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Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Death of the Author by Roland Barthes (Anushka Chowdhury 1324120)


Barthes's 'The Death of the Author' illustrates the movement from work to text. According to him in the place of author the reader is born as only reading enables the textual understanding of meaning and reality. He gives importance to the plurality of meaning, thereby establishing the concept of multiple texts.

While Barthes begins the essay with an example taken from Balzac's novella Sarrasine, from the second paragraph, he starts discussing the importance of language and marginalizes the author. Barthes argues that for effective and productive reading of a text one has to suspend the preconceived ideas about the author and even about human psychology. Associating the author with the text limits the scope of his work. The author, in modern times, takes up the role of a mediator or a medium for the transfer of meaning through language. According to Barthes, it is not a conscious decision but his role is to assemble all the available resources and tell the tale. He also points out that the idea of an individual author is a modern one and a societal construct "…emerging from the Middle Ages with English empiricism, French rationalism and the personal faith of the Reformation..."

In the next section, Barthes highlights how different authors project the author. Though the sway of the author remains to be powerful, some writers have attempted to loosen it, challenging the centrality of author. Mallarmé recognized that it is "language which speaks, not the author." Valéry stressed the "essentially verbal condition" of literature. Proust distorts the relation between the writer and his characters. And surrealism, "contributed to the desacralization of the image of the Author" by stressing the disappointment of expectations of meaning. Whereas, Linguistics has shown that diction is an empty process as "…the author is never more than the instance writing…language knows a 'subject', not a 'person', and this subject empty out- side of the very enunciation which defines it."

Barthes also discusses how the removal of the author transforms the modern text. According to him, there is no author but only an idea of the author, much alike the idea of a teacher-whoever performs the function of teaching can become a teacher. The concept of the scriptor has replaced the author, who neither precedes nor 'fathers' the text. A scriptor is rather born simultaneously with the text. In writing, the modern scriptor traces a field with no origin, or at least one which has "no other origin than language itself, language which ceaselessly calls into question all origins". Therefore, it benefits someone economically to be called a scriptor to avoid labeling. It is liberating for a writer as it does not carry the burden of the author. However, the question still continues to bother that whether it is so easy to deny the role of the individual who crystallizes it all and gives it a definite shape.



·         Original text: The Death of the Author

·         Classroom discussions and the lecture

·          M.A.R. Habib's "A History of Literary Criticism—From Plato to the Present"

·         The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism


(Notes of the lecture delivered on 18 December 2013 by Dr.Anil Pinto. Prepared by Anushka Chowdhury)







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