In my critical reading the other day, I came across a name I failed to recognize: Roland Barthes. Looking him up, I l discovered he was scholar of language and art who argued in Death of the Author that the moment a work is finished, it should be viewed as an object severed from its creator as surely as if the author had died.
I agree with Barthe that art must be viewed an entity apart from its creator. Once I’ve given my work to the public, it is no longer mine. If I can’t live with the opinions and interpretations that inevitably will follow, then I must stop writing, or like Emily Dickinson, stuff my unpublished work into a drawer.
This truth came home recently during a phone conversation with a friend. He’s been kind enough to buy and read all my books. As he’d just finished the newest one, Tromp l’Oeil, he couldn’t resist making a comparison between it and its predecessor, Gothic Spring. While he repeated his assurance that he liked both novels, he was enthusiastic about the new one and had decided to recommend it to his book club.
After we said goodbye, I put the phone down, happy with his approval but disappointed, too, because Gothic Spring is as well constructed a novel as Trompe l’Oeil. Like the latter, it raises many questions. For example, several deaths occur in Gothic Spring but the solution to the “Who done it?” lies in the eye of the beholder. The novel is deliberately written to invite several interpretations all of which are equally valid – no easy feat. That a reader decides one character is the villain above another is based solely on their bias.
To write an open novel, where several interpretations are possible, by its nature invites the reader to draw his or her conclusions. Therefore. I cannot feel slighted if people make judgments about which novel engages them more. To write, as I do, is to lose control and turn the book over to my audience. Some will welcome the challenge. Some won’t. Some will never realize that by their interpretations, they have helped “write” the book. As Barthes supposes, once my novel is offered to the world, it will find its life in each and every mind.
(Illustration for Death of the Author courtesy of ceasefiremagazine.co.uk)