Implications in the Changing role of Authors

In this article Pease gave a detailed history of the term author, including how it was developed and how it has changed.  It grew out of the medieval concept of auctor, the difference being that “Unlike the medieval auctor who based his authority on divine revelation, an author himself claimed authority for his words and based his individuality on the stories he composed.” (107).  An interesting shift in authority came when literary critics became prevelant, which brings me to my questions about the future of authorship.

Barthes proposes a method of analysis where the author is dead, making “the critic… the real beneficiary of the separation of an author from a text.  It is the critic rather than the author or the reader who can render an authoritative account of the structure of the work, the internal relationships among the various textual strands and levels… the critic is free to reconstitute the text according to his own terms.” (112-113).

I understand the value in individual critical analysis of a text.  I also recognize the value in attempting to understand the meaning or message that a writer is trying to express.  My question is why can’t we allow for more than one way to study texts?  If we can approach a text with different intentions we can find value in it from a number of ways.

It seems ridiculous to acknowledge someone as being a great writer, then remove them completely from the work they produced.  It seems that Barthes does not want to allow great writers to have anything to say, which comes across as an offensive and discouraging way to treat writers.

Such treatment of writers could have a devastating effect on literature.  Why would a writer spend years cultivating an idea and articulating every minute detail, only to have his work immediately commandeered upon its release.  A writer would have to sit back and watch his work get grossly misinterpreted, potentially to the point of being in direct opposition to his intention.  Would he then need to become a critic of his own work in order to have a say in the matter?  I am imagining authors putting out works, then writing under a pseudonym as a critic.  This would be ridiculous.  It seems much more reasonable to allow an author to express his ideas and to defend and clarify them, while also having a critical realm where readers can analyze and interpret every minute detail until their hearts are content.

Authors are writing for a reason, perhaps to raise awareness or express an idea.  I think it is important to let them do so freely.  Cutting anyone off from the fruits of their labor is discouraging at the very least.  In this field, to discourage writers is self – destructive in a very literal way.  It might be interesting to examine this topic from a marxist perspective, with a possible reation to the estrangement of workers from the product of their labor:

Alienation of the worker from their work and its product[edit]

The design of the product and how it is produced are determined, not by the producers who make it (the workers), nor by the consumers of the product (the buyers), but by the Capitalist class, who, besides appropriating the worker’s manual labour, also appropriate the intellectual labour of the engineer and the industrial designer who create the product, in order to shape the taste of the consumer to buy the goods and services at a price that yields a maximal profit. Aside from the workers having no control over the design-and-production protocol, alienation (Entfremdung) broadly describes the conversion of labour (work as an activity), which is performed to generate a use value (the product) into a commodity, which—like products—can be assigned an exchange value. That is, the Capitalist gains control of the manual and intellectual workers, and the benefits of their labour, with a system of industrial production that converts said labour into concrete products (goods and services) that benefit the consumer. Moreover, the capitalist production system also reifies labour into the “concrete” concept of “work” (a job), for which the worker is paid wages—at the lowest-possible rate—that maintain a maximum rate of return on the Capitalist’s investment capital; this is an aspect of exploitation. Furthermore, with such a reified system of industrial production, the profit (exchange value) generated by the sale of the goods and services (products) that could be paid to the workers, instead is paid to the capitalist classes: the functional capitalist, who manages the means of production; and the rentier capitalist, who owns the means of production.

One thought on “Implications in the Changing role of Authors”

  1. I think Barthes would be sympathetic to the kind of Marxist reading you suggest. But: he might say that authors are more like factory owners than laborers–they have been given an inflated value already, which oppresses the consumers (like buying a TV set that only lets you watch the channels it wants to show you?).

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