Barthes, Roland. "The Death of the Author." Image / Music / Text. Trans. Stephen Heath. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977. 142-7. Excerpts from this text. Also, Electronic Labyrinth has reprinted an analysis of this text by Christopher Keep, Tim McLaughlin, Robin Parmar, reproduced here:
Until recently, an author was an unproblematic concept; an author was someone who wrote a book. Roland Barthes' landmark essay, "The Death of Author," however, demonstrates that an author is not simply a "person" but a socially and historically constituted subject. Following Marx's crucial insight that it is history that makes man, and not, as Hegel supposed, man that makes history, Barthes emphasizes that an author does not exist prior to or outside of language. In other words, it is writing that makes an author and not vice versa. "[T]he writer can only imitate a gesture that is always anterior, never original. His only power is to mix writings [...] in such a way as never to rest on any one of them" (146). Thus the author cannot claim any absolute authority over his or her text because, in some ways, he or she did not write it. This is not to say that someone named Margaret Atwood did not spend many months toiling away at book called Lady Oracle, rather that we must re-think what it means when we say "Margaret Atwood" and "Lady Oracle." Barthes throws the emphasis away from an all-knowing, unified, intending subject as the site of production and on to language and, in so doing, hopes to liberate writing from the despotism of what he calls the work, or what we have called The Book:
To give a text an Author is to impose a limit on that text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing [...] [However] by refusing to assign a 'secret,' an ultimate meaning, to the text (and the world as text), liberates what may be called an anti-theological activity, an activity that is truly revolutionary since to refuse to fix meaning is, in the end, to refuse God and his hypostases--reason, science, law. (147)
It is tempting to see hypertext as realizing Barthes' utopian dreams of a writing liberated from the Author. The ability for each reader to add to, alter, or simply edit a hypertext opens possibilities of collective authorship that breaks down the idea of writing as originating from a single fixed source. Similarly, the ability to plot out unique patterns of reading, to move through a text in an aleatory, non-linear fashion, serves to highlight the importance of the reader in the "writing" of a text--each reading, even if it does not physically change the words--writes the text anew simply by re-arranging it, by placing different emphases that might subtly inflect its meanings.
However, the vision of hypertext as the New Jerusalem of the writerly text neglects to consider the very real pleasures that come from surrendering to the discursive seductions of a masterful author. As Max Whitby notes in his article "Is Interactive Dead?," "[s]torytelling and narrative lie at the heart of all successful communication. Crude, explicit, button-pushing interaction breaks the spell of engagement and makes it hard to present complex information that unfolds in careful sequence" (41). The real allure of hypertext, it may turn out, is not its alliance with the writerly text, but with The Book, with its possibilities, through fixed links and narrow path choices, of ever more ingenious ways of directing, controlling and surprising the reader. The Author may be dead, but his ghosts maybe even more eloquent.
Back to "The Original Author.
Borges, Jorge Luis. Everything and Nothing. Trans. Donald Yates, et. al. New York: New Directions, 1980. An Essay about some short stories in this text. Back to "The Original Author.
Borges, Jorge Luis. Selected Non-Fictions. Trans. Esther Allen et. al. New York: Viking Penguin, 1999. Back to "The Original Author.
Cavell, Stanley. "Emerson's Constitutional Amending: Reading Fate." Conditions Handsome and Unhandsome. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990. (Rpt. in The Translatability of Cultures. Ed. Sanford Budick, Wolfgang Iser. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996. 101-126.) Back to "The Original Author.
Dangor, Achmat. Kafka's Curse. New York: Pantheon Books, 1999. Back to "The Original Author"
Derrida, Jacques. "Signature, Event, Context." 1972. Rpt. in Limited, Inc. Evanston, IL: Northwester University Press, 1988. Back to "The Original Author"
Foucault, Michel. "What is an Author?" The Foucault Reader. Ed. Paul Rabinow. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984. 101-20. See an excerpt from this text. Back to "The Original Author"
Handke, Peter. My Year in the No-Man's-Bay. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998. Back to "The Original Author"
Lonsdale, Roger. “Gray and ‘Allusion’: The Poet as Debtor.” In Studies in the Eighteenth Century IV. Ed. R. F. Brissenden and J. C. Eade. Canberra: Australian National UP, 1979.
---, ed. The Poems of Thomas Gray, William Collins, Oliver Goldsmith. New York: Norton, 1972. Back to "The Original Author"
Manguel, Alberto. A History of Reading. New York: Viking, 1996. Back to "The Original Author"
Oates, Joyce Carol. Broke Heart Blues. New York: Dutton, 1999. Back to "The Original Author"
Ratushinskaya, Irina. Fiction and Lies. Trans. Alyona Kojevnikova. North Pomfret, Vt.: John Murray/Trafalgar Square, 2000. Back to "The Original Author"
Rose, Mark. "The Author as Proprietor: Donaldson vs. Becket and the Genealogy of Modern Authorship." Representations. 23 (1988): 51-85. (Rpt. in Authors and Owners: The Invention of Copyright. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1993.) Back to "The Original Author"
In fighting against the 1709 Statute of Anne that limited copyright ownership, 18th-century Bookseller / Publishers had to argue that copyrights were NOT the same thing as patents in order to establish the notion that owning intellectual "property" was like owning land: once yours, yours and your family's until you sell it.
[Aside: Notice that the way I'm talking about the stuff that's printed -- just calling it "intellectual property" shows that in fact the latter conception did prevail.]
"The proponents of the author's common-law right were put in the position of demonstrating that a literary invention was in some way essentially different from a mechanical invention," says Rose in this essay. William Blackstone took up and supported the notion of "literary property" by consistently, in his Commentaries on the Laws of England (1762), making an "analogy between a literary composition and a landed estate."
In 1774, Donaldson v. Becket, the case challenging the Statute of Anne, Francis Hargrave argues that "a literary work really original, like the human face, will always have some singularities . . ." as a way of arguing for the concept of literary property. Rose concludes: "Hargrave's Argument suggests the curious way in which both in legal and literary discourse the literary work was coming to be seen as something simultaneously objective and subjective. No longer simply a mirror held up to nauter, a work was now above all the objectification of a personality."
Salzman, Mark. Lying Awake. New York: Knopf, 2000. Back to "The Original Author"
Ulmer, Gregory. Teletheory: Grammatology in the Age of Video. New York: Routledge, 1989. Back to "The Original Author"
Williams, Joseph M. Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace. 5th ed. New York: Longman, 1997. Back to "The Original Author"
Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations. Trans. G. E. M. Anscombe. New York: Macmillan, 1953. Back to "The Original Author.
Woodmansee, Martha. The Author, Art, and the Market: Rereading the History of Aesthetics. New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1993. Back to "The Original Author"
Back to "The Original Author"