The author is a modern concept.
We read a book, particularly a literary book but it applied to all sorts of genres, and take what we know about the author as our starting point to reading. This is why people read everything by Ian McEwan. They have an Ian McEwan starting point in their heads when they pick up his new novel. They have ideas about what they're going to get, and they like that comforting feel. An Ian McEwan book says - I am an intelligent reader. I am sensitive, yet I do not shy away from hard issues.
This is why being an author is so seductive. People want the sanitised, clever written version of you. They want your brain. They'll read anything you write in an attempt to make you rub off on them. Being an author is like being a God. It is, on one very important level, a social status activity. Sorry, but there it is.
It never used to be like this. It really didn't matter who wrote something. Nobody wrote anything. Homer sang some amazing stories, and Shakespeare created some amazing poetry, but others applied their voices to them. The voice wasn't pure. It was open to translations by those that sung or spoke them, and the writer/creator didn't get the kind of adoration they get today. I think maybe the novel changed all that. As soon as you were subjected to words that came purely from the novelist, you stopped thinking about what you thought of the experience and started worrying about what the author thought of the experience.
Is this a good thing? Well, it's something that I think is in jeopardy. Because now there are more writers than readers, and more free words than bought ones. Why spend £14.99 on Ian McEwan's latest when you can download a freebie for your Kindle? Why buy at all? Besides, nobody can see the spine of your McEwan, so they don't know you're reading it. All they know is you're reading on your Kindle.
The internet is awash with excellent stories and novels, and the truth is that the people reading all these stories are writers too, generally speaking. We're all writing something, and if you want to charge for your hard work, someone else will be willing to give it away for free. And so the concept of the author has been devalued. That's why, when you go to a party and tell someone you're a writer, they ask suspiciously, 'Properly published?' And soon they won't even ask that. In ten or twenty years' time, when the big publishing houses have been put out of business, you won't write to make money at all. It won't make money. You'll do it, if you do it, because you love it. And nobody will read it because you'll be one person in a vast sea of people all doing the same thing. All producing, nobody listening.
We all want to be authors. I guess that's what killed it.
Ah, apologies. I really shouldn't be allowed to read Barthes.