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Conceptualising and contextualising collaborative writing.

By Ken Gale, University of Plymouth, 2010

As a title these words suggest that ideas will first of all emerge and then they will
somehow be located in a particular setting; placed, applied perhaps.

With Deleuze we feel it is possible to talk not of nouns, of concepts and contexts,
but of verbs, of conceptualising and contextualising.

Concepts are not waiting for us ready-made, like heavenly bodies. There
is no heaven for concepts’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 1994: 5).

So we try to look at collaborative writing not in a way that will allow it to become
fixed or congealed within a postmodern lexicon or in a handbook of qualitative
inquiry that will comfortably reside on a shelf, but rather in a way that invites
transgression, obliqueness, multiplicity and unlimited further inquiry. Deleuze,
Braidotti and others talk of such as inquiry as nomadic, where

the nomad is only passing through; s/he makes necessarily situated


connections that can help him/her to survive, but s/he never takes on fully
the limits of one national fixed identity (Braidotti,1994: 33)

These first tentative steps seem to suggest that collaborative writing will therefore
involve some kind of nomadic inquiry, some correspondence, implying at least
that we will work (labo(u)r) with others and this will involve some kind of relational
or interactive activity (response). Collaborative. Correspondence. Deleuze talks
of his work with Guattari in this way:

You know how we work – I repeat it because it seems to me to be


important – we do not work together, we work between the two. (Deleuze
& Parnet, 2002, p.13)

So, as we hesitantly begin to offer an emerging conceptualising of collaborative


writing as involving selves and others working in some kind of responsive
relational way, we also offer a suggestion of this taking place in a particular way;
between-the-two. Between-the-two. MacLure talks of the

… space that is opened up by language (as) an ambivalent one. It is both


productive and disabling. Without distance … without differance, there
would be no gap across which desire might spark (2003: 3)

This talk of desire, in a Deleuzian sense, is not oedipal, it is not about lack or
need, it is productive, suggesting what can be achieved through working
together, in collaboration. We would further suggest, therefore, that collaborative
writing can also be performative: paraphrasing Austin we would argue then that

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speech acts. When we write we somehow perform ourselves, not in isolation but
in relation to others and in this sense, therefore, we can be reflexive about not
only what is said but how we say it. As we do this we suggest a dissolving of the
binary that separates form from content. Collaborative. Correspondence.
Performative.

Performative writing attempts to keep the complexities of human


experience intact, to place the ache back in scholars’ abstractions. (Pelias,
2005, p. 418)

(P)erformative writing places writers and readers in genuine dialogue with


each other, a personal and political dialogue that matters to them, to the
discipline and…perhaps even to the world. (Pelias, 2005, p. 422)

So as we further develop this shifting conceptualisation of collaborative writing,


as we draw upon the views of others, we see, with Deleuze, connection and
multiplicity in our writing actions. Pelias offers us the direct observation that
performative writing involves ‘dialogue’; we can draw upon Bakhtin and suggest
therefore that collaborative writing is also dialogic. We consider what is said in
the writing but also where we write, when we write and the writing itself.

(A)ll transcriptions systems … are inadequate to the multiplicity of the


meanings they seek to convey. My voice gives the illusion of unity to what
I say; I am, in fact, constantly expressing a plenitude of meanings, some
intended, others of which I am not aware. (Bakhtin, 1981: xx)

This quotation from Bakhtin reminds us of the potential performative complexity


of the dialogue that is central to collaborative writing, suggesting that meaning
will be hard to establish or pin down, that our conceptualising and theorising will
always be influenced by our affective sensitivities, cross cut by our perceptive
evaluations and worried by our ethical proclivities.

The purpose of dialogical performance is to embody an intimate


understanding of self’s engagement with another within a specific
sociocultural context. (Spry, 2001, p. 716)

It is likely that our collaborative ventures within such ‘sociocultural contexts’ will
also therefore be autoethnographic, our reflexivities troubling our positioned
selves as we attempt our communications with others. Madison suggests that
ethnographies of this kind are ‘dangerous’ and talks of ‘the vulnerability of how
our body must move through the space of another’. So, with her we would say of
collaborative writing:

It is the truth that I exist here with you – with myself – right here, right now.
Further, it is evidence that I am not anywhere, I am not nowhere, I am not

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over yonder, I am not absent. I am not dead. I am alive here and now and
I am vulnerable to this feeling/sensing moment. (2009: 101)

So, in collaborative writing we sense that we are not only involved in writing but
that we are also involved in reflexive and discursive work between selves and
others. Further, by drawing upon the Deleuzian figure of ‘between-the-two’, we
suggest an involvement in collaborative processes of engagement that invokes
the writing of the self. Here we do not emphasise the fixed corporeal self of
humanistic thought rather we attempt to align our focus upon the shifting,
permeable, transmutating self that is in a constant condition of becoming in
relation to those forces that are always acting upon it.

In this respect, as collaborative writers, we feel we are shifting away from a logic
of rationality and reason toward what Deleuze calls a ‘logic of sense’ (Deleuze,
1990). We have sense of what self is through the collaborative writing with which
we are engaged but we are unsure of what this means. The ‘between-the-two’
that we work with in collaborative writing provides a space in which self is always
becoming. This ‘between the two’ also provides us with a sense of the context in
which collaborative writing can take place with larger groups of people writing
together in writing retreats and collective biography workshops. So experience of
writing groups of this kind involves us working with the spaces between-the-many
but according to similar principles and pre-dispositions as with the ‘between-the-
twos’. The following passages from Deleuze suggests to us the fluidity and
changing nature of the collaborative writing process in which the sense of self
that we might have is always being queried, troubled and challenged.

We were never in the same rhythm, we were always out of step: I


understood and could make use of what Felix said to me six months later;
he understood what I said to him immediately, too quickly for my liking –
he was already elsewhere. From time to time we have written about the
same idea, and have noticed later that we have not grasped it at all in the
same way. (Deleuze & Parnet, 2002, p.13)

So Felix and I decided to work together. It started off with letters. And then
we began to meet from time to time to listen to what the other had to say.
It was great fun. But it could be really tedious too. One of us always talked
too much. Often one of us would put forward some notion, and the other
just didn’t see it, wouldn’t be able to make anything of it until months later,
in a different context. And then we read a lot, not whole books, but bits
and pieces…. And then we wrote a lot. Felix sees writing as a schizoid
flow drawing in all sorts of things. I’m interested in the way a page of
writing flies off in all directions and at the same time closes right up on
itself like an egg. And in the reticences, the resonances, the lurches, and
all the larvae you can find in a book. Then we really started writing
together, it wasn’t any problem. We took turns at rewriting things.
(Deleuze, 1995: 14)

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We feel that we can characterise the flows and intensities of collaborative writing
through the Deleuzian figure of nomadism. We see collaborative writing as
offering the opportunity to take ‘lines of flight’ which not only explore and inquire
but which also are becomings in themselves. Like Deleuze we find the nomad in
relation to territory and in many senses collaborative writing can be
contextualised through the use of this figure. Our shared space, the space
between us, can be seen as a territory in which our writing actions constantly and
continually transform our selves and others in processes of territorialisation. So
our writing might in some ways de-territorialise what had been there before and
through this active engagement offer a re-territorialisation; so that territory as
noun is always being problematised or, in Derrida’s words, deconstructed by the
writing actions of the collaborating authors. Therefore the performative nature of
collaborative writing suggests that there is always a sense of what Pelias has
referred to as possibilising; that whilst there is an urgency to ‘get it down’ this
sense is one which is laced with the suspicion that there might be more,
something new, just around the corner. Derrida’s deconstructive strategy of
always putting language under erasure, (sous rature) where what we say is, of
course, necessary but is always inadequate, is of relevance to what we are
proposing here.

Collaborative reading and writing is therefore similar to the way that Irigaray talks
of the intense sensuality and intimacy of touch, where the ‘touching’ and the
‘touched’ dissolve into the moment of ‘touch’ which, in that moment, has no
separation of giving or taking, talking more of what we do, not of who we are but
more of our becoming. Deleuze talks of this in fluid terms as

connection of desires, conjunction of flows, continuum of intensities


(Deleuze and Guattari, 2004, p.179).

In this contextualisation of collaborative space, therefore, we become sensitive to


our habits and those of others; we are aware that we habituate, that we inhabit
and that others inhabit what we do. As we write together as collaborative writers
we discover our relational selves as inhabitants and therefore have a relational
sense of territories that are continually shifting as we territorialise, re-territorialise
and de-territorialise. So although we might detect chronologies and linearities in
collaborative writing the active process of this writing allows and encourages us
to fictionalise this by living with our desire to multiply and connect through
nomadic inquiry and through taking lines of flight. It feels that through our délire,
our passion, our productive desire, we can produce, as collaborative writers,
multi-faceted and interconnected spaces. In the logic of sense that we inhabit we
can find ways of working together as we leave our furrows and go off our rails

and wander in imagination and thought: meanings, images, and so on


float in a dream logic rather than calmly following one another along the
familiar lines or tracks of cold reason. But for Deleuze and Guattari solid

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“reason” and free floating délire are simply converse articulations of a
single transformational “logic of sense”… (Trans footnote: Joughin in
Deleuze 1995: 186)

With Deleuze we see the lines of flight that we take as writers in these
collaborative spaces as striating smooth spaces, tentatively marking out regions,
making suggestions and offering points of view. The lines we draw therefore can
be seen as both folding in the concepts, affects and percepts of the collaborative
writing group but also, in flight, of allowing others to unfold. So the patterns of
smoothness and striation are always changing and sketching the inquiries of the
nomad.

AND is neither one thing nor the other, it’s always in between, between
two things; it’s the borderline, there’s always a border, a line of flight or
flow, only we don’t see it, because it’s the least perceptible of things. And
yet it’s along this line of flight that things come to pass, becomings evolve,
revolutions take shape. (Deleuze, 1995: 45)

Collaborative writers and collaborative writing lives in the fold. The intense
endogamy and exogamy that is becoming through the writing creates territories
of adventure but also and at the same time, what Richardson has called, ‘angles
of repose’, places where we might rest for a few moments, take stock and see
things in certain ways. Our folding in captures us, takes us into new spaces that
might contain the comforts of familiarity but, at that intense moment of contact,
new haecceities are born and something new unfolds and the familiarities also
become strange. The collaborative writing space offers some safety but never
entirely prepares the writer for the shock of the new. Collaborative writing can
feel like that: even as I write this, it feels on the edge, I am not sure what I am
writing this for. I am writing.

This intensive way of reading, in contact with what’s outside the book, as a
flow meeting other flows, one machine among others, as a series of
experiments for each reader in the midst of events that have nothing to do
with books, as tearing the book into pieces, getting it to interact with other
things, absolutely anything…is reading with love. (Deleuze, 1995: 8-9)

Collaborative writing can therefore offer a space of thisness, what Deleuze refers
to as haecceity, where becoming occurs through and in the writing, as the
moment of the writing both unfolds and folds in something new. The sense of
haecceity that we offer here as helping to characterise what collaborative writing
might be talks of becoming in writing that flows through the time of day, the wind
in your hair, the broken umbrella in the gutter and that is briefly essentialised in
an intense haiku of the moment. We are drawn to the way in which Deleuze
describes these intensive moments of collaborative writing.

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It’s not a question of being this or that sort of human, but of becoming
inhuman, of a universal animal becoming—not seeing yourself as some
dumb animal, but unravelling your body’s human organization, exploring
this or that zone of bodily intensity, with everyone discovering their own
particular zones, and the groups, populations, species that inhabit them.
(Deleuze, 1995: 11)

Whether it takes place in the face to face context of a writing retreat or a


collective biography workshop or within the context of written correspondence
between groups of people who are physically separate from one another,
collaborative writing is also of course embodied. The performative nature of the
collaborative process calls upon the body as a site of knowledge and gives a
place to the affective and the sensual. By foregrounding the body as a terrain, a
contested site, where the agonistics of writing become the self, collaborative
writing encourages a reflexive, intuitive and creative smoothing out of the
striations of rationality, logic and reason that often can be seen to govern our
academic and personal lives. So the intersubjective vulnerability that
collaborative writing can sometimes be seen to entail can also be noticed as

(a) process of subjectification, that is, the production of a way of existing


(that) can’t be equated with a subject, unless we divest the subject of any
interiority and even any identity. Subjectification isn’t even anything to do
with a “person”: it’s a specific or collective individuation relating to an
event (a time of day, a river, a wind, a life…). It’s a mode of intensity, not a
personal subject. It’s a specific dimension without which we can’t go
beyond knowledge or resist power. (Deleuze 1995: 98-9)

Collaborative writing emphasises the importance of the body. It involves looking


to write with and from the body, in the encounter with other bodies that are also
undertaking writing, looking to write as if our lives depended upon it.

Coda

And then …

It’s funny where these moments come from


Existent moments in a whirl of intensity
Fuelled by intuition, sense, affection …
Where the knowing comes alive
When the readings flow with contagious warmth
When the rapture of the listening is evident on the faces
When bodies lean together and laughter is easily spilt
When ‘performing’ becomes an arid word devoid of meaning in the
joy of collaborative performance

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When the joy of the performance somehow eradicates the line
between the reader and the listener
When the writer and the writing, for brief crystal moments, spark the
intensity of new life

And then …

I will not mourn


I am happy to adjourn
To take these faces, these words, these brief moments of rapture
with me
These words live with me; they multiply and grow in intense viral
ways
Then re-appear in new figures:

In the subtlety of nuance


As the tiniest fibre in this emerging, colourful felt
As the word that fills the space that yearned in emptiness
As the sharp needle prick that says:

Write
Write
Write
Write
Write
Write
Write
Write
Write
Write
Write
Write
Write

Right!

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References

Bakhtin M (1981) The Dialogic Imagination Austin, University of Texas Press

Braidotti R (1994) Nomadic subjects

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University Press.
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Columbia University Press.
Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (2004). A thousand plateaus (B. Massumi, Trans.).
London: Continuum.
Deleuze, G., & Parnet, C. (2002). Dialogues II (H. Tomlinson, Trans. 2006 ed.).
London: Continuum.
Etherington, K. (2004). Becoming a reflexive researcher. London: Jessica
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inquiry. Qualitative Inquiry, 13(6), 787-807.
MacLure, M. (2003). Discourse in educational and social research. Buckingham,
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Oxford: AltaMira Press.
Pelias, R. (2005). Performative writing as scholarship: an apology, an argument,
an anecdote. Cultural Studies <=> Critical Methodologies, 5(4), 415-424.
Spry, T. (2001). Performing autoethnography: an embodied methodological
praxis. Qualitative Inquiry, 7(6), 706-732.