In Donald Pease’s article on the nature of what exactly constitutes an author, an evolution of the term is described.  This probe into authorship goes all the way back to the middle age word, auctore, or a writer who’s words commanded a certain level of respect or otherwise set the standards for their respective fields.  Aristotle is the example given in the text for this.  The idea of an author then evolved further into the 15th century genius, indicating a rise in social standing and respect.  Ultimately Pease eventually arrives at the idea that the definition of an author is so fractured that any true development would be quite difficult and therefore paradoxically requires a unification of meaning.  This however proves somewhat problematic when everyone from the person who writes a novel, a review, an article, or even a facebook post can in a way be considered an article.

It is easy to say abstractly that since say a novel is intrinsically no more than letters printed upon a page that it does not really matter who in truth put those words down on paper.  Subjectivity is unavoidable and therefore meaning can never truly be extrapolated, even if it is explained by the author, as no one hears or reads the same thing.  Following this logic then the printing press is as much complicit in the act of authorship as the person who was trying to convey meaning.  This relates to Frankenstein when it is considered that, we as the reader, are reading the letters of a fictional man to his fictional sister about a fictional lunatic in a fictionalized version of the arctic.  This entire framing device seems tangential but we do not discredit it as it serves to convey shelley’s meaning; the story of Frankenstein and his creature.  With this in mind it is prudent to consider that perhaps the author is not a singular person but rather a composite of historical circumstance, subjectivity, the meaning denoted in the text as well as the connoted meanings, and that the knee jerk idea of an author of being whoever it is that is leading the reader on a journey through a clever construction of words could be called something else entirely.

An author in the sense that I think, and that I think others may also, is a person in whom a modicum of trust is placed in the reader to facilitate the suspension of disbelief in the case of a novel, and to in the case of non fiction accurately relay information or narratives.  A good example of this would be the case of James Frey.  James Frey is a man who wrote a book called A Million Little Pieces.   This book was sold, and rose to be a national best seller, as a memoir.  The people, including one Oprah Winfrey, who bought and read this book were crestfallen to eventually find that large portions of the book were entirely fabricated.   (The interviews are online and are fairly interesting when viewed in this light, i would paste a link but i couldnt figure that out at the time of this writing.)  Another sterling example of such outrage is an astounding portion of the bibliography of the disgraced journalist Stephen Glass while working at the New Republic.  He, like Frey, fabricated entirely many stories. (A handful of fascinating interviews are online as well, but Glass has an entire movie devoted to his story called “Shattered Glass”.  Frey did not have a movie, but a very off color southpark episode parodying him titled “A million little fibers”)  In both these cases it became an issue of credibility, so i would like to assert that perhaps the true meaning of authorship lies somewhere in questions of credibility.


One thought on “Authorship”

  1. Oh I’m glad you mentioned Frey, who I was going to bring up. Memoir/autobiographical studies is very much an interesting area where these problems are being contested, particularly in thinking about memoirs where the narrator is different from the principal subject (i.e. a grownup narrator describing events in the first person from when s/he was a child). These cases are very much about authority: who is authorized to speak. Frey clearly crossed boundaries for his particular historical moment, but it’s very easy to see his work being perfectly acceptable in alternate contexts of authorship.

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