Hip Hop and the Challenge of Significant Difference” that examines how the popularity of courses on black music help subsidize a university’s classical music offerings, I want to incorporate future discussions of Black music as sonic diversity marketing in contemporary higher ed, both at the microlevel of scholarship and the macro- institutional level, which remains far from equitable despite ongoing challenges to its status quo. For students, the soundwalks–in their words–allowed them to learn about themselves and think differently about the area in which they live. They also become more attuned to their surroundings–questioning what makes a neighborhood and for whom?–and how different cultures use their voices where they live, necessary skills for our moment that will help us envision a world beyond it.

Featured Image: Wall Mural right next to Bowerbird Bakeshop in Charlottesville, VA, image by Tom Mills, (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Rami Toubia Stucky is a PhD candidate at the University of Virginia and scholar of the music of the African diaspora, music of the Americas, commercial culture, intercultural exchange, and music and migration. Sometimes he composes/arranges jazz music and plays drums. He is currently writing a dissertation on the arrival of Brazilian bossa nova to the United States during the 1960s. He runs a personal and professional website dedicated mostly to talking about the songs his sister likes

REWIND!…If you liked this post, you may also dig all this good stuff about sound studies pedagogy! Good luck with Fall semester, folks!:

The Sounds of Anti-Anti-Essentialism: Listening to Black Consciousness in the Classroom- Carter Mathes

Making His Story Their Story: Teaching Hamilton at a Minority-serving Institution–Erika Gisela Abad

Deejaying her Listening: Learning through Life Stories of Human Rights Violations– Emmanuelle Sonntag and Bronwen Low

Audio Culture Studies: Scaffolding a Sequence of Assignments– Jentery Sayers

Deep Listening as Philogynoir: Playlists, Black Girl Idiom, and Love–Shakira Holt

“Toward A Civically Engaged Sound Studies, or ReSounding Binghamton”–Jennifer Lynn Stoever

“Heavy Airplay, All Day with No Chorus”: Classroom Sonic Consciousness in the Playlist ProjectTodd Craig

SO! Podcast #79: Behind the Podcast: deconstructing scenes from AFRI0550, African American Health Activism – Nic John Ramos and Laura Garbes

Listening to #Occupy in the Classroom–D. Travers Scott

SO! Podcast #71: Everyday Sounds of Resilience and Being: Black Joy at School–Walter Gershon

Sounding Out! Podcast #13: Sounding Shakespeare in S(e)oul– Brooke Carlson

A Listening Mind: Sound Learning in a Literature Classroom–Nicole Brittingham Furlonge

My Voice, or On Not Staying Quiet–Kaitlyn Liu

(Re)Locating Soundscapes of Schooling: Learning to Listen to Children’s Lifeworlds–Cassie J. Brownell

If You Can Hear My Voice: A Beginner’s Guide to Teaching–Caroline Pinkston

Mukbang Cooks, Chews, and Heals – David Lee

SO! Podcast #80: Refugee Realities Miniseries–Steph Ceraso