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Vicarious Writing, Or: Going to Write It for You

Carsten Junker

Pages 325 - 345



This publication is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons License Attribution - NonCommercial - NoDerivatives 4.0. (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

The article introduces vicarious writing as a category of literary and cultural analysis that can reframe the study of authorship with respect to this specific form of collaboration. It argues for shifting emphasis from an ongoing privileging of singular authorship and its conceptual legacy of individualism to writing for others as a site where power constellations become operative and particularly salient. Four vignettes of twentieth-century vicarious life writing—"The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas" (1933), "The Babe Ruth Story" (1948), "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" (1965), and "I," "Rigoberta Menchú" (1984)—bring to the fore the manifold motivations and manifest and latent functions that writing for others can have as symbol and matter of literary practice, exposing it as a craft, as a means of cultural authorization, and as a strategy for constituting and positioning authorial subjects in entangled processes of writing. Considering the theoretical implications and historical situatedness of vicarious writing, the author argues that the key issue is not one of identity (“I am an author”) but one of stance-taking (“I position myself / someone else as an author”), highlighting the contractual relations writers and signatories enter to create author figures. The article also pleads for consideration of collaborative dynamics in the academic field that are analogous to the procedures of the literary marketplace.

Keywords: authorship; co-authorship; collaboration; vicarious writing; life writing

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