on Fri, 28 Sep 2007 15:15:56 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> The death of the Author 2.0

I agree with you, Felix, that everyone is an author these days and
that authorship, far from dying, is spreading like a rhizome fed
Supergro. The problem is if anyone out there is reading or listening
and, if they are in a formal sense, how much of it they actually
get. So I propose as a topic 'Death of the Audience'. I offer a few
scattered thoughts on this topic that have occurred to me over the
years without ever coalescing into the essay I would like to write.

You speak of the 'community' within which authorship variously occurs.
But that is the problem. Where is it? Who are they? Sometimes, when I
write an article, I can pitch it to the individual who commissioned
it, an editor usually. But anything larger scale soon loses touch with
an intended audience. I once asked myself if the book I was writing
was 'anthropology', but I realized that if I wrote a book just for the
twenty professors in my American four-field anthropology department
at the time, it would be suitable for reasonably educated readers of
English anywhere.

So I usually write for all the inner voices competing for attention
within my self. I think of these as the residue of society in all the
places I have been, which is quite a lot. Or, as Edward Said once
put it, history deals us so many fragments and our job is to make
a narrative from them. We don't have to be consciously writing for
a specific community in order for what we write to be social. Just
write for yourself. I have been surprised by the regional clustering
of positive responses to what I write: Scandinavia and Latin America,
for example, about which I know little, but not Africa which I have
devoted my life to studying, or my home country, England.

But then the main thing authors experience is THE VOID. We never get
any feedback or at least never enough. I have a friend called Ruth who
is 80 years old and reads voraciously: novels, biographies, poetry.
She writes to the authors she likes and gets back extraordinary
responses: four pages hand written, invitations to dinner. She says,
'I would have thought they were too important to read my letters' and
I say 'Ruth, you are the only one who writes'.

It's the same with teaching. We get to know so little of what effects
we have on our students. But the internet offers a small measure of
salvation. Sometimes a former student writes, 'You don't know me but
I sat in your class in 1991 and..." It makes all the difference to
get just one of those every few years, but it doesn't add up to an
objectification of the audience for our work.

I have left out the fragmentation of audiences as a result of the
proliferation you describe. Even here there is some compensation in
the long tail phenomenon (Chris Anderson), Amazon's discovery that
they make as much money for a million books that sell less than 100
copies as they do from blockbusters. the result is that our books
never go out of print and every now and then one of them takes off
unexpectedly, not your or mine, but often enough to keep us in the
game against all the evidence that there is no audience for what we

I once moderated a list like this one. People would 'author' long
self-involved posts to which no-one responded. Sometimes, they would
write to me in a panic, asking if they had been cut off from the
list. I would say, 'Not at all. You just have to put more effort into
figuring out what it takes to get anyone to respond.'


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