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.

Death of the Author and Birth of the Reader

Roland Barthes:  The Death of the Author

In The Death of the Author by Roland Barthes, Barthes discusses an author named Honore De Balzac and his novella Sarrasine. Barthes discusses the importance of this work to be an example of how the author has disconnected himself from his writing. Balzac “plays” with his characters and their gender. In Sarrasine Zambinella who is a woman disguises herself to be a man. Many readers are questioning Balzacs decision to have the main character a woman instead of a man. Why would Balzac do something like this? Is this somehow related to his personal experiences? Why was this hidden secret found out in this book about Zambinella? The readers question how this would relate to the writer whom wrote it and how the writer would know how to go about writing about a character of the opposite sex in such detail.  this he sets himself apart from the work.

Barthes later on discusses that writers must eliminate a readers idea of expectations from their works. A writer must be able to produce several different works that have no relation to one another. Barthes mentions that the writer must write in a state in which “they are unaware of what they are writing”. Writers should be able to create and invent new forms in their writing.This idea helps readers separate the writer from their texts. Barthes also ties into his ideas the term surrealism which is a “20th-century movement in art and literature that sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind, for example by the irrational juxtaposition of images.” Text is supposed to be complex and confusing and hard to figure out. It is not supposed to have one meaning to it nor, does it ever stop at a meaning that the reader has come up with.

Barthes believes that a work should be called a text and not a work. Surrealism is in texts because there are several different theories and concepts that can be brought out in a text. Text will always have many interpretations which are ongoing and never ending. The author does not lay out his/her thoughts on what he or she wanted a reader to interpret , it is through the reader themselves and the authors creativity that a text comes to life in a way that is seen as stereoscopic and complex.

Roland Barthes:Image result  Image result for sarrasine balzac

How Do “Texts” and “Work” Intertwine?

Before reading this, I haven’t ever thought about the differences between the words “works” and “texts”. I tend to use them interchangeably depending on the day. After reading Barthes’ “From Work to Text”, I’ve come to an understanding the work is more of a complete and is a concrete form of writing, whereas text is something that can be open to change. Work is something that does not show any sign of arbitrariness within the understanding. (

The very first lines of this piece, it states “It is a fact that over the last few years a certain change has taken place (or is taking place) in our conception of language and, consequently, of the literary work which owes at least its phenomenal existence to this same language.” (pg.155) This suggests that language is changing over time due to the cultural developments. This is basically how I view the word “text”. It’s something that is open to change, depending on how the events over time seems to shift. Also, “text” ties into language as well. For example, throughout time, language can change, due to new slangs or even new words that have been added to the dictionary over time. That would be a clear example of texts changing with the culture. Whereas a “work” is something that is indefinite.

After distinguishing between the two, it makes me question what exactly a work/text would be in this day and age. Previously, I had the debate with myself about authorship, and what makes an author an author. Authors also tend to adapt to the time shift in culture. For instance, should online blogs be considered to be works or texts? Where would something like that fall into place in Barthes’ categories? Or would it fall into a brand new category of its own? The same thing goes for reality TV. I had mentioned before how mass culture is becoming a major influence on writers these days, and the cultural development are creating a certain type of audience. So for my example of reality TV, it almost seems as if it can fit into being both a work and a text. My reason for thinking it could be both is because the idea of reality is that it is something that cannot be changed. It essentially “is what it is” and that is what makes it a work. It has a sense of concreteness. The part that makes it text, lies within the production crew that creates the show. A lot of reality TV is scripted as well, and that makes it a text as well. The writers ability to alter reality to fit their agenda, and to get a rise out of the audience, shows that they’re purposely creating a shift in “reality” to fit current cultural standards.


Works Cited

“Roland Barthes: “From Work to Text” Linguistic Terms Explained.” Decoded Science. N.p., 17 Apr. 2013. Web. 19 Sept. 2016.