I can barely believe, that in all those years of studying literature and literary theory, no professor and none of those anthologies of literary theory mentioned the rather startling fact that Barthes’ “Death of the Author”, which was obligatory on the curriculum for most of those literary theory courses, was first published as a flimsy pamphlet in a 1967 issue of a journal that was published in a box, as a fluxus kit of criticism, as it were. Barthes’ “Death of the Author” was one of the few more-or-less traditionally written articles in the box – not so radical after all?

UBU web has a wonderful web archive/documentation of all the issues of Aspen, including the one where Barthes’ “Death of the Author” was first published.

Could I have misunderstood? Perhaps Barthes’ essay was first published elsewhere, and Aspen simply requested permission to reprint it in English? If not, all those readers that include the essay are horrible examples of the way literary studies often completely ignores the materiality of the text. The Wikipedia makes no mention of the box thing, and thinks it was first published in 1968. Encyclopedia Britannica doesn’t mention the article at all, and Google Scholar shows that almost all citations of the essay refer to the reprint in Image/Music/Text (1977). Tomorrow I’ll check out what some of those anthologies say.

Oh, and I discovered this because I was peeking at Kathleen Fitzpatrick‘s syllabus for a course on authorship, and noticed that after Barthes’ Death of the Author and Foucault’s What is an Author?” (old but excellent chestnuts for lit. students) she’s listed Molly Nesbit’s “Who Was the Author?” (sorry, library subscription only). Nesbit’s article includes a discussion of Aspen 5 + 6, the issue of the journal “Death of the Author” was first published in. From there, the rest was google.

4 thoughts on ““death of the author” first published in a BOX

  1. Martin

    Other important works in the genre:

    Where is the author?
    What’s with the author?
    What’s the author writing in there?
    Who is this author person anyway?

  2. Jill

    Really an endless number of papers aching to be written, aren’t there…

  3. KF

    Amazing, isn’t it? I kept re-reading that part, thinking “am I getting that right?”

  4. Jill

    Kathleen, I’m glad I wasn’t the only one to be absolutely flabbergasted! That was a choice find yesterday, thanks so much! Looking forward to seeing you at Blogtalk next week btw 🙂

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