Tag Archives: Authorship

Not Newness: Wherein I Don’t Say Anything Unexpected

Banks’ first moves threatened to drive me nuts. He posits, as many other eminent compositionists have, that we now live in a remix culture, and that this paradigm was launched by DJs. That scared me, as far as an assertion goes, because (as you all now know), my whole soapbox is: We have already, always lived in the RW, remix, intertextual culture, this paradigm is not new at all, perhaps only disrupted by the Enlightenment’s love of the image of the lonely artist operating in a vacuum to create works of sacred creativity. This is not new!

No doubt part of this is me taking pleasure in everyone else finally realizing, as I have in the course of accidentally becoming a genre theorist, that all writing is remixing (genre, after all, might be seen as a shared convention of what you remix from, with deviations/scratches being celebrated as innovation) and that the stodgy literary elitism of the past century (and this century still) has no legs left to stand on: it posits that remixes are inherently derivative, that genre texts are inherently inferior to the romantically-conceived, independent artiste writing a truly unique work of universalizeable and immortal literature, and this position simply cannot be sustained. Neither, really, can the laws that pretend it’s true. Just ask the RIAA.

Even if you literally show me pictures of myself writing my novel at 4am in a locked room, I will not buy the idea that there’s an un-remix-ed version of writing, or that this is new. There are novels in the room, and in my head, so no. Nope. No.

Nope.
Nope.

But then, within syllables, Banks saves himself (see page 2)–this is a book about locating African American cultural agency inside a paradigm that has suddenly returned to the fore after being mythologized out of modernity by a system built to construct African American as “other” (in the same way non-Enlightenment, non-European, “non-modern” groups get Othered to create the Us). The DJs hearken back to oral storytelling–the griots–meaning that this is not new, that this is just one way of looking at it that might be cool.

Digital Griots is a tool for reimagining what is going on–for scholars who have discovered the model in a new fashion, not an absolute pronunciation of the newness of the system itself. The DJ is “a figure through whom African American rhetoric can be reimagined in a new century” (2). The griot maintains the past within the present (see epigraph on 10), which of course makes the distinction really fuzzy. The way it ought to be.

That, at least, makes the academic in me happy. And it also helps to explain the really weird phenomenon that happened on Twitter–somehow, Tweetku has taken on a life of its own and has its own twitter, but we’re not sure if we made it or if we just happened to be doing the same thing while it was already there all along. Remix obfuscates historicity. The agent (the romantic author) blurs into the griot (the person speaking right now, the re-vision) (156).

My attempts, and our fixation, with locating an originator are probably possible but really counter to how the internet works structurally–the internet does not make allowances for the purity (and the myth) of the original. CNN’s silly attempts, every week, to find out about the source of viral things feels about as in-touch as their five weeks of coverage for a plane crash: they’re fixated on originators. Likewise, TV news networks talk about the hacker collective Anonymous as if it’s a thing, with leaders or consistent members. It is *not*. That’s the point. There’s no satisfying author at the end of the trail of remixes.

I did not make this image. It did not spring solely from me. I do not know who made it, and even if I did, it's an appropriation of another text.
I did not make this image. It did not spring solely from me. I do not know who made it, and even if I did, it’s an appropriation of another text.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t protect remixers work, or reward particularly effective innovation, its just that we need to acknowledge that

  1. we’ve been doing that to certain remixers, called authors, but not to others,
  2. nobody operates in a vacuum (see the most recent presidential election’s key debate), and
  3. academic culture still creates systems of value, good or bad, around arbitrary distinctions between remix and original, derivative text and magical “springs fully formed from the head of the author, like Athena from Zeus” literature.
  4. Tweetku probably went viral somehow.

    This image is a pastiche of several memes, combined with a famous internet haiku. There are too many potential layered remixes here.
    This image is a pastiche of several memes, combined with a famous internet haiku. There are too many potential layered remixes here.

 

Academic/Online Writing/Responding: A Bricolage

In reading Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolescence, I found myself most drawn to her chapter on authorship and the ways in which she is forwarding some of the ideas we discussed last week in relation to Lessig’s Remix.

As academics, we generally (and in turn tell our students) that there is a “right” way to critique scholars with opposing viewpoints in one’s own written work (with respect, fairness, tact, etc.). Likewise, most people would acknowledge that there is an etiquette to what sorts of comments are “appropriate” to online writing, images, video, etc. (trolls and flamers not withstanding). Yet, if we consider Fitzpatrick’s proposition that “we come to accept remix as a mode of scholarly authorship, a form of academic bricolage” (79 in Kindle), what then would the hybrid responses to such hybrid texts look like? Naturally, there are some blogs or other online publicity organs associated with scholarly journals that do allow for some amount of commenting, but I cannot think of any online journal in Victorian studies (my field) that does anything more than approximately reproduce the print journal format in pixelated form—they embrace a new technology without also embracing any of its other affordances in soliciting reader responses.

Fitzpatrick notes that it is “important to recognize that even if we never return to an article and revise it after it’s been published online, the article’s meaning will nonetheless shift and change depending on the ways that other writers interact with it” (71 in Kindle). She admits elsewhere that this is of course true of most texts, but with online texts there is the expectation that this sort of shifting, negotiating, and revising will not only happen, but will do so to a visible extent and under the eyes of a readership that will proceed to not only comment but sometimes even steer the conversation.

So then, a thought experiment: just for a moment imagine a combination of the scholarly/online modes of response, for instance, a scholarly article that allowed “comments” akin to the form of say, those on a YouTube video. Anyone would be able to see that so-and-so many people gave a piece a thumbs up or thumbs down, what people had to say about it specifically, as well as what conversations/conflicts it generated (whether thoughtful or not)—to a certain extent, perhaps this is what we have been doing all along in our class blog/Twitter feed. In any case, this approach would likely generate some productive comments, but might also…not (as is so often the case with even the most seemingly innocuous videos).

A Spirited Internet Debate
The future of academic discourse?

To give an example from YouTube (which happens to be oddly fitting in light of Fitzpatrick’s discussion of academic publishing as an “undead” form): in response to the “Bring out your dead” scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, one commenter going by the moniker TheFalafelRaptor responded “46 people aren’t dead yet but got thrown into the cart anyways,” which anyone who has spent any amount of time on YouTube recognizes as a fairly standard template response (taking the number of people who have given the video a thumbs down—46 in this case—and combining it with some statement that relates to the fact that these users did not align themselves with what most other people liked about the video). Yet, imagine the uproar if academic texts were treated in this way: “46 people aren’t ready to remix with Lessig.” I find myself halfway between horror and amusement at the thought.

Perhaps this type of mash-up is not quite what Fitzpatrick (or Lessig) had in mind in advocating for bricolage or remix, particularly as it pertains not only to the creation of texts. But what about responses to them? And why not?

Reading and Writing and Everything…Complicated in a Digital Environment

In our first discussion of Kathleen Fitzgerald’s Planned Obsolescence, Janel and I chatted briefly about its length – with me remarking that it’s just under two hundred pages, and Janel lamenting that her Kindle version gives her no page numbers. Also having the Kindle text, I was surprised (and relieved) that the version I had on my PC did indeed have page numbers – “Hallelujah” just might have rung out in my mind. Funnily enough, Kindle’s “locations” do little to locate me in a text. Even with the percentages and progress bars, clicking the next page icon (as indebted to codex construction as it is) is just not the same as the physical feel of a book when you reach the halfway point and when there are more pages in your left hand than right.

That being said, most of my reading is digital. I’m either scrolling or, if I’m on my Tumblr dash, hitting “J” to move down my infinite scrolling dash post by post. Some posts are simply too long to scroll all the way through – and I can always hit “K” if I want to move up to the start of a post that I decide I do want to read after all.

In the same fashion, as I compose this post (in Word), I have changed the font to Times New Roman and the font size to 12, even though I know this will change the instant I move the writing to WordPress. I am simultaneously both mentally chained to more traditional understandings of text and all too willing to abandon them once I open a browser. I’m also desperately trying to figure out how to work this into the zombie metaphor and struggling. (…Something about how each survivor base tries desperately to recreate pre-zombie life within those walls, only to instantly adapt to new realities when unlocking a chained up fence and blasting a way through a zombie horde…like you do).

Fitzgerald writes, “Developers of new textual technologies and publishing systems must recognize that, on the one hand, simply publishing texts online, finding ways to reproduce the structures of the book in digital form, is insufficient, because the network cannot, and should not, replicate the codex; and that on the other hand, simply moving toward a more internally networked form of publishing will likewise not revolutionize the circulation of texts, as the emphasis remains on the individual text, the individual author, the individual mind” (107).

Quick aside here, I cannot begin to express my frustration that I can’t copy/paste from a Kindle text and instead had to handwrite this quotation (it’s just one sentence that’s length only makes itself truly known when writing down each word), and then retype it into Word. I feel like technology has failed me.

Talk about older writing technologies...
Talk about older writing technologies…

But to return to the quotation. The questions of how the digital context could, and should, change the construction of reading and writing (and publishing) are of interest to me mainly as I continue to consider how I will compose a digital essay on Tumblr. It’s a public site, and I will reblog from other users invested (hopefully) in what I have to say. There will be some element of response in the piece (but I wonder how soon I will start posting what I already will, to a certain extent, have planned and written in Word). It’s a blog, so it has a reverse chronology. To what extent will I move around posts before the final deadline? And, as a blog, it is unfinished to the vast majority of my audience (again, presuming the audience ends up extending beyond everyone here – not to say you all aren’t the best audience a gal could wish for). There is some level of obligation (real or imagined) an author has to a blog’s readership that is unlike a printed text, or even an online text like Prezi, where the product is what appears.

Yet, when looking at all of these questions, even if I’m moving beyond a piece limited to codex form, I am still tethered to individualism. Everything is hooked to what “I” want to do, or what I think is best to do, in the context of this course and my scholarly project. I (there it is again) am unsure at this point to what degree I should move beyond this, admittedly imagined, construction of individual authorship, and experiment more broadly with Tumblr‘s system of reblogging, submission, and general intertextuality across mediums. But who knows – perhaps I say this safely from my base camp, and once I’m loose among the hordes on Tumblr I will fully embrace this collaborative digital environment.*

 

*I don’t think bloggers are zombies…but I had to call back the metaphor. Zombies are cool. The asterisk and italics on Janel’s post are also cool. 

An Infinite Frontier

How we write on the Internet is different from how we write in print. But who is writing (and what they can write about) has also changed.

In A Better Pencil, Dennis Baron continuously talks about the “frontier spirit” associated with Internet interactions (2). He argues, “The internet is a true electronic frontier where everyone is on his or her own; all manuscripts are accepted for publication, they remain in virtual print forever, and no one can tell writers what to do” (25). This frontier is “rough and uncivilized” (139), or at least seemed to be, in terms of both online authors and their unique style of writing.

What interests me about the frontier, however, is the historical significance that immediately comes to mind –the frontier as something to be conquered and standardized after a period of lawlessness. It was a place, at least in the US, where difference was ruthlessly eradicated and a standard culture implemented. I think, in a sense, Baron is correct in associating the Internet with the American frontier.

(Manifest Destiny)

vs

(M4nif357 D357INY) 

To a large extent, we have adapted to online writing; we’ve moved past l33t, at least. My iPhone autocorrects “ttyl” to “Talk to you later” (and I use “autocorrect” as a verb without a redline appearing in my Word document – though WordPress is not convinced). Most everyone with access to technology uses that technology as a digital author, whether they compose e-mails, post on Facebook, or run a blog.

Yet, I think we can adjust our understanding of the Internet as a frontier if we look at who is writing, not just how they write. As you will very likely hear from me several times over the course of the semester, I use Tumblr. I recently saw this written in a post on my dash:

 Once upon a time there was no internet. You kids know about this, sure. But you don’t really know. There was no way to learn all the things you should have learned. And when you were alone, you were really really alone. (Rubyvroom)

Anonymity and identity are tied up with authorship in the digital age. Oftentimes, this is worrying. More often, as Standage will point out in Writing on the Wall, it leads to the new type of internet troll that tirelessly posts comments playing up all types of prejudices. Despite that, because “no one can tell writers what to do,” marginalized voices (and cultures) have reemerged onto the electronic frontier. I talk about Tumblr specifically because there are more teenagers, people of color, women, and LGBT-identified individuals than other platforms, leading observers, like Tom Ewing of Freaky Trigger,  to say of the website,

What looks to dim outsiders as some kind of obsession with ‘social justice’ often just springs from people talking about themselves, their lives and the shit that happens to them. (All Our Friends)

Tumblr user Me-ya-ri remarks of this changed landscape, “I remember all to [sic] well what it was like to not have any words” (Me-ya-ri). When we think about the words we use online, how we manipulate them with fonts or colors or how we replace (or augment) them with images or videos, we should also consider the access to them that the Internet grants us.  It is, I think, a truly untameable frontier.

 

 

 

Tracing Fingertips

My mother yelled down that all four of us kids were to come upstairs immediately. Her face, normally placid and loving, showed signs of irritation and anger. As we gathered in the kids’ shared bathroom, she leaned forward, directing our attention to the mirror over the sink. Someone had made, in the shower steam, a drippy print: “Clean Me Off.” Mom wanted to know who had authored the bathroom command.

Since the advent of writing, readers have sought assurance of the identity of the person who is “speaking” to them. In moving from receiving news and information through oration to getting it through written language, readers lost the physical assurance of the speaker as originator (or at least replicator) of the words being communicated.  Readers who lay their own hands (or eyes) on a text have a strong drive to know whose fingers carved, scripted, painted, typed, or handwrote the words. “Whose words do I read?” we ask. 

In A Better Pencil, Baron shows how each step forward in technological innovation brought with it unsettling anxieties. The process of authenticating texts—confirming and assuring readers of the author’s identity—lagged behind each new innovation in composition. As the users of new writing technologies increased, the rogue quality of possible anonymity was eventually mitigated as each era found its own ways of determining authorship. 

As anyone who has ever lost control of an email or social media account or caught a computer virus knows, it can be highly embarrassing to have your byline attached to a fraudulent email or link. Baron’s assertion that “all new writing technologies bring with them the potential for fraud” (120) is certainly true, but the probability of encountering fraud and untrustworthy content is the necessary flip side of increasingly democratized access to composition and publishing.

It seems that charges of fraud (may frequently, though not always) disguise an unwillingness to relinquish control of content and publication now made more democratic than any other time in history. In the cases of unlicensed printing presses up through unsigned blogs, new writing technologies enable people to “bypass many of the long-established winnowing and qualifying procedures that we have come to associate with writing” (Baron 163). In other words, a widely (though far from universally) available means of writing and reaching an audience reroutes texts past traditional monitors/arbiters of taste, quality, and accuracy. We now have a “cyberworld of writers without borders” (163). To the masses for whom publishing through traditional avenues isn’t possible, the internet offers a free–both monetarily and ideologically–place to share ideas and respond to the ideas of others.

Graffiti on mirrors in NYC. (Flikr through Creative Commons)
Graffiti on mirrors in NYC. (by Joff Hopkins on Flickr through Creative Commons)

While celebrating this in the abstract, those who previously controlled the means of publishing (if not producing content in private) now face a digital world in which anyone who wants to can find a platform to speak/write. As Baron puts it, new technologies help “upstarts” “take advantage of the destabilization produced by new communication machines in order to take text and talk in new directions” (162). Those previously in positions of power have the most to lose when so-called “upstarts” challenge the status quo, and so critiques of new writing and printing technologies as fraught with fraud danger may hold both truth and occlusion.

After all, part of the compulsion to know who wrote something is to understand their ethos as well as to judge their work. Readers mete out punishment or heap reward on the writer based on what we think he or she deserves, and online anonymity creates a readerly/writerly breech.

Back to the bathroom mirror writer, who created his or her own huge and highly visible paper: I understand my mom’s irritation about the writing on the mirror. The writer left an unsigned mess(age), in smudges and markings. But I also must point out that my mom’s encouragement to express ourselves through writing implicitly carried with it very specific (and themselves unwritten) rules about where, how, and what to write. And ultimately, when it came to reading the writing on the mirror, the message itself mattered to her much less than the author’s identity. (And I swear, it wasn’t me.)

Fastwrite: Authorship since 2007

The notion of authorship pre-digital media is already fraught in terms of cultural context as well as the specifics of publication and editing. I think a lot of people believe that sites like Tumblr or Twitter are perhaps less influence-free or contrived than traditional publishing, and offer authors a more direct sense of control over their text. But at the same time, the context of authorship on the web seems to have become more and more localized in the last few years, as specific, smaller web communities have sprouted and grown. Perhaps the kind of assumed cultural knowledge of a specific site, maybe something like Reddit or a specific Tumblr tag, is a mirror of something like specific scholarly communities, both influencing and reacting to and against texts as they come and go. Yet, for both, there does seem to be a certain kind of boundary, one that can be transgressed as texts become too popular for their smaller community, but also one that does keep a community somewhat protective and engaged with its own existence. Subreddits concerned with the quality of their own content, like r/TrueReddit, or people who become moderators of things like the Education tag on tumblr: are these different versions of groups like the MLA or other editorial boards?

Authorship in Digital Age Fastwrite

The topic that came most readily to mind for me is how authorship has changed in the digital age. It’s pretty incredible that there are sites out there that are so intensely collaborative that they do not bother to distinguish between the texts that users produce—and it would be impossible to do so in any case. I’m thinking of Wikis, produced, revised, and edited constantly by a practically anonymous group of strangers. What’s particularly astounding is that this “crowdsourcing” can produce excellent and accurate texts—I’m thinking of Wikipedia, which has a comparable number of errors per entry to Encyclopedia Britannica.

There is also a strange, schismatic relationship that we have developed to the texts we produce and distribute via the web. On the one hand they have come to seem rather ephemeral—especially with digital “streams” and “feeds” taking over a lot of the web content that is accessed daily, things seem to come and go at lightning speed. But on the other hand, there’s this idea that whatever we put out on the web is destined to be there forever, that once it’s put out there, it’s permanent—there’s no way to fetch it back, that it no longer belongs to you.