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Bookmark: "What is an @uthor?"

"What is an @uthor?" by Matthew Kirschenbaum

But there is also a new kind of archive taking shape. Today you cannot write seriously about contemporary literature without taking into account myriad channels and venues for online exchange. That in and of itself may seem uncontroversial, but I submit we have not yet fully grasped all of the ramifications. We might start by examining the extent to which social media and writers’ online presences or platforms are reinscribing the authority of authorship. The mere profusion of images of the celebrity author visually cohabitating the same embodied space as us, the abundance of first-person audio/visual documentation, the pressure on authors to self-mediate and self-promote their work through their individual online identities, and the impact of the kind of online interactions described above (those Woody Allenesque “wobbles”) have all changed the nature of authorial presence. Authorship, in short, has become a kind of media, algorithmically tractable and traceable and disseminated and distributed across the same networks and infrastructure carrying other kinds of previously differentiated cultural production.

Let me be clear: I’m not referring to “ebooks” here — that is, to literature as content or commodity. I’m referring to authorship itself as a category of cultural authority. If works and texts have become licensed properties subject to DRM and the strictures of the DMCA, and if readers have become self-enlisting data handlers by contributing ratings and other forms of reporting on sites like Goodreads (purchased by Amazon), then authors, I would argue, have become vectors for media diffusion, both in the mass proliferation of the authorial image and the power or authority channeled through their individually authenticated social media presences. Moreover, all of this also generates new kinds of authorial metrics and measures, new nodes of critical data that make pattern recognition possible amid our contemporary networks. While some scholars may shun such developments, others are embracing them, leveraging analytical tools and techniques to account for a landscape of authorship and reading that is no longer confined to simple geometries and lines of influence, and no longer served by the established critical schools.

One of the most important such vectors are the lines of interaction between literary and fan culture. The question of whether The Peripheral can be regarded as a sequel to the Blue Ant novels — a question seemingly definitively answered by Gibson, as we have seen — is emblematic here, more so than whether or not the novel has a “happy” ending. This is because sequels raise precisely the kinds of conundrums about storyworlds, continuity, and canon that often loom large in fan circles, where vast storytelling universes (Star Wars say, or the Harry Potter series) spawn hundreds or thousands of derivative works, some licensed, some not, all of whose relationship to the original franchise must be adjudicated for internal self-consistency (not unlike the genre problems of time travel fiction that Gibson, like any author who experiments with that device, must confront). Here the existence of a controlling authority over a given creative property is both a legally binding fact and the ultimate arbiter of arguments on forum threads. Even for more prosaic literary fiction, where transmedia franchises and fan fiction are unlikely to develop, I predict that the conventions and expectations from fan communities will cross over and mediate (literally) the authority of authors on a variety of critical questions.

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