A couple of friends and I are putting together a panel on technology and new models of authorship and intellectual property for Computers and Writing 2005. The deadline is October 28, but one person on the panel emailed us suggesting we get started with the panel and added, "I know Clancy likes to get started early." :D This is my reputation now? All because I'm paranoid that my proposals for CCCC won't get accepted, so I always try to goad people into getting a draft ready by the coaching deadline? Okay, I guess I do like to get an early start. Here's the nascent idea -- a feminist analysis of weblog authorship -- which has been floating around in my mind off-and-on for a few months now. Because of said nascence, I'll do much meandering before I get to the point, if I even have one yet.
In "Rhetoric, feminism, and the politics of textual ownership," Andrea Lunsford critiques the solitary, originary, proprietary model of authorship and warns readers of the implications of the appropriation of authorship by corporate entities such as Disney and Microsoft (for a preliminary exploration of these ideas, see her 1997 keynote at Feminisms and Rhetorics). The article first appeared in College English in 1999, and much of it is a review of debates within postmodern theory about authorship and recent changes in U.S. copyright legislation. Postmodern/poststructuralist and feminist theorists, most notably Barthes and Foucault, have de-reified the Authorial Genius, showing him to be an historical construction and yielding two significant insights:
- Authors do not exist outside a social and historical context; social and material conditions enable and constrain authorship. "Men of letters" are, historically speaking, usually men, usually white, and usually economically privileged enough to afford the leisure time it takes to write.
- A text is not the product of a sole author. As Barthes writes, "a text is made of multiple writings, drawn from many cultures and entering into mutual relations of dialogue, parody, contestation." The act of composition is exposed as a weaving together of other texts the writer has read and voices he or she has heard in conversation.
Lunsford juxtaposes these theoretical claims with large-scale efforts on the part of corporations to assume the role of author and hyperprotect content, e.g. Mickey Mouse and the Windows source code, and she rightly insists that in practice, the author is alive and well, so well that fair use (including for educational purposes) and the sharing of knowledge are threatened. This review is intended as a wake-up call for scholars in rhetoric and composition; five years ago, these issues were not discussed as often as they are now. (I'd still argue that intellectual property debates aren't as high a priority as they should be on the discipline's scholarly agenda; what do others think? Colleagues sometimes say to me, "I still don't understand why I should care about intellectual property." How can the stakes be better communicated? Does one have to have a direct encounter with "permission culture" before he or she fully understands?)