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...or rather "the resurrection of the author"?,
Rezension bezieht sich auf: The Death of the Author (The Contemporary Art of the Novella) (Taschenbuch)
Gilbert Adair’s "The Death of the Author" is a prime example of literature and literary theory intertwining. The first person-narrator of the novel, Léopold Sfax, a celebrated professor of literary theory in the USA, carries the burden of a shameful past: During the Second World War, he collaborated with the Nazis in then-occupied Paris by composing Nazi-propaganda using the pseudonym Hermes. Having left France for the USA, he promotes his academic career and eventually becomes the most important literary theorist in the states. However, his major work is not only based on pre-existing ideas of French postmodernist thinkers Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault, but it is also supposed to eradicate its creator’s shameful past: If the text exists independent of its author, if the notion of the author’s intention is neglected, and if texts are self-referential to a degree that makes every reference to historical events and to real life-facts impossible, then Hermes resp. Léo Sfax is not responsible for the Nazi-texts he composed during WW2. However, Sfax does not estimate his theory as powerful enough to save his career, since he is deeply troubled by one of his student’s idea to write his biography, which of course would include research on his early life in France. When the murdering of two persons on Sfax’ university campus abandon this project and the novel rapidly unfolds a detective plot and is thereby ostensibly transformed into an intriguing piece of crime fiction, a final twist of the plot reduces the crime fiction-idea to absurdity and claims the primacy of poststructuralist theory over the classical genre. The question arising here is the following: Is this radical transgression of all narrative conventions the logical consequence of a strict promotion of the poststructuralist ideas unfolded by the novel’s protagonist, or does this absurd end rather celebrate the resurrection of the author, who, through the fundamental final twist at the end of his novel, demonstrates for once that regardless of all theoretical declarations of his death, he is the one and only ruler of his kingdom, his text, in which he decides what’s on the paper and what’s not? In my opinion, this text is apt to destroy dogmata from both poles of the discussion about the idea of authorship – a remarkable achievement.
Apart from the focus on literary theory, the novel is a good read for friends of campus novels, crime fiction and fictional autobiographies of eccentric characters; but even though there is no need to be a professor of literature to find pleasure in reading "The Death of the Author", one should be well-aware that the novel is demanding in the terminology it uses: A certain affinity to the humanities and to an elaborated choice of words is a prerequisite for understanding and appreciating this novel.