Lawless Annotations

The practice, history, and theory of annotation creates frictions between the form and practice of writing in margins as we approached it in Barthes. I found myself confronting a few issues: the first, is how annotation is organized hierarchically with the writing and philosophizing of a capital “T” Text; second, whether or not annotations themselves are Text. The complications with my questions come in with the issue of categorization and law both in Barthes and in Bauer/Zirker.

The author’s death is complicated by annotation; she dies as other voices speak over and around what she has written, but at once she cannot die when she is in constant conversation with annotations. Furthermore, the author and the writing change based on what rules are laid out for the annotation. I found that in our project with annotation on Barthes’ text, the annotations were laid out in an organized way but they were almost anarchic; we had no distinguished approach to the annotations and so we got a soup of responses and conversations int he margins of the text. Some people left short questions posed to the other annotators and to RB, others left comments of frustrations, others left analyses and thoughts, others left norton-style annotations that were geared towards helping the rest of us read (ex. Kat helpfully spotted an allusion to the Death of the Author and Barthes’ definition of “doxa”.) It seems that Bauer and Zirker would be concerned with the “trustworthiness and authority” of the text:

…questions of expertise and authority arise when a text is annotated. New forms of collaboration made possible by the digital medium sharpen the theoretical question of how explanatory authority is established. Conversely, our idea of how annotation becomes most trustworthy and authoritative will influence how we organize its practice.

This suggests that a “good” annotation would be structured and credible. They lay out their methodology for structuring annotations to prioritize organization and usefulness within that formula. This system requires a meta-thought about annotation, rather than an organic stream of interaction with the writing at hand. Their approach to annotation is one that distinguishes it as a genre of experts, and which is shaped by such an approach to the text. It counters directly with the style/feeling of our comments and interplay with the text of annotation we approached as a class and as individuals—my own annotations ranged from rhetorical analysis to memes—but I don’t believe the lawlessness of our annotations should negate them as serious and scholarly ones (okay, the Arrested Development joke was not serious or scholarly, but the New Yorker Cartoon was!) The actual heart of how I see annotation functioning in new web platforms and capabilities is not so much a new ability to organize and govern, but a means to make what is—and should always be—a playful and intellectual chaos in the margin accessible to any who chooses to be a writer/reader.

Especially when the nature of Barthes’ text is to demand a textured quality in “good” writing, and that good writing is that with Text, not necessary what is most elite. He specifically discusses how the laws of texts which give rights to the author limit the malleability of a text:

…literary science therefore teaches respect for the manuscript and the author’s declared intentions, while society asserts the legality of the relation of author to work (the ‘droit d’auteur’ or ‘copyright’, in fact of recent date since it was only really legalized at the time of the French Revolution).

This remark suggests that it’s only by human legal delineation that written works are granted singular authorship to their creator, and he differentiates this from the capital “T” text, which “reads without the inscription of the Father,” or rather is read instead through the inscription of the audience and context. Our annotations follow this same principal, imposed on top of Barthes, with tenuous connection to our physical selves behind account handles. Our random annotations are their own genre and performance of Text, a new interdisciplinary language, as Barthes might have it. It seems that in this capacity, the intertextuality embodied by our annotations makes them as important as the text itself. Laws and Texts don’t seem to coexist particularly well, so outlining best annotation practices becomes obsolete when there a serious text and serious reader meet.

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