Social vs. Individual

Barthes seems to think of writing almost entirely as a product rather than as an experience or as a process. He completely discounts the author’s experiences and process of writing and skills to the end result of the reader consume the product and acts as though that is the only material that has value. He seems to be taking the mistaken idea of authorial intent and going to the exact opposite extreme. While I usually agree that the author is not vital to understanding the text, I am unwilling to go to Barthes idea that the author is dead and so is the idea of the godlike authority of the author over his creation.

I think that texts can and should be understood simply as the words on the page, but as the Borges essay tried to say, the context of the author is important. It’s one thing to write a novel in the 1800’s and quite another to write one set in the 1800’s. Barthes sets up the rhetoric of an author as this oppressive king or and dictatorial entity bent on destroying the intrinsic value of a piece, but that is a false understanding, a straw man set up to justify his own extreme position. I find it hard to believe that many authors have this kind of presence in their literary lives, especially considering that it is difficult to influence how their works are perceived after they are dead, such as how Ray Bradbury disagreed with the interpretation of his famous Fahrenheit 451 as stated repeatedly that his book was not about censorship. He could not control his work’s life, which is why Barthes argument is null and void. There is no Author/Deity creation to destroy. People read books how they want to read them and they always have, regardless of what the author says.

Really, how books are taught in classrooms has more influence. Teachers who claim that authors are all conclusive about a certain work are perpetuating a false train of thought that people do not naturally have. Of cause, there are substantiated and unsubstantiated reading of books, but I think that Barthes’ understanding of the author is unsubstantiated by fact (just as my opinion that he is wrong is mainly unsubstantiated). My point is, Barthes presented a theory and then stepped back. He did nothing to conclusively prove his point, and so I remain unconvinced. There is no author to kill. Authors can have their own opinions on their books just as I do. Both are valid (meaning, based on the text), but there is no need to metaphorically kill the author. The author is just another human. I guess what I’m trying to say is that Barthes attempted to make his point far too strongly and because of his harsh rhetoric, failed to convince me of anything other than that this man is presumptive and pretentious.

One thought on “Social vs. Individual

  1. Wow. This was not the reaction I had to this essay the first time I read it (and you are not the only person responding to this essay like this.) I actually found it liberating, both as a reader (and a writer) because it meant that I could disagree with an author and not automatically be wrong.

    I think it’s important to look at Barthes use of Author here and the context in which he’s writing. He’s responding to a seeming cult of authority surrounding the Author (he’s capitalized it for a reason. The Author is a mythical deity. He has the privileged status of omniscience we grant to the idea of the author. That Bradbury has the audacity to come back to readers and say “no, you’re not reading my work right” speaks to this still-accepted privilege) that is embedded even in New Criticism, which at the time claimed to remove the fallacy of intention while still relying on tired phrasing about the author’s purpose and singular meaning in creating a work. New Criticism is why you still get terrible 9th grade essays on The Great Gatsby and the American Dream…

    I guess that saying “the Author is dead” is extreme in the same way that Nietzsche saying “God is dead” is extreme, but the Author and God are not dissimilar here: they’re both theological entities that may require a little critical dismantling.

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