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.

How Do “Texts” and “Work” Intertwine?

Before reading this, I haven’t ever thought about the differences between the words “works” and “texts”. I tend to use them interchangeably depending on the day. After reading Barthes’ “From Work to Text”, I’ve come to an understanding the work is more of a complete and is a concrete form of writing, whereas text is something that can be open to change. Work is something that does not show any sign of arbitrariness within the understanding. (decodedscience.org)

The very first lines of this piece, it states “It is a fact that over the last few years a certain change has taken place (or is taking place) in our conception of language and, consequently, of the literary work which owes at least its phenomenal existence to this same language.” (pg.155) This suggests that language is changing over time due to the cultural developments. This is basically how I view the word “text”. It’s something that is open to change, depending on how the events over time seems to shift. Also, “text” ties into language as well. For example, throughout time, language can change, due to new slangs or even new words that have been added to the dictionary over time. That would be a clear example of texts changing with the culture. Whereas a “work” is something that is indefinite.

After distinguishing between the two, it makes me question what exactly a work/text would be in this day and age. Previously, I had the debate with myself about authorship, and what makes an author an author. Authors also tend to adapt to the time shift in culture. For instance, should online blogs be considered to be works or texts? Where would something like that fall into place in Barthes’ categories? Or would it fall into a brand new category of its own? The same thing goes for reality TV. I had mentioned before how mass culture is becoming a major influence on writers these days, and the cultural development are creating a certain type of audience. So for my example of reality TV, it almost seems as if it can fit into being both a work and a text. My reason for thinking it could be both is because the idea of reality is that it is something that cannot be changed. It essentially “is what it is” and that is what makes it a work. It has a sense of concreteness. The part that makes it text, lies within the production crew that creates the show. A lot of reality TV is scripted as well, and that makes it a text as well. The writers ability to alter reality to fit their agenda, and to get a rise out of the audience, shows that they’re purposely creating a shift in “reality” to fit current cultural standards.


Works Cited

“Roland Barthes: “From Work to Text” Linguistic Terms Explained.” Decoded Science. N.p., 17 Apr. 2013. Web. 19 Sept. 2016.

Text & Work

I’ve always used the words “text” and “work” interchangeably when speaking of a book or piece of literature. I never thought there would be a distinction between the two. After reading Roland Barthe’s From Work to Text I’ve come to understand that “the work can be held in the hand, [and] the text is held in language.” The work is stationary. It’s what holds the language together, meanwhile the text lies within the work. I would agree that the text is the essence of the work. Maybe in the past, auctors would disagree and say that the work is what holds all the importance and that there is no distinction between the work and what is written inside. The work was whole and important to its spiritual connotations.

In The Death of an Author, Barthe’s also mentions that “the author is a modern figure.” Text is a newly created term and is linked to how the importance of literature has evolved over time. A book isn’t just read and taken word by word to mean what it is. We analyze it and create new ideas and meanings, “text cannot stop (for example on a library shelf); its constitutive movement is that of cutting across (in particular, it can cut across the work, several works).” This is seen in the way we now target one particular work from different areas of studies to have a greater understanding of it.

Although we interpret works through interdisciplinary methods, I think we can agree that in the end we still don’t know all there is to know about a work. I can compare a work to a lock and the key would be the text. The way we examine the language in the text allows us to obtain a deeper understanding and unlock the mysteries that lay within the work. The both need each other but without understanding how the key and lock work, we cannot unlock and make use of its function.

As reader’s we can study the text and become authors of our own interpretation of a work. The author of the work doesn’t play a role in our interpretation and therefore we become creators of an idea that was born from a text, which can become our form of a work. So can a text become a work?