I've been trying to work out what to do about the fact that much of study of literature assumes that I'm dead, when I really do feel quite alive. The thing is, I've finally discovered some hard-core literary theory - narratology, apparently a branch of structuralism - which is absolutely fascinating not just in itself, but because it maps very exactly onto my own experience of writing. Where necessary it gives new, more precise words to the things that I and most writers think and worry and decide about, but reading it's a bit like having walked all over a town, and then, literally, being handed a map which shows where all the places I've walked fit together. I can even use it on others' accounts of their walks, and understand where they went.
And yet all these critics do their talking and thinking and analysing on the basis that what the author 'meant', what I was trying to say, is not the point: that the only thing you can talk about is the text on the page, and how the reader interprets it. Fine. That's the rules of their game, and their game is interesting. In fact, it's so interesting that it's been bothering me a lot that I don't seem to be allowed to play, simply because I am the author: my authorial intention isn't allowed to be a playing piece, or a space on the board, or even a dummy hand. And yet I watch their game, and it's full of moves I know, decisions I've taken, ladders I've climbed and snakes I've slid down. But I think I've worked it out. My PhD is full of things I first thought out here, on the blog, and now the favour's being returned. This is what I wrote yesterday:
But although in the process of storytelling the teller/writer is distinct from the audience/reader, all writers were readers first, and part of the process of becoming a writer is integrating one’s readerly responses into one’s writerly practice to the point where they constantly inform each other. It is a kind of call-and-response system, a feedback loop, that operates so smoothly that one is hardly aware that it involves two different processes. In other words, the writer is at once writer and reader: the habit of most writers to set aside apparently finished work for a while, and then return to it with a ‘fresh’ eye, is really an attempt to externalise their inner reader, and read the work as others would read it. To my mind the writer who claims not to think about their audience but only to write for themselves has simply internalised their inner reader until they do not recognise it as such, while refusing to consider (and by implication perhaps have to modify) how they communicate to readers other than themselves. Even the declaration that the author is dead does not disqualify the theoreticians who make it from being potentially useful to the writer discussing his or her practice, since such a declaration is presumably made in ignorance of the true, siamese-twin-like nature of the writer-reader. If the novel is, to quote Eco again, ‘a machine for generating interpretations,’ then the first reader who generates any interpretations is the writer’s own inner reader.
And my inner reader is very much alive, thank you. Do you think they'll let me join in, now? You never know, they might even learn something.