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

The Changing Role of the Author

What was most interesting about Pease’s essay “Author” is the way he traces the role of the author across time/culture, drawing a line from the “auctor” of the ancient world and the Middle Ages, through the 20th century “genius” and into today’s “authorless subject.”  “Authorship” is an idea that is so common sense that we generally overlook its implications and this analysis offers an historical perspective of changes in the role of the artist that can be used to further explore how this role is continuing to change throughout various media and genres.

While not really mentioned in this essay, the concept of authorship is different from genre to genre.  Tennessee Williams famously changed the role of Stanley Kowalski in order to cast young, handsome, virile Marlon Brando in the role (the original script called for Stanley to be old, fat and ugly) drastically changing the whole tenor of the play by making his antagonist more likable than his protagonist.  This is just one small but powerful example of the kind of ensemble work that must go into any work of drama (maybe with the exception of a one-man show, but even that requires a director, set design, etc).  Shakespeare, one of the original “authors” mentioned in Pease’s essay most definitely relied on not only his acting troupe but widely varied source material from history to mythology.

While there is still an active theater culture today, it has most definitely taken a backseat as a mode of popular entertainment to movies and television, both of which have followed along a similar shift in authorship to what has happened in literature.  Early film and tv followed what had been set up before by filming plays which would have been seen as “auctors” of a type. Then, innovators in the media began creating a new language, using the medium of film in ways that were inherent to the art form– these would be the “authors” and the “geniuses”.  Television, being the newest of these forms, I feel is just hitting the “genius” era today (or for about the last ten years or so) with the emergence of the “showrunner”– the Matthew Weiners, David Chases, and Shonda Rhimes who are poised to become fodder for the critics in the next “game” of academic study.