Some thoughts on the readings and lecture

That a subjective experience of things is required to reveal the richness of things and their meaning as a whole R. Barthes recognises in his essay The Death of the Author.

In the essay he states that a text can have an existence independent to that of the author. It can be endowed with meaning, outside that intended by the author, depending on the context, but most importantly depending on the reader.

“To give a text an Author is to impose a limit on the text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing.”[1]

To assume that the only meaning is that as intended by the author, is to assume that we know this text with absolute clarity and therefore without any room for further interpretation. Barthes argues that this should not be the case, that the text should not be completely tied to the author’s beliefs and so have a single decipherable meaning, but rather allow the reader to disentangle the different layers of meaning running through the text

“The reader is the space on which all quotations that make up a writing are inscribed, without any of them being lost; a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination”[2]

Only through the participation of the reader does the total existence of the writing and its true nature become revealed.

However much important though ‘the birth of the reader’ is, it must not be assumed to be at the expense of the ‘death of the author’. The meaning as intended by the author should be allowed to come through, however not as a final signified, but rather as something of more ambiguous nature that can be reinterpreted by the reader.

This issue is not something that is solely confined to the world of literature, but rather something that concerns every work of art created, whether it be a piece of writing, a painting, or architecture. The issue of creation, poiesis, still remains the same. Should the work of art brought forward be self referential and embody meaning only as intended by the ‘author’ or should it also have reference to its context, while at the same time also allowing for reinterpretation by its ‘reader’? Should the work of art reveal something else other than itself? Should architecture reveal something else other than itself?

If so, then it should not have a “final signified”, it should not be a sign for something, it should not just mean something, but rather allow meaning to present itself to its ‘reader’. This can only be done if it is symbolically significant.

Symbols are not mere signs, something that simply implies another thing.[3] They hold a certain mystery and form our shared cosmology of images and emotions. They tie together our being by reconciling opposites in our psyche; reason and emotion, rational and irrational, conscious and unconscious all of which are part of being human.

The word symbol, in Greek συμβολο has its root in the verb συμβαλλει, which means to bring together, to contribute[4]. Something more is brought together with what is created, a meaning other than that as intended by its creator. A work of art with symbolic resonance thus reveals something else other than itself, as it is able to evoke response.

The birth of the reader is exactly this response, the thoughts and feelings conjured up in him that allow him to engage with the work of art, to participate in it, and bring in his own meaning, so that in turn the true nature of the work of art is revealed.


[1] Barthes, Roland ‘ The Death of the Author’ in Image, Music, Text pg.147

[2] Ibid pg.148

[3] Carl Jung Man and His Symbols pg.92

[4] Liddel and Scott Greek English lexicon Oxford Press


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