• The Author in the Text: A Brief History

  • Mon, 11/11/2019 at 5:00 pm
  • Wolstein Research Building
    2103 Cornell Rd
    44106 Cleveland
The Author in the Text: A Brief History - Wolstein Research Building - Cleveland

The Author in the MarginsThe relation between the literary text and its author has been a subject of controversy for at least two hundred years, since Romanticism popularized the myth of the distracted genius producing great works from the depths of his psyche through a process mysterious even to him (almost always him rather than her). Throughout the 19th century the “great men” paradigm generally prevailed, even as Nietzsche, for one, insisted that the author was simply “the maternal womb, the soil, or, in some cases, the dung or manure” out of which the work grows. Academic criticism in the mid 20th century promulgated a view of the literary work as independent of the conditions of its production and best read as such. In America the New Critics pioneered this view, while in Britain F.R. Leavis and his followers also promoted the idea that close reading and textual analysis should replace the life and personality of the author as a main consideration. The most enduringly influential formulations of the author as irrelevant to the understanding of literary works came in the form of two essays written in France in the late 1960s: Roland Barthes’s “The Death of the Author” and Michel Foucault’s “What is an Author?” These essays paved the way for decades of academic insistence on the complete irrelevance of biography and history to the reading of literature (eventually to be curtailed only by the advent of identity as a central category). In the meantime, however, outside the academy readers remained as avid as ever for literary biography and continued to read works in terms of their authors’ lives. In this series of lecture, Elisabeth Ladenson, Professor of French and Romance Philology at Columbia University, will offer a brief history of the place of the author in literary interpretation, along with two salient cases in which the author’s biography seems to be inseparable from the understanding of their works: Marcel Proust and Colette. This lecture series, in memory of Walter A. Strauss (1923-2008), who was the Elizabeth and William T. Treuhaft Professor of Humanities, is generously supported by funds provided by the Paul Wurzburger Endowment.___________________________________________________________________In this lecture Ladenson will recount the history of interpretations of the author’s role in the reading of literary texts, from Romanticism through Barthes’s “Death of the Author” and beyond, with particular attention to the importance of Proust’s theory of the complete divergence between the biographical author and the “deep self” which produces the work of art, and its influence on Barthes’s formulation of “the death of the author.”This event is free and open to the public.Registration requested.