Writing as an Industry: Is the Author Really Dead?

As Michelle and Julie have pointed out, Kathleen Fitzpatrick discusses the identity and purpose of the writer in her chapter entitled “Authorship.” For me, the concept of “authorship” got totally flipped on its head once I read Roland Barthes’ “The Death of the Author.” The agency of the reader is paramount and transcends the values, perspectives, and experiences of the author. “Intended” symbolism doesn’t matter, and cultural tissues combine to create new layers of interpretation and understanding.

However, Barthes doesn’t address the issue of production. Whose work gets published, and what is the impact on a larger social-political system? In her post “Unrequired Reading”  Julie makes some excellent points about the importance of blogs for minority academics. Blogs provide an arena for individuals who otherwise remain unheard to voice informed ideas and opinions, challenging traditional academic approaches and expanding intellectual capacity.  Blogging opens up the possibility of authorship for all individuals.

But what if the Bronte’s had the internet?

The Bronte sisters, painted by their far less talented brother.

The Bronte sisters, painted by their far less talented brother.

It is incredibly important that these three women were published during the Victorian period. Although Anne, Emily, and Charlotte used male aliases, they were women selling books. If Charlotte had blogged Jane Eyre would the text have had the same cultural impact? If Emily’s Wuthering Heights had been posted on a personal site would it have garnered the same emotional response from  readers? Does it matter that some man decided their work was worth publishing? I think yes. 

As unpleasant as it sounds, we live under a capitalistic superstructure, and marketing and sales grant individuals power. The commercial success of the Bronte’s contributed to the forward momentum of feminism, showing that women are not only capable of  writing successful, compelling works of fiction, but that they can also support themselves financially.

All this to say, I am not convinced that blogposts have the same resonance as a published novel. However, I do think that blogs are an excellent way to get exposure, and maybe even acquire a book deal.  That being said, there are social implications for who is published, why they are published, and the audience that purchases their books. The circumstances of the creator effect the reception and cultural importance of a commercially successful text, and for that reason the author is not dead, and blogging isn’t always enough. While idealism about accessible writing is lovely, success is still measured by economic accomplishment.

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One Response to Writing as an Industry: Is the Author Really Dead?

  1. clairefarley says:

    I really enjoyed this post, Margaret, and I think that you are totally right about the cultural, political and, especially in the case of women writers, personal implications of publication. I just listened to a great podcast about Jane Austen and it was pointed out that before she published Sense and Sensibility she was entirely dependent on her brothers to the point that she couldn’t even mail a manuscript without asking for money for the postage. How easily we forget how high the stakes are when we “kill” the author, particularly the female author.

    I wonder if we can make a distinction between creative and academic work in this discussion? In my response to Julie’s most recent post, which you referenced, I was suggesting that academics have a responsibility to share their work in relevant ways with the public. It is worrisome that this happens in blogs without pay but somehow I feel more comfortable with sharing of academic research in this way because it seems like it’s both for the “public good” and works to champion the relevance of the field we work in. Reading your post, I’m not sure I’d say the same about work that belongs to someone whose primary income is the sale of their writing (as opposed to being supported by a university or another institution). How do we draw these line, or even know where they should most reasonably be drawn?

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