Performing the Scholarly Monograph in Contemporary Digital Culture

1.1 Theoretical Framework

1.1.1 Excavating the Histories of the Book

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Over the centuries the printed book has left its mark on culture and society and on the ways in which we perceive the world and structure our thoughts. However the book is also a very historical format in the sense that, as a material form of textual transmission, it has been produced and consumed in specific ways over the course of its existence. The printed book had a specific birth and rise with the invention of the printing press in the 1440s, for example. Meanwhile, the ‘death of the (printed) book’, as a meme, has occurred several times during its more than 500 years existence, mostly in reaction to the development of new media (i.e. newspapers, radio, television, CD-ROMs) that were perceived as being bound to replace the book.[1] Nowadays, with the growing popularity of ebooks, the debate is rife yet again over whether printed books will start to see a future point of decline—or will perhaps disappear entirely—or whether their stronghold on culture and society is so powerful that they will be able to weather yet another storm.[2]

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 The printed book format has from its early beginnings been of the utmost importance as a specific material form of scholarly communication, especially for the scholarly monograph as a particular physical embodiment of the concept of the book. Since the rise of modern science and scholarship the scholarly monograph, in common with the academic journal, has for the most part been produced, distributed and consumed in printed and bound codex formats. For the majority of scholars the printed book format produced in an academic setting (i.e. published and distributed by an academic publisher) has thus become synonymous with formal scholarly communication. With the development of digital forms of communication, this analogous relationship between print and formal scholarly communication has become increasingly uncertain and the future of the scholarly book is (once again) heavily debated.[3] Whether the monograph of the future will exist in print, digital, hybrid or post-digital print forms, is something that is currently being struggled over by the various constituencies that surround the production, distribution, and consumption of academic books. If we want to explore the potential future(s) of the scholarly monograph in an increasingly digital environment however, it is essential to examine the histories of the book in relationship to the practices and institutions that have accompanied the monograph. We need to analyse the specific contexts out of which the book as a technology co-emerged, simultaneously shaped by and shaping the environments that enabled its becoming.[4] This allows us to take a closer look at how the book form has developed from writing systems such as wax tablets and scrolls, to codices and ebooks—to cite a few of the most obvious examples.[5] It also provides us with an opportunity to explore how the scholarly monograph, as a specific material form of scholarly communication, came to be what it is today. How did it continue to evolve along certain historically structured paths, influencing and shaping scholarly communication at the same time? Even more importantly, and as I will demonstrate in more detail in chapter 2, it allows us to gain an overview of the various discourses that have surrounded the history of the book and how they have developed over the last decades as specific co-existing material configurations of the book. This will help us to reconstruct various different (or conflicting) genealogies of the scholarly book, in order to explore how it came to be the institution that it is today. How did the scholarly book attain the material form we are now so familiar with and in what way did this entail changes in its production systems? How were the cultural perceptions and practices the monograph carries with it and enables, established? Reconstructing the genealogies of the scholarly book in this way, will allow us to investigate how our historical discourses and practices will in the future continue to shape the material becoming of the book—both as object and concept—simultaneously affecting the larger scholarly communication system of which it is a part.

1.1.2 Remediation and Genealogy

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Excavating the histories of the book is also important in order to illustrate how ‘new media’ (ebooks, printed books) have historically remediated ‘old media’ (printed books, manuscripts) and to explore the influence of other new media, such as film, television, and digital media, on the development of the printed book as well as the ebook. Remediation, as understood by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, is one of the theoretical frameworks that have been developed to conceptualise some of the continuities between media, and to explain the continuous resurfacing of the old in the new (and vice versa, the adaptation of the old to the new).[6] As media theorists Sarah Kember and Joanna Zylinska point out, remediation does not emphasise a separation between the past and the present and between new and old media in the form of technological convergence. Rather, Bolter and Grusin critique visions of history as linear and teleological, and favour the idea of history as a contingent genealogy: nonlinear and cyclical (Kember and Zylinska 2012: 8). To expand on this, it is important to stress the political, cultural and economic forces that (re)mediate media and to emphasise—with respect to the constructive power of scholarly practices, for instance—the performative power of our own daily practices in reproducing and remediating the printed monograph in the digital domain. As Bolter and Grusin state: ‘No medium today, and certainly no single media event, seems to do its cultural work in isolation from other media, any more than it works in isolation from other social and economic forces. What is new about new media comes from the particular ways in which they refashion older media and the ways in which older media refashion themselves to answer the challenges of new media’ (1999: 14–15).

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Katherine N. Hayles is an important theorist to have argued for the importance of a more ‘robust notion of materiality’ in media studies, especially in the realm of print and hypertext. Hayles’ campaign for ‘media specific analysis’ (MSA) is very valuable in this context too, where she argues that the meaning of a text is integrally entwined with its materiality or ‘physicality’. Texts are thus embodied entities, and materiality an emergent property, ‘existing in a complex dynamic interplay with content’ (and additionally contingent through the user’s interactions with the work) (Hayles 2004: 67). For Hayles, MSA is then ‘a mode of critical interrogation alert to the ways in which the medium constructs the work and the work constructs the medium’ (2002: 6). She is sensitive to the influence of what D. F. McKenzie calls the ‘social text’ (1999) on the materiality of the book, in this sense extending her notion of materiality towards ‘the social, cultural, and technological practices that brought it into being’ and the practices it enacts (Hayles 2003: 275–276). Hayles focuses less, however, on the historical discourses and narratives that she herself and her scholarly colleagues have constructed on the meaning, definition, and the future and past of the book, and on the continued performative influence of these discourses on the evolving materiality of the book (and vice versa). As stated above, this reflexive act of being aware of and critical of one’s own practices and contributions to the larger discourse, whilst rethinking and re-performing them, is what I intend to focus on in this thesis, extending from the tradition of feminist re-readings and rewritings of (masculine) discourses (Butler 1993, Grosz 1993, Threadgold 1997).

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Foucault’s concepts of archaeology and genealogy are of the utmost importance to this study and provide key reasons as to the relevance of analysing the history of the (scholarly) book. Foucault’s historiographical methodology allows us to explore and understand the emergence and development of book (historical) discourses from within certain contexts and practices, whilst simultaneously highlighting the critical and performative possibilities of (re-)reading these discourses differently. Foucault uses his archaeological method to investigate how a certain object or discourse has originated and sustained itself; how its conditions of existence have been shaped by discourses and institutions and the rise of certain cultural practices; and how this exploration of the past of a certain object or discourse, aides us in understanding its present condition better and enables us to rethink the new in the light of the old. Foucault emphasises the way in which our historical descriptions are necessarily ordered by the present state of knowledge and thus how our foundational concepts can be seen as the effects and the outcomes of specific formations of power (1969: 5). In his later genealogical strategy, Foucault critiques readings of origin in his search for minor knowledges arising from local discursivities, drawing attention to neglected, alternative and counter histories that have developed in the subconscious of a discourse’s development. As Dreyfus and Rabinow argue, in his archaeological practice, Foucault initially focused more on how a discourse organises itself and the practices and institutions it is directed at, while neglecting the way a discourse is itself embedded in and affected by these practices and institutions. In his genealogical approach, this original focus on an autonomous discourse is subjected to a thorough critique (Dreyfus et al. 1983: xii). Origins are then seen as embedded in political stakes where genealogy investigates the institutions, practices and discourses that come to determine a hegemonic origin against multiple and diffuse points of origin. Foucault’s interest here lies in how truth-claims emerge and how we can read them differently. With his critique of established historical readings or discourses—which thus function as systems of authority and constraint—Foucault wants to focus on the heterogeneity of histories, to emancipate historical knowledges from subjection and to enable them to struggle against a hegemonic unitary discourse (1980a: 83).

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 This shift in Foucault’s approach from archaeology to genealogy has been characterised as a move in his work from an emphasis on structuralism to poststructuralism (a characterisation Foucault would not use himself, he denied ever having been a structuralist) (Dreyfus et al. 1983: xi–xii). On the other hand it has been emphasised that the narrative of a shift from archaeology to genealogy and structuralism to poststructuralism in Foucault’s thought is too simplistic, and can even be seen as structuralist (and teleological) itself, arguing that the two strategies cannot be so easily contrasted and opposed. Green states, for instance, that the shift from archaeology to genealogy did not really constitute a reversal in Foucault’s basic stance. Elements of post-structuralism and genealogy are already identifiable in Foucault’s supposedly ‘structuralist’, and ‘archaeological’ works (Green 2004). As Foucault once said in an interview: ‘My archaeology owes more to Nietzschean genealogy than to structuralism properly called’ (1996: 31). Green refers to the works of Davidson (1986), who sees the supposed shift not as a replacement but as an integration of the archaeology in a wider genealogical framework, and Mahon (1992), who sees the relationship between archaeology and genealogy as one of a method and its goal.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 The overview of the histories of the book I am providing in this thesis will thus present archaeology and genealogy as related and in many ways complementary concepts and strategies.[7] In this respect this study is archaeologically informed as it is interested in the origins and development of both: the current dominant discourse surrounding the printed book (and more specifically the scholarly monograph) in its transition to the digital environment; and of the book format under the influence of this discourse (and vice versa). It will however be genealogical, too, in the sense that it will pay specific attention to the formations of power that influence and determine both this discourse and the dominant descriptions and analyses of this discourse, and with that the book as object as it has developed and continues to develop in an increasingly digital environment. In this thesis I will thus pay attention to the emergence of scholarly practices and institutions in the Western academic world that influenced the development of specific discourses surrounding the book and the book’s material manifestations. Furthermore, I will also pay close attention to alternative readings of the history of the book and its institutions. How did they emerge and for what reasons? How can we already find these alternative readings ‘within’ the dominant discourses, instead of presenting them as dialectically opposed?[8] In this study I will search for ruptures and discontinuity from within through a transversal discursive reading, emphasising the heterogeneous character of the discourse on the history of the book and how it has been constructed. As part of this ‘re-framing of the discourse’, I will propose a diffractive reading to capture the book’s historical debate as it evolves.[9] This will involve a re-framing of the history of the book and the material formations and practices that have accompanied it (from authorship to openness): by diffractionally reading the oppositional discourses through each other, to emphasise their entanglement and to push them to their limits by juxtaposing them; by laying more emphasis on the humanist tendencies in this discourse, their ongoing influence and the performative attempts to critique them; and finally, by drawing more attention to the performativitity of these material-discursive formations, and our own entanglements as scholars in their becoming.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 This will highlight the multiple, mutually entangled, aspects of the discourse in its becoming, as well as leaving space for heterogeneous discursivities within this framework. In chapter 2 of this thesis, on historical book discourses and discursive practices, I will attempt to outline the basic contours of such an alternative vision of the book historical past. In the remainder of this thesis I will then focus my efforts on re-framing the contemporary history of the scholarly book—by rethinking historically constructed humanist concepts such as scholarly (book) authorship (chapter 3), the commodification of the book as object (chapter 4 and 5), and the perceived material stability and fixity inherent to the book (chapter 6).

1.1.3 Performativity and Entanglement

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 This re-framing of the history of the book will acknowledge and take responsibility for its performativity in bringing about and arguing for both an alternative past and future for the book and scholarly communication. This alternative historiography, which will be developed further in chapter 2, is very different to how the book has traditionally been perceived and historicised. I will show how, traditionally, the book has been understood mostly as a passive object or an active agent, with not enough acknowledgement being given to the entangled nature of agencies and our own involvement as scholars, book historians and media theorists in these entanglements. Within the discourse on book history, oppositional thinking (i.e. in the form of technological determinism vs. cultural constructionism, evolution vs. revolution, localism vs. globalism, bookservatism vs. technofuturism) continues to structure the debate, based as we will see predominantly on representationalist and dualist (technicist and culturalist) perceptions of media. What I want to emphasise instead is media discursive practices as performances. Based on a reading of the later work of Foucault, and its understanding of power and discourse as productive and affirmative (performative), and its insistence on the entangled nature of matter/bodies and discursive structures (dispositif), an attempt will be made at thinking beyond these dualisms. As an extension of this attempt, I will engage with the works of a variety of feminist materialist theorists, most prominently with those of Karen Barad and Donna Haraway. New (feminist) materialism can be seen as having an antipathy against oppositional, dialectical thinking and instead emphasises emergent, productive, generative and creative forms of contingent material being/becoming.[10] Important in this respect is that it sees embodied humans or theorists as immersed in processes of materialisation (Coole and Frost 2010: 7–8). These insights will be used to underscore the need to understand the book as a process of becoming, as an entanglement of plural agencies (both human and non-human). The separations—or ‘cuts’ as Barad calls them—that are created out of these entanglements have created inclusions and exclusions, book objects and author subjects, readers and writers.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 In this thesis I therefore want to acknowledge the entangled agentic nature of books, scholars, and readers, and of the discursive practices as well as the systems and institutions of material production that surround them. As I will argue more extensively in the next chapter as well as in chapter 6, during the course of their history scholarly books (and we as scholars are involved in this too, through our scholarly book publishing practices) have functioned as specific discursive practices, as ‘apparatuses’ that cut into the real and make distinctions between, for example, objects of study and the subjects that research them (scholars or authors).[11] At the same time these practices produce these subject and object positions—in the way that, for example, the PhD student as a discoursing subject is being (re)produced by the PhD thesis and by the dominant discourses and practices that accompany it.[12] Books are thus performative, they are reality-shaping, not just a mirroring of objective knowledge.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 As I will argue in this thesis, not enough responsibility is taken for the cuts that are enacted with and through the book as a specific material-discursive practice. In this sense a re-assessment is needed with respect to the writing of book history or the historiography of the book, where there is a lack of acknowledgement of our own roles as scholars in shaping the object of our study, and vice versa. We are not only shaping the past (i.e. as a form of historical narrativism), but simultaneously the future material becoming of the book and scholarship, not the least because as book scholars we are ourselves book authors and readers. At the same time our historical, approved, and dominant scholarly practices (which include the printed book) are affecting us as scholars and the way we act in and describe the world and our object of study. In this respect not only the book, as described above, but also our discursive practices, can be seen as performative. They have the potential to structure both the material form of the book and its uses—and this relates to the printed book as well as its digital counterpart. As such, they will be of substantial importance in determining what the future of the book will be. Let me again be clear, however, that this is not a one-way process, where the material form of the book and the material practices that surround it are simultaneously—one can even say indiscernibly—influencing the shape and the struggles of the debates they have invoked.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Based on this idea of the performativity of both the book and our discursive practices, I will propose to move beyond the dichotomies that have structured the debate on the history of the book in the past, by focusing on the entanglement of material-discursive (Barad) or material-semiotic (Haraway) practices that shape the form of the scholarly book, as well as the institutions accompanying it.[13] Applying Foucault’s work on discursive formations, practices and power struggles, I want to draw more attention to how our own discursive practices—specifically with respect to the scholarly book—materially produce, rather than merely describe, both the subjects and objects of knowledge practices, and thus partly determine the dynamic and complex nature of the history and becoming of scholarly practices. We need to be aware of how discourse organises social practices and institutions, while our discursive practices are at the same time affected by the practices and institutions in which they, and we, are embedded. Drawing inspiration from—as well as showing the inconsistencies in—among others, the work of Roger Chartier, Adrian Johns, Robert Darnton and Paul Duguid (book theorists who have all tried to de-emphasise in more or less successful ways the oppositional nature of the book-historical debate), and diffractively reading them with Barad’s theories of posthumanist performativity and agential realism, I will view these material-discursive practices as entanglements (2008).

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