What is an Author by Foucault | Summary & Analysis

Michel Foucault is not a Freudian, Marxist, Socialist, Structuralist or a Literary Theorist but a post-structuralist thinker. However, he draws on ideas and assumptions from them.

According to him, his primary concern is not to analyze the concept of authors throughout the ages but to show their relationship with the text. He tries to figure out how a text points out to a figure who is outside and proceeds with it.

Table of Contents

Features of Post-Structuralism

Before proceeding to what is an author we need to understand the basic characteristics of post-structuralism

  1. The post-structuralists look for textual disunity.
  2. They look for contradiction and paradoxes which rather than becoming inconveniences become a starting point for the undertaking of poststructuralist approach.
  3. Post-structuralists look for shifts and breaks in tone, viewpoint, tense, time, person, and attitude.
  4. They seek conflicts, absences, and omissions in linguistic quirks.

To understand What is an Author I have divided the topic into the following categories.

“What Matter Who is Speaking” -Samuel Beckett

This statement creates an indifference between author and text i.e. an author has no role in a text. According to Foucault, it is unethical because it has been adopted very much but not applied fully. However, as a principal, it dominates our writing as we focus on finished work only and not in the drafts or those which are not included.

  • Today’s writings talk about internity of text and have thus freed from expression. However, it is not confined.
  • We also look for exterior deployed. Writing employees testing its limits of regularity and reversing orders.
  • It subverts, accepts, manipulates breaks its order and moves ahead.
  • Exalted emotions are not the base of writing though they compose it. Rather in today’s writing subject disappears.
  • It is a kinship between writing and death that gives birth to the author. (Thus it contradicts with Barthe’s statement, “Author is dead, the reader is born.”)

Greek heroes die soon but become immortal. In Arabian Nights too, the author desires to remain immortal. So the immorality of the author and hero were an important part of older texts. They made the author important

On the other hand, contemporary writings are linked to the extent of sacrificing the life. Today there is no representation of self. The text rather kills the author. In order to know the author, we will have to understand the singularity of his absence and his link to death.

The absence of the author leads to the genuine possibility of change. Unlike Greek plays, there is no hero in today’s writing. 

Authors Name and Proper Name

According to Michael Foucault, the author’s name is a designation whereas the proper name is a description that tells about his ideas about nature and other things. It should be noted that the author’s name and the proper name are different.

e.g. if we come to know that the grave of Shakespeare does not belong to him, it will not have any impact on Shakespeare. On the other hand, if we come to know that The Tempest was not written by Shakespeare, it will definitely have an impact on our views regarding Shakespeare.

The Function of Author

If we limit over remarks only to book which have authors we can isolate four different features of the author.

  1. The author is a part of a legal system. Initially, there was the concept of sacred and unsacred (when religion was dominant) texts. The text which was in accordance with the interest of dominant religious ideology was considered to be sacred while the others were unsacred. However, after the 18th century, the concept of legalizing the author came into existence and the author’s name became an important part of the texts. e.g. Today we can’t copy a book legally. We have to seek permission from the respective authors
  2. Author’s function is not universal. It differs from discipline to discipline i.e. from subject to subject and from time to time. In earlier times the author’s name was not required in the literary works as they included moral stories that represented the societies interest and thus were acceptable whereas the scientific works were required to be associated to author’s name in order to authenticate them. However, after the 18th century, there was a complete shift. The literary texts were required to be associated with their authors and on the other hand, scientific texts were not required to be associated with them. e.g. We have to remember who wrote The Tempestbut not the one the one who gave a Mathematical Equation.
  3. Author’s function is not formed spontaneously. Rather he is constructed. Saint Jerome gave four criteria for this author’s function.
    Author’s name functions as a label of a certain standard level of quality. Those texts which do not meet this quality are eliminated. e.g. drafts.
    ? Those texts which contradict the author’s ideas are eliminated.
    ? Those texts which are against the writing style of the author are eliminated.
    ? The events that happened after the death of the author are also eliminated.
  4. Author’s function does not refer to a single individual but gives rise to multiple selves and a series of subjective position. For example, Marx or Freud writings are not just their own writings but also about how one particular text that they produced had the power to produce other texts and discourses or perhaps the entire paradigm of knowledge, radically new form of thinking, a new system of thought into being.

Michel Foucault believed that there could be more authors function as well. According to him.

  1. An author as the centre is constructed to establish a unified meaning from text. So the text itself is meaning.
  2. An author can be displaced from the text but cannot be removed completely.
  3. A text needs to be related to the larger group of texts or discourses. They cannot be studied in isolation.
  4. The author is an ideological figure.

Types of Authors

According to Michel Foucault, there are two types of authors:

  1. Transdiscursive: They are the fathers. e.g. Aristotle, Homer etc.
  2. Founder of Discursivity: Those who resolve complex expressions into simpler or more basic ones. e.g. 19th century Europeans.

Foucault and Barthes

  1. Barthes criticises author but Foucault problematizes him.
  2. Barthes creates binaries (e.g. author vs reader) but Foucault considers the author as the construct of the reader.
  3. Barthes philosophy is limited to the idea of literature and literary criticism whereas Foucault succeeds in extending problem from imaginative literature to the domain of non-fictional writings.

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Here is another important article on Michel Foucault