The curator: A new ship to sail

The readings of the past few weeks have been challenging us to consider the robustness of authority as a concept. More importantly, we have been asked to question whether this concept that helps us understand the writing processes that lead to the creation of both collaboratively and singularly created works. Perhaps it is best to consider itself, a work in progress.

This blog and the Annotated version of The Tales of John Oliver Hobbes are works in progress, ones that will continue without presence. Our interaction with these texts are therefore necessarily bound to cease at some point. If we take this to be the fact of the matter and that the work is open to being as much anyone else as our own, who are we? What role do we actually play? The familiar slot would be to say that we are all authors. However I think that there has been enough evidence put forward by the likes of Siemens, McGann, and Fitzpatrick that the monolithic author needs to become more flexible (a difficult task made even more difficult by rigor mortis) or we need to board a more suitable ship.

To this I am reminded of a dissertation that argued that the sole author of the Cyclopedia, Ephraim Chambers, was not an author at all but a textual curator. Kennedy summaries the role in the following quotation from Textual Curators and Writing Machines:

“I suggest that we can best understand this author as a textual curator in much the same sense as a museum curator: working to bring together the best textual samples available, assessing their quality, arranging entries in the most effective order, and writing a variety of additional texts to transform the gathered elements into a cohesive whole.”
(Kennedy, 2009, p.123).

In many ways, this seems to me to be exactly the process of what writing is in the first place, an act of gathering, redistributing, and augmenting a great number of works into a new one.

But I think it is more than just that. The curator is allowed to leave the work they have helped to coalesce. They can let others take the reigns or to dismantle the work, sending the components on to new collections. I see this approach reflected in Shillingsburg description of editorial approaches to literary editions. He states that “after the creative process has stopped, an author stands in the same relationship to his work as any other editor. It is no longer his. From then on he is a meddler or editor or merchandiser” (Shillingsburg, 1996, p.11). Being a curator (or an editor in this case) repositions textual agency as one that is characterized by mobility and spaciousness for both the text and textor. It is honest to the fact that these works are fundamentally communal endeavours that do not end with the final keystroke of a single author.

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One Response to The curator: A new ship to sail

  1. julie.morrissy says:

    It seems that the problem is not often not so much in coming up for a new title for the author that would more wholly reflect how the idea of authorship operates in the digital age, but the intense anxiety (and borderline paranoia) that we often encounter about how the digital world breaks down the boundaries of the standard publishing relationship, and the new ways in which information is made widely available. To me, the challenge lies in making those who are resistant and skeptical of the digital world more comfortable with the changing face of authorship. I’m not if the idea of curation is going to be enough to ease their fears.

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