Death of the Author? Pregnant notion

I find myself attracted by the (even randomly discovered) pregnant phrase, such as “the philosophical notion of the Death of the Author,” encountered this very day it in a capsule review of a French novel, Amélie Nothomb’s Pétronille in Times Literary Supplement 5/20/14.

Forthwith (right away, ok?) I looked it up and found “Death of the Author” at the Oxford Reference site, from which I quote two segments that explain the phrase briefly.


… [It’s] the idea associated with French critic Roland Barthes that a text should be regarded as self-standing, a field for the interplay of signs. The idea is not that things like Pride and Prejudice grow on trees, but that information or speculation about the author and the author’s intentions is irrelevant to reading them. . . .

And this:

… the title of an essay by Roland Barthes , ‘La mort de l’auteur’ ( 1968 ), translated as ‘The Death of the Author’ ( 1977 ), [a] phrase . . . widely regarded in academia and the media as emblematic of both post-structuralism and postmodernism in that its purpose is to signal the absolute relativity of the text and the correspondingly enhanced status of the critic. Put simply, Barthes’s basic point is that the author’s life (the intricate details of [his or her] biography, in other words) is not part of the literary object. . . .

Me? I see text as self-explanatory except when it isn’t. (Meaning in it usually is for my purposes.) Then I either go to another book or look up to see what critics say. (Much more likely the former.) Then I want a critic to tell me all about the text, drawing on relevant sources. Cannot dismiss author’s intentions as irrelevant.

Can’t in other words, go with this absolute relativity of text — let the reader decide, letting the devil take the hindmost — but allow that author’s bio might shed light on text which nonetheless has to stand alone in view of circumstances of its generation — time, gestalt, spirit of the age, etc.

As my pixie-ish Latin teacher said long ago, is any of that clear?



Reporting as an art form: W.H. Auden on Henry James



W.H. Auden said it took imagination “of a very high order” to “extract importance” from events while remaining faithful to them, “free only to select and never to modify or add.”

He was introducing a 1946 edition of Henry James’s The American Scene, a travel book that Auden considered more than that. Travel he called the “easiest subject for the journalist” who requires only “a flair for being on the spot where interesting events happen.”

For the artist, on the other hand, it’s that “high order” performance.

However, I’ve known journalists who like James as Auden described him, or at least somewhat like him, picked what mattered, extracting importance without modifying or adding to it.

It’s been a goal worth striving for, even on deadline.

Happy thanksgiving

Mixed bag . . .

Blithe Spirit

Over the sidewalk and through the doors . . . to McDonald’s on Clark, a few blocks from the house, 11:30 or so yesterday. Place hopping, full of families, 50-ish cronies and others, chatting, laughing.

Beggar by the door, inside where it’s warm, quiet,  reaching into bin as people dump trays on way out. Inspects items, in case something worth while.

I’d refused him a buck a day or so ago, we both then seated at counter near the door. Irish-looking guy, red-faced and roughly dressed but warmly enough and not tattered. 50-ish, bloodshot eyes. Not here, I’d said. On the street another matter.

Happy thanksgiving.

Overhead Silent Night . . . ’round young virgin . . . sleep in heavenly peace.

Beggar man looks over at counter, where Mexican women, mamas the lot of them, work. As if called over. Returns shortly, holding something in hand, heads for door…

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Policeman in Maigret book blows the whistle . . .


It’s what policemen did when a suspect was getting away in 1950s Paris. So the incident in Simenon’s Maigret and the Man on the Bench. He wanted to alert other cops in the neighborhood.

Whistles all had same sound, I’m sure, so blowing it was just to get them looking for a running man or woman. Didn’t work this time in this 1953 book, 2/3 through it. Man got away.

Now excuse me, I have to get back at it. The book, that is.

Am I the only 85-year-old who . . .

. . . thinks more than he used to about dying? Who has night thoughts fended off by boyhood prayers? Who writes books in his sleep but nowhere else? Is it just me?


Night thoughts? Try Edward Young, with these four lines in blank but metered verse:

Procrastination is the thief of time,
Year after year it steals, till all are fled,
And to the mercies of a moment leaves
The vast concerns of an eternal scene.
A child of his age — the 1840s — he counts on an eternity, notice.
Also: Am I the only red-blooded Ham-erican who, when he reads about major mistakes by leaders elected or otherwise, imagines himself in the same situation doing better?


Sermon one, Hector at Mickey D’s. Sermon two . . .

Blithe Spirit

Hector’s bicycle had a flat — tricycle rather, with baby trailer containing I don’t know what, maybe spare clothes, etc. I’ve seen him tooling down Clark Street, fedora hat on tight, making his way as to getting from one place to another, but also as to getting on in the world.

 $10 It would cost him, money he didn’t have. In the ’70s, a flat was fixable for a buck, he said. So there he is now, without the necessary, a victim of inflation.

 Victim of a lot of things, apparently. Caught in an “ambush” in Iraq as a Marine, he got his leg and hip shot up and now has titanium, he told me, plus a plastic knee-area replacement, all of which gives him a lot of pain. He ran out of meds once and lifted some, spent five years in prison, he also told me, the…

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Do not laugh at end-of-world predictions, says Pope Francis

Blithe Spirit

This from Pope Francis on global destruction gives us a flavor of his worldview:

161. Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain. We may well be leaving to
coming generations debris, desolation and filth.

The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes, such as those which even now periodically occur in different areas of the world.

The effects of the present imbalance can only be reduced by our decisive action, here and now. We need to reflect on our accountability before those who will have to endure the dire consequences.

He truly wants to save the world, lives in fear of the Apocalypse. Walking through the valley of the shadow of death, he fears evil in the worst way. Which coming from a Pope is scary, and I…

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Second-guessing sermons: Giving mystery its due

Blithe Spirit

I do believe such second-guessing is a worthy pursuit, especially for former preachers who can be seen sometimes squirming in the pew. (He made his bed and lies in it, procrustean though it be.)

That said, I wonder if this 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle B, should be a time for considering ours as something of a mystery religion. I’d start with the reference in First Kings, 19 to the “broom tree” under which Elijah sat, pooped, after a day in the desert.

What kind of broom tree? Whisk? Push? Floor? Venetian blind?

I jest, of course. But the Sunday reading is often hard enough to grasp without having to deal with so odd, if helpful to Elijah, a protuberance.

As a preacher, I would pounce on this broom-tree business as one of many mysteries we are presented with in this thousands-of-years-old literature. I would make something of that, voicing my…

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Same-sex-attracted Roman Catholic priests, what about them?

Blithe Spirit

I speak of percentages here. What per cent of RC priests are same-sex-attracted (SSA) compared to priests and other ministers of religion who have the marriage option?

Would RC ordination of married men or legitimization of a priest’s taking a wife — just one, until death they were parted — reduce said percentage?

Would such a change in RC customs reduce the influence of SSA priests and bishops in the councils and consultations of clergy members, as in undercutting support for SSA-friendly moral teaching and practice?

Loaded question that last, brimming with certain assumptions.

Such changes, of course are in no way guaranteed, assuming they are in order, the church being an imperfect institution, the Body of Christ on earth after all, not (yet) in heaven.

May I pursue these questions in later posts? I may just do that.

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