Four features of text which create the author function

1. Such texts are objects of appropriation, forms of property. Speeches and books were assigned to real authors, Foucault argues, only when the authors became subjected to punishments for what the speech or book said. When the writing/speech said something transgressive, something that broke rules, then systems of authority (like Althusser's RSAs) had to find some locus from which the transgressive speech came; the cops and courts had to find someone to punish. Foucault's example is that of heresy: when heresy was uttered, there had to be a heretic behind the utterance, since you can't punish words or ideas, but only the people who "author" those words or ideas. From this idea of locating authorship in someone held responsible for writing or speech came also the idea of ownership of works, and the idea of copyright rules associated with ownership.

2. The "author function" is not a universal or constant feature of every text. Some texts don't require, or create, an "author:" myths, fairy tales, folk stories, legends, jokes, etc. It used to be that literary texts could be anonymous, whereas scientific texts had to be attached to a name, to an "author function," because the credibility of the scientific text came from the name of the author associated with it: Pliny says, Aristotle says, Hippocrates says, etc. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Foucault says, this situation was reversed; scientific texts began to speak for themselves, to be objective, and thus to be judged on the basis of the arguments presented (and the reproducibility of results), and not on the authority of an individual author's name. Literary works, in this era, began to be evaluated on the basis of the notion of the author--hence the emergence of the idea of "Shakespeare" as "author function," not just as some guy who hung out in London theaters in the Elizabethan era. In contemporary society, we see this illustrated in the idea of an anonymous literary work, like Primary Colors, where the goal is to find out who REALLY wrote it--to be able to associate the text with an "author function."

3. The author function is not formed spontaneously, through some simple attribution of a discourse

to an individual. Rather, it results from various cultural constructions, in which we choose certain attributes of an individual as "authorial" attributes, and dismiss others. Thus, in creating "Melville" as an author function, it is important to his status as "author" that he actually did go on a whaling voyage; it is irrelevant to his status as author that he worked in a bowling alley in Hawaii (although both are historically true).

Foucault says that philosophers and poets are not constructed as authors in the same way, but that there are some transhistorical constants in how authors are culturally constructed. He looks to St. Jerome as "author function" for these constants, examining how several texts are attributed to a single author:

a. Texts are eliminated from the list of belonging to a particular author if they are markedly superior or inferior to other texts on the list; hence the "author function" is a label of a certain standard level of quality. (This would keep the grocery list from being part of T.S. Eliot's "work," i.e. a text which generates an "author function," because the grocery list is not as good as "The Wasteland.")

b. A text is eliminated from the list of belonging to a particular author when the ideas in that text contradict or conflict with the ideas presented in other texts; thus the "author function" denotes a field of conceptual or theoretical coherence.

c. A text is eliminated from belonging to a particular author when the style is different from that of other texts belonging to that author, when it uses words and phrases not found in other texts. Hence "author function" requires a stylistic uniformity.

d. Texts are eliminated which refer to events after the death of the author. Hence "author function" means a definite historical figure in which a series of events converge.

Foucault reiterates these ideas (on p. 144a) and modifies them only slightly. The author's biography explains the presence of certain events in the text; the author is a principle of unity; the author neutralizes contradictions; the author is a particular source of expression manifested equally well in texts, letters, fragments, grocery lists, etc.

4. The text always bears signs that refer to the author, or create the "author function." The most easily recognizable of these signs is a pronoun, "I," though we know better than to assume that the "I" of a narrator is identical to the "I" of an author. Foucault suggests that the author function arises out of the difference, and separation, between the "author function" and the writer signified in the text. This is most easily seen in narrative fiction, but is true of any form of discourse, according to Foucault.

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