Authorship as a Scale

In the chapter devoted to “Texts” in Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s excellent and thorough work Planned Obsolescence the author continues her investigation into forms of networked publishing and its impact on authorship. Her argument that the necessary investigation into new forms of academic publishing should not attempt to mimic the codex form takes her from an examination of the implications of hypertext (it’s shortcomings in satisfying the transition to a new publishing paradigm), to more socially-tethered, born-digital works. My provocation deals with the practicalities of attempting to elevate the reader to the status of “writer.”

Although it seems worthy and necessary to think about the existential framework for the networked publishing model, and its place in the social landscape into which it is born, reducing the demarcation that is the fruits of authorial labor seems misguided. Setting aside the challenges of creating a deep structure that organizes the feedback mechanism (comments on comments on comments) inherent in the networked form, I still see an issue akin to the fallacy of freedom in hypertext. The leveling of the hierarchy between author and reader (a hierarchy that I can find very little fault in) ushered in by the linking and anchoring of hypertext markup, from my perspective, is false. Someone is always behind the placement of links. A deliberate choice about what choices are available should be kept in mind as a byproduct of authorship. Just because a reader has a new way of choosing what they choose to read doesn’t restructure their relationship to the creation of the content. They are choosing entry points into someone else’s ideas. It is in the interpretation of the content, and the unique articulation of individual thought that positions the reader as a true participant in the enlivening of any publication.

For conscientious, open-minded authors, reader feedback has always informed the iterative versioning of a work. With networked texts, the iterations can happen more quickly and with greater ease. That the conversations surrounding the iterations of a work can be made public and displayed as a single package is a truly fantastic element of the networked text form. It’s not that all commenters are worthy of a mention in an acknowledgments page instead of their name listed on the metaphorical front cover (or metadata bisac). It’s that they are contributors to the networked text, and it’s unique ecosystem. It may very well be that the demarcation between author and reader in the codex form should not extend to the networked form. However, what should be we call comment contributors? And should they really factor into the discussions of authorship. Ultimately, it may be the syntax that bothers me. That being said, I do not see the robust data-driven labor of reader feedback as an adequate contribution to allow for the moving of the dial in this regard. Remix, borrow, analyze, and contribute all you want, but this does not necessarily constitute a contribution worthy of authorship. Although all works are born from these same techniques, it may ultimately be from the sheer weight of skin-in-the-game that an author derives the title.

Franco Moretti’s “Trees”

Franco Moretti takes the study of genre as his subject, not individual texts. My provocation for the “Trees” section of his though-provoking work “Graphs, Maps, and Trees” involves the idea of the novel as a temporal “slice.” Diachronic succession vs. Synchronic drifting apart. Moretti is using innovative theories to help define fresh morphological distinctions for the novel as genre. What types of novels embody portions of synchronic and diachronic morphology? Is it possible to have characters that embody consciousness that differs along these lines? What would a novel look like that had one of these morphologies on the local level, and the other on the global level, made clear through a close reading of the text? What happens if those distinctions are reversed? Can a novel be written to be read both ways, depending on a variety of entry points?

Youth in the Neoliberal Age

Neoliberalism believes that we have reached the end of history, a steady-state condition of free-market capitalism that will go on replicating itself forever.
The Neoliberal Arts, Willliam Deresiewicz

Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly. Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man; nor is it an idea which becomes myth. It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest for human completion.
The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire

My provocation of Deresiewicz’s essay concerns the concept he puts forth of the role of youth in the age of neoliberalism. The role of youth in the neoliberal age, he argues, is different from what it was from the period of the romantics through modernity. Youth has historically been understood to inhabit the unique role of skeptical questioner of the world. Our current higher education system is skewing this expectation. With the mad rush to secure spots at perceived elite institutions for economic and philosophical reasons driven by post-modern neoliberal values, this historical role is being extinguished, with nothing unique or particularly notable to replace it. Young people are now simply small, less developed adults. But is this really true? And, what does this say about our concepts surrounding the role of adults in relation to their society?

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Multiverse: Egalitarian Frankenstein

The ends are already given—the preservation of the eternal truths, the creation of new knowledge, the improvement of service wherever truth and knowledge of high order may serve the needs of man. The ends are there; the means must be ever improved in a competitive dynamic environment.

Although to me, the term “multiversity” seems uninspired, almost an off the cuff term, Clark Kerr in the Chapters 1 and 3 of his monograph The Uses of the University makes a compelling argument for the inevitable rebranding of the institution of higher education we continue to call the University. The university, he writes “is so many things to so many different people that it must, of necessity, be partially at war with itself.” Tracing the history of higher learning from its medieval roots to the well-known cloistered institutions of Oxford and Cambridge, to the modern university seated in Berlin, onward to the American system, Kerr tactfully brings us to the cusp of our current system and stops there. He covers so much ground in the process, I found it was useful to start grouping his metaphors and key terms into blocks.

Idea of a University:
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Art’s Absent Aura in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

“The enlargement of a snapshot does not simply render more precise what in any case was visible, though unclear; it reveals entirely new structural formations of the subject….Evidently a different nature opens itself to the camera than opens itself to the naked eye—if only because an unconsciously penetrated space is substituted for a space consciously explored by man….Here the camera intervenes with the resources of its lowerings and liftings, its interruptions and isolation, its extensions and accelerations, its enlargements and reductions. The camera introduces us to unconscious optics as does psychoanalysis to unconscious impulses.”

“To pry an object from its shell, to destroy its aura, is the mark of a perception whose “sense of the universal equality of things” has increased to such a degree that it extracts it even from a unique object by means of reproduction.”

Although Benjamin hits on many salient points in his essay: the position of art as it relates to later stage Capitalism, the historical development of the artistic work, and the impact of mechanical reproduction on artistic endeavor, it’s his notion of the aura of a work of art that I found most problematic. This essay is through and through a work of political writing. The aesthetic concerns provide a forceful context. However, I found Benjamin’s argument disjointed, and often times inconsistent.

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