In my college literary theory class, we read an article by French theorist Roland Barthes entitled “Death of the Author”. Barthes argues that when analyzing any literary work, critics must separate the text from its author’s identity in order to achieve true interpretation. Basically, the moment the author relinquishes their work to the public eye, he or she dies a symbolic death while the text lives on; this way its analysis is unhampered by the reader’s assumption of the author’s intentions.
Years later, this concept still haunts me. As a reader I see its value, but as a writer I bristle at the idea of my metaphorical death. And not just any death, but death at the hand of my own work. A classic tale of creation killing its creator, it conjures images of Frankenstein, tormented by his monster until his eventual demise.
Or perhaps it’s the reader who commits murder, rather than a piece of text. I’m positive there’s an Oedipal analogy in there somewhere. The reader, Oedipus, loves his mother, the text, and kills his father, the author. Freud would approve.
Regardless, I find this concept disturbing. Barthes’ work demonstrates the characteristics of a homicidal maniac, let loose on unsuspecting authors world-wide. I’d question what traumatic events from his childhood influenced this essay, but that would violate his edict to “kill the author”. Either way, I’m keeping my manuscript away from sharp objects.