Our four readings this week were quite interestingly interconnected. I’d like to point out a few important threads that I see running through all our readings, in no particular order, but which I think will foster fruitful and possibly political discussion.
1) Reading, Writing, and the Computer
Fitzpatrick, amusingly, declares she must “perform the ritual” of saying she is not a technological determinist. A technology by itself does not enact change. However, to deny that technology assists change would deny that our outlook on literacy is changing. The rise of digital publishing has forced us to rethink peer review and the form of the book– how long should it be? Should there be chapters? (Laquintano) Brandt points out that the “postures” and technologies we use for reading and writing have merged into one device; computers, smartphones with keypads, tablets with styluses (styli?) that are molded to look like pencils. Even Aarseth’s ergodic, labyrinthine narratives have a place here– Fitzpatrick details how much easier her writing process is with computers. It is, specifically, “nonlinear–” it progresses in fits and starts, ideas are inserted, deleted, abandoned mid-stream. There is an entrance and exit– like a proper labyrinth– but the narrative it is multi-cursal in writing and can take any direction, go back, and take a different one, or upon re-reading, be reminded of the paths that were not taken (Aarseth again).
It is probably not necessary to flesh out how the computer has affected our writing processes– we’ve addressed that in this class before– but what’s interesting to consider is all the moral-panic headlines that grab the covers of Time and Newsweek and the Posts and Times and Presses and Suns of our neighborhoods: Is Google making us stupid? Are computers making us lazy? Is text messaging making your child illiterate? We’ve all seen the headlines and we chuckle to ourselves. “Oh, how determinist! Of course computers aren’t making us lazy, we’re changing the way we think about accessing information based on the tools now available to us!” AH HA. Is that maybe how we should look at authorship and authority? Should we step away from the “well, this is how we’ve always done it” attitude of the academy? Methinks we ought, and we would be better-served for it.
This brings me to my second point:
2) Authority Anxiety
This is touched on in all four of our readings. Aarseth mentions it outright– the constant “civil war” occurring within the field of literary studies as to what “constitutes its valid objects,” what is worthy of being paid attention to and why. Laquintano’s takes a slightly more roundabout route and examines how authors of e-books attempt to establish their authority (sometimes unsuccessfully) to author a book about their chosen subject (in this case, poker). Brandt’s anxiety arises in her statement that literacy is a “fragile resource” connected to economic class, and mentions that professors in universities have unlimited access to technology, but that for custodians at her university, accessing technology during work hours is grounds for severe disciplinary action. Finally, Fitzpatrick gives the most critical assessment of our anxiety regarding changes in authority: She says it’s all well and good to talk about Foucault and Barthes and the death of the author, but academics especially tend to get very nervous while considering what that means for US as authors.
So what is the underlying cause of this anxiety? Is it a sense that people who are “established authors” feel threatened by the ability of people who don’t have the same “qualifications” as they do to produce and disseminate texts? Is the state of “authorship” and “literary worthiness” determined by an unseen panel of judges, the academy? How do we define “authority,” and how do we determine who has it? How does our idea of “authority” change in the age of digital publishing and (ideally) democratic access? What do we make of the institution of digital publishing, and how can we deal with it in terms of the academy? What about collectivist forums? Can this help us contextualize our initial anxiety about our edits on WikiComp?
There’s a lot of fodder here in terms of the future of our writing and our attitudes towards publishing and the “walled garden” of authorship (especially in the academy), and I’m really curious as to what you– teachers, students, writers, and readers all– think.