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How does Barthes set out to break Enlightenment illusions on the

author figure in “The Death of the Author”

Traditionally from the enlightenment age the author figure has been
worshipped and attributed “Godly” status. Their works have been
extensively researched and appreciated based on their personality
traits, ideology, literary tastes, experiences and time. Shakespeare
himself became more famous than his plays, Chaucer’s designation as a
diplomat became an important point while discussing his works and
Coleridge’s addiction to opium became the guiding force behind the
creation of “Kubla Khan”. Any scholarly article discussing a literary work
started giving a considerable amount of space on discussing and
analyzing the author’s biography before analyzing the text. Thus, critics
focused mainly on the author’s intention, inspiration and philosophies
while critically assessing a literary work. The critics tried to decipher a
text based on the inner meanings as intended by the author himself.
According to Barthes : “The author is a modern figure, produced no
doubt by our society insofar as, at the end of the middle ages, with
English empiricism, French rationalism and the personal faith of the
Reformation, it discovered the prestige of the individual, or, to put it
more nobly, of the “human person” Hence it is logical that with regard
to literature it should be positivism, resume and the result of capitalist
ideology, which has accorded the greatest importance to the author’s
“person” “

In his 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. Barthes concludes
that the primary determiner of meaning in the text is the reader who
does not just passively ingest the writer’s intention. Rather, the reader
is the active producer of meaning who arrests signifying play in the
manner that he or she sees fit.