Death of the Author by Roland Barthes

Death of the Author is a remarkable essay written by most influential French literary critic and theorist Roland Barthes. This essay is considered as one of the most groundbreaking theory in the history of literary criticism. In this essay, Barthes shatters the pre-existing approach to literary criticism in which the author was considered as the sole determiner of the meaning of a text. This idea of the author was established firmly during the 18th century. The word “Death” here is used metaphorically; the word death is used to declare that author has no power over the meaning of the text.

Barthes, in his essay, asserts that a reader is not bound to interpret a particular text just from one perspective.  When a critic presents a criticism of some text, he snatches away the freedom of the reader and motivates him to seek one or limited number of understandings.  Barthes takes an anti-critic stance over here. Barthes says that there is no problem in considering the biographical reference of a text while interpreting it.  However, reader’s total dependence on biographical references is wrong. Barthes stresses upon the principle that a reader should be free to do anything with the text. Reading, according to him, is and anti-theological activity. The birth of the reader is possible at the cost of the death of the Author.

Barthes diminishes the importance of author by saying that author is just a scripter. He does not affirm the Romantics’ understanding of the text which says that the text is an expression of the author. Barthes posits that no person creates a text; the text itself creates a text. He says that no person is the owner of the language. It is language that constructs personality rather than personality (author) constructing language. Language is collectively created by society. Therefore, no one owns the language and assert his authority of its meaning.

The idea of the author is used to impose an imaginary unity on the text. On the contrary, he believes in the Prerequisite impersonality which means that whatever one writes he must write it in language, and language is always impersonal. Therefore, he declares that author is of no significance. The text is not an expression of an author; it is just an expression. An author is just a scripter who collects the pre-existing language to create a new text. Hence, the author is dead, as he has no authority over the meaning of his text.

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