Invited to collaborate by Ed Humphrey
♦ Who It That in the Room? ♦
The Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges is known for his experiments with fictional authors: writing reviews of non-existent books, for instance, or flirting with the boundaries of plagiarism through the fictional writer Pierre Menard. But alongside the metaphysical and epistemological quandaries teased out in his short stories, Borges engaged in a very particular sort of authorial experimentation—that of collaboration. Over many years he paid visits to the house of his friend Adolfo Bioy Casares, and after dinner the pair would sit down and write.
But who did the writing?
As Borges put it in an interview given in 1966, Bioy and he had somehow “begetted” an author who was different from either of them, and who drove the work forward in his own manner. This third person—this fictional surplus begotten out of the act of collaboration—has a name: Bustos Domecq, author of detective short stories, for the most part, who has his own characteristics, creative style and manner of working that is quite different from those of Borges and Bioy. Borges, who worked together with other writers, translators and editors, regretted than often ‘one feels that the collaborator is a kind of rival.’ In contrast, he referred to his writing with Bioy as the best manner of collaboration: where the work is generated by a third entity with its own idiosyncrasies. As Borges says: ‘Once the story is written, if you ask us whether this adjective or this particular sentence came from Bioy or from me, we can’t tell.’
In this sense—and borrowing the concepts of French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (who, in their turn, worked collaboratively on three publications)— creativity is a rhizomatic activity occurring between points, in the liminal edge between individualities, materials and locations. In his dialogues with Claire Parnet, Deleuze says of the creative function: ‘There is no subject, but instead collective assemblages of enunciation; no specificities but instead populations . . . with their relays, their echoes, their working interactions.’
It is obvious that this sort of collaboration poses problems to the traditional notions of authorship. The author is not dead, but rather was not there in the first place—not as the usual entity with his or her intentions and creative originality. What we find instead is a particular proper name. Collective and group names designate no one and everyone in the collective at the same time, like a fictional third person, begotten at the intersection of ideas, partnerships and localities. Very often, however, these kinds of interactions do not have any name attached to them. No proper signifier to pin down the momentary forms and shapes of collective creation.
After the act we can get back to our usual individuality, our comfortable and organized subjectivity, our body ‘with organs’, as Deleuze and Guattari might say. But right here, right now, in the middle of something, we ask:
‘Who is that, in the room, when we are making?’
 Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet, Dialogues (1977), trans. H. Tomlinson and B. Habberjam (London: Althone Press, 1987), p. 28.
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Lucas Battich is an interdisciplinary artist, born in Tucuman, Argentina. He is a recent graduate in Art, Philosophy, Contemporary Practices at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, Dundee.
In response to: Ed Humphrey Roll with Me