Authoring and Reading: The Critical Place of Position


© Neil Béchervaise, Dennis Robinson & Emma Heyde




The self-righteous indignation of Sydney Institute executive director Gerald Henderson in berating Helen Darville for creating a fictional author for her fictional novel "The Hand That Signed The Paper" stands as one of the literary highlights of 1995. Confronted with such furores as can be generated by preposterous propositions that Purcell wrote Purcell's Trumpet Voluntary or that Shakespeare did not write Shakespeare's plays or even that Miles Franklin did not always write under her own name, the Darville - Demidenko " dispute of the year" pales into virtual reality. Jacques Derrida might laugh uncontrollably at the 'difference'. When Baudrilard's 'simulcrum' becomes the reality, the text becomes inseparable from its reader. When we wake, the memory of the nightmare remains. As the year 5 student well knows, the story ends when we wake, the reality is just a dream. It is no less real for being a memory.


Helen Darville, in gaining recognition for her fictional author has established not, as Roland Barthes established, the death of the author but the very real fiction of the author. Just as William Golding's nightmare was realised in the setting of his Lord of the Fliesfor study in schools, so too, every publisher acknowledges the necessity for public access to a person called the author. While teams of Publisher's "elves" pen empathic responses to reader requests for further contact with "the author", Santa's elves write equally empathic responses to hordes of children.


The reality of the author may provide us with insight into the social, political, historical or even ethical context within which a text is realised , but as Helen Garner observed, and she is far from being the first, it is the reader who creates the text.


The adherence to the fiction of the writer, is, indeed a relatively strange proclivity .In the deconstructed world of the postmodernist, as Robert Manne observes ( Quadrant, 1995 ) "Helen Demidenko has inadvertently exposed ... the pretensions of academic post-modernism and sentimental multiculturalism" to the glare of the Australian heritage keepers. Awarded prizes for fiction she is vilified for creating fictions which her critics misread as fact. Castigated for representing views which presaged the Pauline Hanson phenomenon as fiction as if they were her own.


While elements of biographical details are gleefully extracted from fiction as essential proof of verisimilitude, the extractions of fiction from fiction presents the focus for excoriation. The history is not historical, the truth is not true. The cries of "we wuz robbed" echo from vaulted concrete office walls as word-processed critiques are edited, sub-edited and represented to that self-same readership who constructed the Demidenko novel as real reality. The literary critic cannot lie. The author is a fiction so the fiction of the fiction is unacceptable - too fictional ?

Australian literature now represents 43 per cent of the book market. The literary representation of the Australian culture has come of commercial age. but what does this mean in the post-structural age? What does Saussure's sign now signify? And, more importantly for the purpose of this present chapter, what does the fiction of the author signify for the reader of adolescent fiction?


Even while Frank Leavis protested the need for 'truth to life', he protested against the merits of David Herbert Lawrence. Every reader is entitled to a few false starts- especially with an unfamiliar author. For the adolescent fiction reader, the author, i.e. the unseen hand behind the page; the unheard voice of the storyteller; the omniscient creator whose uncredited editors remain for ever silent; whose creative juices flow complete onto the page.


The ninth rewrite, the decision to delete a romance, to change a setting are never problematic. The adoption of a person to suit the market has become an essential component of every publisher's sales strategy. Roald Dahl must be forever avuncular, forever relaxed and approachable, despite his daughter's contrary recollections; Peter Goldsworthy must be forever the doctor who also writes; Gillian Rubenstein forever motherly yet never maternal. The fiction of the author may be seen as quintessentially Helen Demidenko but she is crucial to the readership.