An author is a person who creates written material. The term is often used to refer to writers, but it can be applied to anyone who uses communication in any form. That could include using writing (like in a book), speech, visual elements (like in a movie or television show), audio elements, or even tactile elements such as Braille. Authors are human beings who, like any other persons, are affected by their own individual backgrounds. This influences how they perceive different pieces of communication and what value or meaning they assign to them.
The concept of an author has long been a subject of debate in literary theory and history. Critics such as Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault have challenged traditional notions of authorship, encouraging scholars to reevaluate the significance of an author’s name in the creation and interpretation of texts.
Foucault begins his essay by pointing out that the idea of an individual author with unique ideas emerged only in the eighteenth century. Prior to this, texts were seen as primarily transmissions or compilations of existing knowledge. Foucault argues that the emergence of this personalized view of authorship coincided with the commodification of writing. As writing was increasingly viewed as property and an object of production, strict copyright rules were put into place. Foucault describes the resulting dichotomy in authorship: scientific discourse is judged solely by its internal logic, while literary discourse is imbued with an aura of creative intuition.
In his essay, Foucault examines the ways in which a text points to its author and the manner in which this point is constructed. He argues that the name of an author serves as both a signifying designation, which designates a specific historical person, and a signified, which is the work or ideas associated with it.
Foucault goes on to explain that the author function is not formed spontaneously, but through various cultural constructions. For example, it is significant for Melville’s status as an author that he went on a whaling voyage, but not important that he once worked in a bowling alley.
He also discusses the ways in which an author’s work can outlive him, arguing that a well-written and acclaimed piece of writing can become so much a part of a culture that it becomes more significant than the life of its actual creator. As this happens, the writer becomes detached from the writing and takes on an additional identity as the “author” for the public, a role which ultimately leads to his or her death.
Aside from this skepticism of the concept, most academics agree that an author is someone who creates a written text that has been published in a journal. In order to be considered an author, it is necessary for the work to have a certain level of quality and must comply with any other publication guidelines set by the journal. If an author wants to change the names of co-authors after a paper has been accepted for publication, it is typically necessary to write to the journal’s editor and provide a rationale for the request.