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Article 1: The death of the author

Author: Roland Barthes

Source: Lodge, David (Ed.). Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader. London: Longman, 1988.



The article starts off with an editorial overview of Barthes’ works, including S/Z - his commentary on the Balzac short story, Sarrasine. It was probably his most important piece of literary criticism, and it showed how a text could have ma ny different meanings simultaneously. The gist of The death of the author focuses on the new concept regarding the Author, in which he is seen as being ‘removed’. This means that the text is made and read in such a way that at all its levels, he is absent. The significance of this is that the modern text has been ‘utterly transformed’. Barthes shows how this is so by contrasting what is meant by the ‘Author when believed in’, and the ‘Author when absent’. In the former, the Author is thought of as existing before his book, like a father to a child. In the latter, the scriptor, rather, exists simultaneously with the text, and evolves as the text is being read. The article also talks about the text being a multi-dimensional web of various writing threads, rather than having any single theological meaning. With the removal of the Author, then, a piece of writing is only disentangled (like a web) and not deciphered. And it is the reader that brings together all the threads of meaning that constitute the text. In short, the focus is now on the role of the reader, i.e. the destination of the text and not the origin.



Reading this text, I felt, is a basic and relevant requirement for anyone intending to answer Question 1 effectively. Naturally, there is a need to have an idea of Barthes’ views regarding what is termed as the ‘writerly text’, since his work (S/Z) was instrumental in demonstrating the distinction between ‘readerly’ and ‘writerly’ texts. There is also a need to understand the notions of ‘reader’ and ‘author’, and what the ‘death of the author’ meant for the reader in the responsibility of producing meaning. The language used by Barthes seemed rather ‘flowery’, and the numerous references to literary and even artistic historical events seemed to hinder comprehension a bit. But the gist of the text was understandable and extremely useful for me. One of the most important bits of information I gathered was the elaboration on the meaning of ‘writerly text’: that ‘it invites its readers to an active participation in the production of meanings that are infinite and inexhaustible’. I found that I could use this as a base to structure my essay on. The other crucial part was one I mentioned above, about the disentanglement of the threads in a text. I felt that this is very intuitive, and especially applicable to hypertext, with its concept of a network. So overall, I think it was a very worthwhile read.

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