Monday, January 31, 2011

A Further Exploration of Auctorial Constructs

This started out as a response to Lyda's post below, discussing Elizabeth Bear's post on auctorial constructs. It got big enough that I thought I would post it here.

Two explanations explorations of what I think Elizabeth Bear is talking about.

1. I have a picture of Tate Hallaway all dressed up and wearing great makeup, and I have met her at cons. If that was who I was expecting Lyda Morehouse to be in real life, I would be disappointed to discover that she is a totally different person. This is true whether or not you use a psuedonym, though I think in Lyda's case, she can dissociate the Tate persona a further degree because it's not the same name as she uses in day to day life.

But for many authors, it is the same name, and that sales pitch/con job/show they put on at conventions and readings and on the internet is who fans think they really are.

2. You may know details of my life. (Some of you know too many...) Most of those are completely different details, though, than the details the people who attend the synagogue I run would know. If you met someone from the synagogue and began discussing me, you would find out very soon that they have a completely different story of who I am in their head than you do in yours.

Yet, for many people, that story in their heads of who a person is is who the person is. This is completely understandable; we have to rely on the information we have learned about the world in order to make any decisions at all, or risk being paralyzed by constantly questioning absolutely everything. (Is the ground actually solid, or will I fall through it if I step ahead? Or behind me?! What if electricity can leap out of those wall sockets and burn me?) To be rational is to rationalize, to construct a mental definition of the world or some component of it, and then operate according to the definition we have determined. So we beleive that the things we know about someone, or things we think we know, are true things about that person. And we make judgements about people based on the things we think we know about them--what sort of person they are, whether or not they are reliable, flighty, serious, playful, etc.

With anyone you don't know personally, and especially anyone who has a public persona, this effect is magnified by a further remove. Not only do you have details that you beleive you have learned about them, but you also don't have the opportunity to verify those details in person. Yet by default we make determinations of value about details we think we know. Think of the game of Telephone and add in moral evaluations, and suddenly, you've got the internet and the gossip channels and auctorial constructs.

5 comments:

lydamorehouse said...

Is that what we're talking about? Because that doesn't seem worth all this effort. Of course I'm a different person in your head than I am in my own.

I understand that to some people I'm Mason's mom and to others I'm Lyda Morehouse, famous author (or Tate Hallaway, as the case may be.)

Okay, maybe this is a big problem for Scalzi and Bear, but for me I'm much more likely to have the problem of obscurity than having to deal with the multitudes of fans saying, "Hmmm, I thought you'd be taller."

Douglas Hulick said...

I am SO looking forward to the "I thought you would be taller" line. ;p

lydamorehouse said...

As the conversation has continued on my LJ one of my commentators (the fan I met on Sunday, actually,) suggested something that I think makes a lot of sense. She said that she was a lot less freaked out about meeting me in person because the person I present on my blog is very down to earth. I write about my fish, doing the dishes, being stupid... whereas some authors choose to present themselves with as she called them "thinky-thoughts" that come off as very polished. Those people may, in point of fact, be setting their fans up for disappointment in a way. How can you always have a clever quip ready? You can't. Sometimes you're clever, but most days you're just that guy who does the laundry, shovels the sidewalk, walks the dog....

Mari Adkins said...

Lyda that's exactly why I try to be as real and as myself as I can be on my website. I'm me. and I figure if people can't handle ME ...

Eleanor said...

There's a lot to be said for writing about every day activities. I've been thinking about the blogs I like. Most are political or economic, but what makes them likeable -- aside from a good, clear writing style -- is often personal touches: Friday cat blogging, Yves Smith's animal photos, which she puts in to cheer her readers up after awful economic news. The sense that there is a person behind the blog, with whom one can connect.