Why is Social Authorship not still a thing?

While studying for the midterm, I was re-reading the notes from last week on the way that manuscripts go through rolling revisions. The idea of this really intrigues me because now a days, authors are very hesitant to share their ideas and more importantly, the credit for their work with anybody. If a book is being published, it is very rare to see more than two author names on the cover. Its just the way that culture has become, people do not like sharing especially when it comes to fame. This idea is partly why the concept of a rolling revision and social authorship is crazy to me. Authors of these manuscripts wrote these manuscripts without any want of fame and fortune. They knew going into the manuscript that others were going to take their work and re-write it, make changes, make edits, and in some cases, just turn it into their own work.

I look up to these authors and scribes. This shows that these people were not interested in the glory of the final product, but they genuinely wanted their stories to be shared and read. In most cases, when a manuscript was being re-written by a different scribe this meant that the manuscript was getting a longer lasting life. This to them was way more important than getting fame for maybe a year and then being forgotten. To me, this really put into perspective the way times have changed since the middle ages. Priorities have changed drastically, and maybe this isn’t such a good thing. Rolling revision may not allow one person to get all of the credit, but it would allow the work to get better and be epitomized over years and years to come. Just think about how much more amazing literature would be if this was still the way things were written.

2 thoughts on “Why is Social Authorship not still a thing?

  1. I was really interested in the questions you asked here. I can’t help but wonder if what you called “rolling revision” actually does still exist though. I understand you were talking more about books that are sold in stores, etc. but I think that books in a capitalist society probably demand a more competitive attitude than books may have during the time we’re studying. Maybe social revision is still alive in well in other forms of our writing though, the writing that we don’t try to sell. For example, if I post a long political rant on my Facebook page and someone makes a convincing argument in the comments and sways my opinion, isn’t that sort of a revision once I’ve posted further information/ideas? What about when people comment about a typo on my blog and then I go back and change it? I would argue that we write as a society more than anyone ever has, and that it is accessed, evaluated and changed by our readers all the time. Some of our stories are constantly updated and rewritten. How many incarnations of Batman have we seen? While we use different mediums for our stories, it still strikes me as social revision every time someone takes a written work (which movies and comics also happen to be) and adapts it. Also, think about fan fiction- an enormous community of people that read books and then ask “What if something had gone differently?” No, these new stories aren’t usually sold, but I would guess that most of the things we’re studying weren’t resold after they were edited either.

    I feel like many of the original manuscript writers we’ve studied have far more in common with today’s bloggers than with today’s novelists. It seems that they may have been taking and expressing their values for purposes besides fame or wealth. Today we have people like that, too. Thousands of health blogs, opinion blogs, etc. are run by people who aren’t selling anything. Not only are these blogs dramatically affected by their readership, they are often communal approaches to writing that incorporate tons of people into their authorship at little or no promise of financial gain.

  2. Today, the quality of an author’s work is determined by the quality of the prose itself. I think that somewhat obvious relationship explains why today’s writers are very protective of their concepts and plotlines. I think scribes were less protective of their poems for two reasons. (1) Historians know for a fact that oral tradition was still present in the medieval period. A poem like “Piers Plowman” seems fairly concrete to us as we read it today, but the sheer number of copies and the mentioning of an array of familiar folk/fable references (like to “the belling of the cat” and according to Wikipedia, to Robin Hood) suggests that the poet’s work may not have been as original as modern readers might assume. (2) If the content of the poems was perhaps not “completely original,” then a poet or scribe (or both in the case of a holographic work) would have to stake his reputation on aspects other than the verse itself. This certainly would explain why the physical presentation of manuscripts, and script with which it has been created are often so immaculate and detailed. I can’t image scribes were completely careless of their reputation and utilization of their works. Rather, I think they defined themselves more by the quality of the poem’s presentation. Considering that words (physically, on paper) themselves were not nearly as common as they are today, their appearance probably held much greater significance for the scribe and his readers/listeners.

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