The author is not physically dead

The moment I found out that JK Rowling went ahead and said that she ought not have paired off Hermione and Ron, but Hermione and Harry, I felt angry: she has a history of dropping anvils on people during interviews. You know, Dumbledore is gay. The arm on the Weasley family clock dedicated to Fred fell off when he died. Dumbledore is gay. Whatever.

So now I thought, “publicity stunt”. I thought, “shut up, Rowling”. I thought, “it’s too late”. I thought, “you should’ve done that in the books, if you wanted it there”.

I started writing a blog post which would have been similar in point, but not in tone, to this one. It would have said “The moment the text is out in the world, it’s over. You don’t get to decide who interprets what how, you don’t get to decide what the ‘real’ reading is. You just let things take their course.”

And I wrote half of it, too. I mentioned my favorite bit of literary theory, “The author is dead”, by Roland Barthes, which says exactly what I put in quotes in the previous paragraph.

Then I realized that I couldn’t write all that, because books don’t fall out of the sky. You write stuff and it seems like a good idea at the time, or you were told you were supposed to do something, so you do it. You panic, come up with something, change it, try to make things better, make another attempt at fixing stuff. And later on you might wish you could change things. Which is what is happening with her.

The author is not perfect. As a person, the author isn’t Moses, to set down the Word of God into perfection and then never have another thought of it. The author writes. The author publishes. The author thinks back on the text and discovers new things or reconsiders old ones.

JK Rowling is just as entitled as any of her critics, fans, reviewers and general commenting people to come up with interpretations of her own work. She can say that Dumbledore is gay, although she never said it in the books themselves. She can say that after years of deliberation she can see Hermione and Ron wouldn’t work out. If she goes wrong anywhere, it’s in thinking it makes any difference now that the books are published. If her readers go wrong anywhere, it’s in thinking the very same.

The article in line with what I initially thought goes:

Because yes, Rowling created Harry, Ron, Hermione and co.; yes, she made them famous (and vice versa); yes, in the real world she owns the rights to them, and other legal vernacular blah blah blah. But they’re not hers — not anymore; they haven’t been hers since the first copy of The Philosopher’s Stone hit the shelves. Now they’re ours.

No, see? They’re not just ours. They’re her own as well. If anybody asked the writer of the article I quoted what she thought about a character – for example Remus Lupin, she would have answered. And she did say what she felt about Lupin, she said she was very angry he wasn’t gay.

Why would JK Rowling not be allowed to voice her own opinion as we do? If we deny her that right, if we tell her to ‘shut up’ and ‘leave it be’, it means we didn’t understand the point about the author being dead. It means that in a way she’s still a threat, in a way people still feel that she can influence the narrative ‘beyond the grave’ as it were. She can’t. That is the gist of it. Even if she were to pull a John Fowles and write a revised edition years later, she would be unable to modify the already existent Harry Potter series. It will continue being there. It will continue saying what it says, and not a word less or more.

The books are there. They’re finished. They say what they say and you base your interpretation on that alone. The author, in that sense, is dead. But the author is not physically dead. Don’t act as if she were supposed to be.

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