To blog or not to blog continued…

So what is with this need to know the person behind the book?  Is it simple curiosity?  Is it that the modern reader needs to check that they like someone before committing to liking what they’ve written?  Are we afraid we might in some way be hoodwinked if the writer isn’t ‘our’ kind of person? 

When the world found out Stephanie Meyer was Mormon, there was a brief flurry of anxiety.  Did liking Twilight mean they’d somehow been converted to Mormonism?  Were there hidden messages in her writing that would insidiously work over time to bring teenage readers round to her way of thinking?  Was the fact that her vampires were very white skinned indicative of racist thinking?

Is this blogging thing just giving ammunition to ‘the censors’?

Should publishers now put a note on each book: warning this book was written by a Catholic Lib-dem voter!  ?

Of course not.

Roland Barthes, writing in the sixties criticised the method of reading that relies on aspects of the author’s identity (his or her political views, historical context, religion, ethnicity, psychology, or other biographical or personal attributes) to distill meaning from the author’s work.  He argued that essential meaning of a work depended on the impressions of the reader, rather than the “passions” or “tastes” of the writer; “a text’s unity lies not in its origins,” or its creator, “but in its destination,” or its audience.

His essay was called ‘Death of the Author’

And he has a point.  If I’m particularly interested in fantasy, why shouldn’t I read a book called The Lion, the Witch and Wardrobe?  If I only see in that book a beautifully realised fantastical country and a powerful talking lion then, for me, that’s what the book was about.  It doesn’t have to be an allegory for Christianity unless someone points it out.  It doesn’t really matter what the author intended.

Each reader will find aspects of themselves reflected in the books they read, they’ll find their own interpretations, things that are important to them.  So does it matter what the author thinks and believes?   

A child raised with his parent’s beliefs will inevitably take them in (even if it’s to rebel against them).  Yet, when you’re out in the world and making friends, do you demand to know a person’s parents before deciding whether or not you like them?  If not, why do you need to know what a writer’s personal beliefs and history are before committing to liking their book? 

Isn’t it better to judge a book, like a person, on its own merits?

In the past you’d never be able to find out much about an author.  Nowadays Shakespeare is studied in all the schools yet there is some argument that the writer of the plays we know as Shakespeare’s might not even be ‘Shakespeare’ at all.  Some texts that we love, ‘Sir Gawayne and the Green Knight’ for example, have altogether lost their author in the mists of time. 

For more recent writers biographies are inevitable, but the things we do find out aren’t exactly flattering.  During the second world war, Ezra Pound was imprisoned for treason.  TS Eliot had his blameless wife incarcerated in a mental institution, Thomas Mallory wrote much of Tales of King Arthur while he was in prison for rape and Byron: mad, bad and dangerous to know, died of syphilis having fled the country.  No-one suggests we don’t read their work in case our children become dangerously louche.

Many people criticised the army for refusing to let Prince Harry fight for his country, citing historical royalty who had gone out and ‘done their duty’.  They were forgetting that had he been captured by the enemy he could have been tortured to death ON THE WORLD WIDE WEB. 

The invention of the Internet and its progeny the social networking site means that a lot of now old-fashioned patterns of thinking have to change.

This generation has access to all information at all times and things have changed as a result.  Given that people can easily find out who an author is our thinking has to change too.  Nowadays the work of author has to be backed up by the voice of the author. 

If a book has touched or influenced a reader and he can find out where it came from, check on its parentage if you like, why shouldn’t he?  And why shouldn’t I, as a writer, welcome that interest?

Sorry, Barthes, but the author is undergoing a resurrection and using information media to cling onto his book like an overly doting parent unable to let go, occasionally shouting: ‘that’s not what I meant at all.’

Books are like orphans making their readers do the work of seeking their parents asking ‘where did I come from’?

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