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The Archaeology of Knowledge

Michel Foucault

Important Quotes

Conclusion

Key Facts

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.

This quote, which comes at the end of Foucault's chapter on 'Enunciative Modalities,' brings together a number of major themes and suggests the impressive philosophical implications of his historical method. Reconceiving discourse as an anonymous but completely describable formation has profound implications for the philosophy of the human subject. Because discourse defines the various positions we occupy as subjects, our selfhood turns out to be 'dispersed' in a network of statements that is vast, foreign to us, and beyond our control.

I am no doubt not the only one who writes in order to have no face. Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same: leave it to the bureaucrats to see that our papers are in order.

Here, Foucault confronts the most disturbing aspects of his analysis in terms of his own authorship. With subjectivity and the author removed from the analysis of discourse, statements become 'anonymous,' to survive or disappear according to impersonal discursive transformations. In order for Foucault to answer critics who say that he sets his own discourse on a different plane from those he studies, he must embrace his own disappearance as an author. To do otherwise is to risk the forms of blinded power that Foucault's method critiques; authorship is a matter for 'bureaucrats.'

The statement is neither a syntagma, nor a rule of construction, nor a canonic form of succession and permutation; it is that which enables such groups of signs to exist, and enables these rules or forms to become manifest.

Foucault's theory of discourse is not a logical, axiomatic theory, but the description of a method. Nonetheless, he does examine the constituent elements of discourse: statements. In describing statements, Foucault distinguishes an aspect of language that is at once very specific and very open. The statement is defined neither by its referential nature, nor its grammatical construction, nor its propositional content. It is the level on which what is said exists in its relations with other statements. As such, it forms the basis for the definition of discourse.

[The archive] is the border of time that surrounds our presence, which overhangs it, and which indicates it in its otherness; it is that which, outside ourselves, delimits us.

Foucault uses poetic language toward the end of his major arguments, and often shifts from rigorous description to far-reaching philosophy. The archive, as the set of material on which a historian works, is redefined in the Archeology. No longer a collection of documents to be interpreted, it becomes a system with its own discursive history. As the most general system for the emergence and transformation of statements, the archive gives us the very possibility of saying what we say. Thus, it cannot be seen except from a historical distance, when we are no longer capable of saying what we once said. This rupture by which the archive becomes visible also ruptures us from clear knowledge of ourselves; defined by discursive conditions too close to us to see, our identities escape our understanding and control.

As soon as one questions…unity, it loses its self-evidence; it indicates itself, constructs itself, only on the basis of a complex field of discourse.

Foucault writes this in the context of deconstructing the unity of the book, but his formulation here could be a model for his approach to any and all received forms of continuity. Any historical unity that has not been analyzed archeologically is at risk of being a naive assumption. Foucault examines forms of unity from the book and the œuvre to historical 'progress' in general, and finds that each is an effect of a discursive formation that exceeds it.

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Sociology student

by imsocoollalala, September 28, 2013

The study guide doesn't make things easier to understand.

discursive?

by LillyK13, October 02, 2013

I'm really having a hard time understanding what "discursive" means... This isn't helping me at all.

See all 4 readers' notes   →

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