Assignment 3 -Decoding advertisements

Choose a current advertisement or campaign and drawing on the work of Barthes and others, analyse it to show how it derives and conveys its meaning to its intended audience. You will need to apply the principles of simple semiotic, structuralist and post-structuralist analysis.


For this assignment I have chosen a Conservative Party Election Broadcast from 2015 as it has many elements of an advert- it’s a large company selling a product through a constructed ‘reality’. Also, having won the 2015 election and in the light of recent events such as the referendum, terrorist attacks, a second (optional) election, ‘strong and stable’ government turning to a ‘coalition of chaos’, and most recently the appalling loss of life in the Grenfell tower block fire, has the reality of the offered vision for our voters really come to fruition? Are other interpretations possible which are more accurate and less dishonest?

The Broadcast;

I have taken the broadcast from the internet at

where it is freely available to those who have a computer and knowledge of how to use it. The original broadcast was likely meant to attract a particular demographic of established older adults (young  ones are traditionally less likely to vote and are less valuable as viewers/consumers).  I have included  images and both spoken and written text from the broadcast. After introducing some terminology I’d like to take certain frames, and analyse possible meanings contained within them.

What is reality?

In order to analyse the broadcast it will be important to introduce ideas about what reality actually is.  It may seem simple, but on closer analysis it is not. Ferdinand Saussure (1857-1913) and Charles Peirce (1839-1914) independently laid the foundations of semiotics, the study of signs, which are essential to how we perceive our reality. Peirce proposed that ‘we think only in signs’ (Chandler, 1994), and it is reasonable to assume that meaning is not simply ‘transmitted’ to us but that ‘we actively create it’ (Chandler, 1994).

Linguistics and semiotics

“Semiotics is the study of everything that can be used for communication: words, images, traffic signs, flowers, music, medical symptoms, and much more.”                                                                                                                                                                                                        (Bybee, 2000)

Linguistics is a special case of semiotics. Linguistic meaning is found by decoding words and sentences using the (English) language. Roland Barthes gives a clear analysis of how meaning is built up from a word in Rhetoric of the image (Barthes, 1993 p.33). If we take the word ‘rose’ we can make a simple semiotic analysis (table 1).

Table 1. Semiotic analysis of the word ‘rose’

Analytical method
Saussure Peirce
the physical sound or text signifier representamen
mental concept signified interpretant
Physical object Not included Object/referent
Combination of above SIGN SIGN
Number of elements in SIGN 2 3

Peirce’s method differs from Saussure in several ways. The terminology is different and the Sign concept has 3 elements not 2.  Whilst Saussure applied his theory to language, Peirce was interested in how we sense the real world and added a physical object. He also allowed that the mental concept is an interpretation of the signified giving the listener/viewer more input over meaning. His method is more dynamic than Saussure’s signified; the representament-interpretant couple can be iterated successively (one interpretant becomes the representamen for the next) allowing for chains of signifieds, and shifting meanings (Chandler, 1994).

Fig 1. and images (signifiers) suggesting a reality of a youngster walking into a garden, and a baby in a chair surrounded by toys and photos (the signifieds).  The spoken text begins ‘What do I want for my children? I want them to be happy……etc…’ . The linguistic message is built up through the individual words as in table 1. It suggests voters’ children will be secure and happy when the conservatives deliver shrewd economics.

From a young age children learn to interpret visual images of ‘things’ as a  representation of reality (Barthes, 1993: p. 36), thus the images are also  signifiers at the lowest level of meaning; the denoted message.

pic 1

Fig. 1 Youtube: John Moore (2015)

pic 2

Fig. 2 Youtube: John Moore (2015)

Structural analysis

Structural analysis is a study of text as a whole and the kinds of interrelationships/contrasts that the system builds into itself to give it meaning (Bybee, 2000).  It is closely related to semiotics. Meaning is built up within a text through the choice of signifiers chosen from a collection of binary opposites.

This strategy tends to favour one choice over its opposite, illustrating the  paradigmatic  aspect of structuralism. For example male> female, white> black, rich> poor and young>old. Additionally, the syntagmatic aspect says that spatial structure of signifiers is important in conveying meaning and is biased (reading English text from left to right for example) (Pooke and Newall, 2008 p.102). It is now possible to see how several layers of meaning (connoted messages) are constructed in the broadcast using structural analysis and a system of signs as in table 1.

Stuctural analysis of the broadcast

There are many types of media including visual, auditory and tactile. Each has its own characteristics.  Images, especially photographic and moving filmed images, tend to be interpreted as very ‘real’ compared to others. The TV images are meant to signify a voter’s real life. The images are accompanied by written text and voices, which are also interpreted as more real, more personable, and allow a much richer range of signs than, say text alone (Chandler, 1994).

The music and voices used throughout this film are very benign. The music is catchy if a little insipid. It has a simple structure; essentially a repeated tune and harmony for each scene, suggesting (ie. a sign) a pleasant wandering between the scenes and families. Spoken text corresponds to the voter’s requirements from a government, and voices are adult representing different geographical areas, origins, nationality, sex and class, a sign that everyone will benefit from voting conservative. Each spoken statement is followed by a ‘response’ from the Conservative party, which is reinforced by the perfect cadence which lands on it. Dominant-tonic harmony is a strong musical sign of stability and strength. All these aural meanings are connoted messages.

At the connoted level meanings begin to multiply quickly. Fig 1 and 2. Shows that technical ‘filmic’ methods have been used to increase the sense of reality (real>imitation). The French windows are opened, the child walks through, and we (the camera) follows. The whole scene (the whole advert too) is in slow motion which means ‘relaxed, gentle and reassuring’. Meaning is transferred through ‘Conservative Blue’, both in the baby’s toys, and in the strange blue haze in the scene (this seems not to be a reproduction artefact- has a camera filter been used here?).

The (simplified) analysis in Fig. 1and 2 might be summarised; the scene uses signifiers of children, babies, educational toys, photos, a suburban garden, relaxation, a benign regional accented voice, gentle movement and  music. These signify a successful life, economic wealth, stability, the birth and nurturing of children. These in turn signify (either individually or as a repeated chain) the Conservative ideal, and a life you will get if you vote Tory. Each signified transfers meaning through their hidden opposite-childlessness, difficulty, unintelligible harsh voices, poverty, and change. The addition of text to the images helps to keep the number of meanings under control, through both anchorage and relay (Barthes, 1993: p. 37)

In the park

pic 3

Fig.3 Youtube: John Moore (2015)

pic 4

Fig. 4   Youtube: John Moore (2015)

Voiced Text: I want him to grow up in a Britain where there are doors open to him, so he can get on, get a good job………’.

In fig. 3 and 4 we see several signified/signifier couples (signs) which transmit the meanings paternal and pastoral care (the son, dog and ducks),  family life and values (leisure time, active paternal engagement), and the importance of a capitalist society for happiness (business and jobs). These hidden biased positions are referred to as discourses.

This scene nicely illustrates Peirce’s three different modes of sign.The linguistic message is symbolic (signifier related arbitrarily to the signified), the video image is both iconic (relation based on likeness), and indexical (the relation is direct) (Chandler, 1994). In fact the infant fulfils all three types simultaneously; indexical via the process of filming (a direct connection between the infant and the image-the unique ‘having been there’ character of photography (Barthes, 1993: p 40); iconic as we interpret the image as a real infant, and symbolic because children and babies hold meanings such as trust, prosperity, and happiness. As we move through indexical, iconic, and symbolic, the signifieds become more ‘arbitrary’ and less ‘motivated’ (the connection between signifier and signified is ‘looser’).

Symbolic signs, the infant, ducks and dogs in the park, dad’s protection, and the importance of businesses and jobs in society, are heavily determined by cultural factors (Chandler, 1994). Our Western culture puts a large value on discourses like a good and stable job, a home, children, and possessions.  All these signs and discourses operate via the chosen half of a binary opposition. Arguably other ways of measuring a good and stable life are possible.

Post-structuralist analysis:

Post-structuralism emerged in Paris in the 1960’s as a reaction to Structuralism, through the work of Jacques Derrida, Jean Baudrillard, Michael Foucalt, and Roland Barthes.

Post-structuralism holds that the study of underlying structures is itself culturally conditioned and therefore subject to myriad biases and misinterpretations. To understand an object (e.g., one of the many meanings of a text), it is necessary to study both the object itself, and the systems of knowledge which were coordinated to produce the object.

New World Encyclopaedia (2015)

Post-structuralists rejected the inherent dominance within binary pairs, and allowed a signifier to be emptied and of no fixed meaning New World Encyclopaedia (2015). This deconstructed message represented a different and potentially more accurate view of reality (see my BLOG for a deconstruction of the anthems ‘God save the Queen’ and ‘Jerusalem’ ). To illustrate the process I will investigate the underlying structure and reality by deconstructing the later broadcast scenes which focus on David Cameron, his family and the Tory party (fig 5-8).

pic 6

Fig. 5 Youtube: John Moore (2015)

pic 6

Fig. 6  Youtube: John Moore (2015)

pic 7

Fig. 7  Youtube: John Moore (2015)

pic 8

Fig. 8 Youtube: John Moore (2015)

Fig 5-7 show the Prime Minister watching his son play football, scoring a goal, and then back at home for the family dinner (the salad bowl resembles a trompe d’oleil Dutch still life-like the shopping basket in Barthes’ analysis of  a Panzani advert (Barthes, 1993: p 35). It is east to see the constructed  meanings of the signs in these images.

Deconstructing the scenes may reveal alternative truths about life which are not part of conservative ‘brand’. In a stable happy family, it is not necessary for son’s to play football whilst dad watches (male> female), and mum stays at home making the dinner. Daughters could play football, mum’s watch, goals do not indicate success,  and the son and dad could be home enjoying more ‘feminine’ pastimes, such as baking or preparing the dinner.

It is also possible that a worthwhile happy family life can be enjoyed by people who do not correspond to the narrow view of normality seen around Cameron’s kitchen table. The family could be mixed race, same sex parented, may be childless, looking after an elderly relative with physical or mental disabilities. This deconstructed analysis questions why some meanings are inherently chosen. A more balanced view will give more space and ‘air time’ to less socially acceptable realities that are possible in the UK. The final scene (fig. 8) shows a union jack, and the take home linguistic message on a conservative blue background. The union flag represents a strong discourse about British history, involving male domination, mercantilism, war, imperialism, colonialism and slavery. A deconstructed view of this image might describe British family life from the point of view of feminism, Queer theory, LGBT society, altruism, pacifism and post-colonialism.


I have shown how this party political broadcast has constructed many meanings in many different ways, in order to create an illusion of reality which might allow an election victory. This version of reality has been contrasted with other versions which are possible in UK society.

These may be more (or less) accurate, honest and real- or they may not be. Some people’s reality will not have corresponded to the vision offered, others’ may have.  Probably no ‘fixed’ reality exists, and the best notion of it is multifactorial- involving words, images, signs, physical objects, and the different points of view of lots of different theoretical ‘isms’. However I think this best shot at reality is likely to include, and possibly highlight, those aspects which are hidden, but still detectable within this broadcast.


Fig.1-Fig. 8.   John Moore (2015) [Youtube webpage]  at [accessed 29th June 2017]


Barthes, R (1999).  ‘Rhetoric of the Image’ in visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.   P33-41

Bybee, C, 2000. Semiotics and structuralism [online] at [accessed 29th June 2017]

Chandler, D (1994): Semiotics for Beginners [online] at [accessed 29th June 2017]

Moore, J (2015) conservative party election broadcast 2015 [Youtube webpage] at [accessed 29th June 2017]

New World Encyclopaedia (2015) Post-structuralism [online] at [accessed 29th June 2017]

Pooke, G and Newall, D (2008) Art History. Abingdon.  Routledge.



Project- Deconstruction

Notes on the theory of Deconstruction:

  • People: – Jacques Derrida (main founder), Nietschze, Heiddiger, Marx, Althusser , Plato, Saussure,

Eg. Marx’s “Religion is the opium of the masses” is Deconstructionist,  breaking down the discourse of powerful religion to effect the weaker society.

  • Institutions- works to expose institutions of Religion, Law, Political class, Males, Whites, Colonialists………
  • Era- late 60’s to 1980’s (context -Paris student riots- overcoming government, independence of Algeria over colonial French)

What does it do? It’s a Post structuralist, Post-modern way of reading Texts……. Eg text, images, films…..

Derrida’s essay  “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of Human Sciences”,

It allows us to deconstruct the text and reveal it’s inherent CONSTRUCTEDNESS.

Western thought and philosophy is not a ‘natural’ but is constructed and cycled through society by institutions forming a Discourse. Since PLATO Western philosophy iss dominated by various ideas, inc.  Religion, enlightenment, Binary opposition, Centredness, Hierarchy, unchanging sign-signifier-signified , voice over writing,

  • The binaries are endless – male  v female, young  v old, west v East, Good v Bad, God v devil…………..speech v writing. These dualisms are never equivalent; they are always hierarchically ranked.
  • Queer theory, feminism, post-colonialism are related ……..these are attacks on the stsus quo of powerful institutions.

Deconstruction involves

  1. Technical aspects: voice v writing, graphie (written form) , gram, differance, trace (the originary- but is not original and has no centre),
  2. Revealing the inherent biases and positions of a text: re frozen signs/ bias of one of the binary pair
  3. Allowing an alternative meaning/reading/discourse……where there is a slippery/shifting sign , and a balancing of the hierarchical relationship eg….toward the weaker….. and a recognition that there are no absolute oppositions….

Derrida’s ‘différance’ is both  semiotic and philosophical. The a represents several features in the application of this theory:

  • Différance is the difference that shows there is no origin (Différer =to differ). Something can only differ wrt to something else…..
  • Différance  is written: we can see the a that we cant hear it ( voice has no  hierarchy over writing)
  • Différer [to defer] is to displace, shift, or elude. It means that signification is not static, but always changing. There is no ‘transcendental signified’.


A.V Club (2010)  Lights! Camera! Deconstruction!: 19 movies that double as movie criticism [online at] [accessed 15th June 2016]

Gnanasekaran, R. (2015) An Introduction to Derrida, Deconstruction and PostStructuralism [online at]
[accessed 15th June 2016]

Stanford university (nd), Jacques Derrida-Deconstruction [online at] [accessed 15th June 2016]

The Bubble (2010), An introduction to deconstruction [online at]   [accessed 15th June 2016]


Author, What author? In your BLOG……..

  1. In the light of the two texts on authorship, I made the following observations on two works, by Sherry Levins and Cindy Sherman.

1.Sherry Levine

Fig. 1 Crystal Skull_(2011).


  •  Cast-crystal skulls in vitrines are part of Levine’s show at the Whitney Museum of American Art (Fig. 1)
  • Sherrie Levine is famous for appropriating others’ work
  • See also assignment 2-my annotation of ‘After Walker Evans’
  • What of this work?
  • Skulls are quite common in art so it’s not immediately obvious if there is an ‘original’ here    eg….Vanitas paintings, mask like primitive African Art, but Damien Hirsts diamond encrusted skulls was a very famous contemporary example of its use (he also uses Vitrines a lot) .


  • One consequence of ‘the death of the author’ is that one can be more creative about one’s thoughts about a work of art- one is not anxiously thinking ‘I wonder what Dr X said that this painting means…’ or similarly ‘I wonder what the artist really meant ?’… really gets you thinking- not regurgitating text from ‘experts’ in a book or on the internet !
  • This feels very powerful and empowering. It seems to allow us to reduce the effect of that ‘…Ideological figure by which one marks the manner in which we fear the proliferation of meaning’ (Foucalt, 2003). It’s the same idea as Berger’s complaint about the stuffy detached analysis of two Franz Hal’s paintings which ‘transfers the emotion provoked by the object from the plane of lived experience, to that of disinterested ‘art appreciation’ (Berger, 1972:13).


  • In relation to Brit pop artist Damien Hirst, the use of a skull and glass vitrine may draw attention to aspects of his art- this skull is less bling, less ‘valuable’ in terms of materials? (and in terms of market value?). Perhaps Levine thinks Damien Hirst’s skull (and perhaps the artist) is overrated, overpriced, and over hyped?


2.Cindy Sherman


Fig. 2 Untitled #223. 1990


  • This looks like a Renaissance picture of Maddona and child (the symbology)
  • The background looks Dutch- flowers resemble the Dutch realist’s trompe d’oleil style, which developed alongside the initial development of a well-to-do middle class in Europe.
  • Is the idea of Madonna and child an ‘authored original’? No it’s a reworking of Biblical characters. Though much scholarship is invested in deciding what is part of the bible and what is not, the characters in the bible are not controlled and copyrighted like contemporary symbols such as Mcdonalds golden arches. or the coke bottle (though Iconoclasm in various times and by various groups, destroyed religious images thinking them ungodly- ‘Thou shalt not worship a graven image’, )
  • The artists painted them at a time when the ideology of authorship was less important, but symbology and reverence to God was more important.
  • Hundreds of artists have painted this subject…… Duccio, Sano di Pietro (c 1300) Sassoferrato (17th C), Marco Basaiti c 1510), Giovanni Bellini, c. 1500
  • Could this photograph have a feminist discourse?- we see a false breast, and a removal of overtly sexual organs like breasts?
    • That the idea of an ‘accepted’ image of any woman is damaging to ‘real women’?
    • That the immaculate conception (The virgin Mary) is damaging to ‘real women’ ?
  • Her hair garment resembles a Dutch Vermeer sitter , but is the garment Scottish tartan- if so what does it symbolise? Is it irony about the nationality of the Virgin Mary ? perhaps the artist believes that Mary is no more from Nazareth as from the Scottish Highlands? Indeed perhaps she does nt exist at all????
  • Is the baby anatomically normal- ? the feet look a little flat and forward- like an animal? The right foot looks like it’s webbed ? What could this mean?? Is this a discourse against ‘perfection’ which could be a feminist/ disabled rights discourse?
  • The breasts are not obvious –no flesh is seen- in fact the chest seems rather flat-
  • Except a false boob is being sucked by the baby. What does this mean? False boobs are commonly bought by women who are unhappy with their body image ( a feminist symbol?) , they can be used by women who have had breast disease ( a symbol of courage over disability?), and they are FALSE- perhaps the story of Jesus is false and is an IDEOLOGY
  • Perhaps the perfect woman is an ideology?
  • As usual Sherman puts herself in the image to reinforce that it is a modern appropriation of a text


2. If the birth of the reader is at the expense of the author is there still any of Benjamin’s ‘aura’ left?

Benjamin’s text on the original and the reproduction centres around visual images, and the effects of reproduction on the original. In relation to the original alongside a mechanical reproduction ‘the quality of its presence is always depreciated’ what is lost being the aura. Benjamin states that reproduction both  ‘detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition’, and reactivates each copy ‘shattering’ tradition (Benjamin, 1999:74).  When we ponder the more general case of loss of authorship- eg in relation to ideas, such as those in written or visual texts, I think it is useful to remember that Benjamin also distinguishes between technical and manual reproductions.

I believe that appropriation of ideas is analogous to the reproduction of an image as described by Benjamin. To see an exact authored text is like the case of technical reproduction (the text technically and accurately reproduces the author’s ideas). To appropriate the text for oneself (to use it to continue meaning-making) is like Benjamin’s reactivation of the exact copy, which involves a little loss of aura but allows a meaningful and powerful creative process to continue. However, the product of one’s appropriation of the original text (in idea or written as text) is akin to the process of manual reproduction- it’s not identical to the original-it involves a human process….- it may be inferior or indeed superior. If the original is of good quality it’s more likely (on balance ) that the next appropriation will tend towards the mean- and be slightly lower quality. In this way we lose some aura of the original each time it’s appropriated. Meaning therefore evolves with the diminishing of aura, and quality may either increase or decrease (based on either a single appropriation, or an overall collective appropriation).

3. Does any of this explain or validate the unregulated nature of the internet?

The internet basically allows any connected person to see other people’s texts (in the broadest sense). It’s in the nature of man to use these and to appropriate ideas and to republish them online, and the shear amount of ideas is impossible to regulate completely (even though most (all?) of these avenues do require a person to attach an identity to the idea however). It’s the shear size of the population of internet surfers, augmented by the ease and speed of appropriation which explains why the internet of ideas too large to regulate.

As for validation of unregulation, I see two sides. Lack of regulation allows plenty of what an evolutionary biologist would call ‘hybrid vigour’- lots of appropriations between lots of different people. This is generally likely to be good for the production of interesting and good ideas. However not all individuals are making quality contributions, and some are downright socially un acceptable, corrupt, criminal, or unpleasant- there is no ‘survival of the fittest on the internet- everyone survives and all ideas remain).

If we consider that we must take the rough with the smooth on an unregulated internet, then great ideas flow, and some people are hurt which is acceptable to us as a net product. This is my belief. If we consider the negatives outweigh the positives, then we introduce regulation (impossible completely anyway), which stifles free speech and ideas, and reduces both the net good and the net bad !

4. Does this invalidate the interest in the artist’s or creator’s intent at the time of making?

I would tend towards a common sense approach. It seems silly to disregard an author’s intent or circumstances (see also my BLOG entry Epilogue-some worries about structuralism)  . This includes his name- because one way or another quality authors who write, paint etc for a living need to be remunerated- or they will starve and their ideas will stop! But reducing the element of authenticity in authorship will allow ideas to flow more freely. We can appropriate them ourselves and make them what we want (equivalent to Benjamin’s manual reproduction). We will still want to read, and view original works and ideas from truly great minds (technically reproduced for us) – Shakespeare, James Joyce, Rembrandt, and the like.



Fig. 1 Levine, S. Crystal Skull (2011) [Cast glass] online at [accessed 8 June 2017]

Fig. 2 Sherman, C Untitled #223. (1990) [Chromogenic color print] online at [accessed 8 June 2017]


Benjamin, W.(1999) ‘The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction’ in visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.      p. 72-8

Berger, J (1972) ‘Chapter 1’ in Ways of Seeing. Great Britain, Penguin.   p.  7-34

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





Myth is a type of speech- Some thoughts on Ulysees by James Joyce (replaces exercise on an annotated image)

I was a little uncertain how to approach this annotation based on the given quotation. I therefore decided to replace this exercise with  some ideas about structuralism based on the book Ulysees by James Joyce.

I am currently listening to this book on audible, and thought that the complex nature of the language would make an interesting analysis  with respect to structuralism, myth, and the several layers of meaning which the text might contain……







Project: Structuralist Analysis

This project consists of annotated images of

  1.  Two naturalistic paintings- In what ways do the formal and informal have a similar structure?
  2. A formal and an informal photograph- In what ways do the formal and informal have a similar structure?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     1. Two naturalistic paintings.    (right click on image and open in new tab for zoomed view ).   w1

2.A formal and an informal photograph (right click on image and open in new tab for zoomed view ).w3



Fig. 1 Durer, A The Hare  (no date) (watercolour and bodycolour on vellum) [online at ] [Accessed 27th May 2017]

Fig. 2 Audubon, J. Snowy Heron or White Egret  (no date) (aquatint and engraving with hand colouring ) [online at] https://www.bridgemanimages./en-GB/ [Accessed 27th May 2017]

Fig. 3  Charles Dickens  (no date) [photograph] [online at] [Accessed 27th May 2017]

Fig. 4  Mccullin, D Biafra (1967) [B& W photograph] online at [Accessed 27th May 2017]



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’.



Barthes, R ( no date) The Death of the Author  online at [accessed 29th may 2017]


2.  What is an author?

What is an author?


  • 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?)



  • 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….)


  • 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.


  • 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?


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