Throughout the reading, I found it very difficult to see where Barthes and Foucault were coming from. To me, an author always has a purpose for writing, therefore, it is nearly impossible for me to separate an author from his work. An author is always inspired whether it be by a life experience, a deadline, or by money to write. I see contradictions in the fact that Barthes and Foucault clearly have a belief that they want to convey through writing. I can concede that, “To give a text an Author is to impose a limit on that text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing (1325). I don’t think knowing Barthes’ or Foucault’s background would matter in reading either of their essays. It doesn’t changing the message or meaning. However, knowing their background wouldn’t box in the reader, like how Barthes’ believes. Everyone has their own experience when reading, so it wouldn’t box anyone in. For example, I have read The Catcher in the Rye several times in my life and every time I’ve read it, I’ve had a different experience with it. Knowing about J.D. Salinger and his tendency to be a recluse didn’t and doesn’t affect my reading of the novel. It helps me understand the motivation behind Holden Caulfield’s behavior and how lonely he is, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that either just because I know that J.D. Salinger preferred to be alone. Barthes mentions a could of times how writing is made up of all kinds of quotes and cultures, like, “The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture” (1324). I guess, in a sense, he could be saying that knowing the background of the author doesn’t matter because his product comes from so many other places, but to me, that would just mean that there are so many more things the reader should understand before reading a text.
I can also understand Barthes’ and Foucault’s arguments from the lense of reading a book for pleasure, for simply just the story. In reading Jane Eyre without knowing anything about Charlotte Bronte, the reader experiences a very interesting story with many characters that you can relate to, but also many characters that you can’t relate to either. It’s like going to the movies where the audience doesn’t usually know a ton about the director or writer or producer because the audience goes in with the suspension of disbelief. In studying literature, or film for that matter, I don’t think you are truly studying the text unless you know all the aspects of it. Did the fact that Charlotte Bronte, and her sisters, all wrote with a male pen name affect the novel? Did how Charlotte Bronte grow up influence the story she wrote? These are all important aspects that must be analyzed for students to understand a novel, especially in this day in age where students are so curious, but also don’t fully understand unless you bring this biographical context in as well.
As a teacher, I think I go back to the statement I made earlier that an author always has a purpose for writing. I think it is important to focus on this because it usually lends itself to cross curricular instruction. Teaching The Crucible could lend to history through both the Salem Witch Trials and the fact that Miller was using the play as an allegory for the Red Scare. With Shakespeare, you can give the historical context of the play as well as Shakespeare himself, while possibly lending the math and science to build a model of the Globe theatre. With The Odyssey, it’s always important to discuss the oral tradition of Homer’s time to give the context of the style. The only time I can see a pure break from the author through teaching is perhaps through teaching non-fiction, for the most part. You don’t need to know the author’s experiences to read a biography of someone, however, it is important to know if that person is credible, so knowing about the author could be vital even in those instances.