Separating the Author from the Text

Attending University was a long-term goal of mine, as soon as I understood what one was I knew I would be going to one. When the time came to pick a degree I think my parents were secretly hoping I would pick something ‘useful’ like Maths, but being the mind dwelling creature that I am I chose the theoretical over the practical – Cultural and Historical Studies was a studious mash-up of Philosophy, History, Cultural Studies and due to the way I took my degree, Literature.

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I love analysing books and while I am not always spectacular at it I find it an interesting aspects of reading.

Which is where loving or loathing a book/author can become problematic; any long-term readers will have noticed that Ender’s Game is one of my favourite books and any awareness of the media at the moment will have let you know the author – Orson Scott Card – is one abhorrent human being.

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Until the production of the film, I had no idea Orson Scott Card was a Homophobe and all around ass-hat. Ender’s Game blew my mind, I loved it, I breathed it in, but I can’t help but wonder what it is teaching me when its author has such extreme views and if it is okay to love a book written by such a man.

Can I love a book and hate the author?

It would be difficult for anyone to argue that there are no anti-homosexual elements in Ender’s Game; for example, there is a strong emphasis on male ‘heterosexual’ power and the weakness of anything that is not. Women are a minority in battle school, any form of emotion is seen as weak and should any emotion be experienced the women will comfort the man – an example of this is Valentine being brought in to support Ender as he faces his most difficult tasks. Here emotion and weakness – femininity – is attributed to being un-heterosexual, thus anything other than heterosexual elements in a male can be seen as homosexual. Valentine is rejected from Battle School due to her compassion, a womanly trait, and Ender – the wildcard – slowly sheds the ‘weaknesses’ that adversely affected his relationship with older brother Peter, to become the champion. Even Peter is not punished for his ruthless ambition, he becomes leader of the free world. Petra, one of the few girls in battle school is identified as having masculine traits – how else would she have got into battle school?

Due to the mostly male cast I would say that it is being gay here that is being attacked, as opposed to Lesbian, Bisexual or Transgender – which I am positive Card does not approve of either. As a homophobic man, I would guess that this is the sexuality he finds most threaten to his own.

You could suggest that I am reading into the text, however, I do not see how – as a strongly right-wing individual – Card’s views could not have been layered into his work. Of the people I have interacted with whom have been homophobic or uncomfortable with homosexuality, there is a tendency to strongly enforce or defend gender roles; boys must be sporty, strong protectors and women emotional carers. Messages are not always placed in the text intentionally, it would be impossible for an author to disconnect from their text enough for their subconscious not to imprint on their work.

In conclusion, if I understand all of this, is it then okay to love the book?  I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, but I can’t say I enjoy the message it is sending out.

What are your thoughts? Is it okay to love a book and hate the author?

8 thoughts on “Separating the Author from the Text

  1. I think it’s fine to love a book while thinking its author is dreadful (in some ways), but I admit that I have never felt the same about Orson Scott Card’s books since I found out what a jerk he is about LGBT stuff. I’m not doing black and white thinking about him–I know he’s amazingly gracious to young fans because he wrote me several amazingly gracious emails in response to fan letters I sent to him; and available evidence suggests he’s a good and respectful husband and father, which are difficult things to be. But this is a huge thing he’s bad about, with the result that reading his books does not give me the same pure happiness I feel when I’m reading something by, like, Patrick Ness (a wonderful writer and a lovely human being).

    (Common wisdom says I am Doing It Wrong, however.)

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    1. Good point, there are shades of grey here and he isn’t bad through and through, just on issues we feel strongly about. I think you are right, a book can be enjoyed, but knowing the creator has some serious moral fails does tarnish the purity of an enjoyable read.

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  2. I think it’s okay, too. And of course especially if you don’t actually know about the author, or if you view the text objectively. In a way it’s really down to the author whether your ‘should’ be viewing the book as separate – if the author preaches views you don’t like (a little is natural of them, but they’ve the choice to not let the book become about themselves) then you’re going to find it difficult. If the content of the book is vastly different that’s something else. In a way you’re doing ‘everything’ a far better service by saying you’ve read the book and know and dislike the author’s views, than someone who says hate author won’t read book. Jenny’s point about not feeling the same once you know, it’s an inevitability.

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    1. Oh yes, if you don’t know the author is an ass, then you certainly can love a book and unashamedly so. I’m not sure a text can be read objectively from the author, just because an author always affects their texts.It’s probably more whether you can blame the child for the parent’s teaching, which ultimately you can’t.

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  3. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, too. Ender’s Game was one of my absolute favorite books as a teen, so I was super excited to learn that he was going to be the keynote speaker at Teen Book Con last year. But at the event, his speech was awful and NOT good for children, and his overall behavior was just kind of disgusting. It really turned me off, and at that point I had changed my mind about wanting to read the rest of the Ender’s Game books. Then in the past year, all this controversy about his homophobic beliefs! Ugh… It just made me like him even less, and now I’m questioning whether or not I even want to see the movie.

    It’s really hard to separate an author from their works — at least for me. This is the same reason I have yet to read a couple of other books. I saw the authors at various events and really disliked their behavior. 😦 I’m not sure I have an answer here. It can be really hard to reconcile your feelings when you love a thing but hate the creator of that thing.

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    1. That’s awful! Having an author disappoint at a con is almost more upsetting that reading their views, because you are seeing their idiocy in action – there is always a possibility media misrepresents.

      I think at the moment I want to try and do as Charlie has suggested and attempt to be objective, that or just never try and find out about the authors! I have no desire to read any more the Ender’s series now, but I probably will see the film at some point.

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