On authorship - Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes

The author function



The presence of the author's name "is functional in that it serves as a means of classification. A name can group together a number of texts and thus differentiate them from others... the fact that a number of texts were attached to a single name implies that relationships of homogeneity, filiation, reciprocal explanation, authentification, or of common utilization were established among them." (Foucault, 123)

"... the name of the author remains at the contours of texts separating one from the other, defining their form, and characterizing their mode of existence." (Foucault, 123)

"... these aspects of an individual, which we designate as an author (or which comprise an individual as an author), are projections, in terms always more or less psychological, of our way of handling texts: in the comparisons we make, the traits we extract as pertinent, the continuities we assign, or the exclusions we practice. " (Foucault, 127)

Who is the author of First light? What if the author was Freud? The "sweet, earthy warmth" and "anticipation" would then be immediately associated with that of sultry pleasures.

What if the author were Wordsworth? Clearly the experience would change to that of appreciating the beauty of nature, of life, birth and light.

Similarly, who is the author of the diary extract? A guess from the clues and style of the writing would indicate toward a relatively young female, uncynical, non-Eurasian, non-upper class (travels by public transport). The extract would be taken then as an innocent commentary on the nature of love.

But what if the author were revealed to be a 39 year old homosexual male?

The name of the author serves the function of "description and designation" (Foucault, 121); it directly controls our reactions to the text, and the words and passages we draw focus on or exclude.


Diary extract