In this writeup, I'm going to relate Foucault's discussion of the author to his ideas about power. I don't know if anything good (or interesting) will come of it, but I like reading Foucault, so what does it matter?

To start with, a nice long blockquote:

Our culture has metamorphosed this idea of narrative, or writing, as something designed to ward off death. Writing has become linked to sacrifice, even to he sacrifice of life: now a voluntary effacement which does not need to be represented in books, since it is brought about in the writer's very existence. The work, which once had the duty of providing immortality, now possesses the right to kill, to be its author's murderer, as in the cases of Flaubert, Proust, and Kafka. That is not all, however: this relationship between writing and death is also manifested in the effacement of the writing subject's individual characteristics. Using all the contrivances that he sets up between himself and what he writes, the writing subject cancels out the signs of his particular individuality. As a result, the mark of the writer is reduced to nothing more than the singularity of his absence; he must assume the role of the dead man in the game of writing (Foucault 102-103).

So what is going on here? Well, what it seems that Foucault is historically situating the role of the author (like he historically situates madness, penal practices, psychiatry, etc. etc.) and saying that, contrary to what we may think, the function of the institution of the author is not constant throughout history. The author, like other social "institutions" is both the shaped by and constituted of power relations. Precisely what these power relations are is a difficult question to answer.

Personally, I picture Foucault's picture of society a bit like the rhizomatic models that Deleuze and Guattari talk about. Rather than smaller power relations branching off a large 'trunk' (which would be something like governmental power, or sovereign power) I find it useful to picture power as a tangled system of bulbs (rhizomes) which have no central point whatsoever. Power, for Foucault, seems to come from every direction. The power of the sovereign does still affect us, but not in the simplistic trunk-like ways that we traditionally have seen it. Rather, the sovereign's power is constitued by a multitude of micro-power relations, which are, in turn, partially constituted by the power of the sovereign. Its a sort of holistic picture of power, where every power relation interacts with a multitude (if not all) of the other relations in the system. Thus, in explaining changes in the role of the author (from immortalizing to murdering the subject, for instance) we should not look simply at the large tradition of authorship itself, but at that tradition in its relation to individual authors (Proust, Flaubert, Kafka, etc, etc.) and we should look at those authors in relation to the larger tradition.

To better explain: all power relations are situated both within a micro-physics of power (say, the relation an individual garbage man has to a particular route, or something like that) and a macro-physics of power (the constitution of the waste removal union, or the funding for garbage trucks, or the concept of governmentally organised waste removal plans in and of itself...). What Foucault wants us to know is that these micro and macro worlds of power are not unrelated. In fact, they are so intimately related that we would be hard pressed to distinguish where one begins and the other leaves off.

So, that would be my relation of Foucault's conception of the author to his ideas about power relations. I think I might put up something more specific on the conception of the author in Foucault in another node.

The above quote is from: Foucault, Michel, "What is an Author?", translated by Josue V. Harari, pp. 101-120 in The Foucault Reader, edited by Paul Rabinow (Toronto, Pantheon Books, 1984).

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