Delighted by an encoder

One of the high points of my day was a 2-minute conversation that interrupted me as I was doing something less pleasant. One of the encoders for our Cultures of Reception project walked into my office.

Josette: Is “the Western world” a place name?

Julia: [interested but decided] No—it isn’t. It doesn’t really designate a place…It’s more like a loose aggregation of places, a concept… Sort of like “the developed world” or “Christendom”…too perspectival.

Josette: How about “the West”?

Julia [even more decided] No, definitely not… Although I guess there might be cases where a specific writer used a phrase like “the West Country” in a way that clearly referred to a few specific counties…

Josette: [a little disappointed but accepting the result] OK. [turns to go]

Julia: [explaining, getting into the spirit of it] See, actually there are two things going on here. There’s project management—your role (and it’s a good one) here is to raise these really interesting questions, and my role unfortunately is to be the hard-ass, to foreclose them, to make a decision one way or another [Josette is grinning because this is so clearly true; Julia tries to clarify]—to be clear so that we can be consistent. But there’s also something else: if we think about the goals of the project here…

[Josette grins more broadly because she sees what is coming]

Julia: …the goals of the project have to do with representing the cultural geography of transatlantic reviewing…[she trails off as the trap is sprung] Oh $%&#. [clutches brow]. OK, let me start over and rethink this. Yes, actually, we do need to mark those references somehow, they are absolutely crucial, they are central to what we are doing here. They aren’t names, but they are references to places…OK, here’s how we should do this…