Anonymity, Un-Originality, Collectivity – Contested Modes of Authorship
An Interdisciplinary Conference
Hosted by the Institute of Advanced Study, University of Warwick, UK.
20 – 21 May 2022, Online/Oculus OC1.06.
Confirmed Keynote Speakers:
Tom Geue (University of St Andrews)
Nicholas Thoburn (University of Manchester)
Leonello Bazzurro, Melissa Pawelski, Alessandra Tafaro, and Leanne Weston
Call for Papers
The figure of the author is almost a ‘universal’ category, which, ‘enduring profound social and economic transformations’, can be easily exportable through ages (Netz, 2020: 100). Since classical times, the author’s name has had a canonical force that still exerts its own fascination in contemporary literatures and scholarly debates. Romanticism constructed the author as an ‘original genius’, an exceptional individual who is ‘solely responsible’ for the creation of an ‘unique work’ (Woodmansee, 1984). Conceived as the ‘origin’ of the work, the modern author was subsequently recognized as the private owner of the work. Following American New Criticism, French Structuralism and Post-Structuralism have famously made an array of critiques against the ‘name’ and the ‘function’ of the romantic/modern author. Barthes’ ‘The Death of the Author’ (1968) and Foucault’s ‘What is an Author?’ (1970) question the ‘cult of the author’ and the meaningfulness of the interpretive category of the ‘author’ as such. Since the 1960s, increasing attention has been paid to the written artifact, copying techniques and mechanisms of re-appropriation, and complex webs of intertextualities. Yet nearly all contemporary literatures and arts are constructed around authors’ names, the myth of their originality, and the liberal conception of these authors as private owners of their work. The individual author’s name, biography, personality, and geniality are strongly promoted in the academy, the editorial market, the art and film industry, and the media (for the centrality of the power of authorial names in contemporary debates, see Carla Benedetti, 1999). Furthermore, producers of literature and knowledge (writers, artists, filmmakers, musicians, academics) must adopt strategies of self-promotion or self-branding in order to receive institutional recognition of their own name and work (Lee Wong, 2017).
Recent scholarship has demonstrated how alternative models of authorship may influence critical approaches, modes of production and reception of texts. New critical interests across different disciplines, ranging from Literature, Philosophy, Translation Studies, Poetry and Performance Studies, Visual Culture and Fan Cultures, have addressed the study of anonymous and pseudonymous texts, practices of collaborative and participatory authorship (such as fan fiction), co-authorship, as well as communal and collective modes of ownership of the work in question. These approaches challenge the centrality of authorship in the production, reception, and consumption of texts/works in several ways as well as the contemporary conceptualisations of literary, philosophical, and artistic canons.
The conference will attempt to deconstruct the politics and power dynamics of the author’s name by discussing issues of anonymity, pseudonymity, and ownership across disciplines. It aims to ask what new ways of interpretation may emerge in the absence (whether ‘intentional’ or ‘accidental’, ‘primary’ or ‘secondary’) of a named author and of a secure historical context of textual production and circulation. Furthermore, it aims to investigate how anonymity and pseudonymity influence the readers’ reception. Anonymous and pseudonymous texts have long been at the margins of classical scholarship, but they have recently witnessed a rehabilitation in scholarship (Peirano, 2012; Geue, 2019; Kayachev, 2021; Geue, 2021). Authorial names prove crucial for establishing the literary canon and for the circulation of literature in classical times (Netz, 2020). As recent studies have emphasised, however, anonymous and pseudonymous texts challenge traditional ways of reading classical literature and raise new important methodological and theoretical questions about issues of originality, authenticity, aesthetic value, and the validity of literary canon (Kayachev, 2021).
We also wish to critically reflect on the status of the modern author as the individual owner of their work. As Saint Amour (2011) notes, modern writers became increasingly aware of their role as holders of copyrights and have expressed this issue within their own literary production. However, it is only with the influence ofappropriation practices during the 20th century (in the form of re-mixing, assembling, re-writing, sampling, non-creative writing, creative plagiarism) that the individual author challenges their status as the exclusive creator, and, therefore, the private ownership of their work. The author as ‘remixer’ and an ‘un-original’ genius (Perloff, 2010; Goldsmith, 2011) becomes, instead, an ‘appropriator’ of words/images/sounds made by others. Drawing on post-structuralist philosophy and conceptualist poetry, contemporary critics and writers attempt to reconceive the property regime of the author by proposing an aesthetics and ethics of ‘disappropriation’ (Rivera Garza, 2015). By disappropriating their own property, the author affirms the ‘communal being’ (Thoburn, 2016) and the collective and ‘transindividual’ roots of all literary, artistic, and intellectual creation. Understood as collective and communal property (Ostrom, 2015; López Cuenca, 2014), the work challenges the liberal conception of intellectual property as well as conventional copyrights inscription, commonly known with the phrase ‘all right reserved’ (Vaidhyanathan, 2001). Instead, the ‘copyleft’ work is meant to be Open Access and to circulate freely within the community (Lawrence Lessig, 2004).
Against this theoretically and methodologically diverse background, this interdisciplinary conference aims to bring together thought-provoking and critical presentations addressing the various forms in which the critique of authorship becomes pertinent in scholarly, political, social, cultural, and linguistic debates. We invite abstracts for 20-minute papers from scholars at any career stage, but are particularly interested to hear from postgraduate and early career researchers.
Suggested areas of focus may include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Theoretical, philosophical and methodological perspectives on and approaches to authorship and
diachronic shifts in scholarly debates;
- The extent to which different forms of authorship may spur new perspectives on the consumption
of literature, philosophy, and art;
- ‘Un-original’ practices and examples in literature, visual arts, philosophy, film studies and
translation studies (creative plagiarism, appropriation techniques, re-mixing, assembling, etc.);
- Examples of transgressive collective pseudonyms and anonyms in the (post)modern age;
- The property regime of the author, copyrights versus copyleft debate;
- Models of collective, multiple, collaborative, distributed and co-authorship;
- The politics of anonymous and pseudonymous authorship; ‘intentional’ or ‘accidental’, ‘primary’
or secondary’ anonymity and pseudonymity;
- Methodological approaches and theoretical perspectives on anonymous texts and
pseudepigrapha; problems of contextualisation, transmission and reception; questions of
authenticity, originality and intentionality;
- Invisibility, betrayal, fidelity, the translator as author;
- Audience’s responses to different modes of authorship;
- Authorship in the digital era, contested modes of digital authorship.
Benedetti, C. (1999) L’ombra lunga dell’autore. Indagine su una figura cancellata. Milan. [trans. (2005) The Empty Cage: Inquiry into the Mysterious Disappearance of the Author. Ithaca].
Geue, T. (2019) Author Unknown. The Power of Anonymity in Ancient Rome. Cambridge (MA).
Geue, T. (2021) ‘Going without’ review of Kayachev (ed.) Poems without Poets. Approaches to Anonymous Ancient Poetry. The Classical Review: 1-3.
Goldsmith, K. (2011) Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age. New York.
Kayachev, B. (ed.) (2021) Poems without Poets: Approaches to Anonymous Ancient Poetry. Cambridge.
Lee Wong, A. (2017) ‘Work in the creative economy: living contradictions between the market and creative collaboration’ in J. Graham and A. Gandini (eds) Collaborative Production in the Creative Industries. London. 197-215.
Lessig, L. (2004) Free Culture. How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity. New York.
López Cuenca (2014) Los comunes digitales: Nueva ecologías del trabajo artístico. México.
Netz, R. (2020) Space, Scale and Canon in Ancient Literary Culture. Cambridge.
Ostrom, E. (2015) Governing the Commons: the Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. New York.
Peirano, I. (2012) The Rhetoric of the Roman Fake. Latin Pseudepigrapha in Context. Cambridge.
Perloff, M. (2010) Unoriginal Genius: Poetry by Other Means in the New Century. Chicago.
Rivera Garza, C. (2020) The Restless Dead: Necrowriting & Disappropriation (R. Myers, Trans). Nashville.
Saint-Amour, P. (2011) Modernism & Copyright. New York.
Saint-Amour, P. (2003) The Copywrights. Intellectual Property and the Literary Imagination. Ithaca and London.
Thoburn, N. (2016) Anti-Book. Minneapolis and London.
Vaidhyanathan, S. (2001) Copyrights and Copywrongs: the Rise of Intellectual Property and How It Threatens Creativity. New York and London.
Woodmansee, M. (1984) ‘The genius and the copyright: economic and legal conditions of the emergence of the ‘author’. Eighteenth-Century Studies 17(4): 425-448.
The conference is free to attend. This two-day conference will be held in a hybrid format to allow in-person and online attendance.
Please note: registration has now closed.
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