When interpreting literature (or, more broadly, narratives), what should be the role of the author in the interpretation of that work? Carl Jung said that “Poets are humans to, and what they say about their work is often far from being the best word on the subject.” What are we to do when an author explains his or her work in a way that makes no sense? Is interpretation bounded by the author’s intentions or life experiences?
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In a 1967 essay, the French literary critic Roland Barthes famously proclaimed the “death of the author.” He meant that the author’s interpretation of the meaning of a work should not be prioritized over other interpretations. Authorial intent is not authoritative.
Death of the author: Treating the author’s stated interpretation of their own work as merely one opinion among many, rather than the authoritative Word of God.
Disappearance of the author: Treating the context and circumstances of the work’s authorship as entirely irrelevant with respect to its interpretation, as though the work had popped into existence fully formed just moments ago.
Taxidermy of the author: Working backwards from a particular interpretation of the work to draw conclusions about what the context and circumstances of its authorship must have been.
Undeath of the author: Holding the author personally responsible for every possible reading of their work, even ones they could not reasonably have anticipated at the time of its authorship.
Frankenstein’s Monster of the author: Drawing conclusions about authorial intent based on elements that are present only in subsequent adaptations by other authors.
Weekend at Bernie’s of the author: Insisting that the author would personally endorse your interpretation of the work if they happened to be present.
-via Alex de Campi | Image: 20th Century Fox