The unavailable author

“The opinion of the author is neither available, nor desirable”. It’s a thought form that was drilled into me in my first term at university, all those long eons ago. I think something akin to it may have been said by a chap whose named could be Roland Barthes, but I might be wrong and I lack the will to google for insight. It’s the sort of statement that deserves to have its author’s name divorced from it, not least because it so often turns out true. What the author means and what the reader does are two wholly different things.

It’s not just a literature issue, either. It is an issue for anyone who sets out to write, blog, speak or teach. Your words, and their intended meaning, go on a journey. They pass through the filters of belief and assumption, the different associations other people have with words, and they land in some distant brain, not always in the form you intended. I’m pretty sure what Marx intended looked nothing like communist Russia or China. Mark Twain intended to protest against slavery, but modern readers find him racist. Pretty much every religious founder there has ever been was really clear about not wanting people to go out and kill other people in their name.

Even when the author is supposedly God, humans are entirely willing to infer what they want to find, to twist things where necessary and to generally fit the words to their plan. Even as clear a statement as ‘thou shalt not kill’ ascribed to God the Author somehow doesn’t result in people quitting on the whole killing other people thing, even when they claim to follow the book.

If being God doesn’t mean you get your authoring properly understood and respected, frankly the rest of us have got our work cut out.

I don’t really have an answer to this, but I think the issue could stand serious consideration. Humans throw words out into the world all the time with little consideration for the impact those words might have on others, and seldom much willingness to take responsibility when someone takes those words in a way we did not mean. We might not be able to steer exact interpretation, but more thought to the emotional impact could help. Are we feeding hatred and anger? Are we just wallowing in the bad stuff and facilitating emotional pornography? Or are we offering hope, ways forward, inspiration and opportunities to do better? I try and make sure I include some scope for usefully doing something, even when I’m angry or miserable. There are no doubt days when I fail in this.

Some of the responsibility lies with the reader. If we are to be better humans, learning to be more careful, precise and deliberate readers and writers, speakers and listeners would not be a terrible place to start.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

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