Susan Hill’s always interesting, thought-provoking and opinionated blog lives up to all these epithets in her latest post on what Roland Barthes would have called ‘the death of the author’.
She’s talking about Terry Eagleton, a lit-crit professor whose work has also been exercising Emma Darwin recently, so I thought I would ruminate on all this stuff and leave you to think about it while I’m away in the Peak District. (Turned out we didn’t have enough money to go to Italy without dipping into the boys’ college fund. Couldn’t do that, obviously… so Derbyshire it is. Keep your fingers crossed for nice weather…)
Ms Hill extracts various quotations from a review by Terry Eagleton in the latest London Review of Books. Because I don’t have a LRB handy (tsk!) I shall quote her quotations, with the due acknowledgement to her blog:
TE in LRB: 'Writing, unlike speech, is meaning that has come adrift from its source.'
Me: So far, so good. Can’t argue with that.
TE in LRB: 'Literary works are peculiarly portable. They can be lifted from one interpretative situation to another and may change their meaning in the course of this migration.'
Me: Beginning to argue now. How can things change their meaning. Sure, you can give them another interpretation, but meaning? I don’t think so.
TE in LRB: 'Works of literature are to some extent cut free from those who engender them, wandering through the world to accumulate new meanings in different situations.'
Me: Beginning to think Prof Eagleton and I don’t agree about the meaning of the word ‘meaning’.
TE in LRB: 'Never trust the teller trust the tale. Literary works have intentions of their own of which their producers know little or nothing.'
Me: Well this if frankly tosh and piffle isn’t it? Literary works have intentions of their own? Is he seriously ascribing conscious agency to a ‘tale’ outside the mind of the author?
Eagleton was one of the literary theorists who lectured to undergraduates when I was at Oxford (he was very good, favoured denim, was witty and worth listening to; he even made up a song summarising a whole term’s worth of lectures at one stage which was fun) and I went to all his lectures. This may not sound like much but, given that there were terms when I attended no lectures at all, going to listen to somebody whilst I could have been ploughing through endless texts for one of that week’s two essays was a Big Deal. Despite Eagleton’s amusement value I found this whole ‘death of the author’ thing the most utter drivel. I know it’s not pc and may be thought arrogant to be so dismissive of something which lots of extremely clever people believe in, dismiss it I do as utterly ridiculous.
My view is even more entrenched now that I am a published writer. The thought that people out there would presume to say that their interpretation of Testament is just as valid as what I was trying to say - indeed, that what I thought I was doing is irrelevant - is frankly annoying.
Am I alone in this?