Teaching’s done for the semester and I’m returning to research mode. I’m starting by revisiting the presentation I gave in Oslo a week and a half ago. I was despondent the day before the talk, because I hadn’t done anything like as much research during the semester as I’d hoped, so I was worried I’d have to simply do the same stuff as I did at AoIR all over again, proving that the semester was wasted, research wise. But when I finally sat down to patch up the old slides I found myself changing them completely, or rather, using all the same examples but viewed through a different lens. I simply took the last few paragraphs of Foucault’s “What is an Author”, which I wrote about here a few months back, put them in the slides interspersed by my examples. In Oslo I had lots of time to chat with Anders, who saw my AoIR presentation, and a version of that I presented to his students, and then the Foucault version. It was great seeing him again, and he gave me lots of interesting ideas to think about. He even took photos!

Foucault argues that we use the idea of authors to lock texts down. He writes that fiction, left to itself, is perilous and spreads like cancer. We need authors to limit its possible meanings. He also suggests that just as authors haven’t always been part of our culture (oral story-telling didn’t require an author, only a narrator) there may be a time when we find some other way of keeping fiction at bay. In my talk I gave some examples of how out-of-control fiction on the internet scares us, and I showed examples of literature that plays with the absence of the author, or with distributed authorship, and finished up by suggesting some possible replacements for the author that we might be moving towards.

I’ve written up brief notes for each slide – they’re sketchy but hopefully coherent enough that you can see what I’m driving at – and I did the export to web thing with Powerpoint, which results in rather ugly webpages, but it’s a lot more manageable than a 6 MB PDF or something, which was the alternative. You can leaf through it if you like.

Now I need to write it up somehow. And extend it. Continue.

2 thoughts on “the peril of fiction

  1. Diane

    Not sure I agree completely with yr reading of MF. Surely he’s not an essentialist about literature — surely what’s being locked down is a historically specific idea of literature, as perilous, because it stands in a certain relationship to truth in the modern West. (Modern meaning, after the Renaissance, maybe after Descartes.) Our situation right now, with blogs, is very different…Not sure how Foucault might be extended here, without also talking about the perils of literature in a post-copyright era when so much official fiction comes through a handful of megacorps. Blogs as “unofficial” literature on the samizdat model, maybe.

  2. Jill

    Mm. I’m going to be reading more about this, so thanks for your comment, Diane. I think Foucault’s talking about a historical notion of an author and thereby literature, not about literature or fiction per se. But I do think it’s a useful way of thinking about how our relationships to fiction and literature and authorship are changing.

    There’s more to it, certainly, but this is one angle.

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