Friday, April 7, 2017

Author, author, who's an author?

Gabrielle Bellot, How Many Shakespeares Were There? On Authorship, Erasure, and the Myth of the Great Solitary Writer, a The Literary Hub. The article opens by noting that that The New Oxford Shakespeare gives Shakespeare eight coauthors distributed over 14 plays. Further on:
In many ways, perhaps particularly in the West, there is a desire to put the idea of simple authorship on a pedestal. The author is sacred, singular, reified. There is something monotheistic about this idea of the single author-creator; there is something of the primacy of the individual one may see in Caspar David Friedrich’s paintings. We write our own work, of course, but writing, and art more broadly, is often collaborative at some level: our all-too-often-unacknowledged editors, our readers who make substantial suggestions, the writers we channel or even borrow from. (It’s fitting that in film, deft editing—meaning editing we do not notice—is called “the invisible art.”) Sometimes, our languages all blur—what I wrote, what I read, what she suggested I write, old diaphanous words from sepia memories. Sometimes, who wrote what, even in a writer’s mind, becomes unclear and dusky because we are always a part of so many conversations as readers, listeners, rememberers, forgetters. Authorship can be obvious, when we don’t have Shakespearean doubts about the identity of a writer, yet it is also often murky, dream-dim, near-far as the words we speak in memories.

It’s no revelation that this model of absolutely sole authorship is an oversimplification, if not a fiction, yet we frequently want to believe in it, all the same. Shakespeare seems lesser if he becomes a co-author. Attributing the Iliad and Odyssey to Homer is problematic; yet we often do, anyway, as it seems to make things simpler and, perhaps subconsciously, more correct: Homer should have composed it, the argument implies, whether or not he did. T.S. Eliot wrote The Waste Land—but so did Eliot’s wife, Vivienne, and Ezra Pound, whose edits were substantial. Ghostwriters truly become ghosts: Tony Schwartz, not Donald Trump, wrote The Art of the Deal—indeed, Trump’s near-illiteracy almost precludes his writing it—and even has a byline on the cover, yet many people who know it was ghostwritten subconsciously brush aside this fact and assume, with no sign of cognitive dissonance, that Trump is, indeed, still the writer. (Trump himself, as Schwartz has noted, ironically does this himself.) The popular YouTuber Zoella recently became the target of condemnation due to the popularity of her novels, with commentators arguing that the simplicity of her books was causing a “decline in children’s reading age”—yet Zoella’s (whose haul videos I unashamedly watch) novels are ghostwritten, so who, technically, is really being condemned? Many people—and I have been guilty of this—are reluctant to accept the possibility that Shakespeare’s so-called “bad” quartos—simpler, and I would say inferior, versions of certain plays, like Hamlet—may be indications of the Bard having written a bad draft. Instead, we are often more likely to claim the quartos were copied poorly or desirous to believe that “better” versions, like William Henry Ireland’s famous forgery of a trove of manuscripts “by” Shakespeare, are the “real” versions.

Historically, women who substantially edited or even wrote large portions of men’s texts tended to be left out of authorship discussions altogether, while, in the Americas, it was not uncommon for white racialists to argue that black writers could not even be authors at all, simply due to race.
H/t 3QD.

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