The Responsibilities of the Writer

Have an open-source picture of typebars because it looks neat.

Perhaps I’m delusional, but I feel like a lot of people seem to criticize works using the term or idea of “responsibility” to justify their opinions. Specifically they claim that writers (or any artist for that matter) has some responsibility to make their work appealing to the viewer/reader/etc. I cannot bring myself to agree with this statement.

We live in an age where the author is dead. The opinions of the writer are only considered  another part of text (if they are considered at all)  with which to interpret the work. By claiming that the author has some responsibility to the reader, we assume that the author will have a direct say in what their text must mean. I have no problems with an author having an opinion in their own work – or them even having an intended message in their work – but a text must be interpreted based upon its own merits as a work. If the opinions and intended message of the author can be seen in the text, then by all means they may be considered just as legitimate an interpretation as one proposed by a literary critic. But when a reader is able to demand that a text contain or remove certain elements for the sake of their own interpretation or sensibilities we begin to walk a very dangerous path, because while such claims seem to favor the reader they actually strip away the legitimacy of our concerns and interpretations.

If we say that an author must have this thematic element or can never display this kind of character, because it is deemed irresponsible to otherwise give a work to an audience, then we begin to impose an arbitrary scale of what makes “good literature.” We strip away the reader’s ability to justify their own opinions of the work. We create a shield for the author, and a cage for the reader. When we say “this text does not meet my personal criteria of ‘good'” we are overshadowed by the industrial criteria of “what is good.” The nuances of the story, the style, and the symbolism present in a text are washed away by the brush of “responsibility.” Indeed, some may argue that we overpower the nature of language and narrative itself in this interpretation. Limiting the potential for play in language to escape from a false “truth.”

If an author should be responsible for anything, it is conveying the story (and I mean this for nonfiction as well) that they are trying to tell. This is not to say all stories that an author chooses to pursue will be good or well-told. Perhaps a writer will settle for a story that is too intricate for their own abilities, or too simple for their style. A writer may choose a story that is outdated, or a story that is simply bad. In the end though, it is up to us – the readers – to say what we like or don’t like. If we find a story to be offensive, or the structure and style of a writer to be insulting, then we should make it clear that we will not partake in such materials. We cannot demand that all creations prescribe to the same opinions, and the same methods, we may merely refuse to reward works that we personally object to.

We are readers. We judge based upon the action of reading. We read what we want to read, and ignore what we don’t want to read.

Reading does not a writer make.

And the reader is not the writer’s responsibility.


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