Friday, February 20

rolling credits

fall 2011, my very first semester of grad school adventuring. I took a Bibliography class and a Publications Management class at Tech, where both instructors assigned Foucault's “What is an Author?”

amusingly, they each sent out very different PDF versions of this Foucault. this semester, spring 2015, in Postmodernism class, I have collected yet another version.

this Michel Foucault guy. he is undeniably prolific, and not just of his own accord either. these are three different English translations. the essay has been collected and recollected in lots of places.

he shows up in snippet-form in a million other people's work. quotations and paraphrases and summaries and re-purposings galore.

look at all that proliferation, uncontrollable and unending. [sidenote: prolific/proliferate. hmmm. those are cool words.]

speaking of unending proliferation... when we read this Foucault (in company with "The Death of the Author" by Roland Barthes) for Postmodernism this week, I saw these theorists from the seventies prophesying the messiness of internet culture.

Barthes gets prophetic with the assertion that
“In a multiple writing, indeed, everything is to be distinguished, but nothing deciphered; structure can be followed, 'threaded' (like a stocking that has run) in all its recurrences and all its stages, but there is no underlying ground; the space of the writing is to be traversed, not penetrated: writing ceaselessly posits meaning but always in order to evaporate it.” (5)
this reminded me a bit of our class discussion the other week about memes (in particular, this one, which requires advanced Superbowl XLIX background knowledge to even attempt to make sense of--I still don't know if it's parseable, really) and their funny, short-lived, nonsensical nods at “meaning.” and I thought of Tony’s paper day presentation on Wikipedia. what is Wikipedia if not a floating, threaded, tagged, metadata-ed parade of version upon version upon version of writing, editing, responding, and so on? (this whole Barthes piece also reminded me of Doctor Who, for some reason. I think it was the talk of dimensions and eternally present texts and utterances that are always “here and now.” weird connection, I know. I'm not even any brand of a Whovian.)

Foucault's foreshadowing peeks out here, where he tells us that
“as our society changes, at the very moment when it is in the process of changing, the author function will disappear, and in such a manner that fiction and its polysemous texts will once again function according to another mode, but still with a system of constraint--one that will no longer be the author but will have to be determined or, perhaps, experienced” (222). 
he doesn't know or say what exactly would replace the standard model of authorship, and neither can we... yet. we are in this very moment. (maybe the 1970s were in it too. I don't know.) one version of my online self, a few weeks back, made a copy of a statement by some unknown writer on Tumblr about this whole idea: "we live in a post-copyright society," the guy says. Tumblr itself seems to be exactly the world Foucault is describing. on Tumblr it doesn't matter who is speaking.

I now interject with a complicatedly relevant and timely example from an (overly popular?) author/vlogger/whoever:

(for the record, I saw only seventeen--actual seventeen, not seventeen hundred--likes when I checked on goodreads the other day. there are eighteen now, and it's been reattributed. that was quick.)

later on in his essay, Foucault admits that he has “unjustifiably” limited his definition of authorship and discourse (216). what about so many other forms of creative work, he asks? what if we're talking about painting or music? what if? what if we're talking about pixels and code?

the (really awesome, I think) postmodern tendency to keep widening and broadening everything, always chopping down boundaries, tearing up labels, smashing traditions, etc. makes me want to ask so many questions. if everything counts as discourse, what then? leading up to this, Foucault also explains that “all discourses endowed with the author function possess this plurality of self” (215)... as if the self is a text, also. not only is everything discourse, everything is plural. me included. from there, it’s tempting to imagine a "death of the self" along the same lines as this famous "death of the author." someday we may only have self-functions. hmmm.

in our class forums, colleague Beth made a very cool point about the roles and threats and newnesses of technology in this whole shifting authorship/compositionship situation, citing a fellow named Friedrich Kittler on the topic of typewriters. and then friend John posted a link to this awesomeness, which I found delightfully mindboggling. I have a machine that in theory could do such cool things. perhaps I should learn.

back to technology though. technology + humans = cyborgs. and that reminds me of Neil Harbisson. and it reminds me of David Eagleman's Sum (a pretty blue paperback that I actually own). of death-switches. functions without selves. hmm.

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