D – The Death of the Author – JS

Aesthetic Journalism – ABC of Aesthetic Journalism

‘The moment at which a piece of music begins provides a clue to the nature of all art” – John Berger

Roland Barthes denoted a literary work called “The Death of the Author”, whilst connotations of this work evolved into an art theory. Alfredo Cramerotti produced a series of typed signs published in book form as “Aesthetic Journalism” and these signifiers were reflected upon by Fay Nicolson in her “ABC of Aesthetic Journalism”. Do we live in a post-structuralist world where meaning can be derived from the death of one author whose spirit can live on through another writer, or if we excavate deeper, can we make all authorship obsolete simply by not referencing our sources … ad infinitum?

Three notions of communication, language and authorship that I wish to reflect upon in consideration of Alfredo Cramerotti / Fay Nicolson’s work:

(1) A prevailing theory states, that for any communication to take place, both parties have to adopt the same rules of language.

(2) Wittgenstein argued that our most important emotions cannot be expressed in words, but that they can only be hinted at through the use of language.

(3) George Orwell declared four reasons for why we write – i) Egoism ii) Historical Impulse iii) Aesthetic Enthusiasm iv) Political Purpose.

(1) A prevailing theory states, that for any communication to take place, both parties have to adopt the same rules of language.

An author’s own beliefs, and therefore, their rules concerning writing, are implicit in any considered writing s/he does. Writing defines both the meaning s/he attributes to the words and the author’s value relationship with the written word i.e. – what a writer considers to be vital in language and also what s/he deems the purpose of writing to be. In Alfredo Cramerotti (Aesthetic Journalism) and Fay Nicolson (ABC of Aesthetic Journalism)’s case, the writing is considered, supported and personal because it has a clarity and a relaxed “you know me” attitude towards the reader. Poor authors confuse this position and often the reverse is true. Cramerotti has found, or rather worked, towards a voice which doesn’t do what bad writing does – to merely express – as contradictory as this may seem. (I don’t believe one does express oneself through writing. This, you can do in the presence of someone verbally but not through analysis – which is what writing is to me – although this is nudging over to the next precept). So, let me clarify further. In an ideal world, a writer would produce their own dictionary to highlight their own meaning of words to accompany their published literary text. His/her meaning of language would be further enhanced from the common usage of these words. Has Alfredo and Fay inadvertently collaborated upon the meaning of Aesthetic Journalism in this way? Who has created the Sign and who is the Signifier in the structuralist mould? Or are we, in the spirit of post-structuralism , to look for meaning within ourselves above what the author might have intended ?

Expression in writing is bad, or weak perhaps, because it follows the writer’s own rules and does not take into consideration the needs of the reader. In effect, taking this first precept onboard, it is forcing the reader to accept the writer’s own rules without negotiating with the reader through a more vigorous attention to how the writing might be read out loud. Verbal use of language is expression, but written language is an argument, and it is when these conditions are reversed or confused, that we describe someone as being a bad communicator, or a difficult writer. There is a tacit acceptance, when the writing is an argument, for the defined rules of good writing (according to the writer), which helps the reader to address the author’s perception of what good writing constitutes (in effect, an invitation to question the writer’s point of view) because s/he has outlined what they consider to be good, simply by writing. They have imposed their own value judgments upon written language simply by confirmation. Through the printed word an author states what they consider good writing to be, because the purpose of writing – which is to reason – must also evoke. There can be no retraction of intent once the emphasis of language has been imposed through this commitment. Each written work is a personal manifesto, an offering of a contract and a challenge of the reader’s rules for language.

Good writing ought to be an argument because even when it is poor, it aims to be convincing, and when it is great, it evokes, because it engages the reader to simulate the acts of creation. We do the imagining and identify with our own sentiments. It has been referred to as being the truth in communicating, or being truthful and honest, when this crafting of language produces these feelings of familiarity. As Leibniz once wrote – “the poetry begins when the words end”.

Ezra Pound once said – “Fundamental accuracy of statement is the sole morality of writing”. The voice is inherent in any writing. But what people who write mean when they are working towards ‘finding their voice’ is that they are defining their rules, criteria and the value of their relationship with themselves through language.

(2) “Wittgenstein argued that our most important emotions cannot be expressed in words but that they can only be hinted at through the use of language”.

I’ve been re-reading a lot of Hemmingway recently. I mentioned him as an example of early Aesthetic Journalism during Alfredo Cramerotti’s presentation because I believe him to be one of the most obvious writing examples from the last century. I’ve read biographies and I have been picking at his newspapers articles, short stories etc…. but one thing stands out about him that critics seem to ignore. They all trip over their superlatives about his writing and about him – the man, the myth and his adventures, but they don’t understand the function behind his writing. He was not erudite, he stopped school at sixteen. He wrote for newspapers before he moved on to fiction. But what made his writing truly great was so simple, which I think has deluded most people – like the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes – in that they often convinced you into wanting to meet him. Better still, to go and DO something with him. I can think of perhaps one or two other writers who I would have liked to have met and not to talk about their work. Just to find an activity to do with them. Good writers only achieve greatness when you want to empty the dustbins with them, I reckon. Most artists are unmemorable (if you are unfortunate enough to meet them) or worse, they betray any work that you might have liked because they talk about it in such intimate and ungenerous terms. Yes, you may have been the work’s creator, but since it is now hanging on the wall for the public, it belongs to me, so stop ruining my experience, killing it, by telling me more than what is there. Thank you!

That was why Hemingway’s writing was transparently clear. You got the sense of excitement from someone who wasn’t writing for the love of language, but simply to convey his enthusiasm and sense of fun from what he had experienced. A whole new school of writing was born because he wrote what he knew. He didn’t have a choice. I don’t think he had much of a literary imagination. Not like the magic realist writers, for example. I would have rather cleaned drains with him out in the yard than to look over his shoulder whilst he wrote perhaps. I guess what is indicative of how he considered writers, if not the whole act of writing itself – sheer contempt – was the comment he made over his Nobel Prize, referring to it as “that Swedish thing”. He was a great writer precisely because he worked language to the bone – leaving a few feathers on – in order to serve a purpose. He wasn’t precious or pretentious about language but just respected what its use could be for. He understood the fallacies inherent in imagination and how neuroses inhibit the living.

It’s hard to understand what great writing is in this light because what I am advocating takes my first precept of writing and builds upon it – we define our own values of writing as we write – but I am also saying we ourselves have to become great people before writing can achieve greatness. That is why perhaps, there has never been any great young writers. Not through inexperience of the world or what they have not achieved in configuring language etc.. as is commonly thought, but because it is more general than that – how many great people do we know for example? Most people write because of the four reasons Orwell considered. Published writers are by nature, dull. They don’t engage with living as non-writers do. They are passive, reflexive and voyeuristic for the most part. They forever fidget with their pencil and pad in their pockets, or worse, ask many questions whilst burrowing for self-serving fodder.

(iii) George Orwell declared four reasons for why we write – i) Egoism ii) Historical Impulse iii) Aesthetic Enthusiasm iv) Political Purpose.

I would now like to add a fifth – v) Aesthetic Journalism.

– JS

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One Response to D – The Death of the Author – JS

  1. siljatruus says:

    If what makes writing great is just the greatness of the person who has written it, aren’t you destined to always lack something? If writing is not the best part of that great person and you would rather clean drains with him than read his books, but all you have is his writing then you are always stuck with the second best.

    I think that (in post-structuralism or otherwise) the point of reading is not the (greatness of) the author but the reader him/herself. Good writing, as you said, “engages the reader to simulate the acts of creation”. In other words, it takes greatness to recognise greatness. Great writing of a great person is not yet enough, it takes a reader who is a great person to make the whole process meaningful. That greatness has to be captured in the writing, and released by the reader. Whether it originated from one great author or a tradition of thought – does it matter?

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