Views on Authorship by Foucault and Barthes

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In his essay ‘What is an Author,’ Michel Foucault based his attention on the notion that the author is socially created. He argued that the literary author had come into being in the eighteenth century, and that the possession of the book was separated as an indication of the elements occurring between the author and the text. Foucault urges his readers to conceive about a society in which various discourses circulate without the need of the speaker, that is, a world in which the person speaking does not matter. On the other hand, Roland Barthes offers another view of the authorship in his article, ‘The Death of the Poet.’ In his essay, Barthes claimed that once a text has been published, the author no longer has the control over it, thus the author becomes irrelevant. In addition, Barthes suggested that the text is a result of other texts which can only be understood via other texts. Intertextuality replaces texts’ authorship. The major difference between Foucault’s and Barthes’s essay is therefore on the view of authorship, but it does not inhibit them from arriving at similar conclusions. The aim of this essay is to analyze different authorship views as depicted in Barthes and Foucault’s essays.

In both essays Foucault and Barthes criticize the reification of the figure of author, or like Foucault states it as a result of “ideological production” of functions of author. They took it their mission to change the notion that texts belong to authors instead the anticipated readers and audience. In an attempt to give the readers, the text, Barthes claims that the author must die. In support of an author’s death, Barthes states that “the birth of the reader must be ransomed by the death of the Author.” (Barthes 6).

Barthes gives his definition of writing and literature by attributing that “writing is itself this special voice, consisting of several indiscernible voices, and that literature is precisely the invention of this voice, to which we cannot assign a specific origin.” (Barthes 2). Basically, writing is a composition of multiple voices and literature uses the voices of writing to come up with text. However, the voices origin is unknown. When “the voice loses its origin, the author enters his own death, writing begins.” (Barthes 2). This implies that the narration of a text only begins after the author dies because he/she enters a new imaginary world of symbols and texts. The author in his imaginary world is incapable of referencing reality, or anything else for that case, because the author can only refer to the fictional world created to come up with the narrative. Barthes gives an example of the manner in which modern writers have subverted the notion of the author as the narrator controlling the text. According to Mallarme, the poet the author does not speak but language does (Barthes 3). Thus, for language occurrence, an author must be present, however, his physical and personality presence do not have significant effects on language: he is a “preexisting impersonality.” (Barthes 3). Additionally, Barthes uses Proust writing to illustrate that the narrator in a book is not the person who has felt or seen, nor the person writing, but the person who is expected to write. “In this way is revealed the whole being of writing: a text consists of multiple writings, issuing from several cultures and entering into dialogue with each other, into parody, into contestation.” Barthes considers modern writing as performative and a mode that can only be found in first person present tense; it comprises of multiple ideas of cultures and writing that and clash blend together in most works.

Barthes proceeds to raise the notion of the author providing a correct meaning of the text as well as those of other literary analysists who would like their personal interpretation of the text to be correct. In this manner, the meaning of the text should not be limited by the author. At the start of his essay, Barthes raises a question and answers it at the end of the essay. After quoting Balzac’s book, we seen that is about a Sarrasine which is a castrato dressing as a woman. The questions that Barthes raises from Balzac’s novel is “Who is speaking in this way?” According to him, the person speaking could not be Balzac, or an omniscient narrator, or castrato; the speaker does not have a voice and the reader can only decrypt its meaning. No narrator, author figure, or character can understand all the parody, irony, contradictions, and relations of all text’s voices because each of these individuals participate in the creation of one or more voices in the text; thus, all the voices in the text are aimed at the reader. Barthes presents the reader as “a man without history, without biography, without psychology; he is only that someone who holds gathered into a single field all the paths of which the text is constituted.” (Barthes 6). Therefore, for the reader to gain full meaning of the text, the author must die metaphorically.

On the notion that an author is a result of ideological creation of the society, Foucault agrees with Barthes. Foucault also states that the idea of author originated from a “individualization” which was a post-industrial culture (Foucault 280). Foucault asserts that writing has often been linked to death, because of Greece’s golden age in which people were willing to sacrifice their lives in wars in order to ensure that their heroes were immortalized in text as Scheherazade narrated the stories to postpone death (North 1385). Arabian narratives like ‘Thousands and One Nights’ were told to forestall the day of reckoning and death (Foucault 281). Therefore, in contemporary cultures, writing is linked to death insofar since a book “possesses the right to kill, to be its author’s murderer.” (Foucault 281).

Foucault attempts to depict four various ways through which “author discourses” their function in a society (282). He starts by showing a proof that an author’s bases their objectivity as an ideological operation and thus not a basis for factual text written. The first instance involves authors being “objects of appropriation” (Foucault 286), since they cannot be allowed to blatantly write transgressive discourses in texts. The second way involves having multiple texts with difference in “author function” (Foucault 286). Throughout the Medieval ages, anonymous texts were mostly fictional with no authors, as of scientific texts they required irrefutable “truth “and had the authors names.

Around the 1700s and 1800s centuries, where already proven truths existed, then scientific texts were published in anonymity. Sometimes they were published in groups were the scientific texts could be recounted especially if they supplement existing proven truths. Thirdly the concept of using a persona construct within the authors text, often involved having the author as explicitly out of the text contents. This persona point of view stems from Barthes concept: where only critics will determine how authors function in a certain way, since their text is disregarded in depicting how author works. Foucault however keenly observes a different exception exists for poets and philosophical authors than we do for “writers” (Foucault 286). The fourth way involves no author having self-reference within their own constructs this however may generate multiple selves (North 1378). But through a complex grammatical act, the “I” Doesn’t depict character neither the author. This may just refer to a different societal space as authored in the text but with different labeling. It is however agreed that multiple authors may exists in a similar text. This follows a sequel where initial voice depicts introduction, followed secondly as a voice within the body while third instance shows animate beings or humans (North 1378). Within mathematical field discourses, ideas are found to be reflective of doubting voices situating a conclusion that is prominent in the texts (Foucault 287).

As a conclusion Foucault does have issues as to how Barthes’ condemns language. Foucault delves into a postulation that depicts societal fear, where he shows authors mandate to “one impedes the free circulation, the free manipulation, the free composition, decomposition, and recomposition of fiction.” (Foucault 290). Even though some ideas on authorship vary between Foucault and Barthes, they agree on the notion that an author needs to die or be murdered for the text to make sense.

Works Cited

Barthes, Roland. “The death of the author.” Constant Association for Art and Media, 2013.

Foucault, Michel, James D. Faubion, and Robert Hurley. Aesthetics, method, and epistemology. Vol. 2. New York: New Press, 1998.

North, Michael. “Authorship and autography.” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America (2001): 1377-1385.

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