Event Title

Consider the Mantis Shrimp: Semiotics and Authorship in Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler

Presenter Information

Zoe Ginsberg, Oberlin CollegeFollow

Location

King Building 321

Start Date

4-28-2017 3:00 PM

End Date

4-28-2017 4:20 PM

Abstract

This paper explores the production of literary meaning in Italo Calvino’s "If on a winter’s night a traveler." This novel describes a second-person narrator’s (nicknamed “the Reader”) journey through ten different manuscript segments as he tries to read the new book "If on a winter’s night a traveler." In trying to find the text, the Reader travels from living room to classroom to publishing house to author’s home and back to a book club. By representing the various stages at which literary meaning is created, this novel forces us to examine the relationship between the Reader and our academic project of assigning meaning to a novel. By putting this novel in conversation with Roland Barthes’s “Death of the Author” and Jacques Derrida’s “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of Human Sciences,” I will explore a fundamental tension between these two dominant methods of literary analysis. Barthes relies on objective truth that can be transcribed by an author, while Derrida challenges the possibility that any universal truth can exist for readers. For us, this tension is deeply troubling: this novel seemingly supports these two oppositional modes of reading. In doing so, the novel disrupts both our analytic methods in English and our wider understanding of how and why we read. Placing these three texts in conversation with each other illuminates the fluidity with which readers create meaning and allows us to critique our own subconscious assumptions as readers and thinkers studying English literature.

Keywords:

modernism, semiotics, authorship

Notes

Session II, Panel 8 - Literary | Comparisons
Moderator: Jed Deppman, Professor of Comparative Literature and English

Major

English; History

Advisor(s)

Laura Baudot, English
Clayton Koppes, History

Project Mentor(s)

Wendy Hyman, English

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Apr 28th, 3:00 PM Apr 28th, 4:20 PM

Consider the Mantis Shrimp: Semiotics and Authorship in Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler

King Building 321

This paper explores the production of literary meaning in Italo Calvino’s "If on a winter’s night a traveler." This novel describes a second-person narrator’s (nicknamed “the Reader”) journey through ten different manuscript segments as he tries to read the new book "If on a winter’s night a traveler." In trying to find the text, the Reader travels from living room to classroom to publishing house to author’s home and back to a book club. By representing the various stages at which literary meaning is created, this novel forces us to examine the relationship between the Reader and our academic project of assigning meaning to a novel. By putting this novel in conversation with Roland Barthes’s “Death of the Author” and Jacques Derrida’s “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of Human Sciences,” I will explore a fundamental tension between these two dominant methods of literary analysis. Barthes relies on objective truth that can be transcribed by an author, while Derrida challenges the possibility that any universal truth can exist for readers. For us, this tension is deeply troubling: this novel seemingly supports these two oppositional modes of reading. In doing so, the novel disrupts both our analytic methods in English and our wider understanding of how and why we read. Placing these three texts in conversation with each other illuminates the fluidity with which readers create meaning and allows us to critique our own subconscious assumptions as readers and thinkers studying English literature.