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Implied author(s) in film and literature

Implied author(s) in film and literature

My reply to a question in the Narrative-List (from Ellen Peel, San Francisco State University) concerning the possibility of multiple implied authors in film and fiction:

On the issue of implied authors in film / novel:

Perhaps two separate issues need clarification.

1) If the implied author is taken to be an interpretive construct, and is as such dependent on a reader's construction of the text, it is of course to be expected that different readers may construct different implied authors (or different implied authorial values, attitudes, etc.). That would seem to apply to both written fiction and film.

2) Perhaps the term is not ideal for use in film studies, given that it is an import from literature, and is as such tailor-made for the standard literary situation in fiction, that is: a text as the product of an individual author. That said, there may be much more common ground than this would lead us to assume, in particular in marginal or non-standard cases: auteur film, pseudonymous multi-authored novels, etc.

As to myself, I think that "showing" (a story, values, etc.) the way a film does may be more conducive to multiple constructions of intent, value, etc.; and that would seem to provide a rationale for "multiple implied authors" as in (1) above. But a given interpretation of an individual case need not assume multiple implied authorship in the sense of a multiplicity or indeterminacy of authorial stance, implied values, political outlook, etc . "Collaborative authorship" is quite a different problem—though not without interesting connections with this issue, I should say.

Among the replies, Marie-Laure Ryan wrote:

> The posts on the implied author in film seem to take it for granted that the notion of implied author is essential to the understanding of verbal narrative; but in fact its theoretical necessity is far from established. See the entry "implied author" in the Routledge Encylopedia of Narrative, as well as the recent book by Tom Kindt and hans Harald Mueller, The Implied Author: Concept and Controversy," Berlin: Walter De Gruyter 2006.

My reply to the list (Feb. 27):

There is much debate on the implied author, to be sure. The argument that we need to get rid of "anthropomorphic" concepts in textual analysis has alwas struck me as a surprising one, though, given that only anthropomorphic creatures communicate through texts.

As to the Routledge Encyclopedia article on the matter, it concludes that it is a problematic concept which continues to generate controversial debate, which is probably true. On the way, though, the article seems to take for granted a definition of the implied author as "a 'voiceless' and depersonified phenomenon . . . which is neither speaker, voice, subject, nor participant in the narrative communicative situation" —which does not seem to have much to do with Booth's original notion. The implied author should be understood as a communicative textual voice: the one responsible for the text as a whole, as an intentional communicative (and rhetorical, and artistic) construct. The implied author is far from silent: s/he speaks using the protocols and conventions of literary and narrative communication—and this does not seem to be part of the assumptions of many of the critics of the concept. No wonder such a concept (of their own making, I should say) will appear to be controversial or problematic!

On the other hand, film, while being a narrative phenomenon, cannot be reduced to a linguistic communicative situation. And that may account for some of the problems which crop up when the concept of the implied author is applied to film. There is much common ground, but also some significant differences.

The conversation goes on...  Marie-Laure RYAN writes:

> When I was young and gullible and soaked up the theory of the day uncritically, I did not dare use the a-word “author” in my papers for fear of being laughed at as hopelessly naive: haven’t Barthes and Foucault convincingly demonstrated that the author is dead? Isn’t intention a fallacy and shouldn’t the text be a self-enclosed system of meaning? Whenever I had to mention the author, I prefixed the a-word with “implied” and that was much more respectable. Yet, I don’t see why I cannot attribute intents/beliefs/values to the author(s) rather than to a mysterious “implied” double of the author. Sure, the author as I imagine him/her is my own construction, but do I imagine a human being who writes a text, or do I imagine an abstract theoretical entity whose sole reason to exist is to prevent the real author from expressing opinions? Is it illicit to ask questions about what the author might have meant when reading a text? And is it illicit to use one’s knowledge about biographical authors and what one knows of their other works when interpreting a text? When I say that in the late works of Camus there is a mystical trend that is not present in the earlier works, am I speaking of an “implied” or am I attributing a change in world-view to Camus himself? And finally, about the anthropomorphic question: if I attribute belief, intents, values, etc. to an author, whether implied or real, then of course this will be an anthropomorphic construct. Pure theoretical constructs do not have a mental life.
>
> As for language-dependency: I think that narration is a verbal act, so I would get rid of the concept of narrator in any mimetic form of narrative (drama, film, compute games) and retain it for the diegetic forms. It is perhaps unfortunate that our field of narratology developed as the study of literary narrative and is burdened with terms that presuppose language. In fact, even ordinary language does: one speaks of storytelling. So it seems natural to ask: who tells? But what would narratology be like if instead of story-telling one spoke of story-showing, which is much more appropriate for film and drama?
> If there are narrators in fim, besides the source of voiced-over narration, are there narrators in drama, and who are they?


Answer:

Dear Marie-Laure: more views on the implied author...

- Yes, one may attribute values, a world-view, etc., to the author; only, insofar as you are doing that on the basis of a given work, you are attributing them to the implied author of a work. In many contexts there is no practical sense in differentiating the two, but sometimes you do need the implied author: if a socialist writer is forced to write conservative pamphlets, say, for his job, then you need to differentiate the ideology of the writer of those pamphlets (an implied author, possibly a pseudonymous or anonymous writer or a ghost-author) from the person who holds other beliefs in other contexts and perhaps in other works.

- And, as to narration: VERBAL narration is a verbal act, but narration in images, in choreographed action-verbal or otherwise-as in drama, is not a verbal act, it is a compositional act. If the net result is a narrative, though (in the extended sense of "a sequential representation of a sequence of actions, etc.") it makes some sense to speak of the act of composition as a narrative act, even though the term "narration" does create some confusion. Anyway, there is lot of verbal storytelling in drama and in film, but what makes these genres central to narratology is not that verbal storytelling they include: it is, rather, the fact that dramatic and cinematic composition is a narrative act (though not a verbal act).

PS: In early March, the debate goes on. In a message I've lost, M.-L. Ryan notes that narratologists do not usually include in their toolkit both the author and the implied author, and that in any case they do not use the implied author in order to explain such cases as unreliable narration, etc. In her example, although Booth would interpret the implied author of A Modest Proposal to be an ironist rather than an advocate of cannibalism, this is not the use which is made of the concept nowadays: narratologists would assume the implied author is in favour of eating babies... My answer:

Dear Marie-Laure:

- It is perhaps the case that some (or many) narratologists do not use the concept of implied author to analyze such cases as unreliable narrators, ghost writing, etc. Well, I don't think such analyses can go very far, for they would lack an essential concept. Which is in any case no more than a tool, to be used in practical analysis of a given text as flexibly as necessary. But sometimes you just need a monkey wrench, or whatever: in literature, you need implied authors all the time. Which shouldn't lead us to forget real authors: if narratologists (not me!) do that all the time, bad for them. Such narratological analyses will be restricted to a predefined set of laboratory phenomena, and will not deal with the actual dynamics of communication.

As to the Swift example: that would be, for Booth, the standard case in which we need to use the concept of an implied author. Of course someone may interpret that the implied author is advocating cannibalism... but that would be a misreading of the text, one which of course Swift invites in order to let his audience classify themselves between those who know how to read and those who don't... but I shouldn't expect narratologists to fall in the second group!

Dear Jose,
Back from a short trip, this explains why I haven't posted on the list. A few thoughts on the implied author: if the implied author of "A Modest Proposal" is NOT the one who advocates Cannibalism, as I thing Booth would say, what are we going to call the one who advocates cannibalism? For surely they should be differentiated. But if we do differentiate them, we add one more entity to that already cumbersome model of author-implied author-??-narrator.
My stance of this is as follows: ALL utterances--whether literary or not, fictional or not--have an implied speaker  and a real speaker. The implied speaker is the one who fulfills the felicity conditions of the speech act taken literally. It is the speaker in Swift who advocates cannibalism. This implied speaker never lies, never uses irony or sarcasm. Then there is the real speaker, constructed by the hearer on the basis of the content of the utterance, the context, what he knows about the personality of the speaker and his intent in producing the speech act. Of course this speaker is inferred--we cannot read minds--but this speaker is assumed to be a real person. Sometimes the implied speaker and the real speaker differ, sometimes they do not. They differ not only in the case of irony and lie, but also in the case of incompatence: "I know what you mean, even though it's not what you said."
In literature--fiction, to be more precise--we add a narrator.  The narrator tells the story as true, while the author does not. That's why we need the concept of narrator even in 3rd person. But why do we need to add the concept of an implied author who is neither the narrator not the real author? Is the implied author specific to literature? To fiction? Do we need him in a biography of Napoleon?
I said above we need an implied speaker in ordinary language to distinguish lie from sincere language and irony from literal language. It would seem then that we need him in fiction too, since such ways of speaking do occur in novels. But it seems to me that there is no need to add an implied author: irony and lies and unreliability can be attributed to the narrator. But narrator's irony can be transferred to author when narrator is not an individuated human being. So my model of what the reader needs to imagine goes like this:
1 Author(what author means)--2 Narrator (what narrator means)--3 Implied narrator (what narrator says literally), with 1 and 2 collapsing in non-fiction, and 2 and 3 collapsing  in straighforward expression.
The concept of imnplied author would only be useful if it were potentially distinct from real author AND the reader would be able to judge the difference, but since advocates of the implied author forbid attributing any belief and intent to the real author, the notion becomes totally non-operational.
I guess my main gripe about much of what is done in narratology is that it is trying to complicate rather than simplify things and does not adhere to the principle of Ockham's razor. The implied author, to me, is a hedge that critics use to avoid committig themselves to saying anything about the authoir. And yet, critical literature is full of "Austen tells us that", "Sartre teaches us that," etc. Is there something to be gained by outlawing these expressions?
The whole discussion of the number of implied authors in film takes the theory to its absurd limits! Will we some day have multiple unreliable implied authors in painting?
Cheers
Marie-Laure

Dear Marie-Laure,
I hope you've had a nice trip. And thanks for answering in such detail to my ruminations: if you don't mind an additional spell of intellectual ping-pong, I'll answer back between the lines:

> Dear Jose,
> Back from a short trip, this explains why I haven't posted on the list. A few thoughts on the implied author: if the implied author of "A Modest Proposal" is NOT the one who advocates Cannibalism, as I thing Booth would say, what are we going to call the one who advocates cannibalism? For surely they should be differentiated. But if we do differentiate them, we add one more entity to that already cumbersome model of author-implied author-??-narrator.

Well, as I take it, we would call the one who advocates cannibalism "the narrator" or perhaps "the speaker" since this is not a narrative proper. And the one who doesn't, the implied author. Whom we know as Swift, or rather, Swift-in-his-text. Should Swift have advocated cannibalism in his final madness, that would be a matter relevant to the biographical author, not to the implied author of this text. Anyway, we are constructing, perhaps, a simplified model of Swift's irony here, for the sake of the argument, because the actual Modest Proposal, or Gulliver, or any other text by Swift, exhibit ambiguities and imperceptible transitions between voices which would need to be analysed in greater detail.

> My stance of this is as follows: ALL utterances--whether literary or not, fictional or not--have an implied speaker  and a real speaker. The implied speaker is the one who fulfills the felicity conditions of the speech act taken literally. It is the speaker in Swift who advocates cannibalism. This implied speaker never lies, never uses irony or sarcasm. Then there is the real speaker, constructed by the hearer on the basis of the content of the utterance, the context, what he knows about the personality of the speaker and his intent in producing the speech act. Of course this speaker is inferred--we cannot read minds--but this speaker is assumed to be a real person. Sometimes the implied speaker and the real speaker differ, sometimes they do not. They differ not only in the case of irony and lie, but also in the case of incompatence: "I know what you mean, even though it's not what you said."

I agree, of course, though there are some terminological problems. In your account here, the "implied speaker" of an ironic utterance is not using irony (Swift's cannibal), while the "real speaker" of an ironic utterance is the ironist (Swift). The problem is that (as you stated before concerning the differences with Booth's usage) your "implied" refers to the level would call the (unreliable) narrator, and your "real" refers to Booth's implied plus real author. This is understandable, because any speaker/writer is "implied" in his text: the cannibal in his cannibalistic text, and the ironist in his ironic text, when read as irony.

> In literature--fiction, to be more precise--we add a narrator.  The narrator tells the story as true, while the author does not. That's why we need the concept of narrator even in 3rd person. But why do we need to add the concept of an implied author who is neither the narrator not the real author? Is the implied author specific to literature? To fiction? Do we need him in a biography of Napoleon?

Not specific to literature; this is a matter of general communication, especially writing. In a biography of Napoleon? Well... perhaps. It depends on what you are trying to do. If you are comparing the author-in-the-text (implied author) to another expression or text of the same author, you might need to distinguish the author you construct on the basis of this text from the one you construct on the basis of his journalistic articles, etc.

> I said above we need an implied speaker in ordinary language to distinguish lie from sincere language and irony from literal language. It would seem then that we need him in fiction too, since such ways of speaking do occur in novels. But it seems to me that there is no need to add an implied author: irony and lies and unreliability can be attributed to the narrator.

OK, fictional narrators can do anything authors can do (since fictional narrative may be motivated as fictional authorship). But in order to interpret unreliability, you need to contrast the unreliable narrator (e.g. Jason in The Sound and the Fury) with someone who holds a reliable moral (intellectual, etc.) position: and that is the author. The author-in-the-text, as you construct his position, that is, the implied author. ("Faulkner", for Booth). If you're a good reader, you don't read Jason's text as being endorsed by the author, you read an implied evaluation between the lines. And insofar as that is a textual, implied, constructed position, we're speaking of an implied author, irrespective of our knowledge of other Faulkner texts or anything about Faulkner as a person ("the real author") apart from this novel.

> But narrator's irony can be transferred to author when narrator is not an individuated human being. So my model of what the reader needs to imagine goes like this:
> 1 Author(what author means)--2 Narrator (what narrator means)--3 Implied narrator (what narrator says literally), with 1 and 2 collapsing in non-fiction, and 2 and 3 collapsing  in straighforward expression.
> The concept of imnplied author would only be useful if it were potentially distinct from real author AND the reader would be able to judge the difference, but since advocates of the implied author forbid attributing any belief and intent to the real author, the notion becomes totally non-operational.

But it is potentially distinct from the implied author, there are many possible examples in which it is not only operational, but necessary. Unwanted juvenilia. Recantations. Conversions. Etc.—to take just one possible line of difference.  I don't know about "advocates of the implied author", but Booth, in Critical Understanding, often contrasts the implied author in a given work and the author in other works or communicative interactions. And me too!

> I guess my main gripe about much of what is done in narratology is that it is trying to complicate rather than simplify things and does not adhere to the principle of Ockham's razor.

But sometimes we need to multiply the entities in order to deal with a complex case, because in verbal art, art consists in a multiplication of such levels of utterance. So, I'm all for simplification, but where it is advisable, or possible, one should not simplify one's toolkit so that an essential tool is missing. BTW, I read the other day an interesting paper (almost a hundred years old) on Ockham's razor: I'm enclosing it in case you feel curious about it.

> The implied author, to me, is a hedge that critics use to avoid committig themselves to saying anything about the authoir. And yet, critical literature is full of "Austen tells us that", "Sartre teaches us that," etc. Is there something to be gained by outlawing these expressions?
I'm not at all for outlawing. Rather, we need to speak of the author as a figure in the text, the "implied author" and as someone who has designed (not always in a fully conscious or controlled way) the appearance and features of such a figure, and that would be "the author". The one who is bored to death with writing potboilers is also the author, not the implied author!
> The whole discussion of the number of implied authors in film takes the theory to its absurd limits! Will we some day have multiple unreliable implied authors in painting?

Hahah! well you never know! That's beyond myself for the moment, though. As to film, yesterday I read at the end of the credits in a theater, "Columbia Pictures is the Author of this film"... so yet one more candidate, and an authoritative one!  Cheers! JOSE ANGEL

Anyway, we both stood our ground in the end.
Thus far narrativeness or narrativity... Now for literariness. Fatemeh Nemati writes:

> Dear members of Narrative group
> Narratives told everyday everywhere by everyone are much similar to literaray narratives. It seems that they follow the same principle of representing the world. What makes the difference between a literary and a non-literary narrative if they are alike in every aspects of representing experiences of the real world? What happens to a narrative when it is branded as literary in contrast to non-literary? Do they differ in the meaning they convey or the way they convey it? Is it fictionality that promotes a narrative to the status of being literary rather than non-literary? Is it a magical transformation? How do you recognize that this narrative is literary rather than non-literary? are there yardsticks to measure it or are we again to depend on our intuition? What is the elixir that causes a narrative to transcend beyond the mundane reality, to enter the world of literature? I'm so perplexed that i feel i will die in the maze if nobody comes to my help. Kind regards
> Nemati

Dear Nemati:
I agree there is much common ground, certainly, between everyday conversational storytelling and literary narratives. In the last analysis, literary narrative derives from such oral stories. So there is in fact a continuum between literary and non-literary narratives. And what makes a story more or less literary (I would like to emphasize the "more or less", because it is not a matter of either/or, but a question of degree, context, etc.), what makes a story more or less literary is in part the use it is put to, and in part whether it shares a number of characteristics, none of which is in itself determinant. For instance, you mention fictionality, and well, yes, there is much common ground between literature and fiction, and a fictional conversational story would rate in principle as more "literary" than an instrumental one (conveying practical information, for instance). There are many other such parameters: whether a story has a status as a cultural icon or reference point (e.g. classical historical works, which nevertheless are supposed to be "factual"). Whether we are focusing on the story for the sake of narrative pleasure, and not for practical information. Whether the story uses language in a distinct, creative, rhetorically effective way. Whether it is tellable, repeatable... Whether it is written using literary conventions, and published as "literature". Etc. As I say, I see this as a number of criss-crossing parameters, none of which determines whether a story is to count as literary. The context of use is all-important. And the story's story: some stories are born literary, some become literary, and some have literariness thrown upon them!


Robert Scholes wrote:

The literary vs. non-literary distinction has nothing to do with fictional vs. real.  It has to do with highbrow narrative vs. low-brow narrative, the stuff in "little" magazines vs. the stuff in "pulps," for example.

The distinction was used to distinguished "quality" fiction from cheap, popular stuff.  Personally, I rejected that distinction long ago.

Bob Scholes

 

...and I reply:


There are many different notions as to what literature is, and many different contexts in which literature is distinguished from non-literature, so there is no way a clear-cut definition of literature can possibly be provided, from a "bird's eye view" of cultural phenomena. That doesn't mean that in a given context, or for one given person, the line between literature and non-literature may be quite sharply drawn; my point is that this would be just one context, or one notion, among many. That's why we need a fuzzy definition of literature according to a number of criss-crossing and grading scales.

Nonetheless, some notions are more widely shared than others, and some are more influential than others. For instance, more people would agree that "the book which inspired the film" is literature (good or bad, etc.), while "the film based on the book" is not literature (but film). And more people (more influential contexts, etc.) would agree that a highbrow, culturally valued text is literature, while a joke I happen to invent and tell my friends is not literature. Which is not to say that a given theorist may refuse to make that difference, in a given context. Or, again, many people will find it strange that Winston Churchill should be given the Nobel Prize for literature (quite apart from the quality of his style), while not many people will find it strange that Faulkner should be given the Nobel Prize for literature (whether they like his fiction or not), because "creative fictional writing" tends to be associated with literature in the minds of many people, while "history" tends to be put on another shelf by many people, libraries, bookstores, etc. I think it is useful to keep in mind which are the usual senses given to words, and uses given to books, whatever our theoretical preferences may be. Our theoretical proposals will have to intervene and make sense in (or try to change) that "real" cultural world, after all...

The list goes on...

Lunes, 26 de Febrero de 2007 21:37. José Ángel García Landa Enlace permanente. Semiótica

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