Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Author

More from Foucault:

"We are accustomed to saying that the author is a genial creator of a work in which he deposits, with infinite wealth and generosity, an inexhaustible world of significations. We are used to thinking that the author is so different from all other men, and so transcendent with regard to all languages that, as soon as he speaks, meaning begins to proliferate, to proliferate indefenitely.
The truth is quite to contrary: the author is not an indefenite source of significations which fill a work; the author does not precede the works; he is a certain fundamental principle by which, in our culture, one limits, excludes, and chooses; in shor, by which one impedes the free circulation, the free manipulation, the free composition, decomposition, and recomposition of fiction. In fact, if we are accustomed to presenting the author as a genius, as a perpetual surging of invention, it is because, in reality, we make him function in exactly the opposite fashion."

I was pretty surprised, but keenly interested, to hear Foucault start banging on about the concept of a work in a way that resembles Lydia Goehr's.

What this passage suggests to me is two-fold:

The author is a dynamic being; they are not a fixed entity, even after they're dead. They form ever-changing relationships with other works and their authors, their own past and living conditions, etcetera. Hence at no point can we say we have a fixed conceot of any particular author, let alone a trustworthy sense of origin. This is true even if the author tells us explicity about the origin of the work, as the moment they are telling us is of course different to the moment is was concieved and the many moments it was produced.

What, then, does this leave us with?

"Although, since the eighteenth century, the author has played a role of the regulator of the fictive, a role quie characteristic of our era of industrial and bourgeois society, of individualism and private property, still, given the historical modifications that are taking place, it does not seem necessary that author function remain constant in form, complexity, and even in existence."

If we approach the concept of authorship as a dynamic one, we become less concerned with originality and truth, and create a larger space in which others can create and develop their own work.

"All discources would then develop in the anoonyminity of a murmer. We would no longer hear the questions tha have been rehashed for so long: Who really spoke? Is it really he and not someone else? With what authenticity or originality? And what part of his deepest self did he express his discourse. Instead, there would be other questions, like these: What are the modes of existence of the discourse? Where ha 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? Who can assume these various functions?"

Sounds healthy!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Truth, essence and history

"What is found at the historical beginning of things is not the inviolable identity of their origin; it is the disension of other things. It is disparity."

"The very question of truth, the right it appropriates to refute error and oppose itself to appearance, the manner in which it developed (initally made available to the wise, then withdrawn by men of piety to an unattainable world where it was given the double role of consolation and imperetive, finally rejected as a useless notion, superfluous and contradicted on all side)-does this not form a history, the history of an error we call truth?"*

Michel Foucoult

I love these quotes so much. Both seem to strike at the heart of that idea that somewhere, sometime long ago, there was pure essence of something. It happens in music history all the time (Bach counterpoint is the truest counterpoint). It happens in Jazz all the time (Louis Armstrong is the purest form of jazz). At the beginnings of things there is not unity, no essence, only chaos and disparity. The truth of that time is just that, of that time.

My first few posts in the Oxford History of Western Music series, might be construed that way (mistakenly, as I wasn't regarding origins as evidence of pure concepts, but was more fascinated in how the use of concetps, as well as how we regard them,  changes over time).

Dogmatic subservience to the concept of an essence that is always lost in the past only helps people hold sway over others. It's often used as a method for building an establishment with a set of rules that can't be challenged without the highest powers saying so. That, my friends, is not my idea of music-making as a force that brings people together. That sounds like ostracisation.

P.S. It's nice to be back and writing again . . . .

*Rabinow, P., Ed. (2010). Michel Foucault: The Foucault Reader, Vintage Books.