Authorship as Pluralism of Identities


Natalija Grgorinic & Ognjen Raden


Who has the right to be an author? Is it a right given or a right taken?

As far as making an attempt of authorship, it would seem reasonable that anybody would be allowed to try, but, at the same time, it goes without saying that such an attempt would result in less than anybody receiving the acknowledgement of their authority. And while there are some who only need but to ask for to receive it, and others who need to do more than ask for it, it is our finding that there are also those whom no amount of asking or doing would make eligible for members of the exclusive club of authorship.

In search of a criterion of who is admitted and who is rejected as an author, one would immediately think that the quality of work counts as the most important, but such a differentiation between an author and a non-author, understanding that the first produces works of superior quality and the other works of inferior quality, is twice flawed. On one hand it should be quite clear that an author of a low-quality work is (regardless of how low the quality) still undoubtedly an author, as it clear that there is no person or institution with the power to issue permanent certificates of quality. On the other hand, many of those who are today considered to be the models of authorship itself have, in their time, been denied any relevance and authority.

So the issue becomes perfectly plain, indeed, there might not appear to be one at all. But it is our claim that there exists a type of authors who are systematically denied the authority and the right of being exactly that – authors. Those are pairs of authors, couples of collaborators, who are precisely because of their non-singularity judged as non-admissible to the club of authorship. As far as quality of their work, it is presupposed to be a non-quality or a lack of quality, even before any actual evaluation, and thus they are effectively denied their claim of authorship. The main reason for this being the fact that two authors, by sharing their authorship, convey more of their identity than a single writer would, in return shattering all canonized illusions on which rests the perception of any work of art. 

To make the simplest and possibly the crudest definition of an author it suffices to say that an author is a person exercising control. What makes this control creative is the fact that it is practiced equally over the outside material as well as over the author’s own identity. These two are fused together in a work of art, one ensuring universality or at least comprehensibility, the other originality or distinction. The proportion of the outside material and the authorial identity seems to be in direct correlation with the artistic value of work. Where universality or comprehensibility have precedence, the expression of identity is low, and artistic value arguable. High expression of identity doesn’t ensure high artistic value, though. An ideal work of art would be one containing as much of author’s identity, but at the same time claim the highest degree of universality. This, of course, is somewhat awkward formula for calculating artistic value; to define art is to say it is that which avoids definition, but it is useful in emphasizing the importance of identity in creation and, as we will later show, perception of any work of art.         

The type of control an author exercises over a work of art is somewhat similar to the type of control we all feel we have, or at least wish we would have over our lives. The main prerequisite for acquisition of such control is the identity. One needs to function within fullest of his or her abilities in order to produce a work of art, or to control one’s life. Here, identity would be space within limits posed by questions such as: Who am I? From whom did I develop into who I am now, and how? Who do I want to make myself into, and how? What are other people’s perceptions of what I am? This is the space of constant change induced by perpetual perception and reevaluation, held together by the continuity of the change itself and by the search for the origin/source/core of that very space. 

The sum of all human relationships can be viewed as an arrangement between acknowledgement and denial of separate identities. The paradox of the singular authorial identity is that it was created in the image of the most recognized and the most disputed, but at the same time the least human identity – the identity of One God, as the creator and the possessor of supreme control.  

Indeed, in all monotheistic religions God is the original literary author, who chooses one prophet or the other to dictate His text to. A prophet is a medium of writing, giving up his identity, in order for the text to retain authenticity. In recognition for his service, a prophet does not remain anonymous, but is revered as one next to God.

Same is true for the modern literary author who, if following criteria for the solitary genius, has an opportunity of achieving greatness. First of these, and the one that all others are derived from, is the criterion of singularity, where one is indivisible, original, atom-like, elemental, organic, the origin of all things, the origin of life itself, self-sufficient. By being aware of themselves as units, as undifferentiable entities, human beings are inclined to project the principle of singularity on the world that surrounds them, making it reducible to one as the building block of the world.

Theological criterion implies that a solitary genius is in a more direct communication with God, is a truer representation/representative of God. The divine author, or divine inspiration, is always implied in the singular authorship. An author is required to resemble the image of the monotheistic God, in its singularity, oneness and self-induced creativity.[1]

In the time of bourgeois revolution, coinciding with the perfection of the idea of singular author (Romanticism), the point was not in beheading of kings, but in transformation (coronation) of each individual into an absolute ruler, a king. Since the idea of every person being his or her, king or queen is not practicable within the confines of the society, the democratic process enables voters to transfer their sovereignty onto a chosen representative – projection of sovereignty through election. The elected ruler is the representative of the majority - in the same way a singular author is a bearer of the absolute creative sovereignty which enables him to exist in his/her readers’ minds as the perfect image/reflection of themselves.

Fifth criterion is that of communicatibility, enhancing the role of the reader as a decisive factor in creation of the all-powerful authorial singularity. Only when facing a singular author does a reader have a chance to retain the illusion that he/she and only he/she is the direct receptor of all communication between the author and him/herself. Every reader enjoys and looks for the impression that a particular work of literature has been created for his or her sake exclusively.

More importantly, a reader needs to be able to identify him or herself with the author: “The writer is just like me!” In the higher level of identification, the reader enjoys the illusion that he/she is the actual author of the work. Needless to say, while there are some dual authors, rarely there are dual readers, making it practically impossible for a reader to identify with the suggested authorial identity. This comes from complete indoctrination with singularity; the mind of the modern reader is saturated with the ideology of individualism, which allows singularity as the only form of existence, function or creativity.

But this ideology comes to its fullest realization in the last, and possibly most important criterion – the criterion of ownership or private property – implying that an author is a sole and exclusive owner, proprietor of his or her work. Shared property is a heresy in the consumerist society and two names on the covers of a single book are just that, shared property. The reader has an irrational fear that he or she will be required to share as well. In an extreme consumerist society shared authorship is equal to the concepts of public transportation or affordable housing, something too easily identifiable as a form of socialism.

Sharing, in intellectual terms, should imply openness, dialogue, exchange of ideas – all concepts which are terrifying for the modern consumer. This modern consumer is closed up, confined to a solitary existence, talking at people, talking to oneself, not interested in fair trade of ideas, shaped and governed by needs sold to him or her; in the same manner products intended to appease those needs are sold.

The principle of modern exchange is to acquire as much as one can, without reciprocating. To reciprocate in the amount equal to the value of the acquisition is not considered commercially sane. This principle disables a person to have a quality exchange with anyone outside of a very narrow circle limited to a class. A member of the middle class cannot expect to have an adequate exchange with the member of a lower class; one that is beneath him/her is not expected to reciprocate in education, quality of thought or idea. In the same way, a member of the middle class is an inferior and inadequate partner for any (intellectual) exchange with a member of the higher class. As far as exchange within one’s class is concerned there is almost none since members of the same class possess property of an equal order, meaning, or value. This results in complete separation between classes and in an utter seclusion of an individual within his or her own class, and it is the way modern day capitalism continues to use the concept of singular authorship to restrict and control the exchange and creation of ideas.

In a consumerist society one’s identity is the only true form of private property. It is in the complete opposite of a trademark or a brand name, and as such, among person’s assets, one of the least market value. On the other hand, it is the only form of property one is not liable to lose if, for example, refusing to pay taxes. Identity is a form of property over which a person should be allowed to exercise absolute control. The problem arises once we realize that the governing system of the society is in the business of obtaining absolute control over all members and elements of the society. By expressing his or her identity, an individual, an author comes in direct conflict with the system. So, by definition, creative work is a form of discord with the system.

The system uses flattery to single out intellect: the author is made to believe he/she is so singular, so unique, so far above the reach of the community that he/she needs to dwell in complete isolation. The result is that one of the main prerequisites for authorship is isolation, but no authorship is possible without contact with the rest of the community. In consequence, this narrows and limits all creativity, with singular authorship equaling acceptance of solitary confinement and the restriction of creativity.

There exists a false dichotomy between a singular author and authorial anonymity. In the same way singular authorship restricts creativity, authorial anonymity almost prevents it since authorship is creation and communication of identity. Thus, anonymity is nothing but a synonym for singularity. This is proved by anonymous works of literature or art from Medieval times, in which God was the implied author of the work; God, again, being a singular entity.

The bottom line is that the overall governing system of the society needs to single out the author simply because it feels it is under threat, or indeed under attack. No artwork is a work of loyalty or obedience. This is why it is convenient to marginalize the artist, put the democratic principle in the service of repression, and the majority of “hardworking, everyday people” in disparity to the “perversion” of the artist.

Because, isn’t it still a fact that art is considered not to be work, or if it is work, it must be a lesser kind of work? The only thing the passive, productive majority of the society has to pride itself with is its usefulness to the system. This is opposed in the artist’s selfish pleasure of creation. He or she is that free-thinking other whom the consumer citizens would want to, but dare not be. So they remain the silent majority, responsible for their families, responsible to the society. In the consumerist society, freedom, even the freedom of the mind, equals irresponsibility, which, in turn, is identified as youth. Thus an artist becomes a child-like figure; society loves to love him/ her, but doesn’t hesitate to punish the artist for even the least of transgressions, likes to practice control over him/her. The major transgression is the desire for complete freedom, freedom from control; and the ultimate punishment – isolation. If not acting from isolation, an author, or indeed authors, are not allowed the authority for creation. Creation has to be solitary because otherwise there would be no justification for the consumerist majority to continue polishing the chains by which they themselves are confined.

The singling out of the artist and his/her separation from the rest of the society is also the way in which the system instrumentalizes the same artist. Appearing from such forced solitude no artist’s work has ever a chance to be in equal terms compared to, or to challenge the standard of the majority, which makes the truth a matter of consensus and not a matter of the depth or the value of the insight.

The way by which the system controls literature or any form of artistic expression is the singling out the author. By glorifying the individual author, almost as efficiently as by completely ignoring the author, the system is separating him or her from the rest of the society. Singular author is in an actual democratic minority to the community which gives the community the right to denounce him, but if one is to evaluate the strength of ideas being expressed in work of art one must not compare the individual who dares to speak out to the silent majority. Silence and number are not an argument in any debate, they are signs of obedience to the system. Majority and silence combined represent monologue. Monologue is the language of the system. It is the misuse of the majority.

The only, or at least predominant osmosis of any progressive ideas into the mainstream is achieved with a considerable delay, which habitually implies the death of the author of those ideas. The one benefit of conversing with a dead author is that it makes any dialogue less obliging, it puts the reader in control. Not to mention that the death of the author also facilitates author exploitation, only strengthening the perception of the author as an unfortunate and bothersome byproduct of a work of art, which by itself, decontextualized, rid of author, is in most cases quite marketable.

In the creative process any change, modification or substitution of identity is allowed - the identity itself being the principal means of creative/artistic expression. The only condition put before a creative identity is singularity; as long as an author/artist uses a singular identity his/her work is certified as having certain credibility. Any change of background, status, class, race or sex is tolerated as long as the principle of singularity is not put to question.

This explains why even dual authors seem to function when “hiding” under a singular identity. On the other hand, funny enough, there has not yet been any instance of a single author assuming a dual identity which, if all prejudice against the pair were to be put aside, or even because of those prejudices, would be a reasonable enough suggestion. Why wouldn’t a single author want to express his or her desire for dual identity by placing two names on the cover of his/her singular work? So, paradoxically, a singular author has at his/her disposal infinite number of either true or false identities – he/she can express him/herself using different names for different projects/genres/forms – and at no time is denied the opportunity to combine all work under one “real” name. Any tolerable dual authorship is required to hide its true dual identity and can use other assumed identities under condition that those are singular.

The reason for this lies in the fact that any multiplication of identity is regarded as a loss of identity. To be able to collaborate or to admit collaboration is viewed as a character flaw. The ability of one person to build ideas from interaction with others is considered to be a disability, weakness, a mark of an inferior existence, having in mind that fair reciprocity stands in the way of the modern capitalist economy.

In this context even a singular author is someone who merely poses as an author. It is not the author who is believed, it is the work itself that has precedence over its author, since there still exists the idea or prejudice of the implied, divine author in whose hands its human representative is nothing more than a writing tool[2].

The case of Harriet Mill and John Stuart Mill is a good example of how an author admitting collaboration is not believed and thus is denied authority over his own work[3]. Critics go through texts trying to find evidence of Harriet Mill not influencing John Mill, although he himself states:

“With regard to the thoughts, it is difficult to identify any particular part or element as being more hers than all the rest. The whole mode of thinking of which the book was the expression, was emphatically hers. But I also was so thoroughly imbued with it that the same thoughts naturally occurred to us both.”

(from John Mill’s Autobiography on the authorship of On Liberty, Stillinger, 66)

This is a most obvious case of the system robbing the authors of their joint identity. The insistence of Harriet Mill that her name should be left out from any formal claim of authorship can be understood as her pragmatic choice where she, being in the true sense a woman of her time, must have been aware that adding her name to that of John Mill in identification of a philosophy would only make this work more prone to criticism and more likely to be disregarded as a product of two lesser, inferior identities.

Unfortunately, as this was true for the Victorian age there is no indication that Harriet Mill would choose differently if collaborating with her husband in the present day, since perception of dual, multiple, collaborative authorship has not altered in any significant measure. This perception is marked by two combined methods, which are employed in a way that the object of such observation is irreversibly dismantled and annihilated.

The accepted way of viewing a pair is to divide it into two individuals and view them separately. This method is equal to an experiment in which an unknown apparatus, or indeed an unknown living entity, is cut in two in order to discover how it functions. By dividing a pair its function ceases and no reverse engineering will help us to reveal how it had once functioned.

Once a pair is divided each of the two members is compared to the other. This method is as ineffectual as the above one, since there is no way one can learn anything through comparison of the two equals.

Negative perception of a pair is derived from the fact that in our society there is no practical equality between individuals and no practical equality between the two sexes. The way an individual approaches a pair reflects the state of the society and the position an individual has within it. An individual is inclined to the projection of his/her complexes, most frequently, the projection of fear from inferiority one is supposed to inflict or to suffer as a member of a pair. This comes from the fact that an individual is always in minority towards the rest of the society, always inferior, and that a well-being of a society is measured by the well-being of its most successful individual members. Equality of a society is never tied with the well-being of its most underprivileged member. So, in a way, a pair functions as a mirror to the society. The fact that an individual cannot perceive others or him/herself as an equal member of a pair, proves that the principle of equality exists solely as an abstraction inapplicable to the modern society. The only equality possible in the society of today is the equality of disadvantaged, equality of disenfranchised, equality in inferiority.

In the pragmatic society any idealism is inadmissible. From a point of society, a functioning pair is an embodiment of idealism the reaction to which are attempts to break it up, or to isolate and ignore it. It is indicative, that equality is regarded as an ideal, although it is an actual prerequisite for any communication, any dialogue, any functional exchange of ideas.

In the most practical terms this results in a “cellophane communication” – the product, even if it is a work of literature (art), needs to be untouched, uncompromised. A modern reader looks for a virgin reading material, he or she needs to know (needs to believe in the illusion) that no one else has sampled or enjoyed the communication offered in the work itself.   

Reader (consumer) expects to be indulged, not put to any work, not forced to fight for the right to speak or to prove his or her point. A reader, as an inert, passive recipient, cultivates a false impression that he or she represents the majority. When put against two authors singular reader feels uncomfortable, inferior, in minority[4]. The modern reader is weakened with flattery and pandering by the singular author which results in dismissal and ignoring of any possible dual effort.  

The root of mistreatment of any collaborative effort lies in the highly individualized society where the only controllable population is that reduced to a multitude of single units. An average individual thinks of him/herself as existing outside of the society; singular existence is marketed as a better, more original way of being. To view oneself as an individual means to elevate oneself above the surrounding community. This nominally elevated position makes one blind to the anomalies and weaknesses of the society. By being forced outside of the society with flattery of the system one is effectively confined to a state of permanent minority.

This position, although extremely limiting, offers one important comfort which is – no responsibility. Since one is incapacitated by being singled out, consenting in part to his/her isolation, the only pleasure of such position can be derived from absence of any action. As a result, the reason there is no acceptance for collaborative creation actually lies in the fact that we live in the world where each of us individually is one’s only measure.

We perceive the world as either good or bad according to the place we feel we occupy or deserve to occupy. Although this position may vary, the system at every time provides us with those who are worse off than we are. The effect of this is that the world seems to be a somewhat better place and the status quo is preserved (those who are better off serve as an example and proof that we can achieve more, but always within the boundaries of the existing system). If we would, on the other hand, choose that other, worse off, under privileged or under achieving one as the measure of our world we would be far less satisfied with it and would be forced to react and ultimately change, both ourselves and the world.

The perfect individual is unable, not equipped for communication, and where there is no dialogue there is no possibility of progress. The perfect individual has ideally a single talent that the system exploits. This makes the system effectively multitalented while at the same time making the individual limited by his/her singular talent. That is why the system insists on the society of highly specialized professionals who can only function for the benefit of the system, but are unable to survive on their own.  Within lies the paradox of the modern society which places the individual on the pedestal - what is actually up there on that pedestal is a fragile, incompetent, dependent half-person with built-in interfaces facilitating not human connection, but serving as sockets for the system to plug in. Consequently, the predominant, nominally individualist system is a hypocritical one, working for the benefit of a hundred individuals, rather than for hundreds of millions of individuals.[5] True individualism can exist only in a person who is capable and not afraid to share his or her ideas, experiences, work, life and happiness with other individual/individuals/members of the community. 

On the other hand, a functioning pair is at least bi-talented to start with and as such in breach of the talent monopoly held by the system. Each of the individual members of a pair has one talent, but they additionally also share a third one – the talent for communication – something which the system cannot tolerate. The ultimate goal of the system is control. Individuals existing within a self-sufficient unit (pair) oppose this control and replace it with communication[6].

Single person in today’s society, an individual, a highly specialized professional is intended to be mute, without the talent of communication, in order to place the system in the role of his/her dialogue partner or communication representative.

The basic question is how does something function or how to keep something in function. The society as we know it is operated by the system. The only way the system knows how to keep the society in function is by controlling it. A pair offers an alternative. Effectively a pair can function only when there is communication between two members. If one of the members attempts to exercise control over the other, the pair breaks and there remains only a tyranny of one over the other, of strong over the weak. As a paradigm of function through communication and not control, the pair represents an alternative and an opponent to the system.

If we accept that all creation comes from communication, and communication exists only within plurality of identities, then it becomes clear that all creation is by definition collaborative. Both in the process of its making and in its function a work of literature, as indeed any work of art, can come to its fullest realization only if it is perceived to carry benefit for the largest possible community. At the same time, collaborative creation does not imply anonymity (in terms of integrity it can only reinforce it), as benefiting a community cannot be translated into indulging a community. By accepting the conditions of singularity literary (artistic) creativity creates not a space for communication, but a space for its confinement. Looking into literature and not seeing beyond prejudices created by the predominant individualist system means to remain blind to its essence and to instrumentalize it as a means of indoctrination and control. In response to this practice, creative collaboration is a crucial mode of opening new, free space for the expansion of thought, and as such should not be a priori denied an opportunity to be perceived as art simply because it does not measure up to the outdated and repressive norm of singularity.

[1] This makes it fairly obvious why it had been so difficult for women to be recognized as authors, or indeed to become eligible for the club of authorship, since God possessed an arbitrary characteristic of being a man as well as being singular. Once women seized the right to be authors, seizing of which equally led and followed the acquisition of other rights, they conceded to the first criterion of authorship, remaining in majority singular in their creativity.

[2] Herein lies the double paradox of the concept of single authorship: on the one hand the author is glorified, elevated and mythologized, but once the implied, and all-powerful, divine author is introduced, the earthly author is reduced to a mere facilitator of literary production. The second part of the paradox comes from the fact that immediately after identification of the author as a sole proprietor of a work of art, comes his/her disownment – not unlike the manner in which a worker employed for, let’s say Daimler Chrysler Corporation, is completely anonymous and devalued when compared to a brand new, $ 70.000 CLK 55 AMG Coupe.  

[3] “He credits her with substantial influence on his thinking and writing in everything subsequent to A System of Logic (1843) and routinely uses the term “joint production” to characterize her share in Principles of Political Economy (1848), On Liberty (1859), and other works from the late 1840s on.” (Jack Stillinger, “Multiple Authorship and the Myth of Solitary Genius”, Oxford University Press, New York – Oxford, 1991. p. 53)

[4] Singular author needs a reader to be recognized as an author; a pair of authors recognize each other as authors, excluding the confirmation from the reader.

[5] Far from being populist (as marketed), individualism in modern capitalism is actually the doctrine of the plutocratic elite. The majority is tricked into believing it can earn the privileges enjoyed by the wealthy minority, at the same time not realizing these privileges are secured by the existence of the underprivileged majority. The predominant illusion is that one’s life can be bettered by individual effort, and not by betterment of the society as a whole, which serves to cover the fact that the elite had acquired its position not by manipulating themselves, but by manipulation of the society, the other, the majority. In its consequence this doctrine transforms the society into a polarized space where on one side exists only “I”, “me” and “myself”, confronted by the shapeless mass on the other side.

[6] A multifunctional relationship, especially of couples sharing intimate, private and public life, tends to be omnifunctional. The same two people want to be everything to each other: lovers, friends, business partners. In comparison to such a pair, any other variety of couple, even the one presumed by the traditional married life, is merely a temporary association. An individual chooses activities, and as a consequence of his/her choice gets paired (or grouped) with other individuals. A multifunctional pair, on the other hand, is already a group in itself, insisting on the permanence of its relationship, making itself, rather than its separate individual members, a subject of any activity. The system is robbed of control here, because it doesn’t choose for a member of a pair his/her next relationship – the relationship is already chosen.