Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy

Two: Authorship

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 5 If I have seen further, it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants. — Sir Isaac Newton

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 While all of this is familiar in philosophy, as in literary criticism, I am not certain that the consequences derived from the disappearance or death of the author have been fully explored or that the importance of this event has been appreciated. — Michel Foucault, “What Is an Author?”

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 The digital author connotes a greater alterity between the text and the author, due in part to the digital nature of the writing. I claim that digital writing is both a technological inscription of the author and a term to designate a new historical constellation of authorship, one that is emergent, but seemingly more and more predominant. — Mark Poster, What’s the Matter With the Internet?

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 1 The transformation in our thinking about peer review that I call for in the previous chapter bears serious implications for our understandings of the nature of authorship and, in particular, for our relationships to ourselves as authors. In fact, the suggestion that a peer-to-peer review system will require the members of such a scholarly network to place their primary emphasis on the advancement of the community as a whole, rather than their own individual advancement, will no doubt produce a significant degree of concern amongst many academic readers, especially those in the humanities: however communally-minded our publishing practices might become, within our current practices, writing is still something that we must undertake — and be evaluated on — alone.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 4 These concerns are made all the more pressing by the fact that each of us lives with a host of anxieties about writing and about ourselves as writers, anxieties that can interfere with our work and yet make it difficult to change the ways that we approach that work.[2.1] Though this chapter’s title and much of its research indicate that it is focused on a much more abstract, conceptual sense of “authorship,” it is underwritten by those anxieties — and not just abstract anxieties, felt “out there,” by some amorphous group of “academics,” but my own anxieties as well. As I began the drafting process for this chapter, I found myself having extraordinary difficulty organizing my thoughts, attempting to figure out what this chapter was about and how to approach it. My partner tried to talk with me about the chapter, hoping to help me think my way through the problem, but I grew increasingly irritable and withdrawn, and as he and I later cleared the air, I heard myself telling him that I have a very hard time talking about my writing projects while they’re in progress. Some part of that difficulty comes from a sense that someone else’s opinions might interfere with my thought processes, confusing my sense of the issues that I’m exploring before I’ve been able to fully establish my position. It took a moment for me to process what I’d said and to realize that that, right there, that anxiety about the boundary between “my” ideas and someone else’s ideas, was exactly what I was attempting to write about. And, in fact, the blog entries I’d written in the previous week were similarly about my writerly anxieties, including one post entitled “The Bolter Principle,” which reflects rather textbook concerns about originality (“I eagerly anticipate at some as yet undetermined point in the future having a complex thought of which I do not later discover Jay David Bolter has already said a portion, both more intelligently and a decade earlier”), and one entitled “Future Writing, Take Two,” which worries about my focus and productivity levels over the previous five years. For someone whose entire first book is about writerly anxieties and their displacements, it took me an awfully long time to recognize that I’m subject to precisely the same concerns and evasions about which I’ve been writing, and that those anxieties have similarly profound effects on my work.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 3 Academic anxieties about writing often circle around such questions about originality, creativity, productivity, ownership, and so on. Each of these issues has deep roots, being embedded not just in the complexities of academic life (such as the often painful changes in focus required to move from teaching through committee meetings and into writing), and not just in the enormous weight placed upon the quantified outcomes of our writing within academic systems of reward, but in the very nature of authorship as we have constructed it in western culture. This is the reason that so many academic self-help books focused on issues around writing have been published: from Academic Writing for Graduate Students to Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day, from Bill Germano’s From Dissertation to Book to his Getting It Published, and from Beth Luey’s Handbook for Academic Authors to Robert Boice’s Professors as Writers to Paul Silvia’s on-the-nose How to Write a Lot, just to name a few. The existence of such an enormous selection of guides to the academic writing process suggests both that many of us are in substantive need of advice and assistance in our writing lives and that we’re not getting that advice and assistance elsewhere, whether in grad school or beyond. It also suggests that we believe that someone out there knows how to be a successful author, and that if they could just put their process into words, words that could be transmitted clearly enough, we could put them into practice. We thus seem to imagine something transitive embedded in the writing process itself, something that creates a relationship between writer and reader capable of solving the most intractable problems: I have an idea, I write it, you read it, and now you have that idea, too; even better, I can do something, I put that something into words, you read the words, and now you can do that something, too. But by containing this transmission in books, we also seem, at the very same time, to imagine the writing process to be radically individualized, something that each author must figure out alone.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 In what follows, I argue that we all need — myself not least among us – to rethink our authorship practices and our relationships to ourselves and our colleagues as authors, not only because the new digital technologies becoming dominant within the academy are rapidly facilitating new ways of working and new ways of imagining ourselves as we work, but also because such reconsidered writing practices might help many of us find more pleasure, and less anxiety, in the act of writing itself. This is of course not to suggest that digital publishing networks will miraculously solve all of the difficulties that we face as writers; rather, it is to say that network technologies might help us feel less alone and less lost in the writing process. But such change will require facing our anxieties head-on, and thus we need to take the time to question our assumptions about authorship and how they impose themselves on our writing lives.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 2 There is of course a mild irony in the suggestion that we need to spend some time rethinking the nature of authorship, as it certainly seems that, at least in literary fields, we’ve done nothing but that for the last four decades or so; authorship, its institutions, and its practices give every impression of having been under continual scrutiny since the moment of conception of poststructuralism. Nonetheless, the kinds of changes in publishing practices that I’m discussing in this text reveal the degree to which our deconstruction of the notion of authorship has been, in a most literal sense, theoretical. However critically aware we may be of the historical linkages among the rise of capitalism, the dominance of individualism, and the conventionally understood figure of the author, our own authorship practices have remained subsumed within those institutional and ideological frameworks.[2.2] Examining those structures closely, with the intent of making any kind of practical change, will no doubt be uncomfortable for many of us — myself included; enough of my ego is bound up in whatever I am writing that, as my partner unfortunately discovered, I have a hard time discussing my work-in-progress, much less imagining a different way of approaching it. And perhaps we should be made nervous by such change; as James O’Donnell asserts, “The categories by which we do our intellectual business in the academic world are so deeply ingrained in us that to turn our power to relativize those categories, historicize them, and leave them as it were sous rature, intact but relativized, is, and rightfully is, unsettling and disturbing” (48, emphasis in the original). Academic authorship as we understand it today has evolved in conjunction with our publishing and employment practices, and changing one aspect of the way we work of necessity implies change across the entirety of the way we work — an unnerving thought, indeed.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 As I’ve argued in the preceding chapters, though, it’s possible that all of these practices would benefit from certain kinds of change: some of our publishing practices are economically unsustainable, some of our employment practices are out of step with our actual intellectual values, and some of our writing practices are more productive of anxiety than they are of good work. Again, digital scholarly publishing itself cannot solve these problems; none of them has an easy technological fix. However, adopting new technologies will require us to face these problems; as Lawrence Lessig’s work has explored, the networks of electronic communication carry embedded values within the codes that structure their operation, and many of the Internet’s codes, and thus its values, are substantively different from those within which scholars – or at least those in the humanities – profess to operate.[2.3] We must examine our values, and the ways that our new technologies may affect them, in order to make the most productive use of those new forms.

  • If you are one of the lucky few who feels no anxieties about writing, I envy you. And, on some level, disbelieve you: anxieties about writing are usually unspoken and yet nearly universal among academics, right up there with “one day they’ll figure out I’m a fraud” syndrome. And even if you honestly feel you have no worries about your writing life, consider this: when was the last time you had to write a document in committee? If there were no jaw-clenching moments in that process, or if you’ve never become irate about the way your writing has been edited, then I really envy you.
  • If anything, questioning those frameworks seems to have added to our anxieties about our own writing; as Ede and Lunsford point out that, “however we theorize the subject and author, problems of writing and of scholarly (and pedagogical) practice decidedly remain. Amid such intense questioning, a kind of paralysis seems possible” (355) – indeed, likely. Little wonder, then, that we prefer to leave such notions in theory: “We scholars in English studies, it appears, are often more comfortable theorizing about subjectivity, agency, and authorship than we are attempting to enact alternatives to conventional assumptions and practices” (356).
  • It should be noted that Lessig goes on to argue that, as these codes are programmable, and thus plastic, they can be reprogrammed to better serve our needs: “We should expect – and demand – that [technology] can be made to reflect any set of values that we think important” (Lessig, Code 32). For the time being, I want to ignore this quite obviously correct point, and instead think about what the academy can learn from network technologies, rather than vice versa. In the next chapter, I’ll turn my attention to network design and new scholarly publishing structures.
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    Source: http://mcpress.media-commons.org/plannedobsolescence/two-authorship/