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  • Steven Wilson-Beales

‘Author’ does not mean ‘Authoritarian’

James Carson posted a brilliant article recently discussing ‘The Death of the Author 2.0’ and it gave me some food for thought. This is the resulting psychological sushi.

In the article Carson uses the famous Barthes essay  to highlight some modern digital trends. In a world of mashups and social media it’s getting increasingly difficult to discover the original intention of the author. And if you can’t do that then what remains of the notion of authorship?

I left some rambling comments on the article but wanted to consolidate them here:

  1. This authorship debate is really one about the value of strong editorial

  2. In an age of crowd-sourcing and social recommendations, editors must present clear value

  3. They must do this by recognising the context they are writing in

  4. If we don’t acknowledge any of the above then arguments about authorship will appear authoritarian.

If we take digital music as an example: I see many brilliant music editorial websites like The Quietus or Pitchfork and I see excellent services like Spotify or Deezer – but I don’t see a perfect fusion of editorial, technology and catalogue anywhere. Why is that?

Because there is currently a notion that, when it comes to the music services, peer recommendation and algorithmic serendipity is somehow better than stories. But it’s the stories around the music that drives interest, loyalty and passion. But stories take time and time is not a friend to ROI (at least not in the short-term) so it’s left to BBC4 to churn out the relentless Pink Floyd, Neil Young and The Beatles documentaries on a massive scale.

To make matters worse, when editors do step in there is a backlash in the form of ‘who are you to tell us what to listen to?’ That’s very true, but music is also about discovery and learning and if I can do that faster through some editorial expertise then I’m all for it.

This is a multi-faceted debate too large to include in one blog post. Barthes, along with his post-marxist colleagues, always taught us to look for the politics behind the issues. The debate about authorship is not a technological one, it’s inherently political. If authorship disappears then who can we rely on to watch the watchers?

PS: I didn’t write this.

No one did.

Have you any thoughts on the topic above? Please feel free to leave your comments below.


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