Roland Barthes’ Concept of Death of the Author

Roland Barthes’ Death of the Author (1968) plays a pioneering role in contemporary theory as it encapsulates certain key ideas of poststructuralist theory and also marks Barthes’ transition from structuralism to poststructuralism. The title itself, in a rhetorical way announces the liberation of the literary work from authorial-intention and control, an idea foreshadowed in modernism.download.jpg

Barthes observed that writers like Mallarme, Valerry and Proust have already challenged the centrality of the author. Simultaneous with the author’s death, the reader or the scrip for is born who writes meanings into the text. A deconstructive close reading dismantles the supposed unity and coherence of the text and leads to its explosion into multiplicity of meanings. The author’s demise and the subsequent discarding of the author’s intention, is very much an act of decentering, and it underscores the myth of the transcendental signified. Barthes described writing as a “performative act” and that “every text is written here and now”. A text unity “lies not in its origin, but in its destination”, which is the reader, who according to Barthes, is without “history, biography, psychology; he is simply that someone who holds together in a single field all the traces by which the written text is constituted”; he is, like the author, a function of the text.

The text is perceived as a multi-dimensional space where a plethora of meanings, with a galaxy of signifiers clash and blend. Barthes further develops this idea in his, S/Z (1970) where he introduces the concept of the “readerly” and the “writerly” text. In his From Work to Text, Barthes distinguishes the “text” from the “work”, as fluid, with many levels of meaning, ranging across disciplinary boundaries, something that is held in “intertextuality” in a network of signifiers. He argues that a text can never convey a single meaning, but is subject to multiple interpretations, not only because the readers are different, but primarily because of the instability of the linguistic sign.

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