Modern literary views on Text and Author

Handout of second guest lecture By Dilshan Boange BA (Hons) in English (University of Colombo) Introduction: The writings of French academic and intellectual Roland Barthes propounded approaches to literary criticism which were marked with Post Modernist thinking. His essay ‘The death of the author’ took a radical stance that argued that the reader must be given greater freedom to interpret the text and not be subjected to what the author may have intended to convey through a text. Barthes proclaimed “the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the author”, which was a strong critical perspective that challenged much established norms of traditional literary studies. Michele Foucault, the French theoretician whose writings have contributed significantly towards critical theory of Post-Modernism and Post-Structuralism questioned the authority of the ‘author’ and analyzed the role of the author in literary discourse and contemporary society. Foucault’s theorem of the ‘author-function’ explores how the very name of an author brings in influences to the act of reading, and that the author name holds a specific intention or role in society in literary discourses. Focus areas of the critical essays: Roland Barthes’s “The death of the author” – · · · · The author as a product of modern society. The authority that an author wields over his readership/audience limits the reader’s scope for freer interpretation. Authorship built on the individual as a facet of modern capitalism Freedom to explore the possibilities of interpreting a text becoming optimal at the cost of disassociating the author/writer from the text.

Michele Foucault’s “What is an author”· · · Questioning what is a ‘work’ in relation to its writer, the ‘author.’ The role of the author in literary discourse and modern society The argument of ‘author-function’ where the name of the author performs a role in the reading act, marking the discourse with the identity of the author.

Milan Kundera’s writings and critical discussion on Kunderian narrative in relation to the ideas of Barthes and Foucault:Milan Kundera is a Czech born novelist who has gained fame the world over as a writer in both the Czech language as well as French. Kundera has been labeled by critics as a Post-Modernist writer. He is very much a non-conventional novelist whose style of writing has been marked by elements of ‘magic-realism.’ In his novels The Book of Laughter and Forgetting and Immortality Kundera presents narratives which are very notably marked with his personal identity as the author. Can Kundera’s motives as a writer be openly challenging the ideals of Barthes and Foucault, since he posits himself in his fiction writing? In both these novels selected for discussion, Kundera brings himself as a presence in the narratives of the stories, and thereby does not allow much room for the reader to ‘kill off the author’. Though Kundera may be viewed as a Post-Modernist by critics, based on some of the thematic subject areas his novels explore, which are of interest to Post-Modernist theoretical concerns as interest areas, Kunderian narratives seem to be marked with the need for the author to be established as a textual persona. Thereby could the highly Modernist need for individuality and individualism be indicated through Kundera who establishes his individuality as well as authorial identity in his texts? Could the Kunderian narrative, marked with textual presence of the author, render the call of Barthes for the ‘killing of the author’ as ‘improbable’? Could Kunderian narrative assert that the ‘author-function’ which is explored by Foucault as indestructible?

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