Analysis of "The Death of the Author"
essay “The Death of the Author”, Roland Barthes attacks the tradition of “Classic criticism” (which he describes as being “tyrannically centred on the author” ), presenting the argument that there is no such thing as the “Author” of a text, but merely a “scriptor” whose ideas are not entirely original; the author is subject to several influences when writing, and as Barthes says we can never know the true influence because writing destructs “every point of origin” . It is not the author (whose voice vanishes at the point of writing), but language that speaks, therefore, the text requires an analysis of language and linguistics, rather than a speaking voice. Barthes emphasises that once the author is removed, it is within the reader of the text that any meaning lies, as the text is open to multiple interpretations by the reader, that the author may not have originally intended (deeming the reader as the more creative force), making the author seem an insignificant figure in literature.
Barthes enhances his theory by presenting several examples to illustrate his reasons for believing that the author is “dead”, before finally delivering his main declaration. Beginning the essay by pointing out the disappearance of the narrator in modern literature, Barthes uses the example of the story Sarrasine by Balzac to illustrate the claim that the author disappears at the point of writing, for the reader is able to distinguish more than just a solitary voice in the lines of the text. The notion of the author being merely the “medium” through which writing is presented (it is not the author’s “genius” but “mastery of narration” which is admired) is first examined in the following paragraph, as well as the conflicting Classic
criticism - “The explanation is always sought in the person who produced the text…” where the belief has always been that the work is the sole responsibility of the author.
Barthes then goes on to refute this by presenting the example of Mallarme, who stressed the importance of linguistic analysis (“it is language that speaks, not the author”) , as well as Proust’s contribution to modern writing, showing the reversal of the roles of author and writing; author creates text becomes text creates author. The lack of meaning in a text (found in Surrealist works, which Barthes mentions) also emphasizes the degradation of the Classic concept of author. He states that Surrealism, along with the study of linguistics of a given text, helped contribute to the death of the author. He claims that language knows a subject not a person. So the person studying the language of a text will concern themselves more with the subject and less with the person behind the words.
His definition of the word “text” – “a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash.” - emphasizes that the writer of such text is never completely original (demoting the God-like Author to a “modern scriptor” ). Bathes is saying that the author or narrator who is really the voice of the author himself is becoming less of an entity within the text itself. By drawing a contrast between the author and the narrative voice and language he succeeds in distancing the author from his work and adding to his disappearance. Barthes stresses that the author is the past to his own book. These things have already happened to the author therefore creating a gap between the author now and the narrator of the text as it occurs (the “scriptor”). Therefore, the difference between the text and the work itself becomes an issue. The text would be what would be happening to the author right then and there, as the work as a whole would be associated with the author. The distancing between the author and the narrator grows because of this and adds to Barthes argument.
The final paragraph states that reading is the true “place of writing” , using the example of the Greek tragedies with texts that contain words with double meanings that appear one-sided to the characters. However, the reader (the audience) is aware of the double meanings, implying the “multiplicity of writing” rests on the reader for open interpretation. “A text’s unity lies not on its origin but on its destination.” Pointing out the importance of the reader in literary analysis, Barthes shows that Classic criticism was “imposing a limit” on texts by only focusing on the author themselves.
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