Authorship


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by Alexis Hamann-Nazaroff

The readings from this week were a review for those of us who have already taken Professor Irivine’s “Cultural Hybridity” class, which went for a semester’s depth in to the concepts of intertextuality, diolgism and the Cultural Encyclopedia.  I am convinced of the power of this model, and the importance of seeing meaning making not as a process based in originality, but as one that is constituted largely as remix. In reviewing this material for today, I noticed a potential imperfection in the theories and I want to bring that up today.  Namely how do intertextuality theories understand the Author, and is their understanding of him/her problematic or contradictory?  If so, is there a better way to conceive of the role of the Author in meaning making?

I should start with the caveat that I am deep into the writing of my master’s thesis, struggling every day to clarify my thoughts on my topic, and this current endeavor may have biased me to be extra sympathetic to the role of the author in creation.

But wait, just by writing that caveat, and explaining my personal biases I illustrated one of the contradictions in the understanding of the Author in intertextuality theory.  I, writing about this theory, deemed a bit of my biography to be important enough to this text to include it as an excuse for something.  This suggests an importance of the individual author to the meaning of the text, in contrast to the way intertextuality often downplays the author.

Here are some ways the theorist we read for today characterized authorship:

–   Barthes critiqued how authors are often metaphorically envisioned as “fathers” of their texts.  Barthes believes a better way of conceptualizing it is: “It is not that the Author may not ‘come back’ in the Text, in his text, but he then does so as a ‘guest’” (Barthes 161).  If I understand his meaning correctly the Author as guest, isn’t really that different a position than any reader of the text, who is also kind of a guest to the work.  (Barthes even has a chapter titled “Death of the Author”)

–   Kristeva also conceptualizes the author evenly with the reader.  She has them on two ends of the same axis, the horizontal axis, in her image of the meaning of a text.

–   Chandler points out the historic truth that: “The ideology of individualism (with its associated concepts of authorial ‘originality’, ‘creativity’ and ‘expressiveness’) is a post-Renaissance legacy which reached its peak in Romanticism but which still dominates popular discourse.”

The above quotes suggest that the author is unimportant.  This strikes my instincts as an incomplete conceptualization.  The author has a more important role for the text than just an average reader, or why would it make sense for me to include reflection on my personal biases in my argument?  My favorite book in the world is the memoir/journey of discovery book Moby Duck.  One could write a whole tomb on how this book is hybrid and intertextual, starting with its punny title, but the point I want to make here is that the reason it is my favorite book is that I love the way it balances deeply autobiographical reflection with environmental and oceanographic issues.  No one could have written this particular book except its author, Donovan Hohn.  The author is important.

The best argument for the importance of the Author to meaning of the text is brought up by Gunhild Agger, when he rather cheekily points out the irony that Bakhtin scholars are obsessed with arguing whether or not Voloshinov and Medvedev are in fact pen-names for Bakhtin.  The vociferousness of the debate suggests that the answer matters.  And even in our class, Professor Irvine’s syllabus is linked by author.  We talk about “Pierce’s model” or “channeling McLuhan”, all terms that originate in authorship.  At the very least, authorship is the current most effective way to label and organize intellectual material.

Both Barthes and Chandler downplay the role of the author, but Chandler also quotes Barthes in what I think is a potentially powerful reconceptualization of authorship.  The author, in this quote is “orchestrator of text already written” (Chandler).  The vision of an author conducting an orchestra –molding the perfect musical experience out of the already-there instruments, the already-there musicians and the already-there musical score, comes to my mind.  I would argue that this contradicts the idea of the author’s unimportance, or the “death of the author”.  Even as an orchestrator, the author is hugely important.  We should not confuse the fact that an author is not inventing his/her words out of thin air with the thought that he/she does not contribute an important aspect of, and a large amount of the meaning to the text.