Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author” and Christopher Isherwood, Goodbye Berlin Report
Updated: Jul 1st, 2020
Variety of factors can have impact upon the readers’ perceptions of particular works of literature. According to Barthes’ theory, the author cannot predict all the reactions to his work because he/she is dead after the novel is completed. In other words, being interpreted by masses, a novel starts a life of its own.
Barthes’ premise concerning the inappropriateness of author-centric interpretations of works is reasonable, but can limit our perception and understanding of the novel Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood.
Claiming that his narrator of the same name is only a camera reproducing the real life scenes, Isherwood directly expresses his intentions to enhance the feasibility of his narration by using a complex of techniques (Isherwood 193).
Additionally, stating that he is a camera, which is only recording and reproducing, but not thinking and interpreting, the author pursues the goal of affecting the readers’ minds and making his text to seem more reliable to readers and seemingly provides readers with opportunities for free interpretations of the depicted events and the variety of their meanings.
However, the perspective and focus of this imaginary camera is chosen by the author. Isherwood is free to show only one side of the phenomenon and conceal its reverse or exaggerate a certain phenomenon by shedding light upon it in a proper way.
By selecting the words from a wide range of existing synonyms, the novelist inevitably expresses his personal attitudes to the depicted plot line. On the other hand, Isherwood cannot predict or control the readers’ responses to the pictures he views through his lens.
The readers are free to decide whether the events depicted by the novelist look as feasible or fictional and look at the details emphasized by the author or look beyond the words and see the meanings which were not initially implied by the novelist.
In that regard, Barthes’ premise is reasonable and justifiable because regardless of all Isherwood’s efforts, he cannot control all the reactions to his text in every reader. Thus, using Barthes’ terminology, it can be stated that the author of this novel remains dead.
Being reasonable, Barthes’ thesis imposes limits on our perceptions of Goodbye to Berlin and can be regarded as a hindrance to the realization of the novelist’s project. Isherwood intentionally uses his biographical name for the main protagonist of his novel for producing a particular impression upon readers.
Additionally, including the diaries and differentiated sketches and novellas depicting people he meets, Isherwood attempts to produce the effect of memoirs of the actual participants of the events.
Therefore, the coincidence of the names of the author and the main protagonist is only one of the techniques used by the novelist for making his readers to believe him.
Then, Barthes’ premise concerning the death of the author contradicts Isherwood’s intentions to enhance feasibility of his text by associating himself with the main protagonist and limits the options for viewing the novel in complexity of its historical context as it was implied by the author.
Reading this novel, readers may want to get insights into the personal life of the novelist which can add value to the work.
The voices of Isherwood as the author and Isherwood as the protagonist of the novel Goodbye to Berlin are inseparable due to the techniques used by the author for affecting the readers’ perception of his work. Barthes’ premise concerning the death of the author is applicable to this novel, but can be limiting for deciphering the variety of meanings implied by the author.
Isherwood, Christopher. “Goodbye to Berlin”. The Berlin Stories. Ed. Christopher Isherwood and Armistead Maupin. New York: New Directions Publishing, 2008. 193 – 215. Print.
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