Body Double: The Author Incarnate in the Cinema

Body Double: The Author Incarnate in the Cinema

Body Double: The Author Incarnate in the Cinema

Body Double: The Author Incarnate in the Cinema


Body Double explores the myriad ways that film artists have represented the creative process. In this highly innovative work, Lucy Fischer draws on a neglected element of auteur studies to show that filmmakers frequently raise questions about the paradoxes of authorship by portraying the onscreen writer. Dealing with such varied topics as the icon of the typewriter, the case of the writer/director, the authoress, and the omnipresent infirm author, she probes the ways in which films can tell a plausible story while contemplating the conditions and theories of their making.

By examining many forms of cinema, from Hollywood and the international art cinema to the avant-garde, Fischer considers the gender, age, and mental or physical health of fictionalized writers; the dramatized interaction between artists and their audiences and critics; and the formal play of written words and nonverbal images.

By analyzing such movies as Adaptation, Diary of a Country Priest, Naked Lunch, American Splendor, and Irezumi, Fischer tracks the parallels between film author and character, looking not for the creative figure who stands outside the text, but for the one who stands within it as corporeal presence and alter-ego.


I was sorry to have my name mentioned among the great authors because
they have a sad habit of dying off

—Mark Twain


In 1968, the year of so many other cultural and political declarations, French critic Roland Barthes provocatively proclaimed “The Death of the Author” in an essay bearing that title. Privileging the text over its creator, Barthes saw the literary work as a place “where all identity is lost, starting with the very identity of the body writing.” As he stated: “It is language which speaks, not the author.” Thus, as the act of writing begins, “the author enters into his own death.” Taking his place is the “scriptor,” who “is born simultaneously with the text,” neither “preceding nor exceeding the writing.”

What Barthes actually sought to bury here were traditional notions of authorship that treated the writer as the godlike authority on his work. As he observed: “To give a text an Author is to impose a limit on that text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing” (and, moreover, the reading). Barthes also decried approaches that assumed a rather transparent relationship between the poet and his creation; he questioned biographical studies, which sought seamlessly to link the author’s life to the fates of his characters, or naively to equate the work’s narrator with its creator. Thus for Barthes, as Colin MacCabe has noted, the concept of the author “obscured the form of the work at every level.” T S. Eliot apparently agreed, once having said, “Honest criticism and sensitive appreciation is directed not upon the poet but upon the poetry.” Finally, Barthes’s revision of the author concept sought to eradicate notions of pure originality, seeing the literary text as primarily “a tissue of quotations” from preexisting sources.

As though to render Barthes’s theoretical work (and its themes of authorial erasure, plagiarism, and stylistic conventionality) in fiction, one chapter of Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler takes the perspective of novelist Silas Flannery, who muses upon his craft: “How well I would write if I were not here!

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