Abstract for Bettina Soller’s talk at the symposium “Imagining Media Change” (June 13, 2013, Leibniz Universität Hannover):
How We Imagined Electronic Literature and Who Died: Looking at Fan Fiction to See What Became of the Future of Writing
Starting in the pre-Web era, the first emergence of electronic literature was accompanied by a wave of theoretical writings about literary hypertext. Theorists had visions of the escape from the book’s linearity and the far-reaching effects of hypertext on the future of reading and writing. Enthralled by the newness of the media, critics envisioned the death of the book, the author, the reader, and the editor in an effort to make sense of the changes awaiting literature, while at the same time establishing a canon of e-literature and the notion of a high culture of hypermedia practices.
Since then, the end of the golden age of hypertext literature has been announced. Literary studies degraded electronic and digital literature to one of its marginal subject matters. While the circus moved on, forms of writing that challenge established notions of text, work, author, and reader thrive online and extensively outnumber the canon of electronic literature established by first wave critics. This paper will examine fan fiction as one of the most proliferating digital and online writing phenomena. Fan fiction writing encompasses the practice of readers who become authors expanding, appropriating and transforming texts of popular culture. These fan texts are published in online archives and on personal sites in social journaling portals. Through an examination of this electronic literature phenomenon, some of the major theses of hypertext theory will be reexamined to see what became of the future of writing and who actually died.
Authorship as a Category of Cultural Distinction: Collaborative Writing and the Solitary Genius
Bettina Soller (American Studies, Göttingen)
When literary critics turned to questions of authorship and hypertext, they rapidly created a canon of texts worthy of discussion. The predominant concept of the singular author as the sole originator of ideas and the authority over text has strongly been shaped by literary studies and has also been applied to new media. Popular forms of collaborative writing that exemplify the more radical changes in questions of authorship in digital projects like Wikipedia or fan fiction writing are still marginalized in literary theory. It seems that, like in print media, the higher the values that are associated with a text or product, the less collaborative authorship is seen as a legitimate category. Especially advocates of a strong canon have used different forms of authorship as categories for cultural distinction. While the ‘solitary genius’ has been hailed as the producer of ‘high’ art or academic achievements, collaborative authorship has been devalued, not only by academia, but also by the public imagination. Therefore, traces of collaboration have been erased or veiled from literary texts as well as other media texts such as films or TV series that are produced through collaborations of a team of writers and producers, or with the help of spouses, friends, and editors. The performance of authorship by the producers of texts as well as the construction of authorship by texts’ recipients generally conforms to the idea of a singular author, while many actual practices include collaborations. Especially the forms of digital writing that make public the processes of collaboration that are involved in other media as well, illustrate how the development of non-evaluative concepts of collaborative authorship will enrich theoretical discourse.