In honor of her new release An Echo of the Fae, Jenelle Schmidt is taking over the blog with a guest post on the topic of deconstructionism, or, more colloquially, the death of the author. It’s a fascinating discussion (or, at least, my little nerdy heart thinks so, so thank you for humoring me Jenelle!) and one which writers need to be prepared to engage. Enjoy!

When I studied to become an English Education major at Taylor University, one of my classes studied the different ways to approach a piece of literature from a critical stance (versus just reading a piece of literature to enjoy it). I don’t remember a lot of the things we studied in that class. I know we talked about archetypes and various other methods of studying literature. A lot of that class blurs together in my mind as being one of the most useless classes I ever spent time in, as well as one of the most boring.

The only thing I remember with any clarity from that class is that my least favorite type of literary criticism was also the one I excelled at implementing. Deconstruction. 

That was the only perfect grade I received in that class, and I was a little resentful of that, since I disliked and disagreed with the basic premise of the theory.

I couldn’t tell you how to do it now. It’s been fifteen years since I even thought about literary deconstruction, and I certainly don’t want to spend any more time on it than necessary. But Kaycee asked me to talk about my view on “death of the author” in light of whether or not it is important for readers to know an author’s personality, headspace, beliefs, background, etc in order to better interpret a story.

I was unfamiliar with the term, so I looked it up. It reminded me a lot of deconstruction. Yep, that’s the link we’re going with. (Sorry, Kaycee!)

Personally, I kind of think the author is a rather important part of the story they tell.

I may be just a wee bit biased on that count.

But to be a little bit serious, I do think a story can be understood without knowing anything about the author. I think it’s possible to understand The Lord of the Rings without knowing anything about the life and beliefs of J.R.R. Tolkien… but knowing that he wrote much of that story as a way of coping with the horrific things he saw during WWI definitely enhances the meaning we take away from this story. To be sure, knowing the context of the author’s mindset ensures that we take away the author’s intended meaning, rather than our own, but I don’t think that’s always a bad thing. 

Stories, at their very heart of hearts, are more than just entertainment. Stories are a way of understanding the world around us. At times they help us comprehend our own place in the world and at others they help us understand those around us. If they can help us understand someone vastly different from ourselves, so much the better!

As an author, I find it impossible to divorce my own worldview and beliefs and personality from my writing. The words that flow through me are uniquely mine, and I can only give them my voice. So understanding who I am and the experiences I have had can only add clarity to a reader who picks up one of my books.

Now, I believe there are absolutes. And I believe there are universal truths. And if some of that makes it into my story, I think a reader should be able to see it even if they have no idea who I am or what life was like when I was writing. My specific emotions while writing a story will probably have little bearing on what the reader gets out of the story.

In a hundred years, if my stories last that long, if someone picks up one of my books, it might not be important to know that I grew up in America or was a Christian or had an amazing family or suffered the loss of two children before they were born… and I hope that my stories can be enjoyed and truths gleaned from them without any of that knowledge. But there is a certain amount of kinship of feeling that can be gained from knowing that the author was a human being, just like the reader. And if they do some digging and find out those things about me, I believe it will only enhance their reading, not detract from it.

Thank you again for sharing your thoughts, Jenelle! Personally, I completely agree. The author(s) of a work of art provide a definitive place to begin an analysis. If the author is removed, there is nothing permanent or objective on which to begin a thought concerning the creation. As you pointed out to me privately, there is something theologically profound about that concept.

I’ll spare you the rest of my musings and, instead, urge you to go order a copy of An Echo of the Fae today! You can purchase it on amazon at the following link:

One thought on “does the author matter? by jenelle schmidt

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