Authorial intent, after the fact

A friend just wrote and said “I’m teaching The Audible Past next week. Anything I should tell them about the book?” Here’s a lightly edited version of my reply:

It’s hard for me to answer that. I have done a few class visits where students read the book and just talk about how it happened and some of my favorite parts. Of course I’ve changed my mind on some stuff as well, but I wouldn’t want to bias their readings too much ahead of time. I guess the main thing to say is that the book was written at a time where there wasn’t a whole pile of other contemporary scholarship on sound that was aware of OTHER scholarship on sound. (You can see the same issue in the intro to Emily Thompson’s Soundscape of Modernity). So there is a lot of effort to think through what it means to talk about sound in the humanities and why that matters. I’m not sure someone starting a sonic project today has to do that kind of work or deal with that kind of problem, since we tend to have found one another and talk at conferences and read each other’s work. That said, I still think there’s a lot of room for theoretical imagination today as opposed to just working out or applying paradigms. Of course there are also massive archives that remain unconsidered as well. it changes, but right now, my favorite chapters are probably 1, 6, and the stuff on techniques at the beginning of 2, but it seems like the intro is the “hit” — probably for its relative brevity. If there was one thing I wished people had picked up and haven’t (to my knowledge), it would be the stuff in the conclusion about audism and deafness. If there’s one regret, it’s that I didn’t have a more vicious copyeditor to fix a few of the zingers still in the prose (not that I’m complaining about Duke’s copyediting–it’s some of the best I’ve had; I just think many profs are more defensive about their prose than I am and so he was more cautious than he needed to be).

Of course, what I should also have said is that I firmly believe in Barthes’ death of the author. The words are on the page and I don’t control their interpretation. After the enjoyment of the process and the gratification that people read it at all, that’s the best part about writing.

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