September 9, 2012

Death of the Author and the Audience

   Ong talks about the fictionalizing of the audience, who the author thinks he is writing for and what he imagines they are like and will receive his text, whether or not that imaginization is correct. This goes alongside with Roland Barthes’ Death of the Author theory, in that the author’s intent, and what he thinks his intent was, is rendered null and void as soon as anyone else’s eyes read the text. It is no longer his and his alone, but a separate entity that may be wholly different from what he envisioned. Likewise, the author’s idea of his audience is irrelevant. His text, once published or otherwise put out into the world, is removed from him; he has no impute on how the reader interprets the text. As Ong points out, rhetoric for today’s audience is very different from when it was first formed. When rhetoric was an oral discourse, the speaker (author) had a direct connection to his audience, even if it was not a perfect one.

The author could literally see and hear his audience, in the moment that they were receiving the ‘text’, which is something that an author of today does not have access to, even through reader reviews or evaluations, as they have happened after the reader has already taken in the text. Done in person, orally, the speaker can correct, or further explain, or explain in a different way if he sees that the text is not being understood in the manner he intended. Obviously, even the audience of spoken rhetoric isn’t perfectly responsive to the author’s every intention, but a speaker’s inflection, manner of speech, pacing, and even charisma all directly influence how his audience understands his text, in a way that words on a page are distinctly unable to.  But, with a written text, as Ong suggests, the audience has more power. The author may imagine who he is writing to, but that has no bearing on who actually reads the text, and what the reader makes of it. It is the audience of the individual who decides what interpretation of the text is correct, and with that caveat, there can be as many ‘correct’ interpretations as readers. 

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