What Is an Author?  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

"What Is an Author?" (Qu'est-ce qu'un auteur?, 1969) is an essay by Michel Foucault that considers the relationship between author, text, and reader. Foucault argues that all authors are writers, but not all writers are authors. He states that "a private letter may have a signatory—it does not have an author". For a reader to assign the title of author upon any written work is to attribute certain standards upon the text which, for Foucault, are working in conjunction with the idea of "the author function". Foucault's author function is the idea that an author exists only as a function of a written work, a part of its structure, but not necessarily part of the interpretive process. The author's name "indicates the status of the discourse within a society and culture", and at one time was used as an anchor for interpreting a text, a practice which Barthes would argue is not a particularly relevant or valid endeavor.

The work concludes that:

“The Author is a certain functional principle by which, in our culture, one limits, excludes and chooses: (…) The author is therefore the ideological figure by which one marks the manner in which we fear the proliferation of meaning.”

For many, Foucault's lecture mirrors much of Roland Barthes' essay Death of the Author.

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