There is a cute scene I’d like to share with people from a doujin visual novel titled ちゅーそつ！1st Graduation. The protagonist, Arue, is an avid manga fan and enters the bookstore with one of her roommates, Koiiro. As Koiiro browses through books, Arue finds herself enamored with a new manga by one of her favorite new authors. But it is wrapped in plastic because there are R18 images. Koiiro comes to Arue and asks her what she is doing. Arue, taken aback, explains that this mangaka is actually quite amazing and we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.
The narration then takes a step back and mentions Roland Barthes, a French philosopher, who has something to say about this situation: his belief in the death of the author. Barthes believes that whenever one reads a work, one isn’t supposed to chase the author’s shadows.
We can look into the lives of artists like Dazai Osamu and Ludwig van Beethoven and find dramatic and psychological aspects to suit our explanations why they are geniuses. But we have put too much focus on the authors and artists to the point our analysis is about their lives.
This is why we shouldn’t think about the author when we read works.
Arue: “Naaaw, this guy has really put in a lot of effort. You can’t imagine this is the work of some newbie if you look at how skilled his drawings and compositions are! That’s why this isn’t just some ordinary ecchi manga, you know.”
It seems that Roland Barthes’s philosophy has no effect on the steam engine minds of the otaku…
This small scene is cute to me because it shows how important Roland Barthes’s philosophy is to criticism but we never really follow it. There is a great irony in me trying to learn everything about Barthes’s life and philosophy. I idolize him for his thoughts. I’m fascinated by his life. And I want to learn more.
And I think we all do that when we want to know more about creators. It doesn’t matter if you’re into literature, film, anime/sakuga, fine arts, or whatever. We want to emulate the people who inspire us. Every writer on the Paris Review interview thinks highly about the books they have read over the years and there is a hint of them emulating them. We emulate our parents when we are growing up too.
It’s just that we idolize them too much to the point it cripples us. When Barthes says it is time for the death of the author and birth of the reader, he wants the reader to be free in a writing degree zero — as in, this is the new world of Literature without any trace of political authority from the writer. There are other ways to read something.
He isn’t saying to go kill the author. There is no mention of murdering the author and letting the text be the only thing. Rather, he wants to let the old assumptions of authors and criticism die.
And it’s impossible for an actual death of the author anyway. All we’ll be looking is a worse type of “author” and we’re all familiar with it if we’re on Twitter: brand names. In anitwitter, we don’t refer to even directors’ names — just studio names!
In the context of ちゅーそつ！1st Graduation, Arue is struggling in what she wants to be. She has no idea if she is allowed to like manga in a practical, Confucian society much like Singapore. But she follows the creators she loves vehemently and finds it heartwarming to realize that there are people like her who follow manga, the difference in that they create.
This doujin visual novel is many things, but its focus on Arue suggests a personal connection to criticism and art. It’s easy to talk about “just the text” and we can analyze it to the point it becomes meaningless. Look at this beautiful shot! Wonderful writing! Lovely thematic connections! But humans are humans. They want to latch onto something that is personal. If artistry is personal expression, wouldn’t it make sense for Arue to be invested into her search for every nook and cranny of creators? It’s arguably the most human thing a fan can do.
Maybe this post is just to rationalize my desire to stalk creators I love. And maybe there is no point for me to be a critic if I’m so selfishly interested in this kind of crap. In that case, I’d rather be a person who’s so into something I have made my whole world upon it instead of a plain critic striving for objectivity.
After all, I want to be a creator myself.
You can buy this ちゅーそつ！1st Graduation on DLSite. Tomorrow, more Seabed!