Planned Obsolescence: Authorship

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 When I volunteered to write about the “Authorship” chapter of Planned Obsolescence, I did not realize how relevant it would be to my experience with this very blog. In fact, the reason I volunteered so quickly to take one of the chapters is that I spent a good deal of time last week on an 800-word response to “Critical Making” that never made it onto the site, as I deemed it too rough, thematically roving, and frankly unfinished to share; the writerly anxiety Fitzpatrick addresses in this chapter is real! I myself am deeply nervous about the process of “drafting in public,” and for proof you need look no further than my Twitter feed, which is composed almost entirely of links to other people’s work. The following description of our prioritization of product over process hits the nail on the head for me: “As long as we are in the process of writing, we have not yet completed it, and without completion, we cannot get credit for what we have produced; we haven’t accomplished anything.” (Also, this is literally true of my not-quite-a-blog-post; I will have to start all over with a different subject entirely on my way to completing the requisite six posts for this course!)

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 I should also note that I recognize the irony of my having suggested we do these blog posts individually rather than in groups “because the form (‘provocation’) was better suited to individual creation” following by my having accidentally selected the chapter built around challenging our assumptions about authorship, including the idea that it is something best done alone. But one of things that I loved about this reading is that Fitzpatrick does not take a This Changes Everything approach, but rather asks us to consider the ways in which new technological tools and innovations highlight and amplify processes which have been taking place all along; “the author,” she argues, “is not operating—and has never operated—in a vacuum, but has always been a participant in an ongoing conversation.” Further, her framing of the collective “not as the elimination of the individual, but rather as composed of individuals” seems to perfectly capture what we are doing with this assignment in particular, and with this blog in general, by having a handful of us write individual responses in a public forum, where others can read and comment before we all reconvene in class on Wednesday.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 The one area where I would push back on Fitzpatrick’s analysis in this chapter is with respect to her envisioning of a future of “multimodal argument.” I do not agree with her claim that “the boundary between the ‘critical’ and the ‘creative,’ if it exists at all, is arbitrary.” Although I am not prepared to lay out a detailed case for where such a boundary lies, I do think it exists, which is not to say that a work cannot be both critical and creative; there is certainly an obvious creative element to any form of writing, including argumentative writing. But I struggle to see how argument can exist in the absence of language—after all, even code requires logical operators. If what she means is not language but the written word, then I suppose I agree, with the caveat that I’m not sure how radical “multimodal argument” really is if it merely refers to delivery of the same sort of analytic content presented in non-textual forms. How much has the “fundamental nature of analysis itself” really changed between my writing “If A, then B” and my saying “If A, then B” over a podcast? Has my argument fundamentally changed between my writing a paper and my presenting that same paper at an academic conference?

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 I remain skeptical that there is ontological difference there, though I will concede that there is at least a pragmatic case to be made for not abandoning traditional forms of scholarship entirely, lest one anger her colleagues and be cast out of the academy into the outer darkness. I just so fundamentally believe that valid argument is the proper aim of academic pursuits and the best path to knowledge (see also my previous post on this blog).

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 But, as always, curious to hear everyone else’s thoughts on this. I might change my mind!

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  1. Posted October 31, 2016 at 12:43 am | Permalink

    I like how your post, like the chapter, begins with anxiety, and generally a personal take on the process of writing, and scholarly writing in particular.

    I have to admit I’m not entirely clear on your argument (not because you didn’t lay it out well, but because I’m an undereducated neanderthal), and I’m not sure Fitzpatrick herself is suggesting throwing out the current mode of scholarly communications. Or maybe she is? I’m not sure either. I think that what she’s pushing back on is a “do things the same way forever” attitude, particularly in a market driven environment. –But maybe that viewpoint is informed by the last chapter in the book, on the university and the desire to smash the state that is scholarly communications is in right now, where university press marketing departments can overrule editorial boards.

    • Posted November 1, 2016 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

      Jenna–Aha! I think I figured out the source of your confusion (which has nothing to do with anyone’s education or neanderthalness and everything to do with my sloppy wording and general resistance to formal citations in blog posts :/ ) When I mentioned not throwing out traditional scholarly forms, I’m referencing an argument from Clifford Lynch on page 84. It’s a case for making digital work that is in some way recognizable as or translatable to print, on the grounds that it will provide the new work with “scholarly legitimacy.” Fitzpatrick’s point is that digital scholarship will be limited by a focus on making work that is easily translated between print and digital; my argument is that there is a stronger case to be made for keeping argumentative essays around than that they will be useful for coaxing skeptical colleagues into accepting digital work. Does that make sense?

      Sorry for the confusion, and thanks for drawing my attention to that bit of careless sentence-crafting! Now I want to edit my original post based on your feedback…or would that be too meta?

  2. Posted October 31, 2016 at 1:24 am | Permalink

    Oh I completely agree, I don’t think she’s suggesting throwing the current mode out at all. That’s actually what I loved about her approach: it’s adaptive rather than reactive. (Granted, I have not finished the book yet, so I may be off base there–we can discuss on Wednesday!) But my understanding is that she is just as interested in the production of better scholarship as she is in keeping academia relevant, changing the nature of scholarly publication, etc.

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