Autopsy of the Death of the Author Case

The folks of authors and critics have been herded into two separate camps without much communication through the porous wall dividing them at the latest since Roland Barthes’ ‘the death of the author project’. While critics have always been independent in their critical exercises avoiding being another mouthpiece of the author in the sense his/her book is, since structuralism and its more relentless sprout post-structuralism which reigned the literary scene from the 1950s till the early part of the 1990s (?) exiled the author folk(s) from the hermeneutic scene and announced their permanent death in the critics’ enclosure, the noise of the critics/readers has been the dominant sound (1), while murmurs of complaint/displeasure now and then have escaped the lips of the authors at being misunderstood and sometimes being contradictorily exiled or even put to death for authoring things their right/responsibility to the meaning of which has been usurped.

Is the author really dead? Is the text really independent of the author? A valid answer to questions like these calls for a redefined understanding of the terms ‘text’, ‘author’, ‘writing’ and ‘speech’ and the relationships between the text and the author during the writing of the text and when it has reached its readers (while the maker of the text is alive and after his/her death) in wider and deeper terms than Barthes-Derrida & Co did. The problems of timagehe Barthes-Derrida project stem from a few critical misconceptions about these essential terms.

Most misunderstanding of Derrida’s deconstruction project arises, perhaps due to being misinformed by Roland Barthes’ ‘the dead of the author’ project, out of the two above apparently conflicting but complementary statements which Derrida’s texts keep affirming.

In any case, this is an issue of triangular relationship among the author, the text and the reader, in which some do not consider the author has a place. The reader as subject tries to understand the object. For example you read a mathematical treatise, and what you do in this activity is trying to get what the text says which is the author mathematician puts in it. The reader can never make anything worthwhile out of the text except for decoding the text to get its message being successful in which will enable him to solve certain mathematical puzzles. Failing to understand what is in the text will lead him to anything but something mathematically acceptable. With my ignorance of the principles of the rocket engine mechanics failing me to make anything out of the most authentic book on the subject, I would not correctly claim that such things are meaningless techno mumbo-jumbo.This issue has created a necessarily qualifying condition in every text for readers to meet before embarking upon it. While validating every meaning/interpretation/understanding for the lack of an absolute value judgment code, Barthes’ project has overlooked the existence of ‘misunderstanding’ and ‘failing to understand.’ While democratization in the interpretive politics is a welcome shift as in every other area of human affairs, democracy brings many risks within itself as in such fuzzy edged concepts as ‘liberty’, ‘freedom’, equality’, ‘right’, ‘coercion’ etc. Strictly, democracy is only for those qualified, right is for those who deserve it. Validation of every meaning is a politically correct movement which by nature of ‘political correctness’ compromises lots of essential issues in question.

The tendency to think the reader invents or has to invent his own meaning in the text more or less leads to a conclusion that a text is a carte blanche for the reader to write in. Conversely, there are innumerable texts each different from the other: The Iliad is different from The Odyssey, The Mahabharata from The Ramayana, or from any other text, and so forth. So what makes each text different from the other? Is there something unique in every text which as its identity makes it possible to contribute to the title count in a reader’s collection, or is it really the mind of the reader that makes a same text take different looks in more or less the same way as the mind of every other reader does? It would be less than foolish to think every person on earth sees the same thing in a same say, and at the same time if Macbeth is a tragedy with several thousands of brutal deaths brought about by the main protagonist’s over-ambitiousness, all its readers agree that it is different from The Tempest, a comedy of reconciliation with no death in it. What this means is the uniqueness of each text suggesting that every text has something in it and it is not a carte blanche, and this something is what a reader finds when reading it in varying degrees and dimensions according to the linguistic (and rhetoric) dynamics at play in the text and the makeup of his mind.

[to be continued]

1. David Yezzi, in his article The Rest Is Criticism, recounts Randall Jarrell’s concern as ‘the works of art—poems, plays, novels—were in danger of being replaced by the works written about them; no need to read Moby-Dick when one could more easily digest a book on Melville’s thorny masterpiece. And not only was there—like dark, casuistic clouds blotting out the rays of literature—too much of the stuff, it was also frequently the wrong kind of stuff.’
Contemporary Poetry Review (21 November 2010)


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