The Author: Part 2 of 4

It is a relatively recent belief that the author is immortal; forever linked to his body of work. In his 1967 essay “Death of the Author,” Barthes claims that the author is a “modern figure” (BHR, 277) emerging at the same time that individualism became an important concept. Barthes says: “The explanation of a work is always sought in the man or woman who produced it, as if it were always in the end, through the more or less transparent allegory of the fiction, the voice of a single person, the author ‘confiding’ in us” (277). Barthes is emphasizing that the author is believed to be at the center of his or her work and has the final say in its interpretation, its final meaning. He does not agree with this assumption and believes that if one does this, it “impose[s] a limit on that text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing” (279). He removes the importance of the author because of one very important idea: that there is no true originality. The author’s “only power is to mix writings, to counter the ones with the others, in such a way as never to rest on any one of them” (279). Barthes explains that it is language that allows the author to pick and choose from a dictionary of words that can be mixed to ultimately create a work. Barthes concludes his essay with the idea that in order for writing to evolve, the author must “die.” However, he does not mean that the author has to literally die in order for true progress to be made. The author simply must fade into the background in order to prevent his or her perceived dominance of the work to overpower its potential. To focus only on the author is to ignore the more varied and more important audience. The reader invites true criticism and interpretation of meaning in a work, because “a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination” (280). If a work does not have an audience, does not allow open interpretation or the opportunity for its ideas to be borrowed or expanded on, is it really a work? And, more importantly, can a work really be attributed to a single author?

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