The Death of the Author
“A narrator should not supply interpretations of his work; otherwise he would not have written a novel, which is a machine for generating interpretations.“
— Umberto Eco, postscript to The Name of the Rose
- Roland Barthes, ‘The Death of the Author’, in The Rustle of Language, trans. by Richard Howard (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1986), pp. 49-55.
- Leo Tolstoy, ‘The Kreutzer Sonata’ and ‘Postface to The Kreutzer Sonata’, in The Kreutzer Sonata and Other Stories, trans. by David McDuff and Paul Foote (London: Penguin, 2008. NB: You do not need to read the other pieces in the book.
A) In groups, discuss the following:
1- ‘[T]he image of literature to be found in contemporary culture is tyrannically centred on the author, his person, his history, his tastes, his passions’ (p. 50). What is the difference between a/Author? Why do we cling to the Author? What is attractive about the figure of the Author?
2- ‘To assign an Author to a text is to impose a brake on it’ (Barthes, p. 53). What are the limits of the ‘Postface’? How does it impose a brake on the story? Can you understand the text without it? If so, why Tolstoy added it?
3- Think about the psychoanalytic approach that you studied last week, discuss the text in relation to repression. Does Tolstoy lose control of his text? How? Give examples.
- Look at this painting. Make wild guesses about its meaning. Now, ask me any question about it. Any question that you think may help you cracking its code.
- After I provide you with all the answers and the mystery has been solved, what happened to all the amazing interpretations in your mind? Who puts a brake on your interpretation (in Barthes phrase)? Can it close the reading of the work (again, Barthes’s terminology)?
- How does the Reader open up a multiplicity of text? What is the limit of the Reader?
Next-Seminar Prep: Realism
Please ensure you have read Colin McCabe’s essay ‘Realism and the Cinema’ and Agatha Christie’s short story ‘Tape-Measure Murder’ – both of which can be found in the course reader. Suggested reading to compliment the above are the following chapters in Bennett and Royle: Chapter 4 ‘The Text and the World’ and Chapter 8 ‘Character’. A PDF version will be available in the website www.zainabalqublan.com under the category: SE2148 Ways of Reading/Group 2.
- Define the following (or, rather, how do you understand the following):
- Dominant Specularity
- Try to summarise how you understand McCabe’s essay in no more than 100 words.
- Is there a particular quote that stands out for you? Why?
You may wish to listen to the ‘Kreutzer Sonata’ here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YKmb7_y3E8
Have a nice weekend 😊