Remixing the Concept of Author, or Not

rrodrigo's picture
This survey question appears to presuppose that “the notion of authorship” might have been stable to begin with. The author has been dead for a long time, or at least since Barthes said so in 1967. Post-modern theories of authorship suggest that meaning is derived from a variety of locations, including, but not limited to, the author, the reader/consumer, and the context. 
This question specifically asks us to consider reblogging, or copying/remixing within a digital culture, as something that complicates the notion of authorship. Again, we know that copying and remixing something is not new with the introduction of digital communication technologies. Fan fiction writers have been copying characters and environments of their favorite fictional worlds, and then remixing the “canonical” works of those fictional worlds for many years. The introduction of the Xerox machine introduced an easier and more affordable method for helping share their remixed works. Based on this ramble, a part of this question becomes: is reblogging, which I am interpreting as the intentionally copying of a text (alphabetic, image, video, etc.) from one context to another, a form of remixing or is it just copying? As a rhetorician who grew up reading po-mo theories of authorship, I am going to make the argument that it can never just be copying; the new publication context always presents a new rhetorical situation. 

Let’s take this discussion, temporarily, out of the world of reblogging and put it into the world of teaching. Both new and experienced teachers not only “borrow” one another’s instructional ideas, but, more often than not, also explicitly copy and reuse one another’s instructional materials. Why write an assignment prompt for an activity you like when you can just copy, paste, and go with someone else’s assignment prompt? However, as many experienced teachers know, just copying the assignment prompt usually doesn’t work. The assignment developed out of a specific course context, with a specific instructor, who has previous experiences and specific knowledge that informs her pedagogy. Even when taken out of context, the copied assignment prompt carries some of that historical, dare I say ideological, baggage to the new context. 
In the examples discussed thus far for this survey question, the reblogging has emerged when individuals find content and then push/publish it to another context. I think this reblogging fits pretty nicely into the already messy po-mo understanding of authorship. However, what about if the reblogged content is machine generated? Individuals can use RSS or Atom feeds to subscribe to content and then have software automagically publish it elsewhere; folks can even use Google Alerts to convert the results of a Google search into a syndicated feed that can then be automatically published elsewhere. If the machine does the copying and publishing, is there still an author there? Or is the human agent that makes up part of what is considered the author just pushed further into the background of the production process? Someone still had to select what RSS feeds to subscribe to, what outlets to publish to, etc.  
I’ll answer this survey question with a definitive, No, I don’t think reblogging culture has further complicated notions of authorship. Instead, reblogging culture just provides another object of study to use when testing and teasing out the already complex network of theories about who and what is an author. 
Please note, I did not take the time to ramble on about plagiarism, attribution, copyright, etc. Actually leaving some type of official authorial signature is another related, yet different, conversation. 
Image Citations
Meme constructed at imgflip.
rssfeed Creative Commons licensed image posted at Flickr by Francesco Pozzi


Daniel Hocutt's picture

Performing Another's Pedagogy

I love the concept (and phrase) “performing another’s pedagogy.” That Viggo Mortensen “says” it clearly illustrates the networked author. Viggo Mortenson as Aragorn as depicted in two-dimensional motion picture as captured in a still photo as depicted as speaker of the words “One does not simply steal an assignment—One performs another’s pedagogy” as visualized embodiment of your own ideas demonstrates your own networked identity. And you’re right: what a rich object of study this networked identity offers.

I also appreciate the expectation that assignments and pedagogy should be repurposed as new performance. I’m currently teaching a class whose content is cribbed from previous classes I’ve taken, and I consider it an entirely new performance of the pedagogy because of the context, the audience of students, the experiences we all (teacher and students) bring to the class, the culture of the institution itself, and the myriad other variables that make each instructional experience a unique networked phenomenon.

Rochelle (Shelley) Rodrigo's picture

Reperforming Self

Your response got me thinking about how we are both hinting at further ways to "complicate authorship" with the idea of reperforming/remixing/rebloging the self. If we agree that this adopting/adapting of another text is a new performance then the author would be slightly different each time, even if it is the same person. 

Also, and I'm chuckling I get to say this, it's Sean Bean as Boromir. :-)

Maury Elizabeth Brown's picture

Library Science and the archive are going this way (sort of)

You said "adopting/adapting of another text is a new performance" and the new library cataloging standards (Resource Description & Access) are aligned with this notion of an original and then a remixing/reposting. For example, the work is Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, and all performances of it, whether parody, YouTube, translation, comic book, movie, book edition, website, etc. are all tied to the original expression, not treated as discrete records. The intent is to show derivation and reperformance, and also to show movement and transliteration of a work.

They haven't gone quite so far as thinking about the author as being different each time, but  the fact that there are new editions published of original works, with new prefaces by the author is a way of getting at this concept.

Daniel Hocutt's picture

More on Re-performing the Self

I wish to re-perform my previous response. Peter Jackson called and excommunicated me from the Fellowship, and he even said I probably can’t visit New Zealand, either. But what interests me about the comment on curating re-performance is the embodiment of the performance. Because the performance occurs in different material conditions — whether a new post on Tumblr, a different institutional page on Facebook, a canned email message reposting authentic faculty comments — the material conditions join the curator/author/performer to create a different identity.