Thursday, April 9, 2009

Michel Asks: What Are These Things Called Books?

Fig. 1. Anselm Kiefer - The Secret Life of Plants, 2002

'What, in short, is the strange unit designated by the term, work? What is necessary to its composition, if a work is not something written by a person called an "author"? ... If an individual is not an author, what are we to make of those things he has written or said, left among his papers or communicated to others? Is this not properly a work? What, for instance, were Sade's papers before he was consecrated as an author? Little more, perhaps, than roles of paper on which he endlessly unravelled his fantasies while in prison.

Assuming we are dealing with an author, is everything he wrote and said, everything he left behind, to be included in his work? ... If we wish to publish the complete works of Nietzsche, for example, where do we draw the line? Certainly everything must be published, but can we agree on what "everything" means? We will, of course, include everything that Nietzsche himself published, along with the drafts of his works, his plans for aphorisms, his marginal notations and corrections. But what if, in a notebook filled with aphorisms, we find a reference, a reminder of an appointment, an address, or a laundry bill, should this be included in his works? Why not? ... Such questions only begin to suggest the range of our difficulties, and, if some have found it convenient to bypass the individuality of the writer or his status as an author to concentrate on a work, they have failed to appreciate the equally problematic nature of the word "work" and the unity it designates.'

Michel Foucault (from What is an Author?)