by Kaylee Kerns (conducted & transcribed) & Jakob Hanschu (edited)
This article was published in the Feb. 2019 edition of Live Ideas. View it HERE.
A week before the first edition of Live Ideas was set to be published, Kaylee Kerns sat down with Jakob Hanschu (her fiancé) and Dr. Laurie Johnson, founding editors of the journal. Below is an edited transcript of their discussion on topics ranging from the goals and formation of Live Ideas to their favorite primary texts.
Kaylee: What is a primary text?
Jakob: To me a primary text is an original work—well not even an original work, but an original idea, an idea taken directly from someone . . .
Dr. Johnson: Yeah, like not looking at others’ commentaries, but going right to the source.
JH: Reading the real book and not just the textbook.
LJ: Well it’s kind of like one of our slogans for the Primary Texts Program . . . Mark Twain said: “Supposing is good, but finding out is better.” That’s the difference, right, because if you read someone else who wrote about Plato, you don’t know for yourself whether or not that’s right. There’s some things you can’t learn by just reading textbooks.
JH: To throw in our other slogan: “Reading primary texts helps you learn unfiltered and witness thoughts in the raw.”
LJ: That’s the central theme of the Primary Texts Program. It gets students to look at how creative people actually create. The journal is an extension of that vision. We’re going to have students not just writing about other primary texts but actually creating their own, because that’s the whole goal of education—to get students to the point where they are creators and authors not just regurgitators.
KK: How is this journal different from others?
JH: Most academic journals aren’t read by the public and aren’t read by undergraduates (unless they’re forced to) because they’re dull and heavy. You get bogged down by references, jargon, and jargon that’s in references. We want to avoid the traditional journal format, so the main way Live Ideas is different is that we strongly encourage a conversational, informal style. Those are the pieces we would prefer to publish. Another thing that separates us from other journals is the different kinds of content we publish. We publish traditional articles, short “food for thought” essays, poetry, art, videos, and photo essays, all of which are valuable mediums for students to express not only their creativity, but their original ideas.
LJ: A big problem in academia is that we have a tendency to poorly communicate our findings and ideas to general audiences, which limits our impact. There’s a growing interest in taking knowledge generated by academics and translating it into to something interesting to the average reader. I see this journal as a place for students to learn how to do that. As scholars, we have an obligation and responsibility to get these good ideas out there, out to the public who can use them or at least enjoy them, depending on what it is they’re reading.
KK: How do you involve students other than having them submit pieces?
JH: Students can submit many different kinds of content to the journal, and we’re also somewhat unique among undergraduate journals in that we’re almost entirely student-run. I’m the editor and Dr. Johnson serves as the associate faculty editor. Under us, we have a board of student and faculty peer-reviewers. Every piece is peer-reviewed by K-State students as well as one faculty member . . . So students looking to be involved in the journal can either submit as an author or can look to become a peer-reviewer.
LJ: And that’s working out really well. People are getting their reviews back on time, and the reviews are good. It helps the authors see how other people view their work and how they can improve it.
JH: We want to be a journal that students will read . . . So what better way to decide what content to publish than have students reviewing our pieces?
LJ: People may be wondering if we reject anything . . . the primary reason for rejecting pieces so far is that they don’t fit the journal’s goals and style.
JH: If it doesn’t fit or if it’s poorly written. I mean each piece goes through two editors—one student and one faculty—then two student peer-reviewers and then a faculty member.
LJ: So we have quite a few ‘revise and resubmits’ where writers respond to the comments of the reviewers, and that’s usually very helpful. For the most part, if writers look at our requirements to get an idea of what we’re looking for, and if they make sure the writing is in pretty good shape, they’ll get a good hearing.
JH: Yeah, so it’s a fairly rigorous, but not impossible, review process. We want to publish undergraduates—we don’t need to be Nature.
KK: So the two of you started this project together?
LJ: The name and the funding is what I’m responsible for and Jakob’s responsible for most everything else. It’s perfect. That’s the way I want it to be.
JH: The original idea is hers—like the idea to actually start an undergraduate journal—and even the name of the journal is hers . . . and she secured the funding, and then was like “Here’s this idea, see what you can do with it.”
LJ: And then he just ran with it, which has been great.
JH: Well, I think the name is one of the best things . . . if you don’t have a catchy name, nobody is going to read past the cover.
LJ: Well you know I came up with that by thinking about what the Primary Texts Program is trying to teach students. Even though you’re studying ideas from people that might’ve lived hundreds, if not thousands of years ago, or even just a generation ago, they’re still alive because you can still engage with them, and they can still help you figure out life . . . they’re “live ideas.” That’s where that idea came from.
KK: How did you develop the idea of the journal? What made you want to do this?
LJ: I just thought it would be nice for students to have an outlet for their writing. I mean, I’ve run across some really good stuff. Every year there’s one or two papers I think are brilliant, and they usually aren’t larded up with jargon or references . . . Over time I thought: “My gosh, you know, why can’t more people read these things?” They’re truly good contributions . . . many times a student will go through four or five years of undergraduate college and will have written some really cool stuff, but it just gets put into a box somewhere and no one reads it. Then 20 years later they drag it out and are like: “Dang, I wrote some pretty good stuff! Why didn’t I do something with that?” So I just thought: “Let’s see if we can fix that.”
KK: As an undergraduate student, how did you get involved in Live Ideas?
JH: I’m a Primary Texts student, and this journal is run by that program. I took DAS 300, which is titled “The Great Conversation”, and the title fits . . . Dr. Johnson was the instructor, and we had a bunch of different people come in and give lectures on different subjects, and at the end of the year we wrote a paper engaging with the ideas we’d covered. I wrote mine on Darwin’s Descent of Man, critiquing his idea of social evolution. Dr. Johnson liked my paper and encouraged me to apply for the Swogger Scholarship, which I did. Around the same time, I started attending her book club on sustainable food systems, called “Farm Book Club” . . . So she’d seen some of my work and knew me fairly well, and I had expressed interest in helping out with the journal, so she approached me and was like “Hey, would you want to do this?” and I was like “Yeah, this is amazing, I’ll do this.” . . . So that’s kind of the way it went I guess.
KK: What advice do you have for students who want to publish in Live Ideas?
LJ: If they have an older paper they’re proud of because it was really well done and captured and expressed an idea they had, I’d tell them to pull it back out and take a look at it to see if it can be submitted to Live Ideas. And, while they’re writing papers in the future, they should keep in mind that they have an outlet for publication . . .
JH: A good deal of articles we’ve had in this first edition seem to have been class papers that have been “whipped into shape,” so to say.
LJ: We’ve also got excellent poetry, short stories, and art. We should especially encourage our K-State artists to submit, because we’ve got two pieces in this first edition, and they’re really special.
JH: I’d love to get to the point where every image we use in the journal is either a photograph or piece of artwork done by a K-State student. That would be great.
LJ: We also don’t have any videos right now, so I’d like to encourage people to submit some!
JH: And if you’re wondering how we publish those . . . The goal is four editions per calendar year—two interactive PDF versions in the spring and two in the fall—with two printed editions—one in the spring, and one in the fall.
KK: On a more personal note, what is your favorite primary text, or something that you keep finding yourself going back to?
LJ: Let’s see . . . My favorite is probably Henry the Fourth, part one, by William Shakespeare. I just watched it again last night.
JH: That’s your favorite primary text ever?
LJ: As far as—you said personal, like what personally strikes you. Because there’s this interplay . . . in this particular play, you have Henry, who is this profligate son who just . . . you know, he goes off and parties constantly with Falstaff, this big, fat guy who lives a life of total debauchery . . . anyway, there’s this moment in the play where Henry and Falstaff realize their days of having fun are over, and that Falstaff’s really looking at the future king, and it’s just the most amazing moment . . . it says a lot about life—there’s this half of you that’s Dionysian and the other half is Apollonian. You know, there’s always that risk-taking, party-loving, happy-go-lucky part and we ought to not totally forgo that in order to be king . . . I’ve contemplated this Shakespeare play most of my adult life.
JH: Wow, I’ve got to watch this. Dionysus is brought up by a lot of social and cultural theorists because of what he represents, since he kind of represents desire, and that’s the side of us that fascist regimes try to suppress.
LJ: Right. We tend to think of that as childish pursuits, like as it’s presented in the play, but it is part of who we are, and if we totally forgo it . . . that’s where the creative spark is, too, I think, it’s in that part of us.
KK: So how about you, Jakob?
JH: . . . Well I guess this means I’d better try to think of one . . . I mean, there’s two that immediately come to mind. One is Donna Haraway’s Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene, because it’s a brilliant and wild ride. She goes on about science fiction, speculative fabulations, string figures, and so on, but it’s all about environmental thought and how we can decenter the human to re-entangle ourselves with the worlds beyond human. Then there’s the other one, which it’s not a book, but it’s a primary text . . . it’s this speech by David Foster Wallace called “This is Water”, which starts out with the lines: “There’s these two young fish swimming along, and they meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says ‘Morning boys, how’s the water’ and then the fish look at each other and they’re like ‘What the hell is water.’” You can just picture this, and then he goes on from this little story to blow your mind with all of these different realizations . . . he blows you out of the water.
KK: You know, you could put in the first video entry . . . There’s this video of Jakob pretending to be David Foster Wallace—he’s trying to time that speech with a song and each time he fails at timing it perfectly, and he just gets crazier and crazier each time he records it, and I feel like you’d greatly appreciate it.
LJ: I never took you to be a David Foster Wallace fan! Did you study David Foster Wallace’s personal demeanor before doing this? He’s very uncomfortable most of the time, he just exudes discomfort.
JH: Let’s just say that I did not take his demeanor into account, though I knew it. In one of the videos I’m wearing a beret . . . and a Miller Lite jersey. It’s like a football jersey, only for Miller Lite. I’m not necessarily proud!
LJ: I will see these eventually, I know I will.
KK: That’s why I was saying Jakob should make it the first video entry.
JH: Well . . . we’ve digressed.
LJ: Not necessarily, some of that stuff is great—
JH: I’m wearing a Miller jersey!
LJ: Actually, I don’t want to see this . . . it might forever color my opinion of you!
JH: Let’s just pretend I’m a Žižek in the making! Like this totally unpolished guy that writes.
LJ: I mean, there’s worse things that could happen to you. That would be so cool . . . to look back when I’m retired and see that I helped form another Žižek!
JH: Is that really what you want though?
LJ: Well, Žižek really makes people think. Even if you don’t agree with everything he says, he’s like my idea of a public intellectual, because he’s out there, he doesn’t compromise by dumbing things down, and he uses humor and art and film. No matter what he says, he causes you to think, and that’s good. He doesn’t disdain the average person. He feels like he can communicate with us.
JH: And he has opinions on stuff that people care about in addition to understanding a ton of philosophical works. This reminds me . . . the other thing about Live Ideas is that we’re provoking. We want to be provocative without being . . . I don’t know . . . be as provocative as we can be, let’s just leave it at that.
LJ: Without being intentionally offensive.
JH: Yeah, right. Provocative and not offensive, that’s probably the best way of saying it.
KK: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
LJ: I’m just really pleased with how many students want to be involved. It was not hard to find Primary Texts students that wanted to be reviewers . . . They seem to be enjoying it and are very prompt about getting their reviews back. It’s really worked out extremely well.
JH: Yeah, the quick reviews have been glorious as an editor. And as an author it’s got to be nice—you submit a piece and then six weeks later you know if you’re being published. The last thing I’d say is that the purpose of Live Ideas is to get people to think. Not just to show that our ideas are alive, but to bring ideas to life.
LJ: Yeah, so hopefully people will read these things and start up conversations about them, you know? It would be great if I were walking down a hallway and heard a group of students talking about an article or short story or art piece from our journal. ~