Death of the author
by Rylan Louis Vanacore | published on December 25, 2021
LThe interpretation of literature has been taught all over the world. The goal in mind was to understand what was the intention of the author before any other. This view changed in 1967, when Ronald Barthes wrote the groundbreaking essay “The death of the author.
Who killed the author?
Barthes’ essay paved the way for a new way of looking at literature. Barthes argued that instead of focusing on the author and his life, literature analysis should instead focus on the text itself. Instead of seeking the intention of the author, Barthes placed the reader’s interpretation of a work above that of the author.
Once the author publishes his work to the world, he “dies” and passes this property on to the reader. In their absence, readers are encouraged to reflect on their own interpretations of the text.
Literature is naturally open to interpretation, and people have different thoughts and understandings of the world around them. Two people can read the same thing and come away with two completely different thoughts and opinions about the material. If things were clear and universally understood, there would be no need for interpretations.
Robert Glick, Associate Professor in the English Department at RIT, explained how language plays an important role in literary interpretation.
“There is no one way, there is no one message.”
“What is essential here is the theory of language itself,” said Glick. “There is no one way, there is no one message.”
The language is constantly changing as words are given new meaning. Something written 100 years ago may use words in a radically different way from how they are understood today. If we take a look back at Shakespeare’s work, there are many words and phrases that have a different meaning than at the time of writing than in the modern era.
“Words have many meanings. They change over time and connect with other words, ”Glick said.
Although “The Author’s Death” was written with literature in mind, its ideas can be applied to all forms of media. The media landscape has changed a lot since 1967, and movies and TV shows have become as pervasive in our culture as literature in the 1960s.
Personal experiences can also shape the way people interpret the media. The things that have happened in our lives make us see the world in different ways.
“We always bring our experience to the table.”
“We always bring our experience to the table,” Glick explained.
People’s experiences shape the way they view media. An example of this would be how members of the LGBTQ + community may see certain things differently from straight and cisgender people because of the experiences they have had with their identity.
“When I watch a movie, from my experiences with other people, I can sense that any character is gay,” Chase Moor
The LGBTQ + community and the media have always had a complex relationship. When analyzing the media from a queer perspective, it is worth mentioning “queer coding “, a term used to discuss media with a character who is heavily involved as being queer.
This “coding” exists because of industry guidelines such as Hays Code and the Comic book code Authority, which places restrictions on what can be shown in media, especially with regard to LGBTQ + related content. People creating media would get around these restrictions by putting implications, “codes”, that a character was strange so the audience could understand.
An example would be Mystique and Destiny love relationship in the early “X-Men” comics. They were never explicitly allowed to marry, but writer Chris Claremont would implicate her heavily through storytelling, as the couple having an adopted daughter together.
“Most of the time, queer coding is done by queer people,” Moore said. “It is done in such a way that not only homosexual people [could] see through.”
While being queer isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for seeing a character as being coded as queer, having that experience can help people see the implications.
“If you’re a person who’s had gay relationships, been in queer spaces, and had a lot of gay friends, you would see the way this character acts and behaves. [as queer]Moore explained.
Queer coding relies a lot on the intention of the author, and that’s not the end of queer media interpretations. Many queer people can see a character and interpret them as queer with no copyright intent.
Is there a correct way to interpret the media?
With media interpretation focusing more on reader’s understanding than author’s intention, this begs the question: is there a wrong way to interpret something?
The theory presented in “The death of the author” posits that when an author publishes his work, he loses all control over it. People should therefore be able to apply lens analysis they want to this medium. Even so, some people still cling to the author’s intention as the ultimate interpretation of a work.
The New York Times gave insight into why people like the author’s intention. Some people don’t see the point of watching anything without authoring intent, because in their eyes it enriches the experience and is essential to understanding the whole work. You cannot have a creation without its creator.
Moore explained why people don’t care about copyright intent. Xe used SE Hinton’s book “The Outsiders” as an example. There are some weird interpretations of the book, where readers view the characters as such. The author took a very firm position against these interpretations of the book, but once a work is published the lines between author’s intention and personal reading begin to blur.
“The author’s personal life is kind of meaningless in that sense,” Moore said of Hinton’s anti-queer sentiments. “People just look at the text and say, yeah, we can see that as queer. “
If we believe “The Death of the Author”, the author has no control over his work after its publication. People have come to remove the author from their work, with stories like “The Outsiders” resonating with many fans in ways the author might not have anticipated. In a way, a work will outlive the author as readers take ownership of those works of fiction.