I kept thinking about the conversation we had in class about Roland Barthes’ “The Death of the Author” and why what he purports in his article is hard to digest, for me. For one, I believe his argument is partly one of semantics, preferring the term “writing” to “literature” or likening the “author” of a text to one that “disentangles” the “tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture.” Either way we are still left with things to read, things that have been assembled by an individual with a certain artistic or aesthetic insight. And to dismiss the individual that assembles a given work seems unfair to say the least, because if anyone could do it anyone would do it. So merit is due to the individuals with said artistic skill-set.
However, I agree with the notion that the ‘author’ sits a-top a pedestal in contemporary society, but this is partly due to the workings of literary critics (like Barthes as he barrages his reader with countless authors he feels speaks to his ideals) and the need to distinguish good works from lesser works. Yet to deny hierarchical categorization would be to deny human nature, so canonization of literary ‘genius’ still remains just as the New York Times will continue to publish a “best-sellers” list on a weekly basis.
Barthes also seems to ascribe the role of the critic to the everyday reader, which I also believe is unfair. Readers outside the small selective circle of literary criticism read for entertainment, pleasure, or out of curiosity, not necessarily to acquire a secret, worldly and universal understanding or “ultimate meaning” from a text. But I also agree that no “ultimate meaning” should be divulged or sought after in reading/writing in the first place. Reading is responsive, and what you get is what you get.
I think I understand what Barthes is getting at, but I also think that what he purports is too idealistic. A balance between a reader’s interaction with a text and authorial intent can be achieved, but is up to the reader to recognize his/her role in approaching a text that has been amassed and transcribed by another. Mutual respect on both sides of the author/reader equation is essential.