“The Author” by Foucault


Dante’s Hell Map

In “The Author” (Chapter published at Le Bulletin de la Société Française, 1969) philosopher Michael Foucalut dissects from an historical and contextual perspective what an author is and his functions are. He argues that the characteristics of a discourse are important to compare how the authors in the past were different from what we understood after XIX Century.

In the past, authors were subjected to legal regulations when its creation represented an action that Foucault describes as bipolar because it connected a sacred and profane sphere. As an example, elder christian traditions started to authenticate or/and reject discourses and this idea of authenticity that we later associated with the idea of author. Focault also mentions that individuals who wrote canonical texts were not considered as authors. Later, when a system of ownership known as the copyright was created, the author became part of the social sphere of accepted creators. Then, he describes authorship as creative power because an author is an architect who designs the intrinsic connections between context and concept.

What’s more interesting is Focault’s description of an author as a sort of interpreter of life, a mediator of death as a mean to express the creative power and its capacity to inspire individuals. For example authors such as Kafka, Homer, Dante and Whitman have inspired thousands when writing their works which functioned in human’s psychique as a protection against death. Their response pushes individuals to a space that represents one of human’s biggest quest in relation to our existence: Who are we? Why are we here? I believe that these epics, poems, or even a fragment, can also work like black holes in space. They attract, destroy and create life. In the same way, an author stands for a principle of unity and as a creator reactivates and rediscovers our understanding about the hidden layers of multiple discourses throughout human history. Focault also makes a point when he says that his analysis about what author means can also be applied to other areas such as painting, music and sciences. For example, Although Freud didn’t wrote literary works, he is considered an author because his discourse about psychoanalysis makes us go to a kind of empty space where we open our knowledge to another dimension. Ironically and in a similar case, when a nazi officer asks Picasso if he was the author of the Guernica; he denies it by stating that the nazis where the authors of it.

So, defining who the author is might be more than describing its functions in contexts but understanding how an individual can become the source of expression to produce a discourse. Among other important facts, Foucault also describes that there’s an order of things to be taken into account when understanding an author’s function. These elements are the location of rules, functional conditions, the author’s role, and the limits of the creational art. From a personal perspective I would add that when looking back on the etymology of the word, it can be found that for Middle English, an author is in the sense ‘a person who invents or causes something. Then, from Old French autor and from Latin auctor, and augere, connects to the action of increase, originate and promote. The spelling with th arose in the 15th century, and perhaps became established under the influence of authentic. So now, in the XXI century we are facing a crisis where everybody is in a desperate quest for authenticity, but to what extent is an author authentic if we consider that there was a previous discourse from where this individual nourished? What’s authenticity? Isn’t perhaps an author a mediator, an individual whose sparkle can lighten others? In any case, very few humans dare to face an empty space, and without an author descriptions, and therefore this world, would be meaningless.

Overall, I believe an author is a mediator whose creative power is to set bridges of wisdom and knowledge between ourselves and the world we live in.

Letizia Balzi

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