Michel Foucault, and Foucault’s “What is an Author”

Reading Foucault’s What is an Author was very interesting, especially in consideration that as a cohort, we have spent a significant amount of time studying his works; as well, many of us had prior exposure to his theories during our undergraduate education.

In What is an Author, Foucault argues that the significance of a piece of writing should be based upon how it is communicated in relation to the elements that the work is composed of. He explains how an author’s name is more than the many elements that comprise a work, and that an author’s name “permits one to group together a certain number of texts, define them, differentiate them from and contrast them to others” establishing a relationship among texts. The implication of this is that a single work is not interpreted only within the framework of the text itself, but to the audience’s attributed homogenized thematic interpretation of texts by the author, characterizing a single text within a network of (possibly unrelated) works.

I find this to be an interesting analysis by Foucault, and though his idea of the “death of the author” argues for analysing the work’s content, rather than in relation to the author, the understanding of a text in relation to other texts (i.e. a network), seems more plausible and realistic, which he appears to acknowledge.

I find it interesting to apply what Foucault speaks of in this piece in relation to Foucault himself. Michel Foucault’s theories are widely understood as addressing the relationship between power and knowledge, and in its application as a form of social control. Looking at a bibliography of Foucault’s published works, as well as this cohort’s exposure to some of his theories, we know that his literary contributions extend far beyond the boundaries ascribed by power, knowledge, and social control.

I believe that What is an Author could even be Foucault’s attempt to detach his name from these ascribed boundaries, and with its publication in 1970, a year after his acclaimed Archaeology of Knowledge, the timing seems about right…

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2 Comments

  1. I think that the ways in which you have reiterated Foucault’s notion of the functionality of authorship, allows us to think about the ways in which an author and their literary works function as overlapping networks. Think of Stephen King for example. The combination of his name and status as an author, along with the genre and lexical choices of his work create a literary network unique to King. There are many times in which I have found myself watching a television mystery or reading a passage and found myself relating the material back to the work of King.

    Liked by 1 person

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