New Editor Charts Bold Course

In 2018, Karen Pinkus moved into the editor position at the journal diacritics. The journal is based at Cornell University where Pinkus is a Professor of Italian and Comparative Literature. We previously spoke with Pinkus on a podcast about a 2014 special issue on climate change criticism she edited. Pinkus joined us for a Q&A to talk about her new role at the journal.

How did you end up in the position of editor?

Our editors serve three-year terms. To my great surprise, I was nominated by other members of the editorial board. I certainly wasn't thinking about it, but as I wrote a statement in support of my candidacy, I realized the editorship would allow me to reach out to a very diverse group of scholars I've met over quite a few years in academia (and in different institutions and fields of study), and to think creatively about how to engage a new generation of potential authors. Again, to my great surprise, I was elected last July.

It's really important to me that we maintain our strict policy of double blind peer review. I have no idea about the authors until we make a final decision about accepting or rejecting a piece. This means that we can and do publish work by scholars from different kinds of institutions or career paths. This has always been true, I should clarify. Having said that, traditionally we have tended to receive a great deal of work with the following format: Male Theorist X points out similarities and divergences between Male Theorist Y and Male Theorist Z.  Under my editorship we will send out a strong essay with this format for review and we will accept it if our readers think it is worthy. But I am also interested in getting work in other forms and with other kinds of intellectual aims.

I have found the editorship to be a profoundly social activity - in the sense that I have been in communication with old friends, and I have met new ones. Isn't that the best thing the academic profession has to offer? I feel very lucky.

What does it mean to get a chance to lead a journal with such a strong history?

I honestly don't think much about the history. I'm more interested in the present and future and, for me, this means cultivating new readers and authors. Our amazing managing editor, Diane Brown, has been especially supportive of this. I made myself available for meetings at the MLA (a forum organized by the CELJ).  I don't know for sure if any of the people I talked to will submit to us, but the experience was helpful for me (maybe more than for them) in that the work we do is somewhat curatorial. In the same hotel room were editors of much more specialized journals who share a particular vocabulary and bibliography with their potential authors, while we are a journal of critical theory, and a "forum for new work in the humanities" in the broadest sense.

Diane worked really hard to set up a table at ACLA in March. I was there to give a talk, as were other members of editorial board. A lot of people came up to the table, maybe attracted by the bright colors. Some younger scholars who said they were intimated by the journal, but I think we managed to make some genuinely interesting connections. We're on Twitter and on Facebook. I don't find these platforms necessarily interesting, but we can use them to let people know what we are doing and to reach a growing body of readers from outside of traditional academic institutions. And by the way, we have an essay coming out in our next issue about Twitter through the lens of Arendt and Blanchot. It's not the first academic account of Twitter, of course, but it's something new for us, and I appreciate it as a thought experiment.

One of the journal's signatures has been the long review essay, but it's possible--and I'm just speculating--that we may not be doing so many of these. We don't get as many of them as we did in the past. One reason for this be could be because these are not easy to place elsewhere if we reject, but it's also possible that these have meant a certain kind of mastery--a tone and style that younger scholars may not be interested in. One of the things I love best about this job is working with our graduate student board members. They are not only really brilliant, but they also help us think about the future of academic work, in all senses.

What kind of opportunities does the size and color in the journal's layout provide for you as editor when planning issues?

I am very engaged with contemporary art in my own work. For me, it's really fantastic to be able to engage artists and feature them alongside the essays we publish. As contemporary art and curatorial practices engage ever more with critical theory, I am convinced that our format is not just eye candy. But we also make a really compelling case for buying the paper journal and a subscription is so inexpensive!

What plans do you have for both the short and long term?

We are working on a new website, thinking about other forms of outreach to new readers and possible fundraising opportunities. It's probably unrealistic to hope for an endowment, but that would be amazing, and it would allow us to think even more boldly about the format and the way we reach potential readers. It doesn't hurt to dream. As I said, many of our readers are from outside of the US. They are precarious workers and don't have access to Project MUSE. We may not be around in the future, and I'm okay with that, even if I'm the last editor, although I hope not.