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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Death of the Author

I consider myself as one “student of Lucien Goldmann’s Genetic Structuralism school”. Therefore, I somewhat do not agree with the idea of “the death of the author”. When a writer writes a piece of literary work, he/she must get influence a lot from the era when he/she lives, the place where he/she lives, the culture that many people adhere in that era and in that place. The era, the place, the culture, plus the worldview at the time of writing will more or less influence the result of the literary work.
I believe in Goldmann’s theory very much so that I shape my students to follow my way of thinking. Before analyzing one literary work—novels, poems, dramas, biography, articles, etc—I suggest my students to study the background of the writing of it, to get the best interpretation. I am of opinion that the best interpretation is to produce an interpretation which is similar or exactly the same as what the writer wants to convey to the readers. So, how can I “kill” the author?

Perhaps one can say that it is all caused by my inferiority, not really confident with my full interpretation if only based on what is stated in the work itself, to study the semiotics, the diction, the plot, the character portrayed in the work, etc.

When reading the discussion “the death of the author” in one mailing list I join, I remember the day when I got my thesis examination. One theory I used in writing my thesis was “feminist literary theory” with its core “READING AS A WOMAN”. This in fact invited one examiner’s curiosity, “Isn’t it enough only using Goldmann’s theory and Freud’s psychoanalytical criticism?” she asked me. “Don’t you think that we will be able to come to the similar interpretation that you have produced with the two theories, without feminist literary theory?”

My answer was that no matter what, men and women would likely have different way of thinking in viewing things and experiences in life. “Protection” can mean ‘love’ for men, while women can refer “protection” to ‘imprisonment’ and ‘misunderstanding’ just like what I see in the case of the narrator in THE YELLOW WALLPAPER, a short story written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

Going back to the discussion “the death of the author” in the mailing list. One member wanted to mediate between those who support this theory and those who disagree with it. He said that both sides are right, they only result in “the early interpretation” (for those who disagree with it), and “the later interpretation” or “more modern” interpretation for those who “kill” the author and ‘fully’ (?) use their logic when producing it.

I remember what one of my professors said during my study. Theory is just a tool to digest one piece of literary work. There is no exact thing in literature or any other art fields. I do agree that different theory we use in dissecting literary work will create different interpretation, especially in this case the use of feminist literary theory (because I am a feminist). The use of another new literary theory such as “post-colonialism” can result in a new interpretation of an “old” literary work.

Is the “more modern” interpretation always against “the early” interpretation? Is it possible that they even support each other?

It reminded me of my college years, when the same professor said, “There is no wrong interpretation in studying and analyzing literature”. However, I often found disagreement from my lecturers when I presented the result of my research.

I also said the similar thing to my students. And I got shocked when one student asked me, “In the final test, should we give the interpretation as freely as possible or should we follow your interpretation if you give us the same work that we have discussed together in class?” LOL.

My students forgot that free interpretation does not mean free without any limit. They must give the best arguments based on the theory they use, and not just “write free composition”. :)

To sum up, whatever theory we use in analyzing a “text”, it is all back to us, the readers. Although I am a fan of Lucien Goldmann’s “Genetic Structuralism” (as the result of my inferiority LOL), I admire those who can give their best interpretation using any other theories.
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triesti said...

'men and women would likely have different way of thinking in viewing things and experiences in life'

Not only that, but biologically we are wired differently in our brain.

A Feminist Blog said...

That's right Triesti, but it doesn't mean that we are to be treated differently, especially gender-biasedly right? :)