The Author is Dead, the Reader’s a Ghost, but the Work is Alive and Well.

“Once an action is recounted, for intransitive ends, and no longer in order to act directly upon reality — that is, finally external to any function but the very exercise of the symbol — this disjunction occurs, the voice loses its origin, the author enters his own death, writing begins.” – Roland Barthes, The Death of the Author (1967).

One thing that’s really been bothering me recently is the phrase that I’ve entitled this blog: “The Author is Dead, the Reader’s a Ghost, but the Work is Alive and Well.”

Now, it bother’s me more so, not because I said this to myself while reading an assortment of Barthes’ essays on narrative, authorship and the materiality of work, but because to an extent I believe it. It bothers me that I believe this statement but the actuality of the matter is that I do and as I’m typing this I’m frowning because my internal consciousness is raging so hard at how much it disagrees with this statement on principle. So I should probably contextualise everything and I’m going to address each part in sequence to do so.

  1. “The Author is Dead”
This stems quite directly from The Death of the Author as the quote about states for writing to begin the author must die – not literally. When Barthes talks about death he means not the ceasing of life (if anything he means the opposite) but that in order for a work to be given the merit is deserves it must stand independent from its writer. To some extent I agree with this statement especially in a world were celebrity culture overrides good literature. People receive book deals based on the knowledge that it will sell either due its popularity of style or the fan base of the author. Literary exceptionality is thrown out of the window or put aside for a very niche audience to only be discovered later in its existence (though some would argue this is the perpetual melancholy of the dead author).
  1. “The Reader’s a Ghost”
The ever-present reader. The pinnacle one which the act of reading is uplifted and without such the industry would collapse. However, when an author writes they must give up their claim to their creation upon commencement as a fully fledged work in its own right. In this same way the reader is simultaneously dead, during the writing process, and alive, during the reading process. Even though it is the readers who will decide the merit of a book it is not necessarily who the book itself is written for. When an author writes, truly writes, it is because they either have something they wish to say or an idea they just need to interweave within words. The reader is a constant at the back of their mind, no doubt, but more a ghostly whisper than an infant crying.
  1. “The Work is Alive and Well”
Barthes’ separates the concepts of both “work” and “text”. In their simplest forms; “work” describes the physical form of a creation, while “text” is the ongoing creative process and can span an entire body of work (this is a very short and narrow description on which Barthes expands much further). So in this respect I should probably say “The Text is Alive and Well” but, when thinking through Barthes’ logic, is a self-evident and constant state of being for the Text. What I mean by saying that the work is alive, is that it is constantly expanded on. Through the mediums of critique, adaptation and fanfiction (yes adaptation and fanfiction are different), the work is in a constantly changing and collaborative state. It is self-evolving; the ricochet effect of each new piece that is added to the world of the work further molds and affects the way in which others are then created.

To conclude, I believe this probably extents further than the creation of writing and act of reading. I don’t for one second consider this a theory or a fully-fledged argument as I am aware there are flaws to some of the logic and areas I haven’t fully given thought on. However, this is what has been whirling around in my brain for a little while and – like any dead author – I thought I better write it down.

So this is very different to what I usually write. I’d like to hope it has a little more intellectual flare to it, but I could be wrong. What I’d really love is for anyone interested or in refute o my arguments to comment below and let me know your thoughts; both on the blog and if you would like me to do more in this style of writing.

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