Friday, December 23, 2016
Death of the Author: God and Mother, A Parable
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the text, the word, is sacred. We cannot seem to get out of the tradition. For all of their post-modernism and the agnosticism that frequently comes with that, Barthes (and Derrida) also come out of a French tradition which was very very Catholic. Thus, I am going to make the story of the death of the author, male and female, into a comparative parable.
In Christianity, Jesus (the author) must die and be resurrected so that believers (readers) can have safe passage to heaven (the text). This is the male-centered conception of the author as the all-knowing keeper of the text and of meaning. And in fact, Barthes speaks of “the ‘message’ of the Author-God” and says that “to refuse to fix its meaning is, in the end, to refuse God and his hypostases – reason, science, law."
Women, however, have historically had a different relationship to birth and death, with many medieval women dying in childbirth. In this model, the woman (author) dies so that her child (the reader) may be born, but that child will be orphaned, with no one to guide her through life (the text). There is a “death/not death,” a voluntary withdrawal that happens here that can be seen as Cixous’ metaphor for the author. Cixous also talks about the (female) author as continuing “to have what she has eternally, to not lose having, to be pregnant with having is . . . the text, already in the child, in the woman . . . ” The woman is birthing the text, bringing it into being, and like giving birth, some of herself with leave her along with the text. But that text will not necessitate a death for the author. If the reader is a co-creator in meaning, as with Barthes, the author-mother will do so in conjunction with, not opposed to, the reader and the text.