Death of the Author

Stephen Dobyns essay Deception counts barely ten pages, and here I am about to write my third blog-post on it – again I’m looking at his text from a European point of view.

What suddenly struck me, as I came to the middle of Dobyns’ text, was a certain likeness to the French thinker Roland Barthes. Listen to this:

At some level a piece of writing must be written only for its own sake … To be successful it must separate itself from the life of the writer. The deception is that the work can be tied to the writer, even that it expresses him or her. The finished piece of writing belongs to the reader, not the writer. If the work is successful, the writer has to become invisible. … not only does a piece of writing have to transcend the writer, it must also transcend itself. It must amount to more than a sum f its parts. That is the difference between art and journalism.

(Dobyns: Deception, p 5)

Here is Barthes:

To give a text an Author and assign a single, corresponding interpretation to it is to impose a limit on that text.

(Barthes: The Death of the Author)

In his 1967 essay, The Death of the Author, Roland Barthes argues against the method of reading and criticism that relies on aspects of the author’s identity — their political views, historical context, religion, ethnicity, psychology, or other biographical or personal attributes — to distill meaning from the author’s work. 

But despite the similarities, my guess is that Barthes and his post-structuralistic friends were a bit more on the radical side, and that it might be more correct to label Dobyns’ thoughts as belonging to the tradition of Reader-Response theory

– but anyways, who cares about labeling these days?

4 comments on “Death of the Author

  1. I love the picture. Where did you get it? As for Barthes and Dobyns, as writers it’s a good idea for us to remember that the critical stance and the writing stance don’t necessarily always jive. For writers, it is invaluable to explore the context in which the writing was created, because that’s the place we, as writers, find ourselves.

  2. To put it more clearly, Barthes is a smart guy, and has read the text well. The woman or man at the other end, the so-called author of that text, has a relationship to it as well, which is not the same as a reading relationship, or, if it is, is a complex kind of reading that reads more than just the text and physically changes the text while reading it. Barthes changes the tradition while reading the text. Mirrors, mirrors, mirrors!

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