Thursday, July 16, 2009

Deborah Brandt, "The Broader Administration of Writing"

These are necessarily just quick notes before I pack it in for the night. Just listened to Brandt's opening plenary for the WPA conference. She was pulling her talk in part from her new book, Literary and Learning: Reflections on Writing, Reading, and Society, which I haven't read yet but which is now in my shopping cart. Part of it resonated with, if it wasn't pulled from, "'Who's the President?' Ghostwriting and Shifting Values in Literacy" (College English 69.6 (July 2007): 549-571), which I've assigned to undergraduate students and they've received with considerable interest.

Tonight there was something I haven't heard before--or if I have, it didn't sink in: the concept of "authorial residue." Brandt described two ghostwriters. I can't try to recapitulate those descriptions here, but I do want to remark on an assertion she made: that despite feeling that they were ventriloquizing the people for whom they were writing, despite the fact that the ghostwriters got no authorial credit for their texts (beyond a paycheck), and despite one ghostwriter's feeling sullied by the experience, both ghostwriters had some "authorial residue" from the experience, a sense that something of themselves went into the text and that the act of writing had an effect upon their persons. They experienced a pride of authorship.

I was intrigued by Brandt's choice of the adjective authorial rather than writerly: Brandt herself, in my estimation, was attributing authorship to these ghostwriters. That in itself is an interesting move, one that suggests something about Brandt's own philosophy of writing. But it is also an interesting argument, one that diverges from the Tel Quel tradition in which the author is a social construct, authorship a fiction, an attribute conferred from the outside upon those who meet the criteria of originality, autonomy, morality, and ownership. In contrast to Foucault's assertion that "the function of an author is to characterize the existence, circulation, and operation of certain discourses within a society," we have Brandt suggesting that authorship is an experience, a perception/phenomenon within the person who has produced the text.

1 comment:

T J Geiger said...

Quick responses to quick notes:
-I hope it's not just me, but a large part of your first paragraph appear as images/symbols. If it's just me, I'm worried.
-The notion of "authorial residue" and your note about its implication that authorship, instead of being a social construct,is essentially, perhaps, an experience seems not out of line with much of Brandt's previous work. I'm not suggesting here that the "experience" of authorship couldn't itself, at least partially, be socially constructed.
-Brandt's brilliant work around the notion of literacy sponsors seems to resonate with the notion of "authorial residue" in that her articualtion of sponsorship was distilled from people's memories of how they acquired and practiced various literacies. Sponsors often, in the stories she recounts, act less like impersonal "delivery systems" and more like living presences in the lives of the sponsored.
-I don't mean to suggest that Brandt in any way loses track of social systems. In fact, the way she keeps track of them is by focusing in on the individual narrative and life and observing how huge trends shape lives and literacies quite concretely. Additionally, this attention to material conditions, the systems that produce them, and the sponsorships that underwrite literacy, positions literacies as tools which might be wielded by (potentially stable? experiencing?) agents.