on What is an Author?

There’s something about a blog format that warrants some informality, at least in my eyes, so this is going to be a ditty of a thought.

Let me first introduce myself as a reader.  My name, Florentina, has its root in a well-known book (I’ll let you figure out its title), whose protagonist is first and foremost a “lover” – in both the bodily and emotional identity sense.  To be a lover means to delve wholeheartedly into the image of the lover, to embrace all the pain of unrequited love, unfulfilled love, unsatisfying love – ideas that stem primarily from books and art.  It should follow that this character is a voracious reader of books. All books, of all qualities – the more sentimental the better.  In short, the protagonist reads to be moved.

I’ll readily admit it and say that I read for the same reason.  So all the reading that I do during my spare time consists of novels and short stories, rather than non-fiction or critical works, and much of it is contemporary stuff.  As a result, I also spend a lot of time browsing the appropriate literary forums, such as literary websites (i.e. themillions.com), journals, magazines, and good old-fashioned bookstores.  Say what you will about the rise of online and digital media, and whatever differences exist between this new form of publishing and traditional print media, but there is something common in all of these forms: the author is widely, necessarily displayed.  In the form of books is the author’s bio, with a picture, a commentary, or at the very least a blurb, or a list of the author’s other works.  In online magazines, the author’s name will frequently link to another website, oftentimes the author’s personal/professional site; and of course, you can search by author and effectively reach that writer’s entire oeuvre.

On page 119 of the class copy of What Is an Author?, Foucault acknowledges that a world will never exist in which “the fictive would operate in an absolutely free state” and not be limited by “the figure of the author.”  He gives some historical backdrop but goes on to say the following, and note the key line I’ve bolded:

“Although, since the eighteenth century, the author has played the role of the regulator of the fictive, a role quite characteristic of our era of industrial and bourgeois society, of individualism and private property, still, given the historical modifications that are taking place, it does not seem necessary that the author function remain constant in form, complexity, and even in existence.  I think that, as our society changes, at the very moment when it is in the process of changing, the author function will disappear, and in such a manner that fiction and its polysemous texts will once again function according to another mode, but still with a system of constraint — one which will no longer be the author, but which will have to be determined, or, perhaps, experienced. “

Foucault addresses the change of society, but he wasn’t around for our big internet boom.  Popular authors today take to blogs and twitter accounts and have enormous online presence.  Take Jennifer Egan, for example, who “tweeted” her short story, “Black Box,” 140-characters at a time.  Take Zadie Smith and Jonathan Franzen, both young authors who have both released incongruous non-fiction essay collections – there’s no connecting thread in their respective books, except that they are the authors of those essays – presumably because there’s high public demand for these authors’ opinions, personas, maybe to better understand their past and future creative works.  These days, you hear less and less about the Salinger types; maybe Thomas Pynchon is one of the last hermit-like literari who refuse to give interviews and try to keep their lives as private as possible.

Foucault does admit that “literary discourse came to be accepted only when endowed with the author function” (109), that “literary anonymity is not tolerable” (109).  This has not changed much since 1969, except to have intensified.  The fact is that the internet is crowded, with everyone on a computer able to spill out his thoughts, guts, heart on a webpage.  In a space crowded with so many words, with so many anonymous inhabits, authors must fight even harder to be read.  And to do that, they’ll strengthen their personas, online and off, even more than before.

— Florentina


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