The Death and Return of the Author: Criticism and Subjectivity in Barthes, Foucault and Derrida

The Death and Return of the Author: Criticism and Subjectivity in Barthes, Foucault and Derrida

The Death and Return of the Author: Criticism and Subjectivity in Barthes, Foucault and Derrida

The Death and Return of the Author: Criticism and Subjectivity in Barthes, Foucault and Derrida

Synopsis

In the revised and updated edition of this popular book, Sean Burke shows how the attempt to abolish the author is fundamentally misguided and philosophically untenable.

Excerpt

Akaky Akakievich, the little clerk made immortal by Gogol, returns from the dead to haunt the government department by which he has been humiliated. Akaky had no sooner invested his life's savings in a new overcoat than he was robbed of it by a gang of thieves. Subjected to further scorn within his department, and treated with contempt by an Important Person in his efforts to recover the stolen overcoat, Akaky succumbed to a fever and died. Seeming to undo the institutional death to which his living body had been condemned, the clerk's literal death allows him to assert the significance of a unique existence. The last act of Akaky's ghostly life is to tear the Important Person's overcoat from his back: chastened, the latter learns to respect people in their rightful singularity.

Reduced to parable, this story indicates the mixture of comedy, pathos and high seriousness with which the death of the author has needed to be treated. It also points to the ever-jagged intersections between institutional and existential mortality. In ending the first edition of this book with the image of a haunting, I suggested that the return criticism invariably makes to the author must also be acknowledged in principle. Easy to recognise, though, the duty of formulating such a return is quite another charge. It has rightly been commented of this book that, while a good case is made against the death of the author, positive alternatives are absent. If a return to the author was to be made, it was first necessary to show that such a return was justified. This task took an entire book. A positive programme – a theory of authorship perhaps – could only be distilled from many books by many authors or theorists. That said, I will briefly sketch the main issues that any such programme would confront.

Immensely valuable work is current in the areas of copyright, intellectual ownership, changing historical conceptions of authorship, the politics . . .

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