Complexity Theory and Authorship as Plurality

There was a discussion on a listserv today regarding why the individual author has become a myth. I cranked out a short response and figured I'd share. The original poster referred to the Emersonian (right?) "nothing is original" mantra. While I find that interesting, that's not what I identify as the problem. Its not so much that the individual author is a myth, as much as our postmodern ethics are skeptical of the egoist control and assurance that such a perspective purports. I can't help thinking of Mark C. Taylor's discussion his own sense of authorship in _The Moment of Complexity_:

I, Mark C. Taylor, am not writing this book. Yet the book is being written. It is as if I were the screen through which the words of others flow and on which they are displayed. Words, thoughts, ideas, are never precisely my own; they are always borrowed rather than possessed. I am, as it were, their vehicle. Though seeming to use language, symbols, and images, they use me to promote their circulation and extend their lives. The flux of information rushing through my mind as well as my body (I am not sure where one ends and the other begins) existed before me and will continue to flow long after I am gone. "My" thought--indeed "myself"--appears to be a transient eddy in a river whose banks are difficult to discern. [...] One of the few things that is clear even if not obvious is that all writing is ghostwriting. This work, like all others, is haunted by countless specters. Some I know, others I do not; some I name, others remain unnamed. The unknown and unnamed are not, of course, absent--nor are they present. Their silence speaks through my words in ways that remain cryptic to author as well as the reader. (196)

I think Taylor presents us with something more complicated than anti-originality. The constitutive debt to language stems beyond the ability of any individual consciousness' comprehension. Resisting the myth of the individual writer is a recognition of just how much of our reality is built up through nothing more than our symbol systems (and our ghosts-thnx KB). Even at our keyboards, though perhaps the only ones biologically present, we are never alone.

1 comment:

gvcarter said...

I caught this on the WPA-list. Nice.