Foucault, Michel. 1969. L’archéologie du savoir. Gallimard, Paris. = Foucault, Michel. 1972. The Archaeology of Knowledge (trans. Allan Sheridan). Harper and Row, New York.It seems to mark a new methodological perspective in his work (Merquior 1991: 77) and the point when Foucault was turning to Poststructuralism.
The Archaeology of Knowledge is an clear attempt to state and expound the fundamental “archaeological” method Foucault used in The Order of Things, History of Madness and The Birth of the Clinic. Foucault came in his later works to have a new method called “genealogy” (supplementing “archaeology”), which was supposed to show how systems of thought unearthed by “archaeology” were merely contingent accidents of history.
The emphasis in The Archaeology of Knowledge now seems to be on discourses or discursive formations (practices or statements that reign in a particular time), and the influence of Friedrich Nietzsche’s “genealogical” philosophy has become very important (Merquior 1991: 77).
Another new concept in The Archaeology of Knowledge is the archive, but one will be hard pressed to actually understand what Foucault means by this.
Let Foucault – in that wonderfully lucid prose for which he was famous – explain it to you:
“Between the language (langue) that defines the system of constructing possible sentences, and the corpus that passively collects the words that are spoken, the archive defines a particular level: that of a practice that causes a multiplicity of statements to emerge as so many regular events, as so many things to be dealt with and manipulated. It does not have the weight of tradition; and it does not constitute the library of all libraries, outside time and place; nor is it the welcoming oblivion that opens up to all new speech the operational field of its freedom; between tradition and oblivion, it reveals the rules of a practice that enables statements both to survive and to undergo regular modification. It is the general system of the formation and transformation of statements.Was that clear? Well, yes: about as clear as mud.
It is obvious that the archive of a society, a culture, or a civilization cannot be described exhaustively; or even, no doubt, the archive of a whole period. On the other hand, it is not possible for us to describe our own archive, since it is from within these rules that we speak, since it is that which gives to what we can say – and to itself, the object of our discourse – its modes of appearance, its forms of existence and coexistence, its system of accumulation, historicity, and disappearance. The archive cannot be described in its totality; and in its presence it is unavoidable. It emerges in fragments, regions, and levels, more fully, no doubt, and with greater sharpness, the greater the time that separates us from it: at most, were it not for the rarity of the documents, the greater chronological distance would be necessary to analyse it.” (Foucault 1972: 130).
Here was a man trying to explain a crucial concept of his work, but does very little except reveal to everyone watching that the pretentious French emperor has no clothes.
The archive is not, apparently, our faculty of language. But, according to Foucault, the archive is “the general system of the formation and transformation of statements” (Foucault 1972: 130). But transformation of statements into what? Even more shockingly, we cannot even “describe our own archive”! So how do we know one even exists?
Merquior, who tries hard to see through the fog of Foucault’s gibberish, thought that the archive is a system for generating social meaning (Merquior 1991: 81), whatever that means. Foucault also regarded the archive as the historical a priori (Merquior 1991: 81), so whatever it represents it seems to be analogous to the epistemes of his previous work The Order of Things.
It seems that Foucault was soon arguing that “discourses” in any society were the product of control and rules and access to knowledge (Merquior 1991: 84). The stage was now set for Foucault’s idea that power creates knowledge.
Further attempts to make sense of The Archaeology of Knowledge seem like a complete waste of time to me – or at least I think there are probably much more productive things you could be doing with your waking hours.
Gilles Deleuze – another grand Poststructuralist charlatan – apparently drew the lesson from Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge that one should make no distinction between science and poetry! (Merquior 1991: 84). If anyone believes this outrageous idiocy, then by all means act on Deleuze’s sage advice and seek the services of a poet instead of using science-based medicine when you get sick! I am sure that will fix you right up...
Gutting, Gary. 2003 (rev. 2013). “Michel Foucault,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Kelly, Mark. “Michel Foucault (1926–1984),” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
“Michel Foucault,” Wikipedia
Merquior, José Guilherme. 1991. Foucault (2nd edn.). Fontana, London.
Foucault, Michel. 1972. The Archaeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language (trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith). Pantheon Books, New York.
What, no comments? I guess people only what to argue about sex, power, neoliberalism, punishment, linguistics, or some application.ReplyDelete
Anyways, I am under the impression that our host is out of sync with many who dislike post modernism, deconstruction, or whatever. I think many with this attitude exempt Foucault.
If people dislike Postmodernism but "exempt Foucault" they are making a grave error. He was clearly one of the worst of these Poststructuralist offenders.Delete
" But, according to Foucault, the archive is “the general system of the formation and transformation of statements” (Foucault 1972: 130). But transformation of statements into what?"ReplyDelete
Into other statements obviously. Or, as Foucault puts it in the prior sentence, it "enables statements both to survive and to undergo regular modification." This is clear English. If you don't understand it you are calling into question your own intelligence. Not the author's.
"Even more shockingly, we cannot even “describe our own archive”! So how do we know one even exists?"
Because we can, to a large degree, describe those of the past. He says that in the quote. Did you read it? He writes (you quoted this!): "It emerges in fragments, regions, and levels, more fully, no doubt, and with greater sharpness, the greater the time that separates us from it." The same could be said of history generally and you read very similar statements in much mainstream historiography.
"Merquior, who tries hard to see through the fog of Foucault’s gibberish, thought that the archive is a system for generating social meaning."
Which it is not and why Merquoir is a terrible source to be drawing on.
"It seems that Foucault was soon arguing that “discourses” in any society were the product of control and rules and access to knowledge (Merquior 1991: 84). The stage was now set for Foucault’s idea that power creates knowledge."
Not remotely. The old structuralist work had nothing to do with power/knowledge. It could easily have been interpreted in a rationalist way.
"Further attempts to make sense of The Archaeology of Knowledge seem like a complete waste of time to me..."
Then I'm unsure what the purpose of the exercise is here if not to try to make sense of someone's work. A hatchet job maybe? That wouldn't do wonders for your credibility.
"Gilles Deleuze – another grand Poststructuralist charlatan – apparently drew the lesson from Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge that one should make no distinction between science and poetry!"
"Apparently?" Are you really citing hostile secondary sources? Have you taken historiography 101?
These posts read like something in The Spectator. Seriously. Low quality. If you insist on reading in bad faith don't read at all. Trust me, you come off far worse than the author.
You say that the "archive" is a system for turning statements "into other statements obviously." This still doesn't even remotely explain what the archive is.Delete
Even saying it is a "general system of the formation of statements" doesn't clarify things.
Also, if these mysterious "archives" exist, I see no reason whatsoever why we should not be able to describe our own "archive".
You have very clear evidence that Foucault cannot
(1) explain what an archive is, and
(2) explain the archive of our times.
This sounds like appalling metaphysical nonsense to me.
""Apparently?" Are you really citing hostile secondary sources? Have you taken historiography 101?"Delete
I checked his reference, Phil, and yes, Deleuze really drew that conclusion from Foucault.
In Gilles Deleuze's Foucault (trans. and ed. Sean Hand), Athlone Press, London, 1988, p. 20, on the chapter on The Archaeology of Knowledge, Deleuze says that science and poetry are "equal forms of knowledge".
In mathematics if we define something our first task is to establish that it is well-defined: that the definition is not empty, ambiguous, or contradictory. I cannot get away with defining a foucault as the smallest postive real number.Delete
"we cannot even “describe our own archive”! So how do we know one even exists?"ReplyDelete
Well, it's one of the big conclusions of the book, so it's a hell of a complicated issue.
But in regards to the objection, basically, our archive determines how we think, so if we're attempting to describe it (this is different from claiming it exists) we're using our own archive to attempt to describe it - but our description of the archive will depend on the archive itself. To put it another way, there is almost certainly a more accurate way of describing our archive than we're capable of.
Here're some very different issues, but I think they might be helpful.
This comes from (I think) Jean-Paul Sarte. When we try to think of ourselves, we can't really do so, we're really thinking of an object called 'me', not what we actually are. Am I actually thinking of me - what I really am - when I do this? No, just me as an object - what I actually am is thinking of me as an object. So then let's say that when I think of myself, I also think of myself as thinking about myself. Except I'm just thinking of someone in the act of doing this, but I am in fact the person doing it - they don't match up. It could described as a regress issue. We can never totally understand what we're doing at any moment because as soon as we (try to) think about it, we're thinking about ourselves - not just what we were thinking in the previous moment, which wasn't thinking about how we exist, it was us immersed in whatever we were done. Basically, if you're enjoying a movie, solving a problem, you're not thinking about how you exist. As soon as you do, you think of yourself as an object, not what you're actually doing (thinking about yourself as an object).
But would we conclude from this "But how can we even know we exist?!"
Another issue: justification. How do we justify anything? Ah, but how does one justify THAT? Again, regress.
But would we conclude from this "There is no justification!"?
So try as you might to describe your archive, you'll almost certainly always come up short. And to put it another way, even if you described the archive correctly, how would you know it? But this hardly demonstrates we can't have good reasons for thinking it exists.
To put the issue another way: how could we think in the ways we do (dealing with complex scientific issues) without an archive? (I'm not saying the archive is a legitimate concept/that we could do so, it's just worth thinking about)
That Foucault deals with the issue at all is to his credit.
And I'd say that in dealing with anything like this (philosophical/epistemic), if you don't run into any paradoxical issues, you haven't really understood the issue.