When Will Our Authors “Die”?

Google a book you just read, and chances are you might reach the author’s website, which has details about the author’s life, their achievements and even contact details. If that is not enough, authors can be found on Facebook and Twitter. Have a question about the plot of your favorite book? Why not just leave a message on the author’s FB page? They might even answer. If you leave a comment praising their work, there’s an even better chance of them responding. Authors, after all, are human, and they are suckers for compliments. Get too close for comfort, hurt their feelings, and they will cut you out of their life in a second.

For avid readers, authors are like celebrities. And in this age, these authors, like celebrities, are in our faces – all the time. If it isn’t enough that one sees a leading actor in a movie, hosting a television show, and selling laundry detergent in the commercial breaks, he is also giving interviews in magazines, doing a guest appearance on a show, and has a Twitter page where we keep track of each and every of their moves and giving you pictorial proof. One word screams in my ears – overexposed! And if there’s one difference between writers and actors, I might be so bold as to say that the former are a part of the cultural intelligentsia. And as the smarter part of society, shouldn’t these authors know better than expose themselves more than is required?

Say Arundhati Roy and the word “Kashmir” comes to mind; say Shashi Tharoor, and you think of “Cattle class.” Let me not even get into what comes to mind when one says Chetan Bhagat (ok, unimportant is one word, but never mind my personal taste). Why are writers like Roy and Tharoor more important to us for their political points of view rather than The God of Small Things and The Great Indian Novel? Here’s a screen capture of the suggestions when you Google Tharoor.

When I was a child, I didn’t know whether my favorite writer was male or female. I had no idea what Amitav Ghosh looked like for a long time after I read his Shadow
Lines. When a friend borrowed a book from a library that had a picture of him on the jacket, we ogled at it hungrily. If the publishers were kind enough to put an informational blurb about the writer, you’d know whether they were alive and where they lived. In this, there was magic. Who the writer was, was something that was left to your imagination. But more importantly, the book existed on its own. There was no one attached to it. It was only the words and you.

Roland Barthes in his legendary essay “The Death of the Author” insists that after the book is written, the author must die. This allows the book (and its language) to create an identity of its own. He believes that “writing is the destruction of every voice, of every point of origin” and when the writer indulges in the activity of writing, he “enters into his own death.” Unfortunately, we, as readers, are curious. And if we see our favorite writer on Twitter, we will get in touch with them. But I wish, that these writers would die figuratively; disappear from our lives and allow us the space to imagine who they are. It might be too late to hope to reinstate some of that magic into our lives, but it’s not too late to hope that our authors become mysteries to us once again.

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5 Responses to When Will Our Authors “Die”?

  1. Husain says:

    That seems like a way to look at things. On the other hand, sometimes knowing the author helps me understand the context of the book better. I am not talking about wedding photos and other gossip material but stuff like what they have done and what they intend to do.
    Then again, a author can be understood by reading his/her book too. You can probably build his/her mindset and outlook out of the reading experience. It is also the other way. For some books, knowing the author helps me gain insight in why he/she wrote that. It lets me get past the literature and into the content of the book.

    • Sampada says:

      Husain, you make a good point. I think I understand what you’re saying, because some times there are authors that lead exceptional lives and when you like them, you like their works better. So I get where you’re coming from.

      However, I think what Barthes is trying to say is that when you bring the writer in the picture, the book/work tends to become one dimensional. But if each reader just interprets the words depending on their mindset and comprehensive skills, the work has many meanings. Why should only the writer decide the meaning? We as readers have equal say. That’s why the writer’s disappearance is meaningful.

  2. gokulanand says:

    Every book we read fills that part of us that was incomplete. I keep away from knowing about the author. Reading into their lives and activities has distorted my imagination many times. A classic example was me reading “The Merchant of Venice” in middle school and then getting to know about William Shakespeare a few months later, i couldn’t see the characters in the book in the same light as before.

    • Sampada says:

      Heh, I wonder what it was about Shakespeare that affected your reading of Merchant of Venice! It’s one of my favorite plays, by the way!

      • gokulanand says:

        I don’t say it affected my reading in the negative, i even went on to enact a part of it at School but what i was trying to say was the innocence of reading a work without knowing the weight of the author in the literary world was lost when i came to know about the author. Cheers!

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