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Wednesday, 29 June 2011

The Diminishing Increase of an Author


American writer Adam Johnson: photo by Roms69, 2006

A curious thing to consider is an author.

This is commonly the writer of a book, & c.; or the originator of an event, policy or state of affairs. The term derives from the Latin augeo, to increase or promote. There is thus a natural inflation built into an author.

From this extends authority, a power, or right, to enforce obedience. The root is auto -- from the Greek autos: self, own, of or by oneself. Related, then, in Greek is authentes: one who does something by himself. Thus our authentic: trustworthy, entitled to acceptance (of a statement); genuine, not forged (of documents, pictures, etc.).

Johnson, in his Dictionary, calls an author "the first beginner of a thing; the writer of a book, opposed to a compiler." And he gives the related terms:
authentick: genuine, original, provable.
authenticate: to establish.
authenticity: authority, genuineness.
authoritative: having authority.
authority: legal power, influence, role.
authorize: to give authority, to justify.

Your author, then, is someone who produces himself as an authority, by puffing himself up, or bigging up, as is sometimes now said.

What he produces would thus naturally be trustworthy, as it is he who has produced it.

There is perhaps something a bit circular in all this, one murmurs. And the author replies firmly: just trust me.

But a very few of the better authors (most of them are dead, of course) say it with a conspiratorial wink that for a moment takes you into the joke.

Johnson was an author and an authority. He was to be trusted. Yet one wonders. Alone, Johnson suffered terribly from strange guilts that seem to have caused him to do physical harm to himself. It may be thought the burden of his own authority was terrible for this great author. He is to be trusted, perhaps, because his example teaches us that the most solid exterior often conceals something that should not be completely trusted.

The poet Horace -- a noted author -- put the problem thus:

Nil fuit unquam
Sic impar sibi

or: Surely such a various creature -- as an author, Horace means -- never was known. That is: There never was known a creature less worth trusting.

The author lies to tell the truth and tells the truth to lie, flatters to deceive and deceives to flatter, yet is widely received as wise and thought good.

There is the letter Milton wrote to the learned stranger. The visitor had come from afar to meet Milton, the formidable author. In his letter Milton remarks on the fact that, though the visitor's expectations had been high, they had not in any way exceeded the reality that had been found: Milton in his actual person was at least as great as the learned stranger had imagined, perhaps indeed even greater, as Milton helpfully reminded the learned stranger in this letter.

Nevertheless those brilliant and intriguing features the public habitually attributes to an author often evaporate upon contact with the atmosphere of planet Earth. Loving an author, one has pressed a ghost to one's bosom, it is too often found.

To write better than one lives is patently easy. Consider virtually any author up close and the truth of this will be observed.

Still authors run deep. The seas are smooth, the wind fair for the author, like one who, upon land, teaches the art of navigation.

Authors have secluded themselves in well-appointed towers and luxuriant caves, on remote islands and atop cloudy peaks, as well as in private offices, studios, and writing-dens. An authoritative pied-a-terre from which to launch one's author appearances, reading tours and book-signings is considered by some a virtual necessity for one of the authorial tribe. Any locus in which one remains essentially disengaged from the common cares of mankind, however, may prove sufficient for an author.

Were an author, in his works, to be suddenly thrust into the cold seas of actuality, where the first harsh wave that washes over him may be expected to bring panic and a swirling descent toward unconsciousness, the profession might attract fewer eager candidates than at present.

File:2008TIBE Day5 Hall1 ActivityCenter2 MaiSaito in Signing.jpg

Writer Mai Saito in book-signing at 2008 Taipei International Book Exhibition: photo by Rico Shen, 17 February 2008

Writer Jussi Adler-Olsen at the Frankfurt Book Fair: photo by Smalltown Boy, 9 October 2010


Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Thanks for the reminder, Tom, that it is easy to be a monk on the mountain ...


Ed Baker said...


those "common cares of mankind" will get-chu ever' time !



"atop cloudy peaks" (or, yesterday again, rainy ones). . . .


grey whiteness of fog against invisible
ridge, song sparrow calling from branch
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

opposite of unconcealed, if
as one is approaching

picture’s world, the viewer
inside it, to be that

grey white fog against invisible ridge,
silver of drops splashing into channel

Ed Baker said...

this Mai Saito is a manufactured
movie star

a "writer of a book" ?

no wonder our Present is so fucking stupid!


(Adam) Johnson's "Teen Sniper" was unforgettably haunting when I caught it in Harper's a few years ago. The present reflected in a very possible future. Normalcy is accepted as just that even as the norm changes toward the horrible day by day. Thanks, Tom, for the reminder of this author's work.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this a lot -- especially the Dictionary excerpts and Doctor Johnson references.

TC said...

One doesn't know what it is about contemporary Authors that drives one so nutty. Perhaps it's all that Face time. There are over 13,000 photos of contemporary Authors available in public domain. Where are the JD Salingers now that we need them, the shrinking violet authors, hid away in their bunkers, unseen. The mute inglorious Miltons, the impossible-to-pry-our-of-their-writing-rooms Prousts.

But... the sour grapes effusions of one fated forever to remain beyond the pale of the Author tribe.

What! Author? You're having a laugh.

And to illustrate that humiliation, to put a fine point on it, yet again -- the abyss between the status Author and the categorical blogger, that is -- we are currently undergoing a Blogger Disruption of Service.

All due apologies for any inconvenience to anybody who is deprived the experience of reading these words due to technical & c.

As punishment, it seems, for recently upgrading Firefox (which as it happens is not a subsidiary of our Blogger Mothership), one is now locked out of one's own dashboard, and gets an Error 400 Message when one dares try to ascend the perilous ladder into the secret door high on the wall of the boiler room of Blogger. Beyond that door lies the engine room, the ark of the covenant, the Sanctuary.

An Error 400 Message is brute stuff. Think: Rule 30, the blind replication of the cellular automaton.

I mean, this is real life, of a sort, as well as Unreal Life, of a sure and certainty.

But WERE one an Author masquerading (for a lark) as a blogger... oh the unthinkableness of it... who might one better call upon, in a pass such as this (Error 400 could take some heavy lifting, more than one could ask of a mere slip of an Author)... but a burly, bristly bear of an Authorial mechanick like the one posed upon the pipes atop this post.

aditya said...

I enjoyed every bit of this. Many thanks for the stern reminder..

To write better than one lives is patently easy.
(Esp. when you've mentioned the 'studios'.)
And then as Don says its easy being a monk on the mountain.