The Death Of The Author Essay

2259 words - 9 pages

The concept of ‘the Death of the Author’ was proposed by, French philosopher and literary theorist, Roland Barthes in his essay with the same title. He proposed a paradigm shift in the way that authorship should be viewed by the ‘Critic’. In opposition to the classical model of critique, Barthes proposed that the focus should be on the readers experience and interpretation; he proposed the idea of ‘readerly’ and ‘writerly’ texts. Rather than focusing on the author’s intent, his or her past building up to the text and the singularity of his or her intent, he suggested that once a text has been committed to written words it transcends into a ‘tissue of signs’ and ‘immense dictionary from which he [the writer] draws a writing that can know no halt’ [Barthes 1977, 147] and the only thing of importance to the critique of the work would be the experience of the reader. He proposed that ‘the work’ itself is merely a string of words that, without a reader, would be void of meaning. He also suggests that these two polar opposites were mutually exclusive of one another and that ‘the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author’ [Barthes 1977, 148]. The discussion that follows will be based on Stephen Heath’s French-to-English translation of Barthes work from the compilation of essays, ‘Image – Music – Text’, translated and compiled in 1977 (three years before Roland Barthes’ death).
Although Barthes spoke mainly of literature (or ‘writing’, as he clarifies, to avoid the connotations that literature had [Barthes 1977, 147]), he also discusses music in his essay entitled ‘Musica Practica’ [Barthes 1977, 149-154] and his theories can be extended to all art forms.
Roland Barthes was a structuralist (and indeed, by some, a post-structuralist; this confusion is addressed by Jonathon Culler [1983, 78]) and this manifests itself in his belief that there were ‘readerly’ texts and there were ‘writerly’ texts, and that the two were very separate; the idea that the birth of the reader signifies the death of the author suggests that these two forms of critique cannot co-exist. Barthes opinions were in direct retaliation to the movement of surrealism, where singular intent and purpose of work was the focus of the Author and the Critic. He criticises that ‘classical criticism has never paid any attention to the reader’ [Barthes 1977, 148] and shows his own contempt for classical criticism in the following: “when the Author has been found, the text is ‘explained’ – victory to the critic’ [Barthes 1977, 147]. Indeed this ‘classical’ form of critique was new in its time; it was only in the 18th Century that authors of both literature and music, for example Beethoven (Barthes discusses his work extensively in ‘Musica Practica’ [1977, 150-154]), were beginning to receive credit (and indeed criticism) as the author of their work. Rather than these art forms being driven by necessity, or even the divine work of God, the author finally received critique...

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