The author is undead | Arts & Culture


One of the biggest literary debates is whether the author is dead or not. The argument centers on the idea that a writer’s intentions for their work are meaningless (or dead) in relation to a reader’s interpretation of them. Since the 1967 essay by Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author” – in which Barthes said: “To give a text an author is to impose a limit on this text” – the question of knowing to what point a creator should be attached to his work was high. Should an author’s intentions and prejudices matter when deconstructing a work?

The answer is yes, but no.

The wonderful thing about art is that the impact is in how the audience connects to it. Each individual experiences art through their own lens, and books are no exception. However, it can cause us to think of what an author has written as what we want to hear. Many works have very specific messages or meanings – those that are lost when a work is taken out of context.

A common example is Vladimer Nabokov’s “Lolita”: a crime thriller about the dangers of pedophiles that has gained wide acceptance as a romance novel. Many people regard the age gap between the two main characters as a romantic taboo, not a heinous crime. Nobrakov’s flowery writing is often used for aesthetic purposes, while the violent meaning behind it is negated. Vanity Fair even called it “the only compelling love story of our century”.

Distorting text in this way can be dangerous, but it is an extreme. There are other books that provide space for outside interpretation, but can still be misinterpreted. Chuck Palahniuk welcomed some versions of “Fight Club,” such as portraying the characters as queer, but adamantly lambasted others who portray the characters as role models. For others, we can only infer what an author may have tried to say. There is no concrete evidence as to what William Shakespeare wrote “Hamlet” about, so it’s up to the public to guess. Then there are books like “1984” by George Orwell, and no one seems to agree with this novel’s message.

So maybe it’s not about whether the intention of the author matters. It’s a question of how much.

Senior English teacher Dr Jenée Wilde with a focus on science fiction works a lot on this issue, especially when it comes to queer studies. Reading through a queer lens requires understanding how a reader’s interpretation can deviate from an author’s original intent, especially when it comes to literature that was not originally written for. be queer.

“It’s especially relevant in older literature where there wasn’t a lot of representation of queer people and queer life, and the ideas about it were very coded,” Wilde said. “We should therefore bring a different objective to read it against the grain of normative understanding. “

Of course, that doesn’t mean that normative understanding is wrong, or that queer reading overlooks context. It just means that looking through different lenses can help pick up different clues. Wilde continued, “I think both readings are valid, and all that’s really needed is that you provide enough reasoning and evidence verbatim to substantiate the read.”

Then there is the problem of a certain creator or problematic work – for example, if it turns out that an author has made racist remarks or that a reader realizes that a piece of Favorite literature contains less than favorable portrayals of women, an author can become problematic. and criticized in the public eye. In such situations, the line between author’s intention and reader’s interpretation may become even blurred. We may want to keep a certain piece of art, but we don’t want to be affiliated with the artist. The problem here is that someone’s artistic work is an extension of themselves; their prejudices and experiences are rooted in their creation. So even when we might have our own personal interpretations of these works, our meanings are still derived from that person’s views – problematic or not.

However, it is possible to have a personal relationship with a work and what it says while being critical of it – just as it is possible to read something differently from what it was intended for without losing the intended meaning. and original writing.

“It actually shows an individual’s more maturity and critical thinking skills when they are able to keep sympathetic and critical reads of a text intention with each other and not be too much of the fangirl. on one side or the hypercritical activist on the other side, ”Wilde said. They explained that one or the other direction inevitably loses something; the fangirl loses critical thinking and the hypercritical activist loses the art. The key to avoiding this is to approach the works with nuance.

The author is therefore undead. Their intentions should not be taken from their work, but their literature should not be limited to their experiences alone. There is room to read the books differently than expected without distorting the messages, just as there is room to be critical and understanding. It all depends on how the focus of a reader merges with that of an author.

“It’s communication; it’s not a one-way street, ”said Wilde. “We apply ourselves to art as much as it gives us meaning. “


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