Spectres of Barthes: Authorship and the Problematics of the Posthumous
Straub, Stephanie Marie
This dissertation examines authorship as a cultural, social, theoretical, and legal institution through the lens of posthumous publication. “Spectres of Barthes” responds to poststructuralist theories of authorship, particularly as articulated by Roland Barthes in “The Death of the Author.” Counterintuitively, I argue that literal death heightens the author’s importance; indeed the author’s postmortem ownership of his own work is inscribed in copyright law, and posthumous publication allows “new” works to appear under the author’s name long after the physical person has ceased to be. While posthumous texts are typically edited to cohere with the late author’s existing corpus, my project specifically focuses on their destabilizing potential and their disruptions of linear temporality. By mobilizing Edward Said’s formulation of late style, I attempt to reorient these texts toward a future that does not merely reproduce the past; in this respect, my project seeks to incorporate models of futurity borrowed from queer theory. This dissertation particularly relies on insights from media studies, treating posthumous texts as both mediated images of their authors and as alternate forms of media. Through readings of Vladimir Nabokov’s The Original of Laura and Ralph Ellison’s Juneteenth and Three Days Before the Shooting…, I attempt to illustrate the extent to which posthumous texts demand and dictate their own unusual reading strategies. My project likewise examines the extent to which posthumous texts mediate the matter of the author’s body itself, critically examining the relationships between text and flesh. While authorship has been imagined as a means of attaining a kind of immortality, I treat the late author’s corpus as a form of literary remains.