Won 1Matthew Won1342-31st AveSan Francisco, CA 94122(415) 794-7838Matthew.Won1@gmail.comBelow is an excerpt from part of my senior thesis project as an undergraduate of the SJSUEnglish program. It is based on the critical literary and artistic theory known asDeconstructionism, focusing specifically on philosopher Michel Foucault’s views on thetopic. If you would like to see the paper, references, and project in its entirety, please emailme.What’s in a Name? A Paper on Foucault’s Author-Function DeconstructionismDeconstructionism-A Brief Summary Deconstructionism, a response to Saussere’s structuralism, which aims toreorganize systems of meaning into commonalities, instead seeks to undermine the“intended” meaning and structure of a text. In doing so, deconstructionismmultiplies the meanings of a text, allowing the reader much more liberty ininterpreting the text and questioning the language of the text as well as the reader’sown position within the text (Lynn 108). In order to practice deconstructionism,one must first identify binaries1, two polar oppositional forces that serve to contrastone another as conceit within the text. Then, the reader must establish a hierarchy,or privilege one term above the other, acknowledging that one term isconventionally superior to another. Finally, the reader organizes a reversal ordifferance, of those terms in the aspect of privilege to convey an unlikely or creativemeaning to the text; for instance, a practitioner of deconstructionism may find that anegligible or antithetical aspect in a discourse may instead be central, by reversingand analyzing the meaning of the text. Therefore, deconstructionism, as a literarytheory, constantly explores alternative meanings to the text, extricating the text’s1 A list of terms in deconstructionism can be observed on Lynn 135.
Won 2language from the grasp of its intended meaning and allowing innovativeinterpretations arbitrary of the reader.Michel Foucault and His Unique Deconstructionism The three main proponents of deconstructionism, Jacques Derrida, RolandBarthes, and Michel Foucault, all agree with the basic premise that the author of atext should not interfere with the reader’s interpretation of a text. In fact, Barthes,who metaphorically kills the author in his essay, goes as far as to say “To give a textan author is to impose a limit on that text, to furnish it with a final signified, to closethe writing”. (Barthes 1325). Barthes, in this quotation, demonstrates that theinclusion of the author in a reader analysis restricts the interpretation of thediscourse, completely contrary to deconstructionism’s main intent. Foucault alsoargues “the essential basis of writing is not…the insertion of a subject (author) intolanguage. Rather, it is primarily concerned with creating an opening where thewriting subject (author) disappears.” (Foucault 1447). Each author posits thepremise that a text has its own language; authorship limits the meaning and readingof a text and thus, one should not read a text in relation to the author. However, inhis essay, “What is an Author?”, Foucault stops short of murdering the author asBarthes does, and rather quips that his contemporaries have, instead of murderingthe author, simply transferred the author’s characteristics to a “transcendentalanonymity” which he calls ecriture, or written language (Foucault 1479).Furthermore, Foucault rations that the disappearance of the author is in itselfimportant, questioning the necessitation of a creator of a “work”. As a result,Foucault concludes that the death of the author is ineffective, but rather theinterstices of the author’s absence should be reexamined as a function (Foucault
Won 31479). For example, Foucault suggests a simple function of an author’s name as amulti-descriptor influences the interpretation of a text without altering the languageof the text itself. Therefore, Foucault emphasizes the functionality of the author’sname itself as a separate but essential facsimile called the author-function.The Author-Function: Purpose The impermanent entity of the author-function attempts to achieve threegoals of classification, establishing relationships and solidarity of text, andmaintaining the existence of discourse. Firstly, in the aspect of classification, theauthor-function reorganizes categorization; for example, a library browsersearching for a novel would primarily utilize the author’s name to find the book. Inaddition, as Foucault notes, the author’s name is attached to a work or a body ofwork to differentiate them from others (Foucault 1481). Secondly, the author-function attempts to unify works through homogeneity, such as by subsuming itunder similar ideas or themes, and to authenticate works under a single entity.Thirdly, the author-function seeks to preserve the future discourse of the text; asFoucault illustrates, the text’s permanence, circulation and status in its society, andproper acclaim allow the text itself to survive in a more pragmatic sense. Thus, theauthor-function exists as a name, still quite practical to the reader, but nonethelessstill prohibited from changing the language of the text itself.The Author Function: Characteristics In addition to its teleological final cause, the author-function, as Foucaultwould argue, has four major components: its impact on the legal system, itsdifference in operation in varying systems, its relationship to the author, and its
Won 4intangibility. Firstly, Foucault notes that the author-function provides ownershipand possession of a text, since discourse was assigned an author-function andbecame property under the jurisdiction of a legal system, such as copyright.Secondly, Foucault argues that the author-function operates differently in modelsother than literature, such as science or math, in which certain discourses may nothave a clear author-function (Foucault 1482). Thirdly, Foucault states thatassociated status with the author-function could change not only the reader’sunderstanding of the text but completely influence the actual reading of the textitself, as Foucault writes “literary discourse was acceptable only if it carried anauthor’s name” (Foucault 1482). Lastly, Foucault maintained again that the author-function was not a physical being but rather a consciousness of the author with arelationship similar to the ego of a writer and his or her narrator.Foucault’s Author-Function and its Relationship to Deconstructionism In his essay, Foucault conveys the importance of the disappearance of theauthor, seeking to examine the role of the author as the author-function, or rather,why the author himself/herself should not be allowed to engage with the text.Foucault writes, “[the author] should be reconsidered…to seize its functions, itsintervention in discourse and its system of dependencies”. (Foucault 1489). Interms of the practicality of Foucault’s own deconstructionism methods, the author-function exists to remind the reader of externalities that may influence his or herreading of the text, such as the context in which it was written and who wrote it2.However, this does not imply that the author’s intent or voice should interfere;Foucault was implicit that the original text should remain unadulterated and that2 In this sense, I mean the author-function, and not the author.
Won 5the language of the discourse should exist untainted. Thus, the presence of author-function now poses to the deconstructionist reader questions of the existence of thetext itself.