"The poem is not the critic's own and not the author's (it is detached from the author at birth and goes about the world beyond his power to intend about it or control it)." - The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, page 1234
It's no secret that I'm double-majoring in Public Relations and English. And as an English major, I have to take one literary theory class.
I was excited and terrified at the same time.
But then the class started. And the first theory we got to was Roland Barthes' "The death of the author" - something I knew about vaguely but had never actually sat and studied before. So I read about Barthes and the theory and oh sweet oz.
I have never loved a theory so much.
"It is language that speaks, not the author." - The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, page 1317
For those who don't know what "the death of the author" is, it's a literary theory in which the thoughts and feelings of the author are separate from the work itself. It means that, if you're analyzing Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carrol doesn't affect how you read it. Lewis Carrol wrote it, but your experience reading it and understanding it doesn't have to have anything to do with what he intended and what he meant.
It reminds me a lot of one of the problems going on in the blogosphere right now - the ideas that bad reviews are going to make an author hate you, or that the author has a right to attack bad reviews, or that bad reviews shouldn't be posted.
The review has nothing to do with the author itself. It's all about the book. It's something I've thought since I first started reading and reviewing, but I never had something to put to it until now. Now I know I'm following Barthes' theory of the death of the author.
"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." - The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, page 1325
Authors have an attachment to their works. Understandably, as they put a lot of their time and effort into it. But if they fear criticism, they should never publish it. They should hoard it away like a dragon hoards gold, never letting anybody else touch it for fear of putting a smudge on their shiny treasure.
If they have the bravery to stand up and put it into the public sphere - as so many did before them - it has to come with the knowledge that it's going to be loved and hated and felt indifferent. And yes, it's their baby, so to speak. But what other people see when they read it is not what they see when they wrote it.
"The author is thought to nourish the book, which is to say he exists before it, thinks, suffers, lives for it, in the same relation of antecedence to his work as a father to his child." - The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, page 1324
Barthes' theory follows the idea that authorial intent doesn't matter - it's the language that matters. Sure, a text can be read with biographical intent, but it's not the end-all-be-all.
The author is not the end-all-be-all.
“Ultimately, it doesn't matter if the author intended a symbol to be there because the job of reading is not to understand the author's intent. The job of reading is to use stories as a way into seeing other people as we see ourselves and when we do that, we can look out at the world and see a giant, endless set of beautiful variations of pizzas. THE WHOLE WORLD COMPOSED OF BILLIONS OF BEAUTIFUL DELICIOUS PIZZAS!” - John Green
And that's how I read things. The authors intentions are great, and in some case they come across heavily. (The preaching in Go Ask Alice; the Whedonite influence in Across the Universe.) But I don't read with the author in mind. I'm not here to read about the author.
I'm here to read a book.
And a book doesn't need an author attached to it for me to enjoy it.