Performing the Scholarly Monograph in Contemporary Digital Culture

3.2 Critiquing Authorship in Theory

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Fitzpatrick writes in her article ‘The Digital Future of Authorship: Rethinking Originality’, about her personal struggle with traditional notions of authorship, a struggle not uncommon to other academic authors. As remarked upon at the beginning of this thesis, Fitzpatrick states that although we try to criticise the way authorship functions in academia and society at large, ‘our own authorship practices have remained subsumed within those institutional and ideological frameworks’ (2011b: 3). Connected as it is with our scholarly and publishing practices, one of the biggest challenges with respect to changing our notions of authorship will be, as Fitzpatrick argues, that ‘changing one aspect of the way we work of necessity implies change across the entirety of the way we work’ (2011b: 4). As Derrida has pointed out in this respect, we ‘cannot temper with it [the form of the book] without disturbing everything else’ (1983: 3). For instance, if we want to move towards an authorship function that puts more emphasis on openness, sharing, experimentation and collaboration, this means that we need to reconsider where scholarly authority, originality and responsibility lie in a digital environment, and whether or not we really need them.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 The by now classic insights of Barthes and Foucault on authorship remain valuable in this respect. Both analysed and critiqued romantic and humanist forms of authorship by examining the specific subject position and agency of the author, and the relationship of authorship to text, writing and the work. In his essay ‘The Death of the Author’ (1967) Barthes describes how authorship kills the text by stabilising it. It is authorship in this sense that tries to affix a definite meaning, and which has been used over the centuries as a strategy to read meaning into texts, Barthes argues. And this process reaches its culmination in capitalist society where work and author are united in a commercial product. However, in his anti-intentionalist critique of authorship, Barthes states that we cannot affix a stable meaning to a text via the authorship function, as it does not control it. He focuses instead on the multiplicity of meanings (heteroglossia) and threads that are available in language, in the relationships between texts (intertextuality), and in the act of writing, and which are extracted through the person of the reader. In Barthes’ vision, then, text, and its multiple meanings, comes into existence in the act of reading, not when the author is creating it. In this respect Barthes’ critique has initiated a move away from the integral connection between an author and her or his work, focusing more on the performative character of text and language and the meaning attribution by readers instead (1967).

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Foucault has drawn further on Barthes’ critique in his seminal paper ‘What is an author?’ (1969). He writes that the notion of the author is directly related to a moment of individualisation in history, connected to ideas of attribution and authenticity. A move away from authorship such as that proposed by Barthes, will not be enough, Foucault claims, as this has to involve a similar departure from the idea of the single, stable and often bounded work that is still integrally connected to our notion of the author, even if we abandon authorial meaning attribution. In this respect Foucault argues that a critique of authorship necessarily implies a critique of the work and, in this specific context, of the scholarly book. Where does a work end when it becomes no more than a trace of writing, disconnected from a specific author? Both the notion of the work and of the author are thus problematic, and replacing the latter’s authority with the former will not be very helpful, according to Foucault. He points out that we need to analyse the functions authorship fulfils in a society, such as the way it operates within a certain discursive setting to bind together a group of texts and establish a relationship amongst them. We need to critically reassess these functions as being the representation of certain discourses within a society, discourses focusing on ownership of research (appropriation) and related to (penal) responsibility. Authorship is thus a function of discourse in Foucault’s vision. In its connection with authorship, discourses themselves were even turned from acts into things, goods, and property. And as Foucault states, criticising Barthes in this respect, authorship is only one of the discursive practices we need to analyse. We need to explore how authorship and knowledge get to be produced in our knowledge economies and whether we need to reassess or change these discourses. In what ways do we construct an author and how do we determine the origin of a work? How can we rethink knowledge products, authority, truth claims, and originality? In what sense is an author function introduced to regulate meaning? By questioning the author, Foucault argues that we are not simply freeing the text, we are interrogating the work at the same time, the latter being the extension of certain discursive practices within a society (1977).

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