Father: … In the sense, you understand, that the author who created us as living beings, either couldn’t or wouldn’t put us materially into the world of art. And it was truly a crime… because he who has the good fortune to be born a living character may snap his fingers at Death even. He will never die! Man… The writer… The instrument of creation … Will die…
(Pirandello, 1921, Six characters in search of an author p. 10)
Last April 2015 I attended to the OLCK Conference in Milan. The theme of the Conference was ‘’Authors in Practice, Practical Authorship.” Together with my colleagues Mirka Koro-Ljungberg and Neil Carey, I presented a paper on Post-autor/ship and here I’d like to give the reader the theoretical guidelines that inspired our thoughts.
The paper aim was to question the normativity, stability, and assumed power associated with the ‘author’ and, further, to interrogate what might happen if we fully appreciate the absence/death of the author (Barthes, 1977; Derrida, 1967; Foucault, 1984).
Barthes (1977) argues that only the death of the author can lead to the birth of the reader. Barthes explains that as soon as a fact has been narrated and symbolized outside any other function ‘the voice loses its origin, the author enters into his own death, writing begins’ (p. 142). To write is to create a space where language acts, performs, and generates – not the author. Readers do not create origins or personal destinations where writing and texts ultimately arrive; according to Barthes, readers are without personal history and persona. Instead a reader is someone who pulls together traces and lines which constitute a written text.
Foucault (1984) asks ‘what does it matter who is speaking?’ and he is concerned about the appearance and disappearance of the writing subject. Different apparatuses the writer sets up between himself and the content of his writing the subject cancels signs of his persona and individuality. According to Foucault, naming the author marks the edges of a text and characterizes text’s presence. The naming of the author enables the identification of discourses and the status of these discourses in the society. ‘The author function is therefore characteristic of the mode of existence, circulation, and functioning of certain discourses within a society’ (p.108).
An author does not generate signifiers and he/she/it does not precede the work and writing. Instead, an author is an ideological, discursive product and strategic positioning. Rather than worrying about the authenticity of the author, forms of deep expression, or the originality of the author Foucault directs our attention to questions such as ‘What are the modes of existence of this discourse? Where has it been used, how can it circulate and who can appropriate it for himself? What are the places in it where there is room for possible subjects? …What difference does it make who is speaking?’ (p. 120)
Following Barthes (1977), Foucault (1969) and Derrida (1967), who posit the death of the author, are we then solely left with the text and its producer/reader? If so, then who/what are these readers? Readers come to texts with particular orientations, sympathies and (adopted) positions. Similarly, texts are not completely ‘free-floating’; texts are patterned by genre/form and by the inter- and con-textualising locations in which they are read. In this, they are pregnant with the confirming and conforming impulses that shape the shifting knowledge/power nexes of their cultural locations. Texts are ground(ed) in and by those same discourses that constitute their readers: in this circularity of text/reader what are the (im)possibilities for countermanding and perverting the authority vested in author/ship, for glancing towards the slippages and leakages from and beyond the page? Stuart Hall’s ideas on the encoding/decoding (1980) of texts/signs might frame some alternative or ‘oppositional’ readings for text/signs; readings that wrestle meaning in and from the ring of its authorial codings.
If the author is dead (unknown, unknowable or absent) we have multiple consequences in organization studies:
- we cannot locate intention in/through texts with any authority. And so, the concomitant authority of identity position (sexuality, race, gender, dis/ability …) available in texts becomes questionable;
- multiple stories are possible: the text fragments, there is no definitive meaning/truth;
- the writing and the knowing become (im)possible/indisciplined. We draw from/on these authorities and then we dismiss them – are we allowed to do that in disciplined knowing/knowledge? Is there indiscipline in the hidden faces of not knowing?
In conclusion, I think Foucaul’s and Barthes’s ideas of the death of the authors need to be re-discovered in the conventional field of organization studies, management leaning and higher eduction. For example we can ask how the rejection of the author, in the (a)void(ance) of author/ship, has implications for: producing different knowledge and producing knowledge differently in our fields; how we might study educational practices – siting/citing questions of normativity in wider discources of ‘management learning’.
Barthes, R. (1977), ‘The death of the author’ (S. Heath, Trans.), in R. Barthes (ed.), Image, Music, Text, Hill and Wang, New York, pp. 142-148.
Derrida, J. (1967), Of Grammatology (G.C. Spivak, Trans.), Johns Hopkins University Press. Baltimore.
Foucault, M. (1984), ‘What is an Aauthor? in P. Rabinow (ed.), Foucault Reader, Pantheon Books: New York, pp. 101-120.
Hall, S. (1980), ‘Encoding/decoding’ in S. Hall, D. Hobson, A. Lowe an P. Willis (eds) Culture, Media, language: Workign Papers in Cultural Studies, 1972-79, London: Hutchinson.
Pirandello L. (1921) Sei personaggi in cerca d’autore. (F. May, trans. 1954) Six characters in Search of an Authors, Heinemann Educational Books Ltd, London.
St. Pierre, E. A. (2011), ‘Post Qualitative Research: The Critique and the Coming After’ in N.K. Denzin and Y.S. Lincoln (eds.), The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research (Fouth edition), Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA, pp. 611-625.