The Author Is Dead (was Re: Jane Austen was a lot of re that I snipped off)

Hallie O'Donovan hallieod at
Fri Jun 22 17:39:43 EDT 2001

>  >I can't ignore
>  >what I know of the author and the origin of a book. And I can't stop
>>being interested either.  Speculations and sometimes judgements
>>about where an author is coming from are very much part of this
>>reader's experience.
>I think we will just have to disagree about this.  It sounds to me like you
>are interested as much in the history of a book (by which I mean all the
>elements leading to its creation, including the author's life) as in the
>book itself.  My reading of a text may include facts I know about the
>author, but it doesn't go the other way.  Most authors are people I will
>never know except through their books, and those books offer a very limited
>definition of who their authors are.  Because I have this sense of them as
>real people, I am very reluctant to judge them based solely on what I get
>out of their books--or even what other critics have said about them.
>>This is becoming about what it is and isn't right to comment on in 
>I'm torn between believing everyone can read texts any way they want, and
>disagreeing about what makes good Criticism (I was going to say "the
>official sort" of criticism, but Philip would hate that word).  I'm also
>torn between my ideas of what's right and my knowledge of what professional
>literary critics think is right.  So, sure, you can comment on anything in
>any way, but in some instances you're going to have people challenging not
>only your conclusions but your methodology--because that's part of criticism
>>   As I said above I had trouble with seeing why I
>>shouldn't criticise the way an author had written something.
>That answer depends on who is telling you what's right and wrong.  In
>school, you're not supposed to do it that way because that's not what they
>grade you on.  In the critical community, it's because that way is Wrong
>(actually just outmoded, because critical ideas keep changing, but try
>telling that to a professional critic).  In talking to other people--you can
>do it anyway you like.  I'm just going to keep disagreeing with you.  :)

Or you (Ven) could come study Literature in the Open University. :) 
Just to make a hugely rash assumption about character based on your 
writings here, I think you might enjoy it just as much as I am.  It 
may be outmoded, quite possibly we're not even learning literary 
criticism at all, but I'm not worried.  We're studying literature, 
it's fascinating, I'm learning a lot, so it works for me.  (It helps 
that our tutor is great - just last month she said that Byron was 
most likely a pig. ;))

Oddly enough, we just had a reference to Barthes and his writing 
about "the death of the author".  We didn't have to read the 
original, thankfully, as we had his article on the realist effect, 
which I found pretty tough going!  Anyway, the point made here was 
the balancing act necessary between "considering the context of the 
writing and the circumstances of the author's life, while allowing 
for the integrity of each literary text in and of itself."  Later, 
when studying _The Colour Purple_, Walker's analogy of writing and 
quilting was used for studying texts.  So the study of a text in 
context will use and piece together what other critics and scholars 
have written about the work, and the words of the author as well, if 
he/she has written about the work.  I liked it, anyway.

The judgment issue is possibly related.  I'm not trying to speak for 
Ven on this, but when I say that I'd sometimes use things outside a 
text to make judgments about the author, I don't necessarily mean 
that in the sense of "good person/bad person" judgment.  But I *do* 
make judgments about where the author is coming from, as Ven put it. 
Isn't that part of what makes up the decision of whether an author is 
or is not a favourite for most people?  Of course we've all made the 
decision that DWJ is a wonderful writer (whatever that might mean), 
but surely the perception that where she's coming from works for us 
is equally important.  And some of the things she's written apart 
from her books, or said in interviews contribute to that sense of 
where she's coming from.  Similarly with Connie Willis.  Just to go 
even further out on a limb (might as well be hung for a sheep as a 
lamb), with Philip Pullman the sense of where he's coming from - 
partly derived from things outside his books - acts against my 
perception of his abilities as a writer.  This isn't anything like a 
judgment of his worth as a person, but it is a judgment.


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