Does the Reader Become the Author?

“We can say that today’s writing has freed itself from the theme of expression…Writing unfolds like a game that invariably goes beyond its own rules and transgresses its limits…rather a question of creating a space into which the writing subject constantly disappears” (Foucault 206). We can deduct that Foucault would agree with the unknown signified, the one constantly searching for a new meaning. But if the subject of the text continues to change doesn’t the originality become lost? The author,  who has made this writing for a purpose, is no longer the on in control. The reader has taken over. The subject can completely change into their want and the author is gone. Foucault mentions the word limits. Is he saying that writing has no limits? OR that the subject and meaning within the text has no limits?

“Our culture has metamorphosed this idea of narrative, or writing, as something designed to ward off death…The work, which once had the duty of providing immortality, now possesses the right to kill, to be its author’s murderer” (Foucault 206). I think Foucault is arguing that once the text is written, who it came from no longer matters. The text is the important and everlasting aspect, not the author. This seems a bit outlandish in my opinion, but it is true that words are meant to be read. As long as the text is read by the reader, why does it matter if the author’s view is behind the words? But does this just make the text lose any sense of origin?

to be or not to be an Author?

Reading Michel’s Foucault’s, what is an Author? gave me an insight into a  literary approach to a concept that we regard usually  as “common” sense. Author is a word that is usually used without giving it a second thought. What else is there to think?, I made something I’m the creator, in case of literary texts or works I’m the author nothing more nothing less. While this concept of author is not wrong, nor  right. Theory so far in my understanding is not about diminishing or disapproving other ideas or concepts, but rather expand, common sense ideas such as the concept of author, and I believe that is what Foucault goal was for his readers, to challenge and play, tinkering how we  conceive certain concepts especially regarding literary texts. I never had a moment where I felt i was reading an answer to what is to be an author or what it means rather an explanation of how we came to the point of where we are, why we consider author’s as such in our culture and what is their role. Two points I really liked about this reading is that it Challenges the idea of the death author calling it regressive “To imagine writing as absence seems to be simple repetition”, he doesn’t argue that this is wrong instead that we must find spaces inside texts where there are examples of the author’s disappearance. He also explains that there’s no such thing as a theory of “work” and those who have to take on the practice of editing works do it without theory. This instantly made me think of Percy Shelley as the editor of Mary Shelley, and how different The novel Frankenstein would have been if Foucault edited it, Its impossible to know if he would engage in such task, but I can imagine the novel more complex and weird.  Another point that made me think about Frankenstein is the example of Pierre Dupont and Shakespeare,  the importance of an author’s name or its distinction form other names. The author’s name the description of what we associate when we see or heard it, and designation or what it names.  Percy Shelley and Mercy Shelley both are linked by the novel of Frankenstein, and  the discourse of authorship between the two versions is an example of how the author’s name changed its function.

What is an Author?

Foucault’s “What is an Author” seems to be written as a direct response to Barthes’ “Death of the Author”. While Barthes philosophy revolves around imagining as if the work in question does not have an author, Foucault continues to analyze what exactly constitutes an author and his text. While reading the article, I began to think about what would happen if all authors ceased to exist. This is not to say that there would be no writers producing work, but what would happen if no written work was attributed to an individual. Is this even possible in society? And then, what would constitute a text? If a quote is stated, but no author is given then it is just an opinion floating in the air. There could be no facts as nothing could be proven. Any medical or law journal that states what it believes is a fact, cannot be necessarily true as if there is no author attached to the work then the work can not be verified. Many times in an English class a professor will hand out a poem without the author’s name. Now, if a student were to be handed two poems and one was written by a well-known author and the other by the professor himself who’s to say the student would be able to differentiate one from the other? On the other hand, if the author’s name was stated alongside the poem the student will label the one written by the professor as amateur and the one written by the famous author as “deep” or “inspiring”. This will happen even if the student sees no meaning in the poem solely as a result of the name alone. Foucault then addresses the question of what constitutes a work. Is anything an author has written work? Should it be hung in a museum or sold online for hundreds of thousands of dollars simply because of the name attached to it? Foucault proves that defining an author and his work is not as simple as it appears to be and that everything must be questioned when it comes to the author.

What difference does it make who is speaking?

In Foucault’s discussion of the author’s name as one aspect of the “author function” (in “What is an Author?”), he states, “it performs a certain role with regard to narrative discourse, assuring a classificatory function.  Such a name permits one to group together a certain number of texts, define them, differentiate them from and contrast them to others” (210).  This immediately brought to mind the Shelleys, both Mary and Percy, and what the name “Shelley” does to categorize their writing.  Additionally, what status does Mary Shelley automatically gain simply through the privilege of her married name?  Her text isn’t simply grouped together with other texts published under the name “Mary Shelley” but also those published under the name “Percy Bysshe Shelley.” Although, in her case, had she published using the last name of her father (Godwin) or her mother (Wollstonecraft) she would have been accorded similar privileged status. This is because a Name has particular coded problems associated with gender that Foucault does not mention in this essay, although we can easily apply his theory to this problem.

If the author’s name “seems always to be present, marking off the edges of the text” and “indicates the status of this discourse within a society and culture”, then surely the implied sex of the author’s name matters.  In my very traditional undergraduate study, professors routinely referred to all male authors by their last names (Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, Hemingway, etc.) but often used first names with the women, most memorably “Emily” for Dickinson.  I felt this was in some ways to slight her importance but in others to continually remind the readers that this was a woman, that her author function must always be present in order for us to properly “read” her.  And, I can’t help make the leap here to Hilary Rodham Clinton– The name Hilary Rodham had achievement as a lawyer in her own right, under her own name, but because we have grouped her together with her husband, she has risen to great heights politically, only to be commonly referred to simply as “Hilary.”  If we say “Clinton”, we automatically think of her husband.

It also brings to mind the tradition of women publishing under men’s names– George Sand and George Eliot, the Bronte sisters and their masculine pseudonyms– this may have been a practical consideration in a time where a female name would have limited the audience or possible revenue, but what implications does it bring to the text itself?  How did it change the reading?  How would the discourse change again when the true gender of the author was revealed?

Logic of Supplementarity

Derrida’s logic of supplement helps me understand Foucault’s view on “sex” and how it has changed to something we now use to identify ourselves by rather than what it used to be see perceived as in the past. She explains this logic as the thing that is identified as a “supplement”, comes to also need supplementation, because it shares the qualities thought to only be present in the original supplement. Derrida states that “the idea of the original is created by the copies, and that the original is always deferred – never to be grasped,” meaning that the original, becomes a supplement which will then leads to more supplements needed to help explain it (original). This causes a never ending chain of supplements.

When viewing Foucault’s view on sex, the original in this case would be the thought of “sex” in the past centuries when it was seen as a natural act. This act was repressed in different ways during that specific time period. The ways in which it was repressed become the supplements. The supplements serve to add, complete or compensate for the lack of something. Therefore, because “sex” was subjugated it led to the talks/discourses of sex to become its way of making up for the way in which it was repressed. In other words speaking of what is not supposed to be spoken about/done becomes its form of release, which makes up for its absence.

These supplements were necessary for the transformation of the concept of sex. The discoursing become the copies of the original (sex) in the sense that it was a topic that was being talked about in different ways. As a result of these supplements, the original (sex) came to mean something entirely different, which Foucault explains as “an artificial unity of sex” which is made up of the supplements. This unity has become what we now use to attempt to identify ourselves with. This original like Derrida mentions can “never be grasped.” Sex becomes a means of identifying ourselves. Identity is constantly changing depending on our surroundings and how we perceive ourselves in at different times. Identity cannot be grasped and therefore becomes a supplement because like it has the same qualities supplements have, they need to be linked to something other to be understood. Keeping this in mind, if we attempt to identify ourselves through sex, we will find ourselves connecting different aspects, such as female/male, and other characteristics that can explain who we are. These characteristics become supplements and are essential to us making sense of what we define ourselves as since identity cannot do it on its own, it becomes a supplement because it needs supplements.