Issues with Barthes & Deconstructionism

In The Death of the Author, Barthes describes that, “writing is the destruction of every voice, of every point of origin.” This puzzled me. How is it that one could view writing in such a way? In poetic forms, voice holds different meanings than it may for Barthes, yet his statement is made in such a way as to pertain to all writing, in any form, throughout all literary formats. That includes poetry, yet there, voice is not only essential, but paramount to the function of the writing. How the, can voice exist in and be destroyed by the writing of something such as a sonnet by Shakespeare, for instance? This comes into focus as Barthes further explains, “As soon as a fact is narrated no longer with a view to acting directly on reality but intransitively, that is to say, finally outside of any function other than that of the very practice of the symbol itself, this disconnection occurs, the voice loses its origin, the author enters into his own death, writing begins.” 

Writing therefore becomes an act of destruction not in that it destroys what is said, but in how it disconnects itself from the writer of it once it has left them. The focal point of understanding and interacting with a written work is in the reader, not the author. It is in this way that Barthes considers that the removal of the author makes deciphering their intention with the text unnecessary, futile, an act in foolishness even.  

This relates to the views of other structuralists, in that the important thing for understanding the relationship of a written work to the society that produced it is not the event of writing, but the system itself. Understanding the rules of linguistics in a structure matter more than the application of those rules in the function of creating a written work. It removes the need to know why a person did what they did in their writings. It is irrelevant in most respects to the structuralist point of view.  

Instead, with the focus being on what is written on the page, as Barthes writes, “the removal of the author… is not merely an historical fact or an act of writing, it utterly transforms the modern text (or—which is the same thing—the text is henceforth made and read in such a way that at all its levels the author is absent).” Barthes describes it as pathetic that others in the past would view the author as important to the written work. Barthes explains: 

Having buried the author, the modern scriptor can no longer believe, as according to the pathetic view of his predecessors, that this hand is too slow for his thought or passion and that consequently, making a law of necessity, he must emphasize this delay and indefinitely ‘polish’ his form. For him, on the contrary, the hand, cut off from any voice, borne by pure gesture of inscription (and not of expression) traces a field without origin—or which at least, has no other origin than language itself, language which ceaselessly calls into question all origins.  

Barthes, R. 1977.

While these points are written in what could be called an eloquent tone of voice, ultimately the ideas behind them feel hollow for me. A nihilistic approach to living, where the individual is of little to no worth because they are no more than cogs in the mechanism (Mambrol, N. 2016). The structure created them, and therefore gets credit and value for what they produce. This system of thinking could be easily screwed, and allow for all forms of rhetoric to influence the societies which employ them. The writings of marginalized citizens are not their own anymore, they belong to society, and as such, they are not proffered the value of their work. It could be used to erase the struggles of the less fortunate, to steal the value which would otherwise belong to the creators of content in the name of viewing the structure as greater than its parts.  

This slippery slope is one that could easily be coopted by groups who would prefer not to see the harm being inflicted on the outgroups. White, cis male authorities can use this to continue the status quo, keeping women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ communities from having their works recognized as part of their experiences; they simply exist as part of the language, something that anyone could have produced. There is also another way to interpret this, by dividing social structures among those distinct groups. This, however, also acts as a division. Those who produce are still otherized by this act, leaving me feeling less than hopeful in the structuralist ideals and their applications. Our societies deserve better. 

Works Cited 

Barthes, Roland. The Death of the Author. 1977. Taken from Falling into Theory. 2000. Bedford/St. Martins Publishing. 

Mambrol, Nasrullah. 2016. Structuralism—Literary Theory and Criticism. https://literariness.org/2016/03/20/structuralism/ 

Published by AC Moore

My goal is to one day change the world in the same way Shakespeare did: by infusing the thoughts of the human race with such language and turn-of-phrase that they say them daily, and never even know it was I who wrote it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: