Author Please!

I’ve been dwelling a lot lately about authorship for a while now. At first, I became interested in the context of literary theory which I by no means am really qualified to do, but it quickly expanded in scope. I guess I’m wondering what you all think? Is the author dead? Good riddance to ‘em or a sad, sad wake? Or, is the author alive and well, now more than ever, with it being the most important aspect in the literary and non-literary world? I see it going in two directions at once.

1) The author is dead. Sure, Roland Barthes (in)famously claimed this, but, in my humble, humble opinion, he had no idea what was coming (and I do realize I’m not really being fair here). A combination of Wikipedia, the likes of The Economist, informal blogs, and anonymous online comments have essentially driven hard and fast nails into the author’s coffin (not literally, of course, but that would have been a great pun).

Wikipedia is authored by no one, though some vague cabal of overlookers seems to monitor it (or at least maintain the website). I’ve been fascinated and troubled by the way The Economist has no authors for their journalism which implies a lack of subjectivity and ideology, both of which it, like all things, has in abundance. Blogs are often written without real names or without names at all. And anonymous comments—well, comments sections of websites are often the places of the most crude discourse that humankind has ever known. Read them at your peril.

2) ꜟViva la autora! On the other hand, the author can be seen to be alive and well. I see this most pronounced in the publishing industry and its relationship to marketing. As a great example, Oprah, as we all know, wields incredible power, and it is advocacy of the likes of hers which propels the image of the author into our social realm. We know who the person is she has chosen for her (in)famous Book Club perhaps more than the work of the author itself—Jonathan Franzen is a perfect example here. Within this realm is a politics of categorization: does Barnes and Noble place a work by an African American author in the Fiction section or the African American section? What if the work is not at all about African Americans? What if an author writes about African Americans but s/he is not African American? Where does that work go? Percival Everett (one of the best authors of all time) deals smartly with these issues in his novel Erasure (one of the best novels of all time) in various ways, including by parodying the controversial novella Push by Sapphire.

It seems to me that this topic hits on many other possible avenues: liberalism, the private versus the public interest, capitalism and consumption, objectivity, personal interest (as literary theorist or author), accountability, democracy of knowledge production, epistemology, and perhaps many more.

I’m curious what you all think about this issue? What strikes you as important here?

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