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The Author and the world: New interdisciplinary approaches to authorship

Project: Funded ProjectResearch

6/01/14 → …

What does it mean to be an author in the contemporary Western world?

In line with the expanding remit of literary studies, this project assesses how authors function as cultural artefacts in a variety of different geographical locations and cultural contexts. Its key tenet is that authorship – ‘being an author’ – must be understood not just as a literary practice, but as an ever-evolving process of construction undertaken by multiple players, in multiple contexts and to multiple ends. Consequently, the research questions underlying my work intersect with such issues as celebrity, gender, the digital media, political identity formation, translation, and transnationalism, to name but a few.

Between 2014 and 2016, I will be doing two main things: completing my monograph on authorship in contemporary Germany; establishing an interdisciplinary research hub that collates a wide variety of research on authorship in the Western world.

In my monograph, I examine the changing nature of the post-war media-led German public sphere, and trace the strategies developed by key authors to negotiate evolving media debates on image and identity over the last 60 years. Working with a range of source materials from literary texts to TV documentaries and government statistics on programmes of literary support, I interrogate concrete examples of how authors manipulate different text types, are received by different audiences, and are put to various wider social uses by a series of intermediaries. I argue that while authors such as Günter Grass, Elfriede Jelinek, or Daniel Kehlmann work within dominant, historically conditioned public understandings of their significance, they also use both their literature and other media texts to challenge these discourses and subvert them. Significant developments in literary aesthetics can be traced across the period that both echo and interrupt wider sociological and technological developments. Equally, the different ways in which authors are constructed by others as symbolic personalities – e.g. as important cultural leaders or markedly compromised individuals – can illuminate the cultural moments into which they are placed.

The research hub, ‘The Author and the World' is being founded together with colleagues in European Languages & Cultures, History, Linguistics and English & Creative Writing as a long-term venture at Lancaster University. The hub aims to become a federating point for researchers working on authorship-related issues from different disciplines across the Arts and Humanities and in different linguistic and geographical contexts. Our work will give rise to a number of research strands. This award allows us to pilot the first, on ‘Authorship and Fame’, throughout 2014-15. It will consist of a series of 4 colloquia and workshops, supported by an interactive website that will host ongoing debate and collate resources for scholars working across a broad range of Arts and Humanities disciplines.