MEET THE AUTHOR
but not to ask a question or receive
an answer. Unreliable he is,
notoriously ill-informed about
his work, which he believes has come about
as some improvement in the world. Oh sure.
Of course. As can be evidenced by how
the poor are still the poor and seldom fed.
How Shelley’s children lived to middle age.
The author speaks hyperbole saying
even his name, which has become just one
more myth nobody has the heart to tell
him isn’t true. His smile’s a simile
for self-delusion, trite and long-winded.
Steer clear. Do something else. Think your own thoughts.
I’ve met many authors in the past three decades, and as one might imagine, there can often be a difference between the persona on the page and the actual person. Is it possible actually to “meet” the author, or is one simply encountering a persona, a version, a fiction? Critics sometimes refer to an “unreliable narrator,” so I extended that description to the author himself, especially the idea of credibility being compromised. An author has an ego—that’s understandable to some degree—but what if ego entices the author into overvaluing his work’s contribution to society? Some authors—in interviews, in commentaries—have discussed interpretations of their work, but how much should readers believe an author’s view or interpretation? Once the work exists in the world, doesn’t it belong to readers? Can an author even be trusted?
U2’s Bono once said that he wanted “a song so good that it makes people want to do something about the subject.” Emerson said that thought needs action in order to ripen into truth. The Bible teaches that faith without works is dead. Rilke’s famous poem “Archaic Torso of Apollo,” often used to stress the value of art within the individual’s life, ends by stating, “You must change your life.” Perhaps people experience art in all its forms and decide to be different selves, choose to live more humbly, more empathetically, or less fearfully, less assured of their answers. Perhaps they imagine the lives of others as equally miraculous as their own.
A study of authors’ lives, though, can sometimes be depressing. Some aren’t always the most admirable people. Some cheat, lie, steal, have affairs, abandon children, or worse. Nonetheless, we go to them with questions, expecting to receive answers, believing we might even encounter the truth. Perhaps we live in a world too prone to self-delusion. Authors, like readers, are often insecure, given to hyperbole, creators of myths about themselves and their work.
Maybe, as the poem states, we should “[s]teer clear.” Maybe we should not give our questions and answers over to authors but should, instead, think our “own thoughts.” Part of the larger argument of Restoring the Narrative has to do with reliability—of competing narratives that exist in both the public and private spheres, of what it means to be a self, a citizen, a soul. Time, too, whether past, present, or future, contains competing versions of events and what these once meant, now mean, or one day will come to mean. None of us has the full picture.
Meanwhile, time goes “headlong telling itself.”
One day we will meet the Author.