“The birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author.”
– Roland Barthes
Must the author be dead to make way for the birth of the reader? In his essay “The Death of the Author,” Roland Barthes asserts that the author is dead because he/she is no longer a part of the deep structure in a particular text. To him, the author does not create meaning in the text: one cannot explain a text by knowing about the person who wrote it. A text, however, cannot physically exist disconnected from the author who writes it. Even if the role of the author is to mix pre-existing signs, it does not follow that the author-function is dead. Moreover, Barthes attributes “authorship” to the reader who forms meaning and understanding. The reader is, however, an abstraction “without history, biography, psychology”. These contexts – history, biography, and psychology – can only be set by the author. For this reason, the author is alive because the text cannot exist without the author, the mixing of signs is the author’s art, and the reader’s meanings forming abilities are nourished by the author.
Barthes declares that the text should be disconnected from the author because “to give a text an Author is to impose a limit on that text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing”. If the death of the author signals a text’s liberation from restrained meanings, does this mean that the reader is free to interpret the text as he sees it? If language does not belong to the author, it should not belong to the reader either because neither person can dictate the absolute meanings of a text. Context, however, gives rise to meaning in text. It is the author who controls the context because it is he who gives shape to the text through the physical act of writing. Thus, the text and the author cannot be disconnected because a text cannot exist outside of its originator’s knowledge or experience.