The English Department's Blog

Jan 25

Way back in the heady early days of post-structuralism, Rolande Barthes declared that the author is dead.  Not just sleeping, or pining for the fjords, but a member of the choir immortal and an ex-author.  From now on, we would be free from the tyrannical father-figure of the author, looming over us and imposing meaning on a text; now at last we could read the writing which emerged as the author entered into his own death.  So far, so 1967.

And this old saw is still trotted out – I heard an A-level chief examiner say it without a trace of irony a little while ago, and Image, Music, Text is as indivisible from second-year reading lists as freshers’ flu is from late September – despite the problem of the author’s apparent resurrection in Foucault’s essay What is an author? of 1968.  Is he dead, or isn’t he?  Why won’t he just make his mind up?

For me as a reader of texts the author is a problematic figure, sometimes vivid in the fleshy details of a good biography, or sometimes hardly known at all: it remains a critical commonplace to comment archly on the volume of biographical material produced about Shakespeare being inversely proportional to what we actually know about his life. As teachers we continually tell our students not to attempt to infer biographical details from texts (as though Hamlet were a very extended diary entry, all in iambic pentameter), but to look rather to ‘context’ and how apparently universal moral sentiments are reflected in whatever work we happen to be reading.  Authors are steps on which we must fall down, or else o’erleap.

But now we have Twitter, and many millions of us publish bits of writing every day, everything from the most trivial banalities to the deepest secrets of our lives, and we, as writers, are there, caught up in our tweets.  Sometimes this is deliberate, but what is dangerous is when we think that we either have complete control over our online publications, or that once published, we, the author, die when we close the laptop.  We don’t.

by Mr Luke Hard

Obscured

So perhaps its time to rethink the author.  Yes, our tweets and Facebook statuses may be social performances, decentered constructs of language where ‘the author’ keeps slipping out of sight, but we, real people, are attached to them, and it’s worth thinking about where this leaves us, as our tweets and names trend their way around the world.

 

 

 

 

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