Rejection letters, correspondence, and miscellanea from the otherwise empty annals of the Journal of Universal Rejection.

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Ethan Allen Rejection

Esteemed Editor,

As you are aware, Faulkner once observed that it takes a hundred rejections to get up to zero.  Thus far, I have been amassing these with painstaking slowness: after years of effort, I have to confess that I've only thirty-odd to my account.  At this rate, I'll be an old man before I get to zero--or so I had feared before encountering your illustrious journal.

Given your specialty, I would like to make you a proposition.  It being a bother to send documents in attachment, and to write them at all, I propose to send you a blank email once a month, possibly twice.  This should make rejecting my submissions as efficient as possible.

In addition, if it's not too much to be hoped, I would welcome any extra rejections you care to send my way.  My only stipulation is that they be addressed to me personally; it's no good trying to cheat in such matters.

Sincerely yours,

Ira Allen

p.s. Please find my submission for this month below.

Dear Ira,

I agree to reject your empty submission every month.  In fact my hands are tied; I would have to reject it whether I wanted to or not.  It is our guiding principle, after all.  I have been counting the number of rejections of empty submissions, and this is #20.  I shall have to think whether to include further submissions from you in this count or not.  O, the trials of my life as Editor-in-Chief.

Perhaps instead I can name each rejection after a famous person.  For example I'll name this, the first, your "Ethan Allen Rejection," after the brother of your historical namesake.

Best regards,

Caleb Emmons, PhD
Journal of Universal Rejection

Dear Caleb,

I apologize for my delay in responding. I have been troubled. On the one hand, I am overjoyed at the promise of years of reliable rejections streaming into my inbox, each with its own particular name. This is delightful. But, on the other hand, there is the source of my dismay.

I tendered two submissions in my previous email: an article, which you rightfully refused to accept and graced with my namesake's brother's name, and a proposition. To my delight--but ah, to my horror also!--you accepted my proposition.

This is truly a conundrum, for I've nothing to gain from being rejected by inconsistent journals, and you've nothing to gain by accepting submissions. Indeed, I made my proposition in good faith, on the strength of your untarnished reputation. The Journal of Universal Rejection! What could be more rigorous, more cerebral? It was immediately clear to me that your journal represented the pinnacle of the western scholarly tradition; I felt honored at the thought of joining the ranks of the greats you had already rejected. It was with this in mind, and on the strength of your back-catalog, that I wrote to you with my proposition. My sad, stupid, ill-fatedly felicitous proposition.

At your reply, I first felt joy. Not only joy--there was a certain professional relief mixed in (no longer, I thought happily, would I have to interrupt my writing, reading, and thought to tailor pieces for journals, negotiate disciplinary or genre constraints and the vagaries of style guides)--but joy above all else.

Imagine, then, my horror as realization sunk in. You had rejected my submission, accepted my proposition! You had accepted my proposition, the proposition I submitted for your approval.

I see now that you must have understood this even as you wrote. Looking back over your lines, I can see you sigh, see the heaviness of heart with which you tell me that your "hands are tied."

It would of course have been different had I thought to write you personally, rather than in your capacity as Editor-in-Chief. I could have asked you for one of these little favors we had thought to escape requesting when we chose academe over the commercial life. "Caleb," I'd have written, "I have a favor to ask." You could have helped me out, juggling the weight of professional responsibilities with the chance to help a young scholar on his way to zero. What kind-hearted person, under such conditions, could have denied me? Besides, as you noted in what we begin to be unable to deny was, against both our wills, an acceptance letter, "It is [y]our guiding principle."

Had I had the foresight to write you personally, we'd not be in our current predicament. How often this is true! But, alas (and alack; I'll help myself to that much, at least), I wrote to you only in your professional capacity.

"Esteemed Editor," I began. Then I laid out my proposition. My article submission itself (below the text, and duly rejected) was, I see now, of absolutely secondary logical importance. Ah, what a travesty, what fraud I unknowingly perpetrated! What could you do, as you yourself said, but accept my proposition? In contrast, say, to the employment proposal of one would-be editor recorded on your website--in whose shoes I, luckless, incompetent wretch that I am, only wish I now could stand. You rightly rejected his proposal, with input from readers, because of the journal's founding principle: "All submissions, regardless of quality, will be rejected." Would that you could so have rejected my proposal, too!

You accepted my proposition and ruined that which led me to submit it: your unblemished record of rejection. I wish now that I could withdraw that proposal, could recall its very memory, but you and I know no such thing is possible. And, so, I have been troubled. Should I simply stay silent, disavow my intimate knowledge, allow your Ethan Allen rejection of my article ms to stand, ignore the contradiction, profit thereby--integrity in tatters, but one step closer to zero? And yet, if I did, would you not call me out, chide me for my indifference to truth, for my scholarly betrayal? And even if you did not, could I bear the quiet ignominy of knowing that you and I both knew you and I had together--helplessly, sorrowfully, hands tied by the ineluctable law of non-contradiction--
contradicted your founding principle? Moreover, could I do you the harm of remaining silent? Could I thus deny my responsibility to you as a fellow, as exposed as I to the logos?

This letter is my solution. I have been troubled, but am no longer. Obviously, it will be necessary to cease production of the journal. Once caught in paradox--though we should have thought negation would be free of such concerns, if anything could--there's no getting free; Russell and Whitehead demonstrated that well enough, if inadvertently. But I'll tell no one; cease production immediately, and I'll carry this secret to my grave. The Journal of Universal Rejection, though short-lived, will forever be remembered as the most rigorous publication possible. That such rigor, too, has its limits will remain unsaid, unsuspected by any but the most cynical souls.

Unless, of course, you publish our correspondence on your blog.  In that case, I will publish it on my blog as well.

Sadly, and with the utmost respect, yours,

Ira (Allen)
Dear Ira,

I wouldn't worry so much.  We only promise to reject submissions.  We accept all kinds of other things.  How do you think we got such a large Editorial Board after all?


p.s. On the blog it is.  Recheers.


  1. Dear Mr. Allen. As I see it your reply is based upon the premise that JoUR rejects everything, whereas its editorial policy clearly states that it rejects submissions. It does not mention propositions. From Caleb's brief reply I infer that your premise has been rejected.

    Even if you don't get this, to put your tortured mind to rest, even accepting your premise, here's the score as I see it:

    Submission: rejected
    Proposition: accepted
    Premise: rejected

    So you see, dear sir, that, on balance, you have received one rejection, and your total is where it was before you were waylaid by cognitive dissonance.

    However, to demonstrate the versatility of JOuR's editorial policy, I am submitting this comment for publication in the Journal. As you will perceive this apparently presents the editors with a further conundrum: to accept, or not, my explanation of their response to you. Yet, as I am confident will be demonstrated, the problem is illusory.

  2. Thank you for your thoughts, R. Craigen. It is more work than it is worth to me to point out kindly where you have gone astray, but I will encourage you to look further into cognitive dissonance. ~ Ira

  3. R., You did not make your submission in the appropriate way (an email to editor@universalrejection.org). Therefore your submission is rejected.