Worthy words on collaboration:
Artists like Diana Smith can make digital oil paintings out of computer code; sculptors are laying down their chisels and ordering 3D printers; bands can link produce hits without ever meeting in person. Technology opens new lines of communication and creation, and portals to the art world pop up everywhere: the phrase ‘anything is possible’ gets more impressive every time a new thing is created. This influx of collaborative genius prompts fresh investigation into the Cult of the Author. We should look back at the canon of classical creators, to see if they’re really as unique and spontaneous as we might assume.
William Wordsworth is often regarded (by me) as a rapturously creative Romantic poet, head and shoulders above his peers. He’s often quoted declaring ‘every great and original writer must create the taste by which he (sic) is to be relished.’ Creating the taste is exactly what he did for his most famous work Lyrical Ballads, co-authored by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. As a poetry collection, the collab is quite one-sided. If it was a hip-hop album, it might have ‘Wordsworth Feat. Coleridge’ on a track or two, but for the most part it’s all Will. Wordsworth was two years older, more focused, and casts quite a prestigious shadow from which Coleridge has struggled to escape.
influx of collaborative genius prompts fresh investigation into the Cult of the Author
There was another figure shaping Wordsworth’s creativity who gets even less credit. She’s a figure who makes me think twice about the worth of the word ‘Wordsworth’: William’s sister, Dorothy. Despite rarely being credited with any of William’s word-work, Dorothy was instrumental in the creative process. The Wordsworths lived together, explored the world together, and composed together. Lucy Newlyn, a Wordsworth(s) scholar, calls their creative relationship ‘symbiosis’.
Although I called Lyrical Ballads William’s most famous collection, surely ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ are his most worthy words. However, identical words to that poem, sometimes called Daffodils, appear from Dorothy in a journal from years before. Dorothy wrote journals of her days with William, exploring words and worlds, and critics think the Wordsworths often reminisced together back through the entries. Instead of copying or intellectual theft, Lucy Newlyn sees Daffodils ‘speaking on behalf of both of them’. If that’s the case, the poem should be attributed to the WordsworthS plural, not just Will.
There was another figure shaping Wordsworth’s creativity who gets even less credit…his sister Dorothy
Indeed, the quotation about ‘great and original’ poets being taste-makers earlier in the article- William himself attributed that to Coleridge! Clearly, taste-making is a collaborative process, and ‘original’ is a misleading mode of thought. In a recent article, I killed the Author, and here I demand the dismemberment of the Author’s body. Redistribute credit to the collaborative process!
In his private letters, William called Dorothy and Coleridge ‘the two beings to whom my intellect is most indebted.’ This debt is not monetary, it’s a debt of credit and acknowledgement. It can be paid in full if we add an ‘S’ to every Wordsworth poem and every Wordsworth collection. If you have time, add a little ‘STC’ for S. T. Coleridge as well, as many poems created collaboratively and must be credited as such. These Wordsworthian works, particularly the greatest hits, were joint efforts from team STC and the WordsworthS.
The trio formed the core of a small creative group, or coterie. The best art is produced in this way: collaboratively. The most innovative art of the early 20th Century came from Modernists coteries like the Bloomsbury group. T S Eliot’s The Wasteland is what it is because of his editor and collaborator Ezra Pound. Similarly, the most innovative lyrics of the 21st are from hip-hop ‘coteries’ like Odd Future and BROCKHAMPTON in the States, and BBK and High Focus in the UK. Jarring as it may be to compare rap with literature, I think every lover of language, particularly English students, should show interest in rap music. It’s the most lyrically dense art in existence, and it’s the most collaborative. For the most part, rappers also credit their collaborators. Perhaps STC and the Wordsworths should’ve released material as a group, with each lyric evenly accredited.
Add an ‘S’ to Wordsworth.
Pull apart the author.
Collaborate to create.
Bump a rap album on Spotify while you do it.