The Author: Part 3 of 4

Foucault seems to agree with Barthes in his belief that the author must disappear, and that it would be wrong to interpret a work based on the individual author and that language determines the meaning of a work, not the person or persons who manipulated the language. Written two years after “The Death of the Author,” his essay “What is an Author?” seeks to question why the author is being killed off, and to ask what exactly a “work” is. Foucault first references a quote from Beckett: “What does it matter who is speaking” (281). Like Barthes, Foucault is conveying that the author is not communicating to the reader, that it is the language itself that is being communicated, and it is the language that should be interpreted. He claims that the point of writing “is a question of creating a space into which the writing subject constantly disappears” (281). Foucault then mentions the relationship between writing and death. He says that previously the act of writing gave the author immortality, whereas now, it “possesses the right to kill, to be its author’s murderer” (282). The author is no longer creator, he or she is the vessel in which language passes through. Foucault then questions: how do we constitute a work? Would it be “everything” that the author has ever written, down to a list written on a note? (282)  Does there have to be a way to determine it? After all, there are many famous works that have no attributed author, only “anonymous.” The author’s name itself is a complicated concept. As many who write do so as a living, it is deemed necessary to identify them so that they receive credit, and payment, for their works. There are those authors whose names signify a certain belief system or ideology. This is the concept of “ownership” (Foucault, 285) that complicates things even further. While we may see posts on message boards on the Internet or a piece of graffiti on the side of a building as perfectly normal, if a book were to be published with the author unnamed, or as simply “anonymous,” the public would certainly be confused and unaccepting. Even an author using a pseudonym and staying away from the public eye is preferable, as people tend to shy away from anything that does not belong to someone. Despite all of this, the public tends to be extremely bipolar when it comes to media and ownership, as we will see demonstrated in Jonathan Lethem’s essay.


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