Modern Day Struggles with “Death of The Author”

At some point, this story just started writing itself!

Every writer ever

In 1967, literary critic Roland Barthes wrote an essay in his native French language on the concept of separating text from that whoever it was that penned it. He dubbed it Death of The Author, looking to create a more objective study of written work itself without any bias on the author themselves.

Is the author volatile but they produce beautiful poems? Did a college dropout pen the next fantasy epic worthy of scholarly analysis? According to Barthes, both are simply examples of exemplary work, how they came to be don’t factor into their literary merits.

It’s an interesting viewpoint, one that so many others have meditated on and written better pieces about. So, why is this on my mind? The open letter that many well-known writers signed, ‘A Letter on Justice and Open Debate,’ published July 7th, brought it to the forefront for me. Most notably, JK Rowling signed this amidst being criticized for her anti-trans viewpoint that recently came to light. Many took this as Rowling looking to protect her work and opinions under this general defense of open debate.

I didn’t take part in the online discussion about this. Instead, it made me reflect on those who I personally look up to, and the ways in which I’ve ignored their obvious shortcomings because of the art they produced. Even throughout this very blog over the last few years, I’ve thrown credit toward Lovecraft and Orson Scott Card, who both have discriminated against certain minorities.

I have to say, it is becoming harder and harder to ignore this. It can be disheartening, especially if any of their pieces have deeply informed your own style!

The internet has allowed for this information to be so much more readily available. There’s no real way to call ignorance anymore as every successful writer has interviews, articles, and even their own Social Media pages online. These digital footprints build brands much more effectively than just traditional novel jackets and ads.

Take Etsy for example: virtually every vendor on there describes their personal journey or background when selling products. They understand the importance this has on whether a customer buys their seashell necklace, or if they buy from the other vendor one click down.

When it comes to classic writers, defensive arguments lean toward them being a product of their time, and they need some leeway. “Everyone was racist!” Well, asbestos was lauded before being labelled a carcinogen so, while it is still an effective insulator, the modern world has retired it.

For living writers that have problematic reputations, there is much less forgiveness. They live in this global climate, and know how their words can potentially discriminate against certain groups. This is especially so for those who have large fans bases as they can leverage their status to continue pushing their viewpoints, usually under the guise of free speech.

But, is every text created by a problematic writer an issue? For that, you’d have to really dive into their ‘authorial intent’ – a topic large enough on its own to save for a future post. This can only truly be judged through the eyes of the reader and their own viewpoint. Literature is never objective. Every prose is written with an intent to elicit emotion on some level so there will always be a level of interpretation.

What about my own writing? Would I want it to stand completely on its own, or would I want readers to feel my influence through every piece? For me, propelling what few stories I do have published forward with social media and this blog is worth it. This allows anyone who connects with them to find more. Making the decision to conduct myself in this way stripped away any ability to separate myself from my stories. I suppose I’ll have to keep scandals to a minimum from now on.

I know I’m not laying down too many firm arguments here… okay, maybe, “don’t use your celebrity platform to spread hate.” That one is easy. Other than that, I’m just sharing where my own head is at in the ongoing confusion around where the separation is between text and authors. Feel free to consider the same and let me know where you’re at with it all!

Keep turning the page,

Chris

2 thoughts on “Modern Day Struggles with “Death of The Author”

  1. Great post! I’ve always loved being creative, but I’m also a fairly private person. One thing that initially drew me to writing was that separation between author and text. But I’m trying to embrace the change and open up and connect more. And I’m trying to be more mindful of what I’m putting out into the world. I’ve accepted I will likely reveal my own ignorance at some point, but I’m determined to make it a learning opportunity. I just hope I can learn gracefully.

    1. Thanks for reading, Chelsea! I really appreciate it, you bring up some valuable points. It takes courage to see the ignorance which may reveal itself because nobody likes being wrong. You only make yourself a better person by exercising some introspection. I’m pretty guarded myself most days but also working on being more revealing and connecting more with others online.

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