Critical theory in this century is marked by a widespread rebellion against the author’s authority. Marxist critics see authors as unconscious instruments of class loyalties; Unamuno suggests that texts and characters create themselves; Freudians privilege the subconscious; semioticians and Lacanians grant preeminence to language; and Barthes, Foucault, and Fish situate the “real” text in readers and reading communities. What one loses in all this is a sense of the corporeal being who, despite self-important critics, actually created the text, or at least the point of departure we call a text.
Lucille Kerr’s Reclaiming the Author confronts this tradition and says that enough is enough. Rather than return to romantic notions of the author as isolated genius, however, Kerr invokes an author of multiple personae “bound together in critical dialogue” (p. 24). She claims no “stable solution” to the question of authorial identity, but sees the author as an ineluctable presence whose exact role will remain nonetheless fluid, elusive, even teasing.
Her first chapter reconstructs major ideas in twentieth-century critical thinking that to some degree undermine authors’ control of their texts. While this is an informative chapter, it embraces a difficult and perhaps impossible task, because so much has been said on the subject. Kerr uses Borges, Barthes, and Foucault as her critical ground, a strategy some might consider narrow. It is, nonetheless, a strategy that provides a useful critical grid against which Kerr constructs later discussions. Subsequent chapters study Julio Cortázar’s Rayuela, Elena Poniatowska’s Hasta no verte Jesús mío, Carlos Fuentes’ Terra nostra, Manuel Puig’s Pubis angelical, José Donoso’s Jardín de al lado, and Mario Vargas Llosa’s Hablador.
Kerr’s search for the author in such diverse works yields fascinating results. In Rayuela, for example, she studies how the authorial voice is modified by Cortázar’s sketch of the book as edited and discussed by Ana María Barrenechea well after the novel was completed. Her chapter on Hasta no verte Jesús mío comments on the work’s status as a novela de testimonios in which Poniatowska becomes simultaneously the voice, creator, and creation of a flesh-and-bone person, Jesusa Palancares. Kerr is particularly good at illuminating the implications of Jesusa’s repeated challenges to Poniatowska’s authority, even to the point of accusing her of writing an elaborate lie totally disconnected from Jesusa’s life. The dialogue between Poniatowska and Jesusa superbly illustrates Kerr’s notion of the author’s multiple personae. Of the other chapters, Kerr’s discussion of El jardín de al lado deserves special mention, because Donoso’s subtle shifts from the yo of Julio Méndez to that of his wife, Gloria, not only suggest multiple authors but also provide a fascinating exploration of how gender relates to questions of authorship.
In sum, Lucille Kerr’s Reclaiming the Author is an intelligent, important, and engaging book, particularly for scholars interested in figurations of authorship and their application to specific texts.