Who is the author? Who’s vision is it?

Michael Foucoult’s “What is an Author” muses upon and challenges the notion of what an author is, their role, how valid the “Death of the Author” and many other things. This work was apparently published between 1954 to 1984, well into the age of films. I mention this because while Foucoult has some powerful insights into the nature of the singular author there is little to no mention of the concept of multiple authors. While we like to think of an author as man locked away within his ivory tower desperately trying to bring his singular vision into fruition much like Frankenstein, I find that the creative process including writing is a much more collaborative process especially as of late then it’s given credit for.

For example movies have directors, editors, people who go through the spoken dialogue and screenplay etc. Though many would argue the director has “authorship” or ownership over the work wouldn’t the rest of the cast have as much of a claim albeit to a lesser magnitude? I can say the same thing about plays and television, the makeup artists, tailors, actors, set directors work just as hard to bring their vision of how the story goes to fruition. While I agree the director in both cases has the largest claim of ownership, don’t the larger cast have some degree of ownership? I will admit that plays, television and movies are a far different medium then literature I’d say the medium of graphic novels and comics have much more in common with literature and have the same issues. Many times the artist who illustrates and the author who writes the dialogue and sequence of events must work in conjunction to create a comic. Do they not have equal claim to “authoring” the comic?

Of course as I mentioned before these are all different mediums and as such require a different amount of hands on the project to bring it into being while the art of literature requires many less people to create a piece I say it’d be disengenious to say it’s a completely solitary art. Editors, revisions do exist and do directly alter a authors work. In addition many authors show drafts to their immediate circle and do adjust works based on the feedback. It is very heavily dependent on the author’s view but I believe almost all art is not just a singular vision born from one man or woman’s but a amalgamation of a lot of people’s efforts

Foucalt and the Author

Early in the essay Foucalt brings up a key question regarding authorship: “What does it matter who is speaking?”  He says that this type of indifference carrys an ethical significance.  In order to bring clarity to the issue he talks about the ‘author function.’  One part I found particularly interesting was the effect of author’s rights: “It is as if the author, beginning with the moment at which he was placed in the system of property that characterizes our society, compensated for the status that he thus acquired by rediscovering the old bipolar field of discourse, systematically practicing transgression and thereby restoring danger to a writing that was now guaranteed the benefits of ownership.”  I think the effects of author’s rights in general is interesting, but I am not entirely clear on what he means here, with things like ‘rediscovering the old bipolar field of discourse.’

At the end he revisits the main question: “And behind all these questions, we would hear hardly anything but the stirring of an indifference: What difference does it make who is speaking?”  He brings up the question again after listing several new theoretical questions that would be applicable in the future of literary studies.  They are presented as more sophisticated theoretical questions, and in light of this higher level of study the question of indifference is seen as somewhat juvenile.  I think Foucalt is talking about taking a step back and studying a text on a level where things like its reputation and application is under discussion.  What difference does it make who is speaking is a useless question.  It is counter-productive to study.  This approach shuts down an entire field of study.  The fact is that there are many readers who think authorship is very important, and they have for generations.  At the very least, the concept of authorship has had a trememdous effect on literature, and to embrace this mentality of indifference would be to ignore any aspect of authorship.  His new questions like “What are the modes of existence of this discourse?” can include considerations of authorship in one way or another.  It is not necessary to downright ignore authorship in order to check the status of an author.  There are higher level questions and lines of discourse that can include authorship in a number of ways, and to ignore authorship completely would do nothing but limit the possibilites of literary study.


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.

Frankenstien Manuscripts

I was going to save this for later in the semester, but if you want to jump even more in the deep end with your first paper (or you’re just feeling like you need some inspiration), then here’s your link of the day: http://shelleygodwinarchive.org/contents/frankenstein/

The site has digitized the manuscripts of the Shelley family and presents the originals alongside the transcription. You can toggle back and forth between Mary and Percy’s contributions.


At the least, we can take comfort in the fact that Shelley herself misspelled “Frankenstien”; even the best writers have to draft and revise!

update: “no” or “♄” and “☉”?


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?



In the Chapter “Author” Donald E. Pease examines what exactly constitutes an author and expands on Ronald Barthes question of is the author dead? If we apply Pease’s theory to Frankenstein and, by extension, Mary Shelly we then have to read the novel through the Gynocriticism lens developed by Elaine Showalter. How exactly does Shelly assert her agency and convey her own life through the story of Frankenstein and which character does she most relate to? How did Shelly, clearly a female author, in 1818 get her work published in a patriarchal society? To answer this the reader must rediscover feminine history as it relates to authorship. Additionally, if we accept Pease’s explanation of separating the author from his or her text then it is the reader or critic who must add his or her own history to the text they are reading. Pease breaks away from Barthes in this manner, he states that the reader or critic must assert an agency to the text that the writer does not bring. If one takes Pease’s view as their own then it is clear why two people reading the same text can have different interpretations even though the words they are reading are essentially the same. This is where different theoretical schools begin to come into play. A novel like Frankenstein can be read by dozens of critics yet each will read the text to fit his own agenda and theoretical school, creating an entirely new interpretation from the same text as his peers. Therefore, even if we view the author as “dead” it cannot be said for certain that one’s interpretation of the work does not correspond to the author’s intention.

some thoughts on authorship

I’m going to be very real and honest here and say that this whole “authorship” concept is pretty confusing to me. I feel as if it’s overly complicated, or perhaps I’m trying to overly simplify it. An author is one who composes, creates, invents; one who brings down an idea into the world and actualizes it in a tangible manner. Why does it need to be more complicated than that? I guess that’s what I’m really trying to ask here. What more is there to being an author? I understand that the idea can be confusing in the case of Frankenstein where we literally are unsure of the true author. The story was tampered with by a husband and wife. Yes, one was the creature, the visionary and the thinker, where the other seems to have played the role of editor. Does this mean all editors are authors too? Why can’t we just say that a piece was written as a team? Is it that important to identify one, stand alone creator?

It appears these questions may be tied together by an idea stated in the pdf on authorship. “A common procedure whereby an anonymous agent turns into an individual binds the term to these different activities.” This concept points to the idea of the human author asserting himself into his story. He is the narrator, even as he takes on the views of his main character. It can be assumed that in one way or another, any author asserts himself into his story, thus expressing his own wants, and perhaps small pieces of his own stories. I make this claim based on the idea that people write what they know. As much as human beings have wild imaginations, we do not have the ability to create utter fiction which is totally foreign to us. We must be able to pone it from one place or another. These ideas seem to be touched upon lightly later in the article as the author was rooted in the word ‘auctor’. “To experience an event in allegorical terms was to transpose the event out of the realm of one’s personal life into the realm of the applicable authority”. This allows the event to become impersonal and relevant on different levels to different people. I suppose this is the point where the author begins to disappear.


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.