Thursday, July 06, 2006

Author and Creator

God, wrote Nietzsche, is dead.
The empty cathedrals of the world are his tombstones.
The Author, announced post-modernism, is dead.
The empty novels of the world are his graveyards.

Killing the creator has become quite a joyful occupation.

As Barthes put it: “writing is the destruction of every voice, of every point of origin. Writing is that neutral, composite, oblique space where our subject slips away, the negative where all identity is lost, starting with the very identity of the body writing”.
(Image-Music-Text, Collins, p,143).

Writing under this shadow becomes a corpse, a corpse to be animated, with jouissance. Criticism is necromancy. The hermetic text becomes the elixir whilst the “author” retreats to the prima materia, to earth, and is laid to rest.

Removing the author does have its advantages. It gets rid of the authorial tendency to spout about the creation: how good it is; what it is about: why it should be compared with other great writers. But murdering the author just to avoid these ego trips is rather severe. Common readers are not so easily fooled and taken in by vanity.

So what is the place of the author?

Enshrined within the idea of authorship is the idea of genius. Amazingly, the author is an individual who is supremely gifted and able to write at a level beyond the common human being. Our belief in this, however, has taken something of a battering. Some of the great paintings of the world were not painted by the Great Masters: the job of painting was delegated. Some of the finest realists did not draw their figures free-hand, they copied using light devices. Damian Hirst is an “artistic genius” though the donkey work of making becomes the employment of artisans. The maker does not have to make. But this is the art world. What about literature? Surely, old beliefs still exist here and the novel reflects its roots in “newness” and springs from the mind of a fresh and unique individual.

I remember once coming across an enthusiastic proof-reader who felt the need to refine my punctuation and argue for fewer “passive voice sentences”. That was possible to consider. (Microsoft Word has a similar problem with my writing!) I also recall that this was followed by a zealous proof-editor who wished to substitute her words so as the article reflected “ideology”. Here, the brakes went on. And it was certainly “No” when a second proof-editor requested that whole passages be changed in line with what he saw as “a masculine house-style”. As I pointed out at the time: my meaning was in my words and in the ordering of those words. I was not a brick-layer building a bungalow.

There is a point, surely, when editorial help becomes intrusive. And more worryingly still, a point when editors can become invited participants into the game of writing and publishing concerns replace authorship and authenticity. The most extreme example of this has to be “ghost writing”. It isn’t the writing of someone else’s story that worries me. Helping to tell a story is therapy. (Therapy "draws out" through words). It is the ventriloquism performed by publishing houses under this term. So, the hidden writer writes what they think the “author” wants to say. (How does anyone know that?) Then the “author” claims the book as their life’s story. (In what sense is it their story? Or are they alive?) This is the dummy claiming to be real and making the ventriloquist into the puppet.

Personally, writing is about honesty and effort. I think of Frederick Douglass. He was an illiterate slave. He used every devious strategy possible to learn to read and write. He painstakingly read and modelled writing on his reading until he could tell his story. Language was his liberator, the spirit that pushed him towards escape and liberation from slavery. His Narrative of the Life is a work of genius (Though the White press claimed that it was “ghost-written” because Black people did not have minds capable of authorship!). A work of genius because every page testifies to an original and challenging mind that has worked therapeutically with language. In cultures where the quick-fix has become the norm, killing off the author isn’t the only problem: it’s raising the unborn into a false life. The philosopher's stone is inside and close at hand, though it might take a long journey to realise that, and it cannot be bought from the hands of editors, a lesson beautifully crafted by Paul Coelho in The Alchemist.


Prosperoishere said...

An excellent piece. I have also suffered at the hands of Microsoft Word's animosity towards the passive voice. And i mostly agree with you on the issue of the death of the author. But nothing ever really dies.
Again, an excellent piece and a very informed and informative blog.

eshuneutics said...

Hi, so we share Words's masculine opposition to gentle sentences. I appreciate your comments: Prosperoishere is a great title! A Mage in happy exile.

Id it is said...

In the post modern can a work exist without the author dying? The form is prime and all-powerful (Microsoft ensured that), while the matter can be compromised; isn't that how ghost writers justify their existence!

A pity though! You carve out the soul of a thing, yet it's deemed alive. The essence is sucked out yet it's perceived meaningful. The 'ganas' disappears but seemingly it beats to the pulse of the masses.

As always an interesting post.

eshuneutics said...

Am I right to read "ganas" as energy outside order (Dionyusus as opposed to Apollo)? You have put your hand on something I ought to have said: meaning is lost. Thanks for giving me a new hermetical frame of reference. I do like your "asides"!

Onyeka George Nwelue said...
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eshuneutics said...
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Unsane said...

God wrote Nietzsche is dead.

That was quite insidious!

eshuneutics said...

I did not mean to play the serpent. Or did I?

Alfred Iwerebor said...

Nietzche was wrong when he said God was dead! I know he wants to take back those words because as soon as he died, wow, there was God!
That faded scream you heard in the wind that you weren't so sure where it came from was him exclaiming in shock.
I hate it when learned men think knowledge gives them a license to attack what they don't really know about.Is the five senses enough instrument to judge everything, including God?
Look how science keeps finding new things yet the scientists are so conclusive in their stance about what cannot be judged by the natural senses.
Their motives are wrong in the first instance: to get attention not to really state TRUTH.
Dan Brown and many more are walking that path too. I long to see how they end up, because the Biblical God is a man of war: He never backs away from any challenge.
Writers, write responsibly, you hold so much power in your art, you cannot afford to be reckless with it because every word would accounted for.

eshuneutics said...
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eshuneutics said...
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eshuneutics said...

I'm not too sure of the line of attack here, AI. But I supspect a mis-reading. Nietzsche killed of the Universal Creator in favour of the Super-Man. The post-modernist murdered the Textual Creator in favour of the Graphi-Reader. Both removed the Voice. In effect, both placed the power of the rhetorical word above the Word. And Nietzsche and Barthes are superb poetic writers! I accept neither of these positions, though I believe in the freedom of ideas.
The post is actually about saving the Creator. I don't quite understand where the senses come in. Neither the Philosopher nor the Critic removed the Creator in favour of the senses. Both removed Him, the Ratio, for purely rational reasons: he does not reach their intellects. I have no idea if Dan Brown is a heretic or not, as I have not read the Da Vinci Code: it did not strike me as original fiction, having known the Albigensian theories for about 20 years. I agree on one thing, your biblical God is a god of war. That is a great shame. Fortunately, the Son is a god of peace. I do not remember him saying "Blessed be the war-makers". And that of course is the schism in the neurological brain of Christianity-- far more troublesome than any opposition raised by the Super-Man or the Graph-reader. Civil war is far more dangerous than war. At the close of the post, I referred to Douglass. He is a Type for the common Christian spirit. Of course, there is an irony in making that claim. It was the biblical voice that rationalised slavery, produced the emotions that enslaved Douglass, and killed millions of Africans. As you say, your God is a warrior God.