September 9, 2012

The audience and the writer are both fictional

After reading Focault and Ong, it seems to me that in the relationship between the audience, the author, and the text, the text is the only permanent aspect. The audience and the author are both created.

The audience makes assumptions about the author based on his texts, or on what they already know about him. They read the text through the lens of this identity that they have constructed for the author, and that shapes their reception of the text. If they already know who the author is and they have a positive view of the author, then they will be more receptive towards the text. If they dislike the author or the author's views, then they will go out of their way to find things to criticize about the text. How many of us defend our favorite musicians even when they produce a less-than-stellar album?

Likewise when an author sits down to write, he creates a fictional audience. In his mind he creates visions of his intended audience. He thinks about how receptive they would be to X, what they would think if he wrote Y, what arguments they would have to Z and how he can preemptively counter those arguments. The author does not know who his true audience will be, he can only imagine them. He might be wrong and his text might not have the impact that he expected.

Then the text is the only "real" connection between them. In a relationship where the audience and the author both fictionalize each other, they can only try to communicate through the text, and even then that communication is warped by other constraints. Now I have all sorts of strange anxiety, because now I imagine writing to be like playing Telephone with some comedic cast of animals who are all hard of hearing (or who might just be a figment of your imagination).


Zach van Dijk said...

In some degree I absolutely agree with your assessment, that text itself is the only concrete aspect in the processes that involve literary composition/reception. Written text is static; I feel that Ong argues that once ideas are codified they lose all communicative aspects, "Direct communication by script is impossible" (20). I too feel that authorial intent and reader reception are entirely subjective matters. Although a writer may intend to convey one point, there is no guarantee that a reader will receive that text in the same way.
However, I believe that even through oral communication, there is no true connecting principle, no way for us to truly understand each other. Text may be a more solid basis for reader/writer to connect, and spoken language may bind orator and listener, but ultimately, we are unique in so many internal processes (how one thinks, what experiences create one's conceptions, our surroundings, varying contexts, etc.) that true communication can never be fully achieved.

Josh Johnson said...

Some very important points were made, i definitely agree with you on majority of what you said. The part where you explained how the audience makes assumptions about an authors text based on what they know from previous works of that author, and related that to the way that many people defend their favorite musical artist on a flopped album, kind of disagree with an important point that i think Ong is trying to make in the article.
He really separates the listening from the reading. He explains throughout how the audience for a writer is different then the audience of a speaker. That in both cases of the speaker and the writer should already assume that their audience takes on different roles. When we are listening to something whether music or a speech we are collective. We are unified at some point. Where reading on the other hand is an individual activity that holds more of a variation from reader to reader based on intellect, interests, etc.

Joel Bergholtz said...

I think the interesting point being discussed is how fragile the relationship between author and reader is. Like you said, there is a bit of anxiety caused when one realizes how misconstrued the written form of communication can be, and I think this results from each respective party (the author and the reader) making generalizations and assumptions about the opposite. When an audience has a preconceived attitude about the author of the work, they are less likely to view it unbiasedly and see it for what it really is. Similarly, when an author works to create a relationship with the reader, which in all actuality can never exist, it sometimes comes at the expense of needed description. In both cases, creating this strained relationship can damage the literary work. However, an audience well-experienced in identifying its role and willingly participating in it is beneficial to the literary work. Similarly, an author who can create a strong fictionalized relationship with the reader can create a stronger story by pulling on emotions and creating a feeling of companionship with the reader. This too results in a better overall work. In both instances, literary work can be helped or hurt by the author and audience's ability to create this bond.

Bridgette Balderson said...

In your post you mentioned the game of Telephone and after trying to absorb that as fully as I could, I think that's the most succinct way to describe this text and the relationship between audience/writer. How exactly do we (as an audience) know if we actually absorbed a writer's message the way he intended it to be heard. Everyone is always bringing something different to the table in terms of interpretation/reading comprehension. Just based on that alone, I think the message will always be skewed depending on who is reading the message. With that I guess that the author never actually ever knows who he is writing for. He may be writing for a target audience, but I don't think an audience can ever be fully reached in the exact way an author intended.

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