November 18, 2005
from Conjectures on Original Composition
Young, Edward. “from ‘Conjectures on Original Composition’.” Authorship from Plato to the Postmodern: A Reader. Ed. Sean Burke. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 1995. 37-42.
Young espouses the traditional belief that originality is to be aspired to, and imitation is creativity of a lesser quality. He makes the interesting distinction, though, between imitation of nature, and imitation of authors. Imitation of nature falls under the category of ‘original,’ while imitation of authors is, well, imitation (37). Originality extends the current field of knowledge, while imitation only gives us more of the same. A worthy imitation does have merit, but never the merit of an original.
While the essay focuses on these two larger issues, he does make an interesting gesture at classical texts:
If it is said, that most of the Latin classics, and all the Greek, except, perhaps, Homer, Pindar, and Anacreon, are in the number of imitators, yet receive our highest applause; our answer is, That they, though not real, are accidental originals; the works they imitated, few excepted are lost; they, on their father’s decease, enter as lawful heirs, on their estates in fame.So if you imitate an original and the original disappears, you are then considered the original by default. Ethically dubious, but historically and pragmatically true. (It is worth noting also that Young never identifies a source for the assertion that Latin and Greek texts are all imitations.) Later, he also asserts that ’the ancients‘ should not receive much merit for being originals, since they had no one to imitate (39). From his earlier statements, we must assume that he must be referring to pre-attic texts. Again, no specifics are mentioned.
Young’s essay is a beautiful rumination on the nature of originality, but it is not much help in considering authorship in antiquity. However, it does give us a glimpse into the early-18th century conception of attic authors.
November 9, 2005
Death of the Author
Barthes, Roland. “The Death of the Author.” Image Music Text. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977. 142-148.
Barthes famously claims that the birth of the reader is at the cost of the death of the author. To assign the text an author limits it, he says, closes it and therefore closes off interpretation. Instead, he locates meaning in language and consequently in the individual reader’s interpretation. There is no means of deciphering a text, no way of ‘piercing’ it; instead, every text is eternally written ‘here and now,’ as it is being read.
Like Foucault’s later essay, he posits the Author as a social construct. Unlike Foucault, he locates its origin in the Middle Ages “with English empiricism and French rationalism” (142). He still views the Author as a concrete individual or construct, but one that must be severed from the text. This view also echoes the Chicago New Critical School of the 1940s, but in an inimitably French way.
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).