What I’m doing with my life (for the moment)

So someone earlier asked what this blog was about and I told them it was pretty much whatever I wanted to share, but that really this blog was all kinda connected by language that I find interesting. And then I thought that I could use this blog to get feedback on my master’s thesis idea. So I’m going to post my proposal here. I hope you enjoy it and share your ideas. (and the title will be revised because I really don’t like it as it stands)

Community Authors: How Authors Use Others to Develop Texts


            Editors often take the brunt of scholarly critique of corrupted texts; however, they are not the only ones who meddle with a text either during its composition, the process of a text’s production, or in the interpretation of the text. Friends, family, printers, typesetters, other authors, scholars, and readers all interact with the text and introduce their own variants through marking on the text or reading it. In the first half of the twentieth century, Modernists authors shared their manuscripts with one another. Marianne Moore exemplified this in her sharing of manuscripts with contemporary authors such as H.D., Ezra Pound, and T. S. Eliot. With communication broadening through the internet and the digitization of the twenty-first century, this group sharing and editing has expanded to online blog communities as authors, such as Cory Doctorow, publish drafts of their work on their personal websites, blogs, and podcasts. Through this technological change the debate about the role of the author(s), editor(s), and readers becomes more fluid. For textual scholars, such as Jack Stillinger, D.C. Greetham, and George Bornstein, who build the case that there has never been a single author, the shift of writing communities to an online forum illustrates their argument and forces literary critics to deal more directly with the readers’ ability to change the meaning of the text.

            Editing theory has developed to focus on deciding who acts as the responsible party for determining the meaning of a text. In response to the discussion of the authorial role in defining textual meaning, current editorial theory places an emphasis on the way the historical and personal context of the author affect the meaning and interpretation of a text. This examination has only recently shifted to value all versions of the text from the author’s life rather than elevating one version, typically the first or last, of a text as the most authorized (Bornstein, Editing Matters). While Greetham explains the theoretical path in “Editorial and Critical Theory: Form Modernism to Postmodernism” that led to this revisionist view, Bornstein discusses the ways that the exploration of the stages of textual development affect the potential interpretation in Material Modernism. By looking holistically at what surrounded the text in production throughout the author’s life, as well as production that occurred, and continues to occur, after the author’s death, Bornstein and those who follow him seek to understand how, and in what ways, the meaning shifts over the course of a text’s existence. While this type of investigation has more firmly set guidelines for studying physical manuscripts, the rules for dealing with the nearly complete digital production of texts have yet to develop similar conventions. Kathryn Sutherland’s Electronic Text: Investigations in Method and Theory, as well as Graham Barwell’s “Original, Authentic, Copy: Conceptual Issues in Digital Texts,” emphasize the ways moving to digital format affects texts and the reader’s interaction. Published research tends to focus on the ways readers of digital texts are affected by the format rather than the ways readers affect digital texts.  

       Scholarly focus to date has primarily looked at the application of making older, canonical and non-canonical, texts widely available. The shift to electronic texts has concerned most scholars, such as Peter L. Shillingsburg, primarily in the ways that electronic versions would allow readers to easily see the broader scope of textual transmission.  While some scholars have voiced concern about the degradation of the older texts that are transferred to electronic formats, there have been few scholars discussing the ways that electronic texts of new literature and their dissemination over the internet affect the development of the text. With newer authors utilizing their readers to shape works in progress in venues such as blogs, the future of literary studies from several critical frameworks will be even more difficult to apply than its current state.  The online and electronic formats of the text make the determination of meaning directly connected to the discussion between the author and the reader, both figuratively and literally. With the ease that readers are able to access the manuscripts of older works, as well as the authors of current works, the position of literary theorist is expanding to include those who have no formal training in the field of English. Regardless of how this broadening affect of the electronic text is viewed, the ability of any reader to look through the manuscripts of any text poses questions for scholars concerning how this affects the theoretical views of the role of the reader in assigning meaning to texts.

            In an effort to better understand the ways that texts have been influenced by fellow author-editors, my first chapter will look at the text of Moore’s Poems and the course it followed throughout in its production stages. Moore wrote a prolific number of letters concerning her work to her family and editors. She also kept a great number of her own papers that she arranged to have stored at the Rosenbach Museum and Library. Using the letters and other texts that surround the development of Poems, this chapter will focus on the ways Moore functioned with other authors to complete and publish her text.  Moore’s first book of poetry would not have existed without the unasked assistance of H.D. and Winifred Ellerman (Bryher). Through their editing and arrangement, H.D. and Bryher impacted the way readers interacted with the poems. Moore’s response to the unrequested interference with her work not only demonstrates the way Moore worked with H.D. and Bryher, but also highlights the connections she had with other authors. Moore’s letters demonstrate that she communicated with T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound about her work and the further development of Poems. Through the letters she wrote, Moore leaves a record of how she worked with this small writing community. This chapter will examine the ways that these written discussions impacted Moore’s revisions. This community relied on the postal service of the day to create the collaborative works that we continue to study; the writing communities today have moved to the internet and other technologies to communicate and collaborate.

            For authors searching for an easy to contact collaborative group, technology provides the most user friendly format. My second chapter will look at ways the technological changes affect the current production of fiction texts. Focusing on current author Cory Doctorow, who lives his publishing life online through his website, group blog, and podcasts, I will look at the ways readers have changed his texts from beginning drafts, to publication, and after he has called them finished. By publishing his work online during the process, as well as after he has finished it, Doctorow invites comments from readers concerning the direction his work is taking which places them in a role parallel to an editor. These files then can be searched and compared by scholars to see the development of the work through Doctorow’s publishing even before the publisher’s release. Looking specifically at his newest work Little Brother, I will follow the development of the text through production in May, 2008. Doctorow’s work is also interesting in that he publishes all of his novels and most other work under a less restrictive Creative Commons copyright license which allows readers of his work to make derivative works of their own. These derivative works also get posted to the sites which host his original work unsettling his digital texts even more. Looking at his first novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, along with several of his more popular short stories, “Ownz0red,” “Other People’s Money,” and “Scroogled,” I will explore how this invitation to the reader to translate, incorporate, and create from his stories extends the community of influencers to unknown and anonymous readers and how this affects the authority of Doctorow as the author.

            My third chapter will focus on what the movement of texts to electronic formats and easily accessible forums means for the scholarly discussion about the source of meaning in texts. Allowing readers to have a more direct influence on the development of the text affects the meaning of the text in ways that make it difficult to place in context. Because the anonymous readers of online community pages have nearly impossible contexts to trace, what they say is as close as we get to authorless comments. Understanding the context of the comment thread and the historical context are the best that scholars get for authorial context. Yet this authorless comment potentially shifts the meaning of a text in production more than the traceable comments of the editor. As scholars begin to focus on the texts of authors who work in this unknowable fog of internet forums and comments, the question becomes which comment(s) affected the development of the text. The decision about the importance of the context of the comment author rests with these scholars, and the final chapter will offer some thoughts on how editors might handle the online communities in discussing the context of the text.

            As technology becomes more integral to the way we function, it becomes even more important for scholars to look ahead and see how it affects the development of texts. While research about technology primarily focuses on the ways moving texts from paper manuscripts to digital, the affect of readers on texts is an important aspect that has only recently begun to surface. The shift of small, fairly well known communities to the larger, anonymous online communities affect texts in ways that need more study. Tracing the authorial need for community in the development and production of texts from the first part of the twentieth century through the beginnings of the twenty-first century will demonstrate the areas that should be watched.