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April 29, 2022 2 min read

the-death-of-the-author-meme

 

Does this pattern look familiar? Often philosophers - or people who recommend them - promise that fundamental and life-changing insights can be found in certain writings. If you don't get lost in linguistic quibbles or are "just" proven that 1+1 always equals 2, then you can often and actually engage with the idiosyncrasies of the author himself. The question arises, why a philosopher tries to make exactly these convictions palatable to me. And even if we try to read the writings sola scriptura, that is to say, to fade out the author completely, then we still cannot strip off the human judgment and we do form an opinion about an author at least subconsciously.

Roland Barthes coined a term in the essay of the same name, "Death of the Author," which is relevant here. We understand in literary theory, especially in a post-structuralist coinage, a represented concept that casts doubt on the classical idea of the writer's complete control over his own creation. For textual interpretation, the main implication of this approach is that the presumed intention of the author is irrelevant and that texts may well develop meanings that contradict the author's intention.

The core thesis of the essay, then, is that the author has far less significance for literature than previously postulated (namely, none at all), and that meaning can be generated entirely by the reader. Barthes's text is foundational to the Death of the Author thesis, which left a formative impression on literary studies for the following decades.

In response to this, the term "Return of the Author" was ultimately developed. So we see a dialectical development in this regard, which is also expressed in the meme. We can get closer to the text by ignoring the author at first, but then getting very very close, and finally taking an optimal distance to the text and the author. This is possible after the possible distances have been explored at all.


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