Fitzpatrick & Authorship: Week 10

Fitzpatrick touched on many interesting points in her chapter on authorship. I found it interesting how our modern ideas of authorship are not actually reflective of the print technologies. Instead it seems those ideas that we often associate with print came later, and are instead reflective of modern aspects of western culture (capitalism = ownership, intellectual or otherwise, say of the ideas or words in a text, and individualism).

At the same time she also addresses the anxieties surrounding writing, and possible anxieties about losing our ‘right’ to our own writing, or to be able to think of our writing as our own.  Perhaps rightly so–the open liberal take on publishing in revolutionary France didn’t apparently go over so well.

“Enlightenment thinkers such as Condorcet argued that knowledge could best be disseminated through “authorless and opened-ended [sic] texts, circulating freely between all citizens…[this] led however, to a chaos of sedition, libel, and piracy” (“the rise of the author” 22).

[Upon a second reading “authorless and open ended texts circulating freely” sounds a lot like certain websites online….]

Instead Carla Hesse reportedly says that our current ideas about authorship originated

“from the political revolutions of the late 18th century, a system that reflects those revolutions by embodying…the ideals of the autonomous, self-creating and self-governing, property-owning individual,’ as well as such liberal values as the ‘universal access to knowledge, and the assurance of cautious public reflection and debate'(28). Our assumptions about authorship… derive less from the technologies and…more from the legislative and economic systems that govern those technologies and processes” (“rise of the author” 22).

Fitzpatrick further notes that since the 1960s post-structuralist thought has sought to change these ideas about the author. Frankly I barely grasp any of what Barthes or Foucault says about the author. For example the idea that  the author, only being formed by the act of writing “in claiming ownership over the product of writing, perversely deprives it of meaning” is a bizarre one to me. Barthes seems to go on to be saying that the author’s identity is “detrimental” to the meaning of the text (“the death of the author” 23). 

While I do adhere to the intentional fallacy,I don’t think the author’s background or ideas are irrelevant to a text at all. Texts are after all, products of their times-and I think like performances, they are to a degree temporal. This sounds heartbreaking, the idea that the texts we view are not the same texts they once were, or were in their time– that some quality that made them unique, thrilling, or powerful cannot be felt by us. I felt heartbroken when I learned that many of the paintings we know today didn’t look like they did when they were first painted. To think Van Gogh’s Sunflowers were once a brighter yellow, or the “Bedroom in Arles” may have been violet not periwinkle blue is marginally upsetting. But maybe that’s the basis of art. Certainly the physical medium of the printed text has always been at risk of degradation and aging (as are digital forms as discussed earlier in the semester) but the physical medium is not the entirety of an art piece: all art experience is made up of audience and the piece, among other things. If a piece plays upon a particular culture, its audience, in order to make its meanings, that meaning is temporary and subject to the same aging as the physical text. Examine background, including the author’s intent, can be valuable to discover how a text once was, what it was meant to mean and what it meant to audiences then. 

You may think then that text’s meanings are unstable but I want to note that looking at the changing of meaning in a linear, chronological fashion is important, because human’s live and die linearly.

Back to Fitzpatrick: she feels that perhaps our ideas of authorship haven’t really shifted though, and haven’t shifted because of or in this age of digital writing. I’d have to agree.  The author is still a big deal, still a celebrity, and still important, for numerous reasons.

I liked that she got into some of the capitalist aspects of productivity in universities in “from product to process” and what it might mean to try a form of writing that focuses on live, collectively maintained growth in a system of “versioning”. A comment on P14 by “amandafrench” discusses how this still might be turned into a profit-model with “legal definitions” of versions (i.e. most of us are familiar with “YOU  NEED THE MOST RECENT EDITION OF THIS $130 DOLLAR TEXT BOOK THAT’S REALLY ONLY HAD ONE CHAPTER ADDED THAT WE AREN’T DISCUSSING”).

Still , the idea that “Everything published on the web exists, in some sense, in a perpetual draft state, open to future change” (24) is an interesting one. Digital text seems, at least on some mediums, seem to exist in a peculiar middle area between spoken dialogue, those verbal exchanges that happen and are gone in a moment yet leave us changed, and relatively stable, printed text.




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