Study Guide

Wimsatt and Beardsley Files

Unearthed notes by W.K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley from 1965—two years before that dashing and charismatic French critic Roland Barthes published his famous essay "The Death of the Author," which granted him the lion's share of credit for the concept.

Wimsatt and Beardsley never called foul on Barthes's professional coup, but they probably would not object to an eager graduate student bringing these notes to light and thus giving them more credibility in the Post-Structuralist/Deconstruction scene—which, in general, has seen them as a bunch of straitlaced fuddy-duddies.

  • Hilarious dinner party last night with Tom [T.S. Eliot], John [Crowe Ransom]. Was it just us, or did we come up with some crazy but critically legitimate ideas about how the author is just plain irrelevant? (Can't even quote what Tom said—what a mouth on that guy!)
  • Definitely would be a shame to do all this work arguing that the author is meeting his maker (seems nicer to use a euphemism than to bluntly say "The Death of the Author"—potentially offensive) only to have the author resurrected like Dr. Frankenstein's reanimated beast. Sounds horrifyingly postmodern.
  • What to do? How to "disappear" that pesky author for good?
  • We are definitely working against the brawny (evil?) force of New Historicists—not to mention Marxists, Feminists, multiculturalists—anyone and everyone caught up in these wacky identity politics. They're everywhere. (Note to selves: how to write about the death of the critic without including ourselves in the roster of dead authors? Return to this one.)
  • Our cri de coeur: "Down with authors. Up with words. Personal projection is for the birds!" (Repeat, as needed.)
  • Wondering why we spent all that time fighting fascist dictators in World War II only to let authors become all-powerful tyrants.
  • Didn't Nietzsche say "God is dead"? Why let the author replace him?
  • We can only hammer home that it's all about craft so many times before we start to get, well, annoying. Will have to mix it up a bit all in the interest of getting eyeballs directed to words on the page.
  • Definitely underscore our influential place in intellectual thought in the 1960s, even if we weren't hanging out at Les Deux Magots with Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre.
  • Drive home deconstruction's debt to the Intentional Fallacy—but don't go too far. Must remain humble at all costs.
  • Before any of this happens, we must reconcile with the heinous rumor that Barthes might be writing his own piece about the expiration of the author, not to mention that even more dastardly rumor that he has accused New Critics of fortifying the status of the author rather than disempowering the author.
  • We refuse to allow this nasty gossip to undermine our faith in our own accomplishments.
  • Start support group for wholesome American critics overshadowed by limelight-stealing French critics. En garde.

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