Is The Author Really Dead?

Is The Author Really Dead?

Barthian theory in a contemporary world.

This past semester I had begrudgingly signed up to take Literary Theory, an English major prerequisite that leaves most outsiders moaning and groaning on your behalf. At first, I too was moaning and groaning left feeling unfulfilled by the study of language, which I was sure, meant something to someone sitting in an office chair at Oxford University, picking their teeth with a folded page from a Dostoevsky piece. Point being, I didn’t see how anything I could have learned in that horrible, terrible class could have possibly come in handy when interacting with the real world. Then I met "The Death of the Author," a Barthian piece of literary theory that discusses the idea that an art is separate from its author and should be studied that way. And suddenly, Lit Theory became Lit Reality.

There are many men of history, both in art and the political sphere, that did and made amazing things for society, but not so much for those around them on a personal level. We often forget about Benjamin Franklin’s bastard children when we discuss the founding of our country. We don’t discuss the affair that J.D. Salinger had with an eighteen-year-old girl when discussing "The Catcher in the Rye." We infamously ignore the artist when discussing their art if we can; it’s difficult to rewrite years of poorly inscribed history. But as of late I fear we’ve taken a turn for the other extreme, focusing too heavily on the artist before even considering the art as an individual piece.

If we think of "The Death of the Author" as a foundation for a way that we study art which can grow and develop into a more contemporary practice, we might be able to learn more from the art we hear and see and read. The Louis C.K. allegations have resulted in the removal of any of C.K.’s projects from the headlines for the unforeseeable future. A movie, a series of performances, and no doubt what could have been another handful of shows and pieces written or directed by the man.

Let me preface this by saying that his actions were awful and unforgivable and also incredibly weird. However, to pull his pieces off of the shelves because of it seems wrong. The movie is its own movie and maybe it will be beautiful and maybe we can learn more from it than “Louis C.K. wrote this.” Maybe if first, we released it, we read it, we learned it, and then we applied it. Maybe then we would find that there’s something to be learned about Louis C.K. that we wouldn’t have known, or maybe something to be learned about how perpetuating of awful actions the way in which we let men roam this world really is.

We could think of an author’s text as the author’s own history, but it doesn’t allow the writing to be performative. That is, it doesn’t allow it to work in the present tense. It doesn’t allow text to be taken as more than something that belongs to an author in a particular time; it doesn’t allow it to grow. If we remove the writer in particular tense from a piece, we can then understand it as a whole and then maybe apply what we know about the artist to learn more about the artist and the piece. This functions so that while the author maybe isn’t dead in Barthian language, it’s a part of the piece that can be interestingly applied to a piece instead, though perhaps not the whole piece. If we disentangle the piece, if we study it instead of analyze it in direct correlation to the artist, like a code to be deciphered, we can perhaps learn more about the art and the artist.

Cover Image Credit: lukasbieri / Pixabay

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Cover Image Credit:

@champagnepapi / Instagram

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