Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Week 7: Authorship

I love the TED Talk by Austin Kleon. In my theory class this semester, we read Michael Carter's Where Writing Begins, and I think there is much to take from Carter's book and Kleon's talk about authorship and where writing, art, and ideas come from. Since the Enlightenment era, we have this notion (particularly in the West) that the author is a lone genius, toiling away in an attic somewhere. This concept leaves no room for what Kleon calls the "genealogy of ideas," a beautiful turn of phrase. Instead, Enlightenment thinkers would have us believe that ideas have to spring forth from one's mind like Zeus's children from his forehead (I might be taking that idea from Carter's book, but I can't remember at the moment). The whole point is that if we ascribe to Enlightenment thinking, we get this rascally notion that we own ideas, and this is part of what can cause writer's block. We don't know what to say or type or jot down because we think it has to be something original that no one has ever thought of before. Sorry, but we're just not that smart. Whatever we've thought, someone else has thought before. I'm sure those who have made scientific discoveries would argue that point, but I'm talking more generally about ideas and writing. 

Paul Prior describes a similar idea to Carter's and Kleon's: he uses the term "laminated trajectories." For Prior, everything you write touches upon your life experiences and helps create that piece of writing. Your conversation at a coffee shop earlier in the day, the drawings you created as a child (he used his daughter's drawings as an example because she become a biologist), and so forth, are part of the work you produce. He used the specific example of his daughter's dissertation, but the idea applies to just about any piece of writing. There is no original; I agree with Kleon. But damned if as academics we don't all still have to slap our names on an article or a book in order to prove that what we're researching is producing knowledge. At least it gives us all something interesting to read.

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