Tamas, Sophie. “My Imaginary Friend: Writing, Community, and Responsibility.”

Tamas, Sophie. “My Imaginary Friend: Writing, Community, and Responsibility.” Cultural Studies ↔ Critical Methodologies, vol. 14, no. 4, 2014, pp. 369-73.


I have a problem with collaborative writing; the words themselves put me on edge. This piece follows the line of that affect down and through identity, agency, power, intimacy, responsibility, representation, and the creative process. It leaves a trail of words like breadcrumbs. From outer space, perhaps they trace the shape of the other, my lover, my imaginary friend, a cipher saying something about someone I might be.

To remember:

  • In Thinking and Moral Considerations, Hannah Arendt (1971) positions the two-in-one soundless dialogue of thought as the way we achieve knowledge of right and wrong—not true and false—particularly once it extends into conversation within community. Coming to terms with the others inside is, she argues, the precondition for apprehending otherness out in the world (370).
  • Writing appears as a gift that, like a shamanistic trance, indicates the specialness (or delusions) of the writer, and offers society a glimpse of the transcendent (370).

  • [on advent of e-books, death of author] Creative agency shifts from writer to audience, completing the drift that began when semiotics split signs from signifieds (370).
  • However, in my snooty opinion, the democratized texts produced in these spaces are like write- a-line, pass-it-on “poems” scrawled on accordian-folded pieces of paper. They may offer entertainment, diversion, or even insightful data, but they are unlikely to produce real art (370).

  • As Eli Wiesel (1990) notes, testimony has become the characteristic genre of our era … the rise of reality television and information technologies have coincided with the valorization of minutae (370).

  • While the individual’s power as a producer of knowledge and culture may be growing, our political and economic agency is simultaneously shrinking … Our preoccupation with self-representation may, in fact, offer the pressure valve that maintains the stability of oppressive hegemonic structures (371).

  • This preference for the unlikely hero suggests an investment in the meritocratic ideal that all anybody really lacks is determination and opportunity. This, in turn, may rest on the pious hope that competency is evenly distributed (371).

  • We have never lacked for content. Now, more than ever, what we’re missing is reliable filters and means of analysis … we need a space in between under-theorized populism and rigorous uncertainty in which we can make robust policy decisions (371).

  • In the cacophony of collaboration, writing skims back and forth like a water bug, lack- ing the weight to break the surface tension. If writing alone is like holding a hand mirror, in collaborative writing the other(s) stand in their own skins some distance apart. But do they have larger mirrors—that is, greater reflective capacity? (371)

  • Writing paradoxically reduces my self-consciousness, but I can’t forget myself with you staring at me (371).

  • This may be why some collaborative writing seems to dwell almost exclusively on itself. The relationship between authors displaces anything else they may have meant to address, without telling me why I should care about it (372).

  • I am thus concerned that the rising interest in collaborative writing as a means of academic inquiry rests on the idealization of breadth, multiplicity, complexity, and relational connection, along with an associated suspicion of individual expertise (372).

  • Whether or not my concerns are well founded, I am confabulating reasons to dislike collaborative writing, trying to justify the visceral affective reaction those two words evoke—like “heart-warming” or “wholesome” or “live, laugh, love,” they make me cringe. They feel insincere and prescriptive, a sticky platitudinous gloss for the competition, jealousy, anger, desire, betrayal, and compromise that must come from letting others meddle in the extreme intimacy of an unconscious creative process (372).

  • in school, I hated group work; it meant tiptoeing around others’ lame efforts and hissy fits, letting them coast on my labor and settling for mediocrity (372).

  • I protect myself from my fear of rejection with impossible standards; anyone brilliant enough for me to admire would not want to write with me and anyone who would want to write with me is not brilliant enough to admire (or perhaps, is simply admiring what remains of my corporeal assets) (372).

  • Writing is a kind of fierce fugue state …  I do not know how I would collaborate with others in these initial stages of composition; what they could bring that I need (372).

  • The person who writes is someone that I barely know (372).

  • “Collaborative writing,” [Jane Speedy (2012)] says, “is about engaging with the highly subversive activity, much neglected amongst scholars, of building loving communities” (p. 355, emphasis in original). I cannot oppose a praxis that seeks the recognition and cultivation of love, if only because I could not write without it (372).

  • I cannot claim to do this work alone without dishonoring the impact of the gifts they have given with consistent magnanimity (372).

  • Writing may be the only thing that I really believe in. It is communal and private, simple and complex, shaping and shifting our selves and others. It is the sound of the squeak in the hinges between us. Inscribing the world is an act of power, so is and must be a site of incessant political reflection and responsibility (372).

To consume:

  • Adorno, T. (1982). Commitment. In A. Aratot & E. Gebhardt (Eds.), The essential Frankfurt school reader. (pp. 300-318). New York: Continuum.

  • Arendt, H. (1971). Thinking and moral considerations. Social Research, 38, 417-446.

  • Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

  • Orlie, M. (1997). Living ethically, acting politically. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

  • Speedy, J. (2012). Collaborative writing and ethical know-how: Movements within the space around scholarship, the academy and the social research imaginary. International Review of Qualitative Research, 5, 349-356.

  • Vancouver Foundation. (2011). Our community: Report on Vancouver foundations community consultations. Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Retrieved from http://www .vancouverfoundation.ca/sites/default/files/documents/ OurCommunityreportforVFsite.pdf

  • Wiesel, E. (1990). The holocaust as literary inspiration. In E. Lefkovitz (Ed.), Dimensions of the holocaust. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.


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