Performing the Scholarly Monograph in Contemporary Digital Culture

6.5 Conclusion

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 To conclude this chapter, I would like to briefly return to textual studies or textual criticism, which as a field has always actively engaged itself with issues concerning the fixity and fluidity of texts. This is embodied mainly in the search for the ideal text or archetype, but also in the continued confrontation with a text’s pluralities of meaning and intentionality, next to issues of interpretation and materiality. In this respect critical editing, as a means of stabilising a text, has always revolved around an awareness of the cuts that are made to a text in the creation of scholarly editions. It can therefore be stated that, as Bryant has argued, the task of a textual scholar is to ‘manage textual fluidity’ (2002: 26).

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 One of the other strengths of textual criticism is an awareness on the part of many of the scholars in the field that their own practical and theoretical decisions or cuts influence the interpretation of a text. They can therefore be seen to be mindful of their entanglement with its becoming. As Bryant has put it, ‘editors’ choices inevitably constitute yet another version of the fluid text they are editing. Thus critical editing perpetuates textual fluidity’ (Bryant 2002: 26). These specific cuts, or ‘historical write-ups’, that textual scholars create as part of their work with critical editions, don’t only construct the past from a vision of the present, they also say something about the future. As textual scholar Jerome McGann has pointed out:

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 All poems and cultural products are included in history—including the producers and the reproducers of such works, the poet and their readers and interpreters … To the historicist imagination, history is the past, or perhaps the past as seen in and through the present; and the historical task is to attempt a reconstruction of the past, including, perhaps, the present of that past. But the Cantos reminds us that history includes the future, and that the historical task involves as well the construction of what shall be possible. (1988)

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 It is this awareness that a critical edition is the product of editorial intervention (which creates a material-discursive framework that influences future texts’ becoming) that I am interested in here, especially in relation to McGann’s work on the performativity of texts. For McGann every text is a social text, created under specific socio-historical conditions, where he theorises texts not as things or objects, but as events. He argues therefore that texts are not representations of intentions, but they are processual events in themselves. Thus every version or reading of a text is a performative (as well as a deformative) act (McGann, J. 2004: 225). In this sense, McGann makes the move in textual criticism from a focus on authorial intention and hermeneutics or representation, to seeing a text as a performative event and critical editions as performative acts.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 McGann therefore argues for a different, dynamic engagement with texts, not focused on discovering what a text ‘is’, but on an ‘analysis [that] must be applied to the text as it is performative’ (2004: 206). This includes taking into consideration the specific material iteration of the text one is studying (and how this functions, as Hayles has argued, as a technotext, i.e. how its specific material apparatus produces the work as a physical artifact (Hayles 2002)), as well as an awareness of how the scholar’s textual analysis is itself part of the iteration and ‘othering’ of the text (McGann, J. 2004: 206). And connected to this, as Barad has argued, we have to be aware how the text’s performativity shapes us in our entanglement with it.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 The question then is: why we can’t be more like critical textual editors (in the style of Jerome McGann) ourselves when it comes to our own scholarly works, taking into consideration the various cuts we make and that are made for us as part of the processes of knowledge production? Assuming responsibility for our own incisions as textual critics of our own work, exploring the poetics or poethics of scholarship in this respect should involve: taking responsibility for our entanglement in the production, dissemination and consumption of the book; engaging with the material-discursive institutional and cultural aspects of the book and book publishing; and experimenting with an open-ended and radical politics of the book (which includes exploring the processual nature of the book, whilst taking responsibility for the need to cut). This would also involve experimenting with alternative ways of cutting our bookish scholarship together-apart: with different forms of authorship, both-human and non-human; with the materialities and modalities of the book, exploring multimodal and emergent genres, whilst continuously rethinking and performing the fixity of the book itself; and with the publishing process, examining ways to disturb the current political economy of the book and the objectification of the book within publishing and research. From my perspective, this would mean we continue our experimentations with remixed and living books, with versionings, and with radical forms of openness, while at the same time remaining critical of the alternative incisions we make as part of these projects, of the new forms of binding they might weave. This also involves being aware of the potential strategic decisions we make to keep some iterative bindings intact (for reasons of authority and reputation, for instance) and why we choose to do so. We should therefore engage with this experimenting not from the angle of the fixed or fluid book, but from the perspective of the cut that cuts-together-apart the emergent book and, when done well, enables its ongoing becoming.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 This text, just as the projects mentioned above, has attempted to start the process of rethinking (through its diffractive methodology) how we might start to cut differently where it comes to our research and publication practices. Cutting and stabilising still needs to be done, but it might be accomplished in different ways, at different stages of the research process, and for different reasons than we are doing now. What I want to emphasise here is that we can start to rethink and re-perform the way we publish our research if we start to pay closer attention to the specific cuts we make (and that are made for us) as part of our publishing practices. The politics of the book itself can be helpful in this respect where, as Gary Hall and I have argued elsewhere, ‘if it is to continue to be able to serve ‘new ends’ as a medium through which politics itself can be rethought (…) then the material and cultural constitution of the book needs to be continually reviewed, re-evaluated and reconceived’ (2013: 138). The book itself can thus be a medium with the critical and political potential to question specific cuts and to disturb existing scholarly practices and institutions. Books are always a process of becoming (albeit one that is continuously interrupted and disturbed). Books are entanglements of different agencies that cannot be discerned beforehand. In the cuts that we make to untangle them we create specific material book objects. In these incisions, the book has always already redeveloped, remixed. It has mutated and moved on. The book is thus a processual, ephemeral and contextualised entity, which we can use a means to critique our established practices and institutions, both through its forms (and the cuts we make to create these forms) and its metaphors, and through the practices that accompany it.

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