Read Michel Foucault’s essay What is an Author? pps 949 – 953 in Art in Theory: 1900 – 2000 and Roland Barthes’ essay The Death of the Author, in Image Music, Text xxiii pps 142 – 148 making your notes in the usual way.
1. Not all forms of the written word are documents that can be said to have an author (individual presence) and the ones that today we say have an author historically were anonymous although this was due to the fact that having an opinion probably meant sticking your head above the parapet regards religion and governance. It was only the scientific literature that needed a name to legitimise it.
According to St Jerome there are 4 criteria to distinguish whether text is by the same person, 1. out of all the texts that don’t come up to the same standard. 2. Remove all that don’t agree with the opinions. 3. Remove ones that don’t use the same style of language usage. 4. anything that refers to a point after the writers death has to be removed as well.
Modern critisism is because the author has a personal history that influences what they have written, be it due to their age, influences or the era in which they live. “the author also serves to neutralise the contradictions that may emerge in a series of texts”.
The class of the writer will also show in the text, not least in the type of text being written or the culture it was written from, (although this doesn’t take into account the throwaway nature of the ease in righting to WWW. Isolation and anonymity are probably more dangerous in this situation, not sure I’d want people to prefer not to be recognised by their writing)
Also, the writer should not be idealogical, trying to get their point across (not going to happen). He believed the author became more important than the point they were making, that the value on their words was more important in some cultures. This value on the author decided the subjects discussed and how, by taking away the value of the author, he believed that the subjects would change and the content with it.
Foucault thinks these personal distinctions are the reason we should be anonymous, however I’d argue they are the reason we should be open so that you can look at a persons views and openly decide as the reader which elements you need to trust (take reading the Daily Mail, any given day, everything will give you cancer and then tomorrow help you live forever, however I understand that is the nature of the writing so I can take it with the pinch of salt it requires then go fact check with other publications, why shouldn’t I be able to do that with authored work outside the papers?) Personally, this utopian system of work coming about in a way as to not inform of an author voice, that is, presumably to inform, but not judge or proffer an opinion wouldn’t be possible. I don’t believe that an anonymous person will be able to withhold their personal views over openly discussing the subject. I don’t think you need the personal history (ie the tortured Van Gogh) to inform on the why or how, but the individual history has to exist to reveal the want to create whatever it is anyway and creating so as to not leave a noticeable imprint on the work, is in a way still leaving an imprint on the work.
2.Barthes states that as writing is a conglomeration of previously written text, its not the work of the author. However thanks to capitalism the author has come forward as more important “the author ‘confiding’ in us.”
“A texts unity lies not in its origin but in its destination”. The readers engagement is more important than the writer. This isn’t always true. sometimes I make pictures because the idea is sat in my head for a long time and I need to get it out, so create. I’m not worried about how its interpreted at this point although as someone who wishes to sell art, I’d have to say the reader of the pictures has to be important or I run the risk of never selling anything. Should we really be saying that we will only offer the reader what needs to be written and not what they want to read? Are we as readers really not adult enough to make the decision? And does this deal with the purists who believe that arts voice is more important?
Writers shouldn’t use I
That criticism of writing is futile and that we should just read text for what it is?
He also seems to infer that the reader has no history? Which can’t be true or text would never reach beyond Janet and John. I get the idea, that in removing the importance of the writers voice and opinion, there should be more information for the reader, however, writers get better because they identify with their own use of the language and as informative as writing should be, it also has to be written in a way that I wish to continue reading. The context the word are used in are at least as important as the words used and understanding the person that put the words down in some instances can be as important.
This also doesn’t allow for stealing like an artist, we learn by looking at the work of other artists and emulating it, then cherry picking off the techniques that slowly inform our personal style or ‘voice’. No matter the medium of creation, we would have to allow for this or there would be no progress.
Look at Sherrie Levine’s images and the work of Cindy Sherman.
• Look at the work of these two artists – or another two artists whose work seems either to be derived from a reading of the two articles you’ve read, or whose work is better explained in the light of them. One of each would be ideal. You are probably best searching amongst the younger cohort of contemporary artists.
Cindy Sherman’s images are photographs where primarily she plays a different character each time. These have developed over the decades she has been doing them, so that earlier series have been noticeably cinematic in reference. Most current have been play acting strong characters from classical art or history: wearing a nude suit that doesn’t attempt to look realistic and carrying a sword. This image she is next to another character sat demurely in a feminine dress both against a background of a mirror image riverside almost looking like an etching. This untitled image seems to be making us think about female roles and their contradictions, whether those contradictions have come down through history or sideways from our own society, Cindy is asking us to review our relationship to them as the reader (much like Barthes) and think less about her impact as the author as she is playing all the roles with the same value.
Sherrie Levine’s 1981 work was rephotographing the catalogue of photos by a depression era male photographer, Walker Evans. If you take the Foucault and Barthes essays at face value when looking at Sherries work, it is more understandable, the images still have impact as showing the history of the people they represent within the timeframe they lived, however, the weight of the creater/author of the images changes and creates its own relationship with you the viewer while you puzzle out the why of doing it. The value of the images as hijacked photos may have a new value being done from the perspective of a known woman/author, however against the anonymous ideal of the essay’s it loses this area of impact.
• If the birth of the reader is at the expense of the author is there still any of Benjamin’s ‘aura’ left?
I believe the reader is important because they choose to look at/read what they want to, however taking all importance away from that which they choose to view devalues it to a point where its probably not viable to create it. The created, whether its a book, photo or a painting will have a history and I don’t think you can completely ignore it, it helps to place the item in context so that the reader can make an informed view on how to interpret. I think Foucault and Barthes views come from a marxist ideal that isn’t achievable from a capitalist construct.
• Does any of this explain or validate the un-regulated nature of the internet?
I have 2 children who I am constantly trying to get to understand that once its on the internet its incredibly difficult to remove and you need to be really sure that you want it linked to you until you earn enough to get Google to remove it…
I think that the freedom of information we now have access to is fantastic if you do actually swap channels every now and then to make informed decisions. The fact that not all of us do is worrying, I also think that making the internet anonymous would leave those in the public gaze open to abuse like you would not believe. Being accountable for what you write, even if it takes a court order to make you see sense proves that just because we have the capability to write and post online, does not always mean we should, and at least with capitalist values, the author who best represents society as we see it is paid to create that which reflects our time (50 shades of grey being the exception).
I think education from parents needs to be stronger at the point children receive electronic devices to make better decisions on what they put of themselves online.
• Does this invalidate the interest in the artist’s or creator’s intent at the time of making?
yes, if the reader is more important, then why it was created is of no consequence.
Sherman’s work is untitled, there is no explanation other than the reference that all her work follows the same pattern, so knowing her original idea is unnecessary.
Levine’s work is titled with the original photographers name, as an appropriation, it isn’t hidden, however without understanding why she’s doing it, I’m not sure that it stands on its own.
However if the author is not important, why are they going to create? it takes time to learn how to make, to sit and think through the whats and wherefores. Where is the benefit of refining the skill if it doesn’t pay for the roof over your head? Learning that what you don’t make is as important as what you do. And you won’t learn that in the utopian state the 2 essays reviewed here dream of.
Foucault, M(1979)What is an author In:Art in theory 1900-2000, Harrison, C. Wood, P. Oxford: Art in theory 1900-2000. pp. 949-953
Barthes, R(1977)The death of the author in Image music text. Fontana Press. London