'Daedalus': An Attempt to Rescue The Significant From the Fashionable
Of the dozen or so Boston publishers, Cambridge claims two: the Harvard University Press and Daedalus. The first is a local industry, the other a mere quarterly that operates from the fourth floor of a clapboard house. Daedalus, however, merits more than anonymity. It avoids the pitfalls of most scholarly journals--an overspecialized, unreadable, pointless, breed fit only for the bowels of Widener. Though it is snobbishly intellectual, Daedalus nonetheless challenges intellectuals to apply their respective disciplines to controversies once consided too low for "dignified' scholarship. Such topics include student politics, the American national style, the Negro American, life in the year 2000, and even motion pictures. On every topic, Daedalus proposes to organize, not feed, the information explosion.
The journal tries to represent as many disciplines as possible, providing, one of the founders wrote, "a medium through which leading scholars can address each other." The title itself refers to Daedalus, the Greek scientist who escaped from the labyrinth. The scholar, according to the comparison, has his own labyrinth to escape from. Daedalus gathers view-points from various faculties on questions that have long called for the collaboration of the whole academic community. Few professors turn down a chance to participate in the Daedalus "conference," which precedes the publication of every issue.
Daedalus shares the blue-white frame on Linden Street with the Bureau of Study Counsel, but it has no official ties with the University. It began as the Journal of the Academy of Arts and Sciences, and arrived at Harvard through the services of John Adams and the default of history. Adams founded the Academy in 1779, in imitation of the Royal Society in Britain. Later presidents of the Academy, Louis Agassiz in particular, continued the Harvard influence and arranged for Academy headquarters in Brookline. The most recent two presidents, Paul Freund and Talcott Parsons, have also been from Harvard.
When the Academy's journal converted to a quarterly in 1958 and changed its name to Deadalus, Cambridge seemed the logical location. Perhaps as a result, Harvard faculty members have published more frequently in Daedalus than any other group. They have easy access to the House of the Academy in Brookline, find conferences convenient, and sit in large numbers on the Academy's planning committees.
The official title of Daedalus as "Journal of the Academy of Arts and Sciences" is misleading. It does not record minutes. It could even operate without the Academy, though not nearly as well. The circulation of Daedalus has increased in the eleven years since its founding to 35 times the membership of the Academy. Present circulation stands near 70,000--an increase of 50,000 since 1963. Philanthropic foundations also help. Carnegie Corporation, Danforth Foundation, and the Ford Foundation consistently finance most Daedalus projects. Some Fellows of the Academy, incidentally, have positions with these Foundations.
Editor Stephen Graubard and Managing Editor Geno Ballotti set topics, arrange the conferences, and negotiate with the foundations. "The suggestion for an issue of Daedalus," Graubard says, "might originate from a chance comment, a parenthetical remark; just as frequently it came through an explicit request of an interested reader." This is especially true if the interested reader happens to be the Carnegie Corporation. To qualify, the problem-topic must be such a nature as to require collaboration. To each topic is devoted a whole issue of Daedalus. The editors consult a larger planning commission, usually associated with the Academy. The Overview Committee on the Goverance of Universities, for instance, met last April to plan a conference and volume on "Academic Ethics: Rights an Responsibilities." The Committee counts among its 15 members David Riesman, Daniel Bell, Martin Duberman, Talcott Parsons, Carl Kaysen, Neil Rudenstine, and two college presidents. They commissioned the articles, sent out invitations to the authors, and selected the critics and panelists for the conference (set over a half-year later). The conference--numbering 25 to 30 people--often takes place at the House of the Academy in Brookline. More recently, these conferences have been held abroad at Paris and Bellagio. Overseas sites have attracted a number of foreign scholars to Daedalus and the Academy.
The sessions where the draft papers are criticized or challenged are closed to the public. The conference encourages an author to revise his draft before publishing it in Daedalus, to use the perspectives of other papers, and to respond to the critiques of his peers. For this he recives an honorarium from the foundations through the offices of Daedalus. Other members of the conference donate their time for travel expenses only.
Frequent participants, like Margaret Mcad, consider the conferences works of art in themselves. Even if the essays do not also make it as art, they do represent real scholarship. A single edition of Daedalus can take three years to produce, though most take under two. Publication in the journal and the promise of an audience, according to Graubard, "gives point to continuing deliberations for some who would otherwise question so large a commitment of time." Without Daedalus, none of the articles would have been written in quite the same way. Some would not have been written at all.
Not everyone finds the Daedalus, format attractive. It takes some will power to read even half an issue, but then the journal frankly appeals to a rarefied elite. One can also secure transcripts of the conference discussions, though he will search in vain for nasty remarks or put-downs. Daedalus censors the more pointed remarks.
The essays that appear in Daedalus do not "debate" one another, as their authors may have done in the conference. Many pieces, in fact, do not seem relevant to the others. As a concession to coherence, the chairman of the conference may write an introduction to the volume in order to compare insights from the debates with the conclusions of the papers. These introductions tend to be superfluous, or at least obvious.
The arrangement of articles is somewhat at random. In a recent Daedalus, 'Studies of Leadership," one author discourses on Newton as a great scientist will another writes of Presidential politics. Dankwart Rustow's fine introduction is the only piece that that seems to draw on the conclusions of the conference. The lack of a focus is disturbing. Sometimes, an article assigned to one volume of Daedalus could fit just as well in another.
No one should accuse a periodical of incoherency simply because the essays take on different themes. When the essays drift far enough apart, however, the reader loses touch with the basic issue involved and begins to page it through as he would a dull maagazine. Here Daedalus sacrifices its original purpose: to address itself to a particular crisis or phenomenon with the full force of American scholarship. While it may be a periodical, Daedalus tries to act like a book.
In fact, the editors tend to adjust the number of printings per edition as they would a book. Historical demography does not sell as well as university politics, so circulation varies. Six months to a year after publication of Daedalus issue, a hardcover volume comes out in a series by Houghton Mifflin known as the "Daedalus library." Authors of the original Daedalus papers have the oportunity to revise their work for a second edition. Finally, six months later, Beacon Press reprints the hardcover Houghton-Mifflin work as a paperback. The cycle from paper binding to paper binding to paper binding to paper binding emphasizes the need for long wear. For this quarterly, the back issues matter as much as the current ones.
Favorite Daedalus topics fall in three categories: education, American society, and "the future." For obvious reason, education draws the liveliest response from fellows of the Academy. Everyone can talk about his trade. If Daedalus wishes to be a "genuine medium of communication" between the disciplines, it has to feature themes like university-and-society. Perhaps because physicists and linguists have a rather limited number of topics in common, Daedalus spends too much time on education.
Occasionally, it risks a topic with little interdisciplinary appeal. A conference last year on historical demography did attract one theologian, but ended up almost exclusively with historians, demographers, and historical demographers. Since the volume itself cannot represent men from every discipline, goes the logic, at least men from every discipline can read the volume.
But the Deadalus emphasis has been on "relevance" more than "participation." The first forty issues had ten with the word "American" in the title. Of these ten, Daedalus takes special pride for the two consecutive 1965 volumes on the Negro American. Those two editions summoned contributors from a great number of disciplines to fill a gap in American