Six Characters in Search of an Author

by Luigi Pirandello

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How can Barthes's essay "Death of the Author" be applied to Pirandello's play Six Characters in Search of an Author?

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In this essay, Roland Barthes argues for the independence of the text from to the author’s stated or possible intent. The importance of the author has been overdetermined, Barthes maintains; once the text is inscribed, the reader’s interpretation is as significant, or even more significant, than the author’s purpose. With the death of the author comes the birth of the reader. Rather than think that the author has created the text, one should assume that the text has found a way to be expressed through a person. His position is consistent with the post-structuralist emphasis on multiplicity and fluidity and the related rejection of a fixed, singular notion of truth.

In Luigi Pirandello’s play, the responsibility for creation is located within the characters and the audience, not in a reader. Each of the characters brings their own reality to the play, and collectively they seek an author who can help them make sense of their relationships. At the same time, the audience’s participation is necessary for creating the characters’ very existence, as opposed to assuming that the actors are making inventions believable. Pirandello is similar to Barthes in insisting that the author is not the sole or even the primary creative force. He extends the idea further by emphasizing the importance of performance as shared by audience and characters.

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Barthes's essay, "The Death of the Author," challenges the idea that the author is the one who we look to for the ultimate meaning of his or her text. He writes, "The explanation of a work is always sought in the man or woman who produced it, as if it were always in the end, through the more or less transparent allegory of the fiction, the voice of a single person, the author 'confiding' in us." He suggests that reliance on the author is a bad thing, because it creates a hierarchal relationship, almost religious or capitalist in nature, where the "Author-God" controls the interpretation of the text. Instead, he prefers all meaning to come from readers, suggesting that the text means nothing until it is read. He concludes: "We know that to give writing its future, it is necessary to overthrow the myth: the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author."

"Six Characters in Search of an Author" overlaps with these ideologies in the sense that the characters do not have fully fleshed out personalities and lives, so they are searching for an author to give them their meaning. I imagine that Barthes would urge these characters to find their own path, or, if this is not possible, he would say the director of the play or the audience should do so instead. In any case, the supremacy of the author would have to be dismantled, and he would find the very premise—that the characters are trying to access the author—to be problematic.

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Pirandello's play was first published in 1921, while Barthes's influential essay on the death of the author first appeared after more than forty years, in 1967. In spite of the differences in the historical and cultural context as well as the two authors' ideological positions, we could apply Barthes's ideas that the author is merely a "scriptor" whose text exists independently from him/her to Pirandello's play. The fact that the characters of the play surprisingly claim to be looking for thier author comes close to Barthes's idea that a text exists separately from its author who is not to be considered the authority on his/her works. The meaning of a text, therefore, is not to be found in the author's intentions as it is constantly renegotiated with every different reading. In addition, by pointing to the fictionality of the play, the characters in Pirandello's oeuvre challenge the status of the author among the audience, inviting the public to question the action that is occuring on stage.

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