On authorship

Is the author and what they have authored one and the same? In the recent past, a columnist that I follow religiously on a Sunday paper quipped on how people who meet her in person are often left disappointed. While on paper, her column is ‘lit’ and she comes out as funny and witty, in person, she is reserved, shy even. Hence the reason she leaves her fans disappointed as they expect her to be a stand-up comedian. Then followed feedback from her readers on how they too had met other writers only to be left feeling underwhelmed as the writers did not meet the readers (perhaps romanticised) expectations.

And for this reason, there is a school of thought that subscribes to the concept of ‘the death of the author.’ The long and short of it as per the 1967 essay, The Death of the Author, by Roland Barthes is that writing and the creator are unrelated. Which follows that literary criticism should focus on the written word as a stand-alone piece of work. As such, the author’s religion, political ideology, economic circumstances and so on, should not be the lenses through which their work is judged or meaning derived from it.

Conversely, the onus of interpreting and reinterpreting the writing on a second or nth reading lies with the reader. As no two readers are exactly the same – including Siamese twins – different meanings or interpretations can be derived from the same literature. Which lends credence to the urban legend of that writer who sat an exam based on his literature piece and failed. The question asked was: What is the intent of the author?

Yet, there is another school of thought (and others that lie in between) that has resurrected the author. This school of thought argues that you cannot divorce the writer from whatever it is that they create. That whatever or whenever the author creates, they bring little bits of themselves into their writing. Of course, this is a double-edged sword as such argument makes the author susceptible to attacks on their character – ad hominem – as the reader cannot then divorce the idea presented by the author from the person of the author.

Me thinks that both schools of thoughts are right, truth being relative and all that and having worn the hats of an author and of a reader. In writing, there are countless times I have based a piece of literature on personal experiences – bringing little bits of me, so to speak, for the enjoyment and critique of the reader. Plus, the inevitable bias even when not writing from personal and which is bound to colour my writing. Is the reader then right to cast aspersions on my character in moments like these? You be the judge. Then again, as a reader, there are time I have judged the person of the writer; perhaps, they used an offensive tone. Generally, though, if the writer is lucid in his argument, I tend to divorce them from their writing. Your take?