The author’s name is a proper name, and therefore it raises the problems common to all proper names. (Here I refer to Searle’s analyses, among others.’) Obviously, one cannot turn a proper name into a pure and simple reference. It has other than indicative functions: more than an indication, a gesture, a finger pointed at someone, it is the equivalent of a description. When one says “Aristotle,” one employs a word that is the equivalent of one, or a series, of definite descriptions, such as “the author of the Analytics,” “the founder of ontology,” and so forth. One cannot stop there, however, because a proper name does not have just one signification. When we discover that Arthur Rimbaud did not write La Chasse spirituelle, we cannot pretend that the meaning of this proper name, or that of the author, has been altered. The proper name and the author’s name are situated between the two poles of description and designation: they must have a certain link with what they name, but one that is neither entirely in the mode of designation nor in that of description; it must be a specific link. However – and it is here that the particular difficulties of the author’s name arise – the links between the proper name and the individual named and between the author’s name and what it names are not isomorphic and do not function in the same way. There are several differences.
If for example, Pierre Dupont does not have blue eyes, or was not born in Paris, or is not a doctor, the name Pierre Dupont will still always refer to the same person, such things do not modify the link of designation. The problems raised by the author’s name are much more complex, however. If I discover that Shakespeare was not born in the house we visit today, this is a modification that, obviously, will not alter the functioning of the author’s name. But if we proved that Shakespeare did not write those sonnets which pass for his, that would constitute a significant change and affect the manner in which the author’s name functions. If we proved that Shakespeare wrote Bacon’s Organon by showing that the same author wrote both the works of Bacon and those of Shakespeare, that would be a third type of change that would entirely modify the functioning of the author’s name. The author’s name is not, therefore, just a proper name like the rest.
‘Pierre Dupont,’ therefore, is a rigid designator while ‘Shakespeare’ and ‘Bacon’ are not.
I do not know whether Foucault had read Kripke at the time of the writing of the above, nor whether the rigid designator theory of proper names was already in wide currency by then (though the Wittgenstein, Searle and Strawson critique of the descriptivist theory of names certainly were). In any case, the passages above seem to suggest an intriguing connection between two theorists not widely taken to have common interests or inclinations.
Note: Michel Foucault, “Qu’est-ce qu’un auteur?” Bulletin de la Société Française de Philosophie 63, No. 3 (1969) 73-104. Originally delivered as a lecture before the Society in February 1969. The Searle reference is to his 1969 Speech Acts: An Essay in The Philosophy of Language. Kripke’s Naming and Necessity lectures were delivered in January 1970.
Reprinted in: Michel Foucault, “What Is an Author?” Language, Counter-memory, Practice, Ed. Donald F. Bouchard, Trans. D. F. Bouchard, Sherry Simon (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1977) 113-38.