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James Patterson Zombie – Foucault author function

February 13, 2013

James Patterson is a bestselling author well known for his prolific output. Wikipedia lists over 100 books in his bibliography and he shows no sign of stopping. But there is some degree of controversy about how he produces so many books; see last December video at MSNBC: “When it comes to books, James Patterson is a well-oiled machine” or from 2008 in ABC: “James Patterson: Give Them What They Want“:

Patterson’s outlines are a bit controversial. In a sense, Patterson is writing only so much; he has run out of time to write and has others do it for him. Many of his books are actually written by someone else, after Patterson provides what he calls a detailed outline.

Patterson works with co-authors and some argue that he is more of the leader of an assembly line than the author. He compares himself to the head of an entertainment studio or car company designer. Today in Savannah Now: “James Patterson: ‘I’m not going to reveal that I’m a zombie’” which is almost to say, of course he is:

Does the man ever sleep? “I’m not going to reveal that I’m a zombie,” Patterson says. “I’m efficient, very focused and I love what I do.”

zombie james patterson author

The controversy though is a question of “author function” – It’s Patterson’s name in bold above the title, but how many other people collaborated on this media production. Movies end with detailed credits of all the people who worked on the movie in various roles. And even then surely, people are left out. When a movie is said to be made by Steven Spielberg we know that lots of other people worked on it too. Or referring to President Obama in place of the whole executive branch. The buck stops with him but we know that it isn’t all Spielberg with a handheld camera editing alone in the basement. Still with books (and politicians) there remains a deeper illusion of the romantic notions of authorship. Influence from lobbyists and hidden co-authors seems to corrupt the process.

That romantic ideal of author is dying – it’s long been dead – it keeps dying because we haven’t quite figured out how to replace it yet. See Roland Barthes on “Death of the Author” and then Michel Foucault on “What is an Author”:

It is not enough, however, to repeat the empty affirmation that the author has disappeared. For the same reason, it is not enough to keep repeating that God and man have died a common death. Instead, we must locate the space left empty by the author’s disappearance, follow the distribution of gaps and breaches, and watch for the openings this disappearance uncovers.

Foucault goes on to address the system of ownership of texts and explain that “author” is “the result of a complex operation that constructs a certain being of reason”;

Critics doubtless try to give this being of reason a realistic status, by discerning, in the individual, a “deep” motive, a “creative” power, or a “design,” the milieu in which writing originates.

The author is a psychological projection. James Patterson is an industrial projection functioning as author. James Patterson is an entertainment executive, a good book salesman, and he’s not going to tell you he’s a zombie and destroy the illusion of the projection. They are his ideas and he works with a studio of collaboration and it’s like Disney making a cartoon or Kim Kardashian selling fashion. The author is a character and it’s all part of the show;

It would be just as wrong to equate the author with the real writer as to equate him with the fictitious speaker; the author function is carried out and operates in the scission itself, in this division and this distance.

Is James Patterson among “founders of discursivity”: Freud’s unconscious, Marx’s capital, and Patterson’s thriller novels? Founder of the Alex Cross discourse? He is the figurehead.

The author is therefore the ideological figure by which one marks the manner in which we fear the proliferation of meaning.

The author functions to constrain the meanings of the text. Alex Cross stories by someone else would not be authoritative (unless duly licensed). So what if there were no author? “What difference does it make who is speaking?”, Foucault concludes:

I think that, as our society changes, at the very moment when it is in the process of changing, the author function will disappear, and in such a manner that fiction and its polysemous texts will once again function according to another mode, but still with a system of constraint – one that will not longer be the author but will have to be determined or, perhaps, experienced [expérimenter] … All discourses… would then develop in the anonymity of a murmur.

Which reminds me of #Anonymous on the internet. Technology is changing, the means of social production are changing, the meaning of author is changing. James Patterson has been monumentally successful in the publishing economy of the past. But the means of production are changing again. Hollywood and the music industry have led the charge in enforcing copyright culture. But as more old folks get Kindles and pirate books, how will that change Patterson’s business model? If he doesn’t adapt to the new marketing conditions he may become a zombie for business reasons. Meanwhile the zombies are also the unnamed writers-editors-designers who work for him and through metonymy and author function become him. Patterson is thus a zombie-master and his name on the cover merely another zombie under his legal control. Copyrights determine the limits of his author-ity but alienate him from specifics of the creative work. He is not synonymous with his author function. None of us are.

Note this also relates to issues of Zombie Credibility and Zombie Lies.

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