->"''A narrator should not supply [[WordOfGod interpretations of his work]]; otherwise he would not have written a novel, which is a machine for generating interpretations.''"
-->-- '''Creator/UmbertoEco''', postscript to ''Literature/TheNameOfTheRose''

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'''Death of the Author''' is a concept from literary criticism which holds that an author's intentions and biographical facts (the author's politics, religion, etc) should hold no weight when coming to an interpretation of his or her writing; that is, that a writer's interpretation of his own work is no more valid than the interpretations of any of [[EpilepticTrees the readers]].

Intentions are one thing. What was actually accomplished might be something very different.

The logic is fairly simple: Books are meant to be read, not written, and so the ways readers interpret them are more important and "real" than the ways writers write them. There are also the more practical facts that a lot of authors are [[AuthorExistenceFailure not available]] or [[ShrugOfGod not willing]] to comment on their intentions, and even when they are, artists don't always make choices for reasons that make sense or are easily explained to others -- or, in some cases, even to themselves.

Although popular amongst {{postmodern|ism}} critics, this has some concrete modernist thinking behind it as well, on the basis that the work is all that outlives the author (hence the name) and we can only judge the work by [[AllThereInTheManual the work itself]]. The author's later opinions about their work are a form of criticism and analysis themselves, and therefore are not necessarily consistent with what's written unless the author or publisher [[OrwellianRetcon actively goes back and changes it]] (and even then it can be argued that, since the original work still exists, the author has merely created a different version of it). One critic's understanding of the author's background and opinions is likely to be just as accurate as another's, especially if the author has an [[MadArtist idiosyncratic]] or even [[ValuesDissonance anachronistic]] perspective on their own work. Modernists are more likely to appeal to the similar but not identical concept of the Intentional Fallacy, which does not discount biographical information or other works by the same author.

Needless to say, many writers don't especially like this. Creator/MargaretAtwood famously remarked that if the Death of the Author theory became prevalent, then "we [writers] are all in trouble". However, while Creator/JRRTolkien acknowledged the influence of his experiences on his works (''Literature/TheLordOfTheRings''), he denied that he had written allegory, insisting that his works simply had {{Applicability}}; this arguably makes him an early supporter of the Death of the Author, since [[FauxSymbolism pointless speculations]] about an author's allegorical ''intent'' are exactly what the concept seeks to avoid, in favor of analyzing the "applicability" of the text itself. It has been joked (with delicious {{irony}}) that Creator/RolandBarthes, who actually wrote the {{trope nam|ers}}ing essay, probably had to say "No, that's not what I meant at all!" at least ''once'' in his lifetime while discussing it. Playwright Alan Bennett claims he responded to students asking for assistance on analyzing his works as part of their A-Levels to "treat [him] like a dead author, who [is] thus unavailable for comment".

Of course, numerous authors including the likes of RayBradbury and WilliamGibson can't be bothered to [[FlipFlopOfGod stay consistent]] when talking about the major themes or concepts in their books for more than a few years at a time.

Or worse, if the author comes to [[CreatorBacklash reject their own work]], they may express dissatisfaction with [[CanonDiscontinuity certain parts and not others]]. Hence, "the perfect is the enemy of the good" (Translation: "coulda, woulda, shoulda"). This is why some [[AuteurLicense auteur filmmakers]] oppose the notion of a [[{{Recut}} Director's Cut]] on the grounds that the "real" film will always be the one people saw in cinemas in the year of release, not the ideal film in one's head.

This is a given in works where the authors don't hold copyright and can be replaced, especially {{Shared Universe}}s; if a writer is fired and replaced by another, anything the old writer has stated in interviews can be (and often is) freely {{Jossed}} by the new writer.

Creator/IsaacAsimov repeated in several places an anecdote based on this: He once sat in (in the back of a large lecture hall, so semi-anonymously) on a class where the topic of discussion was one of his own works. Afterward, he went up and introduced himself to the teacher, saying that he had found the teacher's interpretation of the story interesting, though it really wasn't what he had meant at all. The teacher's response was "Just because you wrote it, what makes you think you have the slightest idea what it's about?"

There is an echo of this concept in Asimov's short-short story "The Immortal Bard", in which Creator/WilliamShakespeare is brought into the present day and takes a college course about his writings. He flunks.

There is an OlderThanFeudalism example about some Jewish sages having an argument about their law... and ignoring God's interpretation in favor of their own. Because, you see, the Torah is [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Not_in_Heaven not in Heaven]]. There is another in the Literature/ApologyOfSocrates. Socrates testifies that in his search for a wiser man than himself, he listened to the great poets. He thought their works very fine, but when they tried to explain them, he thought they were hopeless -- and that the dumbest spectators around would do a better job. (He took this as proof that their poetic skills were a divine gift rather than an exercise of intellect.)

This theme also appears in Creator/JorgeLuisBorges' ''Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote'', an analysis of the work of an imaginary author. The text [[TheAllConcealingI is a literary essay written by an unnamed critic]] about Pierre Menard, a 20th Century writer whose life project was to write ''Don Quixote'', not as a copy or as a remake of the original work, but as a book which would coincide, word by word, with Cervantes ''Quixote''[[note]] (Menard explained in a letter to the critic that he had read Don Quixote when he was ten or twelve years old and later he only reread closely certain chapters, so his general recollection of the Quixote, simplified by forgetfulness and indifference, could equal the imprecise and prior image of a book not yet written. Then, he could write his own variations of Don Quixote that would be sacrificed to the one, “original” text)[[/note]]. The narrator compares both works under the light of the experiences of each author and, thus, an excerpt of Menard's gains an interpretation that is completely different from the interpretation of the exact same passage in Cervantes. This leads to absurd claims such as the identification of [[Creator/FriedrichNietzsche Nietzsche]]'s influence on the ''Quixote'', or that Cervantes in [[TheCavalierYears the 17th century]] clumsily opposes to the fictions of chivalry [[WriteWhatYouKnow the tawdry provincial reality of his country]] and [[BeigeProse easily handles the current Spanish of his time]], while Menard writing in the [[TheGreatDepression 20th century]] deserves praise for eluding the [[TheThemeParkVersion “spagnolades” (local color) of the]] [[TheCavalierYears seventeen century Spain]]: ([[UsefulNotes/{{Romani}} gypsies]], [[DashingHispanic conquistadors]], [[ReligionIsMagic mystics]], [[HistoricalDomainCharacter Philip the Seconds]] or [[ComeToGawk Autos]] [[ColdBloodedTorture de]] [[BurnTheWitch Fe]]), but he is obliged to write [[YeOldeButcheredeEnglishe in an archaic]] and [[PurpleProse affected style]]. The short story ends proposing that an exercise such as attributing ''The Imitation of Christ'' to James Joyce could impregnate the former with [[InTheOriginalKlingon new significance]]. As for the question of whether or not one should take this as sharp irony, it is a matter of the reader's willingness to attribute ''Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote'' [[MindScrew to Borges]].

Subverted by PabloPicasso who, when asked how to distinguish between his genuine works and the numerous fakes that were circulating, he answered simply, "If it's good, it's mine. If it's bad, it's a fake."[[note]]Makes you wonder since Picasso said "Good artists copy, great artists steal."[[/note]]

It is important to note that, despite the title, Barthes never says that the author's own interpretation is completely '''un'''important; just that the author's interpretation is only one of many possible interpretations. This also does not necessarily mean that every interpretation is equally ''valid'' -- an interpretation that is based on a [[MisaimedFandom flawed, incomplete and misunderstood]] reading of the text is always going to be flawed, incomplete and misunderstood no matter how much this essay is raised in protest.

See also ShrugOfGod and TheWalrusWasPaul, when the author encourages fans and critics to find their own interpretations, and MisaimedFandom, what can happen when they do so. This trope can be particularly useful and sometimes even encouraged in regard to tropes like AccidentalAesop, BrokenAesop, UnfortunateImplications, and others; see DarthWiki/WarpThatAesop.

'''It's important to note that this does ''not'' mean "there's no such thing as canon for a work's events", which is a common misinterpretation of this used to justify CanonDefilement. We're completely aware of the irony in telling you how not to interpret it, but putting it in practice this way is just generally a bad idea.'''

Compare with {{Applicability}}. Somewhat related is WordOfDante. ''Not to be confused with AuthorExistenceFailure, a literal death of the author.''

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