Probably this has always been the case: once an action is recounted, for intransitive ends, and no longer in order to act directly upon reality — that is, finally external to any function but the very exercise of the symbol — this disjunction occurs, the voice loses its origin, the author enters his own death, writing begins. Nevertheless, the feeling about this phenomenon has been variable; in primitive societies, narrative is never undertaken by a person, but by a mediator, shaman or speaker, whose “performance” may be admired (that is, his mastery of the narrative code), but not his “genius” The author is a modern figure, produced no doubt by our society insofar as, at
the end of the middle ages, with English empiricism, French rationalism and the personal faith of the Reformation, it discovered the prestige of the individual, or, to put it more nobly, of the “human person”--Roland Barthes The Death of The Author. Translated by Richard Howard
Barthes organizes his famous argument around a trans-historical "phenomenon:" that is, the possibility of certain symbols to be decoupled from authorial intention. (Yes, Barthes allows he is not sure it was always so.) According to Barthes this always happens when these symbols, which depict human agency, are decoupled from attempts to change behavior. In this decoupling the symbols need not be owned by anybody. (Yes, Barthes is explicitly aware of copy-right and other legal and moral institutions, but he takes such institutions as contingent bits of stabilization of that which is intrinsically unstable [meaning, ownership, etc.].) And once so-decoupled there is no way of knowing to whom a literary text belongs (or what it means). Barthes position is epistemic. (He does not flirt with idealism nor with indeterminate reality.)
The trans-historical phenomenon is itself inscribed in a historical progression that runs through Barthes's account. Much like his Enlightenment (and Marxist) predecessors we move swiftly from primitive times to civilized times of modernity and to a new age (post-modernity) in which "for a long time now certain writers have attempted to topple" modernity. These heroic authors (Mallarme, Valery, and Proust are mentioned) produced work (with an inner progressive logic that drives their innovation) that undermines the "modern figure" of the author, who produces (and legislates meaning to) a fixed text. Barthes does not call them 'heroic' but they have the role of original exemplars in his account.
Modestly, Barthes closes his piece by suggesting that in addition to these authors projecting, in their texts, a new image of an author, the future also needs Barthes's philosophical activity which involves the presentation of a new muthos (although one developed from pre-existing material) in which reader and text co-constitute each other and the meaning of the text, anew, every time. Barthes is explicit in crediting ordinary language philosophy (the "Oxford school") on such performativity. (Barthes, prefigures Judith Butler's later use.) This constitution of literary meaning is not unconstrained; there are symbols (words, sentences, etc.), from which this constitution is constructed, which have been produced by pens, laptops and code, and agents. The point, however, is that Barthes wishes to black-box the pre-conditions that need to be in place for this co-constitution to occur (even though he is constantly gesturing at material forces that play a role in this).
Barthes practices a species of philosophical prophecy in which he stands against society which "proudly champions precisely what it dismisses, ignores, smothers or destroys," and against the Critic and all other forms of authority ("reason, science, the law') that stabilize and fix facts and "arrest" meanings. (It is astounding to see the Critic being treated as authoritative in such a way.) Barthes's progress of history is, thus, supposed to lead to a form of anarchism (undoubtedly of a Marxist kind--one could look at Barthes's other writings, but that would be cheating given his views on such matters). The moral vision that animates Barthes's analysis of certain images that facilitate forms of social hierarchy is left unspecified. But it has a distaste for hypocrisy and forms of power that make puzzle-solving (in science and criticism) possible because they have narrowed the possibility space (of interpretation, meaning, etc.).
But in so doing, Barthes cuts 'reality' in two. First, there is a material world accompanied by trans-historical phenomona. There is, of course, stage-relativity articulation and felt experience of these phenomena. But they are of a determinate world. One of the stable phenomena of this world is, in fact, literature. In this material world, identity is stable, but this material world is black-boxed (not unlike a Kantian noumena) in the conditions of possibility of a literary world. And, second, it is intrinsic to the literary world that in it, by contrast, 'A=A' is not trivial, perhaps not even possible ("all identity is lost" including and "beginning with the very identity of the body that writes"). (But 'literature' can be a whole lot broader than being placed in the Penguin Classics series). In Barthes's terms, "literature is precisely the invention of this voice" in which symbols are decoupled from authorial intention and in which multiplicity of meaning is always a live possibility.
I am not the first to notice that Barthes's position is not fully stable because he flirts with various ways in which the norms of such a literary world displaces the institutions that stabilize social reality and, thereby, encroach on the material world which starts slipping out of reach.* Yet, it does not do so according to Barthes because the reader-"spectator" (that would be you, my friend!) is the site where "multiplicity is collected, united." When we are such spectators 'we' are part of co-constitution of order and intelligibility (and in so-doing construct ourselves).
To turn multiplicity into a collected unity is the political act as such (see Spinoza, Hume, etc.). Thus, in so doing, Barthes turns the paradigmatic instance of a private joy of bourgeois culture into the exemplary political-legislative act.
When one looks at the effect of such conceptual moves on some of the humanities, in which reading is mistaken for political activism, it is easy to find sources of ridicule (and futility given that when we look at the larger culture we see that the cult of Author-God is still very much alive (not just in literary circles, but also in "reason, science, the law.")) But as we move to a world in which all of our doings are traces to be turned into data in large-data-mining operations and algorithmic productions, we will be constituted by some spectators, human or, more likely, robotic as their text to read.