“The Death of the Author” is an essay by French theorist and literary critic Roland Barthes in 1967. Essentially, it stated that once a work is written, the author’s biases and intentions hold no more special weight. After all, something the author might have set out to accomplish can have an entirely different meaning depending on the person that’s reading the text. The reader’s views should have the same merit as the author’s original intent.
Recently, many influential creators have been shown to be problematic, causing many people to rethink the media they’ve been consuming. But according to Death of the Author, it shouldn’t matter how terrible a creator’s views or actions are. However, does a creator’s mindset directly affect their work in a way that absolutely cannot be separated?
Take for example, J.K. Rowling. Many people look up to her as the famous author of Harry Potter, but she has since expressed many unpopular opinions, especially her stance against the transgender community. Her recent book, published in September 2020, Troubled Blood, features a cross-dressing serial killer. While this may have been an acceptable premise in another scenario, this one comes off rather offensive – it was announced after J.K. Rowling released a series of transphobic tweets starting in June 2020. This predictably sparked outrage within the LGBT community, especially in transgender individuals. People interpreted it as hateful propaganda to fuel her harmful views. To many, it was clear that her authorial intent was so influential in shaping her book it became impossible to enjoy this piece of media on its own, without the author’s influence.
I think authorial intent does matter to some extent. There’s no way to completely separate authors from their work, as they are fundamentally dependent on each other. You can still enjoy media made by problematic creators, of course. But you have to be aware of what you are consuming.