Death of the author

That is the sentence in my mind after our Thursday’s lecture. Roland Barthes argues that readers cannot detect precisely what the writer intended. Instead of discovering a single meaning, Barthes think readers discover that writing in reality constitutes a “multi- dimensional space.” His argument reverses the balance of power between author and reader. A friend majoring in Comparative Literature explains this idea to me in a direct way: Once writing is finished, there is no author anymore. The author is dead because no one can precisely know what his/her intention when he or she is writing. Readers would have various interpretations to the work, based on their own experience.

To me, Barthes’s argument seems to be a representation of phenomenology. There is a wall in front of the text and nobody can really reach it. We can only define and understand the text by “various mental capacities”, which are prejudices, lifeworld and horizons. What I am thinking is, can we use structuralism to interpret Barthes’s argument? The text has no meaning, unless we construct it. What matters is the text itself, not the people who create or receive that. If so, it is not only the author who is dead, but also the reader.

I am convincing myself that phenomenology and structuralism are not adverse to each other. Rather, they complement with each other, which enables designers to know our world well. Structuralism cannot live without phenomenology because I believe we are always influenced by mental capacities when analyzing objects. Even so, it is still tough for designers. How can we know what we understand is what should be understood? How can know what we interpret is what should be interpreted? How can we know what might be an appropriate way to understand and interpret everything? Hemingway once said the dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. Yeah, “a good writer does not need to reveal every detail of a character or an action”, because it is designer’s work.

1 Comment

  1. jeffreybardzell

    Excellent topic, Yen ning. As a matter of fact, I was literally writing about it myself in a paper I’m working on. I think your understanding of this concept overall is pretty good, especially the first paragraph.

    I don’t disagree that you can argue there is a phenomenological dimension of Barthes idea, but I did want to share the Barthes is a classic example of someone who started as a structuralist (see his book on fashion, which claims to be a “science” of the language of fashion!) and moved into poststructuralism, and his work on the death of the author fits more into the latter category.

    Additionally, Michel Foucault, another poststructuralist and one of my own heroes, also wrote a famous essay call “What is an Author?” in which he had some similar ideas as Barthes, though in my opinion fleshed out and explained a lot better.


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