in observations, philosophy, writing

The Death of the Author

there is, however, someone who understands each word in its duplicity and who, in addition, hears the very deafness of the characters speaking in front of him-this someone being precisely the reader.

via The Death of the Author by Roland Barthes Full Text, Downloads, Cliff Notes, and Essays.

 

This text, pointed to me by Dan on ADN (which was in response to this article posted there by Matthew) reflects what I believe about writing today – that in as much as we want to give meaning to the text in terms of the context of the author, the real meaning can only be derived by the reader himself. The same is true, in my book, about any art – paintings, sculptures etc, where it is not the artist’s life, times, societal pressures or addictions, that define the true meaning of the work, but the impressions it makes upon the viewer that truly reflect the value of the art.

This is even truer for modern art, where the artist’s cachet is what is used by the investors and the gallery owners to justify the logic of paying a certain amount of money for the work. This gives birth to the need of the ‘troubled artist’. MF Hussain’s work is more respected than the guy on the street corner because his suffering is perceived to be greater. This is not the least bit important since what matters, as is explained in the essay above, is the reader’s perception. Hussain’s work is important to me because of the emotion it evokes in me.

Lastly, for the author himself, it is important to note that your work should stand on its own merit and not because of the way you’ve lived your life. Your work should be a gift unto the world, regardless of how you came about it, because whether you realize it or not, you are standing on the shoulders of others and not on a truly original work of art by its own means. That small part which is the Ego will tell you time and again that this is all you, all of your success and all of your brilliance. It will fail to mention that the failure and the absurd is also you and you need to embrace that. Because only then will you detach yourself from the process and just work for the worth of the work itself.

 

Counter Point: Platforms such as the Huffington Post and Medium are aggregators of work that others have done. When a reader reads an article on Medium, she rarely thinks of the author, instead focusing on the fact that she read it “on Medium”. This deprives the author of recognition. There is a legitimate need to accept that an individual is capable of producing  brilliant work on their own. This entire concept is trashed by giving undue importance to the platform, worrying about its qualities, looks and perceived popularity.

Also, if truly, the author as an entity were dead, why publish this on my own blog? Why not just publish it on PasteBin and leave it there to be discovered by someone else? The fact is that we cannot fully understand a text without understanding the ethos of the author. We cannot simply look at a book and understand it. To gain full understanding, we need to see the reasoning, the political, social and economic factors as well as the emotional travails of the author.

Encyclopedias and platforms like Wikipedia propagate information and do not reveal the authors behind them. The same is true for all news media, who simply stamp the name of the publication on the top and the names of individual authors is relegated to the small font. This does not negate the fact that when we pick up one newspaper, we get a certain opinion attached to the same news item that another newspaper will report differently. This suddenly opens up the fact that now, corporations have an identity and a thought process, and a reason for writing the way they do, depending on their benefactors, investors and their circumstances. Should we allow companies to have identities but not individuals?

 

End Note: The debate whether the Author is the center of understanding of a work of art or the reader is, is open. There are both sides of the argument and all that we can accept is that there is merit in each approach. In cruel irony, I note that the site I mentioned, deathoftheauthor.com, does not seem to have any information about who created it and how, because it seems to be interesting technology. I confess that I went on a hunt to find this information and in bitter-sweetness, came up with no answer.

  • I’ve been told that I’m uncultured because I have no appreciation for modern art. I enjoy art museums as much as I enjoy a trip to the dentist.