This is the first in an eight part series of collaborative blogs written with the fellow thinkers who are part of Thinking&Theory. Each week I’ll be hosting a piece of writing inspired and motivated by the theorist under consideration and a piece of my own that seeks to open a dialogue around a specific set of theoretical issues, so please comment, tweet or facebook any and all thoughts and responses that come to mind.
The first in the series is based around two of the key essays in post-structuralist theory; Barthes’s ‘Death of the Author’ and Foucault’s ‘What is an Author.’
This contribution comes from Cat Cray, a socialist, poet and trade unionist from London – she blogs over at http://somehowconstant.wordpress.com/ and tweets @cat_cat_
I kinda hoped I wouldn’t have to explain. But that reaching through the membrane, that pushing of the margins is what keeps me curious and engaged so I owe it to you whomever you may be to try and say something out loud. The thing about erasure, about juggling with someone else’s words is that you know right from the start they are not your words, they are atomized and the shape you form them in is temporary.
Not quite transient, not quite owned. So… the irony is in the theory. This form has value to me because it fits in my mouth, it feels like my throat. I’m not a good student, I’m not studious or particularly academic but I do love poetry. The exploration of language, the landscape of words is what I am addicted to.
Playing with words is a privilege and an exploration that feels like me. Adoring the absence and making something new out of something already complete tunes me in to my own voice. In turn my own voice can hide comfortably underneath the ego of another. It’s a dodge, I know that.
But I like it.
Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.
Philiip Larkin – An Arundel Tomb
The works under consideration this week emerged from the revolutionary politics of the 1960s. The great luxury of critical interpretation – epistemic and hermeneutical certainty – is one that Foucault and Barthes systematically destroy.
However, there is a major point missed by these great theoretical thinkers. Whilst the author may be ‘dead’ the task of keeping them in the grave is now more difficult than ever. The increased technological aspect of our daily life has made us all, in some way, the authors of our own daily social lives. We blog, we tweet, facebook and Instagram our lives to the extent that this digital text that remains IS in a very real sense our lives. In other words, we have all become internet authors of our own lives. These lives are not necessarily linked to our real day to day experiences and as such are subject to that slippage between the reality of our own daily life and the lives we present as these online texts.
Whilst this has made the internet a more pluralistic and democratic space than ever before there is an initial problem that is yet to be resolved. The blogs, the tweets, the pictures and the facebook statuses are still texts – still a collection of signs that have to be, in some way, interpreted and read by an external force.
Despite our best efforts even our own lives are haunted by the ghost of an author – that gap between the online and offline lives we live in can never be fully bridged and as more of our selves becomes part of the digital text we work out day to day that problem will only grow.
Erasure, slippage, and a lack of closure are what social media promise to occlude. We’re sold connection, collaboration and the sure certainty of measurable metrics to understand who we are and how we fit in a digital narrative…and yet…
If we accept what Barthes and Foucault argue we have disappeared, ‘died’ and haunt our own digital texts. We’ve even begun to memorialise ourselves online too – the internet becomes the sad memento mori for more and more of us. Haunted by them whilst alive the digital text remains as a monument to a ghostly figure – the shape of ourselves which can never be fully exorcised. The author may be dead, but they remain inescapable, traced by the void which they leave. What will remain of us? It is with that question that new investigations of the authorial self in the digital age must begin.