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The Continuing Life of the Author. (Abstract.)

  • John R. Durant. "The Continuing Life of the Author: The Essentialization of Technology and the Ownership of Texts." (Abstract.)

There are those who claim that developments in computer technologies, by reason of their impact on how society defines such acts as writing, the text, reading, and, of course, authorship, will lead to a textual environment that is practically, not just theoretically, de-centered, re-centered, or given to ubiquitous slippage, and contribute to the final undoing of the author as currently constituted. A number of proponents of hypertext, such as Richard Lanham and George P. Landow, maintain that within the "docuverse," as mediated in increasingly abstract ways by the computer, the author loses control over the text, and the reader-user takes up the reins, leading the text into a type of new-word (even "world") order. Once this line of thinking is embraced, speculation can run wild. Predictions vary from modest estimations of a requisite reconsideration of curriculum to the overthrow of logocentrism and its linear hegemony. In the context of these prognostications, it would seem that this extinction of authority cannot be separated from the textual dispersion that hypertext and like technologies set in motion. In other words, as the text moves from the embrace of ink and paper to the antinomy of ones and zeros, it becomes more and more difficult to circumscribe the text, the bedrock of authorship.

However, these predictions of textual dissolution and authorial disappearance depend on an assumption about the nature of technology that overlooks the fact that some vital aspects of authorship have some reliable life-support mechanisms to perpetuate its existence and power, even in the ethereal zones of electronic a-materiality. The authorship spoken of here is not one founded on the nineteenth-century notion of the subjective author. Rather, this vestigial authorship endures as a result of its function in a complex matrix of institutional forces that confirm proprietorship and rights to copy and commodify texts. One of the most easily identifiable points of convergence within this network where the presence of the author, as a legal "person," becomes established, is the bestowal of the copyright.

The purpose of this study is to reconsider the supposed encroachment of computer technology on authorship and textuality. The essentialization of technology--meaning the attribution of transcendent, "natural" qualities to technology--is here questioned. In addition, the continual development and buttressing of copyright law is posited as a resistance to attacks on textual proprietorship.

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Michael Hancher

Department of English, University of Minnesota

URL: http://umn.edu/home/mh/duranabs.html

Comments to: mh@umn.edu

Created 19 March 1996

Last revised 17 September 1996