Theories of Authorship and the Novel

Topics: Literary theory, Julia Kristeva, Mikhail Bakhtin Pages: 19 (6423 words) Published: June 22, 2013
Theories of Authorship and the Novel

At its most basic level, literature is commonly regarded as a kind of communication between author and reader. Just as in ordinary linguistic communication where a speaker conveys a message to an addressee, so in literature an author sends a message to a reader. The component elements of this definition are, however, open to criticism. Mikhail Bakhtin, Roland Barthes and Julia Kristeva explore the position and role of the author in relation to the text. This essay will investigate and critique their varying theories of authorship whilst highlighting their points of similarity and difference.

I argue that Bakhtin’s theory of the polyphonic novel produces a conception of the author that is untenable in James Joyce’s Ulysses, which Kristeva terms ‘polyphonic’[1]. Joyce retains a surplus of knowledge about the narrative voices, so that he effectively comments on them. Bakhtin’s theory of individually existing consciousnesses in the polyphonic novel can, however, be applied to the protagonists in Ulysses. I will show how Joyce presents the reader with individual, autonomous voices in a manner that affirms the interpretive responsibilities of the reader, supporting a conventional reading of Barthes’ ‘The Death of the Author’.

Comparing Kristeva’s theory of the absorption of the writer into the text in ‘Word, Dialogue and Novel’ with Barthes’ concept of the ‘amicable return of the author’[2] in Sade Fourier Loyola, I will argue that a biographical author may be constructed from the text through what Barthes terms ‘charms’. Yet, such identification depends upon an experiential intertext, a shared experience uniting author and reader. The question thus arises whether a cooperation exists between author and reader in the reception of a text. From Barthes’ theory of ‘charms’, I will argue that the reader functions as a point of convergence. However, in relation to the concept of intertext expounded in ‘The Death of the Author’ and ‘Word, Dialogue and Novel’, the reader operates not as a site of shared experiences but of the productive exchange between internal and external intertextual meanings. I will show, therefore, how one can associate the site of meaning primarily with the reader based on evidence from Bakhtin’s theory of the carnivalesque and Barthes’ idea of ‘Chains’.

Ultimately, I shall argue with the support of Barthes’ theories and, in particular, his model of the ‘perforated text’ that the figure of a biographical author, as designer, creator and addresser, is identifiable in a text, and capable of directing the reader’s interpretations. The reader might make certain assumptions about the author that are incorrect and could miss intertextual references but essentially, their interpretations will be directed according to the author’s design and the reader’s cooperative engagement with it. The reader effectively labours under an illusion of freedom, in line with Bakhtin’s erroneous arguments and the classical reading of Barthes’ ‘The Death of the Author’, which I will argue must be read ironically.


Bakhtin claims in Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics that Dostoevsky created a totally new kind of novel he calls polyphonic. This consists of independent voices which are fully equal, become subjects of their own right and do not serve the author’s ideological position. Bakhtin’s theory posits the author as a voice among equally authoritative, autonomous textual voices. The author acts as a creator but not an inventor of these voices: ‘A character’s discourse is created by the author, but created in such a way that it can develop to the full its inner logic and independence as someone else’s discourse, the word of the character himself.’[3] The internal independence of the characters in a polyphonic novel is generated by their freedom from the authorial world-view and its finalising definitions. The author is the designer of the text though...

Bibliography: - Secondary
Allen, Graham, Intertextuality, (Routledge: Oxford, 2000)
Jefferson, Ann and Robey, David, Modern Literary Theory: A Comparative Introduction, (Barnes & Noble Books: New Jersey, 1982)
Macey, David, The Penguin Dictionary of Critical Theory, (Penguin: London, 2000)
Vice, Sue, Introducing Bakhtin, (Manchester University Press: Manchester, 1997)
[1] Julia Kristeva, ‘Word, Dialogue and Novel’ in The Kristeva Reader, ed. Toril Moi, (Basil Blackwell: Oxford, 1986), p. 42.
[2] Roland Barthes, Sade Fourier Loyola, tr. Richard Miller, (Jonathan Cape: London, 1976), p. 8.
[3] Mikhail Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, ed. Caryl Emerson, ‘Theory and History of Literature’, Volume 8, (University of Minnesota Press: Minnesota, 2006), p. 65.
[6] Sue Vice, Introducing Bakhtin, (Manchester University Press: Manchester, 1997), p. 126.
[7] James Joyce, Ulysses: Annotated Student Edition, (Penguin: London, 2000), p. 32; all subsequent references to Ulysses are to this edition, incorporated in the text.
[8] Bakhtin, 2006, op. cit., p. 9.
[11] Bakhtin, 2006, op. cit., p. 72.
[12] Kristeva, 1986, op. cit., p. 45.
[13] Roland Barthes, ‘The Death of the Author’ in Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader, ed. David Lodge, (Longman: Essex, 1988), p. 171.
[14] Kristeva, 1986, op. cit., p. 45.
[19] Barthes, 1976, op. cit., p. 3.
[20] Seán Burke, The Death and Return of the Author: Criticism and Subjectivity in Barthes, Foucault and Derrida, (Edinburgh University Press: Edinburgh, 1992), p. 34
[21] Barthes, 1988, op
[22] Barthes, 1976, op. cit., p. 3.
[34] Seán Burke, 1992, op. cit., p. 38.
[35] Barthes, 1976, op. cit., p. 7.
[40] Kristeva, 1986, op. cit., p. 36.
[46] Barthes, 1988, op. cit., p. 168.
[48] William Shakespeare, Hamlet, ed. Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor, (Thomson: London, 2006), I.i.138.
[50] Bakhtin, 2006, op. cit., p. 124.
[52] Barthes, 1976, op. cit., p. 165.
[57] Barthes, 1988, op. cit., p. 170.
[59] Burke, 1992, op. cit., p. 25.
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