Authors Aren’t Dead. They Feel Fine.

            I can see, through examples such as “We Feel Fine” and “Whale Hunt,” how Barthes’s idea that “the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author” makes some sense. In a way the author becomes nonexistent after these programs are complete, like any text, and it is left for the reader to interact with the text. Yet, I still find Barthes’s conclusions to be a little melodramatic, perhaps a little overdramatic. Yes, the author no longer has control of the text. But, Barthes says, “the voice loses its origin, the author enters his own death, writing begins” (142). Are not the databases two examples of how the author’s voice, and the author himself, are not dying through his function, rather, his functions are beginning to change and evolve? Rather than dictating what he sees or what he wants to express, he is creating narrative plots to allow the reader to express, at that given moment, a brand new narrative. Manovich says in “The Database Logic,” “the database of choices from which narrative is constructed is (the paradigm) is implicit; while the actual narrative (the syntagm) is explicit” (231). So rather than being an author of what is explicit, cannot the author narrate the implicit and guide the consciousness of the reader to a limitless amount of new ideas?

            For instance, in We Feel Fine, I clicked the word “cheap” for both genders on rainy days in the United States. The author of the database created the algorithm or set of rules to which I could get the amount of 20 year olds who feel cheap on rainy days. Now, I am able to imagine the actual story:

            There are about 10-12 twenty year olds on a rainy night in the United States. Some lived in Oregon, fewer were in Washington. One in particular didn’t feel cheep because he was used for sexual favors. He claimed, “I feel cheap because I received a cheap shot to the face.” Another guy says he feels cheap because he got a cheap CD player. Then there was the girl who claimed her boyfriend uses her and treats her bad. The next day (really the next search) was sunny, but surprisingly even more people in their twenties were feeling cheap. One female says to herself, “I will never find a man who wants me for anything other than sex.”

            It seems the author is not dying through his work; he is handing over the baton to the reader. The story still goes on. We just have to click and be inspired. I could go on to imagine how all these cheap people meet and find a new sense of self-worth. The database creator has created paths and options, according to Manovich in the “The Database Logic,” that would “make explicit the psychological processes involved in cultural communication” particularly in the reader.

            I think this also holds true in the traditional narrative. Sure, this form of storytelling is concrete and sequential, but the world and its characters, in which the author created, are still within the readers minds. His voice is alive and well. Often times, readers take the author’s story and his voice and use it to expand the story or universe, as we discussed in class last week. So, I still find it hard to believe that “Writing is the destruction of every voice, of every point of origin,” even in a figurative sense. If anything, writing should be considered the birthplace of origin and of every voice.

4 thoughts on “Authors Aren’t Dead. They Feel Fine.”

  1. I read your comment on my post, and I have to agree. What can I say, great minds think alike! I like how you talk about how Harris “is creating narrative plots to allow the reader to express…a brand new narrative.” I agree that Harris still has some control over his story, and that he doesn’t just give it up to his readers. What if he chose to have the different feelings in We Feel Fine in the pinwheel or time line format he does in The Whale Hunt instead of the bubble floating around everywhere? And what would The Whale Hunt be like as bubbles? We, I think, would make whole different narratives that way as well.

    1. Thanks for reading! I wanted to take a jab at some of your questions. The bubbles are dated, so there is some element of time involved, but your right, he doesn’t incorporate a line or any kind of braided format between the bubbles. Perhaps, if he placed the different feelings within We Feel Fine in a timeline or sequential format, like he does in The Whale Hunt, then he would be taking away or at least trading elements of the paradigmatic dimension for elements of the syntagmatic dimension. In the same respect, if The Whale Hunt was neither linear nor sequential in anyway, it would give the reader more of the control to decide or imagine, for themselves, more of the elements of the story, the actual journey. This is probably one reason why I think The Whale Hunt appears to represent a story or at least a traditional story more so than We Feel Fine. In contrast, We Feel Fine seems to appear less like a narrative and more like just a database with no story, or it could have elements of an interactive postmodern story more so than The Whale Hunt.

  2. I’m really interested in this line from your post:

    The database creator has created paths and options, according to Manovich in the “The Database Logic,” that would “make explicit the psychological processes involved in cultural communication” particularly in the reader.

    I feel like you’re on to something, but you’re not quite drawing out the idea explicitly enough. It sounds to me as if you’re saying that the “paths and options” that can be used to navigate We Feel Fine are mirrors, or perhaps, echoes, of the more humanistic and personal ways we negotiate communication?

    1. I will try to elaborate: Yes, The paths and options used in We Feel Fine are mirrors or echoes of the more humanistic and personal ways we negotiate communication. And, these mirrors are prominent in the traditional narrative as well. But, The creator of We Feel Fine has not connected those mirrors in a tradition sequential form for his reader; he has left his readers to imagine, interpret, while navigating through the database to make explicit aspects of the narrative that would have already been communicated by the author in a traditional narrative. So, I think We Feel Fine contradicts what Barthes says about how “Writing is that neutral, composite oblique space where our subject slips away…where all identity is lost…As soon as a fact is narrated no longer with a view to acting directly on reality but intransitively…this disconnection occurs, the voice loses its origin” (142). It is Harris and Kamvar that have started the story and it is up to the reader to finish it. And, I think as long as the reader works with the narrative, he keeps the author’s voice and its origin alive. And the same could be said about traditional narratives that are reread, quoted, paraphrased, and expanded on. The author is only dead when the reader stops listening to author’s voice, decides to never collaborate with what the author wrote, and never refers back to the narration ever again. One more thing to add, when we refer to an author’s work, proper citation and copyright laws cause us to mention the author’s name as well, so the origin lives on as well. I hope I was able to clear up or draw out any ideas in my original blog that seemed vague. And, thanks for reading.

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