25 May 2005

Undead Authors

Poets' names are a conventional and convenient way of referring to groups of works, but fundamental methodological problems arise where names become our organising principle of first recourse. Although the practice of shrinking poetry with biography-heavy readings has generally ceased, scholarship remains far from embracing fully the death of the author. Essays and books still focus on "The Works of A. B." or "The Poetry of Y. Z." without undertaking any justification of this selection of primary texts. Poems written by the same person are not necessarily from the same literary era, using related techniques, or philosophically compatible; they are not necessarily poetologically or politically alike. Where we make such assumptions, we start from impermissible connections between authorship and text, instead of arguing for a reading of the texts themselves. Poems can be linked by readers for any number of convincing reasons to do with thematics and formal effects, but a reason needs to be given: reading primary texts together - whether for undergraduate courses or professorial monographs - cannot be justified by a poet's name.