Although Friday’s class was not my first encounter with “The Death of the Author,” I feel that it was not necessarily any easier to understand the second time around. Though the premise is simple -- the author must be evicted from the picture for the reader to construct his own meaning within the story -- it is still challenging for me to grasp that it is possible, and beneficial, to sever an author from his writing. It is similar to appreciating a Van Gogh painting only for its artistic quality. Of course, the painting is lovely. The brush strokes are practiced and precise. But isn’t what really makes this piece of art so special the fact that it was painted by Van Gogh? If the painting was created by an unknown artist, and hung above the couch in someone’s living room, it would not have nearly as much of an impact as it would if we are aware of its origins. I think the same often goes for an author and his writing.
This brings up the question of agency, or agent/cy. The dilemma between the two is defined in our notes as “tension between ‘agent’ -- one who acts or has the capacity to act, often as a representative of someone or something else -- and ‘agency’ -- the condition or state of being that includes power, or the ability to do something.”
Can a writer really let his writing be his agent? I suppose the writing has the capacity to act by projecting its ideas onto the reader, but who is it representing if the writer is meant to be dead? With no one to represent, the writing has no choice but to represent itself. On the other hand, the writing itself may possess agency. It has the power to touch the reader; they may laugh, they may cry, they may learn new things, all because of how the writing is telling them to respond. However, the writing did not give power to itself. If it was not for the author, the writing would have no rhyme or reason. Barthes says on page 875, “It is language which speaks, not the author.” To me, this cannot be. The author manipulates the language to speak in a way which gets his point across, and which portrays his feelings on a given subject. Therefore, while the writing may speak to some people in a slightly different way than others, it still represents the author’s voice. The author is the one that has the power. He has the ability to sway readers in one way or another, because he is the agent of himself.