Identity of an Author

Reading and analyzing Foucault’s “What is an Author?” and Barthes’s “ The Death of the Author” allowed for an understanding of a Post-Structuralism approach to analyzing text and also an understanding the role that the identity of an author can have, or not have, on a given text. When critically analyzing texts it is important to take into consideration a variety of perspectives in order to create a well-rounded interpretation. Taking into consideration the author’s identity, as well as disregarding it, allows for different perspectives of the same text, which students can use to think critically and become critical readers.

Post-Structuralism literary criticism takes the approach of disregarding the author’s identity and opposes the analysis of literary text based and centered on the author of that given text. Both Foucault and Barthes believed that literary criticism should focus on the reader and their culture and society instead of focusing on the author’s biographical, personal, or cultural circumstances. In “The Death of the Author” Barthes states “The image of literature to be found in ordinary culture is tyrannically centered on the author, his life, his tastes, his passions, while criticism still consists for the most part in saying that Baudelaire’s work is the failure of Baudelaire the man, Van Gogh’s his madness, Tchaikovsky’s his vice. The explanation of a work is always sought in the man or woman who produced it, as if it were always in the end, through more or less transparent allegory of the fiction, the voice of a single person, the author ‘confiding’ in us” (Barthes, 1322). Barthes argues that literary work should not be analyzed by the information about the person who created but instead should focus on a reader response critical theory. “Thus is revealed the total existence of writing: a text is made of multiple writings, drawn from many cultures and entering mutual relations of dialogue, parody, contestation, but there is one place where this multiplicity is focused and that place is the reader, not as, was hitherto said, the author” (Barthes, 1325). Teaching students to disregard the author will teach them that writing can have many interpretations and doesn’t need to be limited by the biographical, personal, or cultural circumstances of the author.

Although, Foucault pointed out that some types of texts have not always needed authors and were accepted and circulated without the need of knowing the author’s identity, the identity of the author can greatly impact the interpretation of a text. Authorship matters and is not only used for classification but an author’s biographical information can also be used to interpret a text and help put it into context. In Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte’s biographical information has been used with several different literary critical theories, which have resulted in many interpretation of Jane Eyre. In “The Father, Castration and Female Fantasy in Jane Eyre”, Dianne Sadoff uses Bronte’s family history, especially her relationship with her father, to connect and critically read Jane Eyre from a psychoanalytical perspective.

As an instructor I feel that it is important to allow students to understand that there are multiple perspectives to critically analyzing and interpreting a text and that knowing the identity of an author and the author’s background can lead to an interesting, new, and different perspective. Student’s can learn a great deal by understanding the gender, race, or nationality of an author and how it ties into the context of their work. Understanding when, and when not, to take and author’s identity into consideration and the perspectives that come with the decision will help students’ develop into well-rounded critical readers.

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