authorial displacements

Honestly speaking, I am not deeply immersed in the theoretical approaches to literature. I believe this course would be the illumination to the better understanding of literary works and texts and how many theoretical agents of literature intersect, interact, and counteract in the better understanding of the texts through different perspectives.

Perhaps the utmost purpose of theory in itself is to provide different angles to any given text, or to penetrate the text hidden in a work. It opens what is seemingly a closed object and provide different ways of viewing it — like how a statue as a work in itself cannot only be viewed through its front part, it’s sides, or its back. You have to view it as a whole but you need to see it through another lens: to provide more critical angles rather than the physical angles present in such object.

The difference between work and text is best exemplified by Barthes in his literary discourse, “From Work to Text”. Over the years, I have equated these two terms without any knowledge that both concepts are different from one another as the work is simply a final output while a text is an infinite array of plans on building an output. Perhaps, a text is in itself is what you demonstrate or what you show; while a work is what you display or what you tell. In my creative writing class, we are writing creative nonfiction which is an embodiment of our own creative process – the clustering of our ideas; the continuous flow of our consciousness; and the moments of remembering and forgetting memories. If we write our imagination as a form of telling, we are just sharing something that is similar to others. As humans, we are unique with each others and possibly (I hope) we are bound to be unique in the combination of our imagination, our consciousness, our thoughts and ideas, and our experiences and memories. By means of showing what happened (or showing what you want to express), you create something that is unique to you; you enable your readers experience something that they have never experienced before–the experience of being you.

Based on my previous articulations, it is important to note that there is an author — there is the ‘me’ imparting something to others. However, the concept of the “author” is contested by theorists concluding that while there is an author, the author is merely a label–he created only a work and died to transform the work into a text. The author is then just a figure that molded a clay into a masterpiece; or a mechanical inventor who collected scraps and junks washed ashore by a random shipwreck eventually transformed those remains into a new scientific technology. 

In his essay, “The Death of the Author”, Barthes emphasized that the author does not speak through his work, but rather it is the language who is the main speaker. After all, whenever we read something, we assign a unique voice reading the language as if it is our consciousness speaking to us. If we let the author speak to us rather than the language, then we are deterred from making our own voice and interpretations of the texts, and the text becomes an object–a work, where the author is the supreme figure and authority. And so, in order for us readers to interpret the work and transform it into a text, there is a need for us to perform a murder–that is, to kill the author.

While Barthes enjoy his notorious genocide of the author, Foucault expresses his sentiments about the author and articulated the role of the author or rather, the definition of this so-called “author.” Primarily, it is hard to detach an author from his work. For example, we would trust more a Science book written by a highly educated person with a Ph.D. in Science Education rather than a Science book written by an unknown human being without any record of being employed in the academic field, or even a record of studying in any recognized institutions of learning. Given these two books, if the authors will be stripped from them, it would be hard for us to fixate our trust; whether we would trust the Science Book A or Science Book B. Even the popular books are already etched with the phrases, “by the award-winning author of insert-a-very-memorable-title-here” or sometimes the name of the author is even bigger than the title. And many of us our victims of this authorial reverence that whenever the bandwagon canonizes this “author” as someone great or his work titillated the resting fangirls or fanboys inside the people, other people would also read the said work and read all his other works. The author is then rendered as a means of classifying something whether a work is good or bad.

Foucault further articulated that there were times the author’s name does not play a role and it does not need to affect the interpretation of texts because even in the antiquity, people have already revered works without any authors clinging to them. Until now, we render different world literary masterpieces of the world as something exemplary without an author, for example Beowulf and the Epic of Gilgamesh. However, modern literary discourses were acceptable only if it carried an author’s name because it is a symbol for authenticity that we would read Foucault’s essay of “What is an Author” rather than reading my version of “What is an Author” because the former has already endured different critiques recognizing the work as exemplary, together with the author. 

The author as the writer of the work cannot be displayed because the author wrote something for a reason whether it should affect someone or not. Foucault articulated the signs present in a given text that would refer to the author, just as how someone could immediately notice if a work is plagiarized or not because of the inconsistency resting on the play of language. 

The text itself may refer back to the author, but Wimsatt and Beardsly strongly enforces the theory that the author should not be the basis on how someone appreciates a work. Thus, the string that connects the text and the author must be severed and the text should be interpreted whether it is effective or not. The critic should nullify any thinking that an author has an intention for writing something. The critic (or the reader) should blind-read the work and duly transform it into a text by critiquing it through its content and not because there is the connection of the author to the text. For example, an author lost her virginity at the age of thirteen (13) and she wants to express all the emotions and feelings instigated by such event. Instead of writing a nonfiction, she would fictionalize the story and change the names of the people and places. There will be a time that critics would ask if it is related to the author and so. And by the critics’ understanding that the work is contextualized in that author’s life, the story is more appreciated because there is this medium that the author has effectively performed. However, Wimsatt and Beardsley emphasizes that a text must be freed from the author and purge the ownership-authorship so that the work will be judged as it is, just as how a poem must not mean but be, a text should be the same as well.

If the pair of theorists attacked the confusion between the work and its origins, they have also ventured into attacking the confusion between the work and its results. We should not judge a work based on the effects that it was able to bring to us, or critic a work because of its suggestions that would seem be inappropriate for you. Just as how they want to correct any intentional fallacies, they also wanted to correct any affective fallacies that a work or a text may inflict to its readers. For example, I have watched this Japanese movie whose title I cannot remember. To be honest, I was able to be moved by this film and I really cried–because I was able to be part of the film as the protagonist and feel all the sadness and depressions incurred by the main character. I judged the work as excellent and I was actually blinded by its horrible content. I was only able to realize my true criticism of the film a day after that the scenes were too cliche; the acting is very horrible; and the film perhaps desired to suck tears from my eyes (and continuously tries to suck it until my tear ducts are apparently withered and dried). It is because I have critiqued the film because of its ability to move me, not because I have critiqued the film as itself. 

Though these theorists rendered a lot of time and effort in critiquing the faults and errors committed by people nowadays–the incorporation of the author and the affective fallacies, it is hard to void these errors in this contemporary era because we have already regarded the “author” as a supreme figure that serves as a bibliographic classification of great works, and we continuously try to contextualize any work based on the author’s personal experiences and the author’s milieu. However erroneous our perceptions of criticism may be, we must always critique any given work as a text and to emancipate ourselves with the authorial, intentional, and affective ideologies that would deter us from appreciating the true value of a given text.

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3 thoughts on “authorial displacements

  1. al-Ghazali also commented that to affirm something as true because of the person who told it is foolishness — now do I believe that because a great imam and polymath said it or because it is true?

    • That is a nice and interesting point which is leading to some kind of paradox.
      We would always trust more the people of the canon or those who have been revered over the ages. Considering the great background of al-Ghazali as someone from the pre-modern (11th century) and his legacy continues to be carried (I suppose) will be enough to trust him. His statement lies in the categories of logic and ethics. In my case, I might believe al-Ghazali because while his statement is attached to him, the statement can also be generalized and affirmed based also on what you believe. First, I will believe him because what he said is true, in my perspective. Second, I will ground his statement as a form of theory considering his name is attached to the statement. Considering his name is removed away from the statement, I think it’s still true and whoever we attach to that statement will follow, but we do not render it true because of the name, but because we find its validity accurate as a sort of general truth.

  2. Too easily my words could suggest a false dichotomy — you rightly bring up what I will call reputation. I find that a reputation is often misleading — to understand the truth of a person requires offering the chance of a shared context — even within a series of readings. We must offer a chance to read the other fairly, to misunderstand well if I may [to use my terms which are pregnant with my meanings in a cautious manner so that they may take on shared meanings in describing your concepts].

    Misquotations (or specifically wrongful attributions) creep in to lend a strong person to certain thoughts we want to espouse. This happens with the Founding Fathers as well as with popular authors — the truth is not lost for failing to locate the proper personal context [for how much can we state that an author is a unity?] — but there is something sinister about it. We like knowing where the body is to be located and so scholars argue ad nauseam concerning textual attributions, whether in Scriptures (or Isnad in the case of Islamic interpretations) or less serious contexts. In the end, it probably matters who said it in proportion to how much the authority of the author rests in her/his identity.

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