Analysing Extracts From Roland Barthes Novels English Literature Essay
Additionally I am going to analyse another extract from Edward Said and compare Barthes' concepts to the ones Said has which differ not only what criticism but also the question of what gives a text a meaning is concerned.
At the beginning of the extract Barthes writes about the author being the central person in literature. According to him it is all about his life, his personality and everything that spots him. What he writes is something personal and he is 'confiding' in us. He is the one 'nourishing' the book with his own personality and by that producing an 'ultimate meaning', an even 'theological meaning' considering his godlike status as a creator.
With 'in complete contrast' he introduces a new concept of authorship and by that refuses the old one. He differentiates now between 'author' and 'scriptor' whose only power lies in combining pre-existing texts in new ways. He 'is born simultaneously with the text' whereas the author 'is always conceived of as the past of his own book'. The scriptor's past and personality is of no interest at all. He is 'no subject of the book'.
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So argues Said in the beginning of the extract that textuality 'as the result of human work' is rendered nowadays. Textuality was 'isolated [...] from the circumstances, the events [and] the physical sense'.
According to Said, texts have to be read being aware and considering the context they were written in. To him, texts are 'worldly' and almost 'events' in every part of life and history. He argues that only realities can make texts possible. He writes about 'social movements' as well as about 'power and authority'. These are the parts of the social human life and history he wrote about before. It is all about these events of reality that 'deliver' texts to the reader.
Barthes sees the text as a 'multidimensional space in which a variety of writings [...] blend and clash'. He explicitly refuses the idea that the author gave the text a meaning that is the only truth. He thinks that a text is something that is written by a scriptor who read several texts before combining them to a new one. A text was 'drawn from many cultures, entering into mutual relations of dialogue, parody [and] contestation'. This indicates that a text cannot be read in only one single and right way.
He even emphasises that none of the writings the scriptor must have read are 'original'. They are just as combined from other texts as the new written text is. According to him, a book was therefore only an 'imitation that is lost'. A new book is not necessarily something that reminds the reader of other books but it is still made of them, only 'infinitely deferred'.
Coming to write about the function of criticism, it stands out that both, Barthes and Said, clearly differentiate between reader and critic, as Jonathan Culler does. He points out that a reader is very passive and just reads without valuing them. A critic, in contrast, is an active reader with a 'literary competence'. He reads texts and interprets and, above all, values what he reads.
Said opines that these 'realities that make texts possible [...] solicit the attention of critics'. To him critics are very important and a 'critical consciousness is part of its actual social world and of the literal body that the consciousness inhabits'. Here again he argues that reading a text is about dealing with the social context and having at least a little literary competence. These two parts of the critical consciousness belonged together and could not be separated. Furthermore he argues that criticism is not value free at all. It is about reading the text in the particular social context considering the particular values that are 'entailed in the reading, production, and transmission of every text'. Whoever reads the text has values as the one who wrote the text had.
In complete contrast, Roland Barthes argues that 'the reign of the Author has also been the reign of the Critic' and that 'criticism [...] is today undermined along with the Author'. In his opinion it is simply wrong to give a text an author. He thinks the text has a limit and cannot be interpreted anymore like before. He does not want to know about the author's background as he does not want to be influenced by anything in his reading. As soon as the text had an author, is was explained which he calls a 'victory to the Critic'. This was what critics were looking for. They wanted to find the ultimate and single meaning and therefore they had to find the author. He states that critics cannot exist without authors and refusing the function of the author putting and ultimate meaning in his works means at the same time refusing the function of the critic.
That is what Terry Eagleton writes in his Preface to The Function of Criticism. He claims that the institution of criticism is in a crisis. According to him, criticism is superficial and has no need anymore. He points out that he sees no point in criticism nowadays, asking who is supposed to be addressed by the criticism and what the actual functions were. He is obviously of exactly the opposite opinion Edward Said is who considers critics to be very important.
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At the end of the extract Roland Barthes comes back to write about the text that was written in 'duplicity'. He argues that there is someone who understands every word and 'hears the very deafness of the characters'. Again, this emphasises metaphorically his viewpoint on text itself. To him, a text is only made of words that have no specific meaning. The only place where a texts gets a meaning was the reader. Although a text was made of multiple writings, 'there is one place where this multiplicity is focused'. The reader has to interpret a text on his own background, his own life, personality and history, giving no attention to the author. Barthes even writes that text is 'inscribed [on the reader] without any of them being lost'. He draws all power to the reader who, according to him, does not miss a thing while reading a text. Every reader reads a text in a different way and there is no ultimate meaning, as long as the reader does not spend any interest on the text's author. This extract is concluded with the central point of Barthes idea, 'the birth of the reader must be at the death of the author'. A reader is only able to read and interpret a text on his on as long as there is no author who influences his thoughts and ideas in his reading.
This is a slightly different viewpoint than Edward Said's who argues that all meaning lies in the text itself. The text 'delivers' meaning to the reader. Hence he agrees with Wimsatt and Beardsley who argue in 'The International Fallacy' that once a text is written, it takes on a life for itself. No answers were important but those the text can answer.
To sum it all up, Roland Barthes and Edward Said do not have completely different ideas on authors, readers, texts and the function of criticism. Both show no interest in the role of the author. However Barthes opines that a text is given his meaning only from the reader who understands it considering his own personality, whereas Said is of the opinion that the text itself delivers the meaning to the reader and to the critics. Critics are very important, according to Said. They have to value the text on the background of current and past values. Bathes has a completely different idea of that, claiming that critics only try to find the ultimate meaning the author put in the text. He concludes that critics cannot exist if there is no author.
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