Notes on Foucault….

March 23, 2010 — Leave a comment

Notes from What Is An Author in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice; selected essays and interviews ; Cornell University Press Ithaca, New York, 1977

Essentially Foucault is studying the concept of the Author in terms of, “the manner in which a text apparently points to this figure who is outside and precedes it.” (p115) It is interesting to apply all these ideas and theories to the idea of the documentary filmmaker as author. In this way, this reading applies to Labsome, Transient Spaces and Comm Rev.

Questions raised by Foucault:

How was the author individualised in our culture?

What status have we given the author? (authenticity, attribution)

What systems of valorisation has he been included in?

When was the moment that stories of the hero gave way to an authors biography?

What conditions fostered the formulation of the fundamental critical category of ‘the man and his work’?

One approach to this Foucault reading is to constantly ask yourself, in what contexts is Foucault refering to the practice of language and writing (and that particular relationship)?

“the writing of our day has freed itself from the necessity of “expression”; it only refers to itself, yet it is not restricted to the confines interiority. On the contrary, we recognise it in its exterior deployment.” (p116)

Foucault sees writing as an organic and evolving practice which, “unfolds like a game that inevitably moves beyond its own rules and finally leaves them behind.” (p116) In this way, writing is not a fixed or rigid technical device into which a subject is inserted. Instead it serves to create an opening where the “writing subject” endlessly disappears. (what is meant by writing subject exactly?)

Foucault sees the ancient text as a vehicle to immortality for the hero. In pre-modern times, narrative redeemed the acceptance of death. Kafka is a good example of the reversal of this narrative ideology. Contemporary writing murders its author. There are two sides established to the argument around the recognition and presence of the author (what these are is hard to decipher!)

The first context is that of criticism which addresses the work in terms of its ‘architectonic’ and structural form, and specifically leaves out the ties between author and work, and in particular the author and his thoughts through the work. The question of the boundaries of the work is prominent here. The second context is the notion of ecriture, a French word referring to the act of writing as an entity in itself, in its primordial and metaphysical form (signs represent the present, in its absence). The notion of ecriture somehow links the idea of the author to a more theological and religiously inflected notion. The work as “a kind of enigmatic supplement of the author beyond his own death.” (p120)

In summary Foucault poses the difference between questions that are and are not concerned with the author. This is to illustrate that through the absence of the author new modes of discourse will be heard.

No longer the tiresome repetitions:

“Who is the real author?”
“Have we proof of his authenticity and originality?”
“What has he revealed of his most profound self in his language?”

New questions will be heard:

“What are the modes of existence of this discourse?”
“Where does it come from; how is it circulated; who controls it?”
“What placements are determined for possible subjects?”
“Who can fulfill these diverse functions of the subject?”

Behind all these questions we would hear little more than the murmur of indifference:

“What matter who’s speaking?” (p138)


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