Philosophical views of authorship
have caused complications within literary theory – beyond what constitutes
authorship legally – with critics such as Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault critically
and philosophically examining the role and relevance of authorship when
depicting meaning and interpretation from a text, and Jorge Luis Borges psychoanalysing
authorships confliction between the private self – the deeper self, and the
persona that we label as ‘the author’. In this essay I will be discussing the concept
of authorship and whether it is a multifaceted manifestation of different
cultures, ideas, languages and philosophies.

 

 Jorge Luis Borges’s short story ‘Borges and I’1
arguably suggest the concept of the ‘author’, while being a physical person, is
fundamentally an idea, and perhaps even an abstract concept: ‘what is
good belongs to no one, not even to him, but rather to the language and to
tradition’. This quotation potentially implies that authorship is the function
of discourse opposed to the creation of it, and possibly even comparing writing with acting: ‘but in a vain way
that turns them into the attributes of an actor’. As owning words is impossible,
this interpretation would also be enforcing the notion that to be an author is
irrelevant, rendering the concept of authorship pointless.  However, the fact authorship can and does
exist as a concept is only due to the fact we can experience and see it in
physical form, for example; we could not attribute ‘Borges and I’ to Borges
unless we physically had the text in front of us to read and learn from.
Foucault states ‘the writing subject cancels out the signs of his
particular individuality’ (Foucault, 1960); this could suggest that the distinction
between author and writer mirrors that of the persona and self, and that
cognitive differences occur when processing information through from third
person to first person. This identifies with ‘Borges and
I’ as the narrator – Borges third person persona – seems conflicted with
himself and Borges, articulating that the ‘author’ persona is ‘falsifying and
magnifying things’. This allows us to assume that even though an author may be
writing in his own words, the writer himself is not the author, thus rendering
the concept of authorship abstract.

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Furthermore,
Roland Barthes also challenges the idea that a text can be attributed to a
singular author. He controversially states in his essay ‘Death of the Author’2
(1968) that ‘It is language which speaks, not the author: to write is to reach,
through a pre-existing impersonality’. Indeed, Barthes is implying that it is
the words and language of a text itself that determine and expose meaning, and
not someone’s legal claim to the responsibility of the process in which it was
produced, however, the use of ‘impersonality’ here suggests an absence of human
character, just as ‘Borges and I’ implies a lack of humanistic qualities while
assuming the role of the author, Barthes seems to agree with Borges’s in that
the concept of authorship is abstract and somewhat pointless when depicting
meaning from a text. Barthes uses ‘Pre-exist’: – ‘to step out, stand forth,
emerge, appear; exist, be’ – the use of the word ‘pre-existing’ accurately
portrays the abstractness of authorship by suggesting the authors true
personality is not present whilst writing, this version of himself only exists
before he was an author – not during – thus creating the need to ‘reach through
a preexisting impersonality’ to become the persona we will later come to label
‘the author’. Contrastingly, authorship is one of the most powerful reflections
of artistry, allowing authors to create a physical and metaphorical
representation of their ideologies helps us understand the author, which is
arguably one of the main tools general criticism is based upon to depict the
meaning from text. Contrastingly, Barthes did intend ‘The Death of the Author’
to argue against this common misconception of literary works used as a tool for
analysing information about the author: ‘Criticism still consists for
the most part in saying that Baudelaire’s work is the failure of Baudelaire the
man, Van Gogh’s his madness, Tchaikovsky’s his vice. The explanation of a work
is always sought in the man or woman who produced it, as if it were always in
the end, through more or less transparent allegory of the fiction, the voice of
a single person, the author ‘confiding’ in us.’. ‘The Death of The Author’
rejects any idea of authorial intent, and instead develops a reader – response
critical theory that uses semiotic significance: ‘The reader is the space on
which all the 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.’.
The use of the word ‘quotations’ expresses the idea that text cannot really be ‘created’
or ‘original’ as it is always made up of pre-existing quotations or concepts.
Therefor, the ‘author’ is not really an author, but rather a ‘scripter’ whose role
is to form discourse from pre-existing texts. Conclusively, Barthes suggests
that the self-proclaimed author has borrowed everything from previously
existing things that they have become aware of; every word used by the writer
is already in existence, these words on their own already have meaning,
therefor all authors ideas are unoriginal and belong to no one. However, if the
author is irrelevant we struggle to depict meaning from a text and therefor it would
ultimately lose power and purpose. Barthes suggests we should search ourselves
for ‘the ultimate author’ and interpret art through our own belief systems.

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