Mel Ahern at The New Inquiry:
In 1980, Michel Foucault gave an anonymous interview for Le Monde because he was, in his words, “nostalgic for a time when, being quite unknown, what I said had some chance of being heard.” Calling himself the “Masked Philosopher,” he suggested that the unknown author has an “unrippled” “surface of contact” with the reader, and that the book without an author might “land in unexpected places and form shapes that I had never thought of.” He temporarily shed the authority of his name, because “a name makes reading too easy.”
Genres, too, make reading easy. Genres are information-bearing: like a kind of literary meta-data, a text’s genre tells you what discourses regulate it and what counts as knowledge within; it says who the author is and where her authority lies. The psychoanalyst does not reach for hard-numbered sociological data, and the quantitative researcher cares nothing for his subject’s dreams. Genre is therefore, as the good Masked Philosopher taught us, an apparatus of power. Ask any high school student, journalist, grant writer, or PhD candidate, and she will tell you that the things she writes must offer up certain kinds of observations, arguments, and evidence. The modes in which we write determine what we’re able say. Even the art critic lacks permission to dream.
The problem with this is not so much that discourses confine us, or even that they produce us. That they do both is old news. No, the problem is that this whole process of comporting certain facts to certain discourses just takes so much time. Say—to borrow an episode from The Irresponsible Magician—that you have a dream in which the actor Ed Harris plays a madcap minimalist sculptor slash magician slash respected art professor who obtained tenure by building an endless glass window into ancient Rome.