Jane Gallop, The Deaths of the Author: Reading and Writing in Time, Duke UP, 2011.
“The death of the author” has long been a theme in literary theory. First posed by the French intellectual Roland Barthes in 1968, and then followed by another Parisian giant Michel Foucault the following year, the phrase became something of a rallying cry for Anglophonic literature critics intent on displacing the writer at the expense of the reader. The author is dead, long live the reader!
But as intellectual fashions come and go, the anti-humanism of these luminary writers and their legion followers has been itself displaced, itself subject to a kind of death. Barthes and Foucault are long dead (1980 and 1984), as are many others of the post-structuralist generation of 68 (Derrida in 2004, Baudrillard in 2007). In her wonderfully human take on the subject, Jane Gallop re-examines not only this well-worn critical topic, but the actual deaths of some of these critics. How do we read, and write, in the wake of the author’s literal death?
After a lucid introduction to those two groundbreaking papers, Gallop begins with a look at Barthes, noting that, having grandly declared the author dead in 1968, Barthes was already looking for its “friendly return” in 1973. Though the author (or rather capital A Author) as institution is still dead, Barthes has moved on to framing the author as desirable. Gallop argues that this surreptitiously revives the old theme of the author’s immortality – now the author achieves immortality by being able to touch bodies after death. This chapter works well, focusing on the erotics of Barthes’ work and showing how the author continues to exert a kind of a force on the reader.