Roland Barthes asserts a complex theory concerning literature in "The Death of the Author."  Please explain the basic concept of the essay. 

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The essay “The Death of the Author” by Roland Barthes presents an unusual concept. There should be no interference by the author in the reading of literature.  Barthes explains that the writing of the literature is not as important as the final destination of the piece: the reader. 

Assigning the author credit to the literature is limiting. Each reader brings his own ideas and unique patterns for reading and rewrites the text by simply emphasizing what is important to him.   This opens up the literature without making any reference to the author. 

Barthes further indicts the critics who destroy the literature by citing their inclusion of information that goes beyond the texts they examine.  When the critics bring information or opinions into the reading of the literature, the reader is then limited in his interpretation.

The critics often assert that this is the real meaning of a poem. This is the death of the reader’s insertion of his own views.  Barthes uses language in his essay that relates to critics’ literary destruction: decipher, code-breaking, pierce, and evaporation.  To Barthes, the literature is delicate and can be easily ruined by the critics in their pursuit of the authors. 

The author is not needed in the reading.  He stands between the reader and the text.  In his lack of inclusion in the reading of the literature, the author is not harmed by not being recognized but is just unseen in the experience.

To Barthes, the author is contrasted to a cook.  The literature is the food and the reader ingests the food.  As he eats, the reader adds his own flavor to the literature.  It is within himself that the literature is digested. There is no longer needed the connection of the author and the reader.  What is necessary is the relationship of reader and literature minus the limiting power of the author.

Once the author is removed, the claim to decipher a text outside of the reader becomes quite futile.  To give a text an author is to impose a limit on the text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing.

With the insertion of the reader as the most end result of the text, Barthes says “the true place of writing is reading.”  He believes that it is not the writer writing the literature that is most important; rather, the end destination of the literature in the hands of the reader is the ultimate purpose of the writing. From this way of thinking, Barthes establishes that it is only by making the author unimportant that the reader will be born.