"What Is an Author?"

When was this essay written?

Why does Foucault believe that "the question of the author" needs to be discussed? (has not previously considered function of this concept, 1623)

What does he believe happens to the writer in the act of writing? (writing has become an interplay of signs, creates an opening where writing endlessly disappears,1623, writing unfolds like a game that inevitably moves beyond its own rules)

What does it mean to say that "Writing is now linked to sacrifice and to the sacrifice of life itself"? (now linked with death, stories told to delay death and to achieve immortality, as in the Arabian Nights, work now murders author, traits of writer effaced, 1624)

What has become the new focus of criticism? To what school of criticism is he referring here? (1624, features of "work," text)

Is everything written the "work" of its author? (1624) If not, how can the line be drawn?

What does he believe is a nineteenth-century conception of "the author" which he finds empty? (transcendental, 1625-26)

What is limiting about the concept of ecriture, in his view? (1625, requires critical interpretation of hidden meanings, appeals to transcendental)

Why is the "name" of an author different from the name of an individual? (1626-27, the equivalent of a description rather than a designation) What distinction is made between a "description" and a "designation"?

What special status is accorded it? (assumed to link author to various works, a pseudonym may describe an "author" but not an individual; discourse which is authored is not to be immediately consumed and forgotten, 1627)

How are texts related, under this approach? (by being attached to a single name, 1627)

What is function of term "author"? (to characterize a form of discourse, 1627)

What four features does he ascribe to the "author" in discourse? (1628-30)

--associated with property, subject to risks of legal penalties, exhibits transgressive qualities

--not universal in all contexts, e. g. some texts were anonymous

--constructed through complex processes which assume what we should look for

--observed through grammatical signs

What differentiates the literary concept of "author," in his view, from the attitude toward origination taken in contemporary sciences? (1629, we are concerned with the name of the scientist and time of experiment for the sake of verifiability)

What objection does he have to shifting focus from the author to the "works"? What problems of circular definition can this entail? (eliminating works of inferior quality or different style as inconsistent with the author's other works, 1630; requirement of consistency and coherence)

According to these standards, who can and cannot be an "author"? Are the standards of coherence with which he disagrees still in place?

What does Foucault mean in describing the different use of "shifters" by writers of literary works? (1631) What kinds of literary works might fit less well into his characterization? (autobiographies)

What does Foucault see as distinctive about the forms of initiation of such authors as Freud and Marx? (initiated discursive pratices which provided for difference)

How are their works applied differently than that of most writers? (1633, initiation of a discursive practice overshadows its later development) Do you find this a clear distinction?

Could objections to the category of author also be raised to the category of initiator of discursive discourse? (1633)

Might one argue that certain imaginative artists do in fact provide a space for the works of later practitioners which pass beyond "imitation"? Might his accounts of literary history or even scientific and mathematical practice be qualified?

How, according to Foucault, should one return to an originary text? (return to those things registered in the interstices of the text, 1634 [reader response?])

What is important about the fact that later readers place new meanings on the earlier texts? (1634)

What does he mean by the claim that we shift our view of a discourse by learning of a new text by an author? (1635) Can you think of an instance of this phenomenon?

How would translation fit into Foucault's theories? Is the translator also an author?

Does Foucault agree with the view that we should examine texts, not authors and authorship? What middle position does he try to take? (we should study the author-function, not authors, 1635)

In conclusion, what questions does he assert we should no longer be asking? Which new ones should be asked in their place? (1635-36, under what conditions does the subject appear in the order of discourse? What functions does it exhibit? What rules does it follow?)

How do you interpret these questions, and are they in fact asked by recent critics? Are some of the questions he wishes discarded still of continuing interest?

Could his views lead to an interest in reception theory?

What is the general effect of Foucault's notions on literary study? (permits greater attention to rhetoric, to texts by unnamed authors)

Do some of Foucault's insights apply to art criticism and the field of art acquisition?

How might the "director-function" for movies be seen as parallel to the "author-function," and what are some important differences?

How do internet usage practices affect the nature of the "author-function"?

from Discipline and Punish:
The Birth of the Prison,
"The Carceral" (1975)

What does Foucault point to as the origin of the modern system of incarceration? Why is this a particularly horrific example? (1636)

What were the aims of the Mettray prison farm? (1638, to produce docile bodies)

How is Foucault's "incarceration" different from education? From parental training? What makes it so ominous? (constant surveillance)

What does he see as the dominant feature of these penal and training institutions? (modelled after family, army, workshop, school and justice system; minor offences severely punished)

What was their relationship to other social institutions of the time? (1636)

How are supervisors trained and prepared for their jobs? (1638, subject to a similar discipline)

How, in Foucault's view, did modern discipline differ from that of the past? (punished deviance, not anti-social behavior, 1641) What made this ominous? (normalization of power of normalization, "there is no outside")

What does it mean to say that this process organizes "disciplinary careers"? (1641) ("The prison is merely the natural consequences, no more than a higher degree, of that hierarchy laid down step by step," 1642)

What is the origin of "delinquency," in his view? (1642, produced by incarceration) Do you agree?

What is the relation between prison and other forms of control? (1643) What effect does the possibility of incarceration have upon society in general? (lowers tolerance to penalty; gives other forms of control official sanction)

Do you agree that the power to punish is not essentially different from that of curing or educating? (1644) What room does such an analysis leave for such phenomena as concentration camps?

What does it mean to say that a system of control can mitigate excess? (1643, can operate without violence)

What importance does he ascribe to the judging of normality? (1645-46, greatly increased)

What social changes are already mitigating the power of the prison system? (1646)

What is his view of academic disciplines? (1646, also penal) Why has the penal function of prisons become less unique?

May there be other aspects of the establishment of orphanages, juvenile work farms, etc. which he does not mention?

What changes does he believe are occuring in the prison/surveillance system as we know it? (normalization is taking over the function of prisons, 1646) What changes do you think he would advocate?

What aspects of the passage imagining a fully planned Paris does he find most important? (1647)

What do you make of his final apocalytic prediction of "the distant roar of battle"? (1647) What kind of battle will this be, and who will be fighting whom?

What forces does Foucault seem to indicate may break the totalitarian grip of surveillance? Or is escape impossible?

Foucault was a student of Louis Althusser; can you see resemblances in their views? What ideas does Foucault add to his analysis of institutional coercion which Althusser had not developed?

Are there some features of analysis which he omits?

How do Foucault's views resemble those of Marx? Of Freud? Does the absence of women from his examples have any wider significance for his claims?

What effect may French culture and institutions have had in the formation of Foucault's views in these passages?

Are there ways in which increased attention to issues of social class and gender would strengthen his analysis?

What are some features of Foucault's style and mode of argument? Do these render his ideas more authoritative or persuasive? (asserts identity of an example with a vast social process)

from The History of Sexuality, Vol. I, An Introduction, Part II: The Repressive Hypothesis (1976) 

What new taboo does Foucault believe began in the seventeenth century? (repression characteristic of bourgeois societies, 1648)

How was this expressed in the control of language, and what kinds of rules were fashioned?

What paradoxical change does Foucault believe occurred at the same time that censorship purged the vocabulary of sex? (discursive explosion, 1648; these discourses quite specific, as in institutional contexts)

What example of this “discursive explosion” does he find in Catholic post-Reformation practices? (1649, extension of interest beyond sexual acts to desire, the history of emotions; created “the nearly infinite task of telling,” 1650)

What kind of literature naturally resulted from this imperative? What specific examples does he give? What practice does Foucault consider stranger than any sexual acts in themselves? (the strangest of these practices, “the fact of recounting them all, and in detail, from day to day”)

What was the intention of the religious demand for this type of discourse? (displacement, reorientation, modification of desire itself, 1651)

What later changes in the reaction to sexuality dominated eighteenth and nineteenth century regulation of sexuality? (need to speak of it, administer it, control populations, subject it to study; sex became an issue of the state, 1652-53)

What does he think was notable about the attitude of educators toward discussion of sexuality, as manifested in a 1776 example of sex education? (Foucault doesn’t indicate whether the Philanthropinum was a primary or upper level school. In your view, were these school lessons inappropriate? 1655)

What new areas of interest in sexuality have developed in the past three centuries? (an interest in children’s sexuality, 1655; regulation of the sexuality of specific groups, such as parents and children, couples, dangerous and endangered adolescents)

Foucault recounts the sad fate of a retarded farm hand who was hospitalized for having paid a girl to caress him (1655); what does he glean from this story? Does he view this as a case of innocent sexuality? How might it be viewed today?

What are some of the important discourses of sexuality, in Foucault’s view? (in fields of psychiatry, psychology, ethics, pedagogy, etc., 1657) How do these discourses relate to one another? (a dispersion of centers from which discourse emanated, 1658)

What does Foucault believe that these discourses are designed to encourage? (a requirement to speak about the matter, 1658)

Chapter 2, “The Perverse Implantation”

What is meant by “the perverse implantation”? What attitude did official institutions have toward any form of sexuality which did not result in reproduction? (1659) What indirect effect did this have? (“Our epoch has initiated sexual heterogeneities.”)

What had been the official attitude toward hermaphrodites? (1660) What was demanded of those who practiced an unsanctioned sexuality? (1660, had to confess what they were)

How does Foucault interpret the figure of Don Juan? (1661, “Underneath the libertine, the pervert.”)

What changes does he see in the regulation of sexuality in the nineteenth century? (codes diminished in severity, 1661; sexual irregularities medicalized)

What effects did this have? (Regulation increased power over the human subject, “lines of penetration” advanced, 1662; deviant became a type of person, a being to be studied, whose identity was suffused with his sexuality, 1663; observation increased, 1663-64)

What was the effect of increased specification and surveillance? (“perpetual spirals of power and pleasure,” 1664; family a complicated network of these relations)

How does he define the nineteenth-century family? (“a society of blatant and fragmented perversion,” 1665; does he give evidence for this view?) 

What does Foucault see as the relationship between pleasure and power? (they overlap and enforce one another; never had there existed a time where the “intensity of pleasure and the persistency of power” had been more pervasive and intense, 1666)

from Truth and Power (1977)

What changes have occurred in the way social activists/reformers/leftist intellectuals view their tasks of speaking to society? (once had claimed to speak for truth and justice, now serve in more specialized roles, 1667)

What flaws does he believe have hampered the movement for prison reform? (1668, tendency to idealize the prisoner as rebel)

What does it mean to say that “truth isn’t outside of power”? (1668, produced within constraint, altered by social expectations) 

In response, what should be the special function of the intellectual? (He/she should join the “battle about the status of truth and the economic and political role it plays,” that is, serve to critique truth claims by exposing their dependence on power relations)

To what extent is this role often fulfilled by commentators and academics today? To the extent that it is not, what factors may limit the willingness to see the nature and effects of truth claims?