Missed Class…Here’s What I think, Foucault Style

Hey all. I missed class Monday and honestly, I’m disappointed because we hadn’t had a sit down class in a while.

What I found most interesting was Foucault’s idea about whether writers need to publish all their dribbles and drabbles in order to be justified as the author of a piece of work. Where would that line end? If I, as a writer, scribble down an idea on an old receipt, should I publish that? It’s more interesting to me to hear an author write about their process than see it. Honestly, I think it would be a lot of nonsense. It was difficult to discern if Foucault himself thought this process was time-consuming, but worth it, or a waste of time completely. He says that people see the author as a “transcendental anonymity,” so is writing a condition or a labour of an actual human being? What I understood was that Foucault thinks there is no separating the work from the author, as the name itself changes the way we read the work. So, we may see writing as a condition or a function, but still, the author has some influence over us. Again, I’m not sure if I’m reading that correctly. I would have liked to be there in class to talk it through with everyone and see what everyone’s opinions were. I think the concept of authorship is endless and I think I’ve spoken about it in every class I’ve been in since starting graduate school. And perhaps, we will never have a true answer to the question, what is an author?
For someone like Henryson, who is not as famous as someone like Chaucer, we may read his fables and his name would mean nothing to us. What is interesting is that Henryson uses the term “my author” and “myne author.” I’ve never seen that before. Is that meta-text? A narrator aware of it’s author? That’s actually pretty cool.

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7 thoughts on “Missed Class…Here’s What I think, Foucault Style

  1. I think, since the idea of an author is absolutely endless, and so too are the debates, I suppose one analogy we can think of, is the comparison of a father and a Dad. In my grandparents’ home, they have several plaques of quotes from people unnamed, and on my grandfather’s desk it reads, “Any man can be a father, but it takes a special kind of man to be a Dad.” So if we compare the two, any one can be a writer by constantly dabbling in writing the simple. However, as it takes a special kind of person to be a dad, so too would it also take someone special to claim the title, “Author”. And to the little dribbles and drabbles, I don’t necessarily think its mandatory for an author to publish all the little mistakes to be considered an author, but to see how they ended up with their end work to be very interesting. I remember, when the Lord of the Rings came out on the big screen, I’ve always wanted to write a tolkienistic style book, knowing full well that whatever I will produce will pale in comparison. My first piece, is completely different with what I ended up putting on my shelf in a published format about four years ago.

    I think I might actually have those forty pages lying around somewhere.

  2. Emma,

    I wish you were in class because you would have loved the workshop we did — it definitely contributed to the conversation about authorship and authority over a text. When Henryson says “my author” he is imposing Aesop into the text as both a character and an authority, somewhat removing himself as an authority which I think is so interesting. For me, when we had to then translate one of the fables it brought up the question of: who am I to say this is what Henryson meant? I do think there is a lot of authority that comes with the territory of being an author, and then that authority is shifted onto the translator and then to the reader…its like a rabbit hole honestly.

  3. I think your saying, “there is no separating the work from the author, as the name itself changes the way we read the work. So, we may see writing as a condition or a function, but still, the author has some influence over us.” is reading Foucault’s words correctly because we talked about how once there is a name associated with the word, as readers we immediately look into the author’s background and find out any additional information that could give meaning to the work. But doesn’t and shouldn’t the work stand on its own? How do we reach that balance and should we reach that balance? Like Sam, the workshop we conducted in class also had me thinking about authorship and how dare I say that Henryson’s feist means feast? This ties into looking into the author’s background for additional information because in order for me to find out if feist truly does mean feast, I have to look into the language that Henryson was using during his time period in order to decode his fable. However, without the author’s name on that piece, I may never be able to decode the work and appreciate it for what it truly means rather than how I interpret it to mean so in this scenario authorship means information for the reader. I think that once authorship means ownership – that’s when the word of the author dies because then there’s little to no room for the reader to interpret the work and take from the work what they believe it means. With ownership comes “here’s what I’m saying, here’s what it means. That is all.” That’s how I view it at least.

  4. I think there are definite advantages to both looking at a work with the author in mind, and to looking at a work as something completely separate from its creator. I think at times it can be very easy to get bogged down or overly dependent on biographical readings of texts. Once you’re in the frame of mind of biographical criticism, sometimes it seems like everything must have some significance to the author’s life even when it really doesn’t. I think part of it is that people like to know about authors. For example, even though we know so little for certain about Shakespeare’s life, there are many long biographies written about him. With that in mind, there are also advantages to looking at a work as something totally divorced from the author. The interpretations are about the text and the text alone, and outside sources do not need to be involved. However, in that sense, something that may have biographical significance might go ignored when it could be very important to the text. Thus, I think a balance between involving and ignoring the author must be struck.

  5. During class, we touched briefly on the idea that Henryson’s reference to this “author” other than himself was an attempt to give more credibility to his fables. As he actually has Aesop present as a character in one of the fables (going so far as to have Aesop tell the fable himself), it was possible that Henryson was attempting to structure his text in such a way that it appeared to readers that he was acting as a messenger for Aesop.

    I found this interesting because we had discussed in a previous class that the concept of the author has changed over the centuries, with author and writer not being as interchangeable as they are now. If we continue with that logic, it’s possible that Henryson intended to make himself appear as just a scribe for the author, Aesop.

    • The portion of the Foucault essay you are referencing is dealing with a number of issues at play. First, it serves to problematize our understanding of “work”, i.e. what constitutes a work of literature. Here, using Nietzsche as the case study, he considers the philosopher’s canonical works, but then problematizes this by including other texts ascribed to him such as letters and notes. If one of the aims is to problematize the “author”, then problematizing what the author is understood to produce, that is “work”, strikes me as a master move. Secondly, it deals with the issue of intertextuality, and the phenomenalogical limits of an individual “work” by an “author”. This begs the question: where does the work end? If the text is not limited to a single work within a corpus, but interacts with other works in this corpus, as well as incidental materials, what is the object of investigation? Moreover, if we take this a step further, must the limit of the object of investigation be an individual corpus of work, or rather, must we move outward, and consider the intertextual meaning birthed via its relation to other bodies of work associated with other authors? These are a number of questions I believe might be implied by this section of the essay. I appreciate your consideration of the name of the author as a paratext already mediating the readers relationship with the text prior to engagement. Emma, I agree that the exercise went a long way in helping me understand the issues surrounding authorship as relates to our discussion in class. I appreciate the metaphor of the rabbit hole, as it suggests that we are always shifting and never actually get at the text, and meaning is always deferred. What I wonder is, does “authority” transfer with translation and then subsequent reading of this translation, or rather, does the “authority” always rest with the original. In “Forms of Alterity: On Translation”, Lyn Hejinian offers that the original and the translation always exist in a negative dialectic wherein synthesis is never achieved, with the result that the original thesis (in this case the original) always and already has a more powerful claim than the antithesis (the translation). I don’t mean to imply that the metaphor of the rabbit hole, and the concept of negative dialectics are incompatible, but rather they speak to one another somehow in this sentiment that the system of signs, in this case the translation, is fated to fail – with the only answer in the face of such failure being further translation. As Samuel Beckett says: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better”.

  6. Going line by line through some of the passages in his fables was probably my favorite part of the class, but when we were going through the one piece that we were supposed to workshop I was a bit confused on whether or not we were supposed to modernize the text or just copy it how it was. Some of the words I definitely needed to use an outside source to figure out what they meant, but all in all it was a fun activity.

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