Over break I am trying to do some “remedial theory” reading to keep up with the Newest Latest in anthropological work. One of the books that I am slowly working through is David Graeber’s Toward an Anthropoogical Theory of Value. It’s difficult for me to get into because I’ve never been very interested in value. I worked with many of the same professors that David did — in fact, scarily, I think maybe all of the same people and even overlapped in the department by a few years. Does this make me The Graeber Mini-Me? Hard to say. At any rate for several of them (Munn, Turner) ‘value’ and what it was was a topic of concern, as David recounts. But somehow I never seemed to catch the bug. Which isn’t to say that it isn’t a perfectly good topic — it’s just not my topic.
The book is quite good, although I agree with Melissa Demian’s “review”:http://www.anthrosource.net/doi/pdf/10.1525/ae.2003.30.2.316 that his dismissal of Marilyn Strathern’s work is far too pat. But what really drives me nuts about the book are the large number of editing errors in it. Although I am only 55 pages into the book I’ve already spotted something on the order of a dozen confused names and non-existent citations — and these are just the ones that struck me as I read it for content, not with an intent to proofread.
On page 23, for instance, he refers to “Margaret Weiner” and her work on value when in fact he obviously is referring to Anette Weiner, whom he then discusses at length a few pages later. Is this a slip for ‘Margaret Wiener,’ who was (iirc) a student at Chicago at the same time as David and who appears in a footnote to a section of his text 250 pages later? Similarly, on page 295 Robert Herz is listed as Gilbert Herz (a slip for Gilbert Herdt?). C.B. Macpherson’s work on possessive individualism is cited in the text, but does not appear in the bibliography. Neither does Emerson 1844, Collier 1990, Bhaskar 1994a and 1994b (although there is an entry for 1990), Bloch 1991, or Josephides 1982. And like I said, I’m only 55 pages into the book.
I should be clear: I don’t think that these sorts of confusions are David’s fault, nor do they detract one bit from the validity or importance of David’s argument. What they are indicative of is the poor editing that Palgrave gave David’s manuscript. Of course all authors should theoretically produce a manuscript with no typos and an airtight bibliography and of course we always try our best. But ultimately our minds are on creating and expressing a new idea and a new argument. We need help when it comes to spit-and-polish issues such as these — and that is where great editors come in.
Of course people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, and I am a notoriously poor speller and proofreader. I throw citations around constantly. So I am as guilty of this — and perhaps even more — than most people. Still, in the past six months since my dissertation defense I’ve dealt with something like five seperate editors for pieces that have appeared or are going to appear. The bad editors make you want to pull your hair out (actually, they make you want to pull their hair out.) But the good ones are an incredible support and improve your work inestimably simply by giving you room to work, nudging you in the right direction, and dealing with spit-and-polish issues. For instance, I have a piece coming out in The Contemporary Pacific and am doing revisions now. My editor — bless her scrupulously organized heart — has cross-checked every citation in my text with its entry in my bibliography. Having someone on my side working on these little details to make my article as professional as possible is a wonderfull, wonderfull thing. Although making corrections to the bibliography is a drag, having to cross-check it myself would be even more of a drag.
Books, despite the customary author’s assertion to the contrary in the preface, are the product of a team. Authors need good editors to produce good books. Despite this, it is hard these days to find academic editors who reallyfulfill that editorial role, much less pull it off with aplomb. I’m very fortunate to have worked with some good ones. Unfortunately, David doesn’t appear to have been so lucky.