Collabaret, cont.

With the recent collaborative go-round, I started thinking again about a
distributed authoring experiment CGB mentioned in passing a time or two before.
Imagine dialing up collaboration in such a way that a group of 6-8 scholars
would team-write articles on a series of issues (extraordinarily wide open,
this). A scholarship-producing cousin of the think tank. This author-organism
would set out with well-defined goals, structural principles, and so on.
It would meet occasionally as a collective to discuss the experiment, to
consider rules and roles, but it would also be receptive to redirection,
accidents, and abandonment. That is, a fair amount of the work might go to
waste, chopping room floor, etc. And in practice it would involve a lot of
chipping away at various aspects of the projects, inevitable redundancies and
microdebates, also a platform or apparatus for carrying out the work. Obviously
it’d need to be the right group of people; they would have to be smart,
agreeable, mature, invested, and flexible, among other things. But if it
succeeded, it might productively jostle the default scales of authorship. And if
it failed, perhaps it would be equally rewarding to pick through the rubble.

I haven’t given a whole lot of thought to who might participate or what such
a group might produce initially. And by now you are no doubt thinking that this model
is an old, long-ridden horse in the sciences, in information studies and tech comm, too.
If there has been much of it in rhet-comp, I’d be hard pressed to identify it
beyond the well-known tandems (e.g., Flower-Hayes, Lunsford-Ede, Selfe-Hawisher)
and the surprisingly high proportion of Braddock winners with multiple authors
(something like 14+ since 1985 have been co-written?). Yet these are not
quite fitting with the larger-group experiment.


This 1978
Joel Sternfeld photo
(via) stands
up nicely-analogous alongside the collaborative writing I’ve been working at
sporadically in recent weeks.

The unfamiliar process taught me a great deal about collaborative drafting
that I didn’t know before. Often it seemed like dabbling on the edges,
often like plunging in–designations that captures the uncertainty I felt
at times, the turn-taking, and the refreshing experience of opening a Google Doc
to find that someone else had poured an hour’s worth of smart work into the
manuscript since the last session. Sure, I’ve read a little bit about
collaboration, talked about it, even asked students to work together, but until
now I can’t honestly say that I’ve undertaken anything quite like this before.

When I first saw the above photograph turn up via TriangleTriangle’s RSS
feed, I was at a point when it cried out: There’s this raging fire to put out.
My colleague was intensely engaged in knocking out the flames while I was, like
the pumpkin shopper standing in the foreground, basically shitting around. So
many pumpkins! I’d flagged the photo for its commentary on collaborative
writing–something I was both doing and also thinking of blogging about–and its
significance shifted. Not an all reversal of studium and punctum
here, but an identity-urgency, an itch: I, too, sought a turn on the ladder.
Turn after turn came later, authorial identifications shifted as if caught in a
turn-style, and the chapter draft took shape, coming more or less solidly
together. This has left me thinking about collaborative writing as worth trying
a few more times for the way I now conceive of the process via something like a
post-dialogic dual occupancy, standing in the foreground (Which pumpkin?) and on
the ladder, happily and at once.