what is an author?
I’m sifting through essays for the compendium for this autumn’s course on contagious media and networked culture, and rereading with joy in the process. I’d almost forgotten Foucault’s “What is an Author?”, though my copy (from Lodge’s Modern Criticism and Theory) is so densely pencilled I’ll have to use the library’s copy for the photocopying. Foucault wrote in 1969 that the idea of an author is merely a function of discourse, a necessary construction to keep fiction at bay. As an undergrad I thought of that as kind of fascinating but rather abstract, after all, there are living authors, ya know? Today it sounds a little different. Think of this in relation to the web, to blogs, to today’s confusion of reality and fiction:
How can one reduce the great peril, the great danger with which fiction threatens our world? The answer is: One can reduce it with the author. The author allows a limitation of the cancerous and dangerous proliferation of significations within a world where one is thrifty not only with one’s resources and riches, but also with one’s discourses and their significations. (..) [T]he author is not an indefinite source of significations which 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 manipulations, the free composition, decomposition, and recomposition of fiction. (209)
Perhaps what delights and confuses us about the hoaxes, spams, pervasive narratives, unfictions and blog fictions of our decade is, in part, their unbounded authorlessness. Foucault, writing in 1969, doubted that an authorless society could develop:
It would be pure romanticism, however, to imagine a culture in which the fictive would be put at the disposal of everyone and would develop without passing through something like a necessary or constraining figure. (209)