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the following topic for the undergraduate seminar in the Fall semester: Writers in Motion: Romanticism and Reality in Lives of 21st Century Writers The “Writers in Motion” project aims to bring together popular portrayals of writers on film with the realities of being a writer in the 21st century. Films offer us a romantic view of writers' lives. Forget hard graft: according to movies, writers live, love and drink to excess, then occasionally transcribe their adventures in a brief montage. Success, naturally, ensues. We will spend some of our time interrogating romanticized representations of writers in a variety of modern films, while contrasting those portrayals with the realities of writers’ lives both in the past and in the present. We will explore the benefits inherent in the complicated gap between reality and representation: why is Hollywood selling us this vision of the writer? Just as historians seek to recover past writers in the context of the social conditions of their time, de-mystifying the distorted perceptions fostered by Hollywood’s commoditization of a romanticized past that obscures social realities, we will try to glimpse the realities beneath the representations modern writers confront. Technology is changing the writer's life with the new surge in publication of ebooks and the instant access to writers and books provided by the internet. Writing was once a solitary profession, but now writers can collaborate and communicate with each other and with their readers. How are instantaneous communication and elastic textual formats changing the ways we write and read? What does it mean to be a writer in the 21st century? Will the traditional print hierarchy and genre structure dissolve or will new categories develop? Are traditional publishers still necessary? The recent end-run around publishers by the Wylie Agency, when super agent Andrew Wylie sold his clients' ebook rights directly to Amazon's Kindle store, has inflamed already tense relations between traditional print publishers and ebook sellers—not to mention authors, agents and readers. What new categories are emerging that may supersede the traditional forms of publishing? How should writers approach these new opportunities? With greater access afforded to publication by the web, does this model, made possible by new and revolutionary technologies, lead to more democratic forms of producing and disseminating ideas
and knowledge? Or does it reinforce and exacerbate existing hierarchies among writers and the value of what they produce? Does equal access to publication in digital media enhance the range of alternative ideas and democratize knowledge by expanding access to readers hitherto excluded? Or does it further reduce its value by flooding cyberspace with reams of otherwise unpublishable dreck? Media outlets are quick to pick up on the success stories (selfpublished authors whose works get picked up by publishing houses) and even Harper Collins has begun its new site Authonomy to try to harness the enthusiasm of self-published authors for profit. While we tend to think of self-published authors as unrealistic dreamers with bad grammar and subsidy publishers as leeches willing to fleece those dreamers, the core of academic publishing resembles the same model, with scholars often footing the bill for their publications (although the publishers in question are generally noted for their rigor). Yet many scholars still find resistance to the idea of electronic publication from older colleagues and governing bodies. The form does not determine the content—e-journals can be just as rigorously refereed as print ones —but the capitalist mode of thinking persists: anything that's free cannot be valuable. Using the music industry as a model, we can see parallels to the upheavals in the publishing world. The survival of the record companies should offer some comfort to traditional publishers as well as to the success of new exclusively ebook publishers. Just as the initial fears of piracy became the focus of much anxiety as well as legal efforts (often punishingly excessive), there is much handwringing about ebook piracy as well. How much should publishers and writers worry about this inevitable practice? Boing Boing co-founder Cory Doctorow, who offers all of his books as free downloads as well as for purchase, often quotes Tim O'Reilly's edict that obscurity is a greater problem for most writers than piracy will ever be, but it doesn't stop a lot of writers from obsessively trolling the net in search of pirated books. I want to explore how the world of social media in particular helps shape the reception of ebooks and their dissemination. Given that most publishing houses focus all of their publicity efforts on a handful of writers, most writers must be responsible for their own promotion. How much is too much? Are writers spending too much time promoting their writing? Or is it advantageous to be in control of their own "brand" on the internet? Those who do not shape their profile on the web will be at the mercy of random opinion. Is it to a writer's advantage to interact as closely as possible with readers? Or will this process lead to blander content as writers try to please ever-fickle
audiences? These issues are at the heart of writing as a process and academia as a source of not only writing and publishing, but of cultural analysis. The internet is changing us in so many ways and so quickly that scholars are scrambling to understand and reflect upon those changes. We need to devote time to exploring these myriad effects; they affect not only our own lives as scholars, but they're reshaping the ways we look at information and knowledge. Our students' relationships to text and its ownership have also shifted drastically. For many academics, this has meant an increasing plague of plagiarism; the solution may not be greater policing but changing the ways we think about writing and collaboration. It's wonderful to think that the world is now at our fingertips in a very real and tangible way; yet, because people expect everything online to be "free" it remains a vexed question how writers in particular will make a living doing so. This project grows out of two courses that I teach: the first, Writers in Motion, explores the romantic view of writers created by films about their lives. Knowing that the lives of most writers would offer a Warhol-like study in monotony as they sit before their computers, typewriters or paper pads, filmmakers choose to dramatise the only exceptionally action-filled writers' lives and perpetuate an image that gives an unrealistic image of writing as a practice. The second course, Writing for New Media, forms one of the keystones to our new minor in Film and New Media Studies, which I helped develop. In this course our focus centers on writing for the particular needs of the web, whether in the 140 character limit of Twitter or the targeted linkage required in a blog post, but also asks students to be conscious of their own presence on the web and how to shape it the better to improve job opportunities or develop valuable connections (whether monetary or social). It helps students to become more aware of the "stickiness" of information on the web (and the deep web) but also to be more conscious of how the constant flood of information from the web shapes our opinions and observations, and whether that process has become more superficial. I'd like to think that NUI-Galway will provide an optimum location for this collaborative teaching and research project. The Moore Institute's programs signal an environment that is taking the lead in developing materials for the new, wider audiences that can be part of the broadening discourse that is academia in the 21st century. If you'll forgive a medieval metaphor, we no longer have to be monks keeping to our cells to pore over our texts, but can live like friars, sharing our knowledge, receptive to new readings and unconventional interpretations that will allow us to shift our own perspectives and
enrich our work. The perception of academia as remote ivory towers can be replaced with a network of familiar and useful people who have something to say about the world in which we live—even if we're offering the perspective of how it reflects the past. I like to show people that our current culture's relation to texts and authorship seems to be approaching the attitudes of the Middle Ages and the vexed issues of "authority" prove to be just as difficult to determine. Of course I hope this project will lead to a book on the topic, one that will attempt to pursue many of these avenues and contrast the romantic view of the writer's life with the complicated web of audiences and expectations for the 21st century writer. To be a success, this project needs to be explored from as many different perspectives as possible and I know that working with the students and scholars at NUI-Galway will offer me a fresh set of questions and challenges that will force me to reconsider many of my assumptions, not only from a uniquely Irish perspective, but within the larger European perspective as well. Too often American scholars fail to consider the difference in perspective beyond our borders, but in the interconnected online world, it is fundamental. I look forward to finding opportunities where I can collaborate with the Moore Institute for Research in the Humanities and Social Studies on the research activities of the Texts, Contexts, Cultures project and TEXTE. I would hope my experience in web design and HTML would provide skills that could be put to use. As a medievalist, electronic resources have been a life (and money) saver. Despite our usual depiction as little changed from the time we study, medievalists have been early adopters of technology because we must deal with scarce resources. While traveling to see the sole surviving manuscript of is often essential, it certainly helps the process if we can study an electronic facsimile in advance of the trip, the better to target our efforts, especially given the frailty of many of the materials. I would suspect that my knowledge of Old Irish may well come in handy for Conor Newman's Columbanus project, at least for helping to edit and proofread digital editions of the texts. As an interdisciplinary scholar, I find this kind of work not only rewarding but absolutely essential for reenergizing scholarly work. Teaching medieval literature to students for whom much of the 20th century is "ancient history" has made me grateful for the internet. I can pull up an example of a medieval bed so students can understand the seduction scenes in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. A look at fourteenth century hats helps them see just how showy the Wife of Bath's hat really is. I'm not sure I'll ever get them to stop visualizing giant horns on helmets when they hear the word "Viking" but the
Sutton Hoo helmet does at least offer an alternate image. Students seldom see the humour in The Second Shepherds' Play until they see it performed, so I'm glad there are wonderful versions available on YouTube. While a number of my colleagues still voice suspicion about the internet, my teaching would be far less successful without it.
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