The Archaeology of Knowledge. “Michel Foucault: The Archaeology of Knowledge (1969-) [FR, ES, IT, EN, PT, AR, SR, TR, CZ, RU] — Incunabula: Ong’s Hat.”
Outline Summary with Quotes
Part I: The Introduction
In this very complex introduction to the Archaeology of Knowledge Foucault discusses two approaches to history: 1) an approach that looks for the continuities and linear successions in history and 2) an approach that looks for the disruptions or discontinuities in history. Foucault discusses some of the many ways that the interruptions may occur: epistemological acts and thresholds, displacements and transformations, recurrent redistributions that reveals several pasts or connections, architectonic unities that occur within systems, and theoretical transformations (4-5). For those who study the discontinuities, the problem of history is not that it is linear but that “it includes “transformations that serve as new foundations, the rebuilding of foundations” (5).
According to Foucault, the linear theory of history that focuses on continuities studies the document as evidence, but the vision of history as a series of discontinuities studies the document itself to examine “unities, totalities, series, relations” (7). It seems that what Foucault is suggesting is that in our text-based society, the document has the ability to shape history rather than simply record it as it happened. The discourse evident in documents may act on history rather than merely act as a memory.
Foucault identifies several aspects of the new approach to history:
“The proliferation of discontinuities in the history of ideas” and “The problem now is to constitute series” (7).
“the notion of discontinuity assumes a major role in the historical disciplines” (8).
“the theme and the possibility of total history begin to disappear, and we see the emergence of […] general history” (9).
“the new history is confronted by a number of methodological problems”
Foucault says these problems in the field of history are important because 1) we see how the field has changed and 2) the problems in the field are similar to those in other fields (11).
The concept of the subject, the human consciousness, is very important to the field of history because it is the “founding function” of continuous history (12). Foucault suggests that there is a reluctance to “conceiving of difference, to describe separation and dispersions, to dissociating the reassuring form of the identical” because “we were afraid to conceive of the other in our won time of thoughts” (12).
Foucault closes the introduction by discussing his aims, including:
Understanding transformations in the field of history
To describe a method of historical analysis
Part II: The Discursive Regularities
While in the introduction, Foucault gives a broad overview of his theory regarding the emerging transformations in the field of history, in Part II of the text Foucault describes his theory of historical analysis.
Chapter I: The Unities of Discourse
Foucault begins the chapter by identifying the theoretical problems of historical analysis: “discontinuity, rupture, rupture, threshold, limit, series, and transformation” (21), but in order to examine these problems, Foucault says that we must rid ourselves of the notions of tradition, influence, development, evolution, spirit, familiar divisions and groupings, the book, and the oeuvre (21-23). The chapter details the problems with each of these notions and the ways in which discontinuity counters many of these notions. Foucault says that “The frontiers of a book are never clear-cut: beyond the title, the first lines, and the last full stop, beyond its internal configuration and its autonomous form, it is caught up in a system of references to other books, other texts, other sentences: it is a node within a network” (23). Books and collections of works do not stand on their own. They are all part of a larger conversation.
Foucault feels that it is important to recognize that there is no such thing as a sudden interruption, and that “everything that is formulated in discourse was already articulated in that semi-silence that precedes it” (25). The “’not said’ is a hollow that undermines from within all that is said” (25).
Foucault explains that forms of continuity “are always the result of a construction the rules of which must be known, and the justification of which must be scrutinized” (25).
If we analyze in such a way as to avoid a focus on continuities and to recognize the disruptions, we should examine the totality of all effective statements (whether spoken or written), in their dispersions as events and in the occurrence that is proper to them;” to create a “pure description of discursive events” (27). In order to do this, Foucault says “we must grasp the statement in the exact specificity of its occurrence; determine its condition of existence, fix at least its limits, establish its correlations with other statements that it may be connected with, and show what other forms of statements it includes” (28).
Chapter 2: Discursive Formations
As the chapter title suggests, this chapter focuses on how discourse is formed. Foucault is concerned with relations “between the statements that have left in their provisional, visible grouping” (31).
Foucault makes a series of hypotheses regarding the development of discourse:
“statements different in form, and dispersed in time, form a group if they refer to one and the same object” (32).
The form of statements and their type of connections.
Is it possible to establish groups of statements by determining the system of concepts involved? (34)
The identity and persistence of themes. (35).
All hypotheses failed, so Foucault decided to turn to “describing these dispersions themselves; of discovering whether, between these elements, which are certainly not organized as a progressively deductive structure […] one cannot discern a regularity: an order in their successive appearance, correlations in their simultaneity, assignable positions in a common space, a reciprocal functioning, linked and hierarchized transformations (37). We are looking for a discursive formation (38).
Chapter 3: The Formation of Objects
In the third chapter, Foucault focuses on how objects are formed. To examine how objects form, Fiucault suggests that we:
“map the first surfaces of their emergence” (41).
“describe the authorities of delimitation” (41).
“analyze the grids of specification” (42).
These approaches are limited; however, because they do not provide objects and there are “several planes of differentiation in which the objects of discourse may appear” (43).
Foucault says that a “discursive formation is defined […] if one can establish such a group [a group of relations]; if one can show how any particular object of discourse finds in its place the law of emergence; if one can show that it may give birth simultaneously or successively to mutually exclusive objects, without having to modify itself” (44).
He makes several claims about objects:
There are complex conditions for the formation of an object (44)
Relations do not constitute the object, but enable it to appear (45)
Distinguish types of relations with the object: real/primary, reflexive or secondary, and discursive (45)
Discursive relations are not internal, nor are the external, to the discourse; they are at the limit of discourse (46)
Objects do not remain constant; it is the surfaces on which they appear that remain so (47).
Foucault says that, discursive practices are guided by rules which define the ordering of the objects (49). He defines discourse “as practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak” (49).
Chapter 4: The Formation of Enunciative Modalities
In this brief chapter, Foucault poses a series of questions in order to “discover the law operating behind all these diverse statements, and the place from which they come” (50):
Who is speaking? (50)
Describe the sites of discourse, and the places “from which its legitimate source and point of application)” (51).
The situation of the subject in regards to domains or groups (52).
Foucault concludes by stating that “”discourse is not the majestically unfolding manifestation of a thinking, knowing, speaking subject, but on the contrary, a totality, in which the dispersion of the subject and his discontinuity with himself may be determined” (55).
Chapter 5: The Formation of Concepts
Chapter 5 of the text focus on the formation of concepts. In order to explore the formation of concepts, Foucault says that we must “describe the organization of the field of statements where they appeared and circulated” (56) by:
The organization of an object involves forms of succession, orderings of enunative series (order of inferences, implications, and reasonings; order of descriptions; order of descriptive accounts); types of dependence of statements; and rhetorical schemata (56-57).
It involves forms of coexistence including the field of presence; field of concomitance; and the field of memory (57-58).
Define the procedures of intervention applied to statements. Procedures might include: techniques or rewriting; methods of transcribing; modes of translating; approximation; delimits; transfers; and systemizing (59).
Foucault claims that “what makes it possible to delimit groups of concepts […] is the way in which these different elements are related to one another,” and “it is the group of relations that constitutes a system of conceptual formation” (59-60).
The preconceptual level is important to the development of concepts (60). Foucault defines preconceptual as a combination of attribution, articulation, designation, and derivation and he explains how these elements contribute to the development of concepts (60-61). Foucault also defines the ‘preconceptual’ as the group of rules that operate within history (62). The preconceptual allows for the “discursive regularities and constraints” and “have made possible the heterogeneous multiplicity of concepts” (63).
Chapter 6: The Formation of Strategies
The sixth chapter of the text focuses on the formation of strategies. Foucault himself explains that this is a complex topic into which he cannot go into much detail (64), but he does describe a method of examining the formation of strategies:
“Determine the possible points of diffraction of discourse” (65), including points of incompatibility, points of equivalence, link points of systemization.
“Describe the authorities that guided one’s choice” (66).
The “determination of theoretical choices” is made by the function of the discourse “in a field of non-discursive practices”; the rules and processes of appropriation; and possible positions of desire in relation to discourse (68).
Chapter 7: Remarks and Consequences
The seventh chapter seems to focus primarily on revisiting the concepts covered in the first six chapters and on revisiting some important ideas from the first chapters. He attempts, in this brief chapter, to answer the following questions: “Can one really speak of unities? Is the re-division that I am proposing capable of individualizing wholes? And what is the nature of the unity thus discovered or constructed?” (71)
Foucault says a dispersion can be described in its uniqueness if one is able to determine the specific rules in accordance with which its objects, statements, concepts, and theoretical options have been formed” (72).
Foucault says that:
“A system of formation does not only mean the juxtaposition, coexistence, or interaction of heterogeneous elements […] but also the relation that is established between them—and in a well determined form—by discursive practice” (72).
Systems of formation are not static and are not imposed from the outside, but there are internal to the discourse, and the system may change or morph over time (73-74).
“Systems of formation” are not the final stage of discourse; analysis is anterior to the completed construction (75).
Application of Foucault’s Theory to other Texts we Read
How can put the discussion of the rhetorical situation from last week’s texts in conversation with Foucault?
As I was reading Foucault, I was reminded of Vatz’s critique of Bitzer’s theory of the rhetorical situation. Bizter claims that “the presence of rhetorical discourse obviously indicates the presence of a rhetorical situation” (PAGE). Vatz counters this by saying, “if we view the communication of an event as a choice, interpretation, and translation, the rhetor’s responsibility is of supreme concern” (158). He also says that, “To view rhetoric as a creation of reality or salience rather than a reflector of reality clearly increases the rhetor’s moral responsibility” (158). This critique of Bitzer’s claim that discourse proves that there is indeed a rhetorical situation calls to mind Foucault’s discussion of the role of silence in discourse. Foucault uses the terms “already-said,” “never-said,” “not said”. For Bitzer, it would seem that the “already-said” is that which has already been stated in rhetorical discourse, while Foucault claims that the ‘already-said’ “is not merely a phrase that has already been spoken, or a text that has already been written, but a ‘never-said’, an incorporeal discourse, a voice as silent as a breath, a writing that is merely the hollow of its own mark. It is supposed therefore that everything that is formulated in discourse was already articulated in that semi-silence that precedes it, which continues to run obstinately beneath it, but which covers and silences” (25). Vatz seems to be suggesting that it is the decision of the rhetor to bring a thought to light, to say what has so far been left unsaid (the not-said) that creates the rhetorical situation. It seems, then, that the rhetorical situation is much more complex than Bizter suggests. Bitzer says that “rhetorical discourse comes into existence as a response to a situation, in the same sense that an answer comes into existence in response to a question, or a solution in response to a problem” (5). In light of Foucault’s discussion of the meaningful semi-silences and the “not-saids” in discourse, this definition of rhetorical discourse seems simplistic. Bitzer also says that, “a rhetorical situation must exist as a necessary condition of rhetorical discourse, just as a question must exist as a necessary condition of an answer” (5). This too seems simplistic, because it overlooks the possibilities of the meaningful silences. Can the “not-saids” and the silences precede rhetorical situation? Could it be that a rhetorical discourse brings about a rhetorical situation? Vatz suggests that it is the rhetor, not the reality, who interprets the rhetorical situation and contributes to discourse.
Connection to Course Outcomes
“Describe and analyze different elements of “networks” as defined in different theories; including (but not limited to): node, connection, agency, circumscription,…”
I was a bit surprised to come across the term “node” fairly early in the reading of the text. Foucault uses the term early in the text when he describes individual texts as “a node within a network” (23). He says, “The frontiers of a book are never clear-cut: beyond the title, the first lines, and the last full stop, beyond the internal configuration and its autonomous form, it is caught up in a system of references to other books, other texts, other sentences: it is a node within a network” (23). The statement made the connection between the concept of a network and the concept of discourse more clearly than I had so far imagined myself. While the text was complex and dense, the focus on the formation of discourse was very helpful in helping to see the ways in which discourse operates within a network.
Question about the Text
The connections between the object and the network are illuminated in Chapter 3 when Foucault explains that the “discursive formation” of a rhetorical object when “a group of relations established between authorities of emergence, delimitation, and specification” (44). Does this mean that an object of rhetorical study because an object because it is agreed upon by the relationships between those who have an interest in the object? It would seem so. Foucault says that discursive relations “determine the group of relations that discourse must establish in order to speak of this or that object, in order to deal with them, name them, analyse them, classify them, explain them etc…” (46). Again I am reminded of Bitzer’s approach to the rhetorical situation. Would Bitzer believe the object precedes the rhetorical relations–that the relations are formed around the object or a shared interest in the object, or would he believe that the object is defined by the relations between the rhetors who share an interest in the object? For myself, after reading Vatz and Foucault, I am inclined to believe that the object is interpreted by the rhetoricians involved in the study of that object.
Location/Mapping of Key Ideas from the Text
Continuous history vs. interruptions and discontinuities (4-5)
Analysis of the document as the primary task (6-7)
Total history vs. general history (9-10)
Books vs. discourse (23)
Silence; “already said”’ “never-said;” “not-said” (25)
How discourse is formed (31-36)
Types of relations (45)
Forms of coexistence (57)
Procedures of intervention (58-59)
Bitzer, Lloyd F. “The Rhetorical Situation.” Philosophy & Rhetoric (1992): 1. JSTOR Arts & Sciences VIII. Web. 20 Jan. 2014.
Foucault, Michel, Alan Sheridan, and Michel Foucault. The Archaeology of Knowledge. New York: Pantheon Books, 1972. Print.
“Michel Foucault: The Archaeology of Knowledge (1969-) [FR, ES, IT, EN, PT, AR, SR, TR, CZ, RU] — Incunabula: Ong’s Hat.” Web. 21 Jan. 2014.
Vatz, Richard E. “The Myth Of The Rhetorical Situation.” Philosophy & Rhetoric 6.3 (1973): 154-161. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 20 Jan. 2014.
Tags: ENGL 894, Foucault, Reading Notes
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