Saturday, February 9, 2013

The question of authorship

Duchamp made a very salient point about the "Fountain" - namely, using a ready-made urinal, inverting it and painting R MUTT to sign-off. No part of it was original. Duchamp didn't invent the porcelain that went into the making of the urinal, neither did he invent the concept/construction of the object in question. He was accredited the authorship because he has simply taken the bold step to place a banal object in the esteemed location of a contemporary art museum.

Of course, he subsequently was associated with this (in)famous "art" piece due to the controversy made.

I was reading an article on Realism, critical realism to be exact. Before philosophy scares you away from this blog, please be rest assured that I intend to write something rather lay.

At the end of the article, the author thanked a list of people who helped shape his ideas, and he even credited a point to a colleague during the review. In academia, it is very much a paradox, where there such pressures are put on individuals to produce brilliant works to publish, and yet, work in editorial teams to peer-review, critique. We have meetings and seminars where we share (or more commonly, attack) with each other. We formulate ideas by cross-pollination. So why is the credit still individually award?

It's same throughout really, in most cases, people work in teams and create synthesis (or disynthesis?). No one's ideas are really their own and the assemblage of ideas can happen by chance or even by circumstances. It can be reduced to being in the right place at the right time, the interplay of being part of the right institution and you exercising a choice that simply fits into that structure. It can even be random. I must admit, I had this idea because I was reading Sayer's article on Critical Realism for Geography and Dyck/Kearn's book chapter for on Gidden's theory of Structuration. The most unlikely of connections and possibly by sheer SHEER chance...did I write this blog post? Most certainly. Did I author it? I would say there are roads that motivated me to write, and the assemblage of ideas came from me...I willed it to happen. However, I hesitate to claim true authorship.

It is our ego that drives us to claim credit for our work. Clearly in Duchamp's case, he was credited because his name created a locus of discussion. We tend to associate with the person when we're trying to understand motives - "Why did he chose a urinal as a sculpture?". This is because only people can have will - conscious choices. However, my point is that that's not all there is to it, because there are also other random circumstances that can take part. Duchamp owes as much credit, as the curator who permitted his work to be displayed. Someone must have sold the urinal to this insane dude.

The key here is really simply. Authorship, like Duchamp's signage of "R MUTT" is simply an act of claim. Whilst none of the words I used were invented by you (English is not invented by a sole person), wasn't a website I set up, and neither references were created by me. I u claim these ideas as my choices. It is my individual will that underpins the end assemblage displayed for all to see.

It doesn't matter if my choices were random (spur of insanity) or calculated (deeply analysed, researched before writing). The event itself justifies my authorship. I claim therefore it is.

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