The Definition( and Death) of the Author: Roland Barthes & Michel Foucault

Post- structuralism is an aspect of literary theory that serves to put into question the relation of language and literature to our world. Post- structuralism believes that there is no ability to assign language to our “decentered” planet, comprised of linked textualities and bearing no certain knowledge. Therein exists a possible insecurity of not knowing the value of language in global society. One aspect of literature that speaks to the “value” of language is the role of the author in the textual world. When presented with a text, readers know and acknowledge that the writing stems from the unique point of view the author. The mind of author has traditionally been seen as the birthplace of literary works. The socio- cultural experiences of the writer influence the way a piece is read and perceived by others, creating a link of textualities between the world, the writer and the reader.

Theorists Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes analyze this mediating link of the author. They make the argument that a text possesses the ability to exist in tandem with an author- the pre- existence of the human nature will, over time, culminate in the production of a text by an author. The author in isolation does not influence a text in the same ways mere human existence does.

In order to determine the importance of the author from a literarily theoretical point of view, we must first determine what exactly an author is. Foucault makes a clear distinction between the individual in society and the author: “The author’s name is not a function of a man’s civil status, nor is it fictional; it… gives rise to news groups of discourse and their singular modes of existence”(Foucault, 1628). The individual in society is what gives rise to the text. The author exists solely through the existence of a text- if there is no text written, there is also no person to whom we can accredit it. The individual must take up the cause of recording that which they deem significant, thus becoming the author.

Barthes further describes the relationship between the text and the author in his piece entitled The Death of the Author, stating: “the modern scriptor is born simultaneously with the text, it is in no way equipped with a being preceding or exceeding the writing”(Barthes, 1468). This statement potentially both empowers and undermines the authority and influence of the author. The common perception of the author, as was aforementioned, is that he or she creates a text, and then that text gains merit or literary significance based off of the source of the writing, i.e.: the author. However, the text already exists, whether or not is has been recorded in written language, due to the existence of man, whose story begins or whose knowledge base grows the moment they are born. But it is man and the ability for text to arise from his experience, and not the author, which creates the story. The author is the venue through which the text becomes legible, physical and tangible.

This analysis of the text and the author leads us to question if the text can really exist without the author, or vice versa. The human experience and author create a text, but who knows if this text truly reflects our world, or gives justice to both written and writer.

Works Cited

Leitch, Vincent B. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York: Norton,

  1. Print.



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