Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Discussion on "Death of the Author," at the New Yorker Movie Facebook Club

I've always been intrigued by the intersection (or lack thereof) of post-structuralist critiques of authorship in literary criticism (e.g. Roland Barthes' "The Death of the Author") and that of auteur theory in film. To quote Barthes, "To give a text an Author is to impose a limit on the text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing. Such a conception suits criticism very well, the latter then allotting itself the important task of discovering the Author (or its hypostases: society, history, psyche, liberty) beneath the work: when the Author has been found, the text is 'explained'-- victory to the critic." Richard Brody, however, argues that in film, auteurism "adds another dimension to those criticisms"-- that it enriches criticism, contributing another lens (that of "artistic psychology") through which to evaluate a film. My question, then, is how much significance ought we give authorial/directorial psychology when evaluating a film? And to reduce a nuanced, complex discussion down to a crude dichotomy, has "the colossal gravitational pull of the director" as an object of analysis had a deleterious, eclipsing affect on film criticism, or an elucidating, beneficial one?
Edit: Richard Brody's pieces that I quoted in the post. Feel free to disagree with my interpretation/paraphrasing of them as well: 
http://www.newyorker.com/…/ric…/andrew-sarris-and-the-a-word
http://www.newyorker.com/culture/richard-brody/auteur-auteur

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Patrick McEvoy-Halston Brody writes that critics naturally believe scriptwriters are most important, that viewers naturally believe that actors are most fully the inventors. NATURALLY believe... hmmmm. The answer to your question might depend most fully on the context of the times. French theory "invaded" (North American) universities 1970s, I think, but as a liberal movement which is now being criticized as self-involved and self-important. The professors teaching Barthes can't themselves be seen as a confluence of influences but as ego as their predecessors--they both can and do feature in Updike novels, and a current generation looking at them couldn't really believe either set against the self as a forger of worlds. So if it were twenty years ago, I think you could be "death of the author" in a way you wouldn't likely to be now. Earlier you'd wouldn't necessarily be effacing and deliberately nurturing animas against originators, because you're intent -- ignoring Paglia on this issue -- is still genuinely constructive, to be genuinely revealing... to give people their due. Now if you do Barthes, however, with all the calls for modesty (read for example David Brooks' latest), you're more likely an enemy against whomever is really most responsible for, is the greatest inventor of, a work... be it a single person or a collection of talent, because you've come to think there's just been way too self-indulgence and its left the world a waste. If you really did the world a singularly good turn, do the right think, and let it be given due... but no more.

I really enjoyed the links. In the context of our times, for my purposes, I think you could read Sarris or Kael and encounter someone I've very glad you'd met... both would be set against where our current climate of critique will likely go.

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