Tuesday, 27 October 2009

The Death of the Author

As I mentioned in the previous post our group was given this text by Roland Barthes to study. Because I'd already read 'The Designer as Author', which is a response to Barthes, I already had a general idea of what was going on but it was still so difficult to get our heads around the text because the language was just so intense.

The purpose of group reading was to understand each sentence before moving to the next. Share ideas and thought; responses and criticisms. At first we were none the wiser, but eventually things started to creep into our brains.

Although Barthes refers to the author of the written word in his essay, his theories can also be applied to design. The main question he asks is 'who creates the meaning?' - so what relation is there between the name on the book cover and the story on the pages inside? His example is a character in a play making a sexist comment; is it the writer making this comment, is it the character, or is it society as a whole? As soon as anything is applied to a narrative, its origin is lost and we no longer know who's voice we're hearing.

He talks about ethnographics - the study of individual human societies - where the author relies on the sociological context. For instances in some communities the value of a story is never measured by the narrative itself but by the mediator; it is how well the story is told that renders it good or bad.

And if it is so crucial that we assign a name to a piece of work then can we say that this work defines this person? Do we know intimate things about them because we know their work? Does their work explain events that happen in their lives? And ultimately, can we judge them as a person simply by their work, because did they really write this message at all?

What Barthes is trying to say is that by authoring something with a name we cannot look at the piece objectively because our interpretations are clouded with all the excess baggage that society has assigned to that name. In his words 'it is the language which speaks, not the author' and we must learn to sacrifice the name so that we can appreciate a message for what it really is.

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