Death of the author
#1
This may be a topic that has been brought up before, or gets brought up a lot, or never gets brought up at all, I don't really know. But it's something that's been on my mind a lot recently.

For those of you who don't know what "death of the author" is, click here. In short, it was an essay written in the 60's about how only by completely ignoring the creator can the art be truly free to interpretation (for more eloquence and depth, read the link, honestly).

I hadn't really thought too much about it until recently. Before, I've always looked at the art in context of the artist. Here's an example:

I've played piano since I was six. When I was a teenager, my piano teacher wanted me to play this song:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2nfwY1wjeA
Before I did, she gave me some context on it. I'll give you a hint: there's a reason why it says "Auschwitz Requiem" at the beginning. Although this song wasn't performed at Auschwitz, it was performed at one of the many Nazi concentration camps. When I knew that, I thought it helped me understand the song more. The discordance, the lack of any real stable meter, the chaos. To me the song made sense because I knew the composer's life.

Then I started getting a bit into art, and being the "ooh look how edgy I am" teenager, I was really fascinated by Rothko (I still am, he's my favourite). If you are unfamiliar with him, look him up. His most popular works are abstract 'multiforms'. In essence, they're coloured squares. During this period of his art, he said this quote:

"To paint a small picture is to place yourself outside your experience, to look upon an experience as a stereopticon view or with a reducing glass. However you paint the larger picture, you are in it. It isn’t something you command!"

I'd not viewed art in that way before. I was used to the Van Gogh where you observe a scene from his eye. I was used to the Picasso were you observed all of the perspectives. I wasn't used to Rothko though, where you no longer observed, but you were enveloped by the painting. If you've seen a Rothko in person, you'll know this feeling. He recommended that viewers stand about eighteen inches from his paintings in order to truly become part of the painting.

So that got me thinking about what art was and how it was meant to be observed (art of course refers to all the arts, not just paintings).

Now I'm starting to expand my musical tastes more. They've always been pretty broad, but I'm starting to get more and more interested in the EDM (electronic) family. Because so much of EDM doesn't have melodies, or harmonies, or chord progressions, or other conventional musical structures, I find it to be a very different experience. Instead of being able to tell "oh this is a happy song, because I can how the musician used major keys to create an uplifting theme, and he wrote happy lyrics, etc", I think "how does this particular rhythm make me feel? How does the use of that sample make me feel?" Because the music was so, almost foreign to me, I was able to listen to it without any thought toward the composers, because I didn't know anything about them, because they often don't put themselves in their work like conventional musicians do (again through lyrics, etc).



(Man this is a bit more wordy than I intended. Sorry.)


Although Rothko wasn't necessarily a preacher of 'death of the author', I think in some ways he was a bridge for me to get there. I went from thinking about what the art meant to the artist, to thinking about what the artist wanted me to think, to eventually some vague point around 'death of the author': what do I get from this. Completely ignoring the artist/poet/author, what does this piece of art mean to me?

I don't know if I'm a 100% 'disciple' of the 'death of the author' philosophy. i still love that piano sonata because I know what Gideon Klein was experiencing at that time. But on the other hand, I find art (again I use the blanket term, not just paintings) to be much more personal, enjoyable, and accessible when I completely separate it from the artist.


So what are your thoughts? When you read poetry, do you read it with 'death of the author' in mind? Do you think it's an appropriate way to interpret art? What do you think of it? etc etc.


sorry for the awkward wording, scattered ideas, and whatnot. It's late at night and I just wrote this in one go, pretty much how it all went through my head. So yeah.
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#2
Great post. It has come up before a few times and if I can find the threads I'll link to them, but this deserves its own discussion anyway. Personally I subscribe quite heavily to the post-structuralist theories, although I don't like them being called post-structuralist, because I'm anti-label and it's really just a term that American scholars had to make up in their desperate need to categorise, but that's another story Smile

When addressing a new piece of literature in class, I present author/historical context last -- before they learn about who wrote it and what was going on, I want to see how much they can get purely from the text, because once those who/when questions are answered it tends to colour every other piece of analysis. Of course, I do always ask them to find those pieces of information out and critically evaluate with them in mind, because this enriches the text also, but I want them to take what the text alone offers first.

And I will reiterate again and again that when it comes to posts here, the poem is NOT the poet. We should never make assumptions about a person based on their art.

I found this thread buried way back in discussions -- it kind of rambles toward the end, because we're all a bit ADD, but there are good points buried in there Smile
It could be worse
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#3
what leanne said. i always ignore the author even if it's got a header that said something like " for my dead brother" and while i may cut a bit of slack it's not usually much. i have heard the phrase "getting into the painting" or "book" and i can understand it. terry pratchett's books have that effect on me, i really do get lost in them.
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#4
Hey Victor, glad to see you back. Thumbsup

So many folks get bent when you get something from their poetry or art that they did not intend. What is the big deal with that? As I have said before on this site, for my own poetry, I welcome all interpretations and it does not bother me at all if the reader sees the piece in another way. In fact, I get very excited when readers reveal something that never occurred to me. Perhaps it is my own subliminal or cryptic message that I missed or some double entendre that I did not catch. I will try to reread my poetry through that reader's lens and many times realize, 'Oh yes, I can see that as well now'.

This happens a lot with artwork. Individuals will tell my about some hidden figure in one of my watercolors (like there's a face in that stream). Once I see it, it becomes part of the painting for me. I love it! One time my cat Fuzzy stepped into some titanium white and dabbed a few highlights into a impressionistic floral piece. I swear that I never noticed it until my wife pointed it out. Now that we lost him, it is the first thing that I point out to guests. It is beautiful to know that we painted together.

Finally, I write what I am compelled or inspired to write. However, I will often challenge myself to go far outside any personal experience. Many times that requires taking on other roles, as both actors or all novelists do. I am a strong advocate of the poetry not being the author, as Leanne stated. Nonetheless, I receive criticism that something is too preachy or demeaning, etc. What can you say to them...creativity is all about the art and challenge and not necessarily personal statements for me. Cheers/Chris
My new watercolor: 'Nightmare After Christmas'/Chris
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#5
I think it is the more talented artist who can articulate a POV other than his own as well as creating work based on his own state. To evoke something alien to myself is difficult for me and I admire artists who open that door for themselves and their readers/viewers/listeners.

So yes, a successful piece does not need background to achieve its goal.
billy wrote:welcome to the site. make it your own, wear it like a well loved slipper and wear it out. ella pleads:please click forum titles for posting guidelines, important threads. New poet? Try Poetic DevicesandWard's Tips

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#6
I lean towards "New Criticism", that pretty much defines what I think about " Death of the author". When Barthes wrote his essay " La mort de l'auteur", It seems to me he was just restating what the New Critics had already said. New Critics thought that one should critique the poem by itself without regard to any external items, such as the writer, history, and so on. I mean when you decide to not include the writer in ones analysis it's all a wash isn't it. But Barthes just came up with a very chic way of saying it.
In terms of POV, it is not the POV of the writer we are seeing, but the POV of the speaker. Usually a good writer will not write autobiographically. How could a single person convey the needed universality from only their singular personality, and their limited POV. It is fairly obvious that the writer should never enter into the discussion as it is a set up for the cult of personality.
In my mind Frida Kahlo was never a great painter. It wasn't until her life's story became known, along with her suffering, which was very real, that people (in terms of a lot of people) began to admire her work, but her work did not stand on it's own, it was very much wrapped up in the cult of personalty. People often say that they feel her pain, yet I doubt very seriously they would say that if they came to one of her paintings fresh, without an knowledge of her history.
The same can be said of poetry. You read a poem that you like. Then find out that the writer is a drug addict, and then you say, ah, that's why he did such and such. Yet this does not make the poem more understandable, instead it trivializes the poem. The only allowance I would make is when it is a matter of an allusion. I very much think it is important for the critic to familiarize himself with what the allusion is pointing to. After all, how can one critique a poem, when only understanding two-thirds of what is written?

Dale the anomalous
How long after picking up the brush, the first masterpiece?

The goal is not to obfuscate that which is clear, but make clear that which isn't.
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#7
personally, I think my poems would be much better exactly as they are if someone else wrote them.

While I haven't much to add, and my comments on the matter wouldn't be much different from those above, I would like to say that it doesn't detract from the personal feats, aside from literary accomplishments, of the writer; a young prodigy cranking out an epic and some the greatest odes in the language before dying while still in his twenties, or a woman managing some fantastic poems written in soap during the Holocaust, or massive epic being smuggled out of prison in scraps, is still pretty fucking amazing; but the two are not the same thing.
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#8
(09-09-2014, 09:38 AM)trueenigma Wrote:  personally, I think my poems would be much better exactly as they are if someone else wrote them.

While I haven't much to add, and my comments on the matter wouldn't be much different from those above, I would like to say that it doesn't detract from the personal feats, aside from literary accomplishments, of the writer; a young prodigy cranking out an epic and some the greatest odes in the language before dying while still in his twenties, or a woman managing some fantastic poems written in soap during the Holocaust, or massive epic being smuggled out of prison in scraps, is still pretty fucking amazing; but the two are not the same thing.
Minor Hijack of the thread. I remember reading Charlotte Delbo's memoir of Auschwitz and pulling this sequence from her prose (which I guess would be Found Poetry):

We watch with eyes that cry out, eyes full of disbelief.
Each face is inscribed with such precision over the icy light, the blue of the sky, that it remains marked there for eternity.
For eternity, these shaven heads, squeezed against one another, bursting with shouts, mouths twisted by cries we do not hear, hands waving in a mute cry.
The cries remain inscribed upon the blue of the sky.

Charlotte Delbo

Horror is often the seed for beautiful writing. That said, this would still be powerful without knowing her background.

---

Sorry again...
The secret of poetry is cruelty.--Jon Anderson
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#9
(09-09-2014, 07:48 AM)Erthona Wrote:  I lean towards "New Criticism", that pretty much defines what I think about " Death of the author". When Barthes wrote his essay " La mort de l'auteur", It seems to me he was just restating what the New Critics had already said. New Critics thought that one should critique the poem by itself without regard to any external items, such as the writer, history, and so on. I mean when you decide to not include the writer in ones analysis it's all a wash isn't it. But Barthes just came up with a very chic way of saying it.
In terms of POV, it is not the POV of the writer we are seeing, but the POV of the speaker. Usually a good writer will not write autobiographically. How could a single person convey the needed universality from only their singular personality, and their limited POV. It is fairly obvious that the writer should never enter into the discussion as it is a set up for the cult of personality.
In my mind Frida Kahlo was never a great painter. It wasn't until her life's story became known, along with her suffering, which was very real, that people (in terms of a lot of people) began to admire her work, but her work did not stand on it's own, it was very much wrapped up in the cult of personalty. People often say that they feel her pain, yet I doubt very seriously they would say that if they came to one of her paintings fresh, without an knowledge of her history.
The same can be said of poetry. You read a poem that you like. Then find out that the writer is a drug addict, and then you say, ah, that's why he did such and such. Yet this does not make the poem more understandable, instead it trivializes the poem. The only allowance I would make is when it is a matter of an allusion. I very much think it is important for the critic to familiarize himself with what the allusion is pointing to. After all, how can one critique a poem, when only understanding two-thirds of what is written?

Dale the anomalous

My bold. My hijack.

This is an issue I have because I am not as well read as the poets I read.

There is a line a poem can cross where it becomes babble due to allusions the reader cannot fathom. A more successful poem can be understood on some level by the uneducated reader who may not even understand that an allusion was made that I can research. Allusions or not, the best pieces can stand on their own, working on many levels.
billy wrote:welcome to the site. make it your own, wear it like a well loved slipper and wear it out. ella pleads:please click forum titles for posting guidelines, important threads. New poet? Try Poetic DevicesandWard's Tips

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#10
Allusion should be used to add depth to the poem by linking it to other artistic works or occurrences that are culturally familiar. Obscure allusion is really just the writer having a bit more of a wank than usual -- it's like literary name-dropping. "Oh look at how many other things I've read, let me mention them all." (It's one of the reasons I almost completely despise T.S. Eliot, but that's another story.)

If an allusion is self-referential or some kind of in-joke, fine -- but the poem should work just as well without it, because most of your audience won't understand it. And if the poem works just as well without it, you might as well leave it out in the first place.
It could be worse
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#11
tis true, often when we hear the artist's background, we swoon with pain. i'm not like that as i don't have a caring souls unless it really close friends or family. i care not if such and such were a junky. maybe an artist's story can be interesting but i could never worry or lose sleep over them. ( or love them) though i may love their works.


i never liked bukowski til i read his cat poem "one tough motherfucker" and poem with fuck in has me won before i start reading; but i digress...
the poem bowled me over with insight and imagery. it was down to earth and pretty raw. he captured something and gave it to me the reader. i've since read with new eyes some of his works and now he's one of my favorites. i also heard some of his mic sessions and you can feel the life and soul of the man and to point empathize with what comes across as his pain and intolerance but and it's big but, it doesn't really add anything to his poetry for me. unless it's an autobiographical work i wouldn't want it to.

(09-09-2014, 07:48 AM)Erthona Wrote:  I lean towards "New Criticism", that pretty much defines what I think about " Death of the author". When Barthes wrote his essay " La mort de l'auteur", It seems to me he was just restating what the New Critics had already said. New Critics thought that one should critique the poem by itself without regard to any external items, such as the writer, history, and so on. I mean when you decide to not include the writer in ones analysis it's all a wash isn't it. But Barthes just came up with a very chic way of saying it.
In terms of POV, it is not the POV of the writer we are seeing, but the POV of the speaker. Usually a good writer will not write autobiographically. How could a single person convey the needed universality from only their singular personality, and their limited POV. It is fairly obvious that the writer should never enter into the discussion as it is a set up for the cult of personality.
In my mind Frida Kahlo was never a great painter. It wasn't until her life's story became known, along with her suffering, which was very real, that people (in terms of a lot of people) began to admire her work, but her work did not stand on it's own, it was very much wrapped up in the cult of personalty. People often say that they feel her pain, yet I doubt very seriously they would say that if they came to one of her paintings fresh, without an knowledge of her history.
The same can be said of poetry. You read a poem that you like. Then find out that the writer is a drug addict, and then you say, ah, that's why he did such and such. Yet this does not make the poem more understandable, instead it trivializes the poem. The only allowance I would make is when it is a matter of an allusion. I very much think it is important for the critic to familiarize himself with what the allusion is pointing to. After all, how can one critique a poem, when only understanding two-thirds of what is written?

Dale the anomalous

i like allusions i see and hate the ones i don't sometimes it's my fault but many times the reference given is to damn obscure.
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#12
Allusion is a fine line. I like Leanne's point on using what is culturally familiar. I also personally fond of blending works that may have similar ideas. It's a fine balance; the goal is to provide depth, clarity of a sort, and a more enjoyable understanding of the poem when it opens up. It shouldn't be a narcissistic reading list. The balance though is it shouldn't be spelled out in a way that assumes readers are ignorant. If they don't get fairly common allusions, they probably need to read more.
The secret of poetry is cruelty.--Jon Anderson
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#13
I agree to a certain extent--sometimes culturally familiar can be taken to mean popular, and I don't believe that there is any reason for us all to be stuck making the same allusions. The allusion should be culturaly familiar to the poem and its theme, in its relevance to the poem. If there is any significance at all it will be understood sometime by someone, somewhere, or even by the same reader but much later when they happen across the source. The poem should be able to survive to that point though--so the reader will remember the poem and make their own discovery.

sometimes it's not just about cultural familiarity, but the audience as well. If you want to reach a wider audience then it's still ok to have some esoteric allusion, but the poem shouldn't be wholly dependant on it, and there should be something else in there for the reader who doesn't study obscure text.

If you are studying greek and write a poem full of allusion to greek mythos because you expect it to only be accessible to your professor, classmates, and others in the same feild of study, then fine.

If you plan to give the poem to your mother, who happens to love Emily Dickinson, then, by all means allude heavily to E.D.

A critic who doesn't read E.D. can still provide insight on the phrasing, cohesiveness, rhythm, meter, syntax, line and strophe structure etc.
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#14
If you are only writing for the critics then I'm sorry. I'm truly sorry.

I know this thread has gone off and I'm sorry but I'm going to go off a bit further here, maybe I'll find a way to tie it back in.

Remember that beethoven said his most important works (ie Hammerklavier) wouldn't be realized and understood until 50 years later. turns out he was right, and the massive sonata wasn't tackled until about half a century later (by I thinkSchumann). it was both traditional and innovative.

I tend to agree with frost on the matter, he said, loosely paraphrased, that all our written works come from our reading. If I'm to be understood at I'm going to be using words that have already been used. that is why lit accomplishments are not only or completely personal accomplishments--we are working with the raw material we were given, that is, the language.

Frost alluded plenty but not at all in the way that Elliott did. One could come back later and after the fact and draw footnotes from any number of sources, but at a certain point it doesn't matter (in the context of the poem) where it originated because the scope was virtually unlimited. One could easily say for instance that the frozen lake and the wood in woods on a snowy evening may have come from his own readings and interpretations of dante, but there is no evidence on the matter--was he talking about death, or did he just want a nap?

and why is frost considered one of the most important men in American letters, and why don't we psychoanalize the woods on a snowy evening like we do with prufrock/ eliot (?) ?
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#15
The death of the author isn't complete until the reader doesn't know
there's an author.

Orson Welles radio adaptation of H.G. Wells's "The War of the Worlds" 's
Martian invasion was done in a news-bullet format and some gullible
listeners thought there was a real Martian invasion.

There's a genre of fake documentaries, fake non-fiction that imply
an author doesn't exist.

The Polish writer Stanislaw Lem published reviews of non-existent books
by non-existent authors.

Writers intentionally publicize details of their lives (true or fictional)
with the intent of influencing readers. Does that intent make these part of the
text?

Writers use prefaces like "This is based on my experience as
a war correspondent" where (irrespective of factuality) it's clearly
the writer and not her/his protagonist that's speaking.

And all those book jackets with photos of the writer (20 years ago)
sitting astride someone else's motorcycle.

If there can be a 'death of the author' then why not a 'death of the reader'?
Readers have external lives, faults that influence what they perceive and they
turn around and pass it on to other readers. Maybe a text, once written,
should not be read.



About Rothko and:
The less information a work contains, the more freedom a reader has in interpreting it.
The less information a work contains, the more effect external influences have on the reader.
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almost terse
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