Celui qui parle, c’est aussi important!
Forms and variations of author-function in linguistics, philology, and literature

 (University of Udine – University of Trieste, 25th–26th March 2021)

Since the 1960s there has been much critical reflection on the figure of the author, and this has been analysed from several angles in linguistic and literary studies (see Burke 1992; Couturier 1995; Compagnon 2012) as well as more recent forms of web writing in the wake of the digital revolution. First, structuralism and Saussurian theory laid the groundwork for the renewal of Literary theory. The “death of the author” propounded by Barthes (1961) offered the chance to redefine the essence, the role and the status of the author. The first person to accept this challenge was Michel Foucault, during his lecture Qu’est-ce qu’un auteur? at Collège de France, on 22 February 1969. Setting aside individual and subjective components, Foucault defined the author as a real “function”, either discernible in some specific spaces (name, “position” with regard to his/her work, and appropriation and attribution) or leaning towards shared discursivity, independently from the original subject, thereby highlighting the complex and articulate nature of the author (1969). 
Beyond the limits of historical and ideologically connoted analysis, debate on the matter is far from settled. On the contrary, the authorial question offers food for thought in different fields of linguistics, philology and literature. If the modern concept of author called for reflection on Beckett’s provocative “qu’importe qui parle?”, even today the number of issues that can be investigated in relation to the author prove how important this is for all three aforementioned disciplines.

From a linguistic perspective, reflection on the matter arose some years before Barthes’ and Foucault’s studies. The relevance and tangibility of individual imprinting in change in language, sparked either internally or due to external reasons, had already been investigated by Migliorini (1952; 1975) and Spitzer (1956). As Spitzer states (1956: 66), every speaker can potentially intervene with some “individual innovation in word-formation” which is then “ratified by a community”. Therefore, every speaker is a potential language creator, regardless of how aware he is of that. Similarly, critical discourse analysis offers important insights: the image of the author can be seen not only from a biographic angle, but also on the basis of the discursive image in literary work and other texts as well (Amossy 2009; Korthals Altes 2014). Theories and research focusing on the ethos of the speaker can thus be explored, namely the image that speakers can build in terms of authority and credibility in order to offer a certain representation of themselves to the recipient (Amossy 2000; Plantin 2011).

As far as philology is concerned, a major field of analysis concerns the issues of authoriality and authority during the Middle Ages, a historic moment when these two topics were conceived quite differently from today. Following the debate sparked by Barthes and Foucault (see the introduction in Coxon 2001), over the last few decades, Medieval Studies have investigated this phenomenon with their own instruments. A noteworthy example is the Germanic area, where little or nothing is usually said about the author. It is not unusual in gnomic poetry or in certain Germanic didactic texts to find that the relevance of the writer is deliberately sacrificed to the advantage of the “renowned names” of the Church Fathers or the maister who are cited or mentioned in these writings (Gottschall 2018). In this regard, the invention of printing represents a revolution that followed a long process during which the author realised his importance, in contrast with the tradition of auctoritas of classical authors. Two examples are the Autor und Autorschaft im Mittelalter colloquium, which took place in Meissen in 1995, and the Autor - Autorisation - Authentizität symposium of 2002 in Aachen. 
Another major field of study concerns authorial philology. This term, coined by Dante Isella (1987), stems from long-lasting debate between Giuseppe de Robertis, Gianfranco Contini e Benedetto Croce and it denotes “on the one hand, the study of the processing of a text of which we are given the autograph and which indicates traces of corrections and authorial reviews (opus in fieri); on the other, the examination of different redactions, either handwritten or printed, of a work” (Italia-Raboni 2010: 9). Another methodological issue which is still being debated deals with the variations of the author, especially since several critics, starting from Cerquiglini in Éloge de la variante (1989), have always placed less emphasis on the choice of a single variation, preferring to study the variae lectiones.

Within literary discourse, since the 2000s, in the wake of social and cultural Hypermodernity, there has been renewed interest in the position of the author. The search for “new literary borders”, brought to the fore by Donnarumma (2014), has determined a remarkable increase in non-fiction writings, thus imposing a reflection on the essential nature of fiction and on the fine line between fiction and reality, which is particularly fluid when it comes to telling an experience (Rüth-Schwarze 2016; Lavocat 2016). Incidentally, the proliferation of these kinds of texts seems to encourage a renewal of the function of the author in terms of ethical responsibility, as in several cases “the direct implication of the writer” becomes “a way to bind the experience with the authority of the person analysing a partial social reality or a public issue” (Donnarumma 2014: 119). During the same period, the theory retrieved the notion of the author that was cast aside from the major narratology of the nineteenth century (Giovannetti 2015: 58-65). This widespread trend, common among English speaking (Walsh 2007; Dawson 2013) and French critics (Patron 2009), and some Italians as well (Ballerio 2013), even led to the creation of new concepts (such as postures, proposed by Meizoz 2007; 2016). 
Beyond merely theoretical issues, the debate on the position of the author represents a fundamental research instrument for many genres and literary forms. This is particularly evident in traditional autobiography and in the hybrid genre of autofiction (Delaume 2010; Marchese 2014), but also in some specific cases of biofiction (Castellana 2019). Among the phenomena of complex authoriality, the processes of multiplication of authorial instances can be included, where editors, rewriters, and translators intervene directly on the text of an author, acquiring a central role both in the composition and distribution of the text. Another example is the case of multiple authors, which can be recognised, for instance, in journalistic prose, in hybrid products such as opera librettos, and in “four-handed” or expressly “collective” writings.

Without excluding contamination of the different ideas which have animated the debate on authoriality, the following topics are proposed as non-exclusive suggestions and investigation ideas:

  1. Author and authoriality in the Middle Ages
  2. (Pseudo)anonymity
  3. Ethos and speaker’s image in discourse
  4. Correlations between author and translator
  5. Hybrid kinds of authors (editors, rewriters, etc.)
  6. Individual authors and language change
  7. Ontological status of the author between factualité and fictionnalité
  8. Spread authoriality
  9. Authoriality and creation of canons (with possible references to gender studies)


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