Death of the Author

Here's an interesting one. I was just having a brief discussion with an English Lit student friend of mine about the concept of 'Death of the Author.' If you haven't heard of it, the idea is basically that a writer has no authority over a text once it's written. Since the text is open to interpretation by all, and each reader's interpretation is equally valid, not to mention just as valid as the author's, the theory holds that the author for all intents and purposes 'dies' the moment a text is completed.

This concept came about some years before web fiction, of course, and it probably didn't occur to whoever came up with it (Barber or Baber or something, I think) that a text might be read while in progress. I suppose that would count as an incomplete text.

Anyway, I just wondered if any of the rest of you guys had heard of it- and, if you had, did you have any opinions on the validity of your own deaths?

i am sure that one day my death will be a valid one :P

never heard of this theory put quite this way before, but i'd like to stick with the idea that we live on through our works after our earthly bodies are dust. as can anyone else with their opinions of said works. why would we need to 'die' at all? if all interpretations are valid, yet we 'die' once we have written, that's just a whole lot of unnecessary deaths. rather a moot point i think.

it's like a a cup of hot chocolate on a stormy day and i've brought marshmallows :P

perhaps barber/baber got bored and introspective one day or was forced to entertain a host of intellectuals, so came up with this. another favourite of mine is the missing letter in the english alphabet...

If the author is dead then his work must be in the public domain already and anybody can copy it. Of course, I was under the impression that that was how most people interpret the internet anyway...

According to the law of my country, the copyright of a work by an single author (without a publisher) only expires after 50 years of the author's death. This is quite a bad news to me because I wanted to make Chaos Fighters series a series that pass on until "the doomsday". This includes web fiction.

But come to think about it, if the author puts up his/her interpretation to public, maybe it will shield off other interpretations which might not be in the mind of the author himself/herself, which I'm planning to do that eventually.

The theory doesn't concern copyright at all. It concerns interpretation of a work.

A lot of authors often say that they never intended to write deep cultural commentaries or such into their work, and often disagree with the interpretations of their themes and characters that other people come up with. That's what the Death of the Author means -- once it's written and out there, the writer has no control over how people interpret it.

Yeah XD I think a few people missed that.

Actually I agree with this idea ... I think its the beautiful part of the creative process, the ability of the audience to engage the work... remix it, reinterpret it as they like.

Sadly I think most writers have lost touch with this concept :(

why should writers want to control other people's interpretations of their work? an interpretation of anything belongs to the interpreter and if this is faulty or open to debate, of what concern is this to the writer - other than perhaps a driving need to defend said work... and this kind of debate can go on for years. if anything, a lively debate over their work can only be good, right?

but why should the author 'die'? does a foreign man's concepts, beliefs, thoughts, words become invalid once the interpreter has translated - however accurately that may be? an unthinking mass may follow an interpreter blindly and we may argue that the author may become 'less' (or maybe even 'more'), but 'die'? that's a little absurd...

The reason is simple: The author doesn't want the idea behind his/her works deviate from what he/she have been thought. To me, if I'm dead, the idea will be altered or expanded, but before I die, I'll tell the idea. It's not "control" people's interpretation of the works, but telling his/her interpretation of his/her works. I never said that it cannot be debated, but at least the author should explain thoroughly his/her works.

Fyodor woke and rubbed his eyes. Am I still in purgatory? he wondered. Whoops, look at that girl down there. No not that one. The one with my book. Of course, I no longer believe the premise of that one. How could I, knowing what I now know?

Look at her, I wonder what she thinks I meant ... I hardly know myself these days.

i like fyodor... :P

The wonderful thing about life is that every mind is unique, and understands concepts and language in unique ways. The very act of communication is an interpretive experience -- the initiator has to put thoughts and feelings into language and hope that it's understandable, and then the receptor has to receive the message and process it with their individual mind, which has their unique set of memories, conceptualizations and emotions.

All communication is thus up to interpretation. But "Death of the Author" was a misnomer, as interpretation is an ongoing conversation, and the author has every right to participate in it. That's not "death."

People might certainly get more out of a text (or film or song etc.) than the original intent, or fly right past an important intention of the author. As writers, I'm sure we all put in things that no one else notices, or have had readers find things we didn't know were there. But that's life -- communicating and learning and revising and editing and trying again, and hoping.

However, I think an author certainly has the right to comment and elaborate on ideas in their stories, as they built the various layers and not everyone might notice. No one else knows the reason for every piece of the work, so interpreters are seeing what they see, instead of trying to see what the author meant. The story exists in a space between the two perspectives, not solely the province of one or the other.

The great sf writer Lois McMaster Bujold once said, "You don't write a book; you induce one." This is something you just have to live with. I remember Steve Brust telling a story of a thrilled fan who pumped his hand enthusiastically and said he loved his latest novel, which was based on Hungarian folk tales and Grateful Dead lyrics: "I love the way you stuck it to the Jews!" (Steve thoroughly washed his hand afterwards.) You can't control the book you induce with *some* people, and that's just how it goes.

That said, I think when you write online you can stay alive in a way that you can't with dead-tree publishing. Because you can alter based on reader response, and you can also interact with them. Not that I'm saying making changes based on reader response is always wise -- but you do have the option.

Interesting thread, thank you.


Karen Wehrstein -

So true, Karen. Around here we call this "the browser perplex". The idea being that no matter how you design a web page, you don't know for sure what people are actually seeing. Maybe their screen turns it all green, or their browser filters out all your cool action javascripts or maybe they're not seeing any images at all.

Thing is, it's just like real life. Calling it "death of the author" is a bit melodramatic: it's just the subjective reality of perception.

Except more so.

A friend we all know, a painter of very psychoactive landscapes was buttonholed at an opening by some guy raving about how cool the work was. Nice. Until he started itemizing... "How'd you get the little gorillas with rayguns running around in there? And all this flaming tit stuff over here?" Trippin.

Thing is, we're all on our own trip when we experience art. Or, in fact, anything.

*thread necromancy- Rise! RiIIise!*

I've played with the idea of linking all and sundry to my writing as I do it in real time on a platform like google documents, where it would be possible to share read access. It would certainly throw the concept of the author ceasing to influence a work for a loop.

There is also this excellent article that was posted to Novelr recently:

No, you can't control what some people think about what you write, but neither is every interpretation of what you write valid. One thing that annoys me to no end is pouring your heart and soul into something and then have someone else say, "Oh, this really means that you hate so-and-so". No, it doesn't mean that, and it doesn't depend on what the meaning of "is" is. If anything, the author lives on through his published works long after he is dead and his words themselves will be urinating on the graves of all the word-manglers who in their imagined self-importance try to make Dickens into a cross-dresser, among other literary absurdities.