Kairos FTW!

It was only one issue ago that Kairos unveiled its new design—a remarkable feat accomplished by our stalwart design team of Karl Stolley, Douglas Eyman, and Kathie Gossett and including the tireless work of editorial interns, Ashley Hall and Elizabeth Vincelette, along with assistant editor, Moe Folk, all of whom worked on creating the first-ever Kairos style guide. The design team helped the heart of Kairos come alive in a new look, features, and infrastructure. We hoped readers would like it as much as we did, a hope that was fulfilled when readers on community listservs praised its beauty and improved functionality. But what we didn't expect was praise from those we assumed were non-readers. Around the water cooler in my department, colleagues in creative writing, literature, and linguistics told me how much they liked the new design. And, in an important gain for digital-media scholarship, the journal received praise for its design at the 2008 Modern Language Association convention in San Francisco last month when the Council of Editors of Learned Journals (CELJ), an allied organization of the MLA, acknowledged Kairos with their Best Journal Design Award of 2008.

In praising Kairos, one CELJ judge stated:

[T]he opportune moment ... has come to use the word "awesome." It's a fitting descriptor for the third Kairos design [which] is one of the best I've seen: it's thoughtful, it reflects the on-going possibilities of the Web, it's painlessly accessible, and it skillfully encourages the browser to play [and] explore. ... Kairos truly values design as an integral element, and the staff's hard work steering the evolution of that design over the past 12 years ... has paid off handsomely.

Another judge commented:

Both the old and the new issues of Kairos are Webtext-based formats, allowing authors to be innovative in the design and presentation of content and unbound by a single (or what we may consider traditional) standard. ... The best feature is the visual effect of the redesign. It looks cleaner, more up-to-date, and it is rich with images. Innovation and exploration of technology are clearly what this journal is all about.

We are extremely honored that the CELJ recognized Kairos with this award. It is important to the journal and to the digital writing community that the CELJ judges recognized the mission of and value in Kairos' innovation this past year, considering that just four years ago, the keynote presenter at the 2004 CELJ awards ceremony referred to Kairos as a "journal of low-rung academic fields [e.g., composition studies] whose claims to scholarly legitimacy would in any case be disputed" and that our "preference for 'webtexts' over conventional articles is liable to being read as tacit capitulation to the weakness of [our] field rather than as a sign of exceptional inventiveness" (English, 2005, p. 10). To him, I now say a hearty Bah Humbug! (Or, in our terms, Kairos FTW!! ;)

However far Kairos has come in the last 4 or 12 years, and however much legitimacy digital (media) scholarship has gained in the intervening time, there is still a need to educate, to share, our vision of scholarship—and, apparently still (given backchannel and hallway conversations), of writing studies in general—with the MLA and beyond. Some of you asked me why I was attending MLA, and it was my hope to make the bond between writing studies and languages and literature stronger, and while I am no pessimist, I come away from this MLA wondering whether such a bond (or at least a bridge) is possible. My first moment of doubt?: This year's CELJ keynote speaker concluded the session by suggesting that more online journals should use "hyperlinks." (Seriously?!... and ironic, given that Kairos had just been presented a design award in the same session.)

On further inspection, I realized where the speaker was coming from: James J. "Jim" O'Donnell—author of Avatars of the Word: From Papyrus to Cyberspace (1998), Latin scholar cum vice-provost of information systems at University of Pennsylvania, now provost at Georgetown, and sometime speaker-at-large for things scholarly and digital. He takes a familiar stance regarding digital scholarship, one that Kairos doesn't (and has never) fit. For instance, in discussing the theme of that session, "journals in a digital age," nary was mentioned open-access scholarship or digital media. Instead, the talk focused on closed-access journals appearing in databases such as JSTOR and EBSCO. MLA is making the slow move to embrace digital scholarship; but, as those of us in digital writing recognize, and which Michael Bernard-Donals pointed out so succinctly in his Profession 2008 article rebuttal to the MLA's report on evaluating scholarship, the 2006 report excludes mention of "the nature of scholarship in fields that aren't principally literary-critical in their methodologies" (p. 174). Bernard-Donals specifically mentions rhetoric and composition research, WPA work, and new media issues as being particularly neglected in the report. Agreed. [1]

Some days I can only hope that the journal's vigilance in promoting digital media scholarship is making headway; other days, I feel like we still have a long way to go. Being wait-listed for "Session 1: Evaluating Digital Work for Tenure and Promotion," the workshop that the MLA sponsored through its Committee on Information Technology, was certainly a pisser, but I still hoped the workshop would be more capacious in its definition of digital scholarship than the earlier report had been. However, in the MLA's description of the workshop, they state that "Our facilitators have extensive experience in the evaluation of digital literary scholarship and of work in computer-assisted language learning" (emphasis added). Although I acknowledge that, at the least, MLA recognizes the limitations of what they are able to offer in this workshop, I know the committee wanted to broaden its base of digital scholarship to include creative works (if not new media scholarship coming out of rhetoric and composition). In early December, renowned hypertext author-scholar, member of the IT committee, and congenial Facebook friend, Carolyn Guertin, sent a request to the Electronic Literature Organization (ELO) listserv asking for "materials from someone who has been granted (or denied) tenure on the basis of their creative work in Electronic Lit" (Dec. 9, 2008). I sent notice that the committee could use my in-progress digital tenure portfolio if they wanted, which she relayed to the workshop leaders. It may be innocuous enough that they didn't use the materials, and it is a good sign that someone on the IT committee sponsoring this workshop was thoughtful enough to ask.

Yet, my concerns remain: In exploring workshop materials about hypermedia (e.g., e-literature) as a type of digital work (posted by another committee member, Geoffrey Rockwell), the feelings about non-traditional digital work are evident. Hypermedia, Rockwell writes, is "a nightmare to publish or review, in part because they are original in original ways. Most are therefore either made available online or self-published as there is no viable publishing and review mechanism" (emphasis added). I haven't participated in ELO circles in years but can still name long-established, well-respected online literary magazines that publish editorially reviewed electronic literature: among many others are Born Magazine, The Iowa Review Web, New River, and, of course, the ELO's CD, Electronic Literature Collection, volume 1, which was followed by N. Katherine Hayles' book about the collection. I'm baffled that these creative and scholarly digital publications don't count as viable to some members of the MLA.

As I work on a response article about this narrow view of digital scholarship for next year's Profession (due in March), please let me know if you have any anecdotal or institutional information you can contribute to this work. I do know that as I waiver on attending MLA in the future (and, ahem, CCCC) because of its oversight on non-literary, non-alphabetic use of technologies in the humanities, I also know that I have a community of authors and readers to represent and promote. I guess that my New Year's resolution to stay off committees for a while might have to be broken. See you at CCCC and MLA. ;)


[footnote 1]
Bernard-Donals also makes an important connection between the underrepresentation of non-orthodox methodologies in the report with the underrepresentation of scholars of color who achieve tenure. I encourage you to read his whole article and welcome Disputatio responses that further engage this, and other, issues. For an example of responses to similar issues in the field, please watch theamishaugur's video, "English Downfall," in the Disputatio section. I warn you not to be drinking anything when you watch this video; it may induce a spit-take. It's even funnier to me knowing that the theme of this Hitler meme closely follows the dialogue of the original movie. Of course, not everyone finds Hitler memes funny, but for those invested in the status and representation of rhetoric and composition as well as multimodal/new media composition within English departments and the MLA, the issues this video raises will be familiar.

Another issue that this video raises is that of anonymously publishing Disputatio pieces. This is not our preferred policy, as we believe the strongest arguments and manifestos can be made when readers understand the role and context of the author and can begin a conversation with her or him. However, in this case—an author participating in a job search (from which vantage point, we won't declare)—we believed anonymity to be the best option. If you had an MLA experience that seemed close to this text's representation, or if you had a wonderful, cohesive experience, let us hear from you. Disputatio texts, as with all Kairos webtexts, are reviewed and accepted on a rolling basis.


Bernard-Donals, Michael. (2008). It's not about the book. Profession 2008, 172-184.

English, James. (2005). Scholarly journals in the digital age: Old versus new forms of inquiry. Journal of Scholarly Publishing 37(1), 8-16.