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Roland Barthes Introduction

Roland Barthes wrote a famous essay called "The Death of the Author." Sorry to break it to you, Roland, but you're dead, too.

Oh, sorry, you didn't mean that kind of dead? Got it.

Roland Barthes, critic extraordinaire, is most famous for his claim that the author of a text wasn't worth diddlysquat anymore. Forget about who wrote something—there are bigger fish to fry. They're called readers.

But Barthes was more than just the bearer of bad news. He was also kind of a Renaissance man: semiotician (someone who studies how language works as a whole system of signs), cultural critic, and all-around philosopher. And he analyzed it all, from the super canonical (like Goethe and Racine) to popular culture (think fashion magazines and commercials). He's kind of like four or five thinkers wrapped up in one theorist. And it's no surprise: after all, he was writing before and during the headiest days of big theory, from the 50s into the 80s.

Sure, he covered a lot of ground, but there are some major questions that Barthes kept coming back to: what are the roles that authors and readers play? Why do we make authors out to be geniuses perching on way-too-high pedestals? What are the ingredients that make up a text? And why are some ideas and ways of writing so familiar to us that they seem totally natural?

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