Performing the Scholarly Monograph in Contemporary Digital Culture

Section 2. The Scholarly System of Material Production and the Book as Commodity

The frontiers of a book are never clear-cut.

(Foucault 1969b: 25)

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 The book as a perceived object[1] of material and discursive unity comes about partly through unitary notions such as the work and the oeuvre, both of which emerge out of the close material-discursive bond between the book and the author. In the previous chapter we have explored extensively the discourse surrounding authorship: how it developed within book history, and was taken up in theories of poststructuralism and in practices ranging from hypertext to the digital humanities and remix studies. As I showed there, this discourse has been shaped and sustained by essentialist and liberal-humanist notions such as individualism, authority and originality. These notions are, as we have seen, hard to critique or re-cut in a sustained way (both theoretically and practically). This has to do partly with the close intra-action between the author-subject and the book-object. Both, in their essentialist humanist uptake and performance, can be seen to provide bindings and fixtures to scholarly communication (connected to notions such as the work, and the ownership of a work). On the other hand, as I have argued in the previous chapter and will also argue here, both the author-subject and the book-object, in their entangled discursive-materiality, offer the potential to be performed differently: through forms of anti-authorship and posthuman authorship (critique) in the case of the author, for example; but also, as I will show in this section, through forms of open and experimental publishing in the case of the book-object. Due to their entangled state, this means that each alternative performance has consequences for both the book and the author.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Although authorship has played an important role in the formation of the book as an object, the commodification of the monograph has developed alongside a more complex system of scholarly communication and publishing. Over the centuries, the system of material production that has surrounded the scholarly book—which includes its production, distribution and consumption—has played an essential role in the creation of the book-object and in how the monograph as a specific form of scholarly communication has developed and how it has been perceived and used. Related to the idea of textual and material fixity brought about by the entanglement of print technology and its variety of uses, is therefore the notion of the book as a bound and stable material object. It is this book-object that has performed a range of roles in the system of material production from which it co-emerged. Not only has it functioned as a specific medium or a technological format through which research is communicated, it has also served as a marketable commodity and as an object of symbolic value exchange (i.e. for tenure and promotion in the context of the academic profession).

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 The history of print can be seen to privilege a vision of the book as a fixed object of communication; a discrete medial entity that, when well preserved, can have certain cultural effects. Here, in what can be seen as a naturalising tendency in media history writing (Gitelman 2006: 2), print is often opposed to the presumed fluidity of orality, and the mutability of handwritten texts. This dualist discourse surrounding the physical materiality of the book and its inherent fixity, stability and authority, as opposed to more fluid and liquid perceptions, will be explored and critiqued in depth in the third section of this thesis in chapter 6. This second section, on the other hand, will investigate how an entanglement of technological, economical and institutional factors and structures, and the struggles between them, stimulated the development of the book into both a product and a value-laden object of knowledge exchange within academia. At the same time, it will show how the material features of the book-object, in its intra-action with these factors and structures, were involved in bringing about our modern system of scholarly communication.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 In the first chapter of this section, chapter 4, the focus will be on the historical development of the scholarly book as a commodity and as an object of symbolic value exchange within publishing and academia. In which specific ways has the discourse on book history narrated and shaped this history? This chapter is closely connected and forms an introduction to chapter 5, where attention will be given to how this historical development has culminated in a system and a book-object that is no longer sustainable and which runs the risk of becoming obsolete before long, if it has not done so already (Fitzpatrick 2011). Chapter 5 then explores how we can critique and potentially start to change the cultures and systems of material and technological production surrounding scholarly communication in such a way that it allows for alternative, critical, as well as more ethical and experimental forms of research. I will argue here that it will be useful to start rethinking and deconstructing the object-formation of the book and of scholarship, both in academia and as part of our publishing system.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Nonetheless, we can’t ignore the fact that the book is and needs to be a scholarly object at some point in time and thus cannot only be processual and never-ending, for a number of reasons. One of the reasons it will be useful to rethink this object-formation is that doing so will enable us to emphasise what other points and cuts are possible that might critique certain excessive forms of the ongoing commercialisation and capitalisation of scholarship, such as the increasing need for measurement and audit criteria, and for marketable, innovative and transparent research. Although the scholarly book functions within an entangled scholarly, technological and economic context, this does not mean that we do not have a hand in constructing these realms together-apart differently (Kember and Zylinska 2012).[2] One of the ways we can begin to do this is by means of a threefold, interdependent strategy of: rethinking and re-envisioning: the discourse surrounding the past and future of the scholarly book (which I will discuss in chapter 4); the system of material and scholarly production; and our own performances of, and material-discursive practices relating to, the book (which I will discuss in chapter 5).

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 [1] When I write about the book as an ‘object’ here, I am referencing in the main Foucault’s notion of ‘discursive objects’ where ‘it would be the interplay of the rules that make possible the appearance of objects during a given period of time’. Objects are thus not static entities, but emerge out of or as part of certain discursive formations (Foucault 1969a: 36). At the same time, and as Barad has argued, extending her critique of Foucault, objects, in their process of materialisation, are instrumental in shaping and influencing discourses. Hence discourse and materiality are ontologically inseparable (2007: 204).

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 [2] With cutting things together-apart I refer to Barad’s use of the phrase, meaning that a cut will not enact permanent boundaries, but functions as a reconfiguring, an alternative re-arranged form of ‘cleaving’. As Barad puts it:

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 As I have explained elsewhere, intra-actions enact agential cuts, which do not produce absolute separations, but rather cut together-apart (one move). Diffraction is not a set pattern, but rather an iterative (re)configuring of patterns of differentiating-entangling. As such, there is no moving beyond, no leaving the ‘old’ behind. There is no absolute boundary between here-now and there-then. There is nothing that is new; there is nothing that is not new. (2014: 168)

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