The barriers to authorship are lower than ever — anyone can expound at length for free on any number of public platforms, and if you’re not the long-winded sort, microblogging pushes word-count pressure in the opposite direction.
What I am finding very interesting at the moment is the fluidity between writer and reader as content is syndicated and recontextualized in new ways.
We recently implemented Facebook comments here at zeitgeistnyc.com, and I’m really intrigued by the way it turns the relationship between the writer of a post and a subsequent commenter around, depending on the context. For example, here’s a comment I made on Tammy’s recent post on wearable technology as it shows at the end of her piece:
In this context, it’s very clear that she is the writer, and I am the commenter. Visitors are coming to our site for a thoughtful perspective on digital culture, presumably, so clearly Tammy’s piece has primacy.
Now, here’s my comment the way it shows up in newsfeeds on Facebook:
Suddenly, my comment is the primary content, Tammy’s post is a reference, and others can comment on or “like” my comment. The perspective on who the author is is completely shifted, because in this context, presumably, my friends are interested in what I have to say, and perhaps if they are moved to, they will click through to see what I am commenting on, but suddenly, my comment has primacy.
I took a class on the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges back in college, during which I spent a snowbound weekend writing a paper that included a diagram much like the following:
Not the most profound thing I’ve produced, but the ideas I was trying to turn into an info-graphic are roughly that readers have the power to “rewrite” texts through interpretation (I really tried not to use quotes there, but old habits die hard), and that this has the power to actually change the past and future (or at least to create fluidity in the timeline) by controlling the making of meaning. Some have suggested that the ideas expressed in Borges’s short stories prefigured the theories of French Post-Structuralists, such as Roland Barthes. Barthes’s 1967 essay “Death of the Author,” a seminal work of post-structuralist literary criticism, questioned the common practice of evaluating literature by attempting to infer the original one true intent of its author. This, he says, is to
“impose a limit on that text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing. Such a conception suits criticism very well, the latter then allotting itself the important task of discovering the Author (or its hypostases: society, history, psyche, liberty) beneath the work: when the Author has been found, the text is ‘explained’—victory to the critic.”
By allowing the person and intent of the author to slip away, the text is “opened” to endless readings and becomes less an object that exists in time between the author and reader and instead something timeless that is reinvented as often as it is read:
“The removal of the author…utterly transforms the modern text (or — which is the same thing — the text is henceforth made and read in such a way that all its levels, the author is absent.) The temporality is different. The Author, when believed in, is always conceived of as the past of his own book, book and author stand automatically on a single line divided into a before and an after… In complete contrast, the modern scriptor is born simultaneously with the text, is in no way equipped with a being preceding or exceeding the writing, is not the subject with the book as predicate; there is no other time than that of the enunciation and every text is eternally written here and now.”
Or perhaps thought of another way — everyone is a critic, and everyone’s an author.
So why are we talking about literary criticism? As another Post-Structuralist, Jacques Derrida, pronounced, “everything is a text.” Here on the internet, we are creating untold volumes of text added every hour, and the tools we are using almost look like if you took all the trippy concepts the post-structuralists laid out and turned them into software. The immediacy, the recontextualization, the fluidity between author and reader, the collapsing of time around narrative events. Was Barthes writing a spec?