Project ‘The death of the author’

I made the following notes on 2 key texts

  1. The death of the author- Roland Barthes
  2. What is an author? – Michael Foucalt

The death of the author- Roland Barthes

Paragraph 1

  • Barthes begins with a sentence by Balzac, and says that this sentence sums up the problem… it could be representing Balzac the author, Balzac the man,  a character in the story, ‘universal wisdom’ ….and that all writing has this character…..all the voices- the ideas ‘to which we cannot assign a specific origin.
  • Literature is always like this and the first identity lost is the one that writes ……

Paragraph 2

  • Barthes says that once something is recounted…. and therefore not directly acted out, then it is separated from reality and can’t act upon reality- except as a symbol… once this happens then this death of the identifying voice occurs.

This seems to imply that authorship/provenance can only apply to acts carried out by persons  in reality, everything else is so similar as to be only symbols.

  • In ancient times narratives were told only by special people like shamen, but they were not admired as geniuses…….
  • at the end of the medaevil times and with movements like  the Reformation, we began to identify more with ’the human person’-the individual.
  • This then developed through phenomena like Capitalism to produce the importance of the author as a person.
  • The author still dominates all literature – who he is, what he thinks, what he likes and does……,
  • Van Gogh is a good example… his work is inseparable from his madness…….
  • ‘the explanation of the work is always sought in the man who has produced it’ ….. the author.

Paragraph 3

  • Certain people have begun to question this state of affairs, the first in France was probably Mallarmé, who believes that language speaks, and not the author.
  • Mallarmés poetic works supressed his authorship and increased the status of the reader.
  • Valery made fun of the author in his writings
  • Proust blurred the lines between literature and authorship by allowing his words to be written not by those who experiences, or one who writes, but one who ‘will write’ when it becomes possible……. (this seems to me distance words from author a further step)
  • Surrealism allowed language that was not edited by the author’s ‘head’ (in automatic writing…. Or painting)  This is said by Barthes to ‘ secularize’ authorship with respect to language……. to reduce its importance over language……..
  • Linguistics also, does not require any knowledge of the writer to function.

 

Paragraph 4

  • An author is ‘supposed’ to precede his book on a timeline- Like a father the child
  • Barthes believes that the modern writer must exist only alongside the text, and that rather than as a recording of something , the text is’ uttered’ and has no content other than by that utterance.
  • Like much of Barthes’ writing, the language is poetic, but becomes rather self-consciously prosaic in parts, and a little repetitive.

 

Paragraph 5

  • Writing is not like God’s text- one theological meaning- it is full of hundreds of ideas and these come from all of culture

Paragraph 6

  • When the concept of author is discarded the idea of ‘deciphering’ a text is redundant. This idea of deciphering can be left to critics, for whom it is eminently suitable.
  • Here we have thoughts which appear very structuralist, that the text is everything, the context of the text is disregarded (see ‘Some worries about structuralism…’ in my BLOG)
  •  The author was also the critic historically, and we need to rid ourselves of both.
  • The new writing should not contain a ‘secret’ divine meaning, and is thus counter-theological and revolutionary.

Paragraph 7

  • Returning to the original example of a speech in Balzac, Barthes states that no one person utters it- but that it is in the reading that it is located…. In every reader…… reversing the usual hierarchy of importance into Reader-writer.
  • Using another example of the double-meanings found in Greek tragedy (upon which the tragedy is often based),  the  meaning of the  text is only truly understood by each reader himself (ie. How they interpret it). This idea is a lot like the idea of grounded theory -building up a meaning through foundation layers -which I mentioned in ‘Some worries about structuralism…’ in my BLOG)
  • ‘The unity of a text is not in its origins but in its destination’
  • ‘the birth of the reader must be ransomed by the death of the author’.

 

References.

Barthes, R ( no date) The Death of the Author  online at http://www.ubu.com/aspen/aspen5and6/threeEssays.html#barthes [accessed 29th may 2017]

 

2.  What is an author?

What is an author?

p.1.

  • The rise of the author (and the work) came into being at a moment of individualisation in fields like science, literature, and philosophy, and became the fundamental unit..
  • The author’s name allows functions such as classification of the text, and grouping with other texts …..    (meta- information?)

 

p.2.

  • Mentioning the authors name puts the text in a ‘discourse’ which is not for common consumption but expects to be given a certain status
  • The concept of the author began when discourses were able to become ‘transgressive’ and therefore authors needed to be punished.
  • Not all writings have an author……… a letter , graffiti, a legal document has a writer , but not an author ……
  • The ‘author function’ therefore characterises ‘the mode of existence, circulation and functioning of certain  discourses within a society’.
  • Characteristics of the author function
  1. Authored works can be appropriated
  2. Authorship can effect different texts differently eg literature in former times (dates unmentioned) literary stories needed no author to be accepted as true and worthy, in contrast Science in the middle ages needed a name in order to be recognised as ‘true’
  3. 3 c.In the 17-18th C the  functions in b.  were reversed

 

  • Literary texts were valued according to questions about the author and the writing ….and if a text had no author, scholarship was introduced to find it.

 

  • St Jerome proposed 4 criteria for grouping works by the same author
  • These essentially relied on the works being of similar value, style, subject, and in the right era of time.
  • Modern literature is analysed along the same lines, and any variations in works by the same author (style, subject etc…..) , are made to appear logical through reference to the author and his life (biography, maturity and development etc….)

p.4

  • Definition: valorize

o   To establish and maintain the price of (a commodity) by governmental action.

o   To give or assign a value to, especially a higher value: “The prophets valorized history” (Mircea Eliade).

  • Foucalt suggests it’s time to assess discourses via ‘modes of existence’ eg. Valorisation, attribution, appropriation, circulation (but does not clearly elaborate further- don’t some of these imply an interest in exactly the author function?
  • There follows a rather difficult long paragraph which I cannot fully understand. The author suggests ‘re-examining the privileges of the subject’  and to grasp ‘its points of insertion, modes of functioning and system of dependencies’
  • Nevertheless…..the paragraph ends by suggesting that the subject should be deprived of a role as an original and given a value via its role within a complex discourse
  • Although we are used to thinking of the author as one who produces ideas ad infinitum, he is not! And in fact we use this author idea to impede free flow and recomposition of ideas.

p.5

  • The author goes further by saying that the author’s function set out in the preceding bullet is exactly the opposite of what we think him to be, and so he is ‘the Ideological figure by which one marks the manner in which we fear the proliferation of meaning’
  • The author might like to see a time when the role of the author to control the free flow of ideas and use of texts will disappear, but thinks it’s unrealistic that there will never be a constraint on ideas……
  • The Author suited the times of capitalism, industrial revolution etc…. but when society is changing (as it is) , authorship will begin to disappear.
  • It will be replaced by another concept to constrain….. but what that it we don’t know, and he doesn’t hypothesise.
  • Can I think of any ways that authorship has been diminishing in the last few years (which has seen the great digital revolution) ??

 

ü Digital media have made it easy to sample and reform text (in its broadest sense). This has been used by recording artists (the famous court case of U2 against a small band who sampled them).

ü More traditionally the work of Sherry Levine, a visual artist, has used direct photographs of other artist’s copyrighted) works to produce their art.

ü The ability of the controlling powers of publishers to detect ‘illegally’ appropriated art (especially music via You tube, streamed music…)  has become greatly diminished. This has inevitably reduced the value of ‘authorship’.  This also applies to the ability to detect reused works……

ü However, are there good points to copyright laws??

 

Foucalt clarifies  his vision in the last paragraph, by stating several questions which are more easily digestible than other areas of the text. He suggests that in future he’d like us to be asking the following (non-author) types of questions about discourses:

  • What are the modes of existence?
  • Where has it been used, how can it circulate, and who can appropriate it for himself?
  • What are the places in it where there is room for possible subjects?

References

Foucalt, M. (2003) . ‘What is an author’ 1969   In  Harrison,C. and Wood,P. (eds). Art in Theory 1900-2000. Oxford. Blackwell Publications. p. 949-953

 

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Author: PhilHepArt

This site contains my BLOG for my Open College of the Art's module 'Understanding Visual Culture'. I am currently on Level 1 of the degree pathway BA Painting.

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