Alexandria Online

Friday, February 5, 2010

Got Issues with "Authority?"

I am getting interesting reactions to the term, "authority." Because I am a classicist, "authoritative" means "correct," not necessarily because someone insists. Classics has a side to it that most people are unaware of. The field developed as a science before there were "soft" and "hard" sciences. Just science. In German, it is altertumswissenshaft -- the science of antiquity. This idea of authority for me is perfectly represented by a page from an Oxford Classical Text. Generations of scholars have come to consensus about what the "correct" letters should be, and at the bottom of the page there is the apparatus criticus where variant readings are noted along with the sources in which they are attested or the scholars who suggested them. It is a science and a humanity.

My working definition of authority, then, for this particular project, is this: the consensus of a group of committed researchers putting forth their best conclusions using the best information at hand at the time. This definition is subject to change, of course, as this committed researcher gathers more information over time and continues to refine his conclusions.


  1. I am one of those who want to know more about, and understand better, the motivation for/central conception of your whole project, Alex: why focus on questions of authority rather than, say--oh--accessibility? democracy? conversation? free circulation of knowledge?

    The primary platform for most of my teaching is a website, hosted @ Bryn Mawr College, called Serendip. Its "evolving web principles" -- -- guide much of what I do on the internet; they are centrally and explicitly about NOT conceiving materials there as "authoritative," but rather as encouragement and support for further thought. I get, of course, that your definition of "authority" is subject to change; I think what I'm challenging is that concept as keystone for your project.

    Supported by Serendip, I'm doing a revised version of a course on genre this semester:

    We began the semester w/ a special issue of PMLA (122, 5: October 2007) called "Remapping Genre," which includes a fascinating section on "Changing the Profession"; it's kicked off by Ed Folsom's "Database as Genre: The Epic Transformation of Archives." I think that what he -- and all his respondents, perhaps esp. Peter Stallybrass in "Against Thinking" -- have to say also function as useful comments on your project.

    Just for a taste: here are my reading notes from Stallybrass's essay:

    * digital information profoundly undermines
    academic elite control over the circulation of knowledge

    * gatekeepers' work is increasingly problematic

    * renewed sense of language as a "tissue of quotations" from which we cannot remove ourselves:

    * "Having 'inventory' is a requirement for 'invention'... making information reuseable."

    * databases can help free us from the tyranny of proprietary authors, solitary thinkers who produce knowledge our of their own minds-->

    * rediscover a pedagogy that preceded regime of originality: imitation, inspiration, use of common treasury

    * give up claim to intellectual property, in construction of free circulation of knowledge

    Looking forward to more backing-and-forthing about this!

  2. One more bit: I want to direct you also to a
    pretty astonishing little video called
    Rip! A Remix Manifesto:

    -- which, in the process of mashing up the media landscape of the 20th century, effectively brings down the wall (I think) between users and producers ... it's a strong challenge to the questions you (and Lanier, earlier--but now I can't find that post??) are asking re: where creativity comes from, and how it might be protected....

    Will be most curious to hear your response--