23 March 2009


It was Roland Barthes, after all, who insisted, in "The Death of the Author" (1968), that writing, far from being the simple and direct expression of interiority, is "the destruction of every voice, every point of origin. Writing is that neutral, composite, oblique space where our subject slips away, the negative where all identity is lost, starting with the very identity of the body writing." "Linguistically, " Barthes declared, "the author is never more than the instance writing, just as I is nothing other than the instance saying I: language knows a 'subject', not a 'person'." And he famously concludes:

We know now that a text is not a line of words releasing a single 'theological' meaning (the message of the Author-God). . . . The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture. The writer can only imitate a gesture that is always anterior, never original. His only power is to mix writings, to counter the ones with the others. . . . Succeeding the Author, the scriptor no longer bears within him passions, humours, feelings, impressions, but rather this immense dictionary from which he draws a writing that can know no halt: life never does more than imitate the book, and the book itself is only a tissue of signs, an imitation that is lost, infinitely deferred.

Here Barthes anticipates Foucault's equally famous pronouncement, in "What is an Author?" (1969), that "The writing of our day has freed itself from the necessity of 'expression'." In Foucault's words:

Writing unfolds like a game that inevitably moves beyond its own rules and finally leaves them behind. Thus, the essential basis of this writing is not exalted emotions related to the act of composition or the insertion of a subject into language. Rather, it is primarily concerned with creating an opening where the writing subject endlessly disappears.
The author is now replaced by the "author function"--the function of a particular discourse-- and the pressing questions about a given text become, not "What has [the author] revealed of his most profound self in his language?", but "Where does [this discourse] come from; how is it circulated; who controls it?"


Read the entire essay here.


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