The Author / The Narrator / The Character:

Interrupting the narrative hierarchy:

Who is writing who?
Drifting positions; nodes
Multiple authors - dispersing authority

Analysis of Nabokov's "Recruiting".

Reading Summary:

Structuralism - outline:
1. The nature of things is determined by their position within a larger structure - whether social, psychological, literary, linguistic or political.

2. The individual should be comprehended through the structure and not vice versa. The particular is incidental.

Language served as a primary model for all other social phenomena (in particular through Saussure's analysis), since no act of speech has a meaning outside a structure or code (semantic, syntactic).

How does language work? - synchronic analysis vs. diachronic (i.e.evolution of signs within a historical context).

Relative meanings operating within a steady and closed system.

Parole - realm of individual moments of language use, particular utterances or messages, whether spoken or written.

Langue - the (independent) system or code which allows for the realization of the individual messages.

Langage - the heterogeneous totality with which the linguist is faced and which may be studied from a variety of points of view.

The connection between Signifier / Signified within Signs is arbitrary.
The value of the sign is determined in its relation to other signs; its difference.

Language does not reflect or refer to a reality, but rather creates it:
1. Because a natural link between sign and referent is absent, the connection is preserved through an external code / system in order to allow communication to be possible.
2. Meaning is created negatively - it is determined through difference (i.e.what the signifier is not), and not through a positive referential relation to the signified/ referent.

The Structuralists conclusion - not to involve the signified in the process of producing meaning.
Only representation (the signified) is accessible; therefore investigation focuses on representation alone ( exploring various systems of signification such as fashion or myth).
Meaning is produced by a system of relations between signifiers. The "natural" is a product of a system / myth.

Problems with the Structuralists' approach:

  • Alienating language from its users.
    Chomsky's solution - there are structures inherent in us - more immediate and less arbitrary a system.
    Even if language is arbitrary in its origin, it is not arbitrary in its usage.
  • Structuralism undermines agency, responsibility. Disregards historical (diachronic) variables.
    It cannot explain change and growth, merely a single situation.
  • Language is not stable. Structuralism is based on the assumption that it is.
    Post structuralism - the assumption of a stable structure is itself shakey. There is no single "I" that can testify for relativity and fragmentation. The categories themselves (e.g.Author, Subject, Point of View) are not fixed.
    Derrida - the fallacy of Structuralism: the metaphysics of "presence" is shifted from reality to a structure of describable nature.

Barthes, Roland - "The Death of the Author"

Barthes' early work focuses on exposing the ideological mechanism behind the production of what is "natural" to us. The only way out of an entrapment within a closed sign system -- within its conventions -- is revealing the ideology at its base - the meaning producing mechanism.

The current article is written in the beginning of Barthes' transition from Structuralism to Post-Structuralism.

In certain cultures text is conceived as sourceless, performed or transmitted. That is, the "Author" is a product of our culture, a convention; a reflection of a capitalist society concerned with ownership and the prestige of the individual .

It is not the author but language that speaks. Analysis of text needs to explore writing and writing structures rather than a speaking voice, a self.

Detaching writing from a source releases the text from an anchor, an author's intention. Weight shift to a (general) reader, and an indefinite range of possible readings is opened.

Writing - the destruction of every voice, every point of origin.
The Author dies in the moment of writing.

As soon as a fact is narrated - no longer with a view to acting directly on reality but intransitively,
outside function, the disconnection occurs - the voice loses its origin, the author enters his own death and writing begins.

The author is never more than the instance writing: the "I" in a text is a single instance of saying "I", it denotes a subject (a. syntactic position) rather than an individual, a person. Its referent is irrelevant (as well as inaccessible) to comprehending its function and meaning in the writing.

Writing performs rather than documents.

The Author is always in the past of the text; whereas the Writer is simultaneous with it. Writing always occurs now, in the act of reading it, enunciating it, unpacking its structure.

There is no single theological meaning but a multidimensional space in which a variety of writings blend and clash. A tissue of ambiguous meanings, puns, paradoxes, contradictory quotations to be detected rather than solved.

Assigning the text an an author is equal to imposing a limit/an anchor/closure on this mesh.
In the multiplicity of writing - everything is to be disentangled rather than deciphered. The structure is to be followed at every point, rather than reduced to a single angle.

The unity of a text is in its destination - the reader; though the reader too is inscribed, not personal.
Hence, the birth of reader begins with the death of the author.


Foucault, Michel - "What is an Author?"

Strives to cancel the imminent hierarchy between author and reader altogether: roles are functions of use.

Following the structuralists, Foucault too agrees that the discussion of authorship need not relate to the individual person or source.

However, according to him, the historical social reality should be given consideration before and beyond the investigation of the closed linguistic structure.

The evolution of language is functional. It is an outcome of a system of control producing a variety of subjects (as well as means for knowing them) for defined purposes and functions. Historical (Diachronic) analysis is restored, but in relation to the evolution of functions within a (changing) system.

Presence is a sign of power. The presence of the Author function in Western social discourse is a sign of the power attributed to it and to its representation.

The questions to be asked are what allowed the Author to exist? what social function (and status) does it serve as an institution? what are the conditions in which these functions are realized? How does it contribute to and fit within society's distribution of roles and power?

The Author's name is an act. It performs within a certain social dynamic, and serves as a means of classification, grouping, exclusion and canonization of texts.

Foucault's goal - analysis of the author's function, the way in which it is transferred, circulated, attributed, appropriated and operates within a variety of types of discourses.
The subject should not be abandoned but reconsidered: understood in its functions, intervention, system of dependencies.

The characteristics of the function/discourse:

  1. Object of appropriation. Originally - discourse (text) was an action, a gesture, not a thing.
    Since the end of the 18th century it has been caught within the economic structures of property, ownership, copy rights. It is tied to legal and institutional systems that regulate and determine the realm of discourse.
  2. The author function is not universal or constant.
    For instance, in the Middle Ages it served to guaranty validity of scientific writings, whereas today an agreed upon system of conventions provides validation for a scientific text.
    While in literary discourse meaning depends on the attribution of the text to an author, a dependence which only evolved and crystallized in recent time.
  3. The function is not formed spontaneously, but is rather constructed through a complex operation and a defined set of procedures, based on similarity in quality, style, ideology and range of time.
    It evolves out of and confirms the assumption of unity.
  4. The text bears signs referring to the author (vs. speaker), such as personal pronouns or adverbs of time and place.
    These produce a multiplicity of positions (in time and place) and of points of view, a plurality of egos/ subjective positions characteristic of the Author function.


George Landow, Hypertext - "Reconfiguring the Author"

1.The functions of reader and writer become in hypertext as well as in contemporary theory more deeply entwined with each other than ever before.
One clear sign of such transference of authorial power appears in the reader's abilities to choose his or her way through the metatext, to annotate text written by others, and to create links between documents written by others. What literature solicits of the reader is not simply reception but the active, independent, autonomous construction of meaning. (p.71)

2. Intertextuality: hypertext and contemporary theory both agree in configuring the author of the text as a text. Hypertext embodies many of the ideas and attitudes proposed by Barthes, Derrida, Foucault, and others. For all these authors the self takes the form of a de-centered (or centerless) network of codes that, on another level, also serves as a node within another centerless network. (p.72-73)

Radical changes in textuality produce radical changes in the author figure derived from that textuality. Lack of textual autonomy like lack of textual centeredness, immediately reverberates through conceptions of authorship as well. Similarly, the unboundedness of the new textuality disperses the author as well.

The network paradigm contributes importantly to this sense of the attenuated, depleted, eroding, or even vanishing subject. Some authors, such as Said and Heim, derive the erosion of the thinking subject directly from electronic information technology. The arbitrariness and availability of database searching decreases the felt sense of an authorial control over what is written" (Heim, Electric Language, 220). A data base search, in other words, permits the active reader to enter the author's text at any point and not at the point the author chose as the beginning. (p.74-75)

"Digital writing turns the private solitude of reflective reading and writing into a public network where the personal symbolic framework needed for original authorship is threatened by linkage with the total textuality of human expressions" (Heim, 215).

3.The third form of reconfiguration of self and author shared by theory and hypertext concerns the de-centered self, an obvious corollary to the network paradigm.

Derrida, Foucault, and Deleuze have spoken of contemporary knowledge (savoir) as decentered; Deleuze's formulation is that knowledge, insofar as it is intelligible, is apprehensible in terms of nomadic centers, provisional structures that are never permanent, always straying from one set of information to another" (Beginnings, 376). (vs. the notions of the unitary self situated in a privileged position) (p.77)

The question of authority of writing makes sense only if the writing in question is considered stable and documentary (Said).

Effective argument requires closing off connections and abandoning lines of investigation that hypertextuality would have made available.

The linear habits of thought associated with print technology often force us to think in particular ways that require narrowness, decontextualization, and intellectual attenuation, if not downright impoverishment. Linear argument, in other words, forces one to cut off a quoted passage from other, apparently irrelevant contexts that in fact contribute to its meaning. Repetitions and detours are eliminated. The linearity of print provides the passage with an illusory center whose force is intensified by such selection and elimination. (p. 80-81)

4.Within a hypertext environment all writing becomes collaborative writing.

The first element of collaboration appears when one compares the roles of writer and reader, since the active reader necessarily collaborates with the author in producing a text by the choices he or she makes. The second aspect of collaboration appears when one compares the writer with other writers‹that is, the author who is writing now with the virtual presence of all writers "on the system" who wrote then but whose writings are still present. (p.88)

Once ensconced within a network of electronic links, a document no longer exists by itself. It always exists in relation to other documents in a way that a book or printed document never does and never can. From this crucial shift in the way texts exist in relation to others derive two principles:
First, any document placed on any networked system that supports electronically linked materials potentially exists in collaboration with any and all other documents on that system;
Second, any document electronically linked to any other document collaborates with it. (p.89)

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