Does the Reader Become the Author?

“We can say that today’s writing has freed itself from the theme of expression…Writing unfolds like a game that invariably goes beyond its own rules and transgresses its limits…rather a question of creating a space into which the writing subject constantly disappears” (Foucault 206). We can deduct that Foucault would agree with the unknown signified, the one constantly searching for a new meaning. But if the subject of the text continues to change doesn’t the originality become lost? The author,  who has made this writing for a purpose, is no longer the on in control. The reader has taken over. The subject can completely change into their want and the author is gone. Foucault mentions the word limits. Is he saying that writing has no limits? OR that the subject and meaning within the text has no limits?

“Our culture has metamorphosed this idea of narrative, or writing, as something designed to ward off death…The work, which once had the duty of providing immortality, now possesses the right to kill, to be its author’s murderer” (Foucault 206). I think Foucault is arguing that once the text is written, who it came from no longer matters. The text is the important and everlasting aspect, not the author. This seems a bit outlandish in my opinion, but it is true that words are meant to be read. As long as the text is read by the reader, why does it matter if the author’s view is behind the words? But does this just make the text lose any sense of origin?

Death of the Author

“Writing is that neutral, composite, oblique space where our subject slips away, the negative where all identity is lost, starting with the very identity of the body writing.” Barthes spends the length of his essay “The Death of an Author” explicating this one statement, picking it apart until the reader is also convinced that the author is truly dead. He goes on to say that as that the writing process can only begin once the author has died. In this respect, the author’s death is not simply death, but the suicide of the author as he is making that active choice to end his own voice to allow that of his characters to trickle through. Additionally, this is what truly characterizes an author as a “good” author. He is one that enables the reader to forget there is a man behind the curtain and that the fictional novel being read is, in fact, fictional.

If the author is truly dead, then there is no criticism that is able to analyze the life of said author, as the text is distinct from its writer. Of course, this is not to say the author cannot be critiqued on his own merits, but this should be done separately from the text.

When the author dies, the text becomes limitless. Instead of a voice behind each character, the reader is able to create histories and as a result able to imprint the text with his own life. This makes the text more readable and relatable and, as a result, the text becomes a part of the reader in addition to the author. “The reader is the space on which all the quotations that make up a writing are inscribed without any of them being lost.” It’s within these spaces that the reader becomes his own interpreter of the text. This idea relates back to Mallarmé’s theory of spacing and looking for what is not written as opposed to what is. As Barthes states the reader can only be born once the author has died.

The Politics of Authorship

“It is thus, logical that in literature it should be this positivism, the epitome and culmination of capitalist ideology, which has attached the greatest importance to the ‘person’ of the author.”

I found this relation of authorship to capitalism interesting.  Although it seems like a sound observation, I don’t see why this should carry a negative connotation.

Barthes says “For him, for us too, it is language which speaks, not the author…”  This seems to suggest that somehow language does the speaking all on its own.  It makes more sense to allow that a person speaks, and the way he attempts to make his idea clear is through the use of language.  There are many ways to read and interpret language, but we are not opening a dictionary and discussing language word by word.  It is all in a particular sequence and context that was intentionally arranged by an individual.

I wonder how Barthes feels about his own work.  Does the reader or critic have anything to say, or is all of literature an intangible web of interpretations where nothing can stand its ground?

“It is language that speaks, not the author.”  I understand the benefits of opening up interpretation beyond the limits of an author, but the consequences of this line of attack seem to go much further than authorship.  Why would the author be the only one who cannot speak?  This absolute abandonment of any shred of objectivity is ridiculous.  If it is only language that speaks then the author cannot speak, the critic cannot speak, the reader cannot speak… At this point does literature even exist?  With such limitations what can one possibly do in the field?

Maybe it is just my American disposition, but I don’t see why a comparison to capitalism is negative.  Again, my American disposition leads me to prefer the idea of capitalism to the spirit of communism found in his “power to the readers” – rise of the proletariat – mentality.  Looking at this in relation to competing political ideologies it is hard to say which is better without the influence of biases.  Without doing any objective research right now, I want to say that capitalism has a better overall track record than communism.  It has created a more favorable society while allowing people to actualize their individual potential.  I am imagining somewhat of a logical extreme to Barthes death of the author/power to the reader proposition, where a field full of eager readers are sitting around regurgitating arguments over the classics with nothing new being written.

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