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Performing the Scholarly Monograph in Contemporary Digital Culture

3.1 Authorship and the Book Historical Discourse

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 The relationship of book history and book historians with authorship, its historical development, and the author function, has been changeable and complex. As Chartier argues, book history was developed within currents of literary criticism such as structuralism, analytic bibliography and new criticism, which were especially dominant in Anglophone countries, which all saw the text, and thus books, as self-contained systems, without authors and readers. As Chartier claims, the history of the book was thus for a long time a history with neither readers nor authors (1994: 24–25). In the French school of the histoire du livre, the situation initially was not much better, although it focused at least on the sociology of readers (but not on reading practices). In France, just as in the Anglo-Saxon bibliographic school, the author was forgotten, even in the tradition of the social history and the material production of the book, as produced by Febvre and Martin, among others. In France, Chartier claims, books thus had readers but no authors (1994: 25–26). However, Chartier sees attention to the author return in Bourdieu’s sociology of cultural production, McKenzie’s sociology of texts, reception history within literary criticism, and new historicism. A constrained author, as Chartier calls it, as opposed to a romantic one, appears here, as in these theoretical systems the text and the book are reconnected with their author and her or his intentions. Chartier applauds this return of the author as a subject of investigation in book studies, especially and more precisely, of the author function and its practice and techniques.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 One of the questions concerning authorship that plays an important role in the book historical discourse is whether it is print that established or enabled our modern notion of authorship, or whether authorship predates print? For instance, Chartier focuses on how, in its connection with censorship, property and ownership, authorship is fully inscribed with (the culture of) print. Print extended the circulation of potentially transgressive books and it established a market system in which proper roles were established (author, publisher, bookseller etc.). At the same time, he argues that certain essential traits of authorship predate print. Already in the manuscript age, authors, such as Petrarch, tried to establish control over the way their texts looked and were distributed, especially with respect to corruption through continual copying by copyists. According to Chartier, this shows an early emergence of ‘one of the major expressions of the author-function, the possibility of deciphering in the forms of a book the intention that lay behind the creation of the text’ (1994: 55).

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Ong also locates the beginning of authorship before print, namely with the coming of written discourse. Where orality is performative and produces community, written discourse, he states, is detached from the performer. Writing starts to become an autonomous thing turning the writer into a subject distinct from the group. As Ong puts it, ‘with writing, resentment at plagiarism begins to develop’ (1982: 128). In manuscript culture, however, intertextuality continued to rule, where it was still connected to the commonplace tradition of the oral world, creating and adapting texts out of other texts. As McLuhan emphasises, written text was still authoritative only in an oral way (1962: 104). Both Ong and McLuhan thus argue that it was print that truly created the sense of the private ownership of words and that created a new feeling for authority, where print and its visual organisation encourages a different mind-set. A work becomes closed, cut off from other works, and thus unique. It was print culture that, according to Ong, finally enabled romantic notions such as originality and creativity to arise, and which encouraged the development of our modern notion of authorship (1982: 130–131). As McLuhan states in this respect, ‘scribal culture had neither authors, nor readers’ (1962: 130).

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 How did authorship develop in a print environment? When it comes to early publishing, Eisenstein explains that the modern division of labour was not yet very common. Printers were mostly printer-publishers and many academics, such as Johannes Kepler, were themselves publishers or were very much involved in the printing process (Eisenstein 1979: 18). As Eisenstein points out, early printers played an important role in forging definitions of property rights, shaping new concepts of authorship, and exploiting new markets (1979: 122). However, their labours would not have had much result in the manuscript age, as Eisenstein argues it was only with the coming of print, and with that of a fixed text, that individual innovations and discoveries could became more explicitly recognised, and that the distinction between copy and original could become clear (1979: 119–120). After the advent of copyright especially, it became much easier for an author to make a profit by publicly releasing a text, as their invention rights were now firmly established in law and no longer only guaranteed by guild protection (in England by the Stationers’ Company—consisting of printers, booksellers, and binders—for instance). Only with the coming of print, Eisenstein claims, could personal authorship really become established. People now wanted to see their work in print, fixed and unaltered. As she puts it, ‘until it became possible to distinguish between composing a poem and reciting one, or writing a book and copying one; until books could be classified by something other than incipits; how could modern games of books and authors be played?’ (Eisenstein 1979: 121). New forms of authorship and property rights thus started to undermine older forms of collective authority, which was exposed as error-prone. Where innovation came from was hard to determine before print, Eisenstein points out, as due to drifting texts and a lack of access to manuscripts, it was hard to establish what was already known and who was the first to know it. In other words, there was no systematic forward movement (Eisenstein 1979: 124). The term ‘original’ also started to change its meaning. Initially, it meant ‘close or back to the sources’. The modern meaning, however, focuses on breaking with tradition. According to Eisenstein, it was print that started to change this meaning of original, as notions of recovery and discovery were reoriented after the coming of print technology (1979: 192).

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Printer-publishers also started to construct the author as a marketing product. New publicity techniques were explored, by printers as well as by authors, including marketing forms such as blurbs to publicly promote authors and sell their works (Eisenstein 1979: 229). Yet again Eisenstein emphasises that this kind of marketing could only take place successfully and establish new forms of authorship after the coming of print. Scribal culture, she points out, ‘could not sustain the patenting of inventions or the copyrighting of literary compositions. It worked against the concept of intellectual property rights’ (Eisenstein 1979: 186).

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Johns takes another approach with respect to the development of authorship, focusing mainly on the establishment of credentiality. How did readers ensure a work was authoritative? It is important to keep in mind that compositors, just like modern editors, played an important authorial role, he argues. A copy of a manuscript could never be exactly reproduced in print, due to space constraints, for instance. Copies were thus amended during the printing process. For example, typography was used to enhance authorial meaning and changes were made in anticipation of a certain readership. Johns further remarks that original used to refer to a particular performance or reading of a work. This meant that written records were seen as a simple fallible transcription of a particular event. As Johns states, ‘compositors could thus make the changes their cultural position demanded, not only because of the prized virtue of the master printer, but also because they held in their hands no sacrosanct text at risk of desecration’ (1998: 105). According to Johns, copyright meant that a Stationer had a right to both the manuscript and the text. The Stationer thus protected his investment by turning this (fallible) transcription into a fully edited printed book (Johns 1998: 105). In this way Stationers and booksellers controlled every aspects of their books’ production.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 The establishment of authorship as we know it today was very difficult in these conditions. Hence both Johns and Chartier argue that we should speak of forms of distributed authorship at that time, where authorship was allocated to a number of individuals and groups. Chartier points to Foucault’s focus on the penal background of authorship in this respect, when he states that ownership of a text has always been related to its penal appropriation. Books only really came to have authors, instead of mythical figures, when authors became subject to punishment, and they could be held responsible for the diffusion of texts that were seen as scandalous or as guilty of heterodoxy. Chartier focuses on how this responsibility was initially a distributed responsibility. As he puts it:

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 In the repression of suspect books, however, the responsibility of the author of a censured book does not seem to have been considered any greater than that of the printer who published it, the bookseller or the pedlar who sold it, or the reader who possessed it. All could be led to the stake if they were convicted of having proffered or diffused heretical opinions. What is more, the acts of conviction often mix accusations concerning the printing and sale of censured books and accusations concerning the opinions—published or unpublished—of the perpetrator. (Chartier 1994: 50)

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0  As part of the proprietary culture of that time, and based on their right to copy, Stationers for a long time held the position of authors, specifically with respect to establishing credentiality (Johns 1998: 138). In forms of collaborative book production, however, establishing credentiality was harder, as no one publisher was responsible for the entire book. Nonetheless, the Stationer was, for all intents and purposes, the proprietary author of the book, the one who was responsible for the content. Febvre and Martin explain that authors had no right to their work once it was bought and published, as then the copy was vested in the publisher (1997: 162.). As Johns makes clear: ‘certainly, this was designed to give the state someone to prosecute: its aim was to create a person in whom responsibility for the contents of the work could be said to reside. It was also hoped that the device would eliminate unauthorized printing—the practice increasingly called “piracy”’ (1998: 159–160).

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 What kind of options did authors have in this situation? How could they control their authorship, when the publishers’ market-based conventions were so dominant? Did publishers control printed knowledge in this respect? As Johns states: ‘authorial civility was inextricably entangled with Stationers’ civility. For the modern figure of the individualized author to be constructed, this had to change’ (1998: 246). What is clear, Johns argues, is that the situation did change once authorship and copyright were embedded in law. With this the notion of authorship started to change too, where the Lockean idea of invention as the mark of property started to gain wider ground (Johns 1998: 247).

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 In opposition to Eisenstein, among others, Johns thus emphasises that authorship and authority are a matter of cultural practices and negotiation; they are conventions that could and can be challenged. We should see them as attributions to a book (by various groups and individuals such as publishers, readers etc.) instead of intrinsic attributes of a book (Johns 1998: 271). As Johns argues, then, in the battle surrounding how and to whom a book should be attributed credit or ownership, the author emerged. For scholars, forms of appropriation were a natural part of publishing their book. To protect their reputation they needed to negotiate potential hazards such as piracy, translations, abridgements, commercial sustainability etc., all matters that could deeply harm a scholar (Johns 1998: 445). The priority disputes in experimental philosophy—linked to publishing—got increasingly complicated and urgent, Johns points out, where both the existence of a record as well as the identity of its contents mattered. A new proprietary culture was therefore set up around authorship to deal with these problems, through which the profession of the author emerged (Febvre and Martin 1997: 66). Johns explains that fixity and authorship were thus set-up together, as the establishment of a problem: ‘And as the recognition of authorship blossomed, so, in a mutually reinforcing process, arguments demonstrating a resolved identity for printing began to win the upper hand, and the credit of its products became more widespread. By the end of the nineteenth century, print and fixity were as firmly conjoined by culture as ever could have been achieved by machinery’ (1998: 632). Chartier warns, however, against pinpointing specific historical moments of construction or determining causes for the rise of authorship and the author function. It is no good to focus on univocal solutions or oversimplified causes, he states. Book history can offer some insights in this problem, in all its variety, sketching out a possible path or focus point—such as the juridical, repressive and material mechanisms Chartier focuses on—however, it does not offer an answer to what authorship was, is, and will be (Chartier 1994: 59).

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 What these discourses show is that authorship is integrally linked to developments in the commercial book trade, growing scholarly claims for priority and credit, and the expansion of ideas related to ownership, copyright and originality. As Mark Rose has argued, ‘the distinguishing characteristic of the modern author (…) is proprietorship; the author is conceived as the originator and therefore the owner of a special kind of commodity, the work’ (1993: 1). Although the debate on how authorship came about again focuses mainly on the medium vs. society binary, a further conclusion that can be reached is that authorship came to be entangled with the humanist characteristics now commonly attributed to the book. Fixed, essentialised, and bound as a book, romantic notions of authorship came to stand for a highly individualistic, authoritative and original writer, who was to be connected to a permanent body of works. The commercial and capitalist nature of the book trade with its focus on propriety and ownership instilled the idea of copyright and property into the relationship between an author and her or his text.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Although these humanist notions of authorship—including the connotations of reputation, individual creativity, ownership, authority, attribution, responsibility and originality they carry—seem to be an integral part of the scholarly method, despite the fact that they are often critiqued, they are very hard to overcome. Nonetheless, it is important to continue to challenge these traditional concepts, discourses, institutions and practices of authorship within academia. First of all because these essentialised notions of authorship do not do credit to the more collaborative and networked authorial practices as they exist currently and have existed in the past, in academia and beyond. As Johns emphasises, agency is more complex and distributed than the highly individualist narratives accompanying romantic notions of authorship argue for. In this respect there is a ongoing clash between what Robert Merton has identified as the values of originality and communism in scholarship (1973).

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Another reason to challenge humanist concepts of authorship relates to the function currently fulfilled by authors in the academic political economy. In an effort to gain reputation and authority in a scholarly attention economy, academics are increasingly depicted as being in constant competition with each other (for positions, impact, funding etc.), where scholars are still rewarded mostly on the basis of their publication track record, and on their reputation as individual authors. Academic authors are on the one hand turned into commodities, while on the other they increasingly need to act as entrepreneurs and marketeers of their own ‘brand’. This objectification of authorship at a time when ‘unoriginal’ thought, depicted as plagiarism, is heavily combatted and frowned upon, goes against some of the more distributive and collaborative notions, practices and discourses of authorship described above. Yet the latter can be seen to not only be just as prevalent in contemporary academia, but in many ways a more realistic depiction of scholarly authorial practices.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 Finally, the strength of the humanist discourse on authorship in academia can be seen to inhibit experimentation with different models and functions of authorship and forms of what can be called posthumanist authorship,[1] and the potential of digital media to help rethink what authorship is and can be. This does not mean, as we will see in what follows, that digital forms of authorship are always a critique of the humanist notions underlying more traditional and print-based forms of writing. However, I want to emphasise that, no matter how problematic they still might be, digital media do contain the potential to help us rethink and re-perform authorship and to envision more ethical and inclusive forms of authorship within academia.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 In order to analyse some of the main theoretical and practical criticisms that have been brought forward with respect to romantic and humanist notions of authorship, the next section will explore some of the authorship critique expressed by poststructuralist thinkers in the 1960s and 70s. This will be followed by an analysis of three more recent assessments of authorship, which can all in their different ways be seen as a practical extension of the poststructuralists’ critique. As I will argue, these practical or embodied expositions target different aspects of the discourse of the humanist author, namely the author’s authority, individuality and originality. First of all I will analyse the position taken by theorists and practitioners of hypertext with respect to networked authorship, challenging the authority of the author by focusing on the power of the reader and on the author as a node in a distributed network of meaning production and consumption. Secondly, I will look at some of the authorial practices that have been developed in the sciences and increasingly in the digital humanities, such as the spread of hyperauthorship and collaborative research work. These are challenging the individualistic nature of authorship and promoting increasingly open-ended research practices and alternative (digital) views concerning creativity and invention. Finally, I will take a look at academic practices of remix, which are mainly critiquing the originality of authorship, where the trope of the remixer or curator seems to be increasingly prevailing in current scholarship on digital authorship, for instance (and the narrative of the former seems to be replacing the latter).

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