Sunday Book-Thought 121

Writing, when properly managed, (as you may be sure I think mine is) is but a different name for conversation: As no one, who knows what he is about in good company, would venture to talk all; – so not author, who understands the just boundaries of decorum and good breeding, would presume to think all: The truest respect which you can pay to the reader’s understanding, is to halve this matter amicably, and leave him something to imagine, in his turn, as well as yourself.
For my own part, I am eternally paying him compliments of this kind, and do all that lies in my power to keep his imagination as busy as my own.
Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, ed. by Melvyn New and Joan New (London: Penguin Books, 1997), p. 88.


Sunday Book-Thought 117

Writers are actual individuals, firmly located in history, efficient causes of their texts. They often misunderstand their own work and are as confused about it as we frequently are about the sense and significance, indeed the very nature, of our actions. Writers truly exist outside their texts. They have no interpretive authority over them.
An author, by contrast, is whoever can be understood to have produced a particular text as we interpret it. Authors are not individuals but characters manifested or exemplified, though not depicted or described, in texts. They are formal causes. They are postulated to account for a text’s features and are produced through an interaction between critic and text. Their nature guides interpretation, and interpretation determines their nature. This reciprocal relationship can be called, not simply for a lack of a better word, transcendental.
To say that a text is authored, therefore, is just to say that is can be given a literary interpretation.
Alexander Nehamas, ‘What an Author Is’, The Journal of Philosophy, 83.11 (November 1986), 685-691 (p. 686).