Alternatively: Someone out there right now is in need of a shirt that says “I sent a rude anon on Tumblr and all I got was this essay on the place The Death of The Author in modern discourse instead.”
Yesterday I finally finished How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster, which I got for either Christmas or my birthday (they’re relatively close together so it’s hard to remember which). While I did find it overall enjoyable and educational, it raised again the issue I have with “Death of the Author” that has now been actively plaguing me for the past 27 hours.
Foster is a white man born and raised in the Midwest—which, as I’m looking at it now, only proves to start my argument. Anyway, it’s a fact I could not help but be reminded of as I read the book. Being informed of the author’s background informs my reading further, as an explanation for under- and even over- tones of ignorance and negligence of things like queer and feminist subtext. If I recall correctly, Foster points this out himself a few times in the book, but still fails to acknowledge other symbolism and literary techniques based on identities he does not share.
As someone of a few minorities myself, the “Death of the Author” argument seems to regularly be used to erase the influence of the identities of the writer behind the work. “Beloved” as written by Stephen King, for instance, would be a vastly different read and experience than Toni Morrison’s incredible creation. The idea that the only interpretation is the one intended by the author is flawed, of course, but the experiences of said author still inform the work, and should therefore inform the reading at least in part. You cannot read Oscar Wilde and properly understand his work if you don’t know and acknowledge the fact that he was a gay man living in Victorian England.
“Death of the Author”, while originally arguing that creator and creation are not necessarily linked when it comes to interpretation of the text, now seems to be used solely to erase the identity and background of the writer. In the end, I agree that readers should not be limited by the intended vision of the author of a work, but that doesn’t mean we should completely erase and ignore them when drawing meaning from the text.