Writers in hiding?
Ok, from the title of this post it would be easy to assume hordes of Rushdies in cubbyholes as a result of free and creative speech that is nothing if not controversial. Not so. Although it is in parts. I'm talking about writers hiding behind pseudonyms. One such writer is Booker-winning author, John Banville who has a new book out, Christine Falls, under the pen name of Benjamin Black. Many would ask: why? Hasn't Banville got enough to gain from using his real name? He has. It's called expectation. Using a pen name can help an established and, in many cases typecast writer, to play and experiment with new styles and new genres. Take J.K. Rowling. Rumours have been abound for ages that she will have to write anything other than Potter under a different name. It is, some would say, a killing of the author in order for the text to live. It is an old and contentious topic in literary theory. Roland Barthes' is now well known for his 1968 essay, The Death of the Author in which he called for an end to the cult of the personality that he thought many writers had become a part of. I feel Barthes becomes not just the propagator of a theory, an unoriginal one at that since it has a long history, but almost like a witch-hunter general of writers as individuals. He says that, as language is not any one person's, and all language is inter-textual, that is, each word, utterance shoots off into a thousand directions across all manner of 'texts', then we should 'ignore' the author, and focus only on the real star: the language itself. French theorist, Michel Foucault, in his book, What is an Author? refers to the 'author-function'. Yet Foucault pulls Barthes up on one ironic thing that could see him hoist up by his own petard: who would have listened to Barthes' if he hadn't attached his name to the essay? However, calling for the death of the author as personality in this media-obsessed age of ours is not such a bad thing. One look at publishing in its current state is proof enough that this 'cult of personality' has taken over and contaminated everything. At first it was memoirs of the good and great written by good and great biographers. Then came the ghost-written 'auto'biographies of B-list celebs who had more than a decade till their thirtieth birthday. And now we have novels written by Katie Price, aka Jordon. Novels such as Angel or Crystal, or whatever it is they're called - little stepping stones for girls who want to grow up and be 'glamour' models and read tabloids and pink covered chick-lit. That's when the 'aura' of the author takes over and it no longer has anything to do with the novel itself. And perhaps that's why Banville decides to write under a pen-name now and again - to keep the focus on the text.