The birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the author… or so says Roland Bathes in his essay Death of the Author. Are we talking about literally killing authors? No, this is figurative (like most uses of literally). Can Death of the Author include killing the author? Sure, but get a good lawyer first.
Let’s let Lindsay Ellis (and John Green) explain:
My take on Death of the Author is somewhat complicated. I think there is relevant information that the author has that doesn’t make it into the story (think Elvish languages from Tolkien*), but I also think that quite often if it isn’t in the story it doesn’t really exist. I think that stories are really up to the readers to interpret, as viewpoints and interpretations will change over time**, but that doesn’t mean readers always interpret correctly.
This is a hedged way of saying that Death of the Author is probably too simple a way of thinking about how stories should be interpreted. At least, that’s my interpretation of it.
*Let’s not get into how “relevant” I think those languages are, or a lot of that world-building from authors in general is.
**You may remember book reviews here where I’ve discussed how older books haven’t aged well due to changing societal standards. Sexism and racism are obvious changes that have happened in the last 50 years which make formerly acceptable, even progressive, moments in a story seem backward and unacceptable now.
Another thing that can occur is changes to society changes interpretations. E.g. The Baby It’s Cold Outside controversy can be summed up as an old song made references to things that we are no longer familiar with, so our interpretation changes. This makes Death of the Author a truly bad thing for any artwork that is “consumed” outside of the social and temporal setting it was made within.
Update: Good article in Uncanny that captures some of my thoughts on Death of the Author.