The Google document we attempted to write together was, as has been accepted admitted and assessed, an almost comical failure by the standards we would use to judge a “traditional” “argumentative” “paper.”  Without uttering the pejorative “five-paragraph essay” (oh, wait) I think we can see that the discontinuity and disorganization weaken the document–which seems to have a clear project that is almost identical with any of the countless papers we write in all of our literature courses.  The execution altered, but not the intended direction.

I mentioned in class that I do not believe there is any possible way to collaborate on a paper with fifteen writers in way that is completely democratic or, synonymously, anarchistic.  Polyvocality may be an effective technique in fiction like People of Paper, but even there it is not truly achieved–the novel has one accredited author, one voice that assumes the role of a variety of subvoices.

In argument the idea is far more impractical.  Any argument that we were able to construct all working on the same document without an established goal, a lucid and explicit formal frame, would be impossibly uninteresting.  This is not to say that collaboration is impossible–this would be an absurd statement and understood so by anyone who has watched television, read scientific research, looked at a newspaper, etc.  But to continue to write in the way that we were still trying to write and to do it successfully, leadership is necessary.  But jumping to leadership makes unclear what I want to say: a preconceived abstraction of the argument is necessary, or at least one that develops in unison, which requires a directive voice, which undercuts the “democracy” of the project.

That said, there appear to be some exciting possibilities embedded in this type of collaboration.  If we are willing to make a departure from the closed, tight unilinear mode of argument that has been around as long as western language, and adopt instead a form of criticism that struggles against itself and hinges on the sort of contradiction we have been so thoroughly trained to expose in other forms of literature, and which some of the texts we have read in this class do with fiction, then the silent, democratic collaborative academic “paper” could be extremely useful and relevant. Perhaps the result would be a paper that achieved the [hate to use the word “schizophrenia” in the way Jameson for one uses it, having been recently advised about the danger of celebrating a troublesome mental illness that, in such context, must be outrageously misunderstood, but it seems to be the favorite way to express the chaos of narrative I want to point to] aspired to by after-modern poets like Bob Perelman.  A death of the critic if you will.

Peter Burger’s usurpation of Walter Benjamin’s “allegory ” outlines one of the features I would hope to see in this (hypothetical) type of text.  To commit an almost  criminally brief summarization/simplification, Burger thinks that the way effective allegory functions is that it disrupts and breaks apart signs, which discontinues their original signification.  Then, in allegory (Benjamin has Baroque theatre in mind) the pieces are reassembled in a new order, gathering meaning from their organization, the fact of their prior meanings, and, most importantly, from the exposed and unobscured lines between the fragments that makes unforgettable the fact of the whole’s process of dissolution and reassembly.  Burger calls this the avant-garde art in Theory of the Avant-Garde, but isn’t an analogous process possible in criticism?  Can’t we imagine a history of the form of criticism that is patterned after that of literature, in which the avant-garde or allegorical equivalent is a self-refuting, decentered [schizophrenic] critical paper penned by 15 kids sitting in a room, writing simultaneously, not discussing just watching the changes?  No?  Well, yeah.  Maybe not.


~ by dukerogersnelson on April 16, 2010.

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