Collaborative writing is necessarily less common in the humanities than in science and medicine. And it seems rather less common now than in the Forties, when I was making a false start in medicine (the decade when Wimsatt and Beardsley collaborated on The Verbal Icon). Is it that we have become more competitive, more serious? 'Not on your life, boy,' my colleague John Hay in the anatomy lab used to say, but he would be helpfully turning a cadaver's hand in response to my 'Give me some palm, Olive' and didn't have to say he meant quite the opposite. Is it mutual supportiveness that makes collaborative writing work? Or the added range, the drawing on more and wider associations? In the case of Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson's Relevance, collaboration has been able to draw on feminine and masculine resources - although I am far too afraid of my feminist colleagues to say which resources are which. Anyway, like Gilbert and Sullivan, or Somerville and Ross, Sperber and Wilson make a great team. Sperber's On Anthropological Knowledge and Rethinking Symbolism, written solus, were brilliant essays: but Relevance is more systematic and technical, and Wilson may be guessed to sing its cantus firmus. The result is a decisive contribution to our thinking about language.
LRB 30 March 1989 | PDF Download