How do the text and language play an important role in the essay "The Death of the Author?"

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amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "The Death of the Author," Barthes writes about Balzac's story Sarrasine and suggests that it is, like all writing, subject to multiple interpretations. Barthes then notes that as soon as a fact (or statement) is narrated, it becomes separate from its author; thereby, writing begins as the words separate from the writer.

Barthes suggests that the insistence on the authority and intent of an author is based on the modern privileging and celebration of the individual. The language Barthes uses suggests that modern audiences have praised the individual author so much that scholarly interpretations must inevitably end with the author's intent. This gives the author a parental or god-like status, a right to reign over the meaning of his/her writing:

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.

But Barthes wants to shift the focus on the authority of the author to the freedom to interpret of the reader. Therefore, he cites Mallarme as one who foresaw that language, not the author, speaks.

For him, for us too, it is language which speaks, not the author; to write is, through a prerequisite impersonality (not at all to be confused with the castrating objectivity of the realist novelist), to reach that point where only language acts, 'performs,' and not 'me.'

Focusing on the language, rather than the author, shifts the power of interpretation to the reader. Barthes shows that writing "I" is simply writing a letter. Language doesn't know a person; language knows a subject. This is like saying that language is not 'concerned' with speakers; language is concerned with what is spoken.

Barthes notes that writing is a performance. He wants to move away from the idea of the author as subject and the book as predicate. Since the birth of the reader comes at the death of the Author, the meaning of a text is in the language and finally, in the hands of the reader. If we can't attribute meaning to an author and if there are verbal ambiguities in the language of the text, then the final determination of meaning is left for the reader to interpret.