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Published on : Jan 08, 2015
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Slide 1 - “What is an Author?” By Michel Foucault
Slide 2 - The Criticisms of the previous book The Order of Things The inadequate descriptions of Buffon, Marx and their works The “monstrous families”—the associations of seemingly irrelevant authors as if they belong to the same discursive family
Slide 3 - Foucault’s responses “I want to locate the rules that formed a certain number of concepts and theoretical relationships in their works” (1622) “…asking why we are concerned with the idea of authors at all, rather than seeing “discourse” as the groupings of texts and ideas.” (Klages)
Slide 4 - The purposes & preliminary thinking of “author” “[to] set aside a sociohistorical analysis of the author as an individual and the numerous questions that deserve attention in this context” (1623) Samuel Beckett’s question “What matter who’s speaking?”
Slide 5 - The concerns of writing (1)—writing & discourse “[T]he writing of our day has freed itself from the necessity of ‘expression’; it only refers to itself, yet it is not restricted to the confines of interiority. On the contrary, we recognize it in its exterior deployment” (1623)
Slide 6 - The concerns of writing (2)—writing & language Writing as an interplay of signs, the play among signifiers “Thus the essential basis of this writing is not the exalted emotions related to the act of composition or the insertion of a subject into language. Rather, it is primarily concerned with creating an opening where the writing subject endlessly disappear” (1623)
Slide 7 - The concerns of writing “ecriture” (3)—writing & death The concept of writing as a protection against death, achieving “immortality” ex. the Greek epic, The Arabian Nights “Where a work had the duty of creating immortality, it now attains the right to kill, to become the murderer of its author” (1624)
Slide 8 - The concerns of writing (3)—writing & death “So why does Foucault say the author is ‘dead’? It’s his way of saying that author is decentered, shown to be only a part of the structure, a subject position, and not the center…By declaring the death of the author, Foucault is ‘deconstructing’ the idea that the author is the origin of something original, and replacing it with the idea that the ‘author’ is the product or function of writing, of the text.” (Klages)
Slide 9 - Author's disappearance & work/ “ecriture” How can an author’s works be defined? What should be included in his work? The notion of “ecriture” “rather, it stands for a remarkably profound contempt to elaborate the conditions of any text, both the conditions of its spatial dispersion and its temporal deployment.” (1625) “in emphasizing the play of signification over any fixed or stable meaning, doesn’t really get rid of the idea of authorship completely, but rather makes authors ‘transcendental’ rather than historical real” (Klages)
Slide 10 - Problems with a proper name, the author’s name and their functions The name of the author/a proper name: “a signifier that designates a specific and discrete historical individual” (Klages) The Author’s name: “it is situated in the breach, among the discontinuities, which gives rise to new groups of discourse and their singular mode of existence…is to characterize the existence, circulation, and operation of certain discourses within a society.” (1628)
Slide 11 - The proper name of an author “The proper name and the name of an author oscillate between description (the ideas, the work related) and designation (the person).” (1626) “The relation between signifier and signified—between proper name and what it either designates or describes—is arbitrary and separable” (Klages) ex. Shakespeare and “the plays of Shakespeare”
Slide 12 - 4 features of texts which create the author function (1) Objects of appropriation, forms of property “From this idea of locating authorship in someone held responsibility for writing or speech came also the idea of ownership of works, and the idea of copyright rules.” (Klages)
Slide 13 - 4 features of texts which create the author function (2) The “author function” is not a universal or constant feature of every text The anonymous literary texts vs. scientific texts required names Since the 17th, 18th centuries however: the objective scientific texts vs. the literary works evaluated on the basis of the notion of the author
Slide 14 - 4 features of texts which create the author function (3) The author function is not formed spontaneously through the simple attribution of a discourse to an individual “Rather, it results from various cultural constructions, in which we choose certain attributes of an individual as ‘authorial’ attributes, and dismiss others.” (Klages)
Slide 15 - How the author is culturally constructed: St. Jerome 4 criteria attributed to a single author Standard level of quality Contradiction or conflicts of ideas—denotes a field of conceptual or theoretical coherence Stylistic uniformity Definite historical figure in which a series of events converge
Slide 16 - How the author is culturally constructed: Modern criticism on textual study, a similar approach The author’s biography explains the presence of certain events in the texts The author is the principle of unity The author neutralizes contradictions The author is the particular source of expression manifested equally well in texts, letters, fragments, etc (Klages’ summery)
Slide 17 - 4 features of texts which create the author function (4) The text always bear signs that refer to the author, or create the “author function” (Klages) ex. The pronoun “I”: narrator and author
Slide 18 - 4 features of texts which create the author function (5) “The ‘author-function’ is tied to the legal and institutional systems that circumscribe, determine, and articulate the realm of discourses; it does not operate in a uniform manner in all discourses, at all times, an in any given culture; it is not defined by the spontaneous attribution of a text to its creator, but through a series of precise and complex procedures; it does not refer, purely and simply, to an actual individual insofar as it simultaneously gives rise to a variety of egos and to a series of subjective positions that individuals of any class may come to occupy.” (1631)
Slide 19 - Transdiscursive position (1) Initiators of discursive practices: Freud, Marx, Radcliffe These authors produced not only their work, but the possibility and rules of formation of other texts “Marx and Freud not only made possible a certain number of analogies that could be adopted by future texts, but they also made possible a certain number of differences.” (1632)
Slide 20 - Transdiscursive position (2) The initiation of discursive practices appears similar to the founding of any scientific endeavor “The initiation of a discursive practice, unlike the founding of science, overshadows and is necessarily detached from its later developments and transformations.” (1633)
Slide 21 - Discourses “returning to the origin” (1) Different from the scientific “rediscoveries” and “reactivations” Rediscoveries: “the effects of analogy or isomorphism with current forms of knowledge that allow the perception of forgotten or obscured figures.” (1634) Reactivations: “the insertion of discourse into totally new domains of generalization, practice, and transformation.” (1634)
Slide 22 - Discourses “returning to the origin” (2) Features of “returning to the origin” “Designates a movement with its proper specificity, which characterizes the initiation of discursive practices.” (1634) “They tend to reinforce the enigmatic link between an author and his works.” (1634) “Form a relationship between "fundamental" and mediate authors, which is not identical to that which links an ordinary text to its immediate author.” (1635)
Slide 23 - Conclusions “Partially at the expense of themes and concepts that an author places in his work, the "author-function" could also reveal the manner in which discourse is articulated on the basis of social relationships.” (1635) “The subject (and its substitutes) must be stripped of its creative role and analyzed as a complex and variable function of discourse.” (Hsu) Questions about the relations of subjects to discourses
Slide 24 - References Klages, Mary. “Michel Foucault: ‘What is an Author?’ Hsu, Sophia. “Michel Foucault's ‘What Is an Author?’--An Outline.”