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! 

Falling Back in Love with the Library

I have a confession to make.

While I consider myself to be a major reader, up until about three weeks ago, I had not frequented a library in almost 2 years.

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Before you judge,I had a good reason (or at least I thought). Life was getting hectic and I have no impulse control. I was checking out 3 to 4 books at a time, only to get through about a quarter of one of them.

Then there came the hassle of remembering to take the damn things back days after their due-dates, scolding myself for  not being a more proactive reader, only to rinse and repeat forever and ever until the end of time.

Eventually, I stopped going altogether.

I would buy my books from now on, I decided. Why would I subject myself to all these steps when I could just cut out the middle man? This way I could keep a book as long as I wanted, treat it in any condition I chose, and discard it at my leisure (or leave it to languish on my bookshelf until I die).

I had some good memories of the library. I recognized its importance not only to readers, but the welfare of their respective communities at large.

But I was over it.

I had Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Half-Price Books, and any number of privately owned bookstores all with books that I could have all to myself.

It wasn’t until the Christmas season encroached that I considered frequenting the old haunts. My desire for reading had not been hampered, but my pocketbook–after buying present upon present for immediate family, in-laws, friends, this Dirty Santa and that Dirty Santa–was crying.

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Actual footage of my wallet after Christmas shopping

And so I went.

I had forgotten what it was like to step into a library.

From the get-go there are just rows upon rows of titles calling out for your attention. Old books, new books, classics, commercial fiction, biographies and histories. There are endless possibilities.

And the best part is you get to enjoy them for free.

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While this sounds like a small consolation, it really adds up. Not only are you able to indulge in your habit, you are free to explore other genres. When you are expected to pay for something it is easy to become miserly. You aren’t sure if you’ll like something and so you tend to stick to what you know. How many of us have gone to restaurants only to order the same meal every time for fear of not liking the newer option?

However, if there is no penalty for branching out, you are more likely to give something new a chance. Even if it isn’t something you would normally chose.

This allows you to discover even more writers and stories and broaden your perspective on whatever subject you choose.

To me this is one of the greatest gifts a library gives: A chance to explore.

As of this writing, I have about four books checked out and I hope to read every one of them.

Happy Holidays!

Unpopular Opinion: Peter Rabbit and the Food Allergy Controversy

Disclaimer: I have not seen, nor do I plan on seeing Peter Rabbit. My opinions are entirely based off of information I obtained from reading articles online detailing the scene and it’s execution (no pun intended). If you have seen the movie yourself and would care to share your opinion on how this particular instance was portrayed in the article I have linked in this blog post, please feel free to do so and correct any misconceptions I may have. 

I never thought I would write about Sony’s ‘Peter Rabbit’ movie simply because nothing about it intrigues me. It seems like just another paltry cash-grab from the perpetually idea-starved Hollywood. The jokes are flat, the demeanors of the rabbits are nothing like their book counterparts, and it is doubtful the production team have any interest in giving the classic story the dignity it deserves.

And yet here I am writing about it, not in order to give my opinion on the film itself as I still have no desire to watch James Corden and his ilk leave rabbit pellets on my childhood, but to give my two cents on the latest controversy.

Yep, that’s right.

A movie about Peter frigging Rabbit has a controversy. 

One revolving around a scene that transpired between the bunnies and Mr. McGregor.

“A human character named Tom McGregor is allergic to blackberries. In a quest to gain access to his garden, rabbits pelt him with fruits and vegetables before using a slingshot to send a blackberry flying into his mouth. It works. Mr. McGregor struggles to inject himself with an EpiPen and then has anaphalaxis and collapses”

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And, for once, I can sort of get behind the whole outrage machine. I should likely reserve judgement until I’ve seen the film myself,  however from what I’ve read it seems pretty clear.

Peter Rabbit is a a goddamn psychopath.

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He essentially tried to murder a man onscreen.

Of course people are angry about this. It makes complete sense why so many would want to see this pulled out of cinemas. If I was a parent, I-

“I’m pretty sure Beatrix Potter will be turning in her grave about now,” Ms. Rose, who lives outside Guildford in Surrey, England, said in an interview on Facebook Messenger. “Allergies are often not taken seriously enough anyway. To have them trivialized on the big screen by such a popular character is immensely disappointing.”

….Wait…what?

Mr. Mendez said in an open letter to the moviemakers that they should not mock food allergies, which are often life-threatening.

“Making light of this condition hurts our members because it encourages the public not to take the risk of allergic reactions seriously, and this cavalier attitude may make them act in ways that could put an allergic person in danger,” it said.

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So let me get this straight….people aren’t angry that a beloved bunny from a timeless classic tried to commit homicide to raucous applause by his peers. They are mad because it trivializes food allergies…..

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THAT is what you took from that scene? Not the fact that it grotesquely depicts a man’s air passages slowly constricting until he collapses from lack of oxygen and is presumed dead?

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The would-be murderer in question

An adorable bunny in a blue waistcoat with an English accent attempted first-degree murder in a kid’s film and it’s portrayed as a joke! Get some perspective!

Would you feel better if he’d used a garden hoe to decapitate McGregor, or would that be offensive to the children of impoverished farmers?

Seriously, it doesn’t surprise me so much what offends people so much as why it offends them.

People being white middle-class women with a “can I speak to your manager?” haircut.

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I understand food allergies should be taken seriously and to be complacent with a sufferer’s diet could have disastrous consequences. Nonetheless, the way these women carry on about people with food allergies make it sound like they’re some sort of protected class that has endured centuries of persecution.

Was there a food allergy holocaust I wasn’t aware of?

Were children with food allergies sent to do slave labor in peanut butter factories until they swelled up like Viola Beaugarde?

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I realize I’m being flippant here, but it just fascinates me that people can stray so far from the point. They have something they could be justified in having a problem with, and they focus more on the method in which the attempted murder was carried out than the fact that a murder was attempted at all.

Or at the very least they could make an argument that what he did was very mean-spirited and shouldn’t be praised as being funny. That line of thinking actually makes sense and argues that it’s teaching kids to be dicks to one another. At least that’s a somewhat reasonable claim.

But nope, it’s aaaaall about the food.

There’s even a hashtag circulating meant to bring awareness to food allergies as a result of this film.

Look, we get it. Food allergies are serious. But not everything needs an awareness campaign.

Yes, they made light of something horrible and I would argue that it may have been misplaced in a kid’s film.

However, if you’re that worried about it, I don’t know, maybe talk to your children about it instead of getting into fights with random strangers on the internet.

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At the end of the day, it’s just another pointless cog (or hashtag) in the outrage machine. We can only pray that this movie scandal, like many before it, will be quickly overlooked in favor of another overblown whine-fest courtesy of the maternal internet users of the Western World.

Article: Sony Apologizes for ‘Peter Rabbit’ Movie’s Allergy Scene by Jacey Fortin