The Death of the Author is an essay by Roland Barthes which sets forth the argument that to analyse a text by examining the experiences and motivations of the author is an invalid action, and that by focusing on the identity of the author to derive the meaning of a text, we ‘impose a limit on that text’. He describes how any text is influenced by innumerable cultural factors as opposed to any single experience, or any single viewpoint. Barthes argues that the meaning of a text is to be found purely in ‘language itself’ and that we can never discover a writer’s intentions since those are unique to the writer themselves and, at any rate, should have no bearing on the meaning of the texts as he argues that this is unique to the reader. Furthermore, Barthes believes that the purpose of an author is merely to narrate events and that it is from these events and the language used to narrate them that we should attempt to deduce the meaning of pieces of literature.
I would like to agree with Barthes in his interpretation of all texts, and indeed all art, being influenced by more factors than we can ever hope to comprehend and that there is, perhaps, a futility in trying to take the author’s experiences and apply them as a major factor in our interpretation of a text. We can never know the author’s mind, just as we can never really know the mind of anyone, and as such, it may be possible to observe key events in an author’s lifetime which may have influenced their work, we cannot be certain that this is the case, nor can we be certain how this has influenced them, in what way, and to what degree. The author is influenced by so may different factors that we cannot hope to understand their thought process, and as such perhaps it is true that we must rely far less on the author to influence our interpretations of a text as surely this is futile if we will never know if we even are remotely correct.
Instead, it seems that what we need to focus on in our analysis of texts is forgetting the author, as they seem to be a vehicle through which a narrative is told, and placing emphasis instead on a text’s impacts on the reader and what it means to us. This implies that reading and analysing literature should be a far more personal experience and that the ‘important’ party, so to speak, is the reader and not the author. Here I am in two minds over the issue. I see that Barthes is trying to suggest that the purpose of a text is to be interpreted by the reader and that we must put more emphasis on our own thought on the work and the way in which we react to it, especially since we are the only ones whose thought process we can begin to comprehend and suggest reasons for.
However, I would argue that to discount the author completely seems a little too blunt, especially when it is through them that we come to have the understanding of a text that we do. I am all for reading and analysing being more reader-centred and understand fully how this seems the more logical approach to take, but I feel that there may be some worth in trying to understand an author’s intentions, even if we cannot be sure such analysis is correct. I feel that there is something to be gained by at least trying to make an educated guess at what the writer may have intended, especially if we do so with the understanding and indeed, the expectation, that we can never be sure. If nothing else, surely trying to understand what the author may have meant encourages us to explore other viewpoints and ideas present within a text, as opposed to Barthes’ idea, which seems a terribly self-centred approach to take.