Authorship, Single, Multiple

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: & / Personal / Writing / Notes /


Single versus Multiple Authorship

The Bible‘s Genesis recounts that God created heaven and earth yet narrates it with him saying, as translated into English, “Let us …” do such and such. Is God a single deity? or is he a committee? perhaps the committee’s chairman, its spokesman?

In school we have Romeo and Juliet shoved at us, or Julius Caesar. We are told that these plays were written by Shakespeare. Then we hear rumors that claim they were really written by Queen Elizabeth, by Sir Walter Raleigh … by a doctor, by a ship’s captain … Discounting that rubbish, still, by the time we get to graduate school even the most backward English major has heard that Shakespeare often collaborated.

If we follow film we have the great auteurs touted: Griffith, Chaplin … Fellini, Bergman … Gee, and we had always thought that movies came from Hollywood: MGM, United Artists … studios!

Last night I watched a DVD of the remake of Ocean’s Eleven. Instead of a logo of a Columbia, or a lion, or a Pegasus, I sat for a logo of a studio: shimmering in gray scale: a still looking somehow animated. That bit of fluff doesn’t star just George Clooney and Julia Roberts; the star credits go on and on. And if you browse a Special Feature or two you get footage of the set: stars, director, cameramen, gofers … a whole society of workers.

The kiddie goes to the museum and there’s Rembrandt! and Renoir! and Raphael! and Titian! (if you went to a good museum).Later you learn that Titian or Reubens or whoever, Leonardo …, had assistants. What did they do? Fetch his coffee while he painted?

Sure. Or they did the painting while he drank coffee.

These considerations occur to me today not so much in the context of having seen the fictional Las Vegas caper, but in the wake of my reading Alexandre Dumas for the first time. What? Man, you’re sixty-six years old, an English teacher, were in grad school forever: spent most of your adulthood in the shadow of some university … You’re supposed to have read everything! You were supposed to have read at least a few Dumas novels when you were a kid!

Well, I didn’t. But boy, am I glad to be reading The Three Musketeers now. What a gas! I’m reminded of finally succumbing to assignments of Lord Byron and actually reading Don Juan: these great Romantic oeuvres that just go on and on: more fun than a barrel full of monkeys. (Though I have to admit that lots and lots of great big fat works really roll once you really get into them: The Iliad, The Faerie Queen … (No cheating now: reading two books of twelve or twenty-four (as the professor himself may well have stopped at) doesn’t count: you’ve got to get into the whole thing.)

OK. So what does Dumas have to do with all that at the beginning about committees? Well, Dumas apparently worked as the master of a studio more than as a single author. If you read Beckett you can be sure that Samuel himself wrote every word. Don’t freely assume that the editor wrote over whatever he pleased. Don’t assume that even James Joyce had a hand in it.

Uh, let me broaden the stage: consider scientific papers, mathematical papers … economics papers. The list of authors might scroll on like the credits for Ocean’s Eleven. Some guy has an idea. Some other guy fiddles with it. A century later some other guy proves it. You don’t get paid if you don’t get credit. You don’t get fame if you’re not the one credited. So the accounted society lists credits note.

In the society in general you can paraphrase Galbraith or Twain and pretend it’s yours. You won’t have many listeners if you credit Galbraith or Twain. Ah, but in the academy you’ll fare best if you attribute whatever you say to great names. Make up some balderdash and then say that St. Augustine said it. You’ll get away with it ninety-nine times before you break your nose on a rock. Fritz Kreisler used to compose reams of concerti and palm them as Vivaldi, as Bach … If you say it’s yours, they might not listen the same. They might not listen at all.

My stage is broad enough to include the ridiculous: when I first went to work for Circle Gallery I quickly learned that Circle was owned by Arts International. Arts International hired artists by the sweat-shop-full, bought paintings by the job lot. One family would show up each week with a station wagon full of lighthouse scenes: the father painted the lighthouse, the mother painted the picket fence, the little daughter did the clouds, sonny put in a sea gull or two. Hundreds of paintings: barely distinguishable. Spread them around among sixty-eight galleries, and the repetition isn’t quite so obvious. Who singed the paintings? The father. or the mother. one of the kids. or the framer if the whole family forgot. It didn’t matter: it was merchandise!

It rankles the amateur to realize how much of our cultural canon was once merchandise.

Sure there’s the guy sweating bullets to make great art; then there’s Balzac, there’s Dostoevsky, scribbling out the pages: to pay his landlord … or his bookie: or to buy more silks for last night’s opera diva.

Enough of that. You see where it can go, spread all over: find analogies everywhere.

But in our minds we come back to the ideal: one author, one God.

I want to suggest why.

I believe the reason relates to why western civilization has preferred monotheism. And I believe that relates to why Florida, Ohio, Notre Dame, USC … the Redsocks, the Yankees … all want to be Number One, why Hitler, why the United States … wants to be “number one”.

For the same reason that we think that we’re unique. For the same reason that we thought that the earth was the center of the universe. For the same reason that we’ve never accepted Freud’s suggestion that we don’t know what we’re saying (or Bertrand Russell’s allegation that mathematicians don’t know either).

We don’t want to be in the middle. We want to be the end.

We want to be an end that doesn’t end. We want to be the point, the purpose: the Omega.

We want to be immortal.

And we’ll tell any lie to deceive ourselves that we are.

Last evening I showed the great 1971 Goya – oder Der arge Weg der Erkenntnis to Jan. I’d watched it myself a couple of nights before, was floored, couldn’t wait for her to see it.

Saturn Devouring His Children
thanx eeweems

Goya is forever fighting with his assistant, Esteve: tells him to get out and never come back. Later we see Goya fight the same way with the muleteer he hires to be his Sancho Panza, then we meet his mother and she insults Goya in the same vein: before offering tenderly to bath him, her baby, grown all deaf and old. With Esteve, with everyone he knows, we watch the insults fly. But Esteve is Goya’s best friend: his only friend! What’s the worst insult? What rankles Steve the most visibly? Goya calls him a “color dauber”! Esteve isn’t the co-author of the painting; no, he’s the assistant, the robot, the nobody.


The Accounted Society Lists Credits:
I’m glad you’ve browsed this far into I hope you have also browsed Macroinformation. There, macroinformation issues from meta-difference: difference across logical categories. Now consider this: is the society’s list of credits accurate? Is it complete? Are there significant differences between what’s claimed and what’s actual? Does the map represent the territory? (Did Franklin and Jefferson really invent American democracy or did they just steal it from the Iroquois?) (When Stephen King writes a great effect, does he know that pk wrote the same effect five years earlier?) (When Tim Berners-Lee wrote WorldWideWeb in 1988 did he realize that it was merely technically different from pk’s offer of a world-wide-net in 1970?)


About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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