Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Thoughts on Collaboration 7 (or do I mean coauthorship or co-creation?)

All posts in this ‘Collaboration’ strand may be accessed via links on the first post, a hubpost, as I call it, here:

[I went offline and wrote in my poetics journal about my plans to write a fake collaboration between some of the fictional European poets I have invented. As I carried on writing, I wrote myself out of the project: ‘I’ve written myself into a corner again, with my dunce’s hat on my stupid head, and no project left to pursue.’ Since it was not really a collaboration at all, it didn’t seem germane to add it to this online ‘thinking out loud’, but I didn’t expect that to happen! On the other hand, I did have some positive thoughts about continuing the ‘English Strain’ project into Book Three. But I have already rejected its status as collaboration (I prefer the word ‘transposition’), so I shall not muddy the waters of these less than transparent thoughts with my private stirring of my transpositional soup! In other words, I think I’ve sorted out some of the dilemmas concerning a part three of the project, laid out like a corpse here: ]

In May 2016 I attended a short story conference at Edge Hill organised by Ailsa Cox, at which Michaela Maftie and Laura Tansley spoke. It was here I conceived the idea of fictional collaborators for the EUOIA but, more importantly, Laura introduced me to the famous ‘Laird 2000’ I’ve mentioned in a much earlier post. This is Holly A. Laird, Female Coauthors. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2000. I photocopied some pages from it, and they are proving quite useful now. Her main theory concerns ways female co-creators in language construct an eroticised space, something I’m not so interested in (but might be if the right material comes along), but there are some useful ideas at play in it, which I’m going to trawl through now. She says: ‘These two sets of writers nonetheless deploy an alternative form of authorship, and through it they imagine alternative interpersonal relations’. (p. 23) Yes, they might or they might not. The ‘alternative form of authorship’ may imagine other alternatives. It’s probably the aim of my essay (and perhaps of any collaborations I will engage in in the future) to find out what those ‘alternatives’ might be. (Would a collaboration fail if it didn’t? Or would that just be a dialogue?)

Nomenclature is an issue. The usual debates about ‘collaboration’ are discussed, the military metaphor, but she also comes up with the notion that to collaborate is necessarily to … collaborate, I’m not yet going to use another word, with an entity more powerful than oneself, and that we should therefore use another word. (Laird 2000: 203-4) I’m not sure that is true, and certainly isn’t the feeling I have when I collaborate or I see people collaborating at the Enemies/Camarades (though the terms jokily used there do play with the expectation of  collaborative imbalance). If I see writers performing whom I value differently, I might see a power imbalance. But others (including the two collaborators) might not! Laird favours the term ‘coauthor’ (I note that Twitters for a Lark I avoided the term too; I go for ‘co-creators’). But she notes (in a note), ‘In the literary field collaboration has become the term most commonly used to refer to coauthorship’. (fn 1, p. 269)

Talking of Michael Field she comments: ‘Their texts are places where / they meet, and the radical transformation that occurs when two people write together makes both the gaps and the transferences between texts and selves even more obvious than they are to the solo author seeking “self-expression”.’ (p. 21-2) After all, there is no single self to express. So something else must be happening (and quite probably it differs hugely, as Laird also acknowledges, later, in a quote below).  

‘In collaboration,’ she writes of one instance, ‘one calls forth one’s own powers for “something other than” the increase of one’s own power or property - for the increase instead of an ongoing process and relationship wherein power continually oscillates between two “I”s’. ( p. 28)

Betsy Warland and Daphne Martlett refer to ‘you my co-writer and co-reader’ when reflecting upon their joint pieces, and that sense of co-reading must be emphasised somewhere in my piece (or in any consideration of coauthorship, as I think I might call it too). (qtd p. 203) Laird comments on them: ‘They “double” the activities of reading and writing, for both of them read and write each other. They “double” for each other, mirroring each other’s sameness and differences. And they double back on each other’s writing, rewriting themselves and the other, making their text a “polylogue”.’ (204). Certainly the first sentence is true of all collaborations, I hope. Depending on the text, the second sentence could be true of many. The third sentence could very well be an acknowledged ambition of such co-creation.

Of course, Laird knows, by the time she reaches her conclusion: ‘the relational circumstances of coauthors are also highly variable, and the degree of collaboration in particular is almost endlessly alterable’. (p. 266) That’s almost an anti-conclusion. It’s where I might begin.