Tag Archives: Foucault

Death of a Writer

“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. As a result, the mark of the writer is reduced to nothing more than the singularity of his absence; he must assume the role of the dead man in the game of writing” (Richter 905).

While this may be the case for many texts, the replacing/ forgetting of the writer for the speaker, this is not always true. For example, in Heart of Darkness we as a class constantly talked about Joseph Conrad’s role within the text. Although he distanced himself through Marlow’s ability to narrate, the explicit language and ideology behind Marlow’s telling are all based on Conrad’s ability to assess reality. I disagree with the quote from Foucault because rather than viewing Conrad as a dead entity, he is now celebrated. His text is constantly picked up and picked apart. So long as the text lives, he and his particular mark on society will live on.

Discursive resistance

Foucault denies the existence of two opposed discourses, one of power and one of resistance, in his book “The History of Sexuality.” Instead, he explains that discourse and silence can serve as both instruments of and hindrances to power. He gives the example of pre-19th century reticence in Western texts on male homosexuality, and how that made sodomy an “utterly confused category,” generally allowed to exist and occasionally severly punished (1632). Foucault further posits that the “the appearance in 19th century psychiatry, jurisprudence, and literature of a whole series of discourses on the species” of homosexuality “made possible … social controls” of this behavior (1632). He says, curiously, that “homosexuality began to speak on its own behalf… in the same vocabulary,” and it is not clear in which genre this begins to happen or who exactly was speaking on behalf of homosexuality (1632). Literature would provide (and has provided) fertile grounds for this reappropriation of medical terms originally created to explain homosexuality as a perversion. Many strategies could converge to support this resistance through literary depictions of force-relations, for example novels that depict violence and dysfunctionality in patriarchal heterosexuality, as well as homosexuality being shown as a means of liberation.

Langston Hughes uses¬†words created to enable¬†social control in discourses of resistance in his poetry, as in the use of the word “Negro” in his poem “Ballad of the Landlard.” The poem illustrates how the word is obfuscates a reality of oppression in institutional settings, like the printed word of newspapers.

Literature can create ironic reproductions of discourses of power that “undermine” and “expose” those discourses, in order to render the power “fragile” and make it possible to “thwart” it (1632).