It seems that our discussions this term have been born from the tensions between print vs. digital, single authorship vs. collaborative authorship, and the traditional, visible print editor vs. the more or less invisible community of digital editors/curators. We have largely been exposed to academics, such as Jerome McGann and Kathleen Fitzpatrick, who call for an overhaul of exactly how we conceive of authorship in the digital age. They call for more collaboration, for academics to communally create their work, and for these academics to acknowledge all the layers of authorship that go into the production of a text. Fitzpatrick and others also illuminate the fundamental faults of the modern conception of authorship in the wake of poststructuralist theory. If language itself is unoriginal, if the reader as opposed to the author now determines a text’s meaning(s), then how can we possibly still cling to the Romantic ideal of the original, singular, writer-genius? My answer is cynical and comes in light of the Humanities’ Panel discussion on 6 March 2014 at Ryerson University. We cling because, to some degree, we must.

During this panel, the academic experts—John Ralston Paul, Marianne Hirsch, and Stephen Slemon—were asked a question, regarding how academics should advise students on the economic viability of a humanities education. Their response, along with the York professor who posed the question, was to “embrace the unknown.” This answer was, for me, hard to swallow. I will be looking for work in a few months and this statement seemed like a way to avoid answering truthfully. It seemed patronizing to be honest: a nod from the ivory tower to the masses below, the masses planted firmly in reality. The panel academics have deservedly been very successful; however, they were beginning their careers before the age of digitization, before jobs in publishing and the arts became fundamentally transformed by the digital.  I was surprised that during this discussion the digital was not discussed pretty much at all. They seemed to take for granted the twitter feed projected onto the wall to their immediate left. It seemed like a pretty big oversight that they were discussing the future of humanities and careers in the humanities, but neglected to address the role of digitization in our present and future.

Digitization has, and invariably will, continue to change not only how we conceive of authorship and the role of the editor but how these roles will play out professionally, both inside and outside of academia. In our wiki era, in our era of non-professional, unpaid reporters, it is scary, at least for me, to embrace a poststructuralist overhaul of authorship in the digital age. If the author really is dead, then how exactly am I going to make a living?

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5 Responses to Authorship

  1. margaret.milde says:

    Miso- I think you make valuable points here. I was at the same Humanities event and found it unnerving that the professionals, the people who we aspire to be like, didn’t have answers for us because, unlike us, they already have successful careers. I think the fact that we are currently learning about digitization is incredibly valuable, but we are the unfortunate generation that didn’t really start using the internet until we were tweens. Nobody was teaching us html in elementary school. I think that being a transitional group, whose education is so firmly rooted in the traditional, makes the concept of “author” or “academic” all the more daunting because we are clinging to a past that may have no place in our future.

  2. sydney.tyber says:

    margaret.milde and cleda.choi, I have to agree with both of you and briefly extend your concerns further: how can those of us who are educated in the “traditional” model (as you assert, margaret.milde), possibly compete with those who will be leaving school with more applicable degrees focused on transferable soft and hard skills, as well as more marketable transcripts? What does it mean that we are going on the job market with English degrees, while our peers are leaving the same institutions with Communications degrees? Non-academic, industry positions do not have an English department, but a Communications department – clearly the person with the latter degree will be more desirable, even if its just by the sheer rhetorical value of graduating with a degree whose title is congruous with the industry in which one wants to join. That being said, our training and ability to read, write, edit, speak, etc… is likely of the same calibre. Ultimately, is the illusion of applicability the key to success when leaving higher education? And as an extension of that, is that applicability housed in digital skills?

    • sarah.skrydstrup says:

      I agree with you Sydney. The idea that more practical degrees lead to practical job prospects appears to be completely logical. I think what needs to be done is to completely overhaul the educational system in a way that mixes both “academic” and practical skills. I don’t think we should do away with English degrees, but instead move away from the 100% traditional English program and move towards an English program that is rooted in tradition but looks to the future of digitization and moves along with this new industry that has been created. However, Sydney, it is important to realize our own discourse when using terms like “higher” education. We shouldn’t leave said “higher” education, but rather change our perception of education and free ourselves from imposing an arbitrary hierarchy when it comes to learning. All types of education should be seen as equal and I think this type of world view can revolutionize education and ultimately improve job prospects for all.

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