I picked up this book due to a deepening collaboration I have with close colleagues and I wanted to know more about collaborative creative work. Now, we are researchers in environmental (social) sciences, while this book is about collaboration in contemporary literature and art. However, I had a feeling I’d get fresh insight from this book and I was not wrong.
What I enjoyed the most about this book is its critical perspective. While collaboration in literature and arts is often considered as something new and exciting, Kuusela quickly reminds the reader the idea of a single author was born with the invention of the printing press. Moreover, contemporary capitalism has extended its logic to the fields of literature and art. As a result, the fuss around collaboration can retain individualistic profit-making motives. Specifically, she asks who can do what, where and when. The argument goes that collaboration is a set of cultural practices that are not available to everyone equally. Therefore, the variations can reveal important aspects about the phenomenon, but also society at large.
Kuusela analyses contemporary collaborative literature and art works as well as the paratext generated around the pieces of work. It seems that some of collaborative literature and art generate quite a lot of paratext in the forms of interviews and explanatory texts available with the actual works.
However, since nothing is black-and-white, but mostly grey November day in Finland, Kuusela does an excellent job in specifying the different motivations in collaborative writing and art making: (1) political relevance, (2) significance for creativity and individuals, (3) economical reasons, and (4) together for poetics. As usual, these overlap in practice, but she uses vivid examples in each chapter devoted to these themes.
Political relevance of collaboration is about highlighting the value of working together as a collective, while diminishing the importance of a single author. It links to Marxist tradition and the criticism of capitalist order. Paradoxically, collaboration can be used for serving creativity for the benefit of individuals. Collaboration is done also for the sake of publicity and, therefore, economic reasons. Finally, Kuusela discusses the possibility for creating together for poetics.
While we cannot know the true motivations of people, even when they claim they reveal them, the cultural phenomenon of collaboration did reveal several aspects that tingled my mind. I picked up or was timely reminded of many useful concepts throughout the text, such as paratext, circulating discourse, and curating.
In the end of this text I want to say a couple of words about curating. Curating refers to managing a large volume of knowledge, art, or you name it, and choosing a selection from the mass based on a set of criteria. Curating seems especially relevant for my research topic, postgrowth work, and my own practice, generating knowledge in and out of academia. However, this task has a caveat, as anything in the era of capitalism. Kuusela warns that curating can become another way to make a name of oneself and, again, target the spotlight on an individual.
Later in the book Kuusela discusses the problems in celebrating diversity in voices. As a diverse economies scholar this part was expecially revealing. By this stage, the themes of the book come together as a nuanced critique of contemporary capitalism that can hijack the revolutionary experiments as yet another performance that need attention and consumers. This thought leaves me with uneaseness that is difficult to shed. What can I do, is not the right question. What can we do seems now equally dangerous. Collaboration is not an automatic circumvention of capitalist logics. That is made very clear in this book.