Somehow reading Atonement by Ian McEwan reminded me of the essay by Roland Barthes titled ‘The Death of the Author’ (although I can still only trace a tenuous link (described at the end) to what may have provoked my remembering that essay).
In this thought provoking work Barthes challenges the concept of authorship, making a convincing argument that being the author does not make you an authority on what you write and that interpreting a text through the prism of the author’s attributes (his views- political/ religious, historical context etc) will only severly limit the interpretation of the text. Every reader has to derive his/ her own meaning from the text rather than merely prescribing to the views of the author or an expert thereof- a bit like reading a book without the name of the author on it (or any information about it available on the internet which will stop us wisecracks from googling it and reading what others have to say about it- just think about the reviewing function not existing on amazon!).
He stresses that whatever an author writes is just a ’tissue of quotations’ from different cultures and existing sources. Nothing is original- everything is borrowed. Language is supreme and is the reader, not the author.
And why would this be important? Because it would challenge an entire stream of our thought process and our concepts of ownership. Remarking that ‘a book was written by X and therefore it has to be this and has to be about that’ would be ridiculous. A text exists and nothing that we know about the origin ought to change what the text finally stands for in our individual version of the interpretation.
I paraphrase from memory and muddle the meaning but if you are interested you should read the essay here.
So why was I thinking about this essay after I read Atonement? (Possible spoilers ahead- do not read if you don’t wish to!)
Its probably because when you get to the end of the narrative you end up with a metanarrative- a nested story within a story. The entire narrative is no longer just a tale that is recounted by a rational, uninvolved third person but a work that has been drafted and redrafted many a time by one of the characters in the story. So one automatically wonders if the reading of the story would have been any different had we known from the beginning that we were reading the manuscript of Briony Tallis rather than the finished work of Ian McEwan?
I’m not completely sure but the more I think about it, the more I think it hardly makes a difference.
“I know there’s always a certain kind of reader who will be compelled to ask, But what really happened? The answer is simple: the lovers survive and flourish”
PS: Meh! The fact that I wrote this post over an allergy induced cold should not influence your decision on the state of this blogger or the post. The post merely exists- if it is bad, blame the post, not the blogger.