Study Guide

Roland Barthes - Dead Authors Society

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Dead Authors Society

These guys all have their different loyalties, but one thing brought them together: they all suspected that authors had gotten a wee bit too much attention in literary theory. Blind epic poets, geniuses, philosopher-kings, Shakespeare, blah, blah, blah. What about the text itself? What about the people who just wrote for a living? And what about the reader? Barthes himself argued that we've elevated authors to geniuses—and that this is just plain bad for the business of reading.

Wimsatt and Beardsley

Founders (in favor of ignoring the author entirely)

Wimsatt and Beardsley took New Criticism to its logical conclusions. If we study the text and nothing but the text, then it's time to ignore the author. Everything we need is in the poem or the novel, and we probably couldn't trust what the author says, anyway.

Stanley Fish

Social committee chair (in favor of readers)

Stanley Fish made a splash with "Is there a Text in this Class?" We've all asked some version of this. Sometimes we go to class, and we start to wonder: did everyone seriously read the same poem last night? But Fish took that experience a step further. It's not about the text, but the reader; and it's not just about the reader, but entire groups of readers (as Fish calls them, interpretive communities). When lots of readers agree about what a poem means, they get to dictate right and wrong interpretations. It's all about readers now (sorry, Keats).

Michel Foucault 

Poser of loaded questions (in favor of bringing the author back down to earth and history)

We knew that Foucault was part of the clique when he wrote "What is an Author?" He goes beyond the whole real writer vs. genius debate, and gives us a new term: the author-function. It's time to study the historical functions (or roles) that authors have played.

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