METM22 Chronicles: Luigi Russi

“Owners” of the final draft: the role of dialogue in helping authors claim their text

I knew as I entered the session hall that I could expect Luigi Russi’s talk on improving dialogue in the editorial encounter to be relevant to my work as an authors’ editor. Any METM session declaring its aims with the words “open up a space to recognize editors’ and translators’ roles in helping authors ‘own’ their texts” must speak to the needs of the professionals in the room. Effective author editing depends on how well the author and editor are able to communicate about what a manuscript needs. Indeed, most of us have spent years growing these professional relationships through our mastery of rhetorics: we know how to teach, cajole, argue, praise, make appeals to the discourse community and cite authority. And because we are the author’s ally, working with them in their camp, we know a thing or two about the art of dialogue. But unless we have published peer-reviewed work, many of us are unaware of how it feels to inhabit the skin of someone whose research writing is being critiqued – often reworked – by someone else. Instead, we trust to our empathic imagination and, if we’re lucky, to our MET colleagues who have undergone the process to fill in the blanks for us (see Oliver Shaw’s eye-opening METM22 talk and chapter).

Michelangelo Caravaggio

Enter Luigi Russi, freelance editor, journal editor, research convenor and sociologist of organizations. Homing in on the phenomenology of the editorial encounter – the editors’ and authors’ lived experience of editing and being edited – Luigi provided us with just the kind of granular “how it feels” information we need to deepen our dialogic interactions with authors. Opening with a life-sized image of Caravaggio’s Boy Bitten by a Lizard and the words “On ‘being edited’, or how to receive a bite”, Luigi invited us to “feel how it feels” to be the author in the scenario. When the editor “bites” and sudden pain punctuates the editorial encounter, does the author pull away in defensive reactivity as Caravaggio’s boy, or do they open themselves to the editorial bite in unthinking surrender to it? What can we do to instil in our clients the kind of dialogic playfulness necessary to productive revision after editorial review?

Walking us through four vignettes culled from ethnographic research conducted with Özüm Uçok-Sayrak of Duquesne University with support from a MET Small Grant for Research (subsequently published), Luigi brought us deep into the thicket of four different authors’ initial responses to journal editors’ reviews. First, a thick description of two authors’ defensive reactions to an editor’s rewrite of a conclusion, changes to a title, and substantial additions. Next, two more distanced responses where the author began to “own” or “try on” the editor’s interventions, allowing for a creative and efficacious rewrite from a completely different angle. Quoting philosopher George Bataille on the incommensurable difference between cooking and eating – between creating something and consuming it – Luigi wondered how often authors go straight into gobbling up the edit “voraciously” instead of taking their time to re-cook their texts creatively.

Judging from the excited responses in the room, Luigi’s talk struck at the heart of the relationships we cultivate with our editorial clients. A flurry of questions and comments for Luigi and cross-talk between professionals ensued, centering on the dialogic relationships authors’ editors, as opposed to journal editors, cultivate in their editorial encounters. A number of us whiled away the next session deep in conversation with Luigi. Our hope is that he and Uçok-Sayrak will one day extend their research to the dialogic ethics practiced by authors’ editors.

This METM22 presentation was chronicled by Theresa Truax-Gischler.

Featured photo by METM22 photographer Jone Karres, embedded image from Wikipedia (public domain).

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