chapter  1
20 Pages

FOUCAULT'S CHIASMUS Authorship between Science and Literature in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

What is a scientific author? Such a topic obliges us to look back at the question that Michel Foucault posed in 1969 in his famous lecture «Qu’est-ce qu’un auteur?» and to the distinction he proposed between the “sociohistorical analysis of the author as an individual” and the more fundamental problem of the construction of an “authorfunction,” that is to say, “the manner in which a text apparently points to this figure [the author] who is outside and precedes it.”1 Although it was not his prime objective, Foucault sketched in his lecture a history of the conditions of the emergence and the variations of the authorfunction. He outlined two series of conditions that refer to two different chronological stages. The first context, and the only one that many commentators of Foucault’s text have stressed, is given by the “moment when a system of ownership and strict copyright rules were established,” that is to say, for him, toward the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century, when the “social order of propriety which governs our culture” was codified. A strong tie is thus established between the juridical construction of the authorship and the legal definition of the bourgeois conceptions of the individual and private property. But, according to Foucault, the status of texts as prop­ erty is historically second to “what one could call its legal appropria­ tions” («ce que Von pourrait appeler Vappropriation penale»). Therefore, the author-fimction is first rooted in the effects of the censorship of churches and states: “Speeches and books were assigned to real authors,

other than mythical or important religious figures, only when the author became subject to punishment and to the extent that his discourse was considered transgressive.” Foucault did not propose any chronology for the “penal appropriation” that linked the authorfixnction to the exercise of power by an authority endowed with the right to censor, judge, and punish. But it is clear that, thus defined, the author-function predates the early modern period.