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This report is taken from PN Review 108, Volume 22 Number 4, March - April 1996.

Unquiet Presences D.J. Enright

'What follows then, under the rubric of the death of the author, is at one and the same time a statement of the return of the author… the concept of the author is never more alive than when pronounced dead': Seán Burke, The Death and Return of the Author, 1992. Well - one supposes - said. Some literary theorists have a way with words; it seems a pity they waste themselves on literary theory. Derrida wanted to write literature, and philosophy ('What is Literature?') was meant to be a detour - one from which so far he hasn't extricated himself.

The death of God/The death of the author. The latter 'might be said to fulfil much the same function in our day' as did the former in the late nineteenth century. Surely a little mortifying from God's point of view, like being kicked when one is down. But Seán Burke ties the thought up neatly: 'The author has thus become the subject of a residual antitheology, as though the Satan of Paradise Lost had suddenly redirected his rebellion against the unsuspecting figure of Milton himself.' Hard on Milton, who did his best to avoid using the term 'author' of himself, preferring to keep it for the (then living) 'Author of all being', and waiving his own copyright: 'Sing, Heav'nly Muse'.

The death of the author, as an idea, generates a severely limited interest. Writers on the subject say much the same thing again and again ...


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