Dear, Mr. Barthes: A Open Letter from Michel Foucault, based on What is an Author

Note: This brief discussion is written in a form of a letter of what would look like if Michel Foucault tries to write to Roland Barthes in a letter a brief summary of his essay What is an Author.

Dear Mr. Roland Barthes,

I heard about your essay ‘The Death of the Author‘. Well, it’s well-explained & well-written, but I felt there were some flaws in your essay. You may want to read my defense of the Author in my essay ‘What is an Author‘, but I can summarize it in this letter.

As we all know, the Author has a presence throughout his  or her works. You said that it hinders the reader’s way of interpreting any work, and that the author must ‘die’ for the real reading & writing to begin. Good point, but I think it’s impossible to take the Author away.  For me, the Author’s presence is a sign of power. One may ask, ‘what would allow the Author to exist?’ Well, just try to look & analyze the author’s function, how it is circulated and attributed & the kinds of discourses. But there’s the catch: the Author function isn’t universal nor constant, as many would believe.

Taking in historical context, the reason for the author being accredited for a work comes from the Middle Ages, as the sign that validates scientific writings, though it also may applied to any literary work, though I doubt that. People even back then & the ancient times up until the 17th & 18th Centuries don’t know who wrote the stories, myths & plays, but they care about the texts for their contents, not who wrote that literary text. It still works the same effect in medical journals today. When looking at it in literary discourse, meaning depends on the Text to an author, however this has evolved over recent years; though this only defines the meaning we are looking for , for if we accept the author as the originator & the sole producer of meaning within a work, we can define & understand it more. Out of this comes the worshipful nature of the author as the ‘sole creator of meaning’.

Now I understand of what you meant about the death of the Author, but here’s my theory on this. Writing or creating of a piece of writing is a sacrifice, it is a voluntary disappearance into your work, hence the ‘death of the author’. While it does try to displace them, it only upholds the work & suppresses the real reasons for his/her death. We’re talking about ideas of ownership when it comes to work & how it was developed throughout history, as well as the ‘death of the Author’ & attempts to suppress their privileged position: I, however, don’t think that I should dismiss an Author’s importance & yet they’re not the ones who wrote their texts, though. The study of the relationship between the Author & the text, or the lack of it, is important & necessary: the attention to their name & their role in classifying works that falls under one Author & works that falls under another one, and so. Author function, for me,  reveals the convergence of the complex web of discursive practices. In other words, the Author is merely backstage; they’re in the text but they no longer play an active role in making meaning, the Readers play an important role for this task.

I’m sorry if I was a little too critical of your essay but that’s how I see the author function myself. I hope you don’t take my words as a hard blow. I hope that we can contact each other for an academic discussion soon.

Sincerely yours,

Michel Foucault


Leitch, Vincent B. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York City, New York, United States of America: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001.