Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Gatekeeper is Dead, Long Live the Gatekeeper

Mr. Spiegelman
About a week ago, I attended a lecture delivered by Willard Spiegelman, who teaches literature as SMU, edits the Southwest Review (the lit journal run by the school) and contributes pieces regularly to the Wall Street Journal. In his lecture, he briefly mentioned the future of the Southwest Review in the digital age, saying, as I recall, that while the publication must adapt and enter the digital sphere (and plans to do so) he hopes to perpetuate the dead-tree version long after he steps down from his position. When questioned later by a student, Spiegelman confessed his love of printed literature to be mainly tactile. And I share this sentiment, though I would add that, digital search functionality notwithstanding, I have often found passages in print more readily than digital when their significance donned on me after the opportune moment to dog-ear or highlight had passed.

But this is neither here nor there. I asked Spiegelman a follow-up question that relevant to Areopagetica. "While I love the democratization of production and distribution offered by the digital world, gatekeepers play an important role in the cultivation and legitimization of culture: promoting works that an unstudied reader might overlook and filtering the deluge of poorly constructed arguments, narratives and essays so we don't have to..." Spiegelman seemed pleased with the question I was about to ask, and hastened to affirm the ongoing need for qualified gatekeepers.

While I agree with Milton that gatekeepers are often illegitimate authorities - inferior to the thinkers whose work they judge - I can't entirely dismiss the role of a good editor or a judicious patron. I don't suppose Milton would either; his argument seems centered on the threat of intellectual and artistic tyranny. But my vision for digital publishing closely mirrors a representative democracy, or republic.

But that's a topic for another post...


  1. That was you that posed that question? I liked that one. He was overeager to answer it.

  2. As someone studying to be an editor, the idea of censorship and the roles it plays in our world today have made me really think about these issues. I had never thought of editors of being censors until this class but they are to a degree. It's an interesting dilemma because without regulation, I feel that good literature wouldn't become good without editors. I don't know. It's tricky.