Sympathists

“My” Authors, and Yours

In Questions for the Panel on January 10, 2009 at 4:10 pm

Dean Williams, Kyoto

Thinking and writing about Kafka has made me consider the phenomenon of “Author Ownership.” There are writers/thinkers/artists/directors that we consider “ours” by virtue of the time and energy we have spent on consuming that author’s oeuvre. When we read commentaries, analysis of that person we do so with a certain proprietorial air, which can quickly turn to disgust and even anger if we feel that the critique is “incorrect” or “unfair.” I suppose the writers (I only have writers) I consider “mine” would include:

Kafka, Dickinson, Faulkner, Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, Nabokov, Chekhov (but only for his short stories!) and Arendt.

That would be a good question to ask readers to post on: What authors/ creative figures do you consider “yours”?

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  1. Seldom has so apt a description been floated.

  2. “Our ‘ownership’ of an author is more an agreement that we subscribe to the same set of principles and a willingness to accept each others view of the world. This is why we react strongly to criticism of ‘our author’. It is actually a criticism of us.”

    Right, i think darren is absolutely right. So looking at my favorites faulkner, nabokov and kafka, I’m basically a prissy, unreconstructed Southerner who hates lowbrows and is engaged in a desperate struggle with his Maker!

    d

  3. Kafka is an interesting figure, no less because his writing so transcended his life. As Dean pointed out he, differs from say, Orwell, in that he was no professional communism hunter, and the first essay Matthew looks at shows a figure whose life we can hardly envy (even if it rings true for some of us). Perhaps it’s the banality of his life that we can take refuge in – he’s an idol for the mortal man, working and writing as most of us would have to.

    However this begs the question – do we take inspiration from a man’s life, or his deeds – in this case words? In other words – where does our ownership lie? With the author whom we may admire for his craft, ability and normality, or for their underlying message on the human condition? Surely it is these ideas we cling to. When we read something that touches a cord, we empathise with it and add it to our belief system. There is an implicit contract made between the words and our point of view, much as we willingly suspend our disbelief when watching series one of Battlestar Galactica (ok maybe not that much). Our ‘ownership’ of an author is more an agreement that we subscribe to the same set of principles and a willingness to accept each others view of the world. This is why we react strongly to criticism of ‘our author’. It is actually a criticism of us.

    On an interesting side note, most of the authors Dean listed are foreign, with works translated into English. I wonder how much of our ownership is owed to the translators work?

  4. This is a call out to anyone who wants to respond to this question from Dean: I think this would be an easy post to get started on. A full posts on this topic, it seems to me, would go into some detail about why yoo feel a sense of “ownership” for the author in question. I’ll try to tackle this one soon.

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