Barthes, Roland. “The Author is Dead.” Image, Music, Text. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977.
Drop you pens, put away the laptop, cancel your Associated Content account, and pick up a book because Roland Barthes has announced, “THE AUTHOR IS DEAD.” But, wait! If Author is dead, who’s going to write the books.
Okay, Okay, I know that’s not exactly his argument, but I’m not sure if I totally agree with him the Author is dead and long live the Reader. There are just certain imprints from the author’s life that leave indelible images from which the author can’t escape. But, there lays the problem with the French literary theorists, the phenomenologists, and deconstructions, where does meaning and thought and words all come from? I think it goes back further than Plato’s cave. But, if we’re to look through the continuum from the Plato; through Nietzsche’s “Truth and Lie in the Extra Moral Sense;” to Derrida, Heidegger, and Barthes, we have to trace back their roots to the original thought, which Nietzsche even claimed was a lie since we applied human sound and reason to thought. In fact, he claimed it was a double lie because we interpreted thought into human sound and then applied to it our linguistic fare adding a second layer of untruthfulness to the mix. But, to save us, for the sake of this exercise, I stop the high-browed digression and stick to Mr. Barthes and his rotting corpse of the Author.
In “The Author is Dead,” Barthes claims the Author is dead because the scriptor’s, as he now calls the Author, “only power is to mix writings, to counter the ones with the others, in such a way as never to rest on any of them.” This may sound familiar to Bloom fans as the Anxiety of Influence, but Barthes confounds the argument, as only the French can do, by layering on a heavy dose of hermeneutics and back talk. He breaks it down to a readercentric point of view where reader is king because the only prism of thought which matters is that of Reader.
This is true in the sense the reader is the ultimate decider in the pipeline and the ultimate authority to the meaning of the text, but we have to look at the overall implication of this claim. If in fact the author is dead and the reader is the only one who matters, then who is to read the books that the scriptor writes? If we are to look at Barthes’s argument in the light Derrida’s difference then even the reader’s interpretation is faulty and cannot be trusted due to the historical, cultural, linguistic, and nature of the reader’s background. All the laundry of a life is tacked onto that reader’s interpretation and different perceptions, meanings and interpretations are fueling the errant reading. So, can we be a readercentric amalgam of scriptors busy at reflecting the world through over-used, misused, and divergent meaning words and phrases? Or is there room for the reader and the Author to live in a bibliophilic world of books and belles lettres?
I want to hear from the Associated Content family. Can we really, even in the most abstract of fictions, still distance ourselves from our work so it is timeless, culturally non-relevant, non-dogmatic, or non-human influenced in the strictest of terms? Or will the Author always be a voice in the text?
What are our thoughts? New Historians? Critics?