The Author is Dead?!?

For my art appreciation class, we were asked to read several articles to potentially discuss in class. One of these articles was penned by Roland Barthes and titled “The Death of the Author.”

  I’m pretty sure Ke$ha wrote “Dinosaur” about this man. Source.

After I finally untangled his ambiguous, bland diction (we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and blame the translation), I was pissed.

Basically, Barthes condemns the idea of the author. He explains that an author puts “limits” on a work; that when an author is given the glory of creation (the term he uses is “God-Author”) the work is linked solely to the author and to nothing else. According to Barthes, an authored work is deemed to have an ultimate meaning. He claims people place too much importance on the idea of an author, that we believe an author is a genius pulling new ideas right out of his head.

Maybe things were different in the early twentieth century, but I do believe he’s overreacting.
To replace the author, Barthes creates the idea of a “scriptor” whose writings are pulled from a pool of past literature and ideas. Barthes believes the scriptor simply mixes these writings about to create a work. 

My senior year of high school, we read How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster. In it, Foster claims literature is a conglomerate of everything that’s ever been written. He explains literature isn’t just one book, that when you read, you have to understand it is all-encompassing and has traces of what has come before.

Foster’s idea is very similar to Barthes’s, but I’d say it’s 1,000,000,000 times more accurate.
Yes, each author is influenced by everything he or she has come into contact with before, and yes, each work has multiple meanings depending on the reader, but for god’s sake give the “scriptor” a little credit! I’m about 98% certain Barthes was a fan of the “Infinite Monkey” theorem.

Words, words, words. Source.

In defense of authors everywhere, I would like to examine the life of Barthes himself. Barthes was sick most of his life, which hindered his studies, but he pulled through and entered into the literary scene, took the world by storm, etc. What I find most interesting is that Barthes lived with his mother until she died (at age 84) and lived alone until he died (at 64). Why? Works published after his death revealed that he was gay. Sorry, Barthes, but you couldn’t own up to that? The guy lived through the ’70s!

My point in examining Barthes’s life is to not make fun of him, but rather to point out that I am not judging his writing based on his life. I am judging it based on what it says. I like to read about authors’ lives, but that doesn’t hinder my interpretation, which I believe is a fair way of analyzing literature. Barthes’s essay suggests a reversal of the Renaissance and humanist ideals.

I think the most disappointing part of the whole ordeal was the actual class discussion. We talked in circles about this article for a good 45 minutes, never lifting off the ground. I sat next to an English major who seemed to be the only other person in the room who saw the article as I did.

Barthes, we understand what your point is, but stop trying to take a side. The key to understanding literature is to look at all aspects and to not force meaning upon it.Please, understand that an author generally encourages their readers’ interpretations, and does no way the author itself constrict a work.   Just let writing speak for itself, because if an author cannot clearly communicate his intentions, he must be a pretty rotten author.

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One thought on “The Author is Dead?!?

  1. I ended up looking up my own alternate translation for that article last semester. It was so… "obtuse" is the only word coming to mind.

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