Death of the author

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Citation: Roland Barthes (1967) Death of the author. Aspen, no. 5-6 (RSS)
Internet Archive Scholar (search for fulltext): Death of the author
Tagged: Arts and Literarure (RSS) literature (RSS), Theory (RSS)


In this seminal essay Barthes disrupts the implied connection between authorship and ownership. An “Author,” Barthes argues, is a modern invention: the notion of a written work being inextricably linked to an author, or "genius," is a historical one born out of empiricism and rationalism. Barthes also blames critics for bolstering the mythological origins and authenticity of a text whenever they rely on an author's personal life to inform the analysis of an author's work. An "Author's work" is precisely the part Barthes takes issue with—the part where author turns into Author, which suggests ownership of a work. Ownership of meaning and language.

Barthes cites Mallarme, Valery, and Proust as writers who have actively made an attempt in their own writing to "loosen" this supposed stranglehold between an author and his/her work. Space and time are also invoked. Temporally, Barthes claims an Author is a being who precedes a text, whereas a "modern scriptor"—the figure Barthes heralds as the victor in the death of the Author—is an enunciator who has no authority over a text due to it being "eternally written here and now." Moreover, spatially a text is invoked as a "multi-dimensional space" involving various formations of folding, blending and crashing as opposed to a linear line of words containing a "single 'theological' meaning".

A fixed meaning is precisely what Barthes is attacking in this essay. By killing the Author he purports to open up all texts so that "everything... [can] be disentangled, nothing deciphered".

Barthes concludes by shifting emphasis on the Author to the reader. He suggests that when the ties between an Author and his/her text are cut, this then liberates the origins of a text and instead places the emphasis on its destination—the reader. The point being to free language, to allow it to flow without the restrictions of authors, critics, hermeneutic interpretation and overdetermined deciphering.

Theoretical and Practical Relevance

See also Wikipedia article
Death of The Author also published in Image, Music, Text (1977)