September 10, 2012

The Imagined Author/Audience Relationship

The exact nature of the relationship that an author has to their work has been a recurring question in my English classes, and it is still one that I do not feel confident that I can provide a definitive answer to. It is a philosophical question whose "correct" answer is contingent upon the analytic framework we approach the question with and the sort of explanatory power we expect from the answer. To a layman's understanding, the meaning of the word "author" seems pretty apparent, the one who produced a work. Yet this definition explains little as it merely substitutes the word "author" for "producer." And even if the word provided some insight, we would still be left with the question of "producer with respect to what?" Imagining an instance of a narrator dictating to a scribe conveys the trouble associated with the notion of "author" as a singular being as this represents a case where different aspects of textual production are collectively dispersed. The same problem is even more troublesome if we are trying to trace the intellectual history of a piece and we adopt a Platonic perspective that there exists a nouminal immaterial world of ideas.

Walter Ong's piece suggests that the idea of audience stands on equally shaky ground as the alienating effect of text means that writers almost never have a complete understanding of the full scope of their "audience." Though I am familiar with some of Ong's other work in Philosophy of Language, this is the first time I have ever read his thoughts on the nature of the audience/author relationship. As readers we tend to feel that we have a pretty firm grip on the concept of the audience because we constitute the audience of works we consume, yet it is important to know that our awareness of self is something which probably exists outside of the experience of those who create the works we consume.

So, my questions are twofold.
1: Is our understanding of "authorship" in the sense of each author having distinct characteristics tautological? Is it problematic that we define an author in terms of their work and explain the work in terms of the author?

2: Is the word "fiction" too misleading to incorporate into the title of Walter Ong's essay? While it is true that text lacks immediacy and writers never imagine their audience in a complete way (and even when they do in the case of private messages, they must "create" a representation of them to converse with), do the connotations that the word "fiction" have with unreality and unlikelihood make it inappropriate for expressing Ong's idea? Would "imagined" or "projected," or a similar word suit the purpose of explaining Ong's concept better.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.