This is one of those things (a word that I just covered in earlier essay) that I haven’t really clearly addressed so far. This is related to my own research, so I guess it would only make sense to address. People may or may not be aware that my research deals with texts, by and large. No, not in the usual sense, as in some writing on paper, you know like in a book or a newspaper, or online, like in whatever this is … words, followed by more words. Then again, yes, what I’m interested in is, in fact, texts. The difference is that I’m interested in texts when they are not contained in some bound form or online. Instead, I’m interested in them when they are placed, put on display, when they are present in the landscape.

Much of linguistics deals with either speech, as in spoken, like in a conversation or in a speech, or text, as in written, like in some document, newspaper, magazine, book, leaflet, pamphlet, whatever, you name it, be it on paper or online. As a side note, to amuse you, the reader, as I’m fond of silliness, I believe it was comedian Sean Lock who wondered out loud “At what point does a leaflet become a pamphlet?” Ah, the folds of life. Anyway, I know I’m generalizing here, but the way I see it, there seems to be an emphasis on the subjects, the people who speak or write. Now, this is the hallmark of speech. You can’t have speech without someone, or well, something (if synthesized), as the origin of the said speech. In this sense it makes perfect sense to take that seriously. Text or writing is, however, remarkable different in this sense.

I ran into this … issue when gathering data for my own research in an education context. I actually came up with it all by myself, but later on had to make note that it was not ‘my’ idea, as such, considering that, for example, Jacques Derrida had addressed the same issue. So, in my words, based on my experience, I was trying to attribute various items or, as I like to now call them, things, but probably can’t because, you know, academic standards on language (can’t have people call something a thing), to someone. In other words, I was interested in who did this, who is behind this, who is the author? Then I realized that I’m simplifying things here. So, in practice, among other things, I came across posters, clearly proper prints, designed by some company that, for example, provides them as learning materials or as promotional materials (the lines are sometimes a bit blurry). Anyway, we could call this author number one. It does what it does, for whatever the reason happens to be, likely related to making a profit.

Then I realized that, wait a minute, whoever designed these posters is not responsible for them being here. Sure, it may be in their interest for them to be here, on some classroom wall or in the corridor, but they don’t have the kind of control to make sure that such happens. Simply put, I realized that someone else is responsible for their presence in the landscape. Someone else has put these on display. We could call this author number two. Now, to be honest, this is actually quite obvious.

The point I’m making here is that it is not that it doesn’t matter who designed something, who wrote something, who created something, but that whoever comes to make use of whatever it is that was designed, written or created by someone else matters more, way more. Sure, it’s not a one way street. If you simply make use of materials made by someone else, on an as is basis, you have no control over whatever it is that you are making use of. What’s the term for this? Useful idiot? So, in a sense, yes, it of course does matter who made what someone else makes use of. Then again, that depends. That applies more if the person making use of whatever someone else made pays little attention to the creation itself. That applies less if the person making use of the creation acknowledges this and uses it to certain purposes accordingly. What’s the fitting word for this? Appropriation? Reappropriation?

This also made me think more. So, if who made this and who put this here are not necessarily the one and the same person, or entity, whoever happens to be looking at this, me, is also not necessarily the person or the audience this was intended to be looked at by. So, we could call the former audience number one and the latter audience number two. Simply put, the audience is not the same thing as the intended audience, the target audience. For example, a promotional poster of, let’s say gardening tools or … mmm … courses on falconry, put on display in a classroom is not exactly reaching its target audience, unless, of course, people happen to be interested in those activities. It might be put on display for other reasons, for example, because the teacher thinks it contains a certain expression in a certain language that is humorous, yet exemplifies something that the students ought to know. Simply put, the teacher has taken the poster and used it for a purpose that the creator did not have in mind. This also shifts the target audience to the students. I’m of course still not part of the intended audience. I remain an outsider in this regard.

Derrida explains the same thing, a bit more eloquently in both ‘The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond’ and in ‘Limited Inc.’. To save you the trouble, right here, right now, if you know what a postcard is, you should already get the point. In all simplicity, a postcard is an open letter, typically a rectangular piece of cardboard with a print on one side and some text on the other side, signed by someone, alongside the recipient details. Derrida (5) makes note of this in the former:

“Who is writing? To whom? And to send, to destine, to dispatch what? To what address?”

So, for example, with a postcard we can ask who wrote whatever is written on the postcard and to whom it is intended. Now, assuming that someone did sign the postcard, put his, her or their name(s) on it, that is surely the person or persons who wrote the postcard. Also, surely the person to whom it is addressed to, further evident from the address, is the recipient. Well, to be fair, that is probably often the case. However, that’s not necessarily the case, nor the case by necessity. Derrida (5) explains this:

“That the signers and the addressees are not always visibly and necessarily identical from one envoi to the other, that the signers are not inevitably to be confused with the senders, nor the addressees with the receivers, that is with the readers (you for example), etc.[.]”

Yes, as I explained already in my own words, the person who wrote something, say, on a postcard is not necessarily the person who put his name on it. The writer should not be confused with the signatory. Similarly, the person who receives it, in this case the postcard, is not necessarily the person to whom it is addressed to. It might end up in the wrong address and someone else then casually read it. This is actually a feature of the postcard. Anyone could read it as it’s not covered. For example, the postal people may read it, even though they probably handle so much mail that they can’t be bothered. Anyway, the point here is that the addressee and the recipient should not be confused with one another.

Derrida (5) addresses this also in the latter publication, ‘Limited Inc.’ by addressing writing:

“[T]he absence of the addressee. One writes in order to communicate something to those who are absent.”

Yes, unlike speech, writing does not require the recipient to be there. Okay, fair enough, you can talk out loud, all by yourself, to yourself or at/to whatever you addressing, but that’s beside the point here. The difference between ‘at’ and ‘to’ being, of course, that ‘at’ entails that you don’t expect a reply, whereas ‘to’ entails that you do. This is just to amuse you for a moment. Anyway, he (5) continues:

“The absence of the sender, of the receiver [destinateur], from the mark that he abandons, and which cuts itself off from him and continues to produce effects independently of his presence and of the present actuality of his intentions [vouloir-dire], indeed even after his death, his absence, which moreover belongs to the structure of all writing … and … of all language in general[.]”

Simply put, what he is saying, and I’m trying to say, is that a text functions not only in the absence of the recipient, but also in the absence of the writer. How so? Well, once you written something, as I have, here, it’s there for anyone to see inasmuch as it is, as long as it is. Words on some paper survive its writer, unless that paper is destroyed before the death of the writer. This is also the case with electronic texts, which can be deleted instantly but have a habit of lingering, getting copied and existing as some residual backup copies on some server somewhere even after deletion. In short, text is cut off from the writer the very instance the writer is done and then exists by itself, functioning on its own, albeit in relation to those who come to engage with it later on. Derrida (5) elaborates this:

“The absence … is determined in the most classic manner as a continuous modification and progressive extenuation of presence.”

Which he (5) then clarifies as an operation of supplementation of the presence:

“[T]his operation … is not exhibited as a break in presence but rather as a continuous and homogeneous reparation and modification of presence in the representation.”

In other words, once the text is cut off from the writer, who had something in mind and likely someone to whom it was addressed to, it does not remain static. How it functions then depends on the people who engage with the text. I think it’s worth adding here that it doesn’t mean that it’s simply subjective then either. It’s not whimsical.

Does this seem somehow familiar? Well, it’s probably because it is, if you have read, for example ‘The Death of the Author’ by Roland Barthes, in which he (143) states that:

“The image of literature to be found in ordinary culture is tyrannically centred on the author, his person his life, his tastes, his passions … The explanation of a work is always sought in the man or woman who produced it, as if it were always in the end, through the more or less transparent allegory of the fiction, the voice of a single person, the author ‘confiding’ in us.”

In other words, Barthes is saying that people are obsessed with what something means and that surely something created by someone must mean what the person meant by it, consciously or unconsciously, hence the hunt for the meaning, trying to figure out what made the person tick the way this, whatever it is, was created for us. As a side note, bear with me on this one (not that you have choice though, I mean it’s my essay…), this made me think. On the following page Barthes (144) mentions how:

“[I]nstead of putting his life into his novel, as is so often maintained, [Marcel Proust] made of his very life a work for which his own book was the model[.]”

Why am I bringing this up, this tangent? Well, this made me think of what Gilles Deleuze said to Claire Parnet in ‘L’Abécédaire de Gilles Deleuze’ or ‘Gilles Deleuze from A to Z’ as it is translated to English. If my memory serves me correctly Deleuze was rather amused in the interviews by how people think they can be become great writers, or, well, I guess, any great artists. I think he used the words ‘private affair’ to explain what literature is not. It’s not about your life, your memories, your little private affair.

While writing this, I could not remember what his exact words were in objection to such, but, having looked it up again (while fixing typos, cock-ups and the like, as well as moving the references to the end of the essay, in 2022), it’s in E for Enfance (French for childhood), where Deleuze calls such “c’est de la dégoutation” and “c’est la vraie merde“, which translates as totally disgusting and truly shit, according to Charles Stivale. You just have to love him when he gets so feisty! Not that this is particularly surprising though. After all, Deleuze did have a habit of bringing up Proust. Anyway, this also made me think of another thing. Who was it that stated that the life imitates art? Oscar Wilde? Getting back on track here, Barthes (145) also points out something that I’ve ran into in, I think ‘A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia’:

“[L]inguistics has recently provided the destruction of the Author with a valuable analytical tool by showing that the whole of the enunciation is an empty process, functioning perfectly without there being any need for it to be filled with the person of the interlocutors.”

If you are not familiar with this, you might be lost here. Luckily Barthes (145) further explains this:

“Linguistically, the author is never more than the instance of writing, just as I is nothing other than the instance of saying I[.]”

If you are still puzzled by this, well, it’s always the ‘I’ who says or writes ‘I’. It’s very redundant actually. For the sake of entertainment, I am going to amuse you for a moment by exemplifying this. So, right, I can write something like:

“I reckon that’s not going happen because …”

Now, if I were to say that to you, face to face, I don’t need the ‘I reckon’ part, now do I? Well, I reckon I don’t need it unless I use it to point out that it’s a guess, albeit an educated guess, if you will. I could not use it though and convey the same in some other manner. I could, for example, express it in a way that otherwise expresses that I’m not exactly sure but that it seems to be the case. The way I see it, to use the ‘I’ or to not use the ‘I’ is not really an issue, beyond that it is what it is, the ‘I’ always saying the ‘I’, regardless of whether it is invoked or not. Why am I even getting tangled up on this? Well, this is of particular relevance to academics. Some say that using ‘I’, followed by this and/or that, indicates that it’s subjective, whereas not using it is … somehow … objective. Right, so, let’s rephrase that into academic jargon:

“It appears to be the case that it is not going to happen…”

Okay, perhaps the word happen (what about come to pass instead?) is already too lowbrow to be used by academics, but I’ll leave it there, just in case it bothers you. To get to the point, what we have here is the absence of an ‘I’. Or, well, so it seems. Go back a bit. Rewind. Rethink it. Who is it that wrote that? Yes, indeed, it was ‘I’ who wrote that. Yes, I still acknowledge that there is this odd redundancy in stating ‘I’, when it is, or should be, obvious that it is ‘I’ who states that. That said, going against using it doesn’t change a thing. The ‘I’ is always there, regardless of whether or not it is said or written. It is just dishonest to say that one is more objective than the other, when, in fact, or, should I say I reckon, it’s about something else. As I pointed out, when I use something like ‘I reckon’, it serves a purpose. I’m making it more obvious to others that I’m not 100 percent sure. So to rephrase it, what hypothetical academic meant to say was:

“[I say] it appears to be the case that it is not going to happen…”

Feel free to replace [say] with anything you feel is more fitting there. That’s beside the point anyway as what matters is that whatever you express is always expressed by you. Even if you state that someone else stated something, what you forgot to include was that you stated that someone stated it.

Deleuze and Guattari (130) make the same observation in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’:

“The I as subject of enunciation, designating the person that utters and reflects its own use in the statement…; this is the I appearing in propositions of the type ‘I believe, I assume, I think…’ Finally, the I as subject of the statement, indicating a state for which a She or He could always be substituted (‘I suffer, I walk, I breathe, I feel…’).”

But that’s Deleuze and Guattari, who beg to differ with Barthes to some extent, as they add (130):

“This is not, however, a question of a linguistic operation, for a subject is never the condition of possibility of language or the cause of the statement: there is no subject, only collective assemblages of enunciation.”

They (130) add that it’s not about ideology either, even if Louis Althusser is partly right about how interpellation, hailing someone along the lines of “‘Hey you, over there!’” plays a role in this. What they (130) offer instead is the process of subjectification which occurs in an assemblage and “designates a formalization of expression or a regime of signs rather than a condition internal to language.” So, yes, the ‘I’ and ‘you’ are there, one refers to oneself redundantly and one is interpellated by others and vice versa, but these are secondary to the assemblage.

Relevant to the use of ‘I’, Deleuze and Guattari (138) address what I stated earlier on, well, because I was familiar with this already, having read them:

“For example, it is relatively easy to stop saying ‘I,’ but that does not mean that you have gotten away from the regime of subjectification; conversely, you can keep on saying ‘I,’ just for kicks, and already be in another regime in which personal pronouns function only as fictions.”

Ha, indeed, I can use ‘I’ as much as I want without it being an issue. It can and does serve a purpose! Conversely, I can avoid using the ‘I’ like the plague, but that doesn’t change a thing for it is always the ‘I’ who says ‘I’, even in the absence ‘I’. Don’t think you’ve gotten away from the ‘I’ just because you formulated your sentences in a way that exclude it, for example, in articles. It’s always someone who wrote the words or did they just simply appear on the screen or on paper?

Getting back on track here, to authorship. I’ve covered what Foucault has to say on this in the past, but as it is relevant here, I’ll do it again, albeit only to a limited extent. He addressed the author during a lecture, which was subsequently transcribed and published in English as ‘What Is an Author?’. In it Foucault (207) addresses the notion of author:

“None of this is recent; criticism and philosophy took note of the disappearance – or death – of the author some time ago.”

This is very much in line with Barthes, who, by the way, is never mentioned during his lecture. Anyway, what he (207) brings in to the discussion here is:

“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.”

He (207) goes on to explain this, pointing out that the author is a function that associates all the works to, no, not to an individual but the author, the one who is already dead (technically never alive in the first place). If you think of it, you cannot contact the author, because there is no author to contact. The author never was. It’s a figment of our imagination. Or if it was or is, then the author is supposed as transcendental, intuitively there but out of our reach, as noted by Foucault (208). Of course, out of reach or not, unknowable or not, that doesn’t stop people from doing what Barthes calls a tyranny and I call an obsession. Foucault (208) makes the same observation, that revolves around a certain religiosity:

“To admit that writing is … subject to the test of oblivion and repression, seems to represent, in transcendental terms, the religious principle of the hidden meaning (which requires interpretation) and the critical principle of implicit significations, silent determinations, and obscured contents (which give rise to commentary).”

In other words, more simply put, as expressed by him (208):

“We try, with great effort, to imagine the general condition of each text, the condition of both the space in which it is dispersed and the in which it unfolds.”

I’ve pointed this out in the past as well, but this does remind me of what Deleuze and Guattari (116) state in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ about interpretation, noting that the work of the interpreting priests is never done. Also, if you wonder why priests, well, you can substitute them with any “subjected, arborescent, hierarchical, centered groups” including but not limited to “political parties, literary movements, psychoanalytic associations, families, conjugal units, etc.”, as noted by the two (116). The point is there are always some, some group who are in a position, elected or not, to provide the proper interpretation to others. What they interpret can be anything, the face of the Emperor (what is he up to?), as discussed by the two (116), or divine texts and/or whatever substitutes them more contemporarily, the human mind or a manifesto. In the context of literature, as well as anything that relies on that function, it can be the author, who, is, in a way, not unlike the Emperor.

Linking this lengthy tangent on the author to writing, as discussed by Derrida and pondered by yours truly in the field, Foucault (211) provides a useful explanation of the author function:

“A private letter may well have a signer – it does not have an author; a contract may well have a guarantor – it does not have an author. An anonymous text posted on a wall probably has an editor – but not an author.”

Indeed, a letter, or, to use Derrida’s example, a postcard, may and typically does have some name on it to mark who wrote it, even if that’s not necessarily the case. The same applies to contracts, even if the signatory or signatories do not have to be the ones who wrote the contract. Of course, people may not think this way as they are obsessed with knowing the author, in many senses of the word knowing. What is this? What does the person mean by this? I must know! I must ask the author personally! Then I’ll know! Alternatively, if the author is no longer with us, I must ask the experts, for surely they know what the author meant by this! Anyway, the last bit is interesting, as Foucault takes up what to think of anonymous texts or works, just posted somewhere. Surely they have a writer and a signatory (editor), but we simply cannot know the author, as the author function relies on being able to discern the name, to make the connection which itself creates the imaginary author.

To connect this to my research, I’ve been questioned for my expert oriented approach, what some call the etic viewpoint, the viewpoint of the outsider. Conversely, I’ve been criticized for not including what some emic viewpoints, the viewpoints of the insiders. I have multiple issues with the so called emic perspectives, but I’ll only discuss the question of agency and authorship, considering this essay touches on those two topics. I’ll address other issues at another time.

As explained by Derrida, as well as to some extent by Barthes and Foucault, it is of little importance as to what the people who created the texts or works (if we think of this more broadly) think of what they’ve created. The texts function as self-contained entities the moment the writer is done with them. That’s it! They now operate on their own, as long as they exist and inasmuch as they are in position to engage and be engaged with. Make note of how I don’t attribute agency to the things on their own, but only when engaged by people. It would be absurd to think otherwise, considering that we are talking of texts or works. On top of this, falling back on authorship won’t work either as the author never existed anyway. On top that, in agreement with Deleuze and Guattari (3) in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, falling back on the writer won’t work exactly either as we are always several. Anyway, to the point, I’m not at all interested in what something is, what it means (hence my disinterest in appearances and essences). I’m interested in questions, such as, what a thing, as explained in the previous essay, does, what is its function, and how it came to be, as formed by us (hence my interest in apparition and conditions of apparition). I realize that it might just be that I don’t get it, at least as of yet, but I fail to see how local informants could be of much use in all of this. It may well be just about me and in that case, my bad. But then again, when my fellow academics struggle to understand the distinction between appearance and apparition, how are non-academics supposed to be of use in my research? What is the value added?

Anyway, this applies to my own texts as well. It is of no use to ask me what texts written by me mean. They make sense to you, inasmuch as they do, or don’t, on their own, and/or in relation to other texts written by me and/or by others. Note, already, how I prefer the word ‘sense’ over ‘meaning’. If you are interested, there’s a wonderful book on sense, titled ‘Logique du sens’ by Deleuze. The English translation is titled ‘The Logic of Sense’. I take it that as most people can’t be bothered with reading anything outside their own discipline, anything challenging anyway, I can’t honestly expect people to actually read what I recommend, be it a book, an article, an essay, a lecture manuscript or the like, so I’m going to actually elaborate on the notion of sense, as explained by Deleuze in that book. That said, I’m going to do that in another essay, probably in the next one. Sure it’s going to fall short from the original, but something tells me that you are not going to read the original and those who will won’t mind me explaining here, regardless of the redundancy.


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