Session 4: Reflecting on Authorship in Story

2nd Global Conference


Wednesday 7th November – Friday 9th November 2012
Salzburg, Austria

The Death Of The Critic: ‘Authorial Intent’ as a Perquisite for Narrative Meaning.
Chris Jury
Bath Spa University, United Kingdom

In his 1967 essay, ‘The Death of the Author,’ the French literary critic and theorist Roland Barthes argues that a piece of writing and the intentions and dispositions of the author are unrelated; that a reader need not, indeed cannot, take into account the dispositions and intentions of the author while reading and that the only meaning in the work is that derived from the readers individual response to the writing.

This paper claims that on the contrary an assumption of ‘authorial intent’ is a prerequisite for making sense of any piece of writing. The paper uses the specifics of narrative form and the latest research in human cognition to illustrate the necessity of a reader’s assumption of authorial intent for stories, and potentially all writing, to make sense.

Without the concept of authorial intent, narrative, and reading in general, literally makes no sense — both as an activity in itself; i.e. what is the point in reading random words placed on a page with no purpose or intention? And also in terms of a reader’s own ability to create meaning from the writing; i.e. without the assumption of authorial intent the words on the page become random and thus meaningless – regardless of the author’s actual intentions.

The meaning of any piece of a story lies in it’s inter-subjectivity; the meaning to an individual reader is dependent upon the relationship between the reader’s perceptions of the author’s intent and how this perceived authorial intent coincides with or challenges, the readers own presumptions, opinions and intentions.

Thus this paper aims to demonstrate far from the author being dead the author is as alive as ever, because the concept of an author and an assumption of authorial intent is structurally necessary to make sense of narrative and is as fundamental to making sense of any piece of writing as language, grammar, punctuation, vocabulary and logic.

That’s Another Story: Paul Bowles, Mohammed Mrabet, and the Notion of Authorship
Greg Bevan
Fukuoka University, Fukuoka, Japan

The American fiction writer Paul Bowles (1910-1999) is generally remembered today for his first novel The Sheltering Sky (1949), and for the tenacious expatriatism that eventually cost him his place in the literary limelight. Bowles lived in Morocco almost continuously from 1947 until his death, creating an oeuvre notable for its insights into Maghrebi culture, and in the 1960s also began tape-recording and translating the work of illiterate Moroccan storytellers. These translations are generally seen as either the product of an archivist’s impulse (akin to his recording of Moroccan folk music for the US Library of Congress) or a respite from the heavy lifting of his own fiction. But as this presentation will argue, they can instead be seen as the culmination of a lifelong effort—begun in his youth with experiments in ‘unconscious writing’ — to access the power of pure, unfettered story.

It was an endeavor that made him enemies. The Moroccan novelist Tahar Ben Jelloun responded to Bowles’ translations of Mohammed Mrabet (born 1936) by notoriously claiming in Le Monde that Mrabet did not exist — and then shifting to the charge that Mrabet was an unlettered patsy in Bowles’ scheme to defame Morocco. But a close reading of Bowles and Mrabet’s collaborations reveals something far more interesting. The famously detached Bowles might have envied Mrabet’s alleged nonexistence — one of his biographies is entitled An Invisible Spectator — and it is hard not to see these translations as a further step in self-erasure. Yet Mrabet’s indebtedness to Bowles is uniquely acute: his native tongue is Darija Arabic, a dialect that cannot be written down. These joint works thus become not only a cross-cultural testament to the power of story, but a singular exploration of the meaning of authorship itself.

Download Draft Conference Paper (pdf)

The Absent Presence of Voice in Contemporary Artists Film
Lisa Stansbie
University of Huddersfield, United Kingdom

The paper will analyse the potential of voice to be a signifer of narrative and an immersive instrument within contemporary artists film and their construction, utilising my own practice by screening the digital film Spitfire Beach (2010) as a case study. The notion of the ‘speaking subject’ (Kristeva) will be investigated, through forms of the voiceover that establish an absent presence within the film works. When voice conveys language as it does via the storytelling in the discussed work, it also creates an unseen objective identity within the films whereby the voiceover becomes informer and watcher of events as they unfold.

Each of my film works uses a systematic process of narrative construction, involving found lists of words taken from Internet searches. These lists of words are used to multiply associations that suggest stories, reveal themes of nostalgia, journeys and disasters, which are then recorded by voiceover artists.

The notion of multiplicity is also used where tangential associations are developed in the writing of the blogs that document the making process of the films. These associations are constructed specifically via memory. In the Spitfire Beach blog (2010) the narrative of the blog is structured around the making of the film Spitfire Beach. However, the writing in this form becomes more than documentation, as interwoven narratives unfold and a process of remembering is engaged. The voice present within the blog is that of the artist and this voice merges memory and association in an unrestrained and wandering style. Italo Calvino (1988) describes the process of writing used by the novelist Carlo Emilio Gadda in his Risotto alla Millanese as episodes in which ‘…the least thing is seen as the centre of a network of relationships that the writer cannot restrain himself from following.’ (Calvino, 1988, p. 107)

Download Draft Conference Paper (pdf)