Good morning and welcome again to this NPTEL lecture postmodernism in literature. In the
last couple of sessions over the week we have been taking a look at the changing notion
of the idea of the text and the idea of the author.
And we especially took a look at Barthes essay death of the author, and also we are now in
the process of taking a look at our analysing our focus what in an author to text which
have radically challenged the authors control over the text. In the continuation with our
discussion of focus what is an author? We have taken already taken a look at the
ways in which Foucault begins to highlight the notion of the author function where he
talks about the characteristic mode of existence circulation and functioning of a certain discourse
within society and how he shows rather succinctly, rather clearly how the author function is
also related to various discourses men which manifest within our particular discourses
in society. And he also highlights the fact that the author
is directly correlated with ones discursive context and that the authors function the
the authority which is being invested upon the author is directly correlative of the
context in the discursive context within which the authors and texts are placed.
And eventually he also leads us to be convinced that it is the author function that authorizes
the idea of the order and here he takes the attention away from the proper name of the
author from the personality of the author towards a certain path toward certain functions,
a certain particular roles is that the author figure performs in this different in different
disguise of contexts. Having said that Foucault sets out to analyse
this authors function as we have just described it and he goes on to ask this question. In
our culture how does one characterize a discourse containing the author function in what way
is this discourse different from other discourses if we limit our remarks to the author of a
book or a text we can isolate 4 different characteristics. So, in this this also incidentally
frames the crux of focus essay what is an author and here we begin talking about the
four characteristics that Foucault has detailed in this particular essay. First characteristics outlined by Foucault
is by identifying particular text and objects of appropriation here he is drawing your attention
to the legal and institutional systems which have played a very significant role in identifying
the aspects of ownership and the aspects of authority in connection with the author and
the text. Here we may also recall the rise of the printing
press after the reformation and how the dissemination of various religious texts challenged the
authority of the catholic church during the time in across Europe and here we are also
being we have also been we have also been alert to the fact that there was at a point
of time in in cultural literary history where the idea of the author was not very significant.
In the in in other words there were a number of folktales there were a number of texts
who are texts which were getting circulated under the tag of for being anonymous. The
the the name of the author was not very significant to understand what the text is to interpret
the text to situate the text within a particular cultural context.
But later the situation changed Foucault reminds us in in in in the spirit of being a historian
he reminds us that later the later that entire scenario changed and the legal and institutional
aspects began to play a significant role in identifying in appropriating particular texts
with particular authors and the term that our Foucault uses for this is penal appropriation.
And then he also talks about how subsequently authors became subject to punishment. So,
here there is a very direct connection that he makes between the text and the author and
how by appropriating by attribute in a particular text to an order. There is also a way in which
the author is being subject to punishment so, that the transgressor form of writing
could be identified and quite appropriately punished.
And here I read from Foucault essay in our culture and doubtless in many others discourse
was not originally a product a thing a kind of goods it was essentially an act an act
placed in the bipolar field of the sacred and the profane the licit and illicit the
religious and the blasphemous. Here if you are familiar with the history
of English language and literature and the European intellectual tradition we are also
being made alert to the fact that that is a historical trajectory to this to this identification
of transgressive literature, there is a historical trajectory an intellectual tradition which
could be traced back to this act of punishment, this act of responsibility being an being
bestowed on the figure of the author and subsequently who calls sums up historically it was a gesture
fraught with risks before becoming goods caught up in a circuit of ownership.
So, this idea of ownership of literary texts this idea of ownership of particular kinds
of ideas particular kinds of writing is also equated is also connected to the idea of penal
appropriation wherein the possibility of punishing a writer the possibility of stopping an author
from writing also rests. So, this author function has got multiple levels of existence at the
historical and the ideological level it is also a political act if we if we closely engage
with it. And Foucault further writes once this system
of ownership for text came into being the possibility of transgression attached to the
act of writing took on more and more the form of an imperative peculiar to literature. And
this is in fact, something that we continue to see even in the contemporary by by when
we identify particular kinds of discourses, particular kinds of writing with particular
author, and his biography, and his background there also are various possible political
religious and ideological problems that emerge. There are ways in which one could transfer
one could punish the transgressive writer even in the contemporary through this system,
through this identification of the author function.
Having said that Foucault takes us to the second characteristics where he is also alerting
us to the fact that this function the author function does not operate uniformly across
all disciplinary discourses. For example, there is a market difference that one could
see historical also between sciences and the literature and also in the way in which the
discourse is about the philosophy and the poet has been shaped.
The author function of the philosophy and the author function of the poet, the construction
of the author for the construction of the philosopher as an author, the construction
of the performance of the author is radically different from each other and he also tells
us about the historical emergence of the sciences and the literature in terms of its authorship.
While by showing by illustrating that in earlier historical periods it was not important to
assign in author to literary text, but on the contrary it was very important to assign
an author figure to a scientific to the articulation of a scientific truth, but down the centuries
there is also a sort of a shift that that Foucault begins to identify and this also
became quite significantly important in identifying this shift in the in the roles of these functions
and shift in these author functions. And in that sense he also highlights the fact
that there are no universal constants as far as these all the functions are concerned.
Because some texts do not require an author at all he tells us and here again he brings
in the distinction between the literary texts and the scientific truths and then he also
tells us how in the 18th century the literary works began to be evaluated on the basis of
the notion of the author. All of a sudden from being ok with the kind
of anonymity associated with literature in the 18th century and as he also finds out
in the beginning of the essay and as well as in Barthes essay we could not feel find
this notion being reflected in the 18th century perhaps with the rise of individualistic ideas
with the height with the with the enlightenment ideas reaching its peak. We find a way in
which literary works are beginning to be associated beginning to be evaluated on the basis of
the notion of the author, the idea of the author.
And here he also tells us that subsequently this process of identifying the author is
eventually to be able to associate the text with an author function because if the author
is not identifiable if the author is anonymous the identification of the author function
is also fraught with the number of problems because the identity of the author is not
known . So, the figure of the author assumes importance only when the author function gets
a font only when the author function gets fore-grounded.
Now, Foucault draws our attention to the third characteristic and tells us it is rather the
result of a complex operation that constructs a certain being of reason that we call author.
Now Foucault draws our attention to the third characteristic and says the third characteristic
of this author function is that it does not develop spontaneously as the attribution of
a discourse to an individual. So, here he is also drawing our attention
to a series of precise and complex procedures then this emergence of the author function
undergoes and here he also also is trying to perhaps tell us that this is a rational
con rational construct. By way of illustration Foucault tells us we
do not construct a philosophical author as we do a poet and he also draws our attention
to the ways in which this this idea of the author functions the ways in which particular
functions are assigned to the authors they could be traced back to the Christian tradition.
And also he uses by way of illustration the four criteria used by Saint Jerome in his
own words how can one use the author function to determine if one is dealing with one or
several individuals. Here we are also being given to understand that there is also a number
of possibilities of the ways in which one could talk about the author sometimes a one
text or more than a text would be associated with author and sometimes a range of texts
and an entire discourse would be associated with the author.
So, when we are talking about a range of texts a range of her writings produced by the same
author how do we engage with it how do we assign this particular author function. So,
here he uses the four characteristics the four criteria proposed by Saint Jerome and
to quickly sum up the 4 criteria. Firstly, the author functional also functions
as a label of a certain standard level of quality. For example, there could perhaps
be our grocery lesson written by the poet Thomas Stern Eliot. There is also the work
the major work produced by T. S. Eliot the wasteland.
So, both are not both are not been looked at looked at with the same set of judgment,
with the same set of evaluation we have certainly placed at two different pedestals and we also
find that one qualifies more as a legitimate work of a T.S. Eliot then perhaps a grocery
list or a or a list of reminders written out by him.
And secondly, the author functions also denotes a field of conception or theoretical coherence
and this is also a method through which one can eliminate conflicting or contradictory
ideas from a particular discourse but from a particular a set of texts or from a range
of 5 discourses and this also gives us this also gives the author function the additional
burden, the additional responsibilities of isolating.
Only the things which could conveniently be conveniently be brought under one rubric and
thirdly there is a requirement of a stylistic uniformity which is quite similar to the second
point, the second criteria are being put forward. And fourthly the author function also ensured
that ensures that the author remains as a definite historical figure and through these
4 criteria which are detailed out further in Foucault essay he also draws our attention
to some transhistorical constants how authors are culturally constructed.
So, here through a very systematic argumentative fashion Foucault is highlighting the fact
that author is a creation, author is a construct, author is a cultural a construct which was
also a product of a range of disposes of range of our shifts in the knowledge systems and
in the intellectual tendencies. And fourthly when he talks about the characteristics
of the author function, fourthly author function does not just refer to a single individual
in fact it gives rise to multiple selves in the series of subjective positions and this
would be further elaborated when Foucault talks about the trans discursive position,
but to give a brief overview of what he means by what he means by this is a perhaps it would
just suffice to think of the works of a Freud or Marx in whose works we also find the possibility
of the other texts emerging. In other words Marx writings or frauds writings
are not just about their own writings, but it is also about how the one particular text
that they produced had the power had the possibility to produce other texts other discourses and
perhaps an entire new paradigm of knowledge and entire a radically new new form of thinking,
a new system of thought into being. And having uh spoken about at length about
these 4 characteristics Foucault also gives a rationale for focusing on the only these
4 4 characteristics and he says no doubt analysis could discover still more characteristic traits
of the author function. I will limit myself to these for; however, because they seem the
most visible and the most important and see he again goes on to summarize the 4 traits
in a single paragraph. And Foucault then draws our attention to a
certain problem which is inherent in his own treatment of the subject of the author and
the ways in which he goes on to unpack the idea of the author within particular discourses.
He tells us up to this point I have unjustifiably limited my subject I have discussed the author
only in a limited sense of a person to whom the production of a text a book or a work
can be legitimate legitimately attribute. He also tells us how he has not been able
to engage with certain other feels such as painting music and other arts which he believes
should have been discussed and having said that he takes the discussion further ahead
to tell us about the possibilities of the author being much more than the author of
a single book one can be the author of a theory a technician a discipline in which other books
and authors will in their turn find a place. Here we also find the essay taking us through
this journey from the book being just a text to an entire discourse and here I I iterate
for Foucault writes one can be the author of a theory, a tradition, or discipline in
which other books and authors will in turn in their turn find a place. So, the or the
idea of the author the author function is not limited to a single book or perhaps a
single set of books it could be, it could be extended to a range of discourse or even
a range of discourses. And it is in this context that he talks about
different kinds of authors, and different kinds of discursive positions that they occupy
and firstly, he talks about a trans discursive position and he give the examples of our Homer,
Aristotle and the early Church fathers, the first mathematicians, the originators of the
Hippocratic tradition. And he locate the significance of these trans discursive authors by talking
about them as a recurring phenomenon certainly as old as a civilization.
So, there is a way in which we would also note that Foucault continuously are tries
to place everything within the gamut of history. There is an attempt to historicize there is
an attempt to traced the history of knowledge, the history of civilization, even through
the discussions of authors, texts and related concepts.
And in this context he also identifies another set of authors who could be termed as a initiators
or founders of discursivity. And for example, he talks about 19th century Europe where as
where a number of writers who have been able to produce their own work and at the same
time they also laid out the possibility and rules for forming other texts.
There is a there is also an overlap that they could find to work here with the forth author
function that that Foucault talks about a little earlier in his text and this these
initiators and founders of discursivity Foucault tells us they are not to be confused with
the great literary authors or the authors of religious texts. Because he is not talking
about the authors who authored a single important work a single masterpiece or a single or or
a set of very very important literary works, but he is talking about a set of writers who
moved beyond the status of merely authoring a book to the founders and initiators of a
range of discursive practices an entire discursive tradition perhaps.
He gives the telling examples of Freud and Marx and he also says these founders of discursivity
I use Marx and Freud as examples because I believe them to be both the first and the
foremost cases. So, when we talk about Freud we are not just
talking about the interpretation of dreams. And we talk about Marx we are not talking
about das kapital alone . On the contrary as Foucault puts it Freud is not just the
author of the interpretation of dreams or jokes and their relation to the unconscious.
Marx is not just the author of the communist manifesto or das kapital they both have established
an endless possibility of discourse and when he talks about this endless possibility of
discourse he is not excluding all other kinds of writers who can in fact he also gives the
interesting example of Ann Radcliffe who is was an early gothic fiction writer.
He also talks about how Ann Radcliffe made it possible for other kinds of gothic stories
to emerge, but nevertheless he makes a very significant difference between Freud and Marx
and writer such as Ann Radcliffe; Ann Radcliffe also just like Freud and Marx there were a
number of analogies that we could identify post after her initiation into a gothic fiction
writing. But; however, what makes Freud and Marx is
radically different from writers such as Ann Radcliffe is that there are also any number
of differences and divergences that there will work had also given rise to it was not
just about similar kinds of works it gave similar kinds of texts and discourses that
came into existence after the Freud and marx ideologies dominated.
But it was also about the ways in which a range of texts, a range of discourses were
also able to depart from what Freud in Marx spoke about and and here he also draws another
parallel with scientific endeavour then says this could be quite similar to the founding
of scientific endeavour and gives the example of Galileo.
As the same day Foucault also identifies a notable difference in his own words in the
case of the science the act that founds it is on an equal footing with its future transformations.
This act becomes in some respects part of the set of modifications that make it possible
, but in contrast the initiation of a discursive practice is heterogeneous to its subsequent
transformations so here while drawing a parallel between the initiators of discursive practice
and initiator so far a scientific endeavours he is also aware of the ways in which they
differ from each other and he further explains. In other words unlike the founding of a science
the initiation of a discursive practice, it does not participate in this later transformations
and he sums up the section by saying to face it very schematically the work of initiators
of discursivity is not situated in the space that science defines rather it is the science
or the discursivity which refers back to their work as a primary coordinate. Here he is clearly
privileging the initiators of discursivity over all other kinds of scientific endeavours.
So, what do these discussions eventually intent prior to this moment the author was constructed
as a centre not to establish a unified meaning from the text, but now the text itself becomes
a meaning and the author or the unified subject in Foucault’s discourse we find being displaced
from the centre but not removed entirely we also find certain significant departures from
Barthes death of the author. And here we also find Foucault making a very
important turn in the history of discourse, in the history of the understanding of knowledge
that a text needs to be related through larger groups of texts or discourse it cannot be
viewed in isolation, it could cannot be studied in isolation because every text is part of
the larger discourse this also forms perhaps the one the underlying principles of the postmodernist,
critical theory and the postmodernist critical analysis.
Towards the end of his essay Foucault tries to sum up many of his arguments by highlighting
the fact that the author is also an ideological construct in his own words the author is not
an indefinite source of significations that fill a work, the author does not precede the
works, he is a certain functional principle by which in our culture one limits, excludes,
and chooses. In short by which one impedes the free circulation,
the free manipulation, the free composition, decomposition, and re-composition of affection.
So, here by identifying author functions, the identifying the idea of the author with
a set of traits which are also responsible for imposing limits for excluding one and
choosing the other. Foucault is also making us aware of the various
ideological levels at which the function of the author forms, and he again reiterates
this idea that the author is an ideological product.
And he also just like Barthes towards the end of his essay pronounces the death of the
author here and. In fact, we find Foucault presenting the author in such a way that this
function is reduced to be quite irrelevant in his own words I think that our society
changes and a very moment when it is in the process of changing the author function will
disappear and then he also tells us about how we would eventually progress move towards
the anonymity of Murmer and where who really spoke would become a rather irrelevant question.
And question such as what are the modes of existence of this discourse will replace the
original question of who really spoke. Here in fact, he is also responding to one of the
original points that he began with where he quoted Becketten asked the asked us this question
what does it matter who is really speaking. And here he also talking about the alternate
set of questions which would be fore-grounded once the relevance of the authorial voice
is completely negated and he sums up and he ends this essay with this final note the same
note in fact that he began with what difference does it make who is speaking.
And here it is perhaps just a paradox that the essay also ends with a sort of a tribute
to Beckett with whom to whom he alludes right at the beginning of his essay.
Having taken a look at this essay by Foucault what is an author we also do allies at Foucault’s
attack on the author compared to the attack made by Barthes on the author is more powerful
though Barthes actually pronounced the death of the author. Because, Foucault is more aware
of the author being implicated in the discourse as an ideological figure who is also eventually
linked to a cult of personality. And maybe it is a useful exercise to also
very briefly take a look at how a Foucault’s articulation what is in author differs radically
from that of Barthes death of the author. Though both of them do believe in certain
fundamental promises it is useful for the purpose of analysis to delineate some of the
basic difference as well. Barthes seeks to criticize and supersede the
author figure, but Foucault problematized that figure and he also places the author
as a site of inquiry. And secondly in Barthes essay we find that a certain kind of a binary
is being created between the author and the reader where the birth of the reader is at
the cost of the death of the author. But in Foucault analysis the author is a construct
of the reader, he is a cultural construct who is also the product of the kind of functions
that the reader attributes to the author and in Barthes framework we can see that he is
a limited to the ideas of literature, and literary criticism, but Foucault succeeds
in extending the problem from imaginative literature to the domain of non fictional
writing. And this is also evident in one of the first
statements that Foucault makes in his essay the coming into being of the notion of order
constitutes the privileged moment of individualization in the history of ideas knowledge, literature,
philosophy and the sciences. So, here we also find that there is a way
in which a Foucault includes all kinds of knowledge system, all kinds of disciplines
into his realm of discussion. And finally, while Barthes locates the text against the
book Foucault attempts to talk about this move of from the text to discourses or rather
the location of the text within particular a discursive formations and discursive practices.
Having said that perhaps it is also interesting to take a look at some of the paradoxical
jesters that both of these essays also foreground it is hard to miss the fact that the death
of the author itself is an authored event. The authorial signatures of Barthes and Foucault
are very much evident in our discussions related to the death of the author that sense Adrian
Wilson our contemporary literary critical theorist.
And there is also another paradox that that is really hard to miss there is a selective
privileging of certain writers such as Stephaney Mallarme or Samuel Beckett and we also find
that certain authors are being accepted from the particular charges that are being levied
against authors or the author functions in general.
There have been a number of criticisms against the against both of these works there are
a number of ways in which various critical principles, various critical schools have
tried to read against the grain of the essays by Barthes Foucault.
And there is also a very recent book by Sean Burke the death and return of the author in
which he tries to analyse the contemporary implications of Barthes, Foucault, and Derrida
we may perhaps get back come back to one of these some of these works at a later point.
There have also been a feminist interpretations of the works of Barthes and Foucault and it
is also at this point interesting to note that a number of feminists have reacted to
Foucault’s and Barthes essay because the death of the author or perhaps the the disappearance
of the author. They thought may not always work in their
favour because historically men had been more privileged in the field of writing than women
and just when women begin to articulate their voice to say that the author has died or that
the other function does not exist anymore is also to take away the newfound privileges
from women and other minorities . But nevertheless there have also been a number of ways in which
feminist criticism runs parallel to that or for the articulations by Barthes and Foucault.
For instance in 1985 Toril Moi one of the leading feminist critics wrote for the patriarchal
critic the author is the source, origin and meaning of the text if we are to undo this
patriarchal practice of authority we must take one further step and proclaim with Roland
Barthes, the death of the author. There also been other feminist critics who
felt otherwise which is Nancy K Miller who wrote the postmodernist decision that author
is dead and subjective agency along with him does not necessarily work for women and prematurely
forecloses the question of identity for them. Because women have not had the same historical
relation of identity to origin, institution, production, that men have had, women have
not, I think collectively felt burdened by too much self, ego, cogito, etcetera.
In spite of these varying contested views it is important to continue to look at how
post structuralism have as informed the basis towards our understanding of post modernism.
Because it is within the concerns and the intellectual conceits of our French post structuralism
that we continue to locate post modernism in the our contemporary.
In that sense in the coming sessions we shall be looking at some other post structuralist
writers such as Jean Baudrillard Edward said Jacques Derrida and also of course, Lyotard
who gave perhaps the first ever definition of post modernism as the end of meta narratives.
And in tune with what we have just highlighted we shall also be taking a look at the alternative
views in connection with the postmodernist approaches. This course perhaps would help
you to engage with these diverging practices and these contrasting views to eventually
develop your own idea of post modernism. And I also hope that the discussion of these
two texts Barthes death of the author, and Foucault’s what is an author would also help
our you develop a taste for this kind of a critical reading and also for critical analysis.
Thank you for listening and look forward to seeing you in the next session .