The Author is Dead

Ven ven at
Sun Jun 24 21:38:57 EDT 2001

Kyra wrote

> >   Hmm. . . what about criticism of nonfiction?  Does the author fit in
> >at all with nonfiction, or is the situation no different than with
> >fiction?

Melissa replied
I don't know how that works for the critical community.  Good 
question.  I'm
> always *very* concerned about knowing about the author of a nonfiction book,
> because it goes to I said about Sutherland writing about
> Thackeray, I want to know if the author is writing from a particularly
> biased viewpoint.  I think there's a case to be made for needing this same
> information about a fiction writer, though...hmmm.

An important bit of context I should have put in for the Sutherland 
quote is that it came from the Penguin classic edition of Armadale, 
so you would expect it to be a decent bit of scholarship. 

> Here's what I think (entering Private Heresyland): Any fiction is about a
> world that isn't the same as the one I live in.  Even if it's not
> speculative fiction.  This is just the way I perceive it--however deeply
> immersed I am in a book, it's still some other world.  In fact, I think of
> "getting into" a book as though I'm stepping through a door to another
> world.
> Nonfiction, however, is always about *my* world.  So if an author says
> something that doesn't match up with my experience, I'm not going to let it
> slide without checking up on the source.
> Now, if you think of fiction as representing *our* world, then wanting the
> same information about the writer and his past and his other writings and
> beliefs makes a lot of sense.

That's not exactly how I do see it ............ I wrote earlier that fiction 
writing works a transformation on the real world. I'm just fascinated 
by how that transformation works. Ages ago I wrote about a talk I 
saw given by Joe Haldeman and Samuel R Delany in which they 
were talking about  how their fiction (any fiction?) was a palimsest 
of the real and the imagined. A particualrly vivid example was that 
when Haldeman writes about the feeling of accidentally putting 
one's hand on a putrefying corpse he's using his Vietnam 
memories, he really knows what that feels like; Delany doesn't so if 
he needs to write such an incident he will extrapolate from 
something he does know like the way a rotting melon feels. So, to 
recap, my interest in background material on an author is an 
interest in the alchemy that turns it into story.

Kyra (who wasn't imo being naive at all) 
> >   Hopefully these questions aren't too naive - but you've been
> >sufficiently clear as to spur some interest!
> I don't think they're naive at all.  And I'm glad I'm being clear.  I'm
> starting to feel awfully exposed because I'm sounding like some kind of
> expert, which I really am not.  Critical theory changes just like any other
> discipline, and I'm worried that what I'm talking about makes me sound the
> literary equivalent of a physicist explaining the ether.

I've been feeling exposed too,  and wondering if I sound naive! But 
I've been enjoying all this tremendously. I've finished Sense and 
Sensibility now and I'm working on my book report, it has changed 
my mind a bit but not entirely.

"Any reader has the right to say of any text: "But I didn't think it was that good."

Samuel R Delany
To unsubscribe, email dwj-request at with the body "unsubscribe".
Visit the archives at

More information about the Dwj mailing list