what i mean by "the author is boxed"

Dec 07, 2012 21:37

The...introduction? disclaimer? part where I walk out slowly with my hands in the air?...to my TVD post for the week got wicked meta, and then off topic, and then just plain out of hand. But it was helpful to work through, I think, so I decided to make it easily linkable. This is what I mean when I say “ the author is boxed.”

BSG worldbuilding spoilers:[no plot details, but cut just in case]“Boxing” is “putting [a Cylon personality’s] memories in cold storage indefinitely.” When a Cylon is boxed, they are unable to communicate with the other Cylons, but the information they have accrued throughout their existence remains available for the other Cylons to access if and when one/some/all of the other Cylons decide it is necessary or desirable. The boxed Cylon is not irrevocably dead and gone, but day-to-day interactions between the other Cylons play out as if it were. [1]
This is how I approach authorial intent in fiction. I can’t quite adhere to the idea that “the author is dead.” Some people can immerse themselves in a story to that extent, and that’s great, it’s just not how I engage. Neither, however, do I wish to constrain myself to what TV Tropes calls the “Word of God” - that is, on-the-record statements of a given writer/producer/actor/whatever. That’s for a lot of reasons:
  • Everybody lies. The author might just be full of shit. And you know what? That doesn’t even necessarily bother me. When the PTBs knows their fanbase well enough to figure out how to yank our chains, and do so in a way that doesn’t mess with the story or utilize whatever *isms, I take that as a mark of affection. LOVE YOU BACK, NERDS.
  • Even if they’re not screwing with us, they might just change their minds. Serialized storytelling should grow and change and become more nuanced over time. If a creator gets a better idea than their original idea, they should go with the better idea!
  • Which author?! There are dozens of people whose opinions go into making a show. And while they’re all usually on the same page, sometimes they’re not. If we care enough to disagree, and we do this recreationally, what do you think the chances are that the people who live and breathe this story full time all think the same way?
  • But let’s say they are all on board. They’re still only giving interviews for publicity; there’s only so much they can and should give away.
  • Stepping back even farther, the author might not know exactly what it is they’re touching on in a particular scene. This is particularly true when you’re looking at a text through critical race/gender/ability/class/whatever theory. We are all socialized from birth to take a certain viewpoint as a “given,” even if it is demonstrably unfair and/or untrue.
  • And even if not, as the man himself says: All worthy work is open to interpretations the author did not intend. Art isn't your pet -- it's your kid. It grows up and talks back to you. If there's only one way to interpret a particular text, odds are overwhelmingly good that it's not worth our time anyway.

For at least those reasons off the top of my head, accepting a slice of commentary or a spoiler quote as a definitive statement on “the meaning” of XYZ story element isn’t going to lead to a “better” understanding of a story. But even if it were reliable, I believe that art should stand on its own. It doesn’t usually have to, but it should have an internal self-supporting logic, of which our interpretation is as valid as anyone’s, including the author’s.

So this is my compromise: the words of the author are there if I’m really curious to pick something apart, but I watch/read something as if they are unavailable. If I do get curious/happen to stumble upon the opinion of a creator, which strikes me as reliable, authoritative, well-thought-out, consistent with canon, and MOST importantly does not contradict MY reading of the text, [2] I take that opinion under consideration as one factor in my analysis.

Notably, none of this is to say that either statements or narratives should be exempt from criticism in favor of the most generous interpretation. If anyone goes out and makes gross *ist comments, an individual call-out is fair, whether or not that person is connected to something we find entertaining. If a narrative is unclear and open to several interpretations, especially if one or several of those are guaranteed to lead to fandom fuckery, that's always on the table to discuss. If a creator/author/whatever swears up and down that a narrative cock-up "wasn't meant" to be gross/is clearly an expression of their favorite interpretation/totally doesn't suck/whatever, well, bless their heart but it's highly unlikely to change my mind. I tend to use my interpretive powers to substantiate the reading that I like best, but that's me.

[1] As a Dollhouse fan I considered going with “the author is wedged,” as this is a similar concept. But (a) I shut out BSG backstage politics a LOT more frequently and harshly than I ignore Whedon &co, so the “boxing” metaphor is more often apt and (b) writing out “wedging” makes me giggle because I'm five.

[2] Why yes, the Threes are my favorite model! HOW EVER COULD YOU TELL.

everybody lies, dw/tw: doctor who, dw/tw: torchwood, sorkinitis, me me me, tvd, downton abbey, the dollhouse is real, the author is boxed, nikita, harry potter, bsg, dysfunctional shipping awareness, avian theory of media criticism, meta-fantastica, btvs/ats, thg, caprica, west wing, supernatural, game of thrones, dollhouse

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