->"''A narrator should not supply 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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...is the birth of the reader.

Death of the Author is a concept from literary criticism; it holds that an author's intentions and biographical facts (the author's politics, religion, etc) should hold no weight in regards to an interpretation of their writing. In other words, a writer's interpretation of his own work is no more or less valid than the interpretations of [[EpilepticTrees any given reader]].

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

The logic behind the concept is fairly simple: Books are meant to be read, not written, so the ways readers interpret them are as important and "real" as the author's intention. On the flip side, a lot of authors are [[AuthorExistenceFailure unavailable]] or [[ShrugOfGod unwilling]] to comment on their intentions, and even when they are, they don't always make choices for reasons that make sense or are easily explainable to others (or sometimes [[TheWalrusWasPaul 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 concept's name) and we can only judge the work by [[AllThereInTheManual the work itself]]. The author's later opinions about their work are themselves a form of criticism and analysis, and therefore are not necessarily consistent with what's written unless the author or publisher [[OrwellianRetcon actively goes back and changes it]]--and it can still 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-yet-different 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, favoring an analysis of the "applicability" of the text itself. Some people have 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 Creator/AlanBennett 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 Creator/RayBradbury and Creator/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.

Worse yet, 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" (i.e., "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 the director'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 often repeated an anecdote based on this: He once sat in on a class where the topic of discussion was one of his own works. (He did this in the back of a large lecture hall so he could remain semi-anonymous). After the class ended, 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: "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.)

A concrete dramatization of this theme appears in Creator/JorgeLuisBorges' story ''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 story, 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 seemingly absurd but perfectly consistent claims, such as the identification of [[Creator/FriedrichNietzsche Nietzsche]]'s influence on ''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 with a proposal 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]].

This is subverted by Creator/PabloPicasso; 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]]Picasso also said "Good artists copy, great artists steal."[[/note]]

Despite the theory's title, Barthes never says that the author's own interpretation is completely ''un''important--just that it 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 confused]] reading of the text will always be flawed, incomplete, and confused regardless of how much Barthes' essay is raised in protest.

It could be argued, however, that this hypothesis removes the only objective standard by which a text can be said to have a given meaning, or even any meaning ''at all''. For since there are few times one could back up their ''interpretation of a poem'' with evidence, this hypothesis reduces all possible interpretations to mere subjective opinions (or at best, educated guesses).
It might also be asked that, if it is meaningless for someone to say "That's not what I meant" when talking about any literature they might have written, then how can it be meaningful for any other situation where one might say that? How, for example, could a general criticize an underling for getting something absurd out of a set of instructions he or she may have given them? "Sir/ma'am, what makes you think you know what the orders meant just because you wrote them?"

Related tropes include ShrugOfGod, TheWalrusWasPaul (when the author encourages fans and critics to find their own interpretations), and MisaimedFandom (which is what can happen when they do so). Often the driving force in FanonDiscontinuity where the fans dislike the author's interpretation to the point of ignoring it. This trope can be particularly useful and sometimes even encouraged in regard to tropes like AccidentalAesop, BrokenAesop, UnfortunateImplications, and others; see DarthWiki/WarpThatAesop.

'''This trope does ''not'' mean "there is no such thing as canon for a work's events", which is a common misinterpretation of this theory used to justify CanonDefilement. We are completely aware of the irony in telling you how not to interpret it, but putting it in practice this way is just [[SturgeonsLaw generally a bad idea]].'''

Compare this trope with {{Applicability}} and the FictionIdentityPostulate. A somewhat related trope is WordOfDante. ''Do not confuse this trope with AuthorExistenceFailure, a literal death of the author.''