P. Prayer Elmo Raj - Author and Text. Reading Michel Foucault’s What is an Author

Reading Michel Foucault’s What is an Author

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  Author and Text: Reading Michel Foucault’s What is an Author P. Prayer Elmo Raj Assistant Professor of English, Karunya University, Coimbatore Roland Barthes, following the New Critics and T.S. Eliot, with his much debated The  Death of the Author  , renewed the contested relationship between the author and the text. Barthes rejects the Romantic concept of “Author-God” and advocates a structuralist/poststructuralist  point of view that it is the “language that speaks” not the author. Barthes writes: “Linguistically, the author is never more than the instance writing, just as/is nothing other than the instance saying/: language knows a ‘subject’, not a ‘person’, and this subject, empty outside of the very enunciation which denies it, suffices to make language ‘hold together’, suffices, this is to say, to exhaust it” (Barthes 145). The author, for Barthes, becomes the “past” of the text and therefore to entail authorship to a text is to inflict limits on the text. The preeminence of language over the author and vice versa is a continued debate. Michel Foucault’s What is an Author?  is a response to Barthes’ rejection of author as the creator and proprietor of his work in The Death of the  Author  . He centers his essay in the manner in which the text points to the author-“figure”. Instead of entering into a sociohistorical analysis of the author, the direction in which Foucault travels is guided by Beckett’s statement: “what matter who’s speaking” ( WA  115). With the advent of structuralist and poststructuralist thought, writing has been liberated to accredit writing itself. Moreover, the relationship between writer and death was recreated. Writing, for Foucault, allows us to position the author’s absence embarking upon the “spatial dispersion and its temporal deployment” ( WA 119) of the conditions of any text. Foucault attempts to determine and enunciate the space that is left void by the author’s departure in the structuralist and post-structuralist theory. If author is not the one who comprises and represents the work, the pertinent question, then for Foucault is, as Anis Bawarshi puts it, “what is that delimits discourse so that it  becomes recognized as a work that has certain value and status?” (336).Who plays the responsibility of being the “regulator of the fictive?” According to Foucault, it is the “author-function”. Foucault sets apart the author-function ascribing four features in relation to various aspects of a discourse that abets and establishes its distinction from other discourses bordering simply to books or text that are authored. Firstly, the author-function is associated with “legal codification”—“objects of appropriation”—the penal appropriation. Historically written speeches and books were ordained actual authors when they were scourged and the discourse was conceded as transgressive. Discourse, in this context, is reposed in “a bipolar field of sacred and profane, lawful and unlawful, religious and blasphemous” (WA 124). Moreover, it was at this juncture author’s right (copy right) was introduced and the contraveneous asset that is inherent to the process of writing becomes the influential essentiality of literature. This is a moment of acceptance into the “social order of property which governs our culture…by reviving the older bipolar field of discourse in a systematic practice of transgression…” (WA 125). The author-function, secondly, is neither universal nor constant in all discourses, the kinds of texts that do not necessitate authors; “there was a time when those texts which we now www.the-criterion.comThe Criterion: An International Journal in EnglishISSN 0976-8165 Vol.III Issue III2September 2012   call “literary” (stories, folk tales, epics, and tragedies) were accepted, circulated, and valorized without any question about the identity of their author” ( WA 125). The anonymity of authorship was ignored because their historicity provided authenticity and the author-function is diminished where author stood for the theorem. However, in a “literary” discourse, the meaning and value ascribed to the text predicated upon the “author’s name” for the reason that the genuineness of the text was determined by the “sovereignty of the author.” Thirdly, the author-function is a composite process which involves the “profoundity” and creativity of an author to be srcinal. Foucault observes that in modern literary criticism, manifold ways are employed in its ‘desire to “recover” the author.’ Literary anonymity has become unacceptable and inadequate. “The name, as an individual mark, is not sufficient as it relates to a textual tradition ( WA 127). Foucault compares the author construction to the manner in which Saint Jerome used to authenticate the work of an author. Saint Jerome employs four decisive factors: The text that must be eliminated from the list of works attributed to a single author are those inferior to the others (thus, the author is defined as a standard level of quality); those whose ideas conflict with the doctrine expressed in the others (here the author is defined as a certain field of conceptual or theoretical coherence); those written in a different style and containing words and  phrases not ordinarily found in the other works (the author is seen as stylistic uniformity); and those referring to events or historical figures subsequent to the death of the author (the author is thus a definite historical figure in which a series of events converge( WA 128). Though modern criticism does not employ similar skeptical criteria concerning authentication, the author expresses the presence through the evolution of various events in the text and there by  positions himself in the text. The author not only signify the “the principle of unity” in the  process and evolution of writing but also “neutralize the contradictions” found in the text. Moreover, “the author is a particular source of expression who, in more or less finished forms, is manifested equally well, and with similar validity, in a text, in letters, drafts and so forth”( WA 128). Fourthly, each text is encrypted with signs accrediting to the author in form of “textual signs” such as “personal pronouns, adverbs of time and place, and the conjugation of verb” ( WA 129). These codes have a completely different demeanor on the text with an author without an author. Such “shifters” becomes complex with the incidence of the author and “refer to a real speaker and to an actual deictic situation” ( WA 129) when the text is anonymous. When a novel is narrated in the first person, neither the pronoun ‘I’ nor the first person present indicative allude to the author who wrote the novel. Instead, they allude to a “second self” which is complex and variable in characteristic “plurality of egos.” The ‘I’ refers to the alter ego that mediates space and time. Moreover, the self of  I    conclude  or  I suppose dose not attribute the author but one who accomplished the task of concluding  and supposing. I   could be any one who executes similar undertaking if he or she shares the same insight. The self, in the narrator, can also function as voice that speaks the significance and meaning of a work. Author-function, in its depiction assumes a restrain on the author as Foucault attributes it as a psychic product. The relation of historical author (author-in/as-person) concerning the function of the author is significant in assuming the nature of the author. Foucault does not delve into the matter of relation between the historicity of the author and the author-function. He evades such an argument maintaining that the author-function “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 every class may come to occupy” ( WA  130-31). The www.the-criterion.comThe Criterion: An International Journal in EnglishISSN 0976-8165 Vol.III Issue III3September 2012   historical nature of the author is the key to understanding the construct of the text and the relation between the text and the author. However, the intentionalist argument rests on the irrevocable empirical nature of language that assures that intention will not move away and there is no empirical necessity that the source of author-function, the creator of meaning, the one who establishes the intention needs to be the fundamental author. Thus, the author relates to the basic intent that permits the existence of primary intention that is not bound by the central meaning intended by the author and the future inference that conceives author as a construct prone to change and re-construal. It is, sometimes, not essential to decode or reconfigure the author’s mind at the moment of writing. The reconstitution of meaning of the author at the moment of time denotes the reconstitution of the historicity of the author. Foucault views that the moment of the author coming into being signify an advantageous moment of “individualization in the history of ideas, knowledge, and literature, or in the history of philosophy and science,” because it is explicitly challenged as writing is autonomous of “expression,” a turnaround that “transforms writing into an interplay of signs, regulated less by the content it signifies than by the very nature of the signifier” ( WA  115-6). However, these writings are free of the profound sentiments that are tied to the moment of creation or the incorporation of a subject into language but it is a fixture that moves beyond its own logics. During the pre-Englightenment period the text is free of author when it was not a creation owned  by a particular author. Foucault, unlike Barthes, does not suppose the “death” of the author but argues in line with Barthes as he agrees with the rejection of the subject as the centre of meaning. The author’s name is not a component of speech but it is purposeful that it provides a locus for categorization. The author as a name can be taxonomical in aligning a group of texts so as to distinguish from the other which is the fundamental purpose of the role of an author. The author should not be limited, however, as part of history, a taxonomical device or bounding standard in interpretation and as a pointer to the privileged status of the uniqueness of the texts. The author-function is a construction complied of different features, psychological, historical and cannot be explained as the unprompted ascription of a text to its creator but a sequence of specific and compound process. Foucault emphasizes that the subject should not be totally disposed: “It should be reconsidered, not to restore the theme of an srcinating subject, but to seize its functions, its intervention in discourse and its system of dependencies” ( WA 137). The author-function symbolizes a subjectivity that transcends borders to assume an ageless façade of the author which is multifaceted and complex to tangibly elucidate. It corresponds to a hypothetical nature of the author which throws open the domain of creative writing and interaction with meaning assuming a materialized form beyond the particularities of the social consequences. The author-function encompasses meanings that are recognized beyond the borders of the author’s creation making it expressive and taxonomical. It proposes features and estimations that come under the  purview of the category of author and thereby unifying by reducing the superfluous elements from the process that creates meaning. The author-function by being expressive and unifying also estimates in advance the knowledge that is already instituted in terms of transporting the authority of the text into relation to the aesthetic authority. Foucault’s author-function, as a historical construct, is derived in relation to the post-Renaissance literature. He intends to abrogate the author post-Renaissance notion of author and www.the-criterion.comThe Criterion: An International Journal in EnglishISSN 0976-8165 Vol.III Issue III4September 2012   offers fresh ways of understanding the interconnection between the text and the author. He views that only at particular time in history, the writers of a text was known as the ‘author.’ An author is not the individual behind the text but the cause that establishes and illustrates the text, directs the manner in which meanings are construed out of the text—a transcendental entity. The author-function sets up the definite position benefited by texts in transforming them into works . The author’s name distinguishes a particular manner of actualizing a discourse that is not obscured and elapsed. The status of discourse is normalized within the cultural realm beyond the ordinary and the transitory. Foucault aspires “a typology of discourses based on their specifically discursive properties, those irreducible to the rules of grammar and logic, or to the laws of content, those which instead concern their modalities of existence: the modalities of circulation, valorization, attribution and appropriation” (Benedetti 70-1). The name of the author not only allows us to group a certain forms of work but also contests other grouped groups. Moreover, when the texts are grouped under the name of an author, it establishes an analogous and dependable interconnection with others. The name of the author assumes certain position within an assemblage of discourses, a specific manner of actuality, of movement and process amidst a culture: The author’s name is not a function of a man’s civil status, nor is it fictional; it is situated in the  breach, among the discontinuities, which gives rise to new groups of discourse and their singular mode of existence. Consequently, we can say that in our culture, the name of an author is a variable that accompanies only certain texts to the exclusion of others: a private letter may have signatory, but it does not have an author; a contract can have an underwriter, but not an author; and similarly, an anonymous poster attached to a wall may have a writer, but he cannot be an author. In this sense, the function of an author is to characterize the existence, circulation, and operation of certain discourses within a society ( WA  123-4). The fact that these discourses have an author accommodates the function of the author. Within the orientation of these grouped discourses the name of the author is engraved prior to the  procedure of textual interpretation. Foucault, instead of seeing author as an individual, assumes author as “author-function” or a “figure” calling forth the possibilities to deconstruct and eliminate the author and ascertain fresh and different ways of dealing with the texts. The author-function does not refer to the writer who is known by his or her autonym and “precedes and exist independently of the work” (337). An author is not only the proper name but also a “literary name”—“the rational being” that associates with the work. The author-function at once bequeaths within the work, the concept of an “author” and a certain cultural and status. Moreover, the author-function assumes a  privileged status and a functional principle. The author is an agential postulate. “The author is the ultimate, the ‘extra- extensive process,’ of which the text is a part, though this process is not one that can be finally captured and displayed” (Nehamas 688). Within the text is the manifestation of the authorial character. “We are therefore confronted with this sequence: writers  produce texts; some texts are interpreted and are thus construed as works; works generate the figure of the author manifested in them” (Nehamas 688). Thus, essentializing the interconnection of text and meaning, both the author and the work are constructs placed “toward the notional end” and not at the tangible beginning of an interpretation. The hermeneutics or “the correct interpretation” creates the space for “further writing.” The author, in whom meaning resides, Foucault claims, is used to exclude possible but “implausible,” suggestive but “inaccurative” readings.” (Nehamas 686). The author who envisages a descriptive aim to his writing does not www.the-criterion.comThe Criterion: An International Journal in EnglishISSN 0976-8165 Vol.III Issue III5September 2012 
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