I’ve enrolled in Fiona Somerset’s “Radical Textualities” at Duke this spring, and I’m thrilled to have an opportunity to get some real manuscript experience!  This week we are reading about variance, censorship, and the “great editions” of multi-layered medieval texts.  In an article resisting the bibliographic obsession of previous Wycliffite scholarship, Somerset writes: “In lollard textual culture’s mood of radical variance, every version of a text interpolates, excises, or modifies the content they have in common, or else lifts part of it into a different setting.  Often it is impossible to trace how the work developed, in its remaining copies.” She focuses on different kinds of books than others working in lollardy usually have; she therefore appropriately hones in on different modes of book production, “that began in the earliest phase of the [lollard] movement, but persisted when the more organized activity that produced large-scale collaborations in England had come to an end”whose “products are more idiosyncratic and decentralized… [and whose] most common venue of assembly is the personal or household anthology…” which was truly piecemeal.
As most of you know, I’ve had a hard time pinning down a dissertation topic/genre/century, but I do keep returning to manuscript work.  As most of you can imagine, this presents any scholar with the genuine issue of accessibility.  Although Duke and UNC have great collections, getting to them can be more difficult than first supposed.  I’ll come back to the accessibility problem soon.

We spent the first couple of classes hashing out ideas about cutting and pasting, remixing, refiguring, re-apropriating (and no, that’s not redundant here) manuscripts, printed books, and digital media.  Where do processes overlap?  What do reworking poetry or biblical exegesis, say, have to do with remixing music or other media?  And how does any of this matter now, and to whom?
A visual break from coolest-gadgets.com, to prevent any rabbit-hole vortex of crushingly deep ponderings on this topic:

Of course, central to these questions of remixing is ownership, which I like to distinguish from authorship.  Somerset articulates resistance to a bibliographic impulse in literary studies that coincides with a lesson I taught last week.  I assigned Hegel to my freshmen (muah-ha-ha) to get them into an appropriate mindset about the nature of the course.  I intentionally left off the title and the author so they wouldn’t just say “hey, this is boring/difficult/whatever– I’ll just Google it.”  Some of them, I found, had pasted in parts of the passage in order to identify the author, and we had an open conversation about this urge to know about the author in order to feel equipped to read the work.  Incidentally, this was the same day as the Wikipedia blackout– a coincidence whose coolness was sadly lost on some of them.  
Nevertheless, it seems that authorship is visiting some sort of vengeance upon me for all those papers I wrote that “killed the author.”  In a time when so much information is free, freely edited, and freely exchanged across different media, what does it mean to be an author, a commentator, a cut-and-paster, a plagiarist?  Authorship isn’t always ownership, and that could create great demands on all the other stewards of texts.  What do we owe to audience?  To the text’s author? And how much do economic elements of textual production affect its “authenticity” or reliability?  What does the author owe the rest of us?  How influential is money-making to text-making, and why?
Moreover, what are we to make of our transition from this:
No CTRL + C here.
to this?
Is free and full access even conceivable?  At what cost? 
How do we move between prosperity of resources nearly impossible to find (or even to know exist) in our world’s best libraries and responsible, equitable accessibility?
Bodleian curator, looking far too cool to let us see this book from the Mary Shelley exhibit.   

Could it be that those Stanford professors have it right after all?