Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Author Function and the Author's Work

Various lines from wikipedia outlining Barthes' thoughts on the Death of the Author and Foucault's concept of the Author Function:

In ["The Death of the Author"], Barthes criticizes the method of reading and criticism that relies on aspects of the author's identity — his or her political views, historical context, religion, ethnicity, psychology, or other biographical or personal attributes — to distill meaning from the author's work. In this type of criticism, the experiences and biases of the author serve as a definitive "explanation" of the text. For Barthes, this method of reading may be apparently tidy and convenient but is actually sloppy and flawed:

"To give a text an Author" and assign a single, corresponding interpretation to it "is to impose a limit on that text."

In [his essay "The Author Function"], Foucault posits that the legal system was central in the rise of the author, as an author was needed (in order to be punished) for making transgressive statements. This is made evident through the rise of the printing press during the time of the Reformation, when religious texts that circulated challenged the authority of the Catholic Church.

The author function does not affect all texts in the same way. For example, the author of a science text books is not clear or definable as the author of a well known novel. It is not a spontaneous creation or entity, but a carefully constructed social position.

Critics interested in pursuing such matters will be pleased to learn that Tally-Ho, Cornelius! is a good point of departure for an inquiry into the nature of authoriety, the deconstruction of the "author function," and the nature and genealogy of transgressive statements. Indeed, these issues form deliberate themes (and meta-themes) in the novel. Jerry Cornelius, which Mr. Moorcock created as a sort of "share ware" trademark everyman (see the wiki article on JC, here) has been utilized by many authors over the years. This shared control over the character is part of his meaning, which plays upon a range of Continental ontological theories ranging from Rousseau to Foucault, meanwhile bringing to bear an incredulous (some might say "flip") British skepticism that, when it's all mixed together, produces fascinating literary/philosophical effects, as well as some unusual comedy.

What I found rather curious as I composed the novel is that the humor reminded me a lot of the aesthetic I find in Hawthorne and Milton, and I think often the reader can tell (perhaps it seems more obvious to me) that the writer--that is "I"--was evidently deeply impressed when he--"I"--read Paradise Lost and The Scarlet Letter. Significant to me as a reader is how Tally-Ho, Cornelius! brought me into a greater appreciation for Milton's and Hawthorne's humor. Moreover, I think Hawthorne and Milton are more hilarious fellows than most critics are willing to admit. Along these lines, I think this is true also of Gurdjieff--who is a capital joker, though you wouldn't necessarily get this from reading the people who write about Gurdjief, whoever they are.

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