The Birth of the Reader

In contrast to traditional notions of authorship, often thought of as as type of ownership over written works bound by the status of the given creator, we have no moved to an era where the role and function of the author is often no longer attributed to a single individual. Roland Barthes reminds us that with the death of the author comes the birth of the reader. I have been encouraged to explore the birth of the reader after reviewing recent readings regarding mashup culture (Bruns) and intellectual property (Blair & Letham), as well as Ran’s contrasting post Micheal Foucault, and Foucault’s “What is an Author.”

Foucault’s analysis of the author outlines the ways in which an author’s name is more than the many elements that comprise a work, meaning that the author’s name “permits one to group together a certain number of texts, define them, differentiate them from and contrast them to others” thus establishing a relationship among texts. As the internet functions as a platform, allowing for an ease in access and distribution of literature, the reader replaces the author as the focal point of text and textual production.

To borrow from WHO- I find the term produser to be integral to the ideology behind the birth of the reader, as readers are afforded agency in the production, re-production and circulation of text. The concept of produsage is ever increasing with the digitization of text and P2P, file sharing software, however this isn’t an entirely new concept. Who remembers reading the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books as a child? These novels afforded the reader agency, once only accredited to the author, as a way to alternately navigate and write the ending to your own adventure.


The Creative Commons supports the produser by challenging traditional notions of authorship, as this space expands the range of creative works by allowing for the repurposing of material, and a complete overhaul in the structure of its production and dissemination. I would also argue that the digitization of textual material has altered the entire literary process, or what Robert Darnton names the Communications Circuit. The Communications circuit can be described as the network of actors, processes and materialities involved in the production of text. As the internet offers various platforms for collaborative production and appropriation.


Within the textual network, I would argue that the reader has now taken over the once powerful position held by the author. In reference to Darnton’s communications circuit, the circuits starting point often began with the author. Today, I believe the reader as produser becomes the central figure of the network, and the infrastructure of Darnton’s Communications Circuit shifts into that of a Communications Spiral.



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