Paper Knowledge

On page 87 Gitelman in a section where she talks about the Pentagon Papers she refers to the affect that papers had: “It was as if the papers, instead of having an author or authors, had sprung from a giant five-sided filing cabinet. And the filing function, unlike the author functions, organizes documents rather than classifies discourse.” I find it really interesting that the anonymity of these papers alongside of their content created a material object which exceeded the importance of having an author. Whereas, with most printed materials that we read we generally have an appreciation for who wrote it, where is the author from, what is their story and how does it intertwine with the content of the piece we’re reading. Instead documents like the Pentagon Papers seem to establish their own sense of autonomy because of their importance—the person who wrote it isn’t important, the stuff inside is the important part. I found myself realizing that I too had treated similar documents the same way. I’m thinking specifically of Wikileaks. Especially when “her emails” were posted on to wikileaks’ website. I didn’t care about the source of these documents, how they came into being, I just knew that “her emails” were available online and that I had to read them to see if all the fuss about “her emails” was really justifiable (which they weren’t).


This made me begin to wonder about the ethics involved with the publishing of materials when the author cannot necessarily be held accountable for retrieving the information in those documents whose autonomy requires no author.

2 thoughts on “Paper Knowledge

  1. This reminds me of some of the conversations we had about Pynchon and his criticisms of conventional author-reader relationships. As a postmodern writer, Pynchon seems to be challenging the trust the reader typically places in the author to walk us through the story. I wonder if there is some relation between this moment in postmodern literature and the moment Gitelman is discussing here. The Pentagon Paper seem to be a perfect manifestation of the reason why American citizens are so cynical toward authoritative figures.

  2. It feels like in Gitelman’s view the Pentagon Papers, among other government and corporate documents, are in way blank books. They have no author, but someone is going to have to fill in the document and will not be recognized as an author. Taking this view into your question I think it depends on who is “publishing” the document. Thinking about the Pentagon Papers, they were never officially published by a traditional author-editor-publishing system we are familiar with. They were documents written, but never with the intent of being read except by a select view.

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