Roger Chartier, The Order of Books, "The Figure of the Author" (Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press, 1994), 31:


To illustrate the point that "the author-function<1> does not affect all discourses in a universal and constant way," Foucault evokes the radical reversal that, according to him, "occurred in the seventeenth century or eighteenth century," when rules for attribution of texts belonging to "scientific" and "literary" discourses were exchanged. After that watershed moment, the authority of scientific statements was founded on "their membership in a systematic ensemle" of pre-established truths rather than on reference to particular authors; "literary discourse," on the other hand, "cam e to be accepted only when endowed with the author-function." Formerly the reverse had been true:

There was a time, [Foucault says,] when the texts that we today call "literary" (narratives, stories, epics, tragedies, comedies) were accepted, put into circulation, and valorized without any question about the identity of their author; their anonymity caused no difficulties since their ancientness, whether real or imagined, was regarded as a sufficient guarantee of their status. On the other hand, those texts that we now would call scientific -- those dealing with cosmology and the heavens, medicine and illnesses, natural sciences and geography -- were accepted in the Middle Ages, and accepted as "true," only when marked with the name of their author.<2>


<1>The functioning of the concept of authorship -- that is, the way the idea of the author is used in deciphering the meaning of texts. Back.

<2>Michel Foucault, "What is an Author?" 109. Back.