Thoughts on texts, authors and word-communities

Planned Obsolecence articulates much of the anxiety about the various shifts from print to digital culture that I’ve felt for years, but not really been able to put my finger on. In reading the chapters on Authorship (2) and the nature of Texts (3), I found myself really excited about Fitzpatrick’s readings of poststructuralism, the ways authors have been constructed historically, and the various ways that readers engage with texts; specifically, I am curious about how the ideas that she posits here for academic communities play out in contemporary poetry communities (with which I am much more familiar). Fitzpatrick’s examination of “the cultural significance of the ways in which we use [our tools]” (p. 60) —we being academic scholars and the tools being the spectrum of print and digital–helps me think in a larger sense about the nature of the interactions that shape the poetry communities I’ve studied and participated in. This is pretty wonderful for me, because the formation of literary community is something that I know I want to focus on in-depth during the course of my studies here.

There were a few particular instances of resonance between Fitzpatrick’s ideas about  publishing (print or digital) and knowledge production, and my own experiences as a maker and participant in the reading, writing and publishing of poetry and its attendant discourses. One was on page 57, where she talks about “the fear of loss of community” that online publishing engenders. She suggests that this fear may not be one of a loss of community, but rather “the loss of individuality, revealed in the assumption that ‘coherent imagined selves’ require separation rather than interconnection to be thought coherent…” This put me in mind of the intense interdependence between reader and writer that I see happening in most poetry communities, and, I would argue, in New York in particular, where people are already very interdependent with each other when it comes to social, economic, and municipal needs. There is a sort of necessary blurring that happens between poets and readers, poets and editors/publishers, even poets and institutions; often the same people play all of the different roles, and one’s identity (or individuality) is intimately linked to this multiplicity. I wondered, how are scholarly communities different from this (roughly-described) model? What are the ways in which the rise of digital culture has transformed poetry communities?

Another instance: in the chapter on Texts, Fitzpatrick writes about the various ways in which people encounter texts, as readers and as commenters/reviewers/editors, and advocates for “a more communicative sense of interaction across texts.” This got me thinking about all of the various ways, as a poet and thinker, that I interact with texts; I suppose I take them for granted. The question of “generativity”–how reading a text generates writing by making you want to write–is one that I think carries over between “creative” and “academic” writing. This chapter got me interested in being more attentive to the ways that different modes (print, digital, audio, etc.) enact generativity for myself and others. For example, I have listened to audio recordings of poetry readings for years and found them amazingly generative; could the same be true of audio recordings of (really juicy, intellectually exciting) academic prose? What are the various ways in which this generativity is shared? Rather than “keeping” the writing I generate after reading something, how could I have this writing be more in-dialouge with what I’ve been reading?  I am grateful to Kathleen Fitzpatrick for giving me access to these questions. I found her book itself pretty damn generative.

2 thoughts on “Thoughts on texts, authors and word-communities

  1. Elissa Myers

    Iris, what an interesting way to engage with Fitzpatrick’s book! I agree that poetry seems like a very natural group to benefit from digital community, because of the generative nature of poetry that you mention. It strikes me that academic and poetic concerns might not only share this quality of generativity; they might also overlap. Are there online communities that cross boundaries between discussing academic and poetic writing and concerns?

    1. Iris Cushing Post author

      Elissa: The Poetry Foundation’s Harriet Blog ( is the first thing that comes to mind–the discussions that happen there are not necessarily academic, but the level of thought and the wide span of concerns that get woven into conversations about poetry definitely have value in the academic sphere–and the monthly blogger element of it feels interactive and inclusive in a way that feels germane with what Fitzpatrick writes about.

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