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  • kmlightseeker
    Michel Foucault talks about looking at concepts free of entrenched intellectual assumptions and constructs: However banal it may be, however unimportant its
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 6, 2007
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      Michel Foucault talks about looking at concepts free of entrenched
      intellectual assumptions and constructs:

      "However banal it may be, however unimportant its consequences may
      appear to be, however quickly it may be forgotten after its
      appearance, however little heard or however badly deciphered we may
      suppose it to be, a statement is always an event that neither the
      language (langue) nor the meaning can quite exhaust. It is certainly a
      strange event: first, because on the one hand it is linked to the
      gesture of writing or to the articulation of speech, and also on the
      other hand it opens up to itself a residual existence in the field of
      a memory, or in the materiality of manuscripts, books, or any other
      form of recording; secondly, because, like every event, it is unique,
      yet subject to repetition, transformation, and reactivation; thirdly,
      because it is linked not only to the situations that provoke it, and
      to the consequences that it gives rise to, but at the same time, and
      in accordance with a quite different modality, to the statements that
      precede and follow it.

      But if we isolate, in relation to the language and to thought, the
      occurrence of the statement/event, it is not in order to spread over
      everything a dust of facts. it is in order to be sure that this
      occurrence is not linked with synthesising operations of a purely
      psychological kind (the intention of the author,, the form of his
      mind, the rigour of his thought, the themes that obsess him, the
      project that traverses his existence and gives it meaning) and to be
      able to grasp other forms of regularity, other types of relations.
      Relations between statements (even if the author is unaware of them;
      even if the statements do not have the same author; even if the
      authors were unaware of each other's existence); relations between
      groups of statements thus established (even if these groups do not
      concern the same, or even adjacent, fields; even if they do not
      possess the same formal level; even if they are not the locus of
      assignable exchanges); relations between statements and groups of
      statements and events of a quite different kind (technical, economic,
      social, political). To reveal in all its purity the space in which
      discursive events are deployed is not to undertake to re-establish it
      in an isolation that nothing could overcome; it is not to close it
      upon itself; it is to leave oneself free to describe the interplay of
      relations within it and outside it."


      From the start of the document down, more excerpted:

      "The use of concepts of discontinuity, rupture, threshold, limit,
      series, and transformation present all historical analysis not only
      with questions of procedure, but with theoretical problems. It is
      these problems that will be studied here (the questions of procedure
      will be examined in later empirical studies - if the opportunity, the
      desire, and the courage to undertake them do not desert me). These
      theoretical problems too will be examined only in a particular field:
      in those disciplines - so unsure of their frontiers, and so vague in
      content - that we call the history of ideas, or of thought, or of
      science, or of knowledge.

      But there is a negative work to be carried out first: we must rid
      ourselves of a whole mass of notions, each of which, in its own way,
      diversifies the theme of continuity. They may not have a very rigorous
      conceptual structure, but they have a very precise function. Take the
      notion of tradition: it is intended to give a special temporal status
      to a group of phenomena that are both successive and identical (or at
      least similar); it makes it possible to rethink the dispersion of
      history in the form of the same; it allows a reduction of the
      difference proper to every beginning, in order to pursue without
      discontinuity the endless search for the origin; tradition enables us
      to isolate the new against a background of permanence, and to transfer
      its merit to originality, to genius, to the decisions proper to
      individuals. Then there is the notion of influence, which provides a
      support - of too magical a kind to be very amenable to analysis - for
      the facts of transmission and communication; which refers to an
      apparently causal process (but with neither rigorous delimitation nor
      theoretical definition) the phenomena of resemblance or repetition;
      which links, at a distance and through time - as if through the
      mediation of a medium of propagation such defined unities as
      individuals, œuvres, notions, or theories. There are the notions of
      development and evolution: they make it possible to group a succession
      of dispersed events, to link them to one and the same organising
      principle, to subject them to the exemplary power of life (with its
      adaptations, its capacity for innovation, the incessant correlation of
      its different elements, its systems of assimilation and exchange), to
      discover, already at work in each beginning, a principle of coherence
      and the outline of a future unity, to master time through a
      perpetually reversible relation between an origin and a term that are
      never given, but are always at work. There is the notion of 'spirit',
      which enables us to establish between the simultaneous or successive
      phenomena of a given period a community of meanings, symbolic links,
      an interplay of resemblance and reflexion, or which allows the
      sovereignty of collective consciousness to emerge as the principle of
      unity and explanation. We must question those ready-made syntheses,
      those groupings that we normally accept before any examination, those
      links whose validity is recognised from the outset; we must oust those
      forms and obscure forces by which we usually link the discourse of one
      man with that of another; they must be driven out from the darkness in
      which they reign. And instead of according them unqualified,
      spontaneous value, we must accept, in the name of methodological
      rigour, that, in the first instance, they concern only a population of
      dispersed events.

      We must also question those divisions or groupings with which we have
      become so familiar. Can one accept, as such, the distinction between
      the major types of discourse, or that between such forms or genres as
      science, literature, philosophy, religion, history, fiction, etc., and
      which tend to create certain great historical individualities? We are
      not even sure of ourselves when we use these distinctions in our own
      world of discourse, let alone when we are analysing groups of
      statements which, when first formulated, were distributed, divided,
      and characterised in a quite different way: after all, 'literature'
      and 'politics' are recent categories, which can be applied to medieval
      culture, or even classical culture, only by a retrospective
      hypothesis, and by an interplay of formal analogies or semantic
      resemblances; but neither literature, nor politics, nor philosophy and
      the sciences articulated the field of discourse, in the seventeenth or
      eighteenth century, as they did in the nineteenth century. In any
      case, these divisions - whether our own, or those contemporary with
      the discourse under examination - are always themselves reflexive
      categories, principles of classification, normative rules,
      institutionalised types: they, in turn, are facts of discourse that
      deserve to be analysed beside others; of course, they also have
      complex relations with each other, but they are not intrinsic,
      autochthonous, and universally recognisable characteristics.

      But the unities that must be suspended above all are those that emerge
      in the most immediate way: those of the book and the œuvre. At first
      sight, it would seem that one could not abandon these unities without
      extreme artificiality. Are they not given in the most definite way?
      There is the material individualisation of the book, which occupies a
      determined space which has an economic value, and which itself
      indicates, by a number of signs, the limits of its beginning and its
      end; and there is the establishment of an oeuvre, which we recognise
      and delimit by attributing a certain number of texts to an author. And
      yet as soon as one looks at the matter a little more closely the
      difficulties begin. The material unity of the book? Is this the same
      in the case of an anthology of poems, a collection of posthumous
      fragments, Desargues' Traité des Coniques, or a volume of Michelet's
      Histoire de France? Is it the same in the case of Mallarmé's Un Coup
      de dés, the trial of Gilles de Rais, Butor's San Marco, or a Catholic
      missal? In other words, is not the material unity of the volume a
      weak, accessory unity in relation to the discursive unity of which it
      is the support? But is this discursive unity itself homogeneous and
      uniformly applicable? A novel by Stendhal and a novel by Dostoyevsky
      do not have the same relation of individuality as that between two
      novels belonging to Balzac's cycle La Comédie humaine; and the
      relation between Balzac's novels is not the same as that existing
      between Joyce's Ulysses and the Odyssey. 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. And this network of
      references is not the same in the case of a mathematical treatise, a
      textual commentary, a historical account, and an episode in a novel
      cycle; the unity of the book, even in the sense of a group of
      relations, cannot be regarded as identical in each case. The book is
      not simply the object that one holds in one's hands; and it cannot
      remain within the little parallelepiped that contains it: its unity is
      variable and relative. As soon as one questions that unity, it lows
      its self-evidence; it indicates itself, constructs itself, only on the
      basis Of a complex field of discourse.

      The problems raised by the œuvre are even more difficult. Yet, at
      first sight, what could be more simple? A collection of texts that can
      be designated by the sign of a proper name. But this designation (even
      leaving to one side problems of attribution) is not a homogeneous
      function: does the name of an author designate in the same way a text
      that he has published under his name, a text that he has presented
      under a pseudonym, another found after his death in the form of an
      unfinished draft, and another that is merely a collection of jottings,
      a notebook? The establishment of a complete oeuvre presupposes a
      number of choices that are difficult to justify or even to formulate:
      is it enough to add to the texts published by the author those that he
      intended for publication but which remained unfinished by the fact of
      his death? Should one also include all his sketches and first drafts,
      with all their corrections and crossings out? Should one add sketches
      that he himself abandoned? And what status should be given to letters,
      notes, reported conversations, transcriptions of what he said made by
      those present at the time, in short, to that vast mass of verbal
      traces left by an individual at his death, and which speak in an
      endless confusion so many different languages (langages)? In any case,
      the name 'Mallarmé' does not refer in the same way to his themes
      (translation exercises from French into English), his translations of
      Edgar Allan Poe, his poems, and his replies to questionnaires;
      similarly, the same relation does not exist between the name Nietzsche
      on the one hand and the youthful autobiographies, the scholastic
      dissertations, the philological articles, Zarathustra, Ecco Homo, the
      letters, the last postcards signed 'Dionysos' or 'Kaiser Nietzsche',
      and the innumerable notebooks with their jumble of laundry bills and
      sketches for aphorisms. In fact, if one speaks, so undiscriminately
      and unreflectingly of an author's œuvre, it is because one imagines it
      to be defined by a certain expressive function. One is admitting that
      there must be a level (as deep as it is necessary to imagine it) at
      which the oeuvre emerges, in all its fragments, even the smallest,
      most inessential ones, as the expression of the thought, the
      experience, the imagination, or the unconscious of the author, or,
      indeed, of the historical determinations that operated upon him. But
      it is at once apparent that such a unity, far from being given
      immediately is the result of an operation; that this operation is
      interpretative (since it deciphers, in the text, the transcription of
      something that it both conceals and manifests); and that the operation
      that determines the opus, in its unity, and consequently the œuvre
      itself, will not be the same in the case of the author of the Théâtre
      et son Double (Artaud) and the author of the Tractatus (Wittgenstein),
      and therefore when one speaks of an œuvre in each case one is using
      the word in a different sense. The œuvre can be regarded neither as an
      immediate unity, nor as a certain unity, nor as a homogeneous unity.

      One last precaution must be taken to disconnect the unquestioned
      continuities by which we organise, in advance, the discourse that we
      are to analyse: we must renounce two linked, but opposite themes. The
      first involves a wish that it should never be possible to assign, in
      the order of discourse, the irruption of a real event; that beyond any
      apparent beginning, there is always a secret origin - so secret and so
      fundamental that it can never be quite grasped in itself. Thus one is
      led inevitably, through the naïvety of chronologies, towards an
      ever-receding point that is never itself present in any history; this
      point is merely its own void; and from that point all beginnings can
      never be more than recommencements or occultation (in one and the same
      gesture, this and that). To this theme is connected another according
      to which all manifest discourse is secretly based on an
      'already-said'; and that this '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 it covers and
      silences. The manifest discourse, therefore, is really no more than
      the repressive presence of what it does not say; and this 'not-said'
      is a hollow that undermines from within all that is said. The first
      theme sees the historical analysis of discourse as the quest for and
      the repetition of an origin that eludes all historical determination;
      the second sees it as the interpretation of 'hearing' of an
      'already-said' that is at the same time a 'not-said'. We must renounce
      all those themes whose function is to ensure the infinite continuity
      of discourse and its secret presence to itself in the interplay of a
      constantly recurring absence. We must be ready to receive every moment
      of discourse in its sudden irruption; in that punctuality in which it
      appears, and in that temporal dispersion that enables it to be
      repeated, known, forgotten, transformed, utterly erased, and hidden,
      far from all view, in the dust of books. Discourse must not be
      referred to the distant presence of the origin, but treated as and
      when it occurs.

      These pre-existing forms of continuity, all these syntheses that are
      accepted without question, must remain in suspense. They must not be
      rejected definitively of course, but the tranquillity with which they
      are accepted must be disturbed; we must show that they do not come
      about of themselves, but are always the result of a construction the
      rules of which must be known, and the justifications of which must be
      scrutinised: we must define in what conditions and in view of which
      analyses certain of them are legitimate; and we must indicate which of
      them can never be accepted in any circumstances. It may be, for
      example, that the notions of 'influence' or 'evolution' belong to a
      criticism that puts them - for the foreseeable future - out of use.
      But need we dispense for ever with the 'œuvre', the 'book', or even
      such unities as 'science' or 'literature'? Should we regard them as
      illusions, illegitimate constructions, or ill-acquired results? Should
      we never make use of them, even as a temporary support, and never
      provide them with a definition? What we must do, in fact, is to tear
      away from them their virtual self-evidence, and to free the problems
      that they pose; to recognise that they are not the tranquil locus on
      the basis of which other questions (concerning their structure,
      coherence, systematicity, transformations) may be posed, but that they
      themselves pose a whole cluster of questions (What are they? How can
      they be defined or limited? What distinct types of laws can they obey?
      What articulation are they capable of? What sub-groups can they give
      rise to? What specific phenomena do they reveal in the field of
      discourse?). We must recognise that they may not, in the last resort,
      be what they seem at first sight. In short, that they require a
      theory, and that this theory cannot be constructed unless the field of
      the facts of discourse on the basis of which those facts are built up
      appears in its non-synthetic purity.

      And I, in turn, will do no more than this: of course, I shall take as
      my starting-point whatever unities are already given (such as
      psychopathology, medicine, or political economy); but I shall not
      place myself inside these dubious unities in order to study their
      internal configuration or their secret contradictions. I shall make
      use of them just long enough to ask myself what unities they form; by
      what right they can claim a field that specifies them in space and a
      continuity that individualises them in time; according to what laws
      they are formed; against the background of which discursive events
      they stand out; and whether they are not, in their accepted and
      quasi-institutional individuality, ultimately the surface effect of
      more firmly grounded unities. I shall accept the groupings that
      history suggests only to subject them at once to interrogation; to
      break them up and then to see whether they can be legitimately
      reformed; or whether other groupings should be made; to replace them
      in a more general space which, while dissipating their apparent
      familiarity, makes it possible to construct a theory of them.

      Once these immediate forms of continuity are suspended, an entire
      field is set free. A vast field, but one that can be defined
      nonetheless: this field is made up of the totality of all effective
      statements (whether spoken or written), in their dispersion as events
      and in the occurrence that is proper to them. Before approaching, with
      any degree of certainty, a science, or novels, or political speeches,
      or the œuvre of an author, or even a single book, the material with
      which one is dealing is, in its raw, neutral state, a population of
      events in the space of discourse in general. One is led therefore to
      the project of a pure description of discursive events as the horizon
      for the search for the unities that form within it. This description
      is easily distinguishable from an analysis of the language. Of course,
      a linguistic system can be established (unless it is constructed
      artificially) only by using a corpus of statements, or a collection of
      discursive facts; but we must then define, on the basis of this
      grouping, which has value as a sample, rules that may make it possible
      to construct other statements than these: even if it has long since
      disappeared, even if it is no longer spoken, and can be reconstructed
      only on the basis of rare fragments, a language (langue) is still a
      system for possible statements, a finite body of rules that authorises
      an infinite number of performances. The field of discursive events, on
      the other hand, is a grouping that is always finite and limited at any
      moment to the linguistic sequences that have been formulated; they may
      be innumerable, they may, in sheer size, exceed the capacities of
      recording, memory, or reading: nevertheless they form a finite
      grouping. The question posed by language analysis of some discursive
      fact or other is always: according to what rules has a particular
      statement been made, and consequently according to what rules could
      other similar statements be made? The description of the events of
      discourse poses a quite different question: how is it that one
      particular statement appeared rather than another?

      It is also clear that this description of discourses is in opposition
      to the history of thought. There too a system of thought can be
      reconstituted only on the basis of a definite discursive totality. But
      this totality is treated in such a way that one tries to rediscover
      beyond the statements themselves the intention of the speaking
      subject, his conscious activity, what he meant, or, again, the
      unconscious activity that took place, despite himself, in what he said
      or in the almost imperceptible fracture of his actual words; in any
      case, we must reconstitute another discourse, rediscover the silent
      murmuring, the inexhaustible speech that animates from within the
      voice that one hears, re-establish the tiny, invisible text that runs
      between and sometimes collides with them. The analysis of thought is
      always allegorical in relation to the discourse that it employs. Its
      question is unfailingly: what was being said in what was said? The
      analysis of the discursive field is orientated in a quite different
      way; we must grasp the statement in the exact specificity of its
      occurrence; determine its conditions of existence, fix at least its
      limits, establish its correlations with other statements that may be
      connected with it, and show what other forms of statement it excludes.
      We do not seek below what is manifest the half silent murmur of
      another discourse; we must show why it could not be other than it was,
      in what respect it is exclusive of any other, how it assumes, in the
      midst of others and in relation to them, a place that no other could
      occupy. The question proper to such an analysis might be formulated in
      this way: what is this specific existence that emerges from what is
      said and nowhere else?

      We must ask ourselves what purpose is ultimately served by this
      suspension of all the accepted unities, if, in the end, we return to
      the unities that we pretended to question at the outset. In fact, the
      systematic erasure of all given unities enables us first of all to
      restore to the statement the specificity of its occurrence, and to
      show that discontinuity is one of those great accidents that create
      cracks not only in the geology of history, but also in the simple fact
      of the statement; it emerges in its historical irruption; what we try
      to examine is the incision that it makes, that irreducible - and very
      often tiny - emergence. However banal it may be, however unimportant
      its consequences may appear to be, however quickly it may be forgotten
      after its appearance, however little heard or however badly deciphered
      we may suppose it to be, a statement is always an event that neither
      the language (langue) nor the meaning can quite exhaust. It is
      certainly a strange event: first, because on the one hand it is linked
      to the gesture of writing or to the articulation of speech, and also
      on the other hand it opens up to itself a residual existence in the
      field of a memory, or in the materiality of manuscripts, books, or any
      other form of recording; secondly, because, like every event, it is
      unique, yet subject to repetition, transformation, and reactivation;
      thirdly, because it is linked not only to the situations that provoke
      it, and to the consequences that it gives rise to, but at the same
      time, and in accordance with a quite different modality, to the
      statements that precede and follow it.

      But if we isolate, in relation to the language and to thought, the
      occurrence of the statement/event, it is not in order to spread over
      everything a dust of facts. it is in order to be sure that this
      occurrence is not linked with synthesising operations of a purely
      psychological kind (the intention of the author,, the form of his
      mind, the rigour of his thought, the themes that obsess him, the
      project that traverses his existence and gives it meaning) and to be
      able to grasp other forms of regularity, other types of relations.
      Relations between statements (even if the author is unaware of them;
      even if the statements do not have the same author; even if the
      authors were unaware of each other's existence); relations between
      groups of statements thus established (even if these groups do not
      concern the same, or even adjacent, fields; even if they do not
      possess the same formal level; even if they are not the locus of
      assignable exchanges); relations between statements and groups of
      statements and events of a quite different kind (technical, economic,
      social, political). To reveal in all its purity the space in which
      discursive events are deployed is not to undertake to re-establish it
      in an isolation that nothing could overcome; it is not to close it
      upon itself; it is to leave oneself free to describe the interplay of
      relations within it and outside it."

      (From: Foucault, Michel (1969). "The Archæology of Knowledge", Ch. 1.
      <
      http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/fr/foucault.htm
      >)


      Regards,

      Keith
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