Death of the Author: Roland Barthes


Roland Barthes, known as a post structuralist philosopher and linguistic thinker based his theory on his preceding linguistic philosophers like Ferdinand Saussure, who defined language as a system of signs. In his famous essay, ” Death of the Author, he begins his theory by quoting the Example from Balzac’s novel Sarrasine where the author gives a description of a ‘castratodisguised as a woman’. This woman with here sudden fears, her irrational claims, her instinctive worries, her impetuous boldness, her fussings, and her sensibility was a woman herself. Taking such steriotypes aside,Barth was concerned with the with the question:”who is speaking thus?” Here the Balzac the author, according to Barth is furnished his personal experience with the philosophy of woman. And he concludes that ‘writing is the destruction of every voice, of every point of origin.

Barth says that in the novel the narrator is unknown, we do not know who is speaking. As this is possible in the written but not the spoken word, Barth calls for a ‘deconstruction  of every voice, of every point of origin’. He argues that the critics especially of literature, up until his time have been not sages but ruiners of literature. He describes those so called critics as a destructive force to texts, and that their inclusion of information beyond the texts to which these critics cast their own pens is destructive to the very texts they examine. When describing the work of the Critic, Barthes repeatedly uses language which brings destruction to mind, including the words ‘Decipher” (or code-breaking) “pierce” and “evaporate”. He further describes a text as a delicate even ephemeral thing, comparing it first to a tissue, and then to the threads a stoking. In contrast, Barthes calls his idea ” the death of the author”. The author is not in fact torn, pierced, or destroyed but he simply “diminishes like  a figurine at the far end of the literary stage. Since the text stands between the author  and the reader, the author is not harmed by his death. He simpy goes unseen.

The idea of  the author is a relatively new one. The concept of the author is historically and culturally specific. It is the product modern period of Western Europe. It is a  product of our society emerging from the Middle Ages with English empiricism, French rationalism and personal faith of the Reformation.To be brief, it was the epitome and culmination of a capitalist ideology which has attached the greatest importance to the person of the author.

He introduces his theory on a linguistic basis. He says, “linguistically, the author is never more than the instance of writing, just as I is nothing other than the instance of saying I.” This reinforces the idea of the “removal of the author”. Barth claims that from the author creating a book, now the book and the author come into being at the same time. “There is no other time than that of the enunciation and every text is eternally written  here and now.”

Barth says that basically nothing is original or can be original. “We know that a text is not a line of words releasing a single theological meaning-but a multidimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash. Words are explainable through other words. Author has lost all significance. It is only when all these fragments are read by the reader that literature can mean anything. The reader is the space on which all the quotations that make up a writing are inscribed without any of them being lost, a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination. Barth preserves all texts for further study, reopening closed books, and also overturns the idea of the critic. It thus authorizes all readers to be critical of what they read.  Author in no longer an “authoritative viewpoint”. It is to the author that all texts are directed. He says that the true place for writing is reading.  It is in reading that the text comes to life. When writing begins, he says, ” voice loses its origin, the author enters into his own death”.

There is no such thing as the “author” of a text but merely a “scriptor”. The text requires an analysis of a language and linguistics, rather than a speaking voice. The text is open to multiple interpretations by the reader, that the author may not have originally intended making the author insignificant figure in literature.  The author disappears at the point of writing for the reader is able to distinguish more than just a solitary voice in the lines of the text.

To conclude, any text once written  has little to do with the author. The reader can put any interpretation on it that the author did not intend. This gives significant freedom to the reader who is released the task of discerning the author’s intent. The task of the reader is not to decipher, but to enjoy and find one’s own meaning. It is the language that speaks, not the author. Language creates speaker. language knows a subject, but not the person. The text stands alone in the absence of the author and his/her context.

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