Sunday, October 2, 2011

Salon Writing and Collective Authorship

I know this is linked more to the Agent/cy unit that we just finished, but I came across some interesting ideas about authorship in an article about French literature that I was reading for another class. The article ("The Politics of Tenderness: Madeleine de Scudery and the Generation of 1640-1660," by Joan DeJean) talked about the attribution of single authorial identities to books compiled and written in the salons of the 17th century. These books were a collective production, and yet by our modern standards, books must have clear authorship by one or two people, rather than being born from the ideas of many. So can an author be a collective? Is Madeleine de Scudery to be considered a woman writer even if the literary works attributed to her were most likely created by the flow of ideas in the salon over which she presided?

It seems that Foucault, with his idea of "author-function," might be inclined to agree with the idea that a single author need not be named for a literary work, since it is not the author's identity that is important but the way that the piece is written and the historical moment in which it is written. Barthes would also probably say that a collective authorship is not important because the author "dies" as soon as the text is written and it is next up to the reader to judge and interpret the text. However, I wonder what Ong would think about salon writing and its "devalorization of individual creativity" (DeJean 74). It seems that a collective authorship would complicate his idea that the author invents the reader, because who is the inventor if there are many authors? Each one would be likely to envision his own readership. DeJean states that "the personal is made subservient to the collective literary will" (74) in salon writing. If one considers Ong's theory, this would indicate that there then must be some sort of collective readership imagined as well. This takes away the idea of the author's agency as creator of his readership, and instead puts agency in the hands of a group of authors where the group is the agent, not the individuals. There is some sort of power that they hold through the intermingling of their ideas that they do not hold when their ideas are separate.

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