Debate #1: Robert Mercer

Please note that every post from both participants in the debate is being reproduced in its entirety. There are no word edits whatsoever, although I did take the liberty of adding colours.

December 26, 2001 (Gothmog's first post):


The first issue to be addressed is that of the authority of the representation:

[3.1] What is the basis and warrant of textual authority and the inter/intra-textual hierarchical relationships;

Authority flows from two sources: the creator of the representation; and the owner of the representation. In many cases, the creator and the owner are one and the same. In some cases, they are not. Legally, the owner of the representation (regardless of his role in its creation), has the sole power to determine the authority of the representation; and of additional representations that take place or are set within the same general representation of a fictional universe.

Example: I will use Star Trek as an example here, as it is a somewhat more complex example with which the majority of the audience should be familiar.

The representations of the Star Trek universe are comprised of: the TV show episodes, movies; reference books; novels, comics, CD-Rom reference materials, illustrations (various posters, for example); and games. These representations are created by individuals or groups who have no role in the ownership of the representation (in other words, while they may have wrote the script or created the VFX or written the book, they exercise no rights of ownership). The representation, itself, is owned by Paramount Pictures. Thus, from a legal standpoint, Paramount Pictures is the entity that decides the authority that each of the smaller representations possesses.

Paramount has made several public statements in regards to this issue (this material is drawn directly from the information section of the website):

As a rule of thumb, the events that take place within the live action episodes and movies are canon, or official Star Trek facts. Story lines, characters, events, stardates, etc. that take place within the fictional novels, the Animated Adventures, and the various comic lines are not canon.

In this statement, Paramount has indicated what materials possess "canonical status" (the issue of what canonical status represents will be addressed shortly). Some additional, qualifying statements have been made:

Pocket Books have published several excellent reference guides, but due to the overwhelming nature of the Star Trek oeuvre, it's nearly impossible to create technical reference for every ship seen on the show. However, they have gone a long way to help those of you who are technically minded by publishing the following books: "Star Trek: The Next Generation - U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-D Blueprints, "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Technical Manual and the "Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual.

There have been earlier versions of technical manuals, including "Mr. Scott's Guide to the Enterprise" (Shane Johnson) and the "Star Trek Starfleet Technical Manual" (Franz Joseph), but these books, although fun to read, were not written by production personnel and are not considered 'canon.'

These statements imply that the reference materials produced by members of the show's production staff also have canonical or quasi-canonical status.

There are a couple of exceptions to this rule: the Jeri Taylor penned novels "Mosaic" and "Pathways." Many of the events in these two novels feature background details of the main Star Trek: Voyager characters. (Note: There are a few details from an episode of the Animated Adventures that have entered into the Star Trek canon. The episode "Yesteryear," written by D.C. Fontana, features some biographical background on Spock.)

Canon/canonicity is a term derived from the use of canon to indicate religious texts (scriptures), which possess a particular authority. The term was later applied in literary circles to indicate "great" literary works (i.e. the canon of English literature), which should be used as a standard of comparison to determine whether a work is truly "great" or not.

Since the depictions that we are dealing with are neither religious scriptures nor great works of literature, the question then arises as to how the term "canon" is being applied here. Note that canonical status appears to be tied primarily to events and matters of fact, not the actual phenomenological details of the representations; in other words, it is stated that, "the events that take place within the live action episodes and movies are canon, or official Star Trek facts." In other words, an event (the birth or death of a character, for example; or the presence of the USS Enterprise in a particular location at a particular time) has canonical status; while a strong argument can be made that the visual (VFX, for example) details do not enjoy "canonical status" that is, that the dramatic elements are separate considerations from the content.

This particular conception of canon flows from the nature of the representations in question and the role of "canonicity" in continuity considerations. In order to maintain continuity over the run of a series (or over several series and movies, etc.), it is necessary to designate, through some means, vents and facts that cannot (or should not) be altered. Thus the designation of events as canonical; meaning nothing more than that this event is an established part of the continuity of Star Trek and should not be ignored or discarded without cause or explanation. This internal, continuity-based designation, has been extended, by the audience, to encompass all aspects of an episode or movie (including the VFX). If this were a correct application of the term, then it would be "canon" that there is a medium in Star Trek space to carry the sounds of the ships to the listener's ears and that background music plays out of nowhere during especially dramatic moments. These particular examples are somewhat extreme, but serve to point out the essentially arbitrary nature of what we decide to include/not include under the umbrella of canon within the context of a particular representation. These things (the sound and background music) are done no less for dramatic purposes than are aspects of the visual representation (VFX).

The concepts of canonicity and authority tie into the question of accuracy; the accuracy of the particular representation in question in regards to its depiction of the fictional reality. This will be addressed more directly in my next post, which is concerned with:

[3.2] What do the particular constraints and misrepresentations due to the rhetorical, stylistic and production constraints inherent in the textual modes do to shape and inform the evidence that can be gathered via interpretation of the text; and what, if anything should be done to account for them?

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