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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Barthes' view on 'work' and 'text'

Barthes writes in his essay "From Work to Text" that the change in conception of language and literary work can be attributed to the development of other disciplines but mainly the disciplines of linguistics, anthropology, Marxism and psychoanalysis.

From the reading of the essay as translated by Stephen Heath, in the first paragraph Barthes writes about why the shift from 'work' to 'text' has occurred in literature. He feels that interdisciplinary studies are a major cause of this change. He questions the term 'text' and what it stands for and goes on to give us seven propositions about the text concerned with:

1.      Method

2.      Genres

3.      Signs

4.      Plurality

5.      Filiation

6.      Reading

7.      Pleasure

About method he says, that a work can be seen as it is a 'fragment of a substance' while a text is a process of demonstration. A work can be held in the hand while a text can only be held in language. Text is experienced only in the activity of production. When a reader engages with a work, it becomes a text. Genres remind us of how a work is liminal. However, a text cannot be bound by classification. The text can be approached and experienced in reaction to the sign. The signified in a work is evident while in a text it is secret, something to be unearthed. 'A work conceived, perceived and received in its integrally symbolic nature is a text.' The text has achieved an irreducible plural. There are infinite meanings in a text. A work is caught up in filiation; it is not seen in isolation. In a text, filiation is discarded. A work is like a composition (like a written book) but the text is about playing (reading the text). A work can be read without being involved but a text needs involvement and engaging. A work provides pleasure of consumption. A text provides jouissance (pleasure without separation).

Barthes concludes by saying that the theory of the text has to be a text itself and must coincide only with a practice of writing.



Barthes, Roland. "From Work to Text." Trans. Stephen Heath. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. By Vincent B. Leitch. New York, NY: Norton, 2001. N. pag. Print.

"Roland Barthes." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Jan. 2014. Web. 24 Jan. 2014.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Introduction to Sigmund Freud and Psychoanalysis

Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939): He was born to Jewish parents in Moravia, now in Czech Republic. His later moved with his family to Vienna, where he got education and eventually secured a medical degree in psychiatry in1881. Within a year his interest turned towards the study of nervous diseases. He has since been credited with the development of new courses. He is one of the rare men who is both a Doctor and a philosopher.

Freud wrote Civilization and its Discontents in 1929. In it he talks about how the civilization and the individual have some fundamental tensions which cause friction. He points out that people crave for individuality and freedom while society/ civilization stresses on containing repression of instincts. Freud says that humans have some instincts which are characteristic to them like desire for sex, predisposition towards violence etc.

In this work he talks about 'the pleasure principle' and 'the reality principle'. He says that the pleasure principle is subordinated to the reality principle. He says that our ego (consciousness) wants to stay away from displeasure and try and achieve happiness but along the course does submit itself to reality. He calls this as sublimation, i.e. subordinating pleasure to reality.

However, because pleasure has been sublimated does not mean that it is no longer retained within us.  There remain many desires which are unfulfilled and settle in the unconscious. Yet they will find some way to be expressed. They cannot be repressed forever. They will find expression in one way or the other.

These 'other' ways which Freud suggests are: dreams, parapraxis and jokes.

1.      Dreams – according to Freud are some form of wish fulfillment. Repressed feelings and unfulfilled desires find an expression through these. They are attempts by the unconscious to resolve the conflict within it. He elaborates on this more in his essay Interpretation of Dreams.

2.      Parapraxes – are the slips of the tongue. It is more famously known as 'the Freudian slip'. Freud says that the slip of the tongue is quite real as it is the true expression of some repressed feeling. It is an outlet for unfulfilled desires. For eHe expands on this concept in his work, Psychopathology of Everyday life.

3.      Jokes – are another form of expression for what is subdued in the unconscious. Jokes have tendencies towards hidden meanings, hidden purpose etc.  He talks more about this in Jokes and their relation to the Unconscious.



Habib, M. A. R. A History of Literary Criticism: From Plato to the Present. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005. Print.

"Sigmund Freud." Wikipedia. Web. 23 Jan 2014.

Thornton, Stephen. "Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. N.p.. Web. 23 Jan 2014.

Pinto, Anil. "Introduction to Freud and Psychoanalysis." Class lecture and discussions. Christ University. India, Bangalore. 20 01 2014. Lecture.


(Prepared by Ranjhani Iyer – 1324131)

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Main differences between Structuralism and Post-Structuralism

Theoretical differences:

Structuralism was a literary movement primarily concerned with
understanding how language works as a system of meaning production.
That is to say, structuralism asked the following question: How does
language function as a kind of meaning machine? To answer this
question, structuralism turned its attention to form. Focusing on the
form or structure of the literary work, and the particular use of
language in the work, would allow structuralists to think of language
as a kind of science.
The primary theorist framing the ideas associated with structuralism
was Ferdinand de Saussure, who developed the idea that language was
composed of arbitrary units that were void of concept or meaning until
they acquired meaning through a language system that relied on
differences between terms within their larger linguistic and social
contexts. One of structuralism's characteristic views is the notion
that language doesn't just reflect or record the world: rather it
shapes it, so that how we see is what we see.

Post-structuralism, on the other hand, is less singularly defined as a
movement than structuralism. Is post-structuralism a continuation and
development of structuralism or a form of rebellion against it?
Post-structuralists accuse structuralists of not following through the
implications of the views about the language on which their
intellectual system is based. Post-structuralism offers a way of
studying how knowledge is produced and critiques structuralist
premises. It argues that because history and culture condition the
study of underlying structures, both are subject to biases and
misinterpretations. A post-structuralist approach argues that to
understand an object (e.g., a text), it is necessary to study both the
object itself and the systems of knowledge that produced the object
A number of literary theories fall under the larger umbrella of
"post-structuralism," including "gender theory" and "reader-response"
theories. These theories recognize the overarching notion that meaning
does not exist outside of the text and that meaning is not fixed but
rather contingent and unstable. Post-structuralism evolved alongside
Jacques Derrida's theory of "deconstruction," which emphasized this
concept of unstable, unfixed meaning as it functioned in language.
According to Derrida, language is made up of units that do not contain
inherent meaning and relate to other units (or signifiers) through
their difference. Meaning, in deconstructionist theory, is therefore
constantly deferred, never landing in one place or becoming stable.
Post-structuralism emerges in this context, recognizing this lack of
fixed or inherent meaning and yet also acknowledging the need for
language to acquire meaning.

Some main differences can be listed as follows:
1. Origins: Structuralism derives ultimately from linguistics. It
believes that if we observe accurately, collect data systematically
and make logical deductions then we can reach reliable conclusions
about language and the world. Structuralism believes in this and also
in the method, system and reason as being able to establish reliable
truths. By contrast, post-structuralism derives ultimately from
philosophy which has always tended to emphasize the difficulty of
achieving secure knowledge about things. They inherit the habit of
scepticism and intensify it.
2. Attitude to language: Structuralists accept that the world is
constructed through language in the sense that we do not have access
to reality other than through the linguistic system. By contrast,
post-structuralism is much more fundamental in insisting upon the
consequences of the view that, in effect, reality itself is textual.

Practical differences:

An initial problem here is that post-structuralism often claims that
it is more an attitude of mind than a practical method of criticism.
After all, in what sense could, say, Marxist or feminist or even
liberal humanist criticism be called a method? Only in the loosest
way, since none of these provide anything like a step-by-step
procedure for analyzing literary works. All they offer is an
orientation towards a characteristic central issue and a body of work.
The post-structuralist literary critic is engaged in the task of
'deconstructing' the text. This process can be roughly defined as
'applied post-structuralism'. It is often referred to as 'reading
against the grain' or 'reading the text against itself', with the
purpose of 'knowing the text as it cannot know itself'. (Terry
Eagleton's definitions) At the same time structuralists look for
features like parallels, echoes and reflections. The deconstructionist
looks for evidence of gaps, breaks and discontinuities of all kinds.

The structuralist seeks: The post- structuralist seeks:
Parallels/ Echoes Contradictions/ Paradoxes
Balances Shifts/ Breaks in: Tone
Reflections/ Repetitions Conflicts
Symmetry Absences/ Omissions
Contrasts Linguistic qiurks
Effect: to show textual unity Effect: to show textual disunity
and coherence


Barry, Peter. Beginning Theory An Introduction to Literary and
Cultural Theory. 3rd. New Delhi
: Viva Books, 2012. Print.
Pinto, Anil. Class Lecture. Twentieth Century Critical Traditions.
Christ University. Bangalore,
India. 13 Jan. 2013.

(Notes of the lecture delivered on 13 January. Prepared by Dhanya
Zacharias, 1324128)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Notes on Foucault's What is an Author – Clare Joseph

In his essay What is an Author, Michel Foucault is not discussing authors and their works, rather, he is talking about the concept of work and the functional role of an author, that is, 'author function'.

He says that when people study concerns of a particular concept, more importance is given to the solid and fundamental role of the author, rather than the concept. Foucault lists the possible conditions under which the author was individualised in the western tradition. Did it happen because of the status given to the author when authenticity and attribution of texts were researched, or by inclusion of the author in systems of valorisation, or did it happen when the traditional stories about heroes gave way to different kinds of writing like an author's biography? However, this traditional notion of individualisation of the author has shifted.

To understand this shift, Foucault uses Samuel Beckett's notion of an author – "What matter who is speaking, someone said, what matter who is speaking." Foucault says that this shift has occurred because of two major themes that emerged:

  • First, writing freed itself from the necessity of expression, that is, writing was not merely a result of the author's need to express. The meaning of the text was no longer confined within the writing of the text, but in it's exterior deployment. As a result, writing became an interplay of signs, regulated not by the author (the signified) but by the nature of work or text itself (signifier). Thus, the essential basis of writing was not the emotions under which it was composed or the subject inserted into language, but the creation of an opening where the writing subject disappears.

  • Second, the relationship between writing and death. Traditionally, death was a guarantee to immortality (e.g. the Greek narratives where by death, the hero gains immortality. Contemporarily, this notion has been altered, and writing is now linked to sacrifice. The narrator is used to forestall death. Where work had the duty of creating immortality, it now had the right to kill its author. After writing, the author is dead, but through the text, the author lives. The author becomes a victim of his own writing, and through his absence, his presence is guaranteed.

Problematising "work"

Foucault questions the concept of work. He says, if we consider that an individual is not an author (when no individual has authority over the work), what do we make of the things written, said or communicated by an individual? Also, if we are dealing with an author, will his work include everything that he has ever written or said (like notes on someone's address or an appointment). He says we lack a theory to encompass the questions generated by a work and the empirical activity involved in publishing an author's complete works (which is questionable). If there is no understanding of what a work is, there can be unified meaning designated by a work. He argues that the thesis of ecriture makes it possible to continue the presence of an author, as it is not concerned with the act of writing or the authorial intentions and meanings within a text, but it elaborates the conditions of spatial dispersion and temporal deployment of any text. But ecriture has merely transposed the empirical characteristics of an author to a transcendental anonymity. Next, he problematises the use of an author's name. He says that an author's name is not just a proper name, but functional. It has functions other than signification (which a proper name is designated for). An author's name is functional in relation to his or her works as it can be used to classify a set of works and also establish homogeneity, filiation, reciprocal explanation, authentification, or of common utilisation. An author's name also characterises a particular manner of existence, circulation and operations of a discourse.

Foucault defines the four major characteristics of author function as follows:

  • Author function is tied to the legal and institutional systems that circumscribe, determine and articulate discourses – an author needs to take responsibility while writing, hence, a particular text is attributed to an author.

  • Author function does not operate uniformly in all discourses, at all times, and in any given culture – it is difficult to define an author function uniform across various discourses.

  • Author function is not defined by the spontaneous attribution of a text to its creator, but through a series of precise and complex procedures.

    Foucault uses Saint Jerome's argument to define author function. St. Jerome says that a text can be attributed to an author if it meets the standard level of quality of other works written by that author; has a coherent idea represented as in other works by the author; has a uniform style of writing and choice of words particular to the author; and those that do not include historical events and figures subsequent to the author's death. Foucault says that St. Jerome's characterisation might not be appropriate for modern critics to attribute authorship of a text, but it helps in defining the author function.

  • It does not just refer to an actual individual but gives rise to multiple egos (multiple selves) and a series of subjective positions the individuals of any class may occupy – this arises out of the scission between, and the division and distance of the actual writer from the fictional narrator.

(Discussion on St. Jerome and his role: He is important not just because he translated the Bible to Latin, but because he throws a light on how texts transform demography of the people and what a particular text does to a civilisation. He translated Bible from Hebrew and Greek (Greek was powerful earlier) to Latin (the language spoken at Rome, which ruled Europe when St. Jerome translated Bible to Latin). Similarly, Martin Luther King said that an interpreter is not required and that people need self-interpretation. When he translated Bible from Latin to German (Germany was then powerful in Europe), Latin was overthrown by German, English and other European languages. Religious descent begins the rise of languages. The role of a translator is also functional.

Link to Foucault's essay: While we discuss what is an author and our changing relationship with text, we look at the shift in views over a period of time and how these texts (economic, political, religious texts) shape our society).

Two types of positions of an author:

  • Transdiscursive position – Foucault says that even within the realm of a discourse, "a person can be the author of not only a book, but of a theory, tradition or a discipline within which new books and authors can proliferate" Such authors occupy a transdiscursive position (e.g. Homer, Aristotle, church fathers). These kind of authors are as old as our civilisation.

  • Initiators of discursive practices – 19th century Europe produced a singular kind of author, different from transdiscursive authors. They not only produced their own work, but they laid down the possibility and rules of forming other texts. They provided ground not only for analogies to be adopted by future texts, but also made possible differences – they created a space for differing views within the field of discourse they initiated. This, he says, is different from founding of any scientific endeavor.

Foucault however says that the distinction between initiation of discursive practices and founding of sciences is not readily identifiable, and there is no proof that these two procedures are mutually exclusive. His purpose behind bringing out this distinction was to show that "author-function" might be complex when we analyse each book or even a series of texts bearing a definite signature, but when we consider larger entities like groups of works or entire disciplines, author-function can be understood.

Author-function, according to Foucault, is one possible specifications of the subject and, it appears that the form, the complexity and even the existence of author-function is not permanent. The author as a centre was constructed to establish a unified meaning from the text, but now, text itself becomes meaning. The author does not have the authority over meaning – author or the unified subject is displaced from the centre, but not removed entirely. A text needs to be related through larger groups of texts or discourse.


Pinto, Anil and Vijayaganesh A.. "Michel Foucault's What is an Author – summary". Christ university. Bangalore. 10 January 2014. Lecture.

Foucault, Michel. "What is an Author.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

What is an Author?

class notes prepared by Chitra Tracy Johnson

What is an Author?

Michel Foucault


January 7, 2014

Michel Foucault is an author who drew ideas and assumptions from all areas like Marxism, structuralism, sociology, history and so on. He is a post-structuralist author with affinities with to the theories we studied earlier.

Foucault begins his essay "What is an Author" by discussing the criticism he had on his previous work The Order of Things. In this work Foucault make an investigation into the condition of possibility under which human beings become an object of knowledge in some of the disciplines (Social Sciences). "For Foucault discourse is a body of thought and writing that is united by having a common object of study, a common methodology and a set of common term and ideas". This idea of Foucault allows him to talk elaborately on variety of texts irrespective of countries, historical periods, disciplines and genres. This is the reason why while discussing several naturalist without considering the periods in which they belonged he discussed Bulton and Darquin who belonged to the 18 and 19 centuries respectively and also to different nationalities. For him they were following "the functional condition of specific discursive practices" (Text para 3).  They belonged to the same discourse family.

            Critics questioned this association. He responds to this by asking why we are not concerned with the idea of authors at all than seeing discourse as the grouping of texts and ideas. Foucault quotes Samuel Beckett who says "What matter who's speaking" and says that this indifference is fundamental ethical principle of contemporary writing. For him writing is a play of language than an expression. So it is creating an opening where the writing subject entirely disagrees.  

Another important idea Foucault brings in the relation of writing and death.  The Greek narration and epics were designed to guarantee the immortality of the hero. So the Greek hero accepted an early death. But coming to modern times texts like Arabian Nights tries to reverse this equation and try to keep death away from the circle of existence. This concept of writing as a protection against death has been transferred to other cultures where writing is now linked to sacrifice and sacrifice of the life itself. It takes place in the everyday life of writer. The work which has the duty of creating immortality has now turned into a right to kill, kill the author himself. The link between writing and death is manifested in the total removal of the individual characterisation of the writer. The consequence of the removal of the authors is not fully explored.

So when he is saying that the author is dead he is saying that author is deconstructed shown that only a part of the structure a subject position and not the centre. By declaring the death of the author Foucault is deconstructing the idea that the author is the origin of something original and replay it with the idea that the author is the product of function of writing of the text.


Lecture by Asst.Prof. Vijayaganesh, Christ University, Bangalore on7 January 2014.

Foucault, Michel. What is an Author? Print.

Notes prepared by Chitra Tracy Johnson


Thursday, January 09, 2014

What is an Author? Michel Foucault ( Christina Alex)

What is an Author?
Michel Foucault
Date: 9 January 2014
·         In this essay, Foucault is concerned with the author and the work. It was looked upon as a single entity.
·         The task of criticism is to establish the link between the author and the work.
·         The understanding of language is extended to literary theory through structuralist approaches.
Work/ Text
Unified subject
Reference point

·         Foucault discusses the relationship between writing and the necessity of expression.
·         Traditional/ Classic writers believed in the concept of inspiration: the idea of a muse.
·         Writers like Coleridge and Wordsworth have talked about the compulsion that a writer experiences to put down thoughts into words.
·         An example is The Rime of The Ancient Mariner where the narrator is compelled to tell his tale to a passer-by.
·         This can be regarded as a continuation of the story-telling tradition.
·         Secondly, Foucault talks about the concept of writing and death.
·         A writer lives through his work or in other words, attains immortality with his work.
·         Foucaultsuggeststhathisexamples,thattheideaofperpetuatingor
·         postponingdeathinthecaseoftheGreekepicandtheArabiantalesweremetaphosedbytheWesternsociety
·         The idea of the power of the narrator to forestall death through story-telling.
·         This further problematises the notion of the author as an unimportant part of the work.
·         Waiting for Godot is an example of a text where there is no unified meaning in the text and hence it requires us to look for the author in the text.
·         New Critics, Formalists, Structuralists, etc looked for a meaning in the text even after doing away with the concept of the author.
·         These tendencies were prominent in the 20th century.
·         Writing was removed from expression.
·         Hence, the author disappears and there occurs a removal of the unified subject.
·         Here the question of what happens when you remove a reference point comes up.
·         Writing is a signifying system; meaning is relational and based on difference.
·         It reflects the notion of a simple and self-contained identity; circularity of meaning as opposed to a linear one.
·         Text does not indicate the intention of the author; author expresses through a unified language which reader interprets.
·         This linear trend has changed recently.
·         The author as a transcendental anonymity.
·         The focus shifted to the text/discourse. Foucault states that everything is a discourse.
·         The author still exists, even after having claimed to have disappeared. He is still behind the text because we want a unified meaning from a text.
·         The author's name is not just a name, it is functional as it performs a function.
·         Foucaultpointsoutthatthe author'spropernameequalsadescription. He uses the example of Aristotle to conclude that hearing a particular name leads to associating that name to that person's famous works.
·         The way Foucault describes the author is very restricted/ limited.
Lecture by Asst.Prof. Vijayaganesh, Christ University, Bangalore on 9 January 2014.
Foucault, Michel. What is an Author? Print.
Notes prepared by Christina Alex.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

From Work to Text and Death of the Author

Annie Isabel Jaison
13/12/2013, Friday
From Work to Text and Death of the Author

·         From Work to Text and Death of the Author are two of Roland Barthes' most important works. A text is an 'object of study' according to Barthes.
·          A text is called so because it is woven from the material available, i.e. words. In a text, the words are being stitched and unstitched constantly.  In the essay 'From Work to Text', Barthes juxtaposes the making of a text to the making of a work. Work has an author and text has a scribe. (The word 'scribe' emerged from 'script' which emerged from 'scripture'. 'Scribe' means 'one who writes).
·         Barthes is of the opinion that an author's words are never his own. His work is inspired by a muse.
·         He gives us an idea of the movement of a text to a work - there is no place for the author, in his place the reader is born. We never know what the author meant while creating his 'work', we only know what various readers have interpreted.
·         Here, Barthes is not denying the existence of the author. He is saying that it is not just the author that is creating a work- the language is not his, the ideas are not his- he is just stitching the ideas and words together.
·          In a way he is just a mediator who merges ideas and language together presents it before the readers. This is where the concept of 'Death of the Author' emerges.
·          As text started travelling out of the culture it was written for, it was interpreted even more vividly by a vast number if readers, thus backing the idea of 'Death of the Author'.
1.      Roland Barthes, Death of the Author (1968)
2.      Roland Barthes, From Work to Text (1971)

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Shift From Structuralism to Poststructuralism by Anuradha Acharjee (1324119)

There is seen to be an ''exact'' shift from structuralism to poststructuralism. The basis of Structuralism is Linguistics and Structuralism puts emphasis on 'how to look at language'. The notion is same between the structuralists and poststructuralists but there was a change or shift in the attitude of the Poststructuralists which made them different. From 1973, one can see the pressure of the text on yhe writers and the readers. Barthes Structuralist perspective changed and became Poststructuralist.

Structuralists look at language as a sign system which is natural and has no essence. Each woed is a sign and gives a particular meaning. The nature of meaning is relational and arbitrary. Structuralists basically look for a stable meaning in everything or various concepts they come across. The new version, still being stable, gives a better understanding of the reality. In Poststructuralism, there are no signifieds, only signifiers. E.g. When the word tree is uttered, everybody does not get the same concept or meaning in their minds.

So th basic differences one may find in Poststructuralism is that there are a chain of signifiers, no signifieds. The concept of having a fixed or constant meaning is nullified. All this leads to anxiety about language and Poststructuralists cannot believe that language is reliable to communicate at the first place. They believe that texts also communicate certain meaning.

The time frame of Structuralim and Poststructuralism is demarcated as such, from 1930s to 1940s structuralism existed appoximately and from 1960s onwards, it was Poststructuralism in the scenario. It happened in france first and then in England.

Earlier, there used to be a God centred society. There was a gap between language and reality. It was later found out that reality is just a construct and there was no one to one correspondence. Poststructuralism however, widened this gap. According to Poststructuralism, there is nothing like unified eternal reality in the world. Reality itself is textual and everything is a construct. Then during REnaissance Humanism when man was made the centre of the society, all these absolute facts were subverted. This can even be proven by Literature. Also, rationality and reasoning power or man was developed and Science was born.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, there was a war between religion and science. This can be best understood by reading Mathew Arnold's works, how man was caught between the two worlds. The First World War eradicated the notion of moving forward to a perfectly perfect, materialistic life. Also, European countries were emerging at that time. After the Second World War, faith was lost in everything.

Fragmentation in writing can be seen very clearly in T.S. Eliot's works. There is a fragmented and disordered structure. The shift had continued till thousands of years, undoing of whatever you have learnt so far.

There is no fixed meaning in the text. Feminism also incorporated some of these ideas. Male language per se was replaced with feminine viewpoints. Gynocriticism emerged where woman becomes the centre of the society and everything is for women. Classical feminism is seen to be replacing the centre and it all emerged against a male dominated society.

Structuralism was a step by step process, based on methodology and linguistics whereas Poststructuralism had a sceptical nature and was based on philosophy. Structuralists had a coherent and structured style of writing but Poststructuralists wrote with a lot of puns, allusions, metaphors, multiple interpretations. Their writing was basically constituted with a play of words.

Poststructuralists believe that language or reality is a construct. The Structuralists know this but they live with it without questioning anything. They do not want to look at the uncertainity and totality of meanings. Reality id textual for Poststructuralists. The writers do not follow a linear mode of narration.

References :
1.class taken on 20th December' 2013 by Mr. VijayaGanesh.
2. A basic reading of 'The Death of the Author' by Roland Barthes and some other preceeding texts.

Notes prepared by Anuradha Acharjee (1324119)