Barthes, “The Death of the Author”

Roland. "The Death of the Author." Image-Music-Text.
Trans. Stephen Heath. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977. 142-148.

Barthes advances several important (now "given") theoretical maneuvers in
defining writing as "performative," in destabilizing the role of intentionality
in reading, and in involving the reader as an equal (if unknowable) participant
in the text’s performance. Skeptics will counter that Barthes comes on too
strong, that he means that the author gives up all control to the reader.
But this is simply a theoretical project meant to relax and thereby introduce a
degree of play in the taken-by-some-to-be-exactable relationship between
authorship and the (meaningful) life of a text in its multiple, unpredictable
performances. I take Barthes to be urging us to regard the reader as a
legitimate participant in textuality and meaning, thereby opening a space for
interpretation to contend with meaning rendered absolute or rigidified by the
nod of the author (as an increasingly celebrated figure).

"Thus is revealed the total existence of writing: a text is made of multiple
writings, drawn from many cultures and entering into mutual relations of
dialogue, parody, contestation, but there is one place where this multiplicity
is focused and that place is the reader, not, as was hiterto said, the author"
(148). This changes the presumed controls, introducing the aliveness of a text
and its terms as involving trajectories that we cannot always easily anticipate
or constrain, though this doesn’t necessarily mean that as writers, we shouldn’t
try, within reason, to do so or to make what we do readable.

"Once the Author is removed, the claim to decipher a text becomes quite
futile" (147). If the project of classical literary criticism was to stake
out a superior (that is, intention-matching) reading, Barthes instead argues for
something more democratic, participatory and reader-centered. This also matches
with Barthes antithesis; he "refus[es] to assign a ‘secret,’ ultimate meaning,
to the text" (147).

"The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of
culture" (146). A variation of intertextuality and a theory of writing as
a tissue-like aggregation of various, contending fibers.

"For him, for us too, it is language which speaks, not the author; to write
is, through a prerequisite impersonality (not at all to be confused with the
castrating objectivity of the realist novelist), to reach that point where only
language acts, ‘performs’ and not ‘me’" (143).

"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" (142). ^Consider this alongside Ong’s notion of
distance and also Barthes’ mention of "distancing" (145).

"Linguistically, the author is never more than the instance writing, just as
I is nothing other than the instance saying I: language knows a
‘subject’, not a ‘person’, and this subject, empty outside of the very
enunciation which defines it, suffices to make language ‘hold together’,
suffices, that is to say, to exhaust it" (145).