The Death Of The Author
Roland Barthes is one of the major figures in the contemporary literary theory and he is usually associated with the movement within criticism known as structuralism, though Barthes's position is often seen as evolving from standard structural readings towards what has been termed as post-structuralism. The Death of the Author is no doubt his crucial essay and the title itself has become a sort of slogan for the most recent developments in literary criticism. What does it actually mean that the author is dead? The phrase itself is a metaphor for the kind of reading literary text that Barthes would advocate. Reading a novel, or a poem, or any other literary text, Barthes claims, should not involve a quest for that text's ultimate and original meaning. In other words, the reader should not try to answer the question: what did the author mean? or what did the author wanted to say? And why, according to Barthes, such questions are invalid? Well, because one can never know what the author actually wanted to say. There is absolutely no way to establish definitely and undoubtedly the intended meaning of a given text, no matter how much biographical and psychological studies one does. It is not the author that matters but the text itself without it being anchored in the original intended meaning to which any access must remain an illusion. This shift towards the text is what is structuralist about Barthes's views. However, he also claims that the death of the author is the birth of the reader. The text itself is not an autonomous whole wherein the meaning resides. The text means only in relation to the reader and as every reader reads differently (i.e. with different set of assumptions, experiences, anticipations, memories etc.) then one cannot say that there is one unchangable meaning of a given literary text, this meaning changes along with the person that reads. This shift from a stable and unified text itself towards the reader who becomes the scene on which the reading and the meaning of the text are performed is a shift precisely from structuralism towards post-structuralism. In his later texts Barthes stresses the importance of pleasure in every reading (and also writing) of a text. The Death of the Author is a must for those who want to see how the most significant changes in thinking about literature actually take place. Written with verbal energy and straightforwardness, and certainly with pleasure, the text proves a rewarding and pleasurable reading.