Michel Foucault’s “What is an Author?”

Stephanie Brooks
Dr. Strombeck
ENG 7010
January 31 2016

Worksheet for Weekly Response to Primary Sources: “What is an Author?”

“What is an Author?” is a treatise by Michel Foucault meant to illuminate an author’s function. In his view, authors’ works should be contextualized through a prismatic understanding of the period and law under which author lives, the culture and time period in which the author’s work is read, the particular impact the author to his or her academic conversation, and the author’s various notions of identity.

Key terms:

Term 1 significance: Marx
Karl Marx not only argues that class inequality leads to discontent, but also asserts that classes themselves should be eliminated. Foucault names Marx “transdiscursive” (Foucault 217). For Foucault, this is significant because it identifies Marx as an author of an “endless possibility of discourse” (217). Foucault names those in this camp differently than other authors because of their progressive impact. Marxism is the body of theory born out of Marx’ observations and assertions.

Term 2 significance: Freud
Among others troubles, Sigmund Freud diagnosed perceived emotional and corporal ills through discussions concerning individual experiences, thoughts and unconscious imaginings. Foucault names Freud as “transdiscursive” in addition to Marx (Foucault 217). Again, Foucault explains that Freud’s method of criticism, Psychoanalytic analysis, is a theory in its’ own right. Therefore, Freud ideas are significant to Foucault as future critics could incorporate them into potential impending works. This dialogue would continue to shift Freud’s definitions and assertions, unlike those proposed by theorists in more scientific fields. Freud argues that information remains static in scientific research.

Term 3 significance: Discursive
Discursive discourse seems to be a methodical analysis combined with the written or spoken interchange of thoughts. Foucault creates a new group of thinkers working to construct new mindsets. For example, he terms Freud and Marx “founders of discursivity” (217). He explains these writers are “authors of theory, tradition, or discipline in which other books and authors will find their place” (216-217). Further, he explains that they produce “something other than their discourse, yet something belonging to what they founded” (218). In recognizing these thinkers differently, Foucault anticipates new academic discourses concerning literary theory.

Passage Paraphrase:
“Our culture has metamorphosed this idea of narrative, or writing as something designed to ward off death. Writing has been linked to sacrifice, even to the sacrifice of life: it is now a voluntary effacement that does not need to be represented in books, since it is brought about in the writer’s very existence” (Foucault 206).

Rephrase the passage in your own words.
Foucault argues that while authorship used to preserve a writer’s self in physical books for all time, it is now common for the author to wish to disappear to ensure his or her acceptance by critics of his or her day.

Discussion questions:
Question 1: How does the accessibility of books change their significance? How does this play out globally?

Question 2: Why are the three selves Foucault suggests necessary? What do they preserve?

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