If you write for a living, if you sell your work, who does it belong to?
A lot of amateur writers will never be faced with this question, but all professionals are.
My personal feeling is that once the service of writing something has been paid for, and once a piece of work is out in the world, it no longer belongs to the writer.
The reader is all.
The reader can say whatever he likes about the text once it has left the building, and do with it as he chooses. He can interpret themes and plots any way he likes.
When I wrote “Naming Names”, I believed that my intention was absolutely clear. It did not cross my mind that the novel could be interpreted in any but one way.
I was wrong.
I looked at what I had written, pulled it apart, examined it, deconstructed the grammar, and I still couldn’t see how I could have written it with any greater clarity. I had simply not taken account of the fact that every reader has a unique understanding of the world in which we live and therefore brings his own agenda to every new book that he reads.
The book was banned on Authonomy, and more than one of my own readers stopped reading the novel before reaching the end. It is not an indictment, it is a compliment. I have moved readers with my words, provoked visceral reactions, made them cry or throw away the book in disgust.
These responses might not be exactly what I intended, but, love it or hate it, readers do seem to respond to “Naming Names”. So, my work here is done.
I suppose the final arbiters of taste and decency will be the reviewers that one day read and judge “Naming Names” and recommend it, or not. I like to think I’m in very safe hands, but I won’t be reading my press: good or bad, but (almost) certainly not indifferent.
I absolutely agree that once 'out there', the work belongs to whoever pays in money or time to read it. For me, like art, writing only comes to life as it filters into the mind of a reader or viewer. While the only reader is me, it's all mine, and I totally understand it. Years ago, I used to make a living writing very commercial short stories and articles, and they lived out there, differently interpreted by all the readers. I often had to edit them, to suit the audience, but I still had my personal versions, for me. I'm happy to edit, change or work on books for editors, because I am writing a version for 'them', the readers. Whether they like or don't like my writing is fine (can't please everyone), but I hope they are not bored!ReplyDelete
Hmmm, interesting, but I'm afraid I'll have to disagree.ReplyDelete
In any debate on authorial intention, I'm always reminded of the foreword that was in the edition of Lord of the Rings that sat in my school library; it was a 1960s hardcover, and in it was a long essay by Tolkein explaining why anyone who thought Lord of the Rings was about Communism or Fascism was just plain wrong. It was written so vociferously, one could imagine him shouting "IT'S JUST ABOUT WIZARDS & DRAGONS, OK?!"
Maybe it's a background in writing for newspapers in the last ten years coming through, but I've never really bought into the idea that a reader interprets what they read so completely that they own it, that every experience of reading a piece is unique, valuable and correct.
Far too often I've seen readers interpret the words of myself & my colleagues in the light of bizarre prejudices they brought fully formed to the piece, and have seen them head off on odd conspiracy theory flights of fancy about intent, bias & meaning.
But don't you rather make my point for me? All I'm saying is that all those readers in your last paragraph are fine by me, and that Tolkein probably had little or no business writing that essay.
No doubt many will take my words at face value, but, for those who don't, I won't be writing any diatribes correcting their misapprehensions.
Lovely of you to comment,
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