Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Implied authors and collaborative fiction

This week I have been working on revising the conference paper I gave on collaborative fiction.  Here's a few paragraphs where I reflect on the relationship between implied and historical authors and fiction:

The distinction between actual and implied authors is complicated by the online environment of the collaborative projects I'm examining. In narrative theory, the implied author is understood as a reading effect rather than a core role in narrative transmission (Toolan 2001:66), an anthropomorphised figure who may be quite distinct the historical author. The notional nature of the implied author has generated considerable controversy in narrative theory (summarised in Nunning 2005), but as Toolan goes on to point out, “the pictures we have of authors are always constructions, so that all authors are, if you like, ‘inferred authors’” (ibid). Indeed, the vagaries of online representation might tempt us to abandon the project of recovering historical authors for collaborative projects at all.

Both A Million Penguins and Protagonize offer the contributors the opportunity to represent themselves in a profile page. In Protagonize, the profiles follow a standard template where contributors supply an image, user name and information about themselves (which might include where they live, how long they have been writing and so on). Individual contributors vary in the degree of self-disclosure they employ, for example in whether to use a mimetic photograph (or not), a pseudonym or real name. How far a reader might build a biographical picture of the historical author from these paratexts can vary in precision, and the offline accuracy of any such picture cannot be determined from the online materials at all. The blurring of online and fictional identities is all the more exacerbated in the case of Free Your Mind. Contributors were invited to write their Protagonize identities into the story, which is constructed as a metafictional role playing adventure where the Protagonizers are a literary society that functions as a resistance movement. The characters in the storyworld bear the same names as the story contributors and some of the attributes derived from the user profiles, attributes that could be later carried over into playful discussions in the commentary.

In contrast, the user profiles for A Million Penguins were more or less devoid of mimetic information about the contributor’s offline identities. Like all the wiki pages, user pages could be edited by anyone, not just the writer themselves. Profiles of the story contributors were sometimes reconstructed (sometimes maliciously) by other writers. A case in point is the contributor named Pabruce. On 3 February 2007, Pabruce wrote a brief self description for his profile which linked to a myspace page for Paul Allen Bruce:

pabruce, aka "bruce the fierce", aka uncle paul singer songwriter, construction worker, marble collector see examples:

But this description was soon deleted and replaced by another contributor, Kate Fyne, who wrote an alternative profile for pabruce:

May or may not own a piano. Well known as being a pretty cool guy. Suspected Communist.

Before Pabruce finally deleted Kate Fynn’s alternative a week later, he inserted dialogic commentary around her text, indicating willing acceptance for multiple versions of his authorial persona to be constructed. But while Pabruce might have tolerated, if not played along with other people authoring his persona at this level, he deeply objected to his persona being treated as a fictional entity within the narrative pages of the wiki, or as Mason and Bruce put it “just another wiki character” (2008:5). When another contributor wrote a version of Pabruce into the wikinovel, Pabruce responded by leaving the project, stating that “Going to my myspace page and entering a thinly veiled version of my name INTO the novel is too wierd.” While the complex relationship between offline, online and fictional representation mean that implied authors remain a useful heuristic, we should not forget that beyond the narrative discourse, historic authors continue to exist and may feel strongly about their authorial identity.



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