Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Reviewer

From a recently discovered draft of Prof. Jonathan Edwards’ (D.Div, Harvard) exhortation to junior profs revising their dissertations at the Collegiate School in New Haven, CT in early 1741. Some scholars are of the opinion that Prof. Edwards later revised the speech for presentation to a non-academic audience in the same state, but, given the probability of any academic being able to write a book that gained traction among the mythical “educated public,” this seems extremely doubtful.

…This that you have heard is the case for every one of you that is without tenure. That world of misery, that land of eternal visiting lectureships, is extended abroad under you. There is the visible flames of the wrath of an angry Reviewer; there is the mouth of Adjunct Hell laid open; and you have no publications to stand upon, nor good reviews to take hold of; there is nothing between you and this Hell but the air; it is only the power and mere pleasure of the Dean that holds you up.

You are probably not sensible of this. You find you are kept out of Adjunct Hell, but do not see the hand of the Reviewer in this. You trust to your student evals, the good name of your dissertation director, even the stint on the university self-study committee. But, indeed, these things are nothing, if the Reviewer should not stay his hand; there would be nothing to keep you from plunging into the dread flames, nothing to save you from the terrors of 4 sections of freshman comp.

And what research you have done! What profoundly ponderous prose you have submitted! The earth abhors the weight of such writing; its density cannot be supported. One drop of red ink, and the very ground beneath it shall give way, hurtling it and you into eternal perdition! Creation was not made to suffer such abominations as your tired rehash of the same 30-year-old articles your betters can get away with just because they’re old; the sun does not shine to light your way to the library to pilfer outdated work, nor does the air lightly suffer being used in your speeches at conferences.

The wrath of the Reviewer is like great rivers of red ink building up moment by moment; they build up the more and more, waiting for an outlet to rush forth and purify the world of the vile travesty against knowledge you have perpetrated. It is true that judgment against your lousy work has not yet been executed; but every passing day the rivers of ink are rising, your guilt is constantly increasing, and the time until you can’t even get a “revise and resubmit” verdict out of sympathy grows shorter. Do not rejoice in your present ignorant bliss; soon, knowledge of the truth shall be granted to you, and, for the first time in your miserable life, you shall have to know the truth; and the truth will set your department free, free of the deadwood they shall cast off into the torrent of the unemployed.

The bow of the Reviewer’s wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of the Reviewer, and that of an angry Reviewer, without any promise or obligation except to keeping dead weight like you out of the field, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood. Do not think that citing the Reviewer’s work will save you from your just fate! No, for everyone in your field does that, for the Reviewer is a luminary, the Reviewer is a true light, and everyone sucks up to the Reviewer. Frankly, he is used to it; indeed, it has come to be expected, and, when your manuscript comes upon the dread desk of judgment, it shall not cause it to be spared. You may have revised your dissertation in many things, and may have been told by your committee is was already suitable for publication, and may have added one or two references in the introduction, and might have asked a grad school colleague to tell you it was good, know that it is nothing but the Reviewer’s mere pleasure that keeps it from being this moment burned up in everlasting destruction, a pleasure He shall heartily enjoy when He is finished eviscerating your excuse for an argument. However unconvinced you may now be of the truth of what you hear, by and by you will be fully convinced of it. Those that are gone from being in the like circumstances with you, see that it was so with them; for the bad reviews came suddenly upon most of them; when they expected nothing of it, and while they were saying, Tenure and stipends: now they see, that those things on which they depended for tenure and stipends, were nothing but thin air and empty shadows.

The Reviewer now holds your manuscript in His hands, much as one holds a noxious spider or some loathsome insect over the fire; His wrath towards you burns like fire; He looks at you as worthy of nothing else than to have this pile of crap rejected; He is of purer eyes than to bear having to read your hackneyed arguments. You have offended Him infinitely more than the most idiotic undergrad ever did a TA, yea, even the grade grubbers, “will this be on the test” askers, and those who did come to class hung over; yet it is only His judgment that keeps the work you have indeed wasted the last six years of your life on from being rejected with the most extreme prejudice and the pages consigned one by one with glee to the fire.

Alas! you will cry, Alas! when the acquisitions assistant emails you the anonymous review. O woe to you, who tried to pass this off on someone who actually knew their stuff! Woe to you, who thought that rehashing work you did ten years ago and sprucing it up would pass muster; woe to you, who didn’t bother to find out what the best edition was; woe to you who put their faith in false advisors, who knew not the true secondary literature; woe to you who took your guidance on footnotes from David Foster Wallace; woe to you who cite postmodernists to the Thomists, Thomists to postmodernists; woe to you who thought sixty page chapters were short; woe to you who thought including Latin in your text makes you look smarter; woe to you who supposed your middle chapter to have been proofread enough. For you, you who tell yourselves you are safe, that publication is assured, that tenure is already granted, that a life Emeritus is yours, the Reviewer’s wrath shall be swift, it shall be just, and it shall be final. From the Reviewer’s dread judgment, you have no appeal; you have angered the acquisitions department, their memory of your underperformance shall not soon be forgotten. There will be no revisions, there will be no re-review.

O sinner! Consider what grave danger you are in! Your entire life, all you have toiled and labored for, all you have forsaken love and prosperity for, will be for naught when the Reviewer has read this thing you call a book! What shall you say on that dread day of judgment when you stand before the tenure committee and account for your deeds? What finite excuse can you possibly offer that can ever overcome the infinite justice of the Reviewer’s rejection? Like a plagiarist before the college’s disciplinary committee you shall be then, only no threat of calling your parents shall hold sway in this tribunal! And how will you plead, when no words can ever compensate for the words of the Reviewer? “I did not know, Dean, it was my first time publishing, Dean, if only someone had told me, the Reviewer would not have judged me so!” O vile perfidy of man! Do you not know that guidance has been given? But you, you have no wish for a Helper, no desire for a Mediator, no thought for an Advisor. And how shall the dread committee answer, with the judgment of the Reviewer placed against you? Do you dare hope, even now, do you hold to your foolish pride, and think you shall be granted an exception, a chance to continue? The reviewer has condemned you to the flames of Adjunct Hell, a dread and dire realm from which there is no escape, a place of misery, a place where those condemned dwell for all eternity without any of the blessings they could have had, were it not for the just wrath of the Reviewer—for they have turned away from the Reviewer, and thus the Reviewer has turned them away. Nothing you can say, nothing you can do, no presentation you can give, no book you can dream to write while teaching six intro classes to keep a roof over your head, can ever deliver you from this pit into which you have been cast; nothing, now that the Reviewer has cast his dread judgment upon you.

And consider whose judgment it is: it is the judgment of the all-wise Reviewer, selected from among all others to evaluate your deeds, most trusted beyond all others when they are found to be completely lacking. If it were only the finite wrath of your colleagues you had to fear, though it be even the department chair, it would be comparatively little regarded. The wrath of Deans is very much dreaded, who have the possessions and lives of their subjects wholly in their power, to be disposed of at their mere will. The junior prof that very much enrages an arbitrary Provost, is liable to suffer the most extreme torments that human art can invent, or human power can inflict. But the greatest earthly administrators in their greatest majesty and strength, and when clothed in their greatest terrors, are but feeble, despicable worms of the dust, in comparison of the great and almighty Reviewers, to whom even the tenured must render an account. All the Deans of the college, before Reviewers, are as grasshoppers; they are nothing, and less than nothing: both their love and their hatred is to be despised. The wrath of the great chosen Reviewer, is as much more terrible than theirs, as his power over you is greater…

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