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.

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.

 

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?

 

Stakes and Implications

I feel as though Austin views performative in a much too simple way. His thought is so broad it is almost elementary, but Butler dives right in and carefully narrows down the subject. He claims, “…it is a model for thinking about crucial social processes where a number of matters are at stake.” He includes the nature and production of identity, the function of social norms, the fundamental problem of what today we call “agency” in English, and lastly the relations between the individual and the social change. Obviously, each of their stakes greatly differ. Is Butler saying we are always going to be limited in certain acts we partake in?

I’m thinking that social acts are too great an influence over our individual acts. Living in our world in present day, many feel we are ruled by social media and influential figures around us. The consequences of our actions, whether we realize we are being influenced or not, is our issue that needs to be corrected. The language we pick up upon, or our particular acts of promising has become such a sub conscience thing.

Mass media has so many positives and just as many negatives. It’s the balance of how we partake that is the issue. I unfortunately doubt it will ever be solved.

Butler and Gender

On page 104 Culler writes: “Butler proposes that we consider gender as performative, in the sense that it is not what one is but what one does… a condition one enacts… You become a man or a woman by repeated acts, which, like Austin’s performatives, depend on social conventions, habitual ways of doing something in a culture.”  Shortly after he talks about exclamations of “It’s a girl!” or “It’s a boy!” after the baby is born.  He says that this is more of a performative statement than it is constataive.  In other words the statement does more to create its subject than it does to describe a factual condition.

I should first give credit to the idea being described.  I do agree that identity is largely shaped by society and conventions within a culture.  Along with the exclamations of “It’s a boy!” would commonly be blue bibs, onezies, and paint.  Later on this would progress to something like action figures and toy trucks.  A young and impressionable child will have many of his dispositions formed by adults and the culture he grows up in.  So, in a sense “It’s a boy!” is the first instance of a long chain of predetermined conditions that the child will be exposed to, thus making it performative.

My problem with Butler’s proposal, as it is presented, is that it seems to take the conventions of the society that a child grows up in for granted.  Further, it seems to be assuming that all of the conditions associated with “It’s a boy!” were decied arbitrarily.  I can agree that there are gender roles and that there is a certain degree of “gender conditioning,” but I would like to see more consideration given to how and why the gender roles came to be in the first place.

When Culler writes that “A man is not what one is but something one does,” I think he comes on too strong.  It seems perfectly reasonable to suggest that a man “was what he was” in the first place, and as a result certain (appropriate) conditioning practices were adopted in order to facilitate the development of future generations of men.  It would be interesting to look for similarities in gender conditioning across cultures, especially further back in history among cultures that were not in contact with one another.

On page 122 under the section on eithics there is a passage that suggests a sort of personal, individual essence that exists outside of the social conventions and developmental conditioning.  I am referring to when Huck Finn debates whether or not to report the runaway slave.  At first he believes that he should, basing this belief on the moral principles he has been taught and on the way his conscience has been developed.  However Huck reconsiders and decides to tear up the letter based on his own ethical intuition.  This suggests a degree of personal identity with regard to morality, and I think it is reasonable to consider that the same sort of dynamic might be at play with regard to gender.

Literature as intertextual

“…the very centre of the narrative reminds us that this novel is about the dangerous consequences of the pursuit and the expression of knowledge” (Shelley 31). In my opinion all fiction novels are derived from a nonfiction idea. In Culler’s “Nature of Literature”, literature viewed as intertextual is a theory I completely agree with. Frankenstein, for example, though complete fiction, is created with idea of three books in Shelley’s head. Paradise Lost, the tale of Prometheus, and lastly Symposium. Shelley’s work transforms these stories into an “original” novel. “The Modern Prometheus” is actually the subtitle for this novel, giving the beginning story where this idea derived its credit.

This theory of  intertextuality may be misunderstood with the notion that copying is accepted. But imitation is the greatest form of flattery. The idea of a “monster” created by mankind is so intriguing, Shelley was able to spinoff into another world with a storyline that has inspired many others and their works. But no matter how many use Shelley as their influence, each story will be traced back to the original three novels.

Below I added links incase anyone was curious about any of the three stories from above:

https://www.mtholyoke.edu/courses/rschwart/hist257s02/students/Becky/prometheus.html

https://www.dartmouth.edu/~milton/reading_room/pl/intro/text.shtml

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v12/n17/jonathan-coe/conversions

Shannen Coleman

Culler and Literary Theory

While discussing the nature of literature Culler brings forth five points, one of which examines the intertextual construct of a literary work. Frankenstein allows for a reader or theorist to apply a particular theoretical school causing the entire meaning of the novel to change in accordance with whatever lens the work is being examined through. In particular, Frankenstein’s entire meaning is changed through these schools. Yet Frankenstein’s meaning as a whole stays the same and its central themes and ideas remain unchanged. For example, if one applies the sphere of domesticity the novel becomes a domestic novel and should be read as such. As a result, Frankenstein then becomes critical of the feminine sphere of domesticity. We can come to this conclusion by examining Mary Shelley’s life alongside her novel. . She acted as both a writer and as the wife to a famous writer, Percy Bysshe Shelley. One can take this to mean that a great deal of tension existed in the home, but Shelley allowed her husband to critique and edit Frankenstein causing it to become a joint effort between the two. If one examines this through a domestic lens it can be taken as a defeat of Shelley, as a writer, in her personal life. Even the minuscule details that Percy Bysshe Shelley may have added or changed forces the novel to be examined through a different light, with the acknowledgment that not everything in the novel is Mary Shelley’s own thoughts or ideas.

Theory teaches us not to take anything as a given and that there is no common sense. If we approach a novel acting as though we know nothing then each sentence must be considered and with each word we must ask ourselves why this word and not another? In this respect theory is mean to be reflective and reflexive, meaning, we must ask “How do we know this?” and “Why do we know this?”. If we are then questioning everything we know more questions arise. If we know that the knowledge we are bringing into the work isn’t natural, but instead our surroundings or ourselves form it, then we must also know that this knowledge can be deconstructed, reexamined, and realigned in accordance with how we want to perceive the work. Then in order to apply theory to a situation we again must ask, “what should change about my thoughts or thought process and how can I bring about that change.” Each of these questions must be considered as we read a novel and forget all of the givens.