Paper rejected, or at least not quite accepted... The editors suggest I send a revised version—but I'll try elsewhere I guess. Here's a preliminary version in Spanish.
Dear Professors Randall and McKim,
Thank you for your answer concerning the paper I sent to Narrative Works,
"Consilience and Retrospection." I have found interesting suggestions
and an encouragement for my work in the readers' reports you send,
which to me are overall positive, even if they don't quite encourage
the publication of my paper in the journal due in part to its line of
concerns. Thank you also for your recommendation of Mark Freeman's book
on hindsight; this is an author I enjoy but I did not know this
particular reference, so that's a treat in store. As to the scope of
the journal, I sent the paper to Narrative Works
precisely because of its interdisciplinary approach, so I can't agree
that this is not a paper for this journal, but of course it is for the
editors to choose the range of interdisciplinary concerns they want to
address. The narrativity issue the paper deals with might of course be
further developed, but that is a task for other papers (or volumes!),
and I feel this one needs the backgrounding and preliminary approach to
which I devote the early and mid sections. The reviewers' assessments
are judicious and reasonable, only I do not think I will be able to
send a revised version— in my case, revised versions tend to become not
only too long, but also I can't help moving into different directions
and writing a different paper altogether. So if I eventually get to
write another paper on a similar issue perhaps I'll try again with Narrative Works,
but I am afraid I am too busy with other things at the moment; so I
suppose in the case of this paper I will stick to its present form and
send it to another journal or self-publish it. Which is a pity from my
point of view because I did think it might belong with your journal—but
at least I have seen from your readers' comments that my writing on
these issues has some value and may merit the attention of scholars
working in this area. So I thank you for your attention, and your
readers for their kind and useful assessment of my paper, and look
forward to some further collaboration in the future.
Jose Angel Garcia Landa
Dear Professor Landa,
Thank you for your submission to Narrative Works.
Inserted below, you will find two reviews of your manuscript. Both
reviewers describe your paper with such positive phrases as
“well-written,” “learned,” “stimulating,” and “stylistically honed.” We
agree with their assessment; however, we also share their concern about
whether Narrative Works is, in fact, the appropriate place for this
paper. We would ask you, then, to consider these two reviews carefully,
especially the comments made by Reviewer #1 regarding the positioning
of your discussion of narrative much earlier in the paper, to make it
clearer to readers of the journal how your thinking contributes to our
understanding of the narrative dimensions of human life. Regarding your
discussion of “hermeneutical hindsight,” among the sources you might
draw on would be Mark Freeman’s Hindsight: The Promise and Peril of Looking Backward (Oxford, 2010).
We would be delighted to publish
your essay should you wish to revise it in light of the reviewers’
recommendations. Should you decide to do so, we would ask that you
indicate precisely the extent of your revisions and how you have
addressed the reviewers' concerns.
If possible, please return a revised version of your manuscript to us by October 1.
If you have any questions
regarding next steps, please feel free to contact us. We look forward
to hearing from you in due course.
Bill Randall & Beth McKim
This is an interesting,
well-written article that explores some important ideas. The main
question I have concerns its appropriateness (in its present form) for
The opening pages lead to a
“quandary” of sorts relating to Gould, in particular, and disciplinary
boundaries more generally. By the author’s account, Gould is
“defending both the absence of any sharp dichotomies [between the
sciences and the humanities], and the separate cognitive realms of
science on one hand and the humanities on the other.” The question,
therefore, is whether there might be a “meeting point, or an interface,
or at least an arena for debate” (p. 5). From there we are
introduced to the special significance of “hindsight bias which results
from our experiencing and interpreting phenomena as a temporal
sequence, reworked and reelaborated by memory and attention.” As the
author goes on to note, this “bias” can and indeed often does yield
insight owing to the “superior perspective” from which interpretation
occurs. But it can also result in “undue simplifications of
complex processes, ascribing them to one cause where there is an
undecidable overdetermination of a complex vectoring of causes” (p.
7). This is but one potentially ill consequence of hindsight
bias. There are others as well.
Having identified this bias, the
author draws further on Gould, who underscores the potential value of
narrative explanations not only in the humanities but also the
sciences. Given the history of disciplinary specialization, Gould has
suggested, there has been some reluctance to embrace the narrative
mode. But there is no denying its utility in coming to terms with
complex historical phenomena. As for the idea of consilience, as
put forth by E.O. Wilson, it is, on Gould’s account, less a process of
reconciliation and rapprochement than it is one of reductively
assimilating (aspects of) the humanities to the realm of science.
As above, much of the material being explored in this section of the
paper is interesting and significant. But with the exception of
the fairly brief reference to hindsight bias and narrative explanation,
it’s not entirely clear how it fits the central concerns of the
It’s not until page 17 that
narrative really enters the picture. For, what we learn is that
“Consilience . . . has a narrative-hermeneutic dimension, and is
approachable as a concept relevant to cognitive narratology.”
It’s still not clear how this (important) issue bears upon the
difference between Wilson’s and Gould’s points of view on the concept
of consilience. Is the idea that Wilson’s scientific/scientistic
“supremacism” insufficiently recognizes the narrative dimension of
scientific understanding by virtue of its reductionism? One might
argue that Wilson’s view -- however problematic it may be – represents
a classic hindsight move: all of those goings-on that the
humanities had claimed for its own can be assimilated to the scientific
gaze. Gould’s view is different, I realize. But what,
finally, is the significance of this difference? And how does it
relate to the retrospection issue? I suppose the article
represents something of a Gouldian plea for narrative understanding as
the most appropriate mode of understanding for coming to terms with an
unpredictable world. But it would be good to know more about what
the author most wants to say as s/he draws the essay to a close.
It would also be useful, for the purposes of this journal, for him/her
to say a bit more about how these issues bear upon our conception and
understanding of human beings.
In sum: this is an
interesting, learned article that pursues some important questions
about the relationship between science and the humanities. It
takes a while for the piece to explicitly address ideas pertinent to
the journal. And even when it does so it’s not quite clear (to
this reader at any rate) what the author most wants to say.
Finally, as important as the science/humanities issue is, it would be
useful, again, for the author to say more about how his/her version of
consilience might bear upon our understanding of human beings. By
way of note, the author mentions the work of Paul Ricoeur at one
point. What Ricoeur has to say in Time and Narrative
is of course relevant. So too is his work on metaphor (e.g., his
notion of metaphorical “rapprochement”), his later reflections on the
relationship between life and narrative (e.g., the idea of emplotment
as a “synthesis of the heterogeneous”), and his more general insistence
on narrative as the privileged path for explicating human
temporality. Making some additional contact with Ricoeur or other
narrative theorists might do well to address these concerns.
This is a learned and insightful
essay. The author obviously is a “fox” with a broad horizon of
interests that meander into many disciplines and fields of knowledge,
including theory of knowledge, philosophy and history of science,
critical studies of science, epistemology, evolutionary biology,
primatology, intellectual history, and Greek philosophy. What is more,
all of this is embedded into a broad literary culture and interests in
narrative theory. Strictly speaking, the format of this essay is that
of commentary on Stephen Jay Gould’s The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Magister's Pox: Mending the Gap between Science and the Humanities.
But Gould's latest book, and especially its discussion of E. O.
Wilson’s notion of consilience, serves more as a spring board for
wide-ranging reflections on how we can combine the so-called two
cultures of the humanities and the sciences across all the different
fields just mentioned. I personally enjoyed reading this stimulating
piece, and part of my pleasure was that it is well written and
My only question is whether this is an article that works for Narrative Works.
I don’t know the answer. On the pro side stands that, with articles
like this one, the journal would doubtless extend its intellectual
scope and raise its scholarly standards – which, to my mind, would be
worthwhile. On the side of the concerns: I am not sure if the readers
of Narrative Works are really the readers of this essay (and if the
author is well advised to publish his work in this journal), not least
because it is not really about a narrative issue. It addresses
narrative as one of its many issues – suggesting a reading of
consilience as a narrative-hermeneutic concept with a potential
relevance for cognitive narratology. But then, this suggestion is made
on p. 25, that is, at the very end of the paper.
In case the editors and the author
consider publication in the journal – and, in principle, I would
recommend its publication – I wonder, however, if it would not be more
appropriate to give center stage to its “narrative point,” that is to
the idea of re-interpreting consilience as a notion of narrative
understanding. This idea, I think, is most promising and original.
Unfortunately it’s only hinted at in the present version.
Presenting and discussing it might also include some kind of example,
case study, or illustration – some edible flesh to the bones of
concepts, as promising as they may be.