Dear Editor, why did you reject my piece?

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Chris Fleming asks the eternal question…

It is what writers everywhere ask, submitting their work to journals and editors, risking rejection or, arguably worse … dead silence. Writer and philosopher Chris Fleming asks the eternal question in faraway Sydney, Australia: Dear Editor, why did you reject my piece? And he gets a few answers … kind of.

Dear Author,
Thank you very much for the submission of your piece for our consideration. You can be certain that we receive many submissions – too many, in fact. We’ve discussed at some length how we might cut down on these, but to no avail. (Few besides the successful know the true cost of success, but it would be in unnecessary – and perhaps in poor taste – to rehearse here these reasons, to you.)

Needless to say, we don’t write back to most submitters, which would be impossible in any case, but even if we could, we wouldn’t. And yet we write to you! That is the good news; please enjoy it, as instructed.

The bad news is that we will not publish what you have sent. While your argument is coherent and original and your knowledge of the literature sound, we have been forced to reject the piece on certain grounds, even if the precise nature of those grounds is not yet clear. How to account for this? Do you believe in intuition? It’s too easy to be mysterious about this word, which all sorts of mumbo jumbo is wont to hide behind.

But intuition is the better part of taste, even judgement. We decide first and later rationalize our responses, dignifying them with things we call “reasons,” which gives the impression – most of all to ourselves – of them being causes of a decision; they never are. They are articulations after the fact, fragments collected from a crime scene, momento mori, post-hoc generalizations which answer to some grasping for the explicit.

We could offer such to you, but we desire, above all, to be honest. Needless to say, we have rejected your essay intuitively. To put this another way, you have been rejected on the basis that we couldn’t publish what you have written. We rejected it unanimously. We were in no doubts about it. You had nobody speaking on your behalf: “No,” one of the editors said, after reading your piece, and moved onto something else; “no thanks,” another said. I chimed in, “agreed.” Only one editor spoke on your behalf, although the content of her intervention has been lost and was, in any case, immaterial.

Talmud, Levinas, and unanimity. (Photo: Bracha L. Ettinger)

Thank you, and best luck in your future endeavours. ~The Editors

***
Dear Editors,
Thank you for your letter. I must admit I’m at a loss, however. On the one hand you say that the piece was rejected “unanimously” and then say that an editor spoke on my behalf. This seems inconsistent with any reasonable sense of the term “unanimously.” ~ Author
***

Dear Author,
To be honest, it is not our habit to get involved in these sorts of drawn-out tête-à-tête, but we will make an exception here. It is partly a matter of dignity – not ours, but the correspondent’s. While of course the term “unanimity” in a mathematical sense entails an “all in” with respect to numeration, I was using the term in its ethical sense. In Emmanuel Levinas’s readings of the Jewish wisdom texts he speaks at one point of the Talmudic principle that in a case before a court, a truly unanimous verdict against the accused would, in fact, attest to the defendant’s innocence – whereas a majority decision, a 9 or 8 or 7 or 6 out of 10 in favour of convicting would suggest guilt. Why? – because a mathematical unanimity is less an indication of sincere judgement than a mindless piling on. That a majority convicted the person, and yet not a mathematical unanimity, attests to their guilt. Were we to all have found your piece wanting, it might have suggested that we were merely drones, bloodthirsty fashionistas looking for a scapegoat. If anything, the single voice who advocated for you in fact corroborates the deficiencies in your submission, rather than any evidence of its worth.

Ethically,
The Editors

***

Does Kant get a mention?

Dear Editors,
As far as I can tell “mathematical unanimity” refers to nothing whatsoever. What you are referring to here is simply a “majority decision,” and so your choice of terminology is misleading. That you choose to then turn this into a lesson about Jewish ethics seems entirely beside the point. And that you refrain from citing either the original Talmudic source or Levinas’s commentary adds little confidence in your judgement. Further, numerous majority decisions in courts of law have proved wrong and unjust. In any case, as a writer who is interested in improving their work I’d be interested in what feedback you might have. It may well be the case that not all things are capable of explication – but that nothing at all is simply doesn’t follow.

Regards,
Author
***
Dear Author,
We fear the Levinas reference may have been lost on you. And your request for further details is, however psychologically comprehensible, still undignified. You are like a lover who, after the relationship is terminated, continues to look for “reasons,” to “understand” – and yet all these pleas amount to is a lack of acceptance. You understand perfectly well, but maybe what is needed here is not explication of propositions, but an image or figure that would assist in your process of overcoming denial. To this end, perhaps, for the sake of comprehension, you should imagine an out of focus and long-faded polaroid of a decaying organic object of uncertain provenance.

Yours patiently,
The Editors
***
Dear Editors,
I’m afraid this helps little. Perhaps it is my powers of imagination that have failed me, and this is the reason why my piece has been rejected. But what sense can be made of a decaying polaroid. Not only is this a poor justification; it is terrible poetry.

Regards,
Author

Chris Fleming in Turkey!

***
Dear Author,
We do believe you may be onto something here, although nothing to do with us, this case, or your rejection. Needless to say, we think you might want to pursue it in your own time.

Yours advisingly,
The Editors
***
Dear Editors,

Why did you reject my piece? ~ Author

***
Dear Author,
Thanks for your question. We wish you’d asked it sooner. We are unsure ourselves. We have speculated – and then discounted, and then speculated again – that it may be your relentless use of Times New Roman, your occasional invocation of the perfect present tense, or your unusual abstention from using the word “radical.”

But we already fear we are saying too much. Why this need for reasons? – this ongoing, repressive auto da fé of justification? We resent having to defend ourselves, not only to you, who create so much labour for us, but our shrinking and intellectually dubious readership, our department heads, our wives, our children, our pets, indeed all the children of the earth.

We have problems here. One of the editors refuses to read anything anymore on the grounds that he “smells the jackboot of fascism in words,” while another reads everything but only ever writes a one-line review: “The author has not mentioned Kant.” (This is the case, even when the author mentions Kant.) Further, owing to a certain biochemical imbalance I cannot explain, your article prompted a relapse of several degenerative disorders in those close to me. What can I say? Have you not already done enough harm? Would you like to impose upon us botulism as well? Send us another piece of your writing and you may well get your wish. For now, please leave the editors and our families alone.

Thank you for considering our periodical. We wish you every future success. ~ The Editors

Postscript on January 23: The fun never stops. Read Chris Fleming’s piece in Turkish, “Sayın Editör, yazımı neden reddettiniz?, here.


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3 Responses to “Dear Editor, why did you reject my piece?”

  1. Maddie Newton Says:

    This is the funniest thing I’ve read in about a decade, maybe more.

  2. George Says:

    The rejection letters at the front of Mulligan Stew (didn’t Sorrentino briefly teach at Stanford?) are terser and less self-referential. To the best of my recollection, Mulligan Stew did not mention Kant, though evidently that would have made no difference to this firm.

  3. Diana Senechal Says:

    I love this. Whimsical, full of fun, and scarily true. The ethical discourse on “unanimity” makes wacky sense (and reminds me of some rejection letters I have received, in which it was mentioned that one of the editors particularly liked my piece). I got curious about the Talmudic law and found some interesting commentary here: https://digitalcommons.pace.edu/pilronline/35/.

    This piece also brought back memories of Franz Wright’s letters to the editors of Poetry, e.g.,

    “Dear Editor,
    The blank form rejection was a nice but predictable touch coming from vengeful, petty, reactionary & moridbund [sic] freaks like yourselves. Enjoy your money!
    Franz Wright
    Waltham, Massachusetts”
    (https://www.jstor.org/stable/23068596)

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