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Moynagh 67 Maureen Moynagh Authorial (Dis-)establishment? The Case of British Worker Writers' Workshops The traditional image of the Author as a Marcel Proust creating his masterpieces in a cork-lined room, insulated against the petty social, economic, and political concerns of the everyday world, is surprisingly tenacious. The efficacy of this image as an exclusionary force that demarcates authorship as an area of privilege and power cannot be denied. Critical practices within the academy contributed to the construction of this image, and in recent years, various critical or theoretical practices have attempted to dismantle it. Yet a discussion of authorship, even one which is largely preoccupied with literarycritical constructions of Authors and Literature, cannot dissociate itself from a consideration of the ways authorship is embedded in the larger arena of cultural hegemony. For this reason, a cultural studies approach to the question of authorship seems promising, because it engages in an examination of the broader social and economic factors upholding both traditional conceptions of authorship and the institutions engaged in formulating those conceptions. Moreover, the dual focus of many cultural studies projects on an investigation of emergent cultural practices in a socio-historical frame, as well as on a redefinition of critical practices within the academy, seems to offer a more viable strategy for transforming authorship than attempts which focus more exclusively on the latter. Finally, cultural studies, in redirecting the activities of the critic in this way, may present a means of refashioning the role which the (literary) academy currently plays in the maintenance of the power structure demarcated by Authorship. One option that has been taken up by cultural studies is the analysis of local or "grass roots" activities which attempt to resist dominant social and cultural structures. In instances like these, neither the cultural producers nor their products fit easily into established critical or institutional frames, and are thus potentially disruptive of them. The work produced by a variety of "working-class" writers' workshops and publishing collectives in Britain, for example, may be said to challenge current constructions of authorship that preserve social and cultural hierarchies. Among such collectives are groups like the Federation of Worker Writers and Community Publishers, Bristol Broadsides, Centerprise Publishing Project, Gatehouse Project, and Women and Words. Some cultural studies critics want to claim that the kind of production in which these groups are engaged disestablishes Literature to the 68 the minnesota review extent that they advocate co-operative, non-hierarchical work, and aim to produce books that are inexpensive and widely available. To be sure, these practices run contrary to the competitive, elitist, profit-oriented norms of commercial publishing, the very norms preserved only too well by the policing of canons and a variety of literary-critical practices in academic institutions . Moreover, the people empowered to write through their participation in such collectives are primarily those who would normally be excluded from the categories of Authorship and Literature, on the basis of class-position, race and/or gender, except in token instances. Yet despite the real self-empowerment offered by these groups, there is a two-fold contradiction in the claim that this kind of work presents a disestablishment of Authors and Literature. By and large the empowerment takes place in terms of already existing socio-cultural norms, and this does little, if anything, in the way of dismantling social and cultural hierarchies. Secondly, and more consequentially, this kind of alternative cultural production tends to operate in a sphere different from that of dominant cultural production. Any incursions writers from these collectives may make into educational or publishing institutions are contained and regulated by the operational practices of those institutions. This is not to disparage the work being done by such groups, nor do I wish to diminish its importance as a site of resistance. However, I do wish to call into question a critical practice that runs the risk of romanticizing or idealizing this kind of cultural production, and that is unable to escape the very contradictions it seeks to exploit as the terrain of resistance, due to the way it constructs its object of study. I wish to focus my discussion of the potential these writers' workshops may have...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 67-80
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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