Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Death of the Author

In my college literary theory class, we read an article by French theorist Roland Barthes entitled “Death of the Author”. Barthes argues that when analyzing any literary work, critics must separate the text from its author’s identity in order to achieve true interpretation. Basically, the moment the author relinquishes their work to the public eye, he or she dies a symbolic death while the text lives on; this way its analysis is unhampered by the reader’s assumption of the author’s intentions.  
Years later, this concept still haunts me. As a reader I see its value, but as a writer I bristle at the idea of my metaphorical death. And not just any death, but death at the hand of my own work. A classic tale of creation killing its creator, it conjures images of Frankenstein, tormented by his monster until his eventual demise.
Or perhaps it’s the reader who commits murder, rather than a piece of text. I’m positive there’s an Oedipal analogy in there somewhere. The reader, Oedipus, loves his mother, the text, and kills his father, the author. Freud would approve.
Regardless, I find this concept disturbing. Barthes’ work demonstrates the characteristics of a homicidal maniac, let loose on unsuspecting authors world-wide.  I’d question what traumatic events from his childhood influenced this essay, but that would violate his edict to “kill the author”. Either way, I’m keeping my manuscript away from sharp objects. 


  1. I'm not sure that the author's intent should be the end of the discussion on what the work means, but surely it's an informative lens to view the work through.

    Did Barthes ignore the path the author took to get to the result and focus solely on the result?

    I'm trying to sound smart. Is it working?

  2. Yes, Barthes is anti-author analysis and ABSOLUTELY argues against against considering the author's path in favor of the final result. Crazy Barthes.

    You do sound a little pretentious, but correct me if I'm wrong, I think that's what you were going for :)

  3. Not having paid attention in English classes, and not having taken advanced English classes (therefore never having heard of Barthes before this conversation), is Barthes' approach considered to be a legitimate method for analysis in and of itself, or is it more of an example of an extreme point of view that is ridiculed as a primary analysis method, but that can still be used as one facet of a well rounded approach to critical literary analysis?

    In unrelated news, I like run-on sentences.

  4. Yeah, he's pretty legit. He's one of those crazy post-structuralists who I often disagree with. But Lit Majors really do study him and his anti-structuralism, "death of the author/birth of the reader" concept.

    Faulkner would be proud.