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Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Essay: Are You An Academic In A Hurry? Be Prepared to Wait Twenty Five Years


Academic work is a slow business, academic publishing was always crushingly slow, and the reception of academic work even slower. The chronology which follows may give dubious comfort to those who wonder if there will ever be a day when …

Academic year 1971 – 1972: As a Leverhulme scholar, I attend lectures by Claude Lévi-Strauss at the Collège de France in Paris. He takes as his subject for the year the plastic art of the American / Canadian North West coast Indian tribes. I take notes.

1975: The Geneva publisher Albert Skira publishes an elegant, heavily illustrated two volume work based on the lectures titled La Voie des Masques

1979: The Paris publisher Plon publishes a cheaper one volume version which I buy

1982: A Vancouver publisher brings out a translation by Sylvia Modelski titled The Way of the Masks

1983: The London publisher Jonathan Cape brings out Modelski’s translation, and I buy it.

1984: The editor of a student magazine published by the Philosophy Society at the University of Sussex, where I am teaching, asks me to contribute something and I do a review/essay based on Modelski’s translation and title it “The Dialogue of  Masks”. The journal is called Aletheia and my essay appears in issue 4, pages 16 – 22. I argue that in relation to the standard structuralist formula A:B::C:D (A is to B as C is to D) there is a missing fourth term in Lévi-Strauss’s analysis. You would be very lucky to find a copy of this journal!




2003: I add the 1984 article, with a few small changes, to my academic website www.selectedworks.co.uk which at the time was unusual in allowing free download access to unabridged work

2009: In a Serbian journal published in French, Problèmes d’ethnologie et d’anthropologie, nouvelle série, vol. 4, nr. 2, pp 121 -134, Senka Kovač  publishes an article “Claude Lévi-Strauss: le masque et le mythe” which includes an extensive summary of my essay: for example,  seven paragraphs begin with the word “Pateman”. I come across this article in 2017

2012: In a French journal Gradhiva, published by the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris, Baptiste Gille publishes a long essay (pages 216 – 39) “Le visage des Bébés des eaux et des Gens du ciel. Nouvelles perspectives sur les masques swaihwé”.This also makes some use of my 1984 essay. I come across this article in 2017

But for the Internet, this little piece of work - just a few pages -  would never have lived: the student journal publication could be reckoned as a bit like auto-destructive art. Since website publication in 2003, it has been discussed twice, but the first time in  2009 was twenty five years after the original 1984 publication.


I'm still hoping that one day the hours sweated on "Liberty, Authority and the Negative Dialectics of John Stuart Mill" will be rewarded by  a reader :)

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