In 1967 French literary critic Roland Barthes declared the death of the author (in English, no less). An author’s intentions and biography are not the means to explain definitively what the meaning of a text (of fiction) is. It’s the reader that determines meaning.

Barthes reduces the author to merely a scriptor, a scribe, who doesn’t exist other than for their role of penning the text. It positions the work fully separate of its maker.

I don’t disagree with the notion that readers glean meaning in layers from a text, far beyond what an author might have intended. But thinking about the author’s intent, in light of their biography or not, is one of those layers for readers to interpret. It doesn’t make the author the sole decider on meaning, but the author’s perspective can be used to create meaning by any reader. Separating the author from their work entirely is cutting yourself of from one source of potential meaning. Even when reduced to the role of scribe, such meaning will leak forth: the monks of old who tagged the transcripts they made and turned those into Indexes that are a common way of interpreting on which topics a text touches or puts emphasis. So despite Barthes pronouncement, I never accepted the brain death of the author, yet also didn’t much care specifically about their existence for me to find meaning in texts either.

With the advent of texts made by generative AI I think bringing the author and their intentions in scope of creating meaning is necessary however. It is a necessity as proof of human creation. Being able to perceive the author behind a text, the entanglement of its creation with their live, is the now very much needed Reverse Turing test. With algorithmic text generation there is indeed only a scriptor, one incapable of conveying meaning themselves.
To determine the human origin of a text, the author’s own meaning, intention and existence must shine through in a text, or be its context made explicit. Because our default assumption must be that it was generated.

The author is being resurrected. Because we now have fully automated scriptors. Long live the author!

After bringing the 5yo to bed, she usually calls me back after a few minutes to ask a question. I’m always curious to hear what she’ll ask. Sometimes these are practical questions: why did that person do this, how does that work? Sometimes the questions are more philosophical, like ‘does the universe really never end?’

Tonight the question was ‘why do so many artists make self portraits?’
An excellent question I said, let’s discuss it tomorrow.

Posters of the Self Portrets exhibition we saw in the Louisiana museum in 2012.

Bookmarked Literaturhinweis: Pierre Bourdieu – Die feinen Unterschiede (by Jörg Kantel)

Danke für den Hinweis! Hat dazu geführt das ich eine Stunde über Bourdieu und seine Texte gelesen habe, und mir ein paar Notizen dazu gekritzelt habe. Im Internetarchiv gibt es mehrere seiner Bücher auch zum ausleihen.

»Die feinen Unterschiede – Kritik der gesellschaftlichen Urteilskraft« habe ich leider auch noch nicht gelesen. Das wird sich aber bald ändern (Bestellung ist raus), denn es klingt sehr interessant.

Jörg Kantel

Bookmarked Dust Rising: Machine learning and the ontology of the real (by David Weinberger)

I am looking forward to reading this. Will need to put aside some time to be able to really focus, given the author, and the amount of time taken to write it.

…an article I worked on for a couple of years. It’s only 2,200 words, but they were hard words to find because the ideas were, and are, hard for me. … The article argues, roughly, that the sorts of generalizations that machine learning models embody are very different from the sort of generalizations the West has taken as the truths that matter.

David Weinberger

Bookmarked Permacomputing and Permacomputing Update 2021 (by Ville-Matias Heikkilä)

This seems worth a read, applying permaculture ideas to our use of the web and computing in general. At first glance I associate it with Heinz Wittenbrink‘s blogging about what the climate emergency must mean for his professional field of content strategy, and it reminds me of the ecological farmer at Reboot7 in 2005 who talked to us about applying his lessons learned to web and application development.

What makes permacultural philosophy particularly appealing (to me) is that it does not advocate “going back in time” despite advocating a dramatic decrease in use of artificial energy. Instead, it trusts in human ingenunity in finding clever hacks for turning problems into solutions, competition into co-operation, waste into resources. Very much the same kind of creative thinking I appreciate in computer hacking.

Ville-Matias Heikkilä in Permacomputing

Bookmarked A simple plan for repairing our society: we need new human rights, and this is how we get them. by Vinay GuptaVinay Gupta (
It’s very hard to get adults to reason properly about the human rights of other adults, because we always tend to say “well, their conditions are their fault.” Lot of black people wind up in jail? “That’s either bad policing, or bad behavior, or both” says the adult analysis. “Lot of black children are getting substandard educations” well, this is clearly not their fault. You can say their parents are responsible, and basically abandon these kids to the mercy of their environment, whatever random spot they were born in, or you can say “the children have fundamental rights as children and these rights require us to act on their behalf as a society” and, for example, really seriously invest in and fix education. You see what I’m saying? We can get leverage on issues like race in America by using the human rights of children, free from moral responsibility for their fates, as a universal standard by which to measure our obligations. The same kind of logic applies to the environment: “is this commons being handed over to the children, its future owners, intact, or is it being degraded in a manner that violates their rights.” That gets you concepts like natural parks protection from fracking etc. very nicely. In short, making the rights of children fully explicit, and enshrining them in our legal systems may be the shortest path forwards to creating a world in which we, as adults, are also protected. But the children first: none of this is their fault, and they should be protected as best we can. And a rights framework for children, something simple, reasonably universal, clear and easy to work with is certainly possible. We can do this.

Long winded, but the point is in order to stop us externalising the destructive costs of our societies towards the future, to make that future the litmus test of everything. In the form of benchmarking everything on how it impedes or improves the rights and lives of children, putting their human rights as the key stone of every decision.