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From: Jeremy Crampton <jcrampto@osf1.gmu.edu>
Subject: (urth) the author-function
Date: Fri, 17 Dec 1999 00:52:17 

Jonathan said:

>terms that could actually refer to just about anything. If we stick with 
>referring to material objects like books then we can keep ourselves 
>grounded in actual discussion of the work at hand. Of course it 
>helps if your research (like mine) actually concentrates on the 
>differing authorities presented by physical features in books by 
>Laurence Sterne (black pages, footnotes, marbling etc)

Then you must like that sequence where Ultan is describing his first years
as Master of the library, and his memory of sitting in a window seat on the
49th floor--above, where was it Cyby--oh yes the upholsterer's garden, and
that he hadn't been taking in what the book was saying, but was regarding
it as an object.

>It appears unlikely that Foucault was, in the above passage, calling 
>for a ‘death’ of the author, when so much of his work is concerned 
>with the construction of authors and authority. Rather, he appears to 
>be establishing that alongside the originating (and elusive) figure of 
>the author, there is a feature of texts which is also the author: the 
>author function. 

This seems right and goes beyond what Jim was saying I think (the dom-sub
thing) and that we choose to be subs, in that for F. there is this
_predisursive_ level of determinations of discourse (and remember that
discourse is that set of things spoken and written, that is, knowledge, not
books per se). What might interest us is how certain discourses are
excluded on the one hand, and on the other, how they might be transgressed
(another of his early essays). 

While I'm looking at Jim, I have to disagree with this wretched label
"postmodernity" again and always, I think certainly Fouc. would have a
problem with that label, as do I. According to Perry Anderson (the
Thunderbirds guy, no not really) the first idea of a postmodernism arose in
the 1930s in Hispanic America (Federico de Onis; Borges was an
"ultramodernismo"), and has had many incarnations since then, none of which
have ever circulated around F. I can handle poststructuralist since that's
at least historically accurate. (Bit tetchy about this as just came from
weekend meeting in downtown DC where all sorts of critical theory was
tarred and dismissed as bugaboo pomo.)

Anyway, in support of Jonathan's point, I see that F. says elsewhere:

"Of course, it would be ridiculous to deny the existence of individuals who
write, and invent. But I think that, for some time, at least, the
individual who sits down to write a text, at the edge of which lurks a
possible oeuvre, resumes the functions of the author. What he writes and
does not write, what he sketches out, even preliminary sketches for the
work, and what he drops as simply mundane remarks, all this interplay of
differences is prescribed by the author-function." _Discourse on language_

So what F. challenges is not the author as individual who writes, but
author as unified idea. We should be looking at the system of dispersion of
discourse, its discontinuities, how it ebbs and flows together. You already
provided a good summary of the author-function (must cut and paste into my
own notes!).

>Would appreciate any suggestions on the above, as its part of my 
>work that, er, *doesn't* work correctly. Quite hard to squeeze it into 
>my arguments that the materiality of the physical book is important.

Well the only thing I can think of is how certain texts might be seen to be
valorised by receiving expensive bindings and illustration plates. On the
other hand, there is a more underground literature (not, after F., the
Victorian again!) which might "mask" its interior (anyone read the Sixteen
Pleasures?). This was Clute's idea in that Salon piece I guess. You have to
know the "code" to access the material, and there is a certain jargon,
look, illustration type, etc that signals to the cognoscenti. So there is a
"discourse" to the appearance of the book which can exclude or filter
access. Well, maybe not! You'll have to tell us more about your work...

Jeremy W. Crampton		         http://geog.gmu.edu    jcrampto@gmu.edu
Dept. of Geography & Earth Science
[MS 1E2]				’Tis true; there’s magic in the web of it.
George Mason University					--Othello (III.iv.69)
Fairfax, Va 22030

*More Wolfe info & archive of this list at http://www.urth.net/urth/

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