Terry Eagleton on Foucault

LRB carries a review by Terry Eagleton of a new book on anonymity in which he remarks:

Authors can say the silliest things about their own stuff, which is one way in which they resemble critics. The Waste Land is not just a piece of rhythmical grousing, even though T.S. Eliot said it was. There is a sense in which writers are the first readers of their own works. Pushkin expressed astonishment that a character in Eugene Onegin was getting married. In the case of other artistic media, the issue of authorship can be even more problematic: who is the author of Westminster Abbey or There Will Be Blood? Even so, the author is not quite dead. It is true, as Paul Valéry pointed out, that many things are involved in the creation of a work of art besides an author; but this is to demote authors rather than to annihilate them. ‘What does it matter who is speaking?’ Michel Foucault famously scoffed. In real life, it can matter quite a lot. In literary affairs, too, knowing who wrote a piece can be important. It helps to know that the Foucault who published The Archaeology of Knowledge was also the author of The History of Sexuality, since it allows one to see how the cult of the body in the latter book stands in for the drastic elision of the human subject in the former.

Apart from Eagleton’s interpretation of the two books, I think the point is not that Foucault said the author does not matter (and in fact the way the author mattered differently at different times was the focus of his piece What is an Author wasn’t it?) but that in a sense an ideal is not to have the author matter but just the remarks. I’m thinking here of the anonymized encyclopedia entry by “Maurice Florent” or of bloggers with pseudonyms, or even, if it comes to it, of the New Yorker cartoon, On the Internet no-one knows you’re a dog!


One Response

  1. […] für den ich hiermit, ganz akademisch, Werbung mache mit einem Cartoon aus dem New Yorker: “On the Internet no-one […]

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