Two of the articles we read for this week were in part concerned with items other than the published works of an author.  Michel Foucault in What is an Author? talks about what can and can’t be regarded as being part of an author’s work- are any notes a part of it, for example?

From What is an Author?

From What is an Author?

Matthew Kirschenbaum in What is an @uthor? extends this thought into the modern era, wondering about an author’s social media output as well as personal appearances and talks which are more likely, perhaps, nowadays to be reported on twitter or recorded for placement online.  A recent book tour and involvement on Twitter from author, William Gibson, is cited as an example.  As seen through this example, notes made by authors can sometimes bolster or diminish arguments around the works of that author, or others.  A note made by Coleridge in his copy of Othello (Iago’s “motiveless malignity”) was much later conveyed to my A Level class when studying the play.  When writing an introduction to Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks consulted the notes he made when writing the novel.  JK Rowling sketched her own characters and different ideas to help her when writing Harry Potter.  Many authors leave stuff behind  in this way – but also through interviews and, nowadays, via social media.  Should their views be regarded as the be all and end all, should everything they produce become part of their ouevre?

To a large extent this is, perhaps, an argument for scholars of literature but it does also have a knock-on effect on libraries and archives, who could stand to benefit from such interest- especially if they chose to publish their holdings.  City University London, for example, has a bound set of an old literary periodical called the Athenaeum (ultimately now The New Statesman), inside which are notes from the editor identifying the, otherwise anonymous or initialised, book reviewers and details of their pay.  Such details could be very important to researchers of the Athenaeum, or indeed those who contributed to it.

Libraries and archives are custodians of such information and need to be careful with it.  Believe it or not, there was a professor who paid a visit to an old library.  Upon leaving he announced that he had erased the pencil notes left in the books, thinking he was doing the owners a great favour.  He was promptly told the notes were made by George Eliot.

Foucault calls writing “something designed to ward off death.”  Does it also grant immortality?  For some, perhaps, where works survive, perhaps, but not where they are lost.  Aristophanes has done well, where many Greek dramatists have no doubt disappeared (some may slowly be discovered in Herculaneum).  (I tried to write a story about this once by googling my name around the world and creating a conference of James Atkinsons through history).  But digital survival is the new key.  People have worried about it for years (a google search takes us back at least as far as 2004) and it came up again this week with Google’s vice-president Vint Cerf warning about the safety of digital information.

As Ernesto pointed out in the lecture, Foucault, and Barthes, were both very image conscious.(Incidentally, my birthday is also 15th October).

As Ernesto pointed out in the lecture, Foucault, and Barthes, were both very image conscious. (Incidentally, my birthday is also 15th October).

This, and something Ernesto said (I’m not sure what as I keep forgetting to bring my notes to the blogface) at the the start of the lecture made me think about a line from Yes by Manic Street Preachers: “For $200 anyone can become a God on video.”  With smartphones and free software, I guess it is probably a lot cheaper these days – however, as ever, getting the timing right and reaching the right people is key- as shown, perhaps, by the example of Daniel Wickham’s tweeting during the Charlie Hebdo solidarity march in Paris.

As an aside, as with Ernesto – has anyone else conversed with the famous on Twitter, or elsewhere on social media?

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