Summoning the ghost writers: linguistic fingerprinting and authorship in The Baby-Sitters Club book series

Ann M. Martin’s middle grade book series The Baby-Sitters Club (1986-2000) (BSC) spanned more than 200 books over fourteen years. While Martin wrote approximately thirty books in the series herself, the majority of the titles were written by a team of ghost writers. Martin continued to write the plot outlines and she edited every book in the series, yet key differences in the ghost writers’ and Martin’s linguistic fingerprints provide clues to which were written by ghost writers and which by Martin herself. Linguistic fingerprinting argues that each individual uses language in a way that is as unique as a person’s thumbprint. While the idea of linguistic fingerprinting is still debated in the literature, exploring this idea in the context of the BSC books provides a context-controlled environment to apply the theory. Each book in the series follows a formulaic structure, providing the opportunity to focus solely on the use of language to determine how Martin’s authorial voice differed from that of her ghost writers. In this paper, we present a comparative text analysis of BSC books, comparing Martin’s authorial voice to that of ghost writer Peter Lerangis, to determine how he imprints his own authorial voice into the series, despite the constraints of the narrative structure and conforming to the conventions in the series conceived by Martin. Key differences in language use clearly identity the unique linguistic fingerprints of both Martin and Lerangis.

Bio:

Dr Raelke Grimmer is a lecturer in Creative Writing and Applied Linguistics at Charles Darwin University. She is one of the founding editors of Northern Territory literary journal Borderlands. Her research adopts an interdisciplinary approach and explores Australia’s multilingualism, genre and the creative process.

Jillianne Segura is a lecturer in Charles Darwin University’s Tertiary Enabling Program, lecturing in the Bioscience and Foundation Maths units, and leading academic support initiatives. Jillianne has a passion for knowledge seeking and working with data. Jillianne has completed a Graduate Certificate in Data Science and is beginning to expand her analysis skills from quantitative to qualitative.

David Malouf and the Secret of Literature

The paper attempts a close engagement with the inscriptions of the literary in the novels of David Malouf, especially in Johnno (1975), Child’s Play (1982), and The Great World (1990). It aims to argue that the literary figures in these works without making itself transparent, as that which necessarily exceeds the various contexts of its production, circulation, and reception and perforce retains its secrecy. In order to re-cite the literary in a necessarily unstable ‘framework’ of the secretly excessive, the paper carefully examines the narrator’s incapacity to ascertain the cause of Johnno’s death, the terrorist’s inability to carry out the assassination of Italy’s most famous man-of-letters in the manner he had planned in Child’s Play, and the unexpected impact of Mr. Warrender’s poetry on other characters in The Great Word.

The paper thus seeks to underline that the literary figures in Malouf’s novels in singularly iterable ways—as inscriptions which are different on every occasion of their articulation as they cannot be anticipated, understood, explained, or repeated. Malouf’s novels, in other words, gesture towards the possibility that the literary always inscribes itself in traces, in gestures which by definition resist any and all attempts at unravelling, disclosure, or interpretation. The paper draws on Jacques Derrida’s classic writings about the secret of literature including Given Time: I. Counterfeit Money (1991) and The Gift of Death (1992) as well as recent work on the subject carried out in a Derridean light such as Secrecy and Community in 21st-Century Fiction (2021).

Bio:

Chinmaya Lal Thakur is a doctoral researcher in the Dept. of Creative Arts and English at La Trobe University in Melbourne. His study concerns the limits of subjectivity as inscribed in the novels of David Malouf. He has published a number of critical reviews and essays in the fields of postcolonial writing, novel-theory, modernist literatures, and Continental philosophy. He has also edited the anthology Literary Criticism: An Introductory Reader for Worldview Publications. He holds an M.Phil. from the Centre for English Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi for the dissertation “The Novel and Epistemological Critique: Reading Franz Kafka.”

Unknowable Things: the work of writing and the secrets of objects

In In Defence of Secrets, Anne Dufourmantelle lists an array of objects suggestive of secrets. The objects she chooses are architectural: ‘locks, hidden doors, undetectable tunnels’. The work of creative writing can be thought of as a navigation of this architecture, where the writer can be thought of as a locksmith or a detective, investigating what lies beyond the closed door. This paper considers the role of the writer as investigator and trespasser, using Sophie Calle’s autobiographical presence in ‘The Hotel’ (1981) as the central figure. In Calle’s diaristic account of three week’s work as a chambermaid in a Venetian hotel, she observes the objects left in the rooms by hotel guests, documenting them in photographs and daily reports. As Calle lists the mundane yet personal objects in the guest’s rooms – crumpled pajamas, a ripped postcard in a wastebasket – her unadorned, observational attention presents the power of even small, mundane details to hold or represent the unknowable. Calle’s covert positioning during the making of this work and within its narrative is a useful figure with which to think of the writer as a navigator of secrets – particularly those contained in everyday objects and chance observations.

Bio:

Dr Vanessa Berry is a Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Sydney. She is the author of four books, most recently Gentle and Fierce (Giramondo, 2021), a memoir about human and animal relationships, and the award-winning Mirror Sydney (Giramondo, 2017), a literary atlas that examines marginal places and undercurrents in the urban environment. She is the author of the autobiographical zine series I am a Camera and her zine and illustration works have been exhibited at major Australian galleries including the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia and the National Gallery of Australia.

Promising More War: National Monuments, War Memorials and the Virtuous Scar

Michael Taussig wrote the public secret is “that which is generally known but cannot be spoken” (1999:50). Drawing on fieldwork I conducted in Washington DC, and by mapping my own embodied knowledge of sexual trauma and its afterlives to the subject of my work, I argue that war memorials and national monuments offer a particular representation of war as a way of ensuring its continuity. Broadly speaking, war memorials and national monuments are freighted with assumptions, including the notion that war is an inevitable tragic phenomena and a masculine, almost biological, imperative; that war, understood historically, is an event fixed and bound in time; that the settler-colonial state which a memorial or monument represents is, on the whole, morally good; that the site of a memorial or monument is sacred; and that sacrifice, here an abstracted and nebulous term, through war is a necessary condition for the security and perpetuity of the state. Monuments and memorials enshrine these assumptions embodied by the figure of the soldier – usually white, usually a man – who is the interlocutor between publics and nationhood and is encoded with a privileged sort of knowledge: a memory of war which, for civilians who have not experienced military service in war settings, is represented as simultaneously abstract, abject and unknowable. I argue that these large-scale national projects are objects that promise more war through accounts that foreground the concoction of myth, men and killing as virtuous and identity-forming.

Bio:

Sertan Saral is a PhD candidate with the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney. He is interested in the discursive force of military service as a type of gender performativity and cultural capital; as a regulatory norm that stratifies bodies within society along identity markers; and as having a generative and inheritable quality which reproduces and perpetuates war-making. His current project is an ethnography exploring these ideas at various monuments and memorials in the United States.

“No faces and no names”: Antinatalist radicality through the present absences of Thomas Ligotti

The Weird is a secretive form; in The Weird and the Eerie, Mark Fisher defined the “Eerie”, a related form to the “Weird”, as “a failure of absence or […] a failure of presence.”1 In Weird and Eerie texts, things are kept so well hidden that often they cannot be found because they do not exist at all: subject, identity and meaning are present only in the spaces left by their absence. They exist by being not what they are. This secretive quality, through the narrative devices of the modern Weird, expresses radical worldviews with transgressive environmental and philosophical concerns of imminent importance to contemporary life. This paper will take as its subject the short stories of reclusive American Weird fiction author Thomas Ligotti, whose amateur philosophical work The Conspiracy Against the Human Race proposes a negative reckoning of human existence. His short stories depict a world full of detritus, trash and feeble simulation in which human life is closer to a vulgar circus attraction than the pinnacle of evolution. Curtis Carbonell has argued that “In Ligotti’s case, language suggests rather than denotes, forgoing a mimetic exactitude and […] describing the indescribable.”2 By using vague, often amorphous narrators and indistinct accountings of time and place, this “grotesque kenosis”3, Ligotti dissolves human identity and corrodes modern society, implicitly revealing the secret of a world where humans might never have been. The paper will consider how, in light of current crises, the formation of such representations creates the space for disquieting but necessary reflections on humanity’s place in the universe.

Works cited

1 Mark Fisher, The Weird and the Eerie. London: Repeater Books, 2016.

2 Curtis Carbonell. Dread Trident. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2019.

3 Brad Baumgartner. Weird Mysticism: Philosophical Horror and the Mystical Text. London: Lehigh University Press, 2021.

Bio:

Alastair Whyte holds a PhD in English Literature from the University of Sydney, specialising in utopian literature and the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. His most recent publication considers how dystopian fiction establishes the historical, political and cultural continuity between colonial imperialism and totalitarianism. He is currently working on the radical utopian possibilities offered by Weird fiction alongside further study of representations of race and tyranny in Tolkienian texts.