Unsymposium Week 7 – Author’s mind

This week’s symposium left me with conflicting responses. Sometimes I feel like questions are being asked because they can generate lively discussion rather than that the answer is actually unknown to us. But then that leads me to wonder if I’m missing something and have oversimplified the material so much for myself, that I’m not venturing far enough into my thinking process over the material to discover the mysteries others see. So I can get frustrated by the things we’re discussing. I don’t dispute that they’re important to be discussed and we wouldn’t know the answers if the ideas were never explored though – so there’s my internal conflict right there and I come to the symposiums to give the format a chance and sometimes I do learn a new perspective and other times I hear the perspective I expect to hear, articulated in a more succinct way than I would be able to.

Yesterday I arched up at Adrian’s comment that writing is never an insight into an Author’s mind. Probably because I’m prone to protesting any absolute terms, or universal “truths”, but also because I do disagree. I don’t claim that author’s have any control over how their material is interpreted once they put it into the world, but I definitely believe there’s plenty of opportunity to convey vital aspects of one’s sense of self through writing, and that some of the readers will correctly interpret that, particularly if the author has a facility with language.

It is impossible to know someone completely because like Adrian said, we all have our unconscious minds that no one has access too. As human beings though, we crave connection and I do believe writing and reading can offer the opportunity to gain insights into the mind of the author as much as knowing your family or partner and understanding who they are is possible. Yes there’s a limit and I don’t claim that the insight possible is achieved 100% of the time or even 20% of the time.

I adore Stephen Fry. I watch QI religiously, I pour over his blogs, nothing delights me more than discovering a new youtube clip where I can listen to this man with this incredible mind. Recently he announced to the world that he’d tried to take his own life as recently as last year. He has been public about his mental health for many years but it’s easy to forget this brilliant man is undergoing a constant battle with his illness. He wrote this blog post to address both his illness, the experience and the reaction of the public. This piece is written to give his audience access into his mind and illness. No, it does not encompass him completely, but it does offer an insight.

The other thing that struck me about insights into the mind of the author is that writing is also a way to understand our own self and maybe the author offers an insight into his mind as much to himself as to his audience. Because it was subconsciously done does that make it less of an insight?

I remember studying Girl with a Pearl Earring in year 11 and hating every second of it because the text felt so contrived, metaphors so laboriously constructed and the feminist undertones so thoroughly explored in my all girls class. The year before we’d studied Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and that experience was life changing; I suddenly worried that I’d missed so much reading other books because I’d never read between the lines. I became consumed with wondering how many of the lessons To Kill a Mockingbird subtly provides were carefully constructed by Lee versus how many were arrived at by her subconscious mind. I digress. My point here is probably that there’s a spectrum and I will never know if the things I connect with in my favourite texts are an accurate reading of the author’s intent or if they’re reflecting my own state of mind and thought processes at the time, or, if both have fortuitously aligned.

So after all this rambling in response to Adrian’s comment I was left asking:

Really? It’s never an insight?

Does it have to be an absolute insight to be valid?

Can the Author not also gain insight into their mind in conjunction with the reader?

I did like Adrian’s discussion about treating texts as an object, that we are interpreting texts not authors and I think that is a valid distinction to make, but perhaps not mutually exclusive.

I also appreciated that context cannot survive with the text. What a succinct and valuable perspective to have gained! Leads me to another frustration of the constant debate over whether the “N word” should be removed from Mart Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. The reason this debate continues to thrive is because the context we read this book in has changed. I wont get into my opinions/frustrations about it.

I guess I have to concede that you cannot use someone’s work as a complete insight into their mind. I don’t know that many of us would ever claim you could if confronted with the question though.

Maybe all this is just an insight into how unwilling my mind is to accept absolute statements. Probably I’ve become a perpetrator of my initial complaint of discussing things we already know the answer to, and ok… sometimes maybe it’s necessary.

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