The breath of the author

I liked this article in the New Yorker, but in my experience, hearing writers read their own work is rarely as good as you hope it will be. You expect to hear something rare and golden, sacred even, in a writer breathing life into his own text, giving it the inflections and dynamics it was meant to have, dwelling, crooning, over cherished phrases. But more often than not (living) writers brush quickly, diffidently, across the surface of their creations, careless of the meter and the rhythm you thought were there. The words lose much of the resonance they had in your head.

With writers from the past it's often worse. One of the most simultaneously thrilling and disappointing experiences of my literary career was hearing a recording of Tennyson reading “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” It was extraordinary to hear the voice of a great poet more than a hundred years dead. But his manner of rendering the poem was so removed from our sensibilities it might as well have been another language.

Perhaps this is because as readers our imagination, interpretation, sensibility, and endowment of significance are what constitute most of our enjoyment of a text. I don't agree with everything Roland Barthes thought, but I think in “Death of the Author” he was onto something:

“It is language which speaks, not the author; to write reach that point where only language acts...The Author, when believed in, is always conceived of as the past of his own book: book and author stand automatically on a single line divided into a before and an after. The Author is thought to nourish the book, which is to say that he exists before it, thinks, suffers, lives for it, is in the same relation of antecedence to his work as a father to his child. In complete contrast, the modern scriptor is born simultaneously with the text, is in no way equipped with a being preceding or exceeding the writing, is not the subject with the book as predicate; there is no other time than that of the enunciation and every text is eternally written here and now.”