Pressing "submit" like Perseus
I submit a paper on OpenReview today, and found myself reflecting on the act of pressing “submit” after weeks and weeks of editing. While the document is still in your hands it feels soft and alive, but as soon as it is submitted it freezes into its final immutable form. That moment of submission is almost violent in nature: you slash away any potential future edits that you may have had in your mind, and the system snatches away your document. It is also intimate, because by submitting a document you endorse it and make it a messenger or even a representation of yourself. Something is given up — think again of that word “submission.”
In all these ways, submitting papers makes me think of Caravaggio’s Medusa (1597), a painting of the moment when Perseus executes the Gorgon. Nearly everyone is struck by the horror and violence here — the teeth, the eyes, and the blood that seems to almost propel the head away like a rocket. Notice in particular the snakes on the bottom beginning to turn to stone, the way I imagine documents ossify when submitted. Do you feel the connection to submission, too? If so, you may not be surprised to learn that Caravaggio painted a self-portrait in the place of Medusa’s face, a reminder (I might say) of the self that is ensconced in any work of art or piece of writing that we release into the world, that we give up and make other.
All of this is to say that it is okay, and natural, to be afraid when submitting anything — papers, applications, or even emails. But be like Perseus. Don’t hesitate, don’t stall. Better the work turn to stone, than you.