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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


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