“The Author, when believed in, is always conceived of as the past of his own book: book and author stand automatically on a single line divided into a before and an after. The author is thought to nourish the book, which is to say that he exists before it, thinks, suffers, lives for it, is in the same relation of antecedence to his work as a father to his child.”
Barthes phrase ‘when believed in’ is curious. I know that he is trying to explain the reasons to separate author and book in the complete excerpt; yet this seems a reason to support consideration of the author. A book certainly has a past, why would we not take into account the author’s past? The folios of Shakespeare’s plays come to mind. In any current printing of the plays, there are always footnotes to explain the past life of the words in the text. The OED exists for this very reason. I have a hard time separating the written words from the actual book though I know that as readers we make our own meaning. However, the footnotes aid us in making meaning, and they are simply words as well.
I do agree with Barthes that there is a line of before and after the book on which the author stands. That same line is exists for the reader – before we read and after we read. It makes more sense to me that the book exists as simply words only before we read it. Once read, the book moves to our past as well.
Finally, in thinking about this last sentence, I am reminded of papers that I have written in the past. For a moment, however brief, my writings do belong to me – I worry about conveying meaning and choosing the correct words, and in a sense, I do feel that the writings are very much a part of me. I believe that authors do nourish the book, and I am struck by Barthes use of the word ‘thought’ in that sentence. Surely for Barthes to have been able to record philosophical thoughts must have seemed like having a child. Ideas sprout and are nourished, added to, subtracted from, and finally developed. When the author has given the book all he/she can, the book leaves the nest to reside on a shelf somewhere – like a child .