It has been an interesting week for me as after I published a post here, (Civic Pride), I was contacted by a local newspaper who wanted to run a feature on it. As a result I have seen unfold in-front of me reactions to my writing that have prompted some reflections on my part about the nature of writing, and how an audience responds to the written word.
The piece itself was a break from how I usually write, and a test for a personal project I am doing for my Masters degree. As I explained in an introduction to the piece I was starting to move away from this experiment, but was getting trapped into endless revisions which threatened my overall project. In posting the work I was attempting to make it more concrete in order that I could move away from it.
The piece was written for a specific context, and in relation to specific experiences of psychogeographic wandering and wonderings I had undertaken. The departure in my writing style manifests itself mainly as a personal one, with my text being much more autobiographical with a strong critical undertow. Added to this were anecdotal experiences and historical pointers, and I wove in memories of many conversations I have had with people over the years that had filtered into my own reading/interpretation of events. I was aiming for a more reflective, reflexive narration, as I attempted to author from a similar starting point as some of my favourite writers who flirt with psychogeography: Bill Drummond; Will Self; Stewart Home, possibly Jonathan Meades, amongst others. I am in no way claiming that what I wrote is similar to them, or even as good, (it isn’t); just that they were an inspiration to me as I consciously changed my approach to writing.
What has been most interesting about this experience is how the readers of the local newspaper article have interpreted, often negatively, the intention of what I wrote. This has lead me to various observations about writing; the context it is read in; what the reader brings to the work; and therefore what they add to or take away from it. Here’s some of my thoughts:
Context is everything
Readers of the newspaper article were invited the comment on what the newspaper had reported that I had written. This removed the reader from the original context of the work. But for those that bothered to follow the link provided to the original blogpost, rather than just read what the newspaper said, had a context imposed on them before they actually read the piece. This clouded their mind and prevented them reading the piece as it was intended to be read.
The audience brings their own agenda to the work
It is interesting how some of the comments on the newspaper website seem to focus in on certain aspects of the piece I wrote, (whether they read the blog here or only related their comments to what was in the newspaper), and ignored other aspects. Some comments completely mis-read what was written and responded by applying their own belief in what they thought had been written. In one case, someone quoted what they thought I had written, but placed a word in a sentence that wasn’t actually there in my writing. This bought a new, and very loaded context to the table which completely skewed the meaning.
You can’t choose your audience
When something is published it is there for anyone to read. This blog is subtitled: ‘Writings on art, design and music—mostly’; and much of the audience I expect to read what I post are either from an arts background or have a strong interest in what I may write about. People who don’t are quite rightly free to read what is published and so form their own opinion, but there is a higher chance of a mis-reading of the context as a result.
Interpretation of terminology is fluid
Some terms can have negative connotations for some, even if they were intended to be read positively.
The audience doesn’t necessarily assimilate the entire work
Some comments focussed on a point mid-way through the piece that meant they only considered that singular aspect. If that aspect was contextualised with what was said at a much later stage, it would have indicated a progression of thought within the piece and not a static mindset. As a writer, artist, designer etc, you know your own work intimately and therefore tend to see it in the ‘whole’. The reader will not have the same relationship with the work as you and therefore won’t see consider it in its totality.
Sarcasm doesn’t work in writing
Sarcasm doesn’t come across well in the written word and what might sound witty when read off the page by the author is unlikely to sound witty in the mind of the reader.
Audiences aren’t necessarily interested in past work
Previous writing by an author are potentially not known by the reader, and they may not be interested in hunting them out. Therefore the audience doesn’t necessarily ‘get’ the direction of the author’s thoughts over a period of time, despite the fact that what they are currently reading is an extension of what the author has created before.
The audience doesn’t know you
If an audience is reading something with no prior knowledge of you as a person, or have preconceived ideas about your intentions, they are going to layer their own personalities onto what you have written. Therefore any comments they make often say more about them than they do about you.
An audience is equally the audience of others who have commented
If a reader reads others’ comments this automatically clouds the context of your work further.
In writing this post I have attempted to avoid discussing the actual contexts of what I originally wrote about and focussed on the nature of how people perceive work made by a writer, (or photographer or artist or designer or dancer or…). This is not an attempt to counter some of the comments made on the newspaper website, (however personal and negative some of them may have been), nor to correct being mis-quoted by the journalist. Ultimately what I wanted to explore here is the concept of the death of the author, as raised by Barthes, in a very modern context. This modern context considers social media within the mix of what Barthes and others have previously theorised over. The ability to comment online has added to their theories an additional consideration, and raises the notion of ‘the commenter being the author’. In this questioning of the nature of an audience which also reads other’s comments on a text, and has the ability to comment themselves, it has to be accepted that the reader not only brings their context and meaning to any work, but also what others have written and the origin of the piece is even further distanced from the original context and intentions of the person who first wrote the work.