Michel Foucault

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What are the functions of authors, according to Foucault?

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Michel Foucault argues that the function of the author is to serve as a “means of classification” for a variety of texts. The function of the author is not that of a bodily human being. An author’s personal, physical traits are irrelevant. What’s pertinent are the author’s writings. Like a god, an author functions in accordance with their creations.

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In Michel Foucault’s mind, one of the primary functions of the author is to serve as organizing principle for a variety of texts. In “What Is an Author?,” Foucault argues that an author “serves as a means of classification.” For Foucault, the function of the author is not related to their physical, singular person: it’s connected to the works that they’ve created and that bear their name.

To make his point, Foucault brings in William Shakespeare. According to Foucault, Shakespeare’s author function would not change dramatically if it was proved that Shakespeare wasn’t born in the home that tourists visit because they think it was his birthplace. However, if it was demonstrated that the sonnets attributed to Shakespeare were actually written by somebody else, that would seriously alter Shakespeare’s function as an author.

If you review “What Is an Author?,” you might have noticed that Foucault compares the author to God. At one point, Foucault declares, “the author has disappeared; God and man died a common death.” Like a god, the human qualities and personal attributes of the author are immaterial. They've "disappeared." It doesn’t matter where Shakespeare was born, since Shakespeare, like all authors, is judged like a god. They’re judged by what they created. If what they created changes, that’s what changes them.

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