Does the Reader Become the Author?

“We can say that today’s writing has freed itself from the theme of expression…Writing unfolds like a game that invariably goes beyond its own rules and transgresses its limits…rather a question of creating a space into which the writing subject constantly disappears” (Foucault 206). We can deduct that Foucault would agree with the unknown signified, the one constantly searching for a new meaning. But if the subject of the text continues to change doesn’t the originality become lost? The author,  who has made this writing for a purpose, is no longer the on in control. The reader has taken over. The subject can completely change into their want and the author is gone. Foucault mentions the word limits. Is he saying that writing has no limits? OR that the subject and meaning within the text has no limits?

“Our culture has metamorphosed this idea of narrative, or writing, as something designed to ward off death…The work, which once had the duty of providing immortality, now possesses the right to kill, to be its author’s murderer” (Foucault 206). I think Foucault is arguing that once the text is written, who it came from no longer matters. The text is the important and everlasting aspect, not the author. This seems a bit outlandish in my opinion, but it is true that words are meant to be read. As long as the text is read by the reader, why does it matter if the author’s view is behind the words? But does this just make the text lose any sense of origin?

to be or not to be an Author?

Reading Michel’s Foucault’s, what is an Author? gave me an insight into a  literary approach to a concept that we regard usually  as “common” sense. Author is a word that is usually used without giving it a second thought. What else is there to think?, I made something I’m the creator, in case of literary texts or works I’m the author nothing more nothing less. While this concept of author is not wrong, nor  right. Theory so far in my understanding is not about diminishing or disapproving other ideas or concepts, but rather expand, common sense ideas such as the concept of author, and I believe that is what Foucault goal was for his readers, to challenge and play, tinkering how we  conceive certain concepts especially regarding literary texts. I never had a moment where I felt i was reading an answer to what is to be an author or what it means rather an explanation of how we came to the point of where we are, why we consider author’s as such in our culture and what is their role. Two points I really liked about this reading is that it Challenges the idea of the death author calling it regressive “To imagine writing as absence seems to be simple repetition”, he doesn’t argue that this is wrong instead that we must find spaces inside texts where there are examples of the author’s disappearance. He also explains that there’s no such thing as a theory of “work” and those who have to take on the practice of editing works do it without theory. This instantly made me think of Percy Shelley as the editor of Mary Shelley, and how different The novel Frankenstein would have been if Foucault edited it, Its impossible to know if he would engage in such task, but I can imagine the novel more complex and weird.  Another point that made me think about Frankenstein is the example of Pierre Dupont and Shakespeare,  the importance of an author’s name or its distinction form other names. The author’s name the description of what we associate when we see or heard it, and designation or what it names.  Percy Shelley and Mercy Shelley both are linked by the novel of Frankenstein, and  the discourse of authorship between the two versions is an example of how the author’s name changed its function.

What is an Author?

While reading this text, I noticed right away that the author is seeking individualism within their writing, even though they are using muses from all different types of categories. They are borrowing from “the history of ideas, knowledge, literature, philosophy, and the sciences” in order to make their cases. (pg. 205) In some ways, they are seeking immortality through their work, and I agree that every author wishes to do that, however, there can be a huge downfall as time goes on, when it comes to keeping the work as “pure” or as “original” as the author had wanted. It almost seems like an impossible task, and I don’t agree that the writer is doing all of this alone. At some point, they must share their ideas with other peers, and bounce their ideas off of others in order to make their cases stronger. In doing so, the work is already tainted from the beginning because it involves ideas from people of all types.

One line that stood out to me was “If an individual were not an author, could we say that what he wrote, said, left behind in his papers, or what has been collected of his remarks, could be called a “work”?” (pg 207) From previous readings, I have established that a text is something that it open to change, whereas as work is something that is more concrete. In this specific line, it sounds like its saying that a text can only be turned into a work based on social status. If you’re not considered to be an “official” author, your writing is simply just words on a paper with no meaning. I strongly disagree with that analogy because everyone’s writing should be given a fair shot, even if they aren’t exactly recognized yet. And for those whose works are recognized, they have been revised and edited countless times in order to be officially published to the world, and that makes it less original and it loses its individualism.

I think that this particular piece is a good opposing argument to Barthes’ “Death of an Author”, because that asked readers to remove the author from his work, leaving no room for finding the deeper meaning within the writing, but rather to let language speak for itself. Foucault is saying quite the opposite by insisting that in writing as using previous writers as muses, us as writers can still maintain a sense of individualism. I find that quite hard to do when writing is easily manipulated through a process of editing and revision.

What is an Author?

Foucault’s “What is an Author” seems to be written as a direct response to Barthes’ “Death of the Author”. While Barthes philosophy revolves around imagining as if the work in question does not have an author, Foucault continues to analyze what exactly constitutes an author and his text. While reading the article, I began to think about what would happen if all authors ceased to exist. This is not to say that there would be no writers producing work, but what would happen if no written work was attributed to an individual. Is this even possible in society? And then, what would constitute a text? If a quote is stated, but no author is given then it is just an opinion floating in the air. There could be no facts as nothing could be proven. Any medical or law journal that states what it believes is a fact, cannot be necessarily true as if there is no author attached to the work then the work can not be verified. Many times in an English class a professor will hand out a poem without the author’s name. Now, if a student were to be handed two poems and one was written by a well-known author and the other by the professor himself who’s to say the student would be able to differentiate one from the other? On the other hand, if the author’s name was stated alongside the poem the student will label the one written by the professor as amateur and the one written by the famous author as “deep” or “inspiring”. This will happen even if the student sees no meaning in the poem solely as a result of the name alone. Foucault then addresses the question of what constitutes a work. Is anything an author has written work? Should it be hung in a museum or sold online for hundreds of thousands of dollars simply because of the name attached to it? Foucault proves that defining an author and his work is not as simple as it appears to be and that everything must be questioned when it comes to the author.

What difference does it make who is speaking?

In Foucault’s discussion of the author’s name as one aspect of the “author function” (in “What is an Author?”), he states, “it performs a certain role with regard to narrative discourse, assuring a classificatory function.  Such a name permits one to group together a certain number of texts, define them, differentiate them from and contrast them to others” (210).  This immediately brought to mind the Shelleys, both Mary and Percy, and what the name “Shelley” does to categorize their writing.  Additionally, what status does Mary Shelley automatically gain simply through the privilege of her married name?  Her text isn’t simply grouped together with other texts published under the name “Mary Shelley” but also those published under the name “Percy Bysshe Shelley.” Although, in her case, had she published using the last name of her father (Godwin) or her mother (Wollstonecraft) she would have been accorded similar privileged status. This is because a Name has particular coded problems associated with gender that Foucault does not mention in this essay, although we can easily apply his theory to this problem.

If the author’s name “seems always to be present, marking off the edges of the text” and “indicates the status of this discourse within a society and culture”, then surely the implied sex of the author’s name matters.  In my very traditional undergraduate study, professors routinely referred to all male authors by their last names (Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, Hemingway, etc.) but often used first names with the women, most memorably “Emily” for Dickinson.  I felt this was in some ways to slight her importance but in others to continually remind the readers that this was a woman, that her author function must always be present in order for us to properly “read” her.  And, I can’t help make the leap here to Hilary Rodham Clinton– The name Hilary Rodham had achievement as a lawyer in her own right, under her own name, but because we have grouped her together with her husband, she has risen to great heights politically, only to be commonly referred to simply as “Hilary.”  If we say “Clinton”, we automatically think of her husband.

It also brings to mind the tradition of women publishing under men’s names– George Sand and George Eliot, the Bronte sisters and their masculine pseudonyms– this may have been a practical consideration in a time where a female name would have limited the audience or possible revenue, but what implications does it bring to the text itself?  How did it change the reading?  How would the discourse change again when the true gender of the author was revealed?

The Death of the Author – Barthes

I feel like Bathes main point of his article “The Death of the Author” can be summarized in his line “To give a text an Author is to impose a limit on that text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing” (147). His articulation of the text being a “multi-dimensional space” which writing blends together to create a “new”. Barthes writes “The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture.” Is this similar to the weaving we discussed in class the other day (or the leather per say, which has no woven materials), but the weaving is that of the reader’s culture, rather than the Author’s culture? Or vice versa? Barthe goes on to write in the same paragraph, “the scriptor no longer bears within him passions, humours, feelings, impressions, but rather this immense dictionary from which he draws a writing that can know no halt:” These emotions are all subjective and change with every new cultural age or age in general. For example, it might have been funny to poke fun of the big boy in your second grade class. However, now, you know it was wrong and it was, indeed, not as funny as you thought. If we were to incorporate the Author’s definition of these words, then there would be only be one right way of writing his text.  By killing the Author, Bathes makes point in which we can openly read the work and understand in different ways.

The other thing I want to touch base on is at the beginning, when Barthes writes “the author still reigns in histories of literature, biographies of writers, interviews, magazines, as in the very consciousness of men of letters anxious to unite their person and their work through diaries and memoirs” (143). Would Bathes argue that Kerouac’s writing, known for his long string of consciousness, who was part of the Beat Generation of writers, was a bad writing? Or rather, would Bathes argue a text that is nourished by the Author, bad writing, bad literature? I’m curious as Bathes makes a lot of sarcastic comments in his article.

Text & Work

I’ve always used the words “text” and “work” interchangeably when speaking of a book or piece of literature. I never thought there would be a distinction between the two. After reading Roland Barthe’s From Work to Text I’ve come to understand that “the work can be held in the hand, [and] the text is held in language.” The work is stationary. It’s what holds the language together, meanwhile the text lies within the work. I would agree that the text is the essence of the work. Maybe in the past, auctors would disagree and say that the work is what holds all the importance and that there is no distinction between the work and what is written inside. The work was whole and important to its spiritual connotations.

In The Death of an Author, Barthe’s also mentions that “the author is a modern figure.” Text is a newly created term and is linked to how the importance of literature has evolved over time. A book isn’t just read and taken word by word to mean what it is. We analyze it and create new ideas and meanings, “text cannot stop (for example on a library shelf); its constitutive movement is that of cutting across (in particular, it can cut across the work, several works).” This is seen in the way we now target one particular work from different areas of studies to have a greater understanding of it.

Although we interpret works through interdisciplinary methods, I think we can agree that in the end we still don’t know all there is to know about a work. I can compare a work to a lock and the key would be the text. The way we examine the language in the text allows us to obtain a deeper understanding and unlock the mysteries that lay within the work. The both need each other but without understanding how the key and lock work, we cannot unlock and make use of its function.

As reader’s we can study the text and become authors of our own interpretation of a work. The author of the work doesn’t play a role in our interpretation and therefore we become creators of an idea that was born from a text, which can become our form of a work. So can a text become a work?

The Truth of an Author

I never had many thoughts on the general definition of an author. Instead, I would think about the actual, specific writer and their written words. But in Donald E. Pease’s “Author”, he really expressed how in depth the details are to be considered a true author. “Is an individual self-determined or determined by material and historical circumstances?” I think Pease is questioning our originality, all of us and how true we stay to our identity. I can’t say we are all authors, but we all have our own ideas. However, jotting down our thoughts on paper does not make us authors. But who has the right to define what an author really is? With that contradictory statement, I want to say that defining an author seems like an example of an aporia.

“…Renaissance historians refer to as ‘new men,’ individuals within Renaissance culture who turned the ‘news’ sent home from freshly discovered lands into forms of cultural empowerment for unprecedented political actions and their personification by new agents with the culture. Among these new cultural agents were ‘authors,’ writers whose claim to cultural authority did not depend on their adherence to cultural precedents but on a faculty of verbal inventiveness.” I was pleasantly shocked that the faithfulness an author keeps to his or her rank isn’t the most important thing, especially during times where place in society was everything. Verbal inventiveness, which I’m assuming is how creative one can be with their words, is such a genuine idea to help title an author. What we need is to be new and changing, which is what I think Pease is trying to convey.

Challenging the idea of “Author”

The idea of author according to Donald E. Pease is a term that is always changing; it changes its meaning depending on the development of society. What it means to be an author today is not, is not the same as fifty years ago a good example of that is the difference between North American writers in the late 60’s, writing about changing the world, pushing the boundaries for freedom of expression, social equality, efforts that ultimately failed, and Russian writers during the regime of the soviet union before and after Stalin passing among themselves and members of their inner circles Samizdat pamphlets, in the underground scene at risk of being jailed by the secret service. Donald E. Pease article creates questions about what it means to be author, concepts that at some point seem confusing, as I was reading it understood that historically the understanding of authorship was pretty much absurd as the early concept of originality is. The world as a whole just keep reinventing itself, for example Smart phones are not a original concept, one could argue that in fact North America was slow to catch up with mobile technology and countries such as Japan were already ahead of us ten miles.

I think that literary theorists could argue, that texts should be looked as what they are, and we should benefit from what they bring to us, as in Roland Barthes essay “The Dead of the Author” that is mentioned in the article by Donald E. Pease, the author is declared dead and the only authority is the reader. By separating the author and the text, we can come up with more objective reasoning as to why reading certain texts are important, and evaluated them not only on their contribution to culture or society but as how they help move forward their genre, how they push current boundaries for literariness and how relevant are they.  I think is good that we are capable to think without being absolutist trying to make out of an author a godly like figure or attribute to them the invention of ideas. Nonetheless I don’t think that Foucault’s ideas are invalid, and I agree that we need authors and that critics do need to be challenged as well.  The real version of Frankenstein whether is that of Mary or Percy Shelley, seems irrelevant when what I see as valuable is the characters, the plot, and all the ideas related to different points of view inside the novel and complexity of characters. The questions of who wrote this, who and why changed it are incredibly important, but those are questions that are not hard to come up, they might be hard to answer, but to explore the book as its own rises questions from our own reasoning that are more uncommon.

I think is interesting to read a book without knowing anything about who the author is, and regardless if you like or not, and then learn about the author read it again and notice or start thinking in a whole different way. We can say that in the instance that once we learn about the author and read the text again, the new observations are corrupted some are invalid associations and speculations that cannot be verified unless the author does so.  Is it that important?

 

Authors writing Authoritative or Allegorical ?

The word author is meant to determine the person behind the text,who the text belongs to and the authority figure that is now revealed and known.  In Author by Donald E. Pease it is mentioned that “the continued athority to make events meaningful in customary or traditional ways provided all the evidence necessary to sustain auctores power.” (p.106) Pease goes on to stating that in the Middle Ages the relationship between the authoritative books and the everyday work was an allegorical one. This got me thinking about Celtic mythologies and how they were written. The mythologies were written by unknown authors such as scribes/monks that have written down oral stories and have put these stories into manuscripts. Although we will never find out the name of these scribes is it right to say that they deserve the credit as being authors of these manuscripts? Or are the oral translators the ones that should be taking credit for their works of old Irish literature? I would think that since the oral speeches came first they do deserve some credit but, the scribes are the ones with the talent to remember these stories and write them down in order to keep the history alive so to speak on paper. Pease mentions that these authoritative books are said to be allegorical ones which means they have hidden meanings and messages to them. It is intresting to question what an author is because there are so many different uses for the word Author and what it necessarily means to be an Author. Pease also mentions that there is a relationship between an authoritative book and one that is allogorical. He mentions that worldly placed events took place in terms that may not have occurred because of the fact that there are different realms in the story, and mystical unreal events occurring that one cannot pin point whether the story is part of the everyday world and has many fictional parts to it that don’t seem to make sense or, is there something allogorical about the story which makes it authoritative.