CHWP A.15 Heimpel, "Legitimizing Electronic Scholarly Publication: A Discursive Proposal"

3. Metaphor as Strategy

By retaining the concept of publication to describe "high-quality textual content" in the new electronic environments, the scholarly community has implicitly already rejected a hard-break approach on the conceptual, or better, on the metaphorical level. In order words, our task is to legitimate the metaphor: WEBPAGES ARE PUBLICATIONS. Of course, this is not at all a unique or unusual approach, but quite a normal and natural linguistic "strategy." As Lakoff and Johnson have argued convincingly in Metaphors We Live By, metaphors and the coherence among metaphors constitute the very grounding of our "human reality." By allowing us to understand one kind of experience in terms of another – usually an abstract concept in terms of a more physical concept – metaphors make sense of our world and, indeed, make it what it is:

Each culture must provide a more or less successful way of dealing with its environment, both adapting to it and changing it. Moreover, each culture must define a social reality within which people have roles that make sense to them and in terms of which they can function socially. Not surprisingly, the social reality defined by culture affects its conception of physical reality. What is real for an individual as a member of a culture is a product both of his social reality and of the way in which that shapes his experience of the physical world. Since much of our social reality is understood in metaphorical terms, and since our conception of the physical world is partly metaphorical, metaphor plays a very significant role in determining what is real for us. (Lakoff and Johnson 1980: 146)

Clearly, there is nothing arbitrary, relativistic or decorative about the determination of metaphors: it is a matter of power and social control. That the literal concept of publication has been associated with publication on paper by a professional printing press since the middle of the 15th century is not at all a chance or random event. Rather, it is a case of the expression of specific social, political and economic investments, in all senses of the term, in Gutenberg's invention.

Yet even before metaphors can become accepted concepts or beliefs, they must dethrone other metaphors. In short, they must be deployed as successful speech acts, if only to eventually be cast as obvious and "real." To phrase it somewhat differently, the metaphor WEBPAGES ARE PUBLICATIONS is a specific instance of a jeu de langage which can potentially legitimize e-publications on the WWW.[11] However, in 1999, I can state without reservations that this game is far from won. There is hardly any danger of dethroning, deforming or reforming the literal sense of publication (i.e. p-publication) in the near future. But this does not mean that there are not perhaps other strategies, that is, other jeux de langage capable of legitimizing scholarly and scientific e-publication. As Jean-François Lyotard reminds us: "tout énoncé doit être considéré comme un 'coup' fait dans un jeu" (Lyotard 1979: 23).

4. Defining Publication in the Electronic Age

One of the principal difficulties associated with extending the concept of publication to include Internet-based e-publication is that the term publication is already being used by a watershed of new media which all proclaim themselves publications or publishing media. This Babel of new terminology has raised considerable doubts as to which formal characteristics make a document a publication and which media are in fact publishing media. For example, consider the distinctions proposed in 1994-95 by the designers of the Electronic Publications Pilot Project (EPPP) of the National Library of Canada (NLC):

For EPPP purposes, an electronic publication is a document resulting from formal publishing activities in which the information is encoded, accessed, and made intelligible by using a computer. This definition includes:

documents distributed in multiple copies on physical media, such as compact disks, CD-ROMs, diskettes and magnetic tapes; and

documents that reside on host computers and are accessible over a communications network. (EPPP 1997)

Since the NLC is already acquiring and processing electronic publications on physical media, only the second category of electronic publications (networked or on-line publications) was studied. The project excluded certain types of documents available on the Internet, including electronic mail, Web documents that did not have the characteristics of traditional publications, some Gopher sites, on-line databases, file transfer protocol archives, and bulletin board systems (EPPP 1997).

My point is that "electronic publication" remains a fairly soft concept. As a result, it is easy to understand why scholars, whose reputation and power depends on their publications list,[12] are concerned by the mass and chaotic appropriation of the concept of publication by new e-media and e-genres.

Of course, it is only quite recently, after all, that the concept of publishing was extended to include desktop publishing. Nonetheless, desktop publishing has not been viewed as a formidable challenge to the sovereignty of p-publication since the thrust of the change affects the prepress process only and does not therefore imply changes in the nature or use of the support, that is, paper; nor does it necessarily affect how publications are marketed and distributed; or even how "gatekeepers" carry out their quality-control measures. This is why, in the case of the JAIR discussed earlier, scholars did not react negatively to the distribution of peer-reviewed articles in Postscript format. In short, as a form of electronic typesetting, desktop publishing implies a redistribution of labour, but does not disrupt or revolutionize the social aspects of the publishing process. Desktop publishing does not alter our Western typographic "rules of the game". In fact, desktop publishing would be more accurately described as desktop prepress.

Since the mid-nineties, there has been an exponential increase in the use of publication metaphors. For example, today's word processors often include programs called "Internet publishers" or include file commands such as "Publish HTML, SGML" and others. These new publication metaphors have in large part replaced the notion of "file formats" and "file handling operations" (ex. reformatting, save as, etc.). Of course, only certain file formats such as the HTML and SGML presentation mark-up languages are deemed worthy of the term publication. Now, as with desktop prepress, the very formatting (cf. format) of documents is considered publication.[13]

Likewise, the CD-ROM is also "published" by so-called "CD-ROM publishers." The struggle for control of the publication metaphor is ongoing not only between print and electronic media, but also between competing electronic, or digital technologies. In an article entitled "The Changing Face of CD-ROMs," published in Publish magazine in February 1998, the author writes:

Putting CD-ROMs in a publishing context is a bit tricky. "The death of the CD-ROM has been greatly exaggerated" might be a start, but it wouldn't be quite right: the popularity of CD-ROM as a publishing medium is, in fact, eroding rapidly. Only a couple of years ago, CD-ROM books, magazines, and catalogs were promising projects, offering designers and publishers a means to integrate reflective editorial content with the latest interactive technologies. But although the Internet has eclipsed the CD-ROM as the preferred platform for interactive publishing, CD-ROM is still a practical medium for certain publishing projects. (Greenberg 1998: 67, my emphasis)

The author typically does not offer any explanation as to why CD-ROMs should be considered publications, but rather simply states their relevance to publishing, and this, not once, but five times in this brief passage. Implicitly nonetheless, the argument one can deduce is that a medium that can be used to make public and disseminate the content of "books, magazines, and catalogs" is, all other questions of specificity and process aside, a publication medium. Not surprisingly, a large part, if not most CD-ROM publishing, is undertaken by the multimedia departments of large publishing houses.

Even while public attention has been closely focused on Internet hypermedia and multimedia technology in recent years, the concepts of printing and publishing have also been the subject of rapid technological change in the printing industry (cf. publishing industry). As Frank Romano, the founder of Electronic Publishing magazine, writes:

Winston Churchill once said that the United States and Great Britain were two great nations divided by a common language. Sometimes the printing and publishing industries seem to be in the same predicament. Suppliers use terminology to their own end and users are not always savvy enough to challenge them. Also, technology is changing so fast that terminology is often a blur as it tries to keep up with rampant change. (Romano 1998: 14)

Romano goes on to define a series of closely interrelated terms, including digital printing, direct imaging, variable printing, on-demand printing, distributed printing, digital press and workflow and, last but not least, print. He reminds us that "[l]ike all terms, we can make print mean what we want" (Romano 1998: 14). Here is the Nietzschean seduction, the "will to power" expressed in the determination of the meaning and value of the term print. Romano continues: "So let us all make it mean the communication of information via spots on paper, data on disks, or pixels on video screens, produced with digital technology" (Romano 1998: 14). This sentence seems less a definition than it is an exhortation of a minor prophet of the print world urging us through the difference-leveling logic of the metaphor, PRINT IS COMMUNICATION OF INFORMATION, to radically redefine print and publication to include all of the members of the new "digital family."

Compare this assertive strategy to the negative rhetoric of the integration strategies of the past that introduced us to the wireless, the cordless telephone and the horseless carriage. Strangely, perhaps, the term paperless publication has not really been used with respect to electronic publication. Rather, it has a narrower usage, most often used to express practical concerns about the waste and cost of paper. Manufacturers of scanners, for example, have been quick to employ terms like the paperless office or the paperless cubicle.[14] If paperless is not associated with electronic publication, it is likely due to the fact that it is bound up with the idea of storing private papers for personal, or at least non-public use.

And so while the World Wide Web may be the most popular, accessible, universal and affordable means of electronic publication, as we have seen, it is manifestly not alone in its claim to publication status. The surplus of expressions used to refer to web publication speaks to its mass appeal: electronic publication, online publication, network publication, Internet publication, digital publication, virtual publication, web publication. Not all web pages are publications in the narrow sense favoured by scholars and scientists. Yet for web insiders, and especially for "wired academics," it is clear which sites constitute publications in the narrow sense, as defined as analagons or extensions of scholarly publications on paper. However, for many people, the differences between web genres are far from obvious. "What seemed fairly simple in the world of print (for example, knowing the difference between a publication and a private letter) begins to be more complicated in a medium where formal discourse and chit-chat flow in the same pipeline" (Scholarly Journals 1998: Ch. 12).

Web genres are nonetheless slowly taking form; web readers are becoming more sophisticated. For example, homepages, which are perhaps the oldest and most well-known web genre, do not usually invoke the publication metaphor. Rather, one often hears: "I have a homepage"; "I put up a homepage," but very rarely "I publish a homepage." The leading metaphor of the web is spatial: the website. "What is the address of your site?" "What is CBC Newsworld's address?" Still, the public, including scholars, is slowly coming to differentiate among "net graffiti," formal e-publications, and the tumultuous and voluminous "everything in between." In the next few years, I predict that web genres will develop to the point where fears about confusing a scholarly e-publication with "network chatter" will seem almost as absurd as the reaction of Orsen Welles' listeners who mistook a simple radio presentation of War of the Worlds for a Martian invasion.

5. Beyond the Publication Principle

The use of the term publication to describe the many new supports of the hypermedia, multimedia and printing industries is an essentially efficient use of a metaphorical strategy. Yet at best, these publication metaphors only tell half the story, because metaphors invariably emphasize similarities over differences in the conceptual fields compared. Differences, as Lakoff and Johnson demonstrate in Metaphors We Live By, are not so much absent as they are overshadowed, or overpowered by similarities:

The very systematicity that allows us to comprehend one aspect of a concept in terms of another (e.g. comprehending an aspect of arguing in terms of battle) will necessarily hide other aspects of the concept. In allowing us to focus on one aspect of a concept (e.g. the battling aspects of arguing), a metaphorical concept can keep us from focusing on other aspects of the concept that are inconsistent with that metaphor. (Lakoff and Johnson 1980: 10)

Defining publication in the electronic age has, thus far, been an exercise in repression, denial or, at the very least, deferral. And whereas the term publication and its cognates may be overused, the specificity of new publication technologies has remained sadly under-represented.

What has been denied or deferred in metaphors of electronic publication today is, for me, exactly what urgently needs to be communicated and legitimized or, in a word, protected. Instead of attempting to smuggle in the new in the Trojan guise of the old, a metaphor – a language game (jeu de langage) – is needed that would allow the specific advantages of the electronic medium to be highlighted, appreciated and developed. The approach that I am proposing is neither technological or design-oriented, nor does it require the suspension of disbelief, as with Harnad's subversive proposal. My proposal is discursive and therefore political and ideological: we need to rethink and re-represent electronic publishing conceptually and, by extension, metaphorically. This will be a considerable undertaking, but I would at least like to set the stage for further research, discussion and experimentation along these lines.

Consider, by way of analogy, the emergence and legitimization of artistic photography in nineteenth-century France. Artists were originally denied the right to express themselves through the photographic medium since the "soulless machine" was seen as severely limited: the camera could only produce exact copies of the physical world, not interpretations or representations. How could photographers claim rights to the "real"? Soon, however, the notion of technique emerged. Technique implies personality, and personality and reputation are protected in French civil law. "Photography appears a second time. The 'Soulless machine' becomes the vehicle of the 'Soul of Man' whose essence is private property" (Tagg 1998: 113).

But what, correlatively, will be the protected value of scientific and scholarly e-publication? My proposal is hardly subversive. In fact, it is a metaphor that darts in and out of many formal statements on the subject of online publication: SCHOLARLY PUBLISHING WEBSITES ARE COMMUNITIES. Despite the fact that web pages are merely copies requested manually, by clicking on a mouse, they are conceived in spatial terms. Community is a logical metaphor for this space since it represents space that is always already socialized and codified: communities are legitimate social formations. In today's society, most communities possess a de facto right to protected status, unlike the complex and arguably underdefined concept of electronic scholarly publication.[15]

With respect to the technology required, creating online scholarly communities could be simply a matter of emphasizing the relation between electronic publications and their community-based online environments, such as online discussion boards and listservs, conference announcements, site archives and feedback pages. Of course, many electronic scholarly publications have already integrated such features, even though they have not chosen to emphasize the community metaphor. The oldest scholarly electronic publication, Postmodern Culture (PMC, 1990- ),[16] offers a listserv, a feedback page and even a feedback archive. Applied Semiotics/ Sémiotique appliquée (AS/SA) offers a very practical and well-presented resource page called "Sites of Significance for Semiotics." Attracting users is the first step to establishing the community qua readership which make scholarly e-publications the dynamic media that they are. Early Modern Literary Studies (EMLS) offered a listserv, but also invited readers to participate in the Humanist Discussion Group (Humanist), a very important and useful list for humanists, and others. It is interesting to note that none of these exemplary publications identifies itself, that is, metaphorizes itself as an online community in its introductory remarks. Certainly, they fulfill the role of community significantly better than the paper "write journal"[17] does or ever did. Yet Postmodern Culture does not include any prefacial remarks at all; AS/SA introduces itself as an "academic journal" and as a "revue de recherche"; and EMLS presents itself as a "formal arena for scholarly discussion and as an academic resource for researchers in the area." The use of traditional metaphors represents, as I see it, missed opportunities to help establish the protected status of scholarly e-publications as online scholarly communities.

An electronic publication is not merely a paper publication in disguise or an upbeat vanity press. Scholarly e-publications are specialized virtual communities, places to engage in discussions, to test ideas and to publish texts (cf. papers). They are safe places, dynamic places, good places. Reconceiving scholarly electronic publications in this way would, in my view, be an important step in moving beyond the publication principle.

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[11] See Lyotard 1979 and  Lyotard 1982.

[12] See Unwin 1998: "On the other hand, publication nourishes - and is perhaps nourished by - that spectacular modern invention, the curriculum vitae. The art of the successful curriculum vitae in academe is intimately bound up with the art of achieving a lengthy list of publications, so much so that it has now become common practice to list absolutely everything one has ever published, right down to the shortest and most trivial book review. Such indeed is the pressure to publish, that bogus references to published material, or elastic use of the terms 'in press' and 'forthcoming', have become all too frequent on academic job applications. Alternatively, vertiginous lists of entirely genuine publications may often conceal tricks and sleight of hand in their presentation. There must be a dozen ways of legitimately listing an item twice in a curriculum vitae, and there is as well the now standard practice of double publication (where a piece is published first as an article, then as a chapter in a book). It could be interesting to do an in-depth study of the 'mythology' of the curriculum vitae, in Barthesian mode, with its implicit cult of the individual and its sub-text equating productivity (the absolute value) with quality. Such a study could concentrate on the technique of listing, which gives a veneer of credibility to even the most minor texts or activities (often equating unpublished conference papers or private reports with genuine printed material, for example), and it might look at the historical and social causes for the incredible rise of the curriculum vitae as a genre."

[13] Similarly, related terms such as document no longer only refer to print documents. Whereas a few years ago the term file was predominant when referring to word processing content, today the term document has largely replaced it. Furthermore, the term document refers not only to text-based content, but also to sound, image and video content.

[14] For example, see Diehl 1996.

[15] In a recent search of Altavista (Nov. 29, 1998 <URL:>) for documents in English (only), "community" was by far the most frequently occurring word among other leading "values" in today's society: "publication" (4,664,640), "money" (7,609,768), "sex" (8,739,716), "community" (17,328,655).

[16] See Postmodern Culture, Applied Semiotics/ Sémiotique appliquée's "Sites of Significance for Semiotics," Early Modern Literary Studies; and the Humanist Discussion Group.

[17] See Kling and Covi 1995. The authors use this term to describe journals in which scholars publish, but to which they seldom return (except to reread their own material). They represent the anti-thesis of the community-based model adopted – but not promoted per se – by scholarly e-publications.