15th European Documentary Film Symposiums
Film d'Auteur.
European Documentary Film Symposium. 25 years
Ieva Kolmane Latvia
The Autor

I will try to discuss the topic of author which is too enormous, too extensive to be grasped or eaten in 20 minutes, so I will try to make it very concise along the very basic lines. In a broad sense literature may be understood as textual activity, and not only written texts may be read. It’s possible to read, for instance, facial expressions, vocal intonations, even behavior or settings.Anything of the mentioned can mean something different if brought in a different context. One may even argue that a whole life of any individual is created as a text to be read.

In a broad sense author may be understood as a person who creates or begins something, especially a plan or idea. Author’s role and status is among the most fervently discussed problems in the philosophy of literature of the 20th century and even more topical because of the revised and expended idea of literature itself.

My aim  is to give a survey of the still controversial authority of author as it has been defended and challenged by philosophy of literature.

I'll try to highlight the basic questions and answers possible here. At the same time I'll refrain from discussing some extremely interesting problems, for instance, I will not delve into the subtle peace of the current in the American philosophy concerning the questions how far we are justified to consider intention as something quite separate from the very act intended. Then I do not discuss the copyright problem either, so it seems to me that copyright is still based on a rather limited concept of authorship.

My point is that authorship ought to be considered relevant not only to the case of literature in its restricted sense, namely authorship exists not only as the authorship of a writer, but also as an authorship of any creation including documentaries here. The problem of authorship in philosophy is closely connected with the clot of related concepts: the role of author, his or her relations with a work created, author's responsibility for the meaning of the work. Still the hottest notion here has been the one of intention. In the 20th century two contradictory views were proposed on that. To make it more convenient I will call them the old school and the new school because the first one is slightly older than the second one. The old school holds that author’s intention is identical to the meaning of the work. This view is supported, for instance, by positivists and historians. The text is considered as a means that helps to understand its creator. Thus the problem how to interpret the work is eliminated, for the recipient just had to find out what the original intention had been.  So, he has to be the other historian or, let’s say, a journalist or interviewer who asks the creator what he had meant. The new school on the contrary favored by, for example, Russian formalism or Anglo-American new criticism and French structuralism, holds that intention is irrelevant to the meaning of the work and author is just a contingency. And the basic conflict here seems to be between those trying to explicate a work, as to search for what the author of it had in mind. And those seeking to interpret it, that is to search for what a work says itself disregarding the intention of the author. The conflict itself was known long ago, and is deeply rooted into the problem of relation between thinking and language. For instance, what is actually happening when I try to say what I think. In ancient Greece Plato and Aristotle tried to make some distinctions between the idea and its expression. And so it was in the early Christian theology, but I’d like to skip that maybe for a moment just not to lose the point. So, the new school of the 20th century has put forward some weighty arguments against intention. And the bulk of them might be reduced to two. The first one is connected to the claim that author’s intention is not relevant and the most famous argument here is the dilemma posed by William Wimpseton Monroe Birdsly in an article called “ intentional fallacy” in 1946. So, what it says is there can be only two cases: either you guess immediately or see immediately in the work itself what the intention of author had been, so there is no need to clarify it any more, or you are not able to grasp the intention at once, but there is no use to find out what exactly it had been, for in such a way you would find out something besides the work itself, something that exists outside the work. And inquiry would lead us away from the work itself to its creator. So, intention does not help in any case to understand a work better. And it is not clear how it is possible to find out what actually the intention had been, because, for instance, if we ask a creator himself or herself there’s again the same old problem on distinction between thinking and speech, for instance. Yeah, so can I say actually what my intention has been? The second argument of the new school against intention is as follows. Intention cannot be relevant to the meaning of the work because the work itself tends to live much longer than intention does. For instance, nobody cares what the intention of Jonathan Swift’s “Galas Travels” had been. We know it had been intended actually as political satire. But still it is possible to enjoy the book never the same. And of course the most notorious attacks on author have been compacted by French structuralism or post-structuralism alike. Rollen Bart and Michele Foque. So Bart in 1968 published an essay “The death of the author” and Foque in 1969 gave a lecture called “What is an author”. Well, one must take into account a context of those claims in order not to misunderstand the message. So, first of all we must remember that the 60’s were the time of revolt in the western esthetics as well and it was kind of trendy to kill or mortify things long established or traditional, let’s say a novel, or symphony, or poem, etc. And secondly, the degradation and elimination of author along with his intention followed from the paradigm of French structuralism. So, when Bart claims author to be dead he means rather that figure cultivated by structures of power and ideology, so for him author is a kind of a bourgeois, a psychological entity living as if attached to his or her work and restricting the possible ways of interpretation. And again, he says: “the intentions of the author of the text do not matter in interpreting the text”. So, reading is what counts rather than intention, and language is what counts rather than its user. So, thus the problems seem to be narrowed here by Bart. So the problem of author Bart deals with is just the problem of explaining the work via its author’s biography. So, Foque puts it in a slightly different way. He eliminates significance of author as an all-mighty creator or kind of a patron of a work. And Foque claims that what has been claimed author is in fact an unnecessary function of the text constructed inside historical and ideological structures and its presence allows to attend to the text as a psychologically processed phenomena. And this leads us to some strong points of the old school. First of all, even if we admit irrelevance of intention and proclaim the recipient all-mighty instead, so might not author still exist as a reader than. So, reading and interpreting what he or she sees and experiences- on that sense author can be preserved. So secondly, any communication calls for the conviction that there is somebody in his or her full senses and speaking there, or imagine somebody engaging into conversation with a talking TV set. Or, for example, imagine reading a letter where all the words as you happen to know as quite coherent, have been arranged by chance or by a dog, let’s say. So, it is not easy to eliminate author as a communicator. In that case a reader also becomes endangered. For it is possible that only in communication in its oral form somebody who intentionally speaks to you is absolutely necessary. And in other cases the claim is not so strict, more formal. So, still author along with his or her intention hardly can be killed. As Hans Godagemmer has put it in 60’s again: “the intention of author is a criteria of interpretation.” So, the meaning of the work is always more than the intention along. But to interpret a work means to try, as he says, to meet its author. And another thing. Is there a conflict between both schools at all? If we take a look at the dilemma of the old school as the old school claims: “you have to look for intention while reading”. And the new school says: “you have attend only to what the work says to me.” So it is possible to put the same in a slightly different way, namely you have to look either for the original meaning or for the present one. And both possibilities are open and in such a way both claim as complementary rather that exclusive. So, it’s possible to do both things maybe at the same time. And to conclude, author is and I suppose will be alive in its Roman sense. In Latin the word for author “auctor” is derived from the verb “auctare”, which means to add to something, to make something richer. So, in this noble sense any of us is an author. If we add to the meaning of the world and that is what I think we all able to do. So, thank you very much.

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