What are your thoughts on Death of the Author?


The Strongest
Sep 3, 2015
A narrator should not supply interpretations of his work; otherwise he would not have written a novel, which is a machine for generating interpretations.

Umberto Eco, postscript to "The Name of the Rose"

What is Death of the Author?

Roland Barthes's famous essay "The Death of the Author" (1967) is a meditation on the rules of author and reader as mediated by the text. Barthes's essential argument is that the author has no sovereignty over his own words (or images, sounds, etc.) that belong to the reader who interprets them. When we encounter a literary text, says Barthes, we need not ask ourselves what the author intended in his words but what the words themselves actually say. Text employ symbols which are deciphered by readers, and since function of the text is to be read, the author and process of writing is irrelevant.

"The death of the author" notion means that meaning is not something retrieved or discovered, having been there all the while, but rather something spontaneously generated in the process of reading a text, which is an active rather than passive action. Barthes does not intend to suggest that the death of the author lets any reader read any text any way he or she like (though others aside from Barthes perused this line of thought). What Barthes is suggesting is that reading always involves at least a little bit of writing or rewriting of the text's meaning.

Barthes's "The Death of the Author" is an attack on traditional literary criticism that focused too much on trying  to retrace the author's intentions and original meaning in mind. Instead Barthes asks us to adopt a more text oriented approach that focuses on the interaction of the reader, not the writer, with it. This means that the text is much more open to interpretation, much more fluid in its meaning than previously thought. (Fisher, 2017)

Recently, the term had shifted more in the modern era, whereas it taken a stronger stance in a sense: "Death of the Author is a concept from mid-20th Century literary criticism; it holds that an author's intentions and biographical facts (the author's politics, religion, etc) should hold no special weight in determining an interpretation of their writing." (TVtropes, 2010)

Some people argue that the author’s words are a Word of God and should be taken to absolute truth. I.e some fans created “headcanons” on existing series that goes against the original canon, and Death of the Author holds no merits on basic facts such as characters’ themselves and the world they inhabitant in.

Topic Discussion: 

Should author have the final say of their works, even after it is completed, or should the fans just go how they feel, regardless of the author's feeling or thoughts on the manner? Even if their statements contradicted their actual works? In other words, should the reader's interpretations holds equal, valid consideration just as the author? Or there’s somewhere in between?

An example is this:

JK Rowling declared that Dumbledore was gay and always been that way in the Harry Potter books. However, fans argued otherwise that such notion was never hinted nor expanded upon in the books. Should Rowling's words be considered be all, end all, or should fans simply choose to ignored her statements if they feel the opposite, regardless of Rowling's intentions?
Thinking about this a bit more lately, I can see where both Word of God readers and Death of the Author have sensible arguments.

I do believe authors always write with intent or insert things deliberately, and those reading to critique the work are going to be more objective in analyzing the text with the job of assessing whether or not the author has communicated what they wished to convey properly and clearly. It's different as opposed to someone reading for pleasure who may extend the text in what they're able to interpret beyond face-value. Fiction is an art form that is sort of a silent dialogue between reader and writer, and I believe to disregard the wishes/statements of the author in their entirety does a disservice to my ability to analyze what is there.

I may roll my eyes at Rowling's weird tweets about Gay Dumbledore but at the end of the day, if there isn't any evidence within the entire collection of books that proves the contrary (i.e. Dumbledore was married to a woman, etc) then the author is free to make those statements outside of the book's context. I can't do anything about it. Additionally, if the random Word of God facts posted to Twitter don't drastically affect the way a plot or character's development can be viewed or interpreted, then it's a non-issue that only affects those who miss the forest for the trees.

And if it does, then that is more indicative that the author did not sufficiently convey it in execution and unintentionally led to the reader misinterpreting the intent they wanted.

So, it wouldn't objectively change anything about the story proper if we said Dumbledore was gay. Rowling confirms Malfoy largely despised Harry out of envy, and this only confirms what one is able to infer from the text itself. Malfoy is an only child and took pride in being the center of attention due to the legacy of his family name. A boy known as 'the Boy who Lived' that came from some place on Muggleworld comong to Hogwarts and being fawned over takes away said attention. Being childish and prideful, Malfoy does not take well to Harry largely for that reason.

That being said, I am not of the belief that readers need to be spoonfed and sacrifice the 'show don't tell' method of storytelling. At least in terms of genre fiction; movies, comics, and manga are a different format of storytelling and perhaps in the movie version of some book, the way a prop is made or arranged IS relevant to interpreting the story because cinematography often is with deliberate choices (see Parasite 2019). Manga is very straightforward since you have visuals that accompany simplified dialogue script-- there is no unreliable narrator 90% of the time due to a fairly neutral POV visually. Things are much more concrete in presentation (but I do believe fan fiction or fan comics have the liberty to change some things so long as it is recontextualized to fit their fanwork. As long as people do not apply fanon as though it were canon to official material, it's harmless).
No worries! I had a feeling that people who like to analyze fictional works will eventually find themselves to this thread: the implications and intentions from the author versus a reader’s analysis of the work.

Reason why I specifically chose JK Rowling because it’s the most famous case of recent memory where an author makes a statement on their works [especially once the work is complete] that some fans may find odd, contradictory or held a dislike over.

Similar to your position, I firmly believe that the author’s word is final and that’s that. This isn’t to say that fans cannot make their own interpretations or provided criticism on a particular work. Readers are free to make their own interpretations and perspectives of the works they have read, watch, and listen. Akira Toriyama went on record stating that he rarely plans things out when writing Dragon Ball. This isn’t to say that there aren’t themes. But the fact of the matter is: if the author says something in regard to their works, that’s the end of that discussion. You’re free to disagree and have your own interpretation, criticisms and the works, but your word should not be above the author when it comes to down to it.

Per your example: if Dumbledore is stated to be gay by the author, that’s the end of the discussion. Even in the case of contradictory information, their word is law. Now fans can dismiss it and don’t have to accept such, but they have to realized that at the end of the day, their head-canon does not trump author’s true intentions. In the case of fanfictions, they are harmless stories that have no impact on the plot, so people can apply multiple interpretations and perspectives they believe in.

This should not be confused with engaging something in literacy criticism and analysis. You can come up with your own conclusions based on what you saw. For example, I don’t think it was deliberate and intentional that the writers behind SOUL [Pixar’s film] went out of their way to make a black-lead character into animals; a common trait that often plague in movies. It’s an interesting analysis and something to discuss about in terms of one dealing with the works.
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