Michel Foucault

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In the texts “Nietzche, Genealogy, History” and “What is an Author?” by Michel Foucault and “The Historical Text as Literary Artifact” by Hayden White, what are the arguments and stakes for each of them, and how can how Foucault's texts be compared to Hayden's text?

The main arguments in “What is an Author?” involve the construct of the author figure and how this construct is reductive. In “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” the main arguments indicate that history should be discomforting. For “The Historical Text as Literary Artifact,” the main arguments center on the belief that historical writing should not shy away from novelistic flourishes.

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In “What is an Author?” Michel Foucault argues that an author is defined by the texts that are associated with them. Foucault says that if William Shakespeare was found to be born in a different place, such a fact wouldn’t change “the functioning of the author’s name” as much as discovering that Shakespeare didn’t write the sonnets that are attributed to him.

According to Foucault, the author is a tool to “reduce” a certain text. It limits the text's potential meaning and signification. It’s possible to see the stakes of Foucault’s argument in contemporary culture where people tend to collapse the boundaries between the author and their book. For instance, a fair amount of people believed that Woody Allen’s book shouldn’t have been published because of past allegations against him (the author).

“Nietzsche, Genealogy, History” can be seen in connection with “What is an Author?” Both texts grapple with identity and the restrictions that they create. In “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” Foucault argues that insightful histories shouldn’t reinforce the identity of a reader. For Foucault, an incisive account of the past should be unsettling and alienating.

The stakes of Foucault’s thesis about history relate to the arguments made in Hayden White’s article “The Historical Text as Literary Artifact.” White, too, argues for a kind of defamiliarization. For White, applying fiction-writing techniques to history can cast off lethargic ideologies and help people imagine new configurations. When it comes to history, it seems like both White and Foucault are trying to figure out ways to make room for more thoughtful ideas and perspectives.

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