Sunday, September 11, 2011

Who Kills The Author?

It's the "whodunit" literary mystery of the ages. Who killed the "author"? Was it the writer in the study with the pen or the reader in the library with the glasses? Where and when did the "author" die? And is he really dead? Or did he ever even exist in the first place?

Foucalt claims that "the mark of a writer is reduced to nothing more than the singularity of his absence; he must assume the role of the dead man in the game of writing" (905). Does this mean the author is suicidal? The author, in the act of writing, is "born simultaneously with the text" (Barthes, 876), and yet the act of writing "is the destruction of every voice, of every point of origin" (875). So the writing gives life to the author but also destroys him. And when the writer writes he at the same time killing himself. "The work, which once had the duty of providing immortality, now possesses the right to kill, to be its author's murderer" (Foucaut, 905). So it is the work that kills the author!

But let's not be too quick to determine. Barthes also says that "the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the author" (877). Often in criticism we undervalue the importance of the reader. The reader is the one thing in which literary "multiplicity" is focused. The reader, in the act of reading a work, determines all meaning. The reader holds the power, and when he begins to assign meaning and value he murders the author, turning the author into an anonymity.

But Barthes also says that the "author is never more than the instance writing" (876). So is he even killable, or is he just a term stuck on a work to create merit? If the author and the text only exist in the "here and now" then he can't be killable. He's not even a person, just a name.

So who killed the author? Or did he ever even exist? Who cares.

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