The Story That’s Not There

There’s this principle very happily espoused in writing and literary circles known as the Death of the Author which, super-summarised, states that Whatever the author meant to say isn’t as important as what you heard. Even more stringently, There’s no such thing as the author; there is only what you draw from the work. This ideal is not one I take that far, because I think there’s a rich context you can derive from knowing what a person does – and does not – see as important in their work, but I do think of it as a useful, interesting mental mode to enter, a set of critical tools that can either give you fresh perspective on good works, insights into authors (who are dead or don’t exist or whatever). In my personal interests – speculative, fantastic, or unreal fiction, – I find there’s an area where this tool can yield fascinating results.

Here. Let’s take an example:

Now, in the most bald and simple way I can read it, based on what I know of the band and the song’s basic style? It’s a fairly generic song about feeling lonely, about the challenges of trying to find someone you can love and be with, from a band that’s a weensy bit pretentious and doesn’t mind making a mis-matched metaphor. I’d be inclined to just think of this song as being a bit badly written in that context, and chalk up the oddness of its metaphors as such.

Instead, I throw away the author. Military sounds. A drumbeat of marching. A thunderous roar. An androgynous voice that joins at times to the voices of others in equal ways. A person who doesn’t know what they stand for, but who nonetheless repeatedly returns. Someone who sees the power of their words and voice, but regret what they do with them, for some reason. And the strange talk of a martyr in the singer’s bed. Someone who signed up out of a matter of principle. Someone who keeps a secret about themself, who gave up something amazing, and seems to have forsaken the idea of having children, but also recognises the value of things that came from tainted pasts.

This paints to me the tale of a soldier, a commander, a woman, who is faking being a man to lead her men. She does not want to lie; but she does not want to surrender what she has worked for, knowing she is defending her sister’s family. She is the martyr in her own bed, the woman who keeps the male part of her from roaming. Some nights are worse than others – and some nights, it’s just a draw. The song is loud and powerful and it is proude even as it is conflicted. She is a soldier, and she is still here, despite the hardships, and despite the struggle.

I don’t think fun. wanted to tell that story.

Even though they didn’t put it there, though, I like that story. I like that soldier.

I hope she finds a happy ending.

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