The perseverance of print-based authorship within humanities scholarship (III)

Chapter 3 of my thesis focuses on authorship, and you can find a draft of the second part of the chapter underneath. As I stated before, any feedback is of course more than welcome but please take into account that these are just fragments in process which are part of a larger (undefined) ‘whole’.

You can find part 1 here and part 2 here. For chapter 2 of my thesis, see here and here.

Towards posthumanist forms of authorship?

The previous section examined some of the more recent practical strategies to reperform authorship as developed within hypertext theory, the digital humanities and as part of various remix practices. From this analysis we can conclude that, although these fields, theories and practices try to rethink specific aspects of the romantic, humanist authorship discourse in academia (such as authority, individuality and originality) these notions continue to be strongly ingrained. Furthermore, as we have seen, targeting one of these aspects (such as originality) in most cases seems to only strengthen the others. Thus, these examples of authorship critique all in some way or another continue to adhere to humanist authorship discourses and practices. What kinds of strategies and analyses towards authorship and the way authorship currently functions can we then devise to try rethink the various aspects of the romantic and humanist notion of authorship in a perhaps more comprehensive, critical and continuous fashion? In such a way that we pay attention to the institutions, structures and the political economy in which our authorship practices are embedded, as well as to the hegemonic discourse of the liberal autonomous author that continues to structure and inform these practices? What would a posthumanist critique of authorship look like in this respect?

In this section I want to make some potential suggestions as to what such a critique and practice might potentially encompass. I will first however look at two practices, plagiarism and anonymous authorship, that can be seen as forms of anti-authorship critique. These practices can be perceived as forms of anti-authorship critique due to the fact that they are potentially less focused on accommodating new forms of authorship in a digital environment or in making authorship more inclusive. In other words, they are less interested in extending individual authorship to include new liberal and autonomous subjects, and are aimed more at directly undermining our current humanist notions of authorship along with the political-economy that surrounds them.


Even if scholarly research is shared without having to pay to access it, as is the case with certain open access publications, with a CC-BY or similar license, such publications remain objects within a reputation economy that are being exchanged to create more value in the form of citations. In this sense it can be argued that it is plagiarism (not citing someone) that becomes the biggest taboo in the academic exchange economy. Yet, following Lessig’s reasoning, as plagiarism is increasingly prevalent in academic culture today, is it worth ‘criminalising’ a whole generation, when plagiarism might also be a step forward, in the sense of stimulating creativity, and it could just as well be seen as something that promotes creative freedom, evolution and development? (Lessig 2008). We could think of examples where borrowing the words of others can be used as a method to learn to write. In this respect one might ask whether plagiarism is the next battle after copyright reform that we need to fight in order to stimulate forms of creativity that are less focused on the main elements of humanist authorship: ownership, originality, and authority.

Plagiarism as a term evokes mostly negative connotations, however, especially within academia. Plagiarism is defined here as taking someone else’s work and presenting it as one’s own original work. In the simple case of this definition plagiarism doesn’t really critique or question authorship in any way, as the plagiarist’s intent is to elevate one’s own authorship standing and status. Additionally the plagiarist on this account still seeks to claim something as an original work of authorship within the academic reputation economy – it’s just that they are doing so falsely. However, there is a more interesting aspect to using someone else’s work and representing it as one’s own. Within a different discourse or framework, including as I will argue a discourse of authorship critique, this is called appropriation. Those theorists and practitioners that defend practices of using someone else’s work in this different context, prefer to talk about appropriation instead of plagiarism, as this is a term that is more commonly used and accepted as a creative strategy within the artistic realm. Here the difference is one of intent; but also, as I will argue, one of cultural differences—and this becomes interesting when we discuss the work of Kenneth Goldsmith—where what in some fields is seen as appropriation, would in other fields, such as academia, be more likely classified as plagiarism.

Rebecca Moore Howard argues that ‘patchwriting’, a form of copying and collating different sources without any fundamental alterations, can be a part of a pedagogy of writing as appropriation and indeed a fundamental part of language learning and use (Howard 1995). Conceptual poet Kenneth Goldsmith has a similar vision with respect to appropriating, pointing out that it is creative and that he uses it as a pedagogicial method in his classes on “Uncreative Writing” (which he defines as ‘the art of managing information and representing it as writing’ (Goldsmith 2011b)) at the University of Pennsylvania. As Goldsmith suggests, the author won’t die, but we might start viewing authorship in a more conceptual way: ‘Perhaps the best authors of the future will be ones who can write the best programs with which to manipulate, parse, and distribute language-based practices’ (Goldsmith 2011a). Goldsmith’s arguments in support of appropriation, critique the idea of originality as it is traditionally connected to authorship. However, in his plea for ‘uncreative writing’, he does not fundamentally critique authorship; he again just elevates the role of the copier, remixer or curator, to that of the author. As he argues: ‘Retyping On the Road” claims that the simple act of retyping a text is enough to constitute a work of literature, thereby raising the craft of the copyist to the same level as the author’ (Goldsmith 2011b). Although his is an interesting attempt to challenge the continued emphasis on originality and creativity in writing, if we look closer at what Goldsmith argues, it seems that he is for the most part only broadening the categories of what counts as original and creative, instead of fundamentally challenging them. For him the digital environment actually adds more functions to authorship, where besides originality and creativity, skills such as manipulation and management will become increasingly important.

Nonetheless, in his practical work as a conceptual poet, Goldsmith does try to push the appropriation discourse further, by deliberately juxtaposing it to, and playing with the blurred lines that exist between, this discourse and plagiarism. In the works of Goldsmith as well as in those of fellow-conceptual poets such as Vanessa Place and Kent Johnson, this flirtation with plagiarism clearly functions as a way to undermine discourses of liberal authorship.[1]

For example in Day, a work by Goldsmith, he has literally retyped word by word a whole daily issue of the New York Times, and has published it as his own work. Goldsmith doesn’t label his work as plagiarism, but as a practice of uncreativity (challenging originality) and of constrained writing. A few years later, conceptual poet Kent Johnson republished Day, keeping the book entirely intact, while just replacing his own name on the dust cover.[2] In this sense Johnson was extending Goldsmith’s appropriation discourse further into the realm of plagiarism. Conceptual poet Vanessa Place targets in her works both the originality and the authority that reside in our discourses on authorship. In her ‘Factory’ series, inspired by Andy Warhol’s ‘factory model’ of creative production, she has commissioned 10 writers and artists, or ‘art-workers’, to make chapbooks for her, which she subsequently published under her own name. In Place’s words: ‘I, being the one they call “Vanessa Place,” am the (immaterial) public author function’ (Place n.d.). By appropriating/plagiarising other artists as well as her own work in an ongoing fashion, Place thus seeks to challenge the authority that underlies the ‘referent’ or ‘signature’ of the author. As she puts it: ‘To extend these practices, I authorize works not authored by me or by those I authorize to author my work—copies of copies of absent authority.[1] Like citation, the referent betrays a fundamental lack of authority on the part of the citing author. Unlike citation, there is no authoritative source[2]. It’s a rank imitation of “Vanessa Place” as “Vanessa Place” is rank imitation’ (Place 2011).

These practices of extending what would previously perhaps be seen as plagiarism into an appropriation discourse, can be argued to go beyond what is commonly seen as appropriation or remix practices. For it clearly intends to actively disturb or undermine the system of authorship, and the notions of originality and authority that come with it by ‘hollowing’ out or putting to the test those notions. In this respect we can see the above examples as an illustration of how practices and concepts of appropriation and plagiarism exist on a spectrum, where appropriation practices in an art context will most likely be judged as plagiarism practices within academia. This might have to do with the fact that the difference between plagiarism and appropriation remains so unclear. Therefore any appropriation that takes place within an academic context that does not abide to a citation or referencing context will run the risk of being condemned. In this respect Goldsmith’s strategy can be seen as more subversive when he argues for extending forms of appropriation which are accepted within the artistic field, but which are still seen as plagiarism within a literary or academic context, into scholarship. As Goldsmith puts it: ‘Uncreative Writing: It’s Not Plagiarism. In the Digital Age, It’s ‘Repurposing” (Goldsmith 2011a).

In this respect a focus on different forms and notions of creativity, originality and authority might already be a significant change for those within academia who still abide to the more print-based discourse of authorship. For as Howard notes, patchwriting does not sit well with traditional notions of authorship (and ideas of originality most of all). Although in the Middle Ages patchwriting was a normal part of writing and scholarship, authorship as we now practice it, including ideas of literary individualism and ownership, is a modern invention. These notions are currently seen as natural facts relating to authorship even though, as Howard rightly argues, our views of what authorship entails keeps shifting. She states that ‘their historical emergence demonstrates them to be cultural arbitraries, textual corollaries to the technological and economic conditions of the society that instated them’ (Howard 1995: 791). Although new digital practices like hypertext and wikis, as well as remix and collaborative writing endeavours, increasingly make it hard to uphold a stable category or notion of authorship, and in the process make it difficult to establish what merits plagiarism, academia nevertheless needs authorship, and its plagiarising counterpart as a taboo, to sustain traditional forms of authority. As Howard puts it, ‘the prosecution of plagiarism, … is the last line of defence for academic standards’ (Howard 1995: 793).

Nonetheless, although I do consider the forms of strategic plagiarism discussed above to form an interesting critique of authorship, by definition plagiarism and appropriation also involve re-instating certain aspects of the liberal authorship function; albeit the fact that this authorship function is a different, uncreative or unoriginal one. Additionally, one can argue that the way this specific form of authorship critique is ‘read’ risks installing the authorship function even further. The latter has partly has to do with, as Bill Friend shows, the lack of ‘meaning’ in these conceptual projects, where the deconstruction of the work has often led to the fetishisation of the author: ‘Implicit in Johnson’s work is a claim that the assault on the fetishized status of the art work in (for example), Dada, language writing, or uncreative writing has not led to a similar interrogation of the status of the author. If anything, the questioning of the art work has often led to a re-inscription of the author function, as readers look for a locus of meaning in texts that resist traditional explication’ (Freind 2010). Similarly Vanessa Place has pointed out that when there is no meaning to be found within the text, the author again becomes more important: ‘There is nothing to be mined from these texts, no points of constellation or dilation, no subject within which to squat. The text object simply is. The reader is, but is irrelevant. But the thinker becomes quite important’ (Place n.d.).

At this point it then becomes important to look at a further anti-authorship critique and practice (and to also return more squarely to the academic realm) to discuss examples of anonymous authorship in academic writing.


Anonymous authorship

Anonymous authorship has a long history in academic writing, most famously as a strategy to avoid censorship or for authors to shield themselves from political or religious repercussions or prosecution. This is related to what Foucault has called ‘penal appropriation’: ‘Texts, books, and discourses really began to have authors (other than mythical, ‘sacralized’ and ‘sacralizing’ figures) to the extent that authors became subject to punishment, that is, to the extent that discourses could be transgressive’ (Foucault 1977). Anonymous authorship can therefore be seen to function in a tradition of escaping responsibility, but it is also triggered by a critique of individual ownership of a work. For example, Chartier has shown that anonymous authorship was quite normal in medieval and early modern times, whereas with the coming of print a new model came into prominence based on proclaiming individual authorship, as now the author was in a position to profit from these works (Chartier 1994: 49).

Anonymous authorship has thus known a long history and also extends into current scholarly and literary practices. For instance, in 2013 Duke University Press published Speculate this!, a manifesto in book form to promote ‘affirmative speculation’. This publication has been created by an anonymous collective, going by the name of ‘(an) uncertain commons’. The manifesto has been written collaboratively by the collective, in line with a more contemporary tradition of anonymous writing, which can be exemplified by initiatives in the literary field such as Luther Blissett and Wu Ming, and by the collective pseudonym that was used by a group of mathematicians (Nicolas Bourbaki) in the 20th century. Uncertain commons define themselves as ‘an open and nonfinite group’, their main reasons for choosing anonymous authorship being to ‘challenge the current norms of evaluating, commodifying, and institutionalizing intellectual labor’ (uncertain commons 2013). Here they specifically refer to academic labour, and to a situation of growing corporatisation of academia, which increasingly demands ‘quantifiable outcomes for merit and promotion’. Their protest is thus also focused on the ‘proprietary enclosure of knowledge, imagination, and communication’. In this respect they point out that they ‘do not claim authorship’, nor control over the book, which they characterise not as an object but as an ‘emergence’. However, they do not see their actions as a ‘true resistance’, or as standing outside the system, yet as a ‘playfully inhabiting’ the various forms of discourse that are already available, and which include the exploration of collective intellectual labour and the ‘potentialities of the common’(uncertain commons 2013). This might explain why they have still chosen to publish ‘their’ work, this coherent and bound book-object, with an established university press, although it is also available for free online. In this respect the question remains, in what sense has the publisher here taken on some of the authorship functions that the collective tries to dispute, and in what sense, in its final published form, can this book still count as an ‘emergence’.

In this specific case, as with the case of other collectives such as Wu Ming, it could be argued that the name and brand of the collective can come to stand in for the author, due to the lack of other signifiers. As Scott Drake has made clear: ‘While this may seem obvious in the fact that the name refers to a collective rather than an individual, this fact on its own does not prevent the name from being taken up into the economic-juridical order as a single name that protects the work as a literary property’ (Drake 2011: 31–32). Furthermore, as I made clear above, a celebration of collaborative authorship can also lead to new hegemonic discourses. That said, an uncertain commons try to evade this narrative when they write that they ‘do not intend to romanticize this form of communal authorship’, which is also apparent in various commercial writing practices and genres, and in the example of the ‘team’ as a specific postindustrial form of collaborative labour. From their perspective collaborative writing practices don’t rely on consensus, but on ‘collaborative modes that instead embrace dissensus’ (uncertain commons 2013).

It is again interesting to go back to the idea of ‘intent’ here, in relationship to what Drake has called ‘self-reflexive anonymous authorship’, where the intent to question authorship, as he puts it, ‘acts as a dissident form of cultural production in the economic-juridical order of neoliberalism’ (Drake 2011: 4). The problem here lies in the idea of self-reflexivity where, as in the case of those Creative Commons licenses discussed above, it needs to be the direct intent of the author to publish her or his work anonymously, as authorship is otherwise granted ‘automatically’. It is the author that instils the command to not read any meanings into the work related to the authorship function, thus already shaping it from the outset. This act of renunciation of authorship is nevertheless interesting, notwithstanding the paradoxical nature of the situation. To actively renounce itself, authorship needs to be self-reflexive first.

Still, the notion of intent in anonymous authorship can also be directed to create more open-ended meanings in (scholarly) works. This is exactly why for Drake anonymous authorship can be such a potent alternative to the current neoliberal system of cultural reproduction and literary property. For example, Drake points out—referring to the anonymous authorship of the literary collective Wu Ming—that by using an ‘open’ name, it is the intent of this collective to conceptualise their work as ‘material for further expansion’. This openness creates possibilities for seeing anonymous work as functioning within and reproducing an open public domain, instead of promoting individual property (Drake 2011: 40). Nick Thoburn argues similarly when he writes about the use of a multiple name (where anyone is free to take up this moniker to ‘author’ their texts). He states that these communal works and forms of writing, although in a way extending the author function, also fragment it, expanding its openness:

Luther Blissett is an ‘open reputation’ that confers a certain authority—the authority of the author, no less—on an open multiplicity of unnamed writers, activists, and cultural workers, whose work in turn contributes to and extends the open reputation. In this sense the author-function is magnified and writ large. But it is such in breach of the structures that generate a concentrated and unified point of rarity and authority, since the author becomes a potential available to anyone, and each manifestation of the name is as original as any other. In this fashion a different kind of individuation emerges, the individuation of the multiple single: Luther Blissett is at once collective, a “con-dividual” shared by many, and fragmented, a “dividual” composed of multiple situations and personalities simultaneously (Blissett 1997a, 43–44) (Thoburn 2011: 128–129).

Thoburn writes about the ‘desubjectifying politics of anonymity’. What he is interested in here is a communist or collective alternative to the cult of personality and individual genius, as this discourse is both misguided and also seen as perpetuating ‘an essentially capitalist structure of identity’ (Thoburn 2011: 2). How can the politics of collaborative writing offer a critique of capitalism and help to shape an alternative in this respect? As Thoburn argues, the commodity form of the work is still being challenged in these anonymous practices: as no one owns the collaborative name of Luther Blissett, Wu Ming, or an uncertain commons for example, nor of the ‘anonymous author’, this means that the author name is not connected to the ownership of the product. However, as Thoburn also points out, the publication of a novel or of a scholarly book or manifesto as in the case of an uncertain commons, complicates this, as Speculate this! also functions as a clear commodity of course. Nonetheless, in its published form Speculate this! is also available for free online. Thoburn therefore argues with respect to openly available anonymous works, that ‘in their published form, these books at the least indicate and allow for circuits of distribution not constrained by commercial exchange’ (Thoburn 2011: 13).

As we have seen from the above examples, the role of publishers in the way anonymous work are published and distributed seems to be very important, as in many ways they can be seen to take over some of the authorship functions here (authority, responsibility etc.). In what sense do we then need to acknowledge the multiple agencies involved in our scholarly knowledge production, and how does this have the potential to break down our liberal humanist notions of authorship?

The emergence of a posthumanist authorship critique and practice

Now that we have examined two practices, plagiarism and anonymous authorship, that can be seen as forms of anti-authorship critique, I would like to explore how these relate to the form of authorship critique I want to investigate and promote in this thesis, namely a posthuman one. What, then would a posthumanist critique and practice of authorship potentially look like? One potential starting point from which to answer this question—and from which to rethink the humanist notions underlying individual liberal authorship, including ideas such as originality, ownership, authority and responsibility—would be to focus on challenging the integrity of the subject and the priority of the human that continues to underlie knowledge production in the humanities. The posthuman subject—or author, I would argue—can then be seen, in the words of Katherine Hayles, ‘as an amalgam, a collection of heterogeneous components, a material-informational entity whose boundaries undergo continuous construction and reconstruction’ (Hayles, K. 1999: 3). This means that a critique of the essentialisms underlying authorship would need to be continuous and would, as Mark Fisher argues with respect to the ‘dismissal of the self-present, conscious subject’, need to be focused on a reformulating of agency (Fisher 2013). For example, Barad in her posthumanist performative practice focuses on breaking down the barriers between human and nonhuman agency, acknowledging the agency of non-humans—among others in scientific practices—whilst also refusing to take this human/non-human division for granted. Barad thus wants to actively explore, via a Foucauldian genealogical analysis, how these distinctions are created (Barad 2007: 32). What are the practices that stabilise the categories of human and non-human, but also as I would add, of the author, the work and the reader? What would a material-discursive notion of authorship then potentially entail? As shown in the previous chapter, specific book objects and author subjects have emerged and solidified out of the cuts into the book as apparatus that we have created and that are created for us as part of our scholarship, scholarly practices and institutions. How can we reconsider these boundaries while at the same time acknowledging the various entangled agencies that are at work in the creation of scholarly works? From the material we work with, the media and technology we use, to the various material forms and practices (paper, editors, POD, peer reviewers, software, ink) that accompany a scholarly work’s production? But also, as Hanna Kuusela has shown, the socio-cultural practices, consisting of ‘hybrid networks of both human and non-human actors, technologies and texts’ that shape how a work is subsequently received and consumed (Kuusela 2013).

As part of the process of continuously questioning these humanist cuts and boundaries, would a posthumanist (critique of) authorship not also have to include both a practical and theoretical critique? For it should involve the discourses, the practices and the material structures in which authorship is embodied, as they are integrally entangled. Gary Hall argues in this respect that a digital posthumanities, which entails a radical critique of the humanist notions underlying our idea of the university and of the humanities as a group of disciplines, should involve a critical theoretical investment from scholars; but it should just as much be part of our scholarly writing, publishing and authoring practices (especially since theory, as a form of discourse, is also materially enacted, it is a form of practice and vice versa). Hall notes a lack of uptake amongst posthumanist theorists of their theories, ideas and politics in their own research practices. His critique focuses among others on the posthumanist feminist Rosi Braidotti, who in her recent book The Posthuman (2013) specifically calls for an affirmative, practical and situated critique of the humanism that underpins much of our scholarship in the humanities (Braidotti 2013). However Hall shows that in her own writing and research practices Braidotti continues to concur to liberal humanist authorship functions, to such an extent that ‘ The Posthuman also helps sustain the not unrelated sense of Braidotti as an identifiable, self-contained, individual human, whose subjectivity is static and stable enough for her to be able to sign a contract giving her the legal right to assert her identity as the ‘Author of the Work … in accordance with the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988’, and to claim this original, fixed and final version of the text as her isolable intellectual property – not least via an ‘all rights reserved’ copyright notice’ (Hall, G. 2013). Hall points out that this critique does not only apply to Braidotti, but to most theorists that engage with the posthuman.

Besides providing a practical, alternative and affirmative authorship critique, a posthumanist critique of authorship, as part its criticism of essentialisms, would also have to target the relationship between the individual author and the static and bound book-object. For both can be seen to materially and/or conceptually provide essentialist forms of binding and fixity and hence to promote notions of authority, originality and responsibility in scholarship. Related to what we saw Scott Drake and Nicholas Thoburn argue in the previous section, a posthumanist critique of authorship should also want to continuously challenge the idea of the ownership of a scholarly work. For our scholarly authorship practices currently function within an object-based neoliberal capitalist system: a system that is continuously being fed and sustained by the idea of autonomous ownership of a work, copyright and a reputation economy, based on individualised authors. In this respect, an exploration of more distributed and collaborative notions and forms of authorship, as well as of forms of anti-authorship critique, might help us take the focus away from the scholarly work as a product and the book as an academic commodity. This might potentially stimulate re-use and more processual forms of research and authorship. Similarly, it might promote a move towards envisioning the production of research as a process in which a variety of actants play a role, both in the production, dissemination and consumption of that research.

As part of its practical critique of authorship, experimentation with alternative forms of authorship or knowledge production, or with rethinking originality, authority and ownership, should also be an important aspect of a posthumanist authorship. As an ongoing, emerging, and multiplicitous critique and practice of rethinking and reperforming authorship in an experimental way, it can then both explore and potentially extend or ‘re-cut’ the boundaries of authorship, the authorship-function and anti-authorship critique for our current medial and cultural-economic condition. What is important in this ongoing experimental exploration of authorship is again a continuous engagement with expanded concepts of agency, such as are brought forward by posthumanist and feminist new materialist theories. For this would enable us to closely explore and experiment with the interaction that takes place between, authors, readers, texts, institutions and technologies in the production of knowledge and the creation of meaning. Here again the focus should be on questioning and re-cutting the distinctions that are made between the author-subject and the work-object and the other agencies at play, and the ways these cuts are enacted and by whom. What kind of power relations are at stake in these demarcations, and how can we potentially disturb these? For example, in the specific context of academic book publishing, it might be useful to explore the ‘authorial function’ of publishers in contemporary scholarly publishing: what is their role in establishing authorship, and in marketing and branding it, in taking responsibility for a work and for turning it into a publishable object? In which sense do they obey to a liberal humanist discourse as part of these practices? And can we then, as part of our publishing practices, experiment with more distributed forms of authorship?

Furthermore, how are we to devise our authorial practices in a world in which the stable objects they supposedly belong to are constantly changing? This means that authorship is not and has never been a stable category itself. How do we revise and rethink our authorship practices to take this into account? What would a processual and emergent instead of an object-based authorship look like in this respect? And how do we relate to the role played by these fluid media objects when increasingly they are writing themselves? For example, as Christian Bök has stated, referring to RACTER, an automated algorithm written in the 80s that randomly generated poems: ‘Why hire a poet to write a poem when the poem can in fact write itself?’ (Bök 2001: 10). For a lot of our authorship is automated these days, or machinic, seemingly without any intent. In this respect it will be interesting, as part of a posthumanist critique of authorship, to focus on forms of what Bök has called ‘robopoetics’, defined by Kenneth Goldsmith as a ‘condition whereby machines write literature meant to be read by other machines, bypassing a human readership entirely’ (Goldsmith 2011b, Bök 2001). What do we do with machine-generated content, gathered in feeds, and collected through tags and hashtags, sourced from a variety of locations? What about the authorial actions that are being made by computers and software? How do we assess or respond to the authorship related to automatically generated prose, Flarf poetry, Google poetics or the ‘Postmodernism Generator’.[3]

A posthumanist critique of authorship, as an emergent and continuous practice and theory, can of course potentially consist of a variety of strategies to rethink and reperform the humanist notions underlying our current scholarly authoring practices. However, as part of these strategies it might have to be essential to continue to actively explore the consequences of the alternative cuts we make. For instance as discussed before, in what sense might we, while critiquing certain aspects of the authorship function (such as individuality), reproduce or re-install other aspects of the authorship function again (such as originality, for example)? In what ways do anonymous authorship practices run the risk of installing more authority in the publisher’s author function, for example? One way we might try to potentially overcome this problem is by closely analysing how the humanist discourse and practices of authorship continue to function within academia, so that our posthumanist critique might at least try to target these forms of authorship in their ongoing complexity.

When we start to look closely again at authorship, and at texts and books (as we have always been doing) and at how their fluidity or open-endedness has been marginalised or excluded in favour of a discourse and practices that privilege a more fixed and stable identity, this might mean that we need to make more rigorous choices towards what constitutes authority in our scholarly practices; but also towards, as Gary Hall states, the ‘meaning, importance, value and quality’ of texts, something we need to be involved in as authors, as readers and as communities of scholars (Hall, G. 2009: 40). And this might entail taking more responsibility for the entanglements of which we are a part, and for how agency is distributed and authors and works are mediated through a system.

However, experimenting with remix, collaboration, openness and wikis as such is not enough, if we invariably end up replicating many of the features associated with print, for reasons of stability, authority and quality etc., we want to re-examine. Therefore we should see these experiments as critical practices, as a way to challenge humanist notions of authorship by practically intervening in and with them on a continuous basis; in order to try to expand and critique the author function to take into regard alternative, potentially more ethical notions of authority and responsibility, based on distributed forms of human and non-human agency. This might entail performing our practices differently, by amending what we value about scholarship. For as our practices change we have a chance to establish different norms and values at the basis of our scholarship. Values that are based on sharing, openness, experimentation, interconnectedness, and otherness, for instance; focused on research as process and less on academic products and with that questioning the reputation economy as it is currently set up. The practices and projects describedin this chaptercan be an important aspect towards performing authorship differently. A first step is to be aware of how our own authorial practices and discourses function and how they have been constructed as part of the workings of our academic system. A second step would be to actively rethink and challenge them from that position.

[1] In Uncreative Writing Goldsmith lists projects that have engaged with what in other circles or contexts might be seen as plagiarism:

‘Over the past five years we have seen works such as a retyping of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road in its entirety, a page a day, every day, on a blog for a year; an appropriation of the complete text of a day’s copy of the New York Times published as a nine-hundred-page book; a list poem that is nothing more than reframing a listing of stores from a shopping mall directory into a poetic form; an impoverished writer who has taken every credit card application sent to him and bound them into an eight-hundred-page print-on-demand book so costly that even he can’t afford a copy; a poet who has parsed the text of an entire nineteenth-century book on grammar according to its own methods, even down to the book’s index; a lawyer who re-presents the legal briefs of her day job as poetry in their entirety without changing a word; another writer who spends her days at the British Library copying down the first verse of Dante’s Inferno from every English translation that the library possesses, one after another, page after page, until she exhausts the library’s supply; a writing team“who scoops status updates off social networking sites and assigns them to names of deceased writers (“Jonathan Swift has got tix to the Wranglers game tonight”), creating an epic, never-ending work of poetry that rewrites itself as frequently as Facebook pages are updated; and an entire movement of writing, called Flarf, that is based on grabbing the worst of Google search results: The more offensive, the more ridiculous, the more outrageous the better’ (Goldsmith 2011b: 3).

[2] Although it was actually Geoffrey Gatza, the editor of Day’s publisher BlazeVox Books, who made the book, according to the production video that accompanied the publication, and Johnson retracted his claims to authorship and originality of Day as a work completely. As reviewer Bill Freind writes in a review of Day in Jacket Magazine: ‘In fact, Johnson emailed me to say: “After viewing Geoffrey Gatza’s video, I realized that Day was no longer mine. I now fully disown my ‘original’ idea and separate myself completely from the book. Day now belongs to Geoffrey Gatza.” However, Gatza himself doesn’t seem particularly eager to claim ownership of the text, since BlazeVox books has a special Goldsmith-to-Johnson conversion kit. It’s a free PDF file that includes the fake jacket blurbs and Johnson’s name that you can download here.’ (Freind 2010).

[3] Google Poetics consists of poems based on Google autocomplete suggestions. See:; Flarf poetry has been described as the ‘heavy usage of Google search results in the creation of poems’. See:; The Postmodernism Generator is a computer program which automatically creates random ‘postmodernist essays’, written by Andrew. C. Bulhak, using the Dada Engine. See:


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10 comments on “The perseverance of print-based authorship within humanities scholarship (III)

  1. Pingback: The perseverance of print-based authorship within humanities scholarship (II) | OPEN REFLECTIONS

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  6. Pingback: New Models of Knowledge Production. Open Access Publishing and Experimental Research Practices (Part II) | OPEN REFLECTIONS

  7. Pingback: New Models of Knowledge Production. Open Access Publishing and Experimental Research Practices (Part III) | OPEN REFLECTIONS

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  10. Pingback: On Liquid Books and Fluid Humanities (part III) | OPEN REFLECTIONS

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