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Barthes Death of the Author

Barthes Death of the Author

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23.
Roland
Barthes:'Thedeathoftheauthor'
From
Image-Music-Text,
Fontana,London,1977;firstpublishedParis,1968
Barthes,bothfromhispositionontheeditorialboardof
TelQue!
andfromhispositioriasadirectorofstudiesintheEcolePratiquedesHautesEtudes,hasbeenacentralfigure
in
thedevelopment
ofa
semiolicallybased'modernistcriticism';lhatis
10
say,acriticismwhich
is
foundedon-writingas
a
practice(ratherthansimplyasatransmitter01messages),andoncriticismasanotherformofwritingpractice,stand-ingalongsidetheliterary(orfilmic)text,openingituptotheplayofitsmeanings,ratherthantyingitdowntoanauthorizedinterpretationofdosedmeanings(seeparticularly
SIZ,
anaccountofBalzac'snovella,
Sarrasine),
Such
a
view
of
thetextinevitablydislodgestheauthorfromtheseatofauthority.
Inhisstory
Sarrasme
Balzac,describingacastratodisguisedasawoman,writesthefollowingsentence;
'Thiswaswomanherself,withhersuddenfears,herirrationalwhims,herinstinctiveworries,herimpetuousboldness,her[ussings,andherdelicioussensibility.'
Whoisspeakingthus?Isittheheroofthestorybentonremainingignorantofthecastratehiddenbeneaththewoman?IsitBalzactheindividual,furnishedbyhispersonalexperiencewithaphil-osophyofWoman?IsitBalzactheauthorprofessing'literary'ideasonfemininity?Isituniversalwisdom?Romanticpsychology?Weshallneverknow,forthegoodreasonthatwritingisthedestructionofeveryvoice,ofeverypointoforigin.Writingisthatneutral,composite,obliquespacewhereoursubjectslipsaway,thenegativewhereallidentityislost,startingwiththeveryidentityofthebodywriting.Nodoubtithasalwaysbeenthatway.Assoonasafactis
narrated
nolongerwithaviewtoactingdirectlyonrealitybutintransitively,thatistosay,finallyoutsideofanyfunctionotherthanthatoftheverypracticeofthesymbolitself,thisdisconnectionoccurs,thevoicelosesitsorigin,theauthorentersintohisowndeath,writingbegins.Thesenseofthisphenomenon,however,hasvaried;inethnographicsocietiestheresponsibilityforanarrative
Barthes209
isneverassumedbyapersonbut
by
amediator,shamanorrelatorwhose'performance'-themasteryofthenarrativecode-maypossiblybeadmiredbutneverhis'genius'.Theauthorisamodernfigure,aproductofoursocietyinsofaras,emergingfromtheMiddleAgeswithEnglishempiricism,FrenchrationalismandthepersonalfaithoftheReformation,itdiscoveredtheprestigeoftheindividual,of,asitismorenoblyput,the'humanperson'.Itisthuslogicalthatinliteratureitshouldbethispositivism,theepit-omeandculminationofcapitalistideology,whichbasattachedthegreatestimportancetothe'person'oftheauthor.The
author
stillreignsinhistoriesofliterature)biographiesofwriters,interviews,magazines,asintheveryconsciousnessofmenoflettersanxioustounitetheirpersonandtheirworkthroughdiariesandmemoirs.Theimageofliteraturetobefoundinordinarycultureis
tyrann-
icallycentredontheauthor,hisperson,hislife,histastes,hispassions,whilecriticismstillconsistsforthemostpartinsayingthatBaudelaire'sworkisthefailureofBaudelairetheman,VanGogh'shismadness,Tchaikovsky'shisvice.The
explanation
ofaworkisalwayssoughtinthemanorwomanwhoproducedit,asifitwerealwaysintheend,throughthemoreorlesstransparentallegoryofthefiction,thevoiceofasingleperson,the
author
'confiding'inus.ThoughtheswayoftheAuthorremainspowerful(thenewcriticismhasoftendonenomorethanconsolidateit),itgoeswithoutsayingthatcertainwritershavelongsinceattemptedtoloosenit.InFrance,Mallarrnewasdoubtlessthefirsttoseeandtoforeseeinitsfullextentthenecessitytosubstitutelanguageitselfforthepersonwhountilthenhadbeensupposedtobeitsowner.Forhim,forustoo,itislanguagewhichspeaks,nottheauthor;
to
writeis,throughaprerequisiteimpersonality(notatalltobeconfusedwiththecastratingobjectivityoftherealistnovelist),toreachthatpointwhereonlylanguageacts,'performs',andnot'me'.Mallarrne'sentirepoeticsconsistsinsuppressingtheauthor'intheinterestsofwriting(whichis,aswill-beseen,torestoretheplaceofthereader).Valery,encumberedbyapsychologyoftheEgo,considerablydilutedMallarme'stheorybut,histasteforclassicismleadinghimtoturntothelessonsofrhetoric,heneverstoppedcallinginto'questionandderidingtheAuthor;hestressedthelinguisticand,asitwere,'hazardous'natureofhisactivity,andthroughouthisproseworkshemilitatedinfavouroftheessentiallyverbalconditionofliterature,inthefaceofwhichaUrecoursetothewriter'sinteriorityseemedtohimpuresuperstition.Prousthimself,despitetheapparentlypsychologicalcharacterofwhatare
"j
 
210Fictionoftheauthor/authorofthefiction
calledhis
analyses,
wasvisiblyconcernedwiththetaskofinexor-ablyblurring,byanextremesubtilization,therelationbetweenthewriterandhischaracters;bymakingofthenarratornothewhohasseenandfeltnorevenhewhoiswriting,buthewho
isgoingtowrite
(theyoungmaninthenovel-but,infact,howoldisheandwhoishe?-wantstowritebutcannot;thenovelendswhenwritingatlastbecomespossible),Proustgavemodernwritingitsepic.Byaradicalreversal,insteadofputtinghislifeintohisnovel,asissooftenmaintained,hemadeofhisverylifeaworkforwhichhisownbookwasthemodel;sothatitisdeartousthatCharlusdoesnotimitateMontesquioubutthatMontesquiou-inhisanec-dotal,historicalreality-isnomorethanasecondaryfragment,derivedfromCharlus.Lastly,togonofurtherthanthisprehistoryofmodernity,Surrealism,thoughunabletoaccordlanguageasupremeplace(languagebeingsystemandtheaimofthemovementbeing,romantically,adirectsubversionofcodes-itselfmoreoverillusory:acodecannotbedestroyed,only'playedoff),contributedtothedesacrilizationoftheimageoftheAuthorbyceaselesslyrecommendingtheabruptdisappointmentofexpectationsofmean-ing(thefamoussurrealist'jolt'),byentrustingthehandwiththetaskofwritingasquicklyaspossiblewhattheheaditselfisun-awareof(automaticwriting),byacceptingtheprincipleandtheexperienceofseveralpeoplewritingtogether.Leavingasideliter-atureitself(suchdistinctionsreallybecominginvalid),linguisticshasrecentlyprovidedthedestructionoftheAuthorwithavaluableanalyticaltool
by
showingthatthewholeoftheenunciationisanemptyprocess,functioningperfectlywithouttherebeinganyneedforittobefilledwiththepersonoftheinterlocutor.Linguistically,theauthorisnevermorethantheinstancewriting,justas
I
isnothingotherthantheinstancesaying
I:
languageknowsa'sub-ject',nota'person",andthissubjeet,emptyoutsideoftheveryenunciationwhichdefinesit,sufficestomakelanguage'holdto-gether',suffices,thatistosay,toexhaustit.TheremovaloftheAuthor(onecouldtalkherewithBrechtofaveritable'distancing',theAuthordiminishinglikeafigurineatthefarendoftheliterarystage)isnotmerelyanhistoricalfactoranactofwriting;itutterlytransformsthemoderntext(or-whichisthesamething-thetextishenceforthmadeandreadinsuchawaythatatallitslevelstheauthorisabsent).TIletemporalityisdifferent.TheAuthor,whenbelievedin,isalwaysconceivedofasthepastofhisownbook:bookandauthorstandautomaticallyonasinglelinedividedintoa
before
andan
after.
TheAuthoristhought
to
nourish
thebook,whichistosaythatheexistsbefore
Barthes211
it,thinks,suffers,livestorit,isinthesamerelationofantecedeneerohisworkasafathertohischild.Incompletecontrast,themodernscripta!isbornsimultaneouslywiththetext,isinnowayequippedwith.abeingprecedingorexceedingthewriting,isnotthesubjectwiththebookaspredicate;thereisnoothertimethanthatoftheenunciationandeverytextiseternallywritten
hereandnow,
Thefactis(or,itfollows)that
writing
cannolongerdesignateanoperationofrecording,notation,representation,'depiction'(astheClassicswouldsay);rather,
it
designatesexactlywhatLinguists,referringtoOxfordphilosophy,callaperformative,arareverbalform(exclusivelygiveninthefirstpersonandinthepresenttense)inwhichtheenunciationhasnoothercontent(containsnootherproposition)thantheactbywhichitisuttered-somethinglikethe
I
declare
ofkingsorthe
I
sing
ofveryancientpoets:HaVingburiedtheAuthor,themodernscriptorcanthusnolongerbelieve,asaccordingtothepatheticviewofhispredecessors,thatthishandistoo'slowforhisthoughtorpassionandthatconsequently,makingalawofnecessity,hemustemphasize.thisdelayandin-definitely'polish'hisform.Forhim,onthecontrary,thehand,cutofffromanyvoice,bornebyapuregestureofinscription(andnotofexpression),tracesafieldwithoutorigin-orwhich,atleast,hasnootheroriginthanlanguageitself,languagewhichceaselesslycallsintoquestionallorigins.Weknownowthatatextisnotalineofwordsreleasingasingle'theological'meaning(the'message'oftheAuthor-God)butamulti-dimensionalspaceinwhichavarietyofwritings,noneofthemoriginal,blendanddash.Thetextisatissueofquotationsdrawnfromtheinnumerablecentresofculture.SimilartoBouvardandPecuchet,
I
thoseeternalcopyists,atoncesublimeandcomicandwhoseprofoundridiculousnessindicatespreciselythetruthofwriting,thewritercanonlyimitateagesturechatisalwaysanterior,neveroriginal.Hisonlypoweristomixwritings,tocountertheoneswiththeothers,insuchawayasnevertorestonanyoneofthem.Didhewishto
expresshimself,
heoughtatleasttoknowthattheinner'thing'hethinksto'translate'isitselfonlyaready-formeddictionary,itswordsonlyexplainablethroughotherwords,andsoonindefinitely;somethingexperiencedinexemplaryfashionbytheyoungThomasdeQuincey,hewhowassogoodatGreekthatinordertotranslateabsolutelymodernideasandimagesintothatdeadlanguage,hehad,soBaudelairetellsus(in
Paradis
Artificiels),
'createdforhimselfanunfailingdictionary,vastlymoreextensiveandcomplexthanthoseresultingfromtheordinarypa-tienceofpurelyliterarythemes'.SucceedingtheAuthor,thescrip-
i
"
,
 
212
Fictionoftheauthor/authorofthe
fiction
tornolongerbearswithinhimpassions,humours,feelings,impressions,butratherthisimmensedictionaryfromwhichhedrawsawritingthatcanknownohalt:lifeneverdoesmorethanimitatethebook,andthebookitselfisonlyatissueofsigns,animitationthatislost,infinitelydeferred.OncetheAuthorisremoved,theclaimtodecipheratextbe-comesquitefutile.TogiveatextanAuthoristoimposealimitonthattext,tofurnishitwithafinalsignified,toclosethewriting.
Sucha
conceptionsuitscriticismverywell,thelatterthenallottingitselftheimportanttaskofdiscoveringtheAuthor(oritshypos-rases:society,history,psyche,liberty)beneaththework:whentheAuthorhasbeenfound,thetextis'explained'-victorytothecritic.Hencethereisnosurpriseinthefactthat,historically,thereignoftheAuthorhasalsobeenthatoftheCritic,noragaininthefactthatcriticism(beitnew)istodayunderminedalongwiththeAuthor.Inthemultiplicityofwriting,everythingisto
be
dis-
entangled,
nothing
deciphered;
thestructurecanbefollowed,'run'(like
the
threadofastocking)
at
everypointandateverylevel,butthereisnothingbeneath:thespaceofwritingis
to
berangedover,notpierced;writingceaselesslypositsmeaningceaselesslytoevap-orateit,carryingoutasystematicexemptionofmeaning,Inpre-ciselythisway
literature
(itwouldbebetter
from
nowontosay
writing),
byrefusingtoassign
a
'secret',anultimatemeaning,
to
thetext(andtotheworldasrexr),liberateswhatmaybecalledananti-theologicalactivity,anactivitythatistrulyrevolutionarysince
to
refusetofixmeaningis,intheend,torefuseGodandhishypostases-reason,science,law.LetuscomebacktotheBalzacsentence.Noone,no'person',says
it:
itssource,itsvoice,isnotthetrueplaceofthewriting,whichisreading.Another-veryprecise-examplewillhelptomakethisdear:recentresearch
a.~p.
Vernanr')hasdemonstratedtheconstitutivelyambiguousnatureofGreektragedy,itstextsbeingwovenfromwordswithdoublemeaningsthateachcharacterunderstandsunilaterally(thisperpetualmisunderstandingisexactlythe'tragic');thereis,however,someonewhounderstandseach-wordinitsduplicityandwho,inaddition,hearstheverydeafnessofthecharactersspeakinginfrontofhim-thissomeonebeingpreciselythereader(orhere,thelistener).Thusisrevealedthetotalexistenceofwriting:atextismadeofmultiplewritings,drawn
from
manyculturesandenteringintomutualrelationsofdialogue,parody,contestation,butthereisoneplacewherethismultiplicityisfocusedandthatplaceisthereader,not,aswashithertosaid,theauthor.Thereaderisthespaceonwhichallthequotationsthat
Barthes213
makeupawritingareinscribedwithoutanyofthembeinglost;atext'sunityliesnotinitsoriginbutinitsdestination.Yetthisdestinationcannotanylongerbepersonal.thereaderiswithouthistory,biography,psychology;heissimplythat
someone
whoholdstogetherinasinglefieldallthetracesbywhichthewrittentextisconstituted.Whichiswhyitisderisorytocondemnthenewwritinginthenameofahumanismhypocriticallyturnedchampionofthereader'srights.Classiccriticismhasneverpaidanyattentiontothereader;forit,thewriteristheonlypersoninliterature.Wearenowbeginningtoletourselvesbefoolednolongerbythearrogantantiphrasticalrecriminationsofgoodsocietyinfavouroftheverythingitsetsaside,ignores,smothers,ordestroys;weknowthattogivewritingitsfuture,itisnecessarytooverthrowthemyth:thebirthofthereadermustbe
at
thecostof.thedeathoftheAuthor.
Notes1Bouvard
and
PecuchetarecharactersinFlaubert's
lastunfinishednovel,
-titled
BouvardetPecuchet,
who
spend
theirretirementvainlyseekingto
master,insuccession,
all
theareas
of
humanknowledgeandactivity,acquiringin
the
process(andsubsequentlydiscarding)aheterodetecollectionofobjectsvaguelyassociatedwitheachsuccessive
phase
oftheirinterest.[Editor's
note].
2Cf.jean-PierreVernant(with
Pierre
Vidal-Naquer),
My
theettragedieenGreceancienne,
Paris,1972,esp.pp.19-40,99-131.[Translator'S
note]
L
,l,

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