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November 17, 2005

from The Republic

Plato. “The Republic.” Authorship from Plato to the Postmodern: A Reader. Ed. Sean Burke. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 1995. 19-22.

Plato’s quarrel with poetry is the focus of this excerpt. He proposes that poets (and “the honeyed Muse”) be banished from the city, since their influences are antithetical to law and order. Those possessed by the Muse (as mentioned in the Ion) are not subject to reason, and a city full of such individuals is composed of babbling fools. The Muse is positively not to be trusted: “... we have come to see that we must not take such poetry seriously as a serious thing that lays hold on truth, but that he who lends an ear to it must be on his guard fearing for the polity of his soul and must believe what we have said about poetry” (21-22). Poetry (and, perhaps, other creative products) are epistemologically suspect.

Here we see another example of the externalization of inspiration as well as the idea of the classical Author as suspect and untrustworthy due to his possession by this external force.

Posted by at 12:26 PM | Constructs | Dialogues | Greek

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November 16, 2005


Plato. “Ion.” Plato on Rhetoric and Language. Ed. Jean Neinkamp. Mahwah: Hermagoras Press, 1999. 23-35

The dialogue between Socrates and Ion is significant because it demonstrates that Greek thought in this period located inspiration outside of the author:

In this more than anything, then, I think, the god is showing us, so that we should be in no doubt about it, that these beautiful poems are not human, not even from human beings, but are divine and from gods; that poets are nothing but representatives of the gods, possessed by whoever possesses them. To show that, the god deliberately sang the most beautiful lyric poem through the most worthless poet (534e).
And you know that the spectator is the last of the rings, don’t you — the ones that I said take their power from each other by virtue of the Heraclian stone? The middle ring is you, the rhapsode or actor, and the first one is the poet himself. The god pulls people’s souls through all these wherever he wants, looping the power down from one to another (536a).
The author described by Socrates is the antithesis of Woodmanee’s Romantic author. Instead of finding original inspiration within himself, he is instead at the mercy of the Muses and the gods to the extent that he can’t even choose his own topic (as evidenced by Ion’s inability to expound on any text other than Homer’s). Since this inspiration requires an external force, it is not created strictly in solitude. And if the author cannot take credit for the inspiration, then his proprietary claims may be weakened as well.

Posted by at 6:06 PM | Constructs | Dialogues | Greek

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November 10, 2005

What Is An Author?

Foucault, Michel. “What Is An Author?” The Foucault Reader. ed. Paul Rabinow. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984. 101-120.

In this brief, canonical essay, Foucault suggests that the Author exists not as a person or “real writer” (112) but rather as a discursive function, “a certain . . . principle in which . . . one limits, excludes, and chooses and impedes the free circulation of fiction” (Horrocks 99). This essay situates the author relative to the text, beginning with the assumption that “the text points to this ‘figure’ [the Author] that, at least in appearance, is outside it and antecedes it” (Foucault 101). In other words, the concept of authorship is a fiction that has been constructed by society and yet remains separate from the text itself. This “immanent rule” of Author and text as intertwined has become so accepted that society no longer views it as a fiction but as an irrefutable fact.
Foucault lists four traits of the Author function (113) :

  1. The Author function is linked to the juridical and institutional system that encompasses, determines, and articulates the universe of discourses.
    One might link this to the hegemonic notion of the autonomous, ingenious Author as a recent invention -- very much a result of the Statute of Anne (juridical discourse) as well as a shift in religious views on the source of knowledge (institutional system). Foucault suggests that changes within these hegemonic power structures drove changes within societal conceptualizations of authorship.

  2. It does not affect all discourses in the same way at all times and in all types of civilization. One example of this is the American view of copying as a moral failure contrasted with the Chinese view of copying as a tribute paid by the student to the master.

  3. It is not defined by the spontaneous attribution of a discourse to its producer, but rather by a series of specific and complex operations.
    This also has implications for authorship in blogging. While the central blog may be written by (an) identifiable individual(s), other authors contribute to the text through trackbacks, links, and comments. Thus, it is impossible to attribute blog discourse to its producer — its operations are too complex to do so. Wikis present an even more dynamic environment, where it is virtually impossible to trace individual authorship at all.

  4. It does not refer purely and simply to a real individual, since it can give rise simultaneously to several selves, to several subjects — positions that can be occupied by different classes of individuals.
    This last factor is perhaps the best known, as it removes individuality from the Author, a point Foucault had briefly stated earlier in the essay: “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” (102).

Foucault’s notions concerning societal constructios of authorship provide a larger framework that suggests that an Author — or a peculularly Greek construction of one — could well have existed in antiquity. It might not look exactly like our construction, since each construct is unique to the time and place of its development, but it would have been just as valid as our contemporary ideas.

Posted by at 10:41 AM | Articles | Constructs | PoMo/PostStructuralist

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November 9, 2005

Death of the Author

Barthes, Roland. “The Death of the Author.” Image Music Text. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977. 142-148.

Barthes famously claims that the birth of the reader is at the cost of the death of the author. To assign the text an author limits it, he says, closes it and therefore closes off interpretation. Instead, he locates meaning in language and consequently in the individual reader’s interpretation. There is no means of deciphering a text, no way of ‘piercing’ it; instead, every text is eternally written ‘here and now,’ as it is being read.

Like Foucault’s later essay, he posits the Author as a social construct. Unlike Foucault, he locates its origin in the Middle Ages “with English empiricism and French rationalism” (142). He still views the Author as a concrete individual or construct, but one that must be severed from the text. This view also echoes the Chicago New Critical School of the 1940s, but in an inimitably French way.

Posted by at 7:09 PM | Chapters | Constructs | PoMo/PostStructuralist

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November 8, 2005

Genius and the Copyright

Woodmansee, Martha. “Genius and the Copyright.” The Author, Art, and the Market: Rereading the History of Aesthetics. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994. 35-55.

Woodmansee’s definition of the Author has become the prevailing definition used in authorship studies today: “an individual who is solely responsible — and thus exclusively deserving of credit — for the production of a unique, original work” (35). Alternatively, the author is a “unique individual uniquely responsible for a unique product” (38).

She sees the construct’s origin in the Renaissance idea of the writer as a craftsman of sorts, but asserts that the Western conception of the author really emerges in the eighteenth century with the Romantics. This idea of an author is of the poet alone in a garret, finding inspiration deep within himself and then eventually publishing it under his name. This author has three distinct attributes: she is originary, solitary, and proprietary.

Woodmansee goes on to examine the British and German patronage system, relevant instances of book piracy, and the rise of western intellectual property law. This essay is important to any study of authorship in antiquity because it asserts that there was no Author construct before the rise of the Romantic author. This is the hegemonic position that any grounded paper on ancient authorship must push against (see Logie).

Posted by at 7:29 PM | Chapters | Constructs

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November 7, 2005

Isocrates on the Ethics of Authorship

Behme, Tim. “Isocrates on the Ethics of Authorship.” Rhetoric Review 23.3 (2004): 197-215.

Behme identifies a number of ethical positions on originality and plagiarism in Isocrates’ works. He notes that Isocrates was obsessed with originality and conceived of it as a competitive enterprise, going so far as to say that the ideal speaker “knows how to treat the old subjects as no one else could.” One doesn’t want to be the first to comment on a new subject, but rather to be the last, definitive, wholly original word on a topic (200).

Isoscrates’ ethics are full of contradictions: He vociferously condemned unoriginality, but rarely cited others in his work in spite of admitting that he did repeat their words (205). He also heaped scorn on plagiarism, but often auto-plagiarised his own old statements, explaining that if others used his words, he should be entitled to do the same (204).

The author argues that Isocrates was motivated by the competitive desire for fame, fortune, and immortality (205). He was particularly concerned with the state of his reputation, which fed the reputation of his school and therefore affected his income. His frequent accusations of unoriginality can therefore be read as an attempt to preserve his own reputation while denegrating his competitors (206). Still, his highest concern was his immortal reputation, which he fully intended to extend beyond his death. He believed that his high standards for originality would help him to achieve this ultimate goal (208).

Unlike Logie, Behme seems to take for granted that Isocrates would indeed be considered an Author in the proprietary, solitary, and originary senses of the term. He does not position this claim against contemporary authorship scholarship, which generally holds that the Author did not emerge as a social construct until the 18th century. However, he is careful to point out that we should be sensitive to the vocabulary of particular periods, and so perhaps he would also argue that we should be sensitive to the constructs of those periods, which may not match our own. Still, I would prefer that his claim be better situated. Regardless of this quibble, the article nicely extends the current scholarship on original authorship in antiquity.

Posted by at 11:00 AM | Articles | Constructs | Ethics | Greek

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November 6, 2005

“I Have No Predecessor to Guide My Steps”: Quintilian and The Roman Construction of Authorship

Logie, John. “‘I Have No Predecessor to Guide My Steps’: Quintilian and the Roman Construction of Authorship.” Rhetoric Review 22.4 (2003): 353-73.

Logie undertakes an analysis of Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria in order to examine the extent to which Quintilian should be considered to fulfill the modern criteria of authorship. Quintilian’s program of education is heavily based on memorization and imitation, and prominent critics (Kennedy, Butler, Barilli, Bizzell, and Herzberg) suggest that he was little more than a compiler and a Ciceronian. To suggest that we should even consider him a capital-a Author flies in the face of historical circumstance: Roman culture held that inspiration originated from the Muses or from the Gods, not from within an author or creator. Additionally, as Ong would suggest, Rome was a largely oral society which would not have yet recognized proprietary interest in written works. Logie’s position also refutes Woodmansee’s predominant theory, which holds that the modern construction of the author did not emerge until the 18th century.

In her seminal essay “The Genius and the Copyright: Economic and Legal Conditions of the Emergence of the Author,” Woodmansee identifies three elements of this construct: solitary, originary, and proprietary. Logie applies her framework to the Institutio, concluding that Quintilian does fulfill all of these criteria, most particularly in Book XII. He argues that Quintilian’s arrangement of information follows his program, “progressing from relatively passive consumption of exemplary texts, to competent imitation, building finally to the creation of original compositions” (359). Quintilian makes claims for the novelty of his project, saying that he will not tread in other’s tracks. While acknowledging that some never move beyond imitatio, he makes it clear that he demands more from himself and his students. He also maintains that he has moved beyond Cicero: “I have no predecessor to guide my steps and must press far, far on, as my theme may demand” (369).

Additionally, Logie points out that Quintilian makes a number of proprietary claims throughout the work. In the opening chapters, he notes that pirated editions of his work are on the market. He asserts his right to determine whether or not his work should be published and which editions should remain in circulation.

The article presents a compelling case for a Roman conception/construction of Authorship in the solitary, proprietary, and originary senses of the term. Most importantly for my project, it provides a useful indication that authorship constructs did in fact exist in antiquity, and that further study on the topic is merited.

Posted by at 1:09 PM | Articles | Constructs | Roman