From work to work

Philosophy and Literature 20 (2):436-454 (1996)
Is it legitimate to interpret and evaluate works in terms of their place within the writer's Oeuvres complètes? Is the notion of the life-work, and of relations between works and the life-work to which they belong, theoretically uninteresting, or worse, unjustifiable? The publication of a beautiful, five-volume edition of Roland Barthes's Oeuvres complètes is a good thing, but if we were to rely on this theorist's meta-hermeneutical dicta alone, it would be hard to say why. Barthes and other advocates of impersonal notions of discourse and textuality tell us there is no good reason to "privilege" the boundary and internal structure of the individual writer's corpus. Yet Barthes, like the many critics who have trumpeted the "death of the author" theme, continued to rely on the categories of author and life-work. This discrepancy between theory and practice can be resolved in one of three ways: we can revise the theory to make it square with practice; we can keep the theory and try to make our critical practices conform to it; or we could replace both with some compatible pair of alternatives. In what follows I argue for revising theory in light of practice, first by responding to some theoretical objections to the work/life-work topic, and then by providing examples of worthwhile lines of inquiry related to it
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DOI 10.1353/phl.1996.0073
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