The Death of the Author – Roland Barthes

Ah, Roland Barthes, my enigmatic friend, we meet again! My dictionary has been doing double duty trying to decode your text.

In this short essay Barthes questions who is the real author of a text (text can mean writing, photographs, music, film, TV, anything created for visual interpretation). Barthes (1977 p. 142) states that ‘the author is a modern figure’. Traditionally authorship revolved around the author, his/her life, beliefs and passions, etc.

But Barthes reckoned that the notion of authorship needed to be better thought out. When a text is created it is an expression consisting of different cultures, ideas, languages and beliefs, philosophies, and theologies and much more. What the author claims as his/her ideas are in actual fact, things that have been borrowed from previously existing texts.

We know now that a text is not a line of words releasing a single ‘theological’ meaning (the ‘message’ of the Author- God) but a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash. The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture.

Barthes (1977, p. 146)

If we were to take literature as an example here, all the words that the author uses in his writing have been previously created. The words are derived from different cultures and even languages over the course of time, the author has not invented anything new.

When we evaluate texts we tend to focus on the author and his life, beliefs etc., to put meaning to the text. But Barthes argues against this. He (Barthes 1977, p. 145) states that ‘the Author … is always conceived of as the past of his own book … The Author is thought to nourish the book, which is to say that he exists before it.’

Barthes is of the opinion that the reader or viewer (scriptor) should look inside his/herself for the actual author. The reader will interpret the text through his/her own belief system and culture and in doing so the text will be subject to an infinite amount of interpretations, there by creating his/her own connotational meaning based on life experience. As Barthes (1977, p. 148 states: ‘a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination.’

I came across this handy video which helped cement my understanding of Barthes’ essay.

Reference List

Barthes, Roland (1977).  Image, Music, Text. London: Fontana Press


‘The Death of the Author’ Simplified (Roland Barthes) [user-generated content, online] Creat. Luke Perkins. 24/01/2014, 3 mins 44 secs. (accessed 06/08/2015)


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