On the very idea of an “edited volume”

I received word recently that the editor and contributor copies of Agamben’s Philosophical Lineage, the volume I co-edited with Carlo Salzani, would be coming out soon. I am excited for it to be available, because I think it will serve as a very useful reference volume for readers of Agamben who want to get a handle on his many interlocutors. And I am also excited to have my own hard copy, because that will mean that this project, which I have been working on to varying degrees for around two years, will be officially completed.

When I told The Girlfriend that I was excited to get my copy of “the edited volume” soon, she asked for clarification as to what project I was referring to. It isn’t that she doesn’t know about it — she was privy to every petty detail of the process, with special emphasis on the handful of things that didn’t go according to plan — but that the term wasn’t very intuitive to her as a “civilian.” Getting this outsider’s perspective, it struck me as a weirdly undescriptive term: why don’t we call it an “essay collection” or, in my case, a “reference volume” or something like that? Why highlight the one aspect — the “editing” — that jumps out least to readers, who are presumably interested in the work for its content, regardless of who recruited contributors and worked directly with the press?

And then it hit me: we call it an “edited volume” because of where it would fall on the CV of the academic(s) who will gain the most prestige from the exercise. It’s not about what’s inside the “edited volume” or what people are after when they consult it — it’s about whose name is on the cover. And my proof of this is that there is one case where we designate an edited volume by another name: a festschrift. In that case, the greatest prestige goes to the person in honor of whom the festschrift is presented, not the editor(s), and so its status as festshrift overshadows its status as an edited volume for naming purposes.

One thought on “On the very idea of an “edited volume”

  1. True but we often don’t call it an “edited volume” unless we’re crediting ourselves, or someone, with editing it. I (an academic like you) would be at least as likely to call it a “collection of essays.”

Comments are closed.