The Death of Debate about the Death of the Author

One of my favorite critiques of postmodern foolishness is in Philip Esler’s New Testament Theology, which blasts “death-of-the-author” agendas to smithereens. But a shorter and sweeter rebuttal comes from fantasy novelist Stephen R. Donaldson. From the Gradual Interview (2/23/04) on his website:

Q: “What do you think of the postmodern movement to ‘reject the author’s message’? I read that a lot of writers now expect readers to read their own interpretation into a text. Is this necessarily a bad thing, that the message can be ignored or missed?”

A: “Here’s what I think: there’s less to this than meets the eye. Reading is an interactive process. Readers have always supplied their own interpretations of what they read. In my case, the issue is simple: I’ve never had a ‘message’ I wanted to communicate (impose on the reader), so rejecting my message should be effortless. (I’m a storyteller, not a polemicist. As such, my only mission is to help my readers understand my characters and appreciate what those poor sods are going through.) In general, however, one might say that the task of any writer is to communicate his/her intentions so clearly that the reader will — as it were spontaneously — arrive at the appropriate interpretation. And if that task has been accomplished, what would be the point of rejecting the author’s message?”

Trust a writer like Donaldson to render superfluous decades of scholary debate. I love it.

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