wordzly

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Archive for the tag “critics”

Death of the Author

This just in: the author is dead. Ok, this is old news. The author has been dead for 45 years.

In 1967 literary critic Roland Barthes wrote an essay titled ‘Death of the Author’, in which he claimed the author was no longer relevant to an understanding of the text. Anyone who has done high school English will probably remember writing copious essays about how an author’s context influences their values and beliefs, and how these in turn influence the text and the values it expresses. This traditional approach to literary criticism sees the influences on an author – their historical, cultural, geographical, political and religious etc. context – as shaping the author’s text. To understand a text we must first understand the author.

Barthes rejected this approach, saying that “To give a text an Author is to impose a limit on that text”. Basically, Barthes was rejecting a definitive explanation of texts that relied only on authorial intent. I agree wholeheartedly with Barthes. Of course it makes sense when trying to interpret a text’s meaning, to look at what the author may have meant. They DID write it after all. Surely they’re the best judge of what the text meant. But mightn’t a text have more than one meaning? Mightn’t a text have no meaning at all?  If we focus only on trying to discover what the author intended then we miss many other interpretations. How do we know what an author intended anyway?

That’s what I dislike most about traditional literary criticism. It assumes we can definitively know what an author meant. How? How can we read a text, come up with a single explanation of it and decide that is what the author meant?

HOOOOOOOWWWWWWWW?

We can’t. Unless they tell us. And even then, that’s just their interpretation. We can have our own. And if they won’t let us, then there’s only one solution. Kill the authors!

Too late. They’re already dead.

Zombie authors? I’m going to stop writing now.

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Literary vs. Popular Fiction

Generally, fiction can be split into two categories: literary or popular. Literary works are those that are critically acclaimed for their ‘literary merit’ and focus more on the inner story of the characters than the plot, whilst popular fiction is more mainstream and less ‘serious’. Someone, somewhere, at some time, decided that literary works were the only ones of any merit. Literary critics rave about how fantastic literary writers are, and it seems the more obscure and esoteric the writer, the better their work is regarded. Popular writers, these critics bemoan, are not of the same calibre. They are derided as hack who might be able to spin a good yarn but whose writing appeals only to the basest of intellectuals. I find this totally unfair.

Popular writers should not have to apologise for what they do. The fact that they are ‘popular’ and widely read does not necessitate low-quality writing. Surely, if they are so popular they must be doing something right? I would argue that story trumps writing. Writing is still important. Awful, uninspiring and clichéd writing is dreadful to read, but a book could have the most spritely, intelligent, sophisticated prose on earth and still tell the most dreary story that no one can be bothered to read.

In fact, I would say good writing is writing that you don’t even notice. If you are constantly stopping during a book to marvel at a turn of phrase then you are being drawn out of the world that the author has created. If you look at popular books such as the Harry Potter series, Hunger Games or 50 Shades trilogies, this writing isn’t fantastic but it isn’t bad (50 Shades might be debatable but I haven’t read it). What is so popular here is the story they tell, the characters we want to know, the places we want to visit. And an author that can manage to create all that is pretty good in my books.

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