To cross or not to cross genres? To collaborate or go it alone? These are questions we here at BRAND are asking in our summer symposium at the Southbank. They are deceptively simple questions as they bring up important issues of originality and authorship. How far can we say that an individual text is purely that of the writer concerned – outside any socio-cultural factors? And what of feedback and incorporated suggestions? Whose text is primary in a collaborative project? What influences the creative process most? Or does writing ‘just happen’? Can collectivism create originality?
Most of us are probably aware of Barthes’s statement ‘the author is dead’. A statement that has always struck me as absurd, much as I am delighted by Barthes’s sharp insights in his A Lover’s Discourse. Absurd in that the statement nullifies itself in its uttering: how can a dead author write ‘the author is dead’? Of course he means it metaphorically. Still. And yes there is an element of truth there. The notion of the ‘solitary genius’ appealing as it is in its romanticism, cannot possibly be seen outside its context of power structures such as class, gender, race, nationality. Still, these structures and the discourses they generate, intersect differently on an individual level. Writers who share all of the above, in other words, may have a totally different take on reality and create totally different texts and aesthetics. The factors that make up this thing called ‘the Self’ and more so the ‘Writing Self’, are endless in their permutations and effects. The debate will go on unresolved and therein lies its appeal: the pleasure is in the quest for an answer rather than the answer.
The legacy of ‘the author is dead’ however remains. In the theatre, for instance, there has been a rebellion, for a while now, against the ‘tyranny of the text,’ in favour of collaboration, improvisation, devising: focusing on the body of the actor as the originator of meaning, rather than the writer. Writers have naturally hit back, defending the primacy of the text. But is this a false dichotomy? Is it either physical or text-based theatre? Can’t the two co-exist? And doesn’t theatre by definition necessitate collaboration? What kind of collaboration, that is the question.
More and more playwrights, for instance, collaborate with other artists for multi-media or cross-genre explorations, as I certainly have myself. Poets write play-poems and prose writers write performance-prose, while visual artists create images out of text. Perhaps this tendency towards inter-disciplinary work is a sign of the times. Perhaps it is a natural development in a writer/artist, arising from the need to make new, unusual connections. Perhaps we should not be looking for either/or solutions but rather for both/and, openended-ness rather than closure, as unsettling as this may often be.