Open Letter to Daily Nous, re: Holly Lawford-Smith’s Unread Book

by Moti Gorin


CONTENT NOTE: This Open Letter depicts scenes of rhetorical violence and related violences.

As writers who have both consumed and contributed comments on Daily Nous, we are disheartened, disappointed, deflated, and yet simultaneously righteously energized by editor Justin Weinberg’s recent platforming of a letter written to Oxford University Press on behalf of critics of philosopher Holly Lawford-Smith’s unreleased and unread book, Gender Critical Feminism.

By platforming this letter, which, unlike Lawford-Smith’s book, can be read — having been violently ripped from the realm of the merely possible to the realm of the actual — Weinberg promotes inaccurate stereotypes about unread books, such as the stereotype that they can be understood and assessed. Also, he may contribute to reality-oppressive practices, such as the possible creation of a journal dedicated to the review of unread books. The undersigned, as possible writers of possible books, are concerned, and call for a ban on such possible journals.

The possible risks are real. More troublingly, they are actually possible — some of the writers we like would go further and say the possible risks are immanent. Everyone we like agrees that possible risks can be much worse than actual harms of the sort for which evidence can be provided. This is because possible harms are very difficult to locate. They elude even the most intensive textual deconstruction, revealing themselves only in narratives of lived experience/diaries.

Furthermore, Weinberg’s decision to publish the open letter exhibits an unfortunate ignorance of the fact that even when a book is actual, one cannot always know whether one will ultimately disagree with the main conclusions of a book until after one has read it — a secondary form of violence, “chronological violence of the real” — that victimizes in particular those who start at the beginning and work their way toward the end, page by page, and front to back, rather than from back to front. (We understand that what counts as “front to back” will vary and that Hebrew readers in particular may find this phrase alienating or even eliminationist. We hereby affirm that Hebrew readers exist and that they are no worse [nor better] than non-Hebrew readers, and this holds irrespective of whether the Hebrew writing at issue has actually been or will be written or read.)

Moreover, criticism of as-yet unreleased and unread books is exactly like cancer: both are bad, both are violent, and both can spread. More specifically, such criticism can contribute to rhetorical violence (which we need not remind you is always-already there) against future, possible, unread books and their authors, or possible authors and publishers, or possible publishers. Given the (actual) recent bans on books in some US public schools, bans orchestrated by politically reactionary legislatures and school boards, we worry that Weinberg’s promotion of anti-unread book sentiment may in the current political context even lead to the grisly slaughter of future unthought thoughts.

Moving on from these serious, substantive concerns, the undersigned Daily Nous users also have similarly serious procedural concerns about the manner in which Weinberg published the post. Given the emphasis of the embedded letter on publication practices, we would like to know if Weinberg consulted experts on publication ethics. For example, did he even browse any of the posts on the Retraction Watch site? Did he first read the books and articles we like on this topic? Did he consult with any of the people we are friends with before writing and publishing his post? We personally know and are friends with people who work on publication ethics, very serious scholars who have long histories of defending methodologies and conclusions we endorse, which makes them sound and true, and yet Weinberg didn’t even DM them on Twitter. Does Daily Nous really want to be the kind of blog that platforms anti-unread book violence without at least first consulting our ideological soulmates?

We are not calling for the retraction of Weinberg’s post. That would be anti-intellectual and censorious, and we are intellectuals who definitely don’t want to limit thought or speech, since that would be a right-wing, reactionary thing to do, and we are definitely left-wing, progressive people who deeply value non-violent philosophy books. However, now that we have stated our opposition to censorship and thereby proved it, we do have some demands of Daily Nous:

[1] In the future, only publish posts with content that has been approved by people with whom we agree and, ideally, those we count among our friends. At a minimum, content should be approved by people we’ve asked to coffee at conferences and/or workshops. This applies to possible content and possible friends as well.

[2] Always include follow-up posts that center (or “centre”—we see you UK readers!) opposing views, but only when the follow-up posts are written by those with whom we agree. If the original post is written by someone with whom we agree, then a follow-up post is not required (because one should not follow the truth with lies).

[3] Take some of the profits generated by Daily Nous and donate them to causes we personally endorse. You can start with Retraction Watch.

Moti Gorin teaches philosophy at Colorado State University.


16 responses to “Open Letter to Daily Nous, re: Holly Lawford-Smith’s Unread Book”

  1. F.J. Albetta

    “Let the jury consider their verdict,” the King said, for about the twentieth time that day.
    “No, no!” said the Queen. “Sentence first—verdict afterwards.”
    “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”

  2. I have not left this post unread but I may as well state that I vehemently agree in a qualified way with its contents which are entirely opaque if not mischievous. Which is all to the good, I think.

  3. ‘The undersigned, as possible writers of possible books, are concerned, and call for a ban on such possible journals.’

    Did they actually write this, or is it from a Monty Python skit that I’m not familiar with ?

  4. The whole thing is a spoof.

  5. Bravo – great response to Daily Nous! This is the best way to prick their pomposity.

  6. Nick McAdoo

    Well, that’s a relief to know!

  7. You never know these days ;.)

    Chag pesach sameach, chaver !

  8. And to you, my friend.

  9. Annette Lawson

    Just wondering – will my possible response to this excellent actually written response to a far too long letter by supposedly intelligent minds which may be a spoof, or not, amount to an intelligible actual rather than a possible outcome? Or might I be proving I do not really exist or that I am being eliminated?

  10. Thank you very much 🙂

    How are you doing ?

  11. Very well! Headed to Bloomington Monday to spend my daughter’s 20th birthday with her and then to see the 500 Cycle race, which was featured in one of my favorite movies as a kid: Breaking Away.

  12. Michael Hauskeller

    Good stuff, Moti, thanks for posting.It’s exactly the response the original letters deserve.

  13. venividigrizzly

    Very fun in-group infighting among academia. Let’s clink glasses. Who cares about the trans kids, their parents, or medical providers who are being attacked right now? Why gives a shit?

  14. While I will publish it, I won’t dignify this imbecile comment with a reply.

  15. Only the people determined to protect the “trans kids” FROM their trans-ness actually are doing what is good for them.

  16. venividigrizzly

    Thanks for distilling the authoritarian Right for us.