When considering critical questions that can be asked about the two Michel Foucault texts and the Hayden White essay, it would be useful to figure out a few of the common themes first. Once the central issues are established, it shouldn’t be so difficult to come up with thoughtful questions about them.
One key theme appears to be narrative. All three works deal with how society constructs stories around real-life events and people. In “What is an Author?,” Foucault touches on the link between the author, their works, and the identity that is formed by intermingling the two. In “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” Foucault discusses the destabilizing possibilities of genealogy and “effective history.” Finally, in “The Historical Text as Literary Artifact,” White wrestles further with the “fictive elements” of history.
One critical question could center on the benefits of disruption. One might think about how instability clears the way for new meanings and alternate forms of understanding.
In “Nietzsche, Genealogy, and History,” Foucault claims that genealogy-guided history results in the “systematic disassociation of identity.” It’d probably be worthwhile to question the role that identity plays in the production of historical knowledge. Think about the stress placed on identity right now. With the advent of social media, many people seem to be regularly engaged with creating a stable identity. Perhaps ponder what Foucault would say about the twenty-first century’s emphasis on rendering a coherent self-image.
Conversely, in the context of White’s essay, one can ask how the production of narratives—whether they involve personal identity, history, or both—could lead to increased knowledge. Think about how fiction, for White, becomes a tool to cast off stagnant ideologies and perceptions.
For specific critical questions about Foucault’s “What is an Author?,” maybe ask about the link between Foucault’s author-function and what’s commonly known as “cancel culture.” Think about how the presumed relationship between an author and their works can leave both toxic and result in their, to use Foucault’s term, “disappearance.”