Solitary Genius

Authorship in digital humanities brings to light just how wrong Roland Barthes was in his essay “The Death of the Author”.  I would argue the title should be “The Death of the Engaging Third Person Omniscient Narrator”, but that is a matter for another day.

The “solitary genus” of the author has not gone out of fashion only into question with the emergence of digital technologies.  Reading through what my peers have discussed in the earlier posts I wholeheartedly subscribe to the importance of collaboration, as well as making collaboration visible.  Collaboration has always been a part of print technology, but this collaboration is left to the imagination when faced with a material item that states a singular author on its cover.  Seeing how many people are involved in a work and opening a work (an example of opening a work is Fitzpatrick‘s suggestion that scholars should publish first and peer-review later) to as much collaboration as possible destroys the notion of the solitary genius and encourages further collaborative and even interdisciplinary scholarship.

Another issue that is being discussed is the increase in the responsibility of the reader and the lack of “justification for editorial conflation” in digital publications.  In digital editions editors are intruding less on the text leaving the responsibility of sorting through the material largely to the reader.  This means that “a broader spectrum of institutional relations, and widening networks of production” has evolved.  A broader spectrum of relations that disadvantage those with “traditional” modes of education or degrees (discussed here).

The problem is the virtual archives that have come about pride themselves as being open, but are regulated by university membership, for example.  Or they exist in the non-academic world and have no credibility because their ‘reliability’ has not been validated by an institution.  These ‘open’ archives then are not so open or so open they have no clout.  The question of who is responsible for regulating material that has so many authors is another concern, for such sources as Wikimedia.

I would like to say the pillars of education should be fronting the call for open access education.  The problem is the university is an industrial complex, enjoying the benefits of contract employees and bankrupt young adults and their parents, and has been incredibly slow in incorporating the digital environment (as evidenced by the Humanities Panel) into education unless it is explicitly called for (such as in a Communications degree).  By not making digital scholarship a part of the academic discussion is to ignore the last 20 years of innovation.  Not just the academic discussion either.  Collaboration in the digital environment opens up the potentiality for discussion with members outside the university-industrial complex.  Thus, framing the discussion in an academic framework actively negates the potential of digital scholarship.

I keep returning to one line in Deegan and Sutherland’s work that discusses the change from print edition to virtual archive: “the emphasis shifts from intervention and interpretation to evidence.”  Where does an English graduates intervention and interpretation of hypermedia begin if so much of it is just evidence now?  The answer is a complicated one, yet an essay cannot answer it.


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