The Death of the Author by Roland Barthes Summary

French literary critic Roland Barthes first used the phrase “The Death of the Author” in his essay of the same name from 1967. It claims that once a text is published, it loses its connection to the author’s intentions and becomes subject to reader interpretation. This idea challenges the conventional idea that the author is the only authority and interpreter of their work. According to Barthes, the identity and purposes of the author are neither fixed nor knowable, and literature is a synthesis of many voices that transcend individual authorship. According to Barthes, literature is a neutral space where various voices interact and the idea of a single, all-knowing author is questioned. The act of reading becomes crucial in creating meaning from a text along with the reader’s personal experiences, viewpoints, and cultural background.

The centrality of the author:

Barthes questions the conventional view of the author as a singular, supreme authority in literature. According to Barthes, once an action or narrative is conveyed in writing, it loses its connection to reality and has a symbolic meaning while also losing the author’s voice. He contends that the idea of the author as an original individual endowed with personal genius is a relatively recent development affected by capitalism ideology and the social emphasis given to the individual.

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The role of the author’s “person” in contemporary culture, where the author’s background, history, preferences, and passions are frequently given significant weight in comprehending their work, is critiqued by Barthes. He contends that this method, which strives to contextualize the work via the biography of the author, is restrictive and authoritarian since it ignores the variety of voices and influences that a text is shaped by. By arguing that literature should be seen as a synthesis of different voices and interpretations, Barthes challenges the notion that the author’s “person” is the ultimate source of meaning in a work.

According to Barthes, positivism and capitalist ideology have emphasized and solidified the idea of the author as a unique individual with a personal history, tastes, passions, and psychological character, as evidenced by writer biographies, magazine interviews, and modern cultural awareness. He attacks the propensity to attribute a work’s meaning to the author’s character, connecting Baudelaire’s art to his failure as a man, Van Gogh’s work to his insanity, and Tchaikovsky’s work to his vice. This emphasis on the author’s identity is viewed as authoritarian and restricting in terms of comprehending literature.

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Authors and movements that challenges the authority of the author:

Barthes explores the ways in which certain authors have sought to undermine the author’s authority. Mallarme is mentioned as one of the first to see the necessity of substituting language itself for the author, asserting that it is language which speaks, not the author. Proust is the writer who blurs the lines between the author and the characters. Proust used his work of fiction as inspiration for his life and turned it into a masterpiece. It is said that the surrealist movement challenged conventional ideas of authorship by defying assumed meanings, engaging in automatic writing, and allowing collective writing.

Barthes comparison of Brecht’s concept of “alienation”:

The absence of the author, according to Barthes, is not simply a historical fact or a literary technique but it significantly impacts modern works. He equates this lack of the author to Brecht’s idea of “alienation,” in which the writer becomes a tiny figure at the very edge of the literary stage. This implies that the author is now not the dominant figure in how the work should be understood, but rather is separated and detached.

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Difference between classical texts and modern texts:

The concept of time is one of the main distinctions Barthes draws between classical and modern writings. The concept of time is one of the main distinctions Barthes draws between classical and modern writings. In classical literature, the author is viewed as the book’s past, with the relationship between the book and the author being one of before and after. The book is thought to have been preexisted by the author, who is thought to still have a paternal tie with it. Modern texts, on the other hand, lack any sense of transcendence or antecedence because the author and the book are born at the same time. Writing turns into a performative utterance in which the act of writing itself serves as the content. This contradicts the conventional view of the author as a passionate, suffering character who wrestles to put their ideas on paper.

Writing as a performative act:

The idea of a “original” text or a single, authoritative author, according to Barthes, is a myth, and all writing is ultimately a collage of previously published texts and linguistic elements. Furthermore, Barthes claims that the writer’s job is to negotiate and control the huge vocabulary of language and culture that came before them, not to communicate their own inner thoughts or emotions. He rejects the notion that language has a single, stable meaning and contends that words can only be defined by other words in an infinite cycle of signification. According to Barthes, writing is a continuous process that has neither beginning or conclusion.

Role of the author and the significance of the reader:

According to Barthes, a text with multiple facets lacks an underlying ground or universal meaning that can be understood. Instead, reading is positioned as the locus of writing, and the reader is seen as the one who is aware of the complexity and ambiguity of texts. The reader is a text’s goal, and this is where it finds its cohesiveness. The reader is the location where all of a text’s citations and cultural allusions are gathered, and the reader holds the text’s many threads together. In order to restore the future of writing, Barthes contends that the myth of the author must be disproved and that the reader must emerge at the same time that the author dies.


In conclusion, we can say that  Barthes creates new approaches for interpreting and interacting with texts by challenging the author’s authority and promoting a reader-centered perspective.  He emphasizes that once written, a text ceases to be the author’s creation, and the reader’s active participation determines the text’s meaning. As Barthes proposes, the death of the author gives the act of reading new life and makes us active participants in the continual constructing of meaning. Barthes’ theories are still relevant today because they serve as a constant reminder that reading is a dynamic, collaborative activity that invites us to delve deeper, ask more probing questions, and get fresh perspectives. We can enter a realm of limitless interpretations and literary adventures by recognizing the author’s death.

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