English 456: C20 Criticism and Theory

Questions on Roland Barthes

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"The Death of the Author" (1968)

1. What is the difference between an author and a "scriptor"? Between an individual and a "subject"? Between "literature" and "text"?

2. What is the relationship between scriptor and text?

3. What is a "text" made of? How does Barthes redefine what it means to be a writer and a reader?

4. Why is the "death of the author" the "birth of the reader"?

5. Why is classical, biography-based criticism hypocritical, according to Barthes? How does it -- and even formalism -- work to enhance the power of the author?

6. In what sense do Barthes' comments about texts and how to read them move beyond structuralism? How does his model of language here run counter to the goals of structuralist analysis?

"From Work to Text" (1971)

1. To what extent can an ancient of pre-modern work be read as "text"? What difficulty lies in the way of achieving this kind of reading when it comes to older writings? (See 1471, 1475.) What might Walter Benjamin say about the notion that one can to some extent read an older work as text? Further, what might Benjamin say about the potential that Barthes sees in textuality as a new mode of experience?

2. Why, according to Barthes on 1471, can't the text be "held in the hand" or classified firmly as belonging to a particular genre? How does a text subvert such attempts to contain its meaning and classify its content?

3. On 1472 top, Barthes comments on two models of interpretation attached to the concept of the "work." What implications do you find in those comments for traditional models of culture-transmission and education? (Think of your own experience with education -- what does your course catalog say about the university's goals, your major's goals, etc.?) How do "texts" render such ways of educating and passing on culture untenable?

4. Throughout the essay, but especially on 1472 middle, what fundamental insight into the way language works does Barthes offer?

5. On 1473, why isn't the realm of intertextuality the same thing as the "origin" or source of the work? Also, what is the "myth of filiation"?

6. How do the metaphor of the text and the metaphor of the work differ?

7. On 1474, in what sense is reading a "text" a more democratic experience than reading a "work"? Explain Barthes' comments about the traditional relationship between reading and writing at a societal level -- which activity is more important in a modern bourgeois or market-based society, and what does the privileging of one activity over another imply about the goals of bourgeois society?

8. On 1475, what new kind of reader does a "text" call for, as opposed to the reader of a "work"? To what extent does Barthes efface the distinction between reader and writer, and why might he want to do that?

Edition: The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: Norton, 2001. ISBN: 0393974294.