I start this conclusion in a way that is probably ill-advised and controversial: that my project has failed. I don’t mean to suggest that it hasn’t been a worthwhile endeavour, or an important learning experience, or even that I did not, in the process, produce some valuable and enjoyable scholarship. But rather, that my goals that I laid out in my introductory plateaus about the revolutionary potentials of the blog form were naïve and idealistic at best; they did not account for the fact that digital scholarship that embraces a collaborative atmosphere and is thus enriched by the plethora of voices made available in the digital common is a vastly different enterprise than the protomonograph (or doctoral thesis). Perhaps this means that, as digital scholarship gradually encroaches on the traditional realm of print-based media in the humanities, we need to rethink the protomonograph altogether. When I presented a pecha kucha presentation on my project for a panel concerned with rethinking the protomonograph at this past Modern Languages Association Annual Conference in Chicago, the response from the crowd was resoundingly that we can no longer justify the mode of the traditional print protomonograph or the resultant scholarship. It remains an archaic and unhelpful practice, and it is my hope that my own work and the (entirely anticipated) stir that has resulted from it can help to change doctoral requirements and open up space for new and exciting digital, creative, and collaborative work in literary studies and the humanities at large. But, the conclusion of a doctoral thesis is probably no place for such a diatribe; the work of doctoral reform has its roots and its efficacy elsewhere, and I recommend Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolescenceif you’re interested in this topic in terms of the protomonograph and of publishing in the humanities more generally.
But, I should return to my first claim—that this project has failed—because I am sure it merits clarification. As I bring this project to a close, what I am forced to confront is how very little discussion it has produced, and the fault of this lies primarily with myself. I see now that I was writing for too many audiences. To begin, I was always writing first and foremost for my supervisor and my committee, all three of whom welcomed the digital form of this project but who were always primarily concerned (and rightly so) with the research and scholarship produced therein. I was writing to the administration in my department who were resistant to the digital form of the project. I was writing to my peers who were excited by the prospect and the potentials of this project’s collaborative elements, and some of whom participated actively and enriched my project in ways that they could never know[i]. I also tried to write to a general public; but as the confused responses I got from non-academic friends and family can attest, I did not manage to reach this audience as I had hoped. All in all, the public and digital form of this scholarship required a tone of address that I could not and did not find, and largely for that reason the discussion on these posts tended to involve solely my supervisor, Andy Weaver, and myself. That said, the form of this project did radically reposition the relationship between myself and my supervisor, making it decidedly more colloquial and putting him decidedly more involved in my work—perhaps to his chagrin.
But, discussion was also difficult to garner in this project because we typically understand scholarship in the humanities to be a solitary and highly individualized practice. As Lisa M. Spiro’s blog post on her digital scholarship blog demonstrates, while collaborative authorship in publications is relatively common in the digital humanities, it is quite rare in more traditional literary studies, despite the fact that panels such as the one I participated in have been touting its benefits for many years. In fact, the concept of collaboration and collaborative authorship has been discussed for so long, Cathy N. Davidson wrote an article, “What if Scholars in the Humanities Worked Together, in a Lab?” for The Chronicle of Higher Education in 1999, critiquing the notion of the solitary humanist as one grounded in a Romantic conception of authorship that is more or less universally disregarded as archaic in literary scholarship. Nonetheless, print-based scholarship in the humanities has tended to prioritize single-author publications, fashioning scholarship in the humanities as something that happens in private, a special, secret relationship between one scholar and a rather large pile of books. This is, of course, not the case; the core of research is that we use the ideas put forth by other scholarships in order to improve our own work, and we as scholars in the humanities participate constantly in workshops, conferences, panels, peer-reviews, seminars, and the friendly exchange of ideas in order to better our scholarship. Regardless, print-based humanities scholarship is generally resistant to collaborative authorship in a way that the digital humanities, historically, is not. Part of this is because digital projects often require different individuals with different kinds of expertise (a coder, a graphic designer, a linguistic analyst, a literary scholar). But part of it is also because digital projects—often using the internet as a networking tool—embrace the potentials of the digital world to produce a common readership.
As Dave Parry notes in his essay, “The Digital Humanities or a Digital Humanism,” it is not that digital humanities invented or even reinvented collaborative scholarship, but rather that is makes accessible and visible the collaborative nature of the work that we already do. “Of course,” he writes, “collaborative and collective scholarship has a long history both inside and outside of the academy, especially in the sciences, where collaborative scholarship is the standard, not the exception” (np). Instead, for Parry, digital humanities confronts the relatively new idea historically that scholarship in the humanities is what he terms “an individual, indeed often solitary, performance” (np). In the end, Parry argues that while “[d]igital humanities did not invent collaborative scholarship,” it ultimately “make[s] such work more acceptable and transparent” (np). My goal with this project was to carry on this task; in some ways my project is a digital humanities one, and in others—the fact that I work primarily with print-based media and I will defend this as a print-based dissertation—it is not. What I am primarily concerned with in welcoming other voices into this project is that my work be entered into a discourse with other scholars, ultimately producing better and more nuanced scholarship on both sides. While in some situations this work has successfully engaged other voices in its discursive practice, in other situations this has not been the case.
One example of the latter that I would like to address here occurred when my plateaus in my coda on conceptualism were posted to this site and later circulated via Twitter beginning with a post by the Griffin Poetry Prize alerting the poet Christian Bök about my post on Eunoia. On 1 July 2014, Bök then linked to my various plateaus on conceptual poetics via his Twitter account, resulting in a massive influx of readership via his nearly 8000 followers. And yet, rather than addressing my concerns about his and the other texts I discussed in my posts, he dismissed my scholarship with one fell swoop using the hashtag #yeahright. While his posts did result in one critical engagement with my work through another reader who then commented, for the most part Bök—as a tenured professor and a popular and respected creative and academic writer—was able to use the potential commons of the digital forum to nullify my work. While I never expect an author whose work I discuss to treat my work as something requiring response (that’s a dream of a budding scholar rarely fulfilled) I had not expected that the digital forum would also offer a reader the opportunity to shut down discourse and critical engagement. What I learned from this experience is that it is both idealistic and naïve to look only to the radical new potentials of digital scholarship and digital humanities without looking also at what the form obsolesces, namely the need to treat voices—even dissenting voices—as valuable in and of themselves, something face-to-face contact and, to an extent, print-based media, tends to encourage.
[i] And here I would like to add a special thank you to the members of my dissertation writing workshop who commented on the blog and privately, always reading no matter how crazy my ideas sounded. Mel, Jonathan, Thom, Sam, thank you for all your help! I’d also like to thank my colleagues and friends Kate, Matt, and especially Sean, for their comments, and especially for a coffee and liquor-fuelled discussions on the topic. Where would I be without you all?