30 November 2005

Literary Criticism - Theories of The Author

The most exciting and thought-provoking text from my recent reading week was Andrew Bennett's The Author. This is a monograph from Routledge's Critical Idiom series which look at single issues in cultural theory. You might imagine that there was no problem with the question of who is the author of a text. Surely it's the person who wrote the book, isn't it? In most cases, yes: but it's not quite that simple as a general rule. Homer 'wrote' Ulysses, but do we know who he was? The answer is 'No'. In fact he might not even have existed. He could be what is called a 'back-formation', an invention extracted from the suppositions of who transmitted the poem we now know. And in the early Renaissance many writers did not sign their work - because authors were thought of as lower class parvenues threatening the untainted aura of the aristocracy. And in our own time? Well, who has written the largest encyclopedic resource ever known to man - the Wikipedia? Answer - we don't know, because it is a collaborative and an anonymous enterprise. Bennett's work considers all these issues, plus lots more besides - particularly Roland Bathes's 'The Death of the Author' essay, and Michel Foucault's riposte 'What is an Author?'. For anyone interested in literary theory, it's a challenging read, but it will give you lots of new ideas. FULL REVIEW HERE.

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