Death of the Author
Until recently, an author was an unproblematic concept; an author was someone who wrote a book. Roland Barthes' landmark essay, "The Death of Author," however, demonstrates that an author is not simply a "person" but a socially and historically constituted subject. Following Marx's crucial insight that it is history that makes man, and not, as Hegel supposed, man that makes history, Barthes emphasizes that an author does not exist prior to or outside of language. In other words, it is writing that makes an author and not vice versa. "[T]he writer can only imitate a gesture that is always anterior, never original. His only power is to mix writings [...] in such a way as never to rest on any one of them" (146). Thus the author cannot claim any absolute authority over his or her text because, in some ways, he or she did not write it. This is not to say that someone named Margaret Atwood did not spend many months toiling away at book called Lady Oracle, rather that we must re-think what it means when we say "Margaret Atwood" and "Lady Oracle." Barthes throws the emphasis away from an all-knowing, unified, intending subject as the site of production and on to language and, in so doing, hopes to liberate writing from the despotism of what he calls the work, or what we have called The Book:
However, the vision of hypertext as the New Jerusalem of the writerly text neglects to consider the very real pleasures that come from surrendering to the discursive seductions of a masterful author. As Max Whitby notes in his article "Is Interactive Dead?," "[s]torytelling and narrative lie at the heart of all successful communication. Crude, explicit, button-pushing interaction breaks the spell of engagement and makes it hard to present complex information that unfolds in careful sequence" (41). The real allure of hypertext, it may turn out, is not its alliance with the writerly text, but with The Book, with its possibilities, through fixed links and narrow path choices, of ever more ingenious ways of directing, controlling and surprising the reader. The Author may be dead, but his ghosts maybe even more eloquent.