Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Is the Author Dead?
I had two fabulous and different interviews over the past month that have brought me full circle to my graduate school days. Jody Seay of "Back Page" and Ed Goldberg of "Author, Author" at www.allclassical.org brought to mind the ongoing push-pull between reader and writer where we tumble into Alice's rabbit hole in which what we mean may not be what we say. Or, what we say may mean something entirely different. My dissertation "Mediation of Knowledge through Artistic Discourse" pondered this problem decades ago. It came to mind last week. Literature in all its beauty mediates knowledge, it gives us windmills to tilt at, madeleines to munch upon, gardeners to love. All of these greats--Cervantes, Proust, Flaubert--their words exist apart from them and distinct from them. Don Quixote, A la Recherche and Madame Bovary are a commentary that reports and delights of eras, events and in words both in word placement and story structure. But what of the authors? Do they really matter?
I ponder this as I think of my past work "A Dream of Good and Evil" where architecture is the lattice-work for social change; I think of Susan Stoner's books on Sage Adair which elucidate the complexities of union life; I wonder, as I finish Julian Barnes "Sense of Being" if I need to know any more about him than that his words transfer knowledge--an incredible sense of loneliness as time goes by? And yet, and yet, and yet. Would the author help us out if we were to know her? Jody points out she looks on the back of a book first to discover where the author is; Ed goes into the text, de-constructs the characters and wonders if the author lurks somewhere behind them. In this mystifying frustrating journey of life, maybe the author will guide us? But should they? And how?
When I was a student, semiotics were in, the author was out. We were taught that the author was dead; that we, as readers inspire the "dead" words on the page with life. I used a similar metaphor as a teacher. I told students that a book is like a crystal ball which when thrown on the ground smashes into a million pieces. This, I would say, is the writer's self. Once liberated, the soul of the writer passes out of the book. However you, as readers, paste the pieces together, using your own tools of thought, is what the book will be--is what it means. And if we, as writers, have done our work, you will ponder, turn back a page or two, question some values, change the world---make a difference. Because each piece of crystal carries a portion of the soul...a resonance from the author.
So tell me, where is the author? What is the author? Where behind all those words does she lurk? Or are we, as readers, the ones that write and create....each time we read?