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?