East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

What if it wasn’t him?

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Something popped up through my socials, and made me think. Yeah, that’s dangerous, I know.
In a nutshell, a person was being very critical (let’s put it this way) of this newfangled habit popular authors have, of getting their books written by anonymous ghostwriters, and then published under their own names.

What would have happened had Dante Alighieri commissioned The Divine Comedy to some anonymous hack? He’d be undeservedly regarded as a genius, while the true genius would have been forgotten!

And it’s true, you know.
Also, it really does not matter.

Now let me get this straight – is it really that important who wrote a masterpiece?
It’s a little the crux of all those Shakespeare Negationists – poor old Bill Shakes was a nonentity, he could never write those masterpieces… it was someone else. Someone famous for other reasons. It was Elizabeth Tudor herself. It was Thomas More. It was a conspiracy of unnamed women led by miss Shakespeare’s missus…

Does it change in any way the quality of the text, the power of the story, the ideas that a work by Shakespeare puts in our head, changing us, opening our eyes to the truth?

So yes, it would be unpleasant to discover that the Divine Comedy was written by one of Clive Cussler’s ghostwriters (that are fully credited, by the way, and well known). It would be unpleasant mostly because in school we had to waste ages learning about the life and times of Dante Alighieri, and he was a scam all along.
But really, learning about the life of Dante or the life of Johnny the Florentine Ghostwriter would not make such a difference.

But wait, you say – not knowing the life history of the author, how can we interpret the text, dig deep into the plot and characters and discover how they are connected with the author’s life experiences, how can we really understand the point the author made, the deep meaning and message of his book?

Well, maybe one should start reading the damn thing, and not just the Sparks Notes.
For all your other needs, that guy told us the author is dead the moment he clicks “Publish”, so there.

And what of the undeserved fame and fortune of the author?
Well, do we read the book because of the fame of the author, or because whoever wrote it did a damn good job?

Case closed.
Or not?

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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