Foucault, Michel "What Is an Author?"
In “What is an Author,” Michel Foulcault works to correct a pivotal aspect he had excluded, and received criticism for, in his previous writings--the role or non-existent role of the author. He limits his discussion to “the singular relationship that holds between an author and a text” while mentioning the themes of writing’s exterior position and the relationship of writing and death. Foucault also brings up the question of, what constitutes the work of an author and what is everything he/she wrote? This has kept us from fully understanding the disappearance of the author. As has the notion of ecriture in which the idea of the signal, human author becomes a “transcendental anonymity” (182). Foucault then discusses the name of an author and its function. He concludes that the name of an author is not a proper name that does not modify despite changes in the characteristic of the named individual, but rather a name that is linked to the discourse of the author. Thus, the author’s name is functional, and its function is to “characterize the existence, circulation, and operation of certain discourses within a society” (184). Having an author as a function and speaking purely of texts with authors, the “author-function” has four features:
- First, “Objects of appropriation”: the author function has to be a set property distinguished as such by some legal governance.
- Second, “Not universal or constant in all discourse”: the author function is not constant in all discourse because, throughout time, the value placed on naming an author has varied for different purposes, e.g., folk inherent truth and cherished wisdom, honed throughout the ages, would be negated with a known writer or author. (in contrast, authors of math have to be stated as they are indicative of time period and context)
- Third, “Not formed spontaneously through the simple attribution of a discourse to an individual”: the author function is not simply formed by relating a text to an individual, just like in the Saussure reading: that there has been no recorded period in which the image and the concept were simply put together. By following Foucault’s criteria for assessing what should be in an author’s “work,” we can sufficiently “recover” the relationship of the “author-function.”
- Fourth, “Arises our of their scission--in the division and distance of the two” (184-188): this is the division and distance of the three egos that an author depicts in his/her writings. The author function does not simply refer to one individual because it has three separate ego’s, that of the goals of the work after it once immediately finished and potentially future questions to apply to the work, the one amidst creating it, and the unique individual who at a time and place succeeded in the work.
After stating the four features of the "author function", he then makes the depiction between scientific writings and those of “initiators of discursive practices” (189). The difference being that these initiators of discursive practices “produced not only their own work, but the possibility and the rules of formation of other texts,” and that they can be returned to as opposed to rediscovered or reactivated. Foucault defines how “the initiators of discourse practices” are exemplified foremost with Marx and Freud because their theories can be built upon. However, the initiation of a discourse is not like scientific or mathematical theory because it is entirely separate from future developments of it; they are separate because they have an intended omission that makes the initiation impossible to return to. We can only return to theorize what the omission actually is, and through this impossibility to truly know what was omitted are the initiators forever discursive. Thus, this omission constantly initiates future discursive practices but the original initiation can never be corrected or fixed because it was an intentional omission that others can only guess upon what it's meaning was for.
The following key terms are defined in the Glossary: aphorism, canonical, deictic, ecriture, exegesis, homonymy, rediscovering