Schrödinger’s Author: Is the Writer Dead or Not?

 

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For quite a while now I’ve wanted to write a post about Roland Barthes’ The Death of The Author theory, but I’ve been conflicted on where I stand on the subject.

While it is obvious that a writer’s experiences, biases, and other factors greatly shape a writer’s work, I also believe that it is essential to divorce a writer from their written material.

My reasoning for this is manifold.

For one, if you don’t exercise this practice, you are going to miss out on a lot of good writing. 

This isn’t always the case, of course. I believe talented authors can often be quite charming people. Nevertheless, like is the case with many professions, the ones that are truly phenomenal aren’t always the most humble.

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This goes double for authors of yesteryear who undoubtedly hold (by today’s standards) a whole host of problematic opinions. There are some who believe we should remove books from school curriculum or from the cultural sphere because the person who wrote them is a bigot.

It’s a nice thought that we can wave a magic wand and eradicate all harmful figures and their influence from our past, but in actual execution this isn’t a realistic feat.

If we rid ourselves of every invention, scientific formula, or book, etc because the person who created them suffered from some moral failing, we would all still be painting cave walls by campfire.

The simple truth is that sometimes bad people can create great works of art and sometimes its necessary to concentrate on the product and not necessarily the person who made it.

There is also the issue of gate-keeping that has become prevalent in today’s literary circles. It would seem that writers are being barred from writing about certain topics and creating characters of different races, sexes, or religions simply because the writer isn’t a member of these groups. Or, if they are a member of these groups, they aren’t x enough to be talking about said groups.

While I’m all for encouraging writers of different backgrounds writing about their own experiences being a part of a traditionally marginalized group, I don’t believe shaming people for writing about people and cultures outside their own is going to lead to a positive outcome.

I’m also sure everyone is aware of the new trend amongst author’s to-erhm- “improve” their work by adding unsolicited tidbits that were not in their books in order to make them look more progressive.

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Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.

By killing the author, we don’t have to take these things into account because the author is dead.

However, there is another side of this coin. 

In 2017 Poet Sara Holbrook decided to take a standardized test for middle-schoolers and found herself unable to answer certain questions….about her own poetry.

Apparently one of the questions didn’t even have the correct answer as an option. The test asked why she, Holbrook, chose to write the poem in two stanzas. The reason, Holbrook explained, was because she is a performance poet.

The breaks in the poem were placed there so she could take a breath.

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So does The Death of the Author theory apply here? Is she allowed to call this interpretation of her work b.s?

If you ask me, she is.

She is pointing out the issue with implying authorial intent that doesn’t exist, something I have long argued against. Sometimes the curtains are blue because the author wants to convey sadness, but sometimes the curtains are blue because….they are blue.

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After reading this article, I was forced to confront my previous stance on whether or not a writer’s intention should factor in to the interpretation of their work.

I like the idea of readers being able to derive their own meanings from stories, but occasionally they get what the writer meant so fantastically wrong it seems as though the author has no alternative but to step in and say “no, that’s totally not what I meant, you  idiot.”

Where does that leave us?

I’ve given it quite a bit of thought and I propose a compromise: Authors may give context to their work, expanding on themes and metaphors that may or may not be self-evident within the text….

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if an event did not explicitly take place in the novel (or supplemental materials such as prequels and short-stories within this universe), the event is not cannon. The same can be said for character attributes or relationships.

Think of the work of fiction as a painting in a museum. The artist is allowed to commentate on what they were trying to achieve with the piece. They are not permitted, however, to remove the painting from the wall and begin painting over it, adding bits that were not there before. They can only address what is there and the meaning behind it.

If the author says the character was LGBTQ but gives no evidence to this in the books– Not cannon. 

If the author says the main characters all died in the end but left the book on a cliff-hanger—Not cannon.

If the author says the zombies in the book were meant to represent the impending threat of climate change–Cannon.

If the author says the main character’s killing of the villain was a symbolic representation of them killing a part of themselves–Cannon.

Overall, I still believe it is more important to look at the story itself than it is the author that wrote it, but I realize it’s a much more complicated subject than I previously anticipated when first writing this post.

That being said, I’m interested in hearing about what you guys think.

Thanks for reading! 

My Emotionally Abusive Relationship with Daphne Du Maurier

I can say with unshakeable certainty that Rebecca is one of the best horror novels I’ve ever read. It wasn’t an action-packed gore-fest like many books of the same genre, but in my mind that’s what makes it one of the greats.

It’s a British novel positively dripping with atmosphere and dramatic tension with an excellent pay-off.

It’s for this reason that I’ve found many other of Du Maurier’s works to be…less than stellar.

After reading Rebecca, I thought I had discovered an unsung hero of classic literature. Why had I gone so many years without knowing who Daphne Du Maurier is? Why had I been deprived of knowing her name?

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I looked farther into her works and rejoiced to find My Cousin Rachel, a novel that promised more atmospheric English countrysides, three-dimensional characters, an intriguing storyline and a gut-punch ending…..

Well, three out of four isn’t bad….

You see, the more you read Daphne Du Maurier, the more it seems that you run into this problem. The woman can write. She is a wonder at creating haunting environments, interesting characters and working up mysteries.

The problem is, more often than not, her endings tend to be woefully underwhelming. And when they aren’t, they’re just frigging weird.

One such example is Don’t Look Now wherein a couple that has just lost their child decide to go on holiday to Italy. While there they meet a pair of elderly twins, one of which purports to be psychic and prophesies doom for John, the main character. Well, the story keeps you on the tips of your toes in true Du Maurier fashion. Red-herring after red-herring is thrown at you, Then…the climax and……!

He’s murdered by a serial-killing midget…..

A serial….killing…midget….

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Kay, that was f*cking weird, but the next ones gotta be….!

Okay, guy is randomly murdered and random weird greek symbolism that doesn’t…really relate to the climax…

Okay, this next one will….! Okay, massive homophobia-

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In spite of the many times she’s disappointed me, I just can’t give up on her.

She’s just good enough at what she does that she is able to draw me in again and again. But those endings…man, those endings kill me. And not in a good way.

I just don’t understand how someone could have such a strong character and personality, only to demure when it matters the most. She makes all of these promises and she never keeps them. She beguiles me with gorgeous imagery and diction, only to leave me crumpled on the floor like a used tissue.

Why? Does she feel too much pressure to perform? Am I more invested than she is? Has she just moved on to bigger and better things?

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Why, Daphne? Why didn’t Rachel just kill Philip when she had the chance? It doesn’t make sense, Daphne.

I’m currently working on Jamaica Inn and I’m fretful that I’ll drudge through it and experience the same kind of disappointment again. But I’m just so curious….I have to know what happens.

Maybe this time will be different. Maybe she will have that jarring jump-out-of-your-pants ending I’ve been waiting for. I mean, it’s not like all her endings were that, bad right? Maybe I was being too hard on her. Perhaps I’m the one to blame for my high expectations.

I’ll give you another shot, Daphne.

I can’t quit you.

The Suspending of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”

I’ve read recently that Accomack County Public Schools are suspending To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for their usage of the N-word.

If you aren’t sure what I’m talking about, you can see for yourself in this exert from “Classic novels pulled from Accomack County Public Schools” :

Earlier this month, a parent voiced concerns to the school board about racial slurs in both of the novels.

“Right now, we are a nation divided as it is,” the mother is heard saying in an audio recording of the meeting on Nov. 15. She tells the board that her biracial son, a high school student, struggled getting through a page that was riddled with a racial slur.

“So what are we teaching our children? We’re validating that these words are acceptable, and they are not acceptable by any means,” the parent said.

Me:

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To those that have taken it upon themselves to suspend these novels, I have one question:

You have read these books, right?

The complaint seems to be that reading the N-word makes people feel uncomfortable. Well, here’s the thing: It’s supposed to.

You’re supposed to feel uncomfortable when you see someone being marginalized in these books. You’re supposed to feel indignant when a man who never did anything wrong is convicted for a crime just because he’s black. You’re supposed to feel angry, sad, sick, etc when you read the N-word.

Furthermore, just because a book has something in it, that doesn’t mean the book is in support of that thing.

For instance, The Dovekeepers has genocide in it. Does that mean it’s saying genocide is a good thing? OF COURSE NOT!!!

Tess of D’Urbervilles has rape in it. Is the author saying sexual assault is okay? NO!!

The entire point of both novels, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, is that racism is wrong. That it’s morally reprehensible. That no one should subscribe to this way of thinking.

It’s so glaringly obvious that I’m genuinely bewildered as to how anyone could possibly miss that.

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But it seems as if these people don’t want to look at the big picture. They simply want to obsess over details instead.

Apparently if you don’t read about racism, evaluate offensive language, or discuss why it’s wrong to make judgments about others based on skin color, our checkered past will magically go away and we’ll have always been an accepting society.

Who would have thought it?

Maybe we should ban The Diary of Anne Frank and other books about the Holocaust too because those kinds of books could teach people to be Anti-Semitic.

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Can you name one person, one solitary person, who was inspired to become a bigot by reading To Kill a Mockingbird? One single soul? Do you know anyone who has read this book and thought “huh, racism seems pretty cool, now that I think about it.”

I can see a true racist being indifferent to it or claiming it’s propaganda, but I cannot name anyone who has read To Kill a Mockingbird or Huck Finn and decided to become a member of the KKK.

If you have, send me a photograph of this person. I want to see them. I want to put them on Ripley’s Believe it Or Not. I want them to be poked and prodded by scientists in a laboratory because this sort of thing does not happen. 

I wonder if Harper Lee or Mark Twain ever thought that their books would one day be banned by people who are against racism.

Someone please resurrect Mark Twain so he can write another book about how stupid people are in the 21st Century. I would read it so fast I would tear through it like tissue paper.

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