What is an author?
The coming into being of the notion of "author" constitutes the privileged moment of individualization in
the history of ideas, knowledge, literature, philosophy, and the sciences. Even today, when we
reconstruct the history of a concept, literary genre, or school of philosophy, such categories seem
relatively weak, secondary, and superimposed scansions in comparison with the solid and fundamental
unit of the author and the work.
I shall not offer here a sociohistorical analysis of the author's persona. Certainly, it would be worth
examining how the author became individualized in a culture like ours, what status he has been given, at
what moment studies of authenticity and attribution began, in what kind of system of valorization the
author was involved, at what point we began to recount the lives of authors rather than of heroes, and
how this fundamental category of "the-man-and-his-work criticism" began. For the moment, however, I
want to deal solely with the relationship between text and author and with the manner in which the text
points to this figure that, at least in appearance; is outside it and antecedes it.
Beckett nicely formulates the theme with which I would like to begin: "What does it matter who is
speaking;' someone said; 'what does it matter who is speaking.'" In this indifference appears one of the
fundamental ethical principles of contemporary writing [écriture].
I say "ethical" because this indifference is really not a trait characterizing the manner in which one speaks
and writes but, rather, a kind of immanent rule, taken up over and over again, never fully applied, not
designating writing as something completed, but dominating it as a practice. Since it is too familiar to
require a lengthy analysis, this immanent rule can be adequately illustrated here by tracing two of its
First of all, we can say that today's writing has freed itself from the theme of expression. Referring only to
itself; but without being restricted to the confines of its interiority, writing is identified with its own unfolded
exteriority. This means that it is an interplay of signs arranged less according to its signified content than
according to the very nature of the signifier. Writing unfolds like a game [jeu] that invariably goes beyond
its own rules and transgresses its limits. In writing, the point is not to manifest or exalt the act of writing,
nor is it to pin a subject within language; it is, rather, a question of creating a space into which the writing
subject constantly disappears.
The second theme, writing's relationship with death, is even more familiar. This link subverts an old