Death of the Reader

Barthes’s death of the author long ago assumed the character of a Western myth. The pretense of granting readers co-authorship rights appealed to democratic sentiment. And yet, the initiative always remained with the author. Books didn’t write themselves, paintings didn’t paint themselves, nor movies produce themselves.  In every case an author set things in motion and the text retained evidence of a paternity.

What purpose then did this myth of the disappearance of the author serve?

It has allowed authors to hide. It has, superficially at least, dephallicized texts. In this way, it has made them more … palatable to a hysteric audience. Delicate readers have been spared encounters with an authorial desire that might unduly arouse their own. Instead, they are treated to clever texts that invite clever interpretation.

In practice, these supposedly open-ended, multivalent, collectively authored works never actually yield radically different interpretations. A fashionable consensus quickly envelops them. From that point on they function strictly as tokens of intellectual snobbery.

What has disappeared is not the author but the author’s courage. And the reader’s.