November 8, 2005
Genius and the Copyright
Woodmansee, Martha. “Genius and the Copyright.” The Author, Art, and the Market: Rereading the History of Aesthetics. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994. 35-55.
Woodmansee’s definition of the Author has become the prevailing definition used in authorship studies today: “an individual who is solely responsible — and thus exclusively deserving of credit — for the production of a unique, original work” (35). Alternatively, the author is a “unique individual uniquely responsible for a unique product” (38).
She sees the construct’s origin in the Renaissance idea of the writer as a craftsman of sorts, but asserts that the Western conception of the author really emerges in the eighteenth century with the Romantics. This idea of an author is of the poet alone in a garret, finding inspiration deep within himself and then eventually publishing it under his name. This author has three distinct attributes: she is originary, solitary, and proprietary.
Woodmansee goes on to examine the British and German patronage system, relevant instances of book piracy, and the rise of western intellectual property law. This essay is important to any study of authorship in antiquity because it asserts that there was no Author construct before the rise of the Romantic author. This is the hegemonic position that any grounded paper on ancient authorship must push against (see Logie).