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The Archaeology of Knowledge

Michel Foucault

Part III, Chapter 2: The Enunciative Function. First half.

Part III: The Statement and the Archive Chapter 1: Defining the Statement

Part III, Chapter 2: The Enunciative Function. First half., page 2

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The statement enables rule-governed groups of signs to exist, but it is not fully defined by any of the rules that govern them. This description, however, also applies both to language itself and to material signs (like typewriter keys). In this chapter, Foucault wants to ensure that the statement is not confused with these other two phenomena. There are four main characteristics of statements.

First, let us consider the example of the typewriter keys versus the copying of that series of letters onto a piece of paper. What makes the second a statement and not the first? It is not the fact that the second is a copy (since the keyboard is itself a copy). Neither does the intervention of a subject make the written copy a statement; the statement here does not depend on its origin or immediate cause, but on its relation to the keyboard series, the 'relation of the statement to what it states.' There must be a 'something else' that makes a statement a statement, a 'specific relation that concerns itself.'

The statement is not a statement by virtue of its propositional content, its referent; its relationship with what it states is not the same as the relationship between a name and what it names. The statement is not governed by the grammatical rules that govern nouns or names, and a repeated name is not necessarily the same statement both times. The statement also exists prior to the propositional content of a sentence; 'the golden mountain is in California' is a statement that requires us to examine its 'space of correlations' before saying anything about its propositional truth or falsehood. Even a sentence that we can take to be meaningless at the enunciative level (the level of the statement) is still a statement, because its status as a meaningless statement is one of its correlations.

Thus, a given statement (in its existence as statement) is not confronted with a 'correlate' in the sense of an object or person or even a state of affairs or a possibility for verification. Rather, its correlate is 'a group of domains in which objects may appear and relations may be assigned.' This 'referential' of the statement forms 'the condition, the field of emergence, the authority to differentiate between individuals or objects, states of things and relations that are brought into play by the statement itself.' This is the enunciative function that defines the statement.

Second, the statement also differs from any series of linguistic elements because it has a special relationship to the enunciating subject. First of all, the subject can differ widely, not just for different sentences but also for different statements of the same sentence. Even setting aside clear cases in which the author of a statement is not the same as the subject of the statement (as in the case of an actor reading someone else's lines), we must note that the subject of a statement is never the same thing as the person who produced the statement with the intention to convey meaning. A novel, for example, though written by a single author, employs a wide range of statements with a wide range of subjects, even within the various functions of a single omniscient narrator. But the author/subject gap is not just literary. It is 'absolutely general.' The subject-position of the statement is an 'empty function' that can be filled by any one individual; conversely, one individual could occupy many different subject positions in a single series of statements. This extremely variable subject-function is the enunciating subject, who is not identical with the author 'either in substance, or in [consistent, authorial] function.' This subject-function allows us to identify a series of signs as a statement.


In this analysis of the 'enunciative function,' Foucault is making a more intense effort to describe the unique aspect of language that he calls the statement. He does this mostly through a process of elimination, taking existing tactics for analyzing a set of written or spoken signs and showing that there is something they miss. Through this process, Foucault is also seeking to draw some boundaries around the idea of the statement, showing what it does not involve. The overall aim is to distinguish the level of the statement from the level of linguistic signs and propositions on the one hand and from the level of simple, physical materiality on the other. The statement is something in between, that Foucault describes rather mysteriously as a 'something else' or a 'specific relation that concerns itself.'

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Sociology student

by imsocoollalala, September 28, 2013

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


by LillyK13, October 02, 2013

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

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