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26 April 2009

The birth of the author

More thoughts about Roland Barthes, who's probably best known for the concept of the 'death of the author'. It's linked to the lisible/scriptible comparison seen in S/Z, in that the author of a modern work isn't the same controlling presence that Balzac, or closer to home Dickens, was. It's more than that, though, it suggests that the text is produced by language through the author, and then assembled by the reader.

Foucault asked "What is an author?", and described an author function, which means that Shakespeare the author is not the same as Shakespeare the man. So that it's logically possible to ask "Was Bacon Shakespeare?". Shakespeare the author is largely defined by the work, so that William Shakespeare's will, for example, or T S Eliot's note to the milkman, are not the work of Shakespeare or Eliot the author. It's kind of obvious once you think about it. But I think there's a historical shift, and the concept of an author has grown. Largely, perhaps, because of increasing protection of intellectual rights. When a novel was published as being by "A Lady", the readers had no idea of an author, but probably had some idea of what to expect, in the same way that one knows what to expect from a "Mills and Boon". This affects the way writers write. They are conscious that a poem, for example, is part of an oeuvre. It means that individual poems can rely on the reader's knowledge of the work, and can therefore be harder to understand.

James Joyce had to turn up in this blog sooner or later, and his stories and novels build on those that have gone before. Ulysses is never going to be easy to understand, but it's easier if you've read Portrait.

The Cantos is an extreme example. You need to know all Ez's work to understand any of it.

Anyway, this is a preliminary note. It's something I'll be coming back to.

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