Feminist Literary Criticism and the Author

Critical Inquiry 16 (3):551-571 (1990)

The issues that Foucault raises about reception and reading are certainly part of the contemporary discussion of literature. However, they are not the only issues with which we, as today’s readers, are concerned. Discussions about the role of the author persist and so we continue to have recourse to the notion of authorship.For instance, in her recent book Sexual / Textual Politics , the feminist critic Toril Moi feels called on to return to these twenty-year-old issues in French theory to tell us what it has meant to speak of the author, when she says: “For the patriarchal critic, the author is the source, origin and meaning of the text. If we are to undo this patriarchal practice of authority, we must take one further step and proclaim with Roland Barthes the death of the author.”3In the course of this essay I wish to reopen the question of whether it is advisable to speak of the author, or of what Foucault calls “the author function,” when querying a text, and I wish to reopen it precisely at the site where feminist criticism and post-structuralism are presently engaged in dialogue. Here in particular we might expect that reasons for rejecting author erasure would appear. However, theoretically informed feminist critics have recently found themselves tempted to agree with Barthes, Foucault, and the Edward Said of Beginnings that the authorial presence is best set aside in order to liberate the text for multiple uses.4 4. See Edward W. Said, Beginnings: Intention and Method , p. 162. Cheryl Walker is professor of English and humanities at Scripps College. She is the author of The Nightingale’s Burden: Women Poets and American Culture before 1900 and Masks Outrageous and Austere: Culture, Psyche, and Persona in Modern Women Poets . She is currently editing an anthology of nineteenth-century women poets and a book of essays about feminist criticism in the wake of post-structuralism
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DOI 10.1086/448546
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