ENGL 300: Introduction to Theory of Literature

Lecture 2

 - Introduction (cont.)


In this second introductory lecture, Professor Paul Fry explores the interrelation of skepticism and determinism. The nature of discourse and the related issue of discursivity is read through two modern works, Anton Chekov’s Cherry Orchard and Henry James’ The Ambassadors. Exemplary critical focus on literary authority is located in Michel Foucault’s “What Is an Author” and Roland Barthes’ “The Death of the Author,” both of which are read with an emphasis on their historical contexts. Objections to the approach and conclusions of the two theorists are examined, particularly in light of the rise of cultural studies.

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Introduction to Theory of Literature

ENGL 300 - Lecture 2 - Introduction (cont.)

Chapter 1. Introduction [00:00:00]

Professor Paul Fry: Last time we introduced the way in which the preoccupation with literary and other forms of theory in the twentieth century is shadowed by a certain skepticism, but as we were talking about that we actually introduced another issue which isn’t quite the same as the issue of skepticism–namely, determinism. In other words, we said that in intellectual history, first you get this movement of concern about the distance between the perceiver and the perceived, a concern that gives rise to skepticism about whether we can know things as they really are. But then as a kind of aftermath of that movement in figures like Marx, Nietzsche and Freud–and you’ll notice that Foucault reverts to such figures when he turns to the whole question of “founders of discursivity,” we’ll come back to that–in figures like that, you get the further question of not just how we can know things in themselves as they really are but how we can trust the autonomy of that which knows: in other words, how we can trust the autonomy of consciousness if in fact there’s a chance–a good chance, according to these writers–that it is in turn governed by, controlled by, hidden powers or forces. This question of determinism is as important in the discourse of literary theory as the question of skepticism. They’re plainly interrelated in a variety of ways, but it’s more to the question of determinism I want to return today.

Chapter 2. Anton Chekhov and Henry James [00:01:52]

Now last time, following Ricoeur, I mentioned Marx, Nietzsche and Freud as key figures in the sort of secondary development that somehow inaugurates theory, and then I added Darwin. It seems particularly important to think of Darwin when we begin to think about the ways in which in the twentieth century, a variety of thinkers are concerned about human agency–that is to say, what becomes of the idea that we have autonomy, that we can act or at least that we can act with a sense of integrity and not just with a sense that we are being pulled by our strings like a puppet. In the aftermath of Darwin in particular, our understanding of natural selection, our understanding of genetic hard-wiring and other factors, makes us begin to wonder in what sense we can consider ourselves, each of us, to be autonomous subjects. And so, as I say, the question of agency arises.

It’s in that context, needless to say, that I’d like to take a look at these two interesting passages on the sheet that has Anton Chekhov on one side and Henry James on the other. Let’s begin with the Chekhov. The Cherry Orchard, you know, is about the threat owing to socioeconomic conditions, the conditions that do ultimately lead to the Menshevik Revolution of 1905, to a landed estate, and the perturbation and turmoil into which the cast of characters is thrown by this threat. Now one of the more interesting characters, who is not really a protagonist in the play for class reasons, is a house servant named Yepihodov, and Yepihodov is a character who is, among other things, a kind of autodidact. That is to say, he has scrambled into a certain measure of knowledge about things. He is full of a kind of understandable self-pity, and his speeches are in some ways more characteristic of the gloomy intellectual milieu that is reflected in Chekhov’s text really than almost anyone else’s.

I want to quote to you a couple of them. Toward the bottom of the first page, he says, “I’m a cultivated man. I read all kinds of remarkable books and yet I can never make out what direction I should take, what it is that I want, properly speaking.” As I read, pay attention to the degree to which he’s constantly talking about language and about the way in which he himself is inserted into language. He’s perpetually seeking a mode of properly speaking. He is a person who is somewhat knowledgeable about books, feels himself somehow to be caught up in the matrix of book learning–in other words, a person who is very much preoccupied with his conditioning by language, not least when perhaps unwittingly he alludes to Hamlet. “Should I live or should I shoot myself?”–properly speaking, “To be or not to be?” In other words, he inserts himself into the dramatic tradition to which as a character he himself belongs and shows himself to be in a debased form derived from one of those famous charismatic moments in which a hero utters a comparable concern.

So in all sorts of ways, in this simple passage we find a character who’s caught up in the snare–if I can put it that way–the snare of language. To continue, he says at the top of the next page, “Properly speaking and letting other subjects alone, I must say”–everything in terms of what other discourse does and what he himself can say, and of course, it’s mainly about “me”–“regarding myself among other things, that fate treats me mercilessly as a storm treats a small boat.” And the end of the passage is, “Have you read Buckle?” Now Buckle is a forgotten name today, but at one time he was just about as famous as Oswald Spengler who wrote The Decline of the West. He was a Victorian historian preoccupied with the dissolution of Western civilization. In other words, Buckle was the avatar of the notion in the late nineteenth century that everything was going to hell in a handbasket. One of the texts that Yepihodov has read that in a certain sense determines him is Buckle. “Have you read Buckle? I wish to have a word with you Avdotya Fyodorovna.” In other words, I’m arguing that the saturation of these speeches with signs of words, language, speaking, words, books, is just the dilemma of the character. That is to say, he is in a certain sense book- and language-determined, and he’s obscurely aware that this is his problem even as it’s a source of pride for him.

Turning then to a passage in a very different tone from James’s Ambassadors. An altogether charming character, the elderly Lambert Strether, who has gone to–most of you know–has gone to Paris to bring home the young Chad Newsome, a relative who is to take over the family business, the manufacture of an unnamed household article in Woollett, Massachusetts, probably toilet paper. In any case, Lambert Strether, as he arrives in Paris, has awakened to the sheer wonder of urbane culture. He recognizes that he’s missed something. He’s gone to a party given by a sculptor, and at this party he meets a young man named Little Bilham whom he likes, and he takes Little Bilham aside by the lapel, and he makes a long speech to him, saying, “Don’t do what I have done. Don’t miss out on life. Live all you can. It is a mistake not to. And this is why,” he goes on to say, “the affair, I mean the affair of life”–it’s as though he’s anticipating the affair of Chad Newsome and Madame de Vionnet, which is revealed at the end of the text–“couldn’t, no doubt, have been different for me for it’s”–“it” meaning life–”[life is] at the best a tin mold either fluted or embossed with ornamental excrescences or else smooth and dreadfully plain, into which, a helpless jelly, one’s consciousness, is poured so that one takes the form, as the great cook says”–the great cook, by the way, is Brillat-Savarin–“one takes the form, as the great cook says, and is more or less compactly held by it. One lives, in fine, as one can. Still one has the illusion of freedom.”

Here is where Strether says something very clever that I think we can make use of. He says, “Therefore, don’t be like me without the memory of that illusion. I was either at the right time too stupid or too intelligent to have it. I don’t quite know which.” Now if he was too stupid to have it, then of course he would have been liberated into the realm of action. He would have been what Nietzsche in an interesting precursor text calls “historical man.” He simply would have plunged ahead into life as though he had freedom, even though he was too stupid to recognize that it was an illusion. On the other hand, if he was too intelligent to, as it were, bury the illusion and live as though he were free, if he was too intelligent to do that, he’s a kind of an avatar of the literary theorist–in other words, the sort of person who can’t forget long enough that freedom is an illusion in order to get away from the preoccupations that, as I’ve been saying, characterize a certain kind of thinking in the twentieth century. And it’s rather charming at the last that he says–because how can we know anything–“I don’t quite know which.”

Chapter 3. Author and Authority [00:11:26]

That, too, strikes me as a helpful and also characteristic passage that can introduce us to today’s subject, which is the loss of authority: that is to say, in Roland Barthes’ terms, “the death of the author,” and in Foucault’s terms, the question “What is an author?” In other words, in the absence of human agency, the first sacrifice for literary theory is the author, the idea of the author. That’s what will concern us in this second, still introductory lecture to this course. We’ll get into the proper or at least more systematic business of the course when we turn to hermeneutics next week.

Now let me set the scene. This is Paris. It wouldn’t have to be Paris. It could be Berkeley or Columbia or maybe Berlin. It’s 1968 or ‘69, spilling over in to the seventies. Students and most of their professors are on the barricades, that is to say in protest not only against the war in Vietnam but the outpouring of various forms of authoritative resistance to protest that characterized the sixties. There is a ferment of intellectual revolt which takes all sorts of forms in Paris but is first and foremost perhaps organized by what quickly in this country became a bumper sticker: “Question authority.” This is the framework in which the then most prominent intellectual in France writes an essay at the very peak of the student uprising, entitled “What is an Author?” and poses an answer which is by no means straightforward and simple. You’re probably a little frustrated because maybe you sort of anticipated what he was going to say, and then you read it and you said, “Gee, he really isn’t saying that. In fact, I don’t quite know what he is saying” and struggled more than you’re expected to because you anticipated what I’ve just been saying about the setting and about the role of Foucault and all the rest of it, and were possibly more confused than you might have expected to be. Yet at the same time, you probably thought “Oh, yeah, well, I did come out pretty much in the place I expected to come out in despite the roundabout way of having gotten there.” Because this lecture is introductory, I’m not going to spend a great deal of time explicating the more difficult moments in his argument. I am going to emphasize what you perhaps did anticipate that he would say, so that can take us along rather smoothly.

There is an initial issue. Because we’re as skeptical about skepticism as we are about anything else we’re likely to raise our eyebrows and say, “Hmm. Doesn’t this guy Foucault think he’s an author? You know, after all, he’s a superstar. He’s used to being taken very seriously. Does he want to say that he’s just an author function, that his textual field is a kind of set of structural operations within which one can discover an author? Does he really want to say this?” Well, this is the question raised by the skeptic about skepticism or about theory and it’s one that we’re going to take rather seriously, but we’re going to come back to it because there are ways, it seems to me, of keeping this question at arm’s length. In other words, Foucault is up to something interesting, and probably we should meet him at least halfway to see, to measure, the degree of interest we may have in it. So yes, there is the question–there is the fact that stands before u–that this very authoritative-sounding person seems to be an author, right? I never met anybody who seemed more like an author than this person, and yet he’s raising the question whether there is any such thing, or in any case, the question how difficult it is to decide what it is if there is.

Let me digress with an anecdote which may or may not sort of help us to understand the delicacy of this relationship between a star author, a person undeniably a star author, and the atmosphere of thought in which there is, in a certain sense, no such thing as an author. An old crony and former colleague of mine was taking a course at Johns Hopkins in the 1960s. This was a time when Hopkins led all American universities in the importing of important European scholars, and it was a place of remarkable intellectual ferment. This particular lecture course was being given by Georges Poulet, a so-called phenomenological critic. That’s one of the “isms” we aren’t covering in this seminar. In any case, Poulet was also a central figure on the scene of the sixties. Poulet would be lecturing along, and the students had somehow formed a habit of from time to time–by the way, you can form this habit, too–of raising their hand, and what they would do is they would utter a name–at least this is what my friend noticed. They would raise their hand and they would say, “Mallarmé.” And Poulet would look at them and say, “Mais, oui! Exactement! A mon avis aussi!” And then he would go on and continue to lecture for a while. Then somebody else would raise his hand and say, “Proust.” “Ah, précisément! Proust. Proust.” And then he’d continue along. So my friend decided he’d give it a try [laughter] and he raised his hand and he said, “Voltaire,” and Poulet said “Quoi donc… Je ne vous comprends pas,” and then paused and hesitated and continued with his lecture as though my friend had never asked his question.

Now this is a ritual of introducing names, and in a certain sense, yes, the names of authors, the names of stars; but at the same time, plainly names that stand for something other than their mere name, names that stand for domains or fields of interesting discursivity: that is to say–I mean, Poulet was the kind of critic who believed that the oeuvre of an author was a totality that could be understood as a structural whole, and his criticism worked that way. And so yes, the signal that this field of discursivity is on the table is introduced by the name of the author but it remains just a name. It’s an author without authority, yet at the same time it’s an author who stands for, whose name stands for, an important field of discourse. That’s of course what my friend–because he knew perfectly well that when he said “Voltaire,” Poulet would [laughs] have nothing to do with it–that’s the idea that my friend wanted to experiment with. There are relevant and interesting fields of discourse and there are completely irrelevant fields of discourse, and some of these fields are on the sides of angelic discourse and some of these fields are on the side of the demonic. We simply, kind of spontaneously, make the division.

Chapter 4. “The Founders of Discursivity” [00:19:36]

Discursivity, discourse: that’s what I forgot to talk about last time. When I said that sometimes people just ultimately throw up their hands when they try to define literature and say, “Well, literature’s just whatever you say it is. Fine. Let’s just go ahead,” they are then much more likely, rather than using the word “literature,” to use the word “discourse” or “textual field,” “discursivity.” You begin to hear, or perhaps smell, the slight whiff of jargon that pervades theoretical writing. It often does so for a reason. This is the reason one hears so much about discourse. Simply because of doubt about the generic integrity of various forms of discourse. One can speak hesitantly of literary discourse, political discourse, anthropological discourse, but one doesn’t want to go so far as to say literature, political science, anthropology. It’s a habit that arises from the sense of the permeability of all forms of utterance with respect to each other, and that habit, as I say, is a breakdown of the notion that certain forms of utterance can be understood as a delimited, structured field.

One of the reasons this understanding seems so problematic is the idea that we don’t appeal to the authority of an author in making our mind about the nature of a given field of discourse. We find the authority of the author instead somewhere within the textual experience. The author is a signal, is what Foucault calls a “function.” By the way, this isn’t at all a question of the author not existing. Yes, Barthes talks about the death of the author, but even Barthes doesn’t mean that the author is dead like Nietzsche’s God. The author is there, sure. It’s a question rather of how we know the author to be there, firstly, and secondly, whether or not in attempting to determine the meaning of a text–and this is something we’ll be talking about next week–we should appeal to the authority of an author. If the author is a function, that function is something that appears, perhaps problematically appears, within the experience of the text, something we get in terms of the speaker, the narrator, or–in the case of plays–as the inferred orchestrator of the text: something that we infer from the way the text unfolds. So as a function and not as a subjective consciousness to which we appeal to grasp a meaning, the author still does exist.

So we consider a text as a structured entity, or perhaps as an entity which is structured and yet at the same time somehow or another passes out of structure–that’s the case with Roland Barthes. Here I want to appeal to a couple of passages. I want to quote from the beginning of Roland Barthes’ essay, which I know I only suggested, but I’m simply going to quote the passage so you don’t have to have read it, The Death of the Author. It’s on page 874 for those of you who have your texts, as I hope you do. Barthes, while writing this–he’s writing what has perhaps in retrospect seemed to be his most important book, it’s called S/Z. It’s a huge book which is all about this short story by Balzac, “Sarrasine,” that he begins this essay by quoting. This is what he says here about “Sarrasine”:

In his story “Sarrasine” Balzac, describing a castrato disguised as a woman, writes the following sentence: “This was woman herself, with her sudden fears, her irrational whims, her instinctive worries, her impetuous boldness, her fussings and her delicious sensibility.” [Barthes says,] “Who is speaking thus? Is it the hero of the story bent on remaining ignorant of the castrato hidden beneath the woman? Is it Balzac the individual, furnished by his personal experience with a philosophy of Woman? Is it Balzac the author professing “literary” ideas on femininity? Is it universal wisdom? Romantic psychology? We shall never know, for the good reason that writing is the destruction of every voice, of every point of origin. Writing is that neutral, composite, oblique space where our subject [and this is a deliberate pun] slips away [“our subject” meaning that we don’t quite know what’s being talked about sometimes, but also and more importantly the subject, the authorial subject, the actual identity of the given speaking subject–that’s what slips away] the negative where all identity is lost, starting with the very identity of the body writing.

So that’s a shot fired across the bow against the author because it’s Barthes’ supposition that the author isn’t maybe even quite an author function because that function may be hard to identify in a discrete way among myriad other functions.

Foucault, who I think does take for granted that a textual field is more firmly structured than Barthes supposes, says on page 913 that when we speak of the author function, as opposed to the author–and here I begin quoting at the bottom of the left-hand column on page 913–when we speak in this way we no longer raise the questions:

“How can a free subject penetrate the substance of things and give it meaning? How can it activate the rules of a language from within and thus give rise to the designs which are properly own–its own?”

In other words, we no longer say, “How does the author exert autonomous will with respect to the subject matter being expressed?” We no longer appeal, in other words, to the authority of the author as the source of the meaning that we find in the text.

Foucault continues,

Instead, these questions will be raised: “How, under what conditions, and in what forms can something like a subject appear in the order of discourse? What place can it occupy in each type of discourse, what functions can it assume, and by obeying what rules?” In short, it is a matter of depriving the subject (or its substitute)… [That is to say, when we speak in this way of an author function,] it is a matter of depriving the subject (or its substitute) [a character, for example, or a speaker, as we say when we don’t mean that it’s the poet talking but the guy speaking in “My Last Duchess” or whatever] of its role as originator, and of analyzing the subject as a variable and complex function of discourse.

“The subject” here always means the subjectivity of the speaker, right, not the subject matter. You’ll get used to it because it’s a word that does a lot of duty, and you need to develop context in which you recognize that well, yeah, I’m talking about the human subject or well, I’m talking about the subject matter; but I trust that you will quickly kind of adjust to that difficulty.

Chapter 5. Critique of the “Author Function” [00:28:20]

All right. So with this said, it’s probably time to say something in defense of the author. I know that you wish you could stand up here and say something in defense of the author, so I will speak in behalf of all of you who want to defend the author by quoting a wonderful passage from Samuel Johnson’s Preface to Shakespeare, in which he explains for us why it is that we have always paid homage to the authority of the author. It’s not just a question, as obviously Foucault and Barthes are always suggesting, of deferring to authority as though the authority were the police with a baton in its hand, right? It’s not a question of deferring to authority in that sense. It’s a question, rather, of affirming what we call the human spirit.

This is what Johnson says:

There is always a silent reference of human works to human abilities, and as the inquiry, how far man may extend his designs or how high he may rate his native force, is of far greater dignity than in what rank we shall place any particular performance, curiosity is always busy to discover the instruments as well as to survey the workmanship, to know how much is to be ascribed to original powers and how much to casual and adventitious help.

So what Johnson is saying is: well, it’s all very well to consider a textual field, the workmanship, but at the same time we want to remind ourselves of our worth. We want to say, “Well, gee, that wasn’t produced by a machine. That’s not just a set of functions–variables, as one might say in the lab. It’s produced by genius. It’s something that allows us to rate human ability high.” And that, especially in this vale of tears–and Johnson is very conscious of this being a vale of tears–that’s what we want to keep doing. We want to rate human potential as high as we can, and it is for that reason in a completely different spirit, in the spirit of homage rather than cringing fear, that we appeal to the authority of an author.

Well, that’s an argument for the other side, but these are different times. This is 1969, and the purpose that’s alleged for appealing to the author as a paternal source, as an authority, is, according to both Barthes and Foucault, to police the way texts are read. In other words, both of them insist that the appeal to the author–as opposed to the submersion of the author in the functionality of the textual field–is a kind of delimitation or policing of the possibilities of meaning.

Let me just read two texts to that effect, first going back to Roland Barthes on page 877. Barthes says, “Once the Author is removed, the claim to decipher a text becomes quite futile.” By the way, once again there’s a bit of a rift there between Barthes and Foucault. Foucault wouldn’t say “quite futile.” He would say, “Oh, no. We can decipher it, but the author function is just one aspect of the deciphering process.” But Barthes has entered a phase of his career in which you actually think that structures are so complex that they cease to be structures and that this has a great deal to do with the influence of deconstruction. We’ll come back to that much later in the course.

In any case, he continues.

To give a text an Author is to impose a limit on that text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing. Such a conception suits criticism [and criticism is a lot like policing, right–“criticism” means being a critic, criticizing] very well, the latter then allotting itself the important task of discovering the Author (or its hypostases: society, history, psyché, liberty) beneath the work: when the Author has been found, the text is “explained”–a victory to the critic.

In other words, the policing of meaning has been accomplished and the critic wins, just as in the uprisings of the late sixties, the cops win. This is, again, the atmosphere in which all of this occurs–just then to reinforce this with the pronouncement of Foucault at the bottom of page 913, right-hand column: “The author is therefore the ideological figure by which one marks the manner in which we fear the proliferation of meaning.”

Now once again, there is this sort of the skepticism about skepticism. You say, “Why shouldn’t I fear the proliferation of meaning? I want to know what something definitely means. I don’t want to know that it means a million things. I’m here to learn what things mean in so many words. I don’t want to be told that I could sit here for the rest of my life just sort of parsing one sentence. Don’t tell me about that. Don’t tell me about these complicated sentences from Balzac’s short story. I’m here to know what things mean. I don’t care if it’s policing or not. Whatever it is, let’s get it done.” That, of course, is approaching the question of how we might delimit meaning in a very different spirit. The reason I acknowledge the legitimacy of responding in this way is that to a certain extent the preoccupation with–what shall we say?–the misuse of the appeal to an author is very much of its historical moment. That is to say, when one can scarcely say the word “author” without thinking “authority,” and one can definitely never say the word “authority” without thinking about the police. This is a structure of thought that perhaps pervades the lives of many of us to this day and has always pervaded the lives of many people, but is not quite as hegemonic in our thinking today perhaps as it was in the moment of these essays by Barthes and Foucault.

All right. With all this said, how can the theorist recuperate honor for certain names like, for example, his own? “All right. It’s all very well. You’re not an author, but I secretly think I’m an author, right?” Let’s suppose someone were dastardly enough to harbor such thoughts. How could you develop an argument in which a thought like that might actually seem to work? After all, Foucault–setting himself aside, he doesn’t mention himself–Foucault very much admires certain writers. In particular, he admires, like so many of his generation and other generations, Marx and Freud. It’s a problem if we reject the police-like authority of authors, of whom we may have a certain suspicion on those grounds, when we certainly don’t feel that way about Marx and Freud. What’s the difference then? How is Foucault going to mount an argument in which privileged authors–that is to say, figures whom one cites positively and without a sense of being policed–can somehow or another stay in the picture?

Foucault, by the way, doesn’t mention Nietzsche, but he might very well because Nietzsche’s idea of “genealogy” is perhaps the central influence on Foucault’s work. Frankly, I think it’s just an accident that he doesn’t mention him. It would have been a perfect symmetry because last time we quoted Paul Ricoeur to the effect that these authors, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, were–and this is Ricoeur’s word–“masters.” Whoa! That’s the last thing we want to hear. They’re not masters. Foucault couldn’t possibly allow for that because plainly the whole texture of their discourse would be undermined by introducing the notion that it’s okay to be a master, and yet Ricoeur feels that these figures dominate modern thought as masters.

How does Foucault deal with this? He invents a concept. He says, “They aren’t authors. They’re founders of discursivity,” and then he grants that it’s kind of difficult to distinguish between a founder of discursivity and an author who has had an important influence. Right? And then he talks about the gothic novel and he talks about Radcliffe’s, Anne Radcliffe’s–he’s wrong about this, by the way. The founder of discursivity in the gothic novel is not Anne Radcliffe; it’s Horace Walpole, but that’s okay–he talks about Anne Radcliffe as the person who establishes certain tropes, topoi, and premises that govern the writing of gothic fiction for the next hundred years and, indeed, even in to the present, so that she is, Foucault acknowledges, in a certain sense a person who establishes a way of talking, a way of writing, a way of narrating. But at the same time she isn’t a person, Foucault claims, who introduces a discourse or sphere of debate within which ideas, without being attributable necessarily, can nevertheless be developed. Well, I don’t know. It seems to me that literary influence is not at all unlike sort of speaking or writing in the wake of a founder of discursivity, but we can let that pass.

On the other hand, Foucault is very concerned to distinguish figures like this from scientists like Galileo and Newton. Now it is interesting, by the way, maybe in defense of Foucault, that whereas we speak of people as Marxist or Freudian, we don’t speak of people as Radcliffian or Galilean or Newtonian. We use the adjective “Newtonian” but we don’t speak of certain writers who are still interested in quantum mechanics as “Newtonian writers.” That’s interesting in a way, and may somehow or another justify Foucault’s understanding of the texts of those author functions known as Marx and Freud–whose names might be raised in Poulet’s lecture class with an enthusiastic response–as place holders for those fields of discourse. It may, in some sense, reinforce Foucault’s argument that these are special inaugurations of debate, of developing thought, that do not necessarily kowtow to the originary figure–certainly debatable, but we don’t want to pause over it in the case either of Marx or of Freud. Plainly, there are a great many people who think of them as tyrants, right, but within the traditions that they established, it is very possible to understand them as instigating ways of thinking without necessarily presiding over those ways of thinking authoritatively. That is the special category that Foucault wants to reserve for those privileged figures whom he calls founders of discursivity.

All right. Very quickly then to conclude: one consequence of the death of the author, and the disappearance of the author into author function is, as Foucault curiously says in passing on page 907, that the author has no legal status. And you say, “What? What about copyright? What about intellectual property? That’s a horrible thing to say, that the author has no legal status.” Notice once again the intellectual context. Copyright arose as a bourgeois idea. That is to say, “I possess my writing. I have an ownership relationship with my writing.” The disappearance of the author, like a kind of corollary disappearance of bourgeois thought, entails, in fact, a kind of bracketing of the idea of copyright or intellectual property. And so there’s a certain consistency in what Foucault is saying about the author having no legal status.

But maybe at this point it really is time to dig in our heels. “I am a lesbian Latina. I stand before you as an author articulating an identity for the purpose of achieving freedom, not to police you, not to deny your freedom, but to find my own freedom. And I stand before you precisely, and in pride, as an author. I don’t want to be called an author function. I don’t want to be called an instrument of something larger than myself because frankly that’s what I’ve always been, and I want precisely as an authority through my authorship to remind you that I am not anybody’s instrument but that I am autonomous and free.”

In other words, the author, the traditional idea of the author–so much under suspicion in the work of Foucault and Barthes in the late sixties–can be turned on its ear. It can be understood as a source of new-found authority, of the freedom of one who has been characteristically not free and can be received by a reading community in those terms. It’s very difficult to think how a Foucault might respond to that insistence, and it’s a problem that in a way dogs everything, or many of the things we’re going to be reading during the course of this semester–even within the sorts of theorizing that are characteristically called cultural studies and concern questions of the politics of identity. Even within those disciplines there is a division of thought between people who affirm the autonomous integrity and individuality of the identity in question and those who say any and all identities are only subject positions discernible and revealed through the matrix of social practices. There is this intrinsic split even within those forms of theory–and not to mention the kinds of theory that don’t directly have to do with the politics of identity–between those for whom what’s at stake is the discovery of autonomous individuality and those for whom what’s at stake is the tendency to hold at arm’s length such discoveries over against the idea that the instability of any and all subject positions is what actually contains within it–as Foucault and Barthes thought as they sort of sat looking at the police standing over against them–those for whom this alternative notion of the undermining of any sense of that which is authoritative is in its turn a possible source, finally, of freedom. These sorts of vexing issues, as I say, in all sorts of ways will dog much of what we read during the course of this semester.

All right. So much for the introductory lectures which touch on aspects of the materials that we’ll keep returning to. On Tuesday we’ll turn to a more specific subject matter: hermeneutics, what hermeneutics is, how we can think about the nature of interpretation. Our primary text will be the excerpt in your book from Hans-Georg Gadamer and a few passages that I’ll be handing out from Martin Heidegger and E.D. Hirsch.

[end of transcript]

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