Author Roland Barthes Essay

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One notable point of controversy is Barthes’s proclamation of the ‘death of the author’.

This ‘death’ is directed, not at the idea of writing, but at the specifically French image of the as a creative genius expressing an inner vision.

Alternative readings of Barthes’s essay – such as the idea that the essay is really a satire upon the very notions he “advocates” in the text (i.e., that “Death of the Author” actually defends traditional notions of authorship) – remain in the critical minority.

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In this critical schematic, the experiences and biases of the author serve as its definitive “explanation.” For Barthes, this is a tidy, convenient method of reading and is sloppy and flawed: “To give a text an Author” and assign a single, corresponding interpretation to it “is to impose a limit on that text.” Readers must separate a literary work from its creator in order to liberate it from interpretive tyranny (a notion similar to Erich Auerbach’s discussion of narrative tyranny in Biblical parables), for each piece of writing contains multiple layers and meanings.

In a famous quotation, Barthes draws an analogy between text and textiles, declaring that a “text is a tissue [or fabric] of quotations,” drawn from “innumerable centers of culture,” rather than from one, individual experience.

Like Foucault’s work, Barthes’s essay aims to remove the author from his privileged position with respect to the interpretation of texts; instead, Barthes places full responsibility and interpretive authority on the shoulders of the reader.

Barthes’s work shares much in common with the ideas of the “Yale school” of deconstructionist critics, which numbered among its proponents Paul de Man, Harold Bloom, and Geoffrey Hartman in the 1970s.

Barthes, like the deconstructionists, insists upon the disjointed nature of texts, their fissures of meaning and their incongruities, interruptions, and breaks.

Ideas presented in “The Death of the Author” were fully anticipated by the philosophy of the school of New Criticism, a group of 20th century literary critics who sought to read literary texts removed from historical or biographical contexts.

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