One of the worst things one can hear during a literary discussion is “yeah, but did the author intend that.”
Never being one for psycho-analysis, my response to that was always “who cares?”
In the end, that response is fine, as long as you can support your ideas, but it’s always good to have some intellectual firepower behind your opinions. In this area, that leverage came to me in the form of the landmark essay “Death of the Author.”
Published in the late 1960s in English, it is the work of French literary theorist Roland Barthes. In just seven pages, he took down the traditional biography-based criticism, and changed the way we experience art ever since.
Obviously, literature has been open to interpretation since the days of Aristotle’s Poetics, but in the decades before “Death of the Author” this approach took a slow walk into the halls of academia, where it became the child of a dysfunctional family filled with structuralists and other forms of binary thought.
All one has to do is look to the ancient Greeks to see how important this reclamation of sorts is. For more than 800 years in ancient Greece, people had the myths, the Iliad, and the Odyssey … and that’s about it. So, for all that time, people were expected to interpret those stories so future generations could connect with them.
That’s a big responsibility that can not be upheld if the only tools at people’s disposal were exactly what Homer was thinking when he wrote these pillars of literature. Barthes theorized that the author was merely an empty vessel, one who wrestles with the unconscious in order to give birth to a work. The result is a collection of cultural experiences that can’t simply be classified based on one simple theory.
Throughout the life of this blog, we will discus literature, films, theater, music, and anything else culturally relevant through this lens. Like Barthes did, it’s also believed that there is a level of importance of what a writer experienced in his life leading up to the production of his work.
Barthes’ essay has helped put my view into perspective, and it’s my hope to open eyes by applying it to what inspires me.