Analysis

Foucault offers new ways of describing the field that extends from statements to discursive formations. This field, and the methodology proper to it, has defined his previous work, yet it remains, in retrospect, remarkably difficult to describe. Foucault devotes some time to exempting himself from the rigorous requirements of a proper 'theory;' although he admits to being disappointed that such a formal theory of discourse is not yet possible, he confines himself here to a description, an outlining of a particular kind of field and of the methodology capable of analyzing that field. Foucault returns to the metaphor of visibility versus invisibility to describe the field in question. The level of the statement (which is inseparable from the macro-level of discursive formation) is not hidden, as we know already from Foucault's total dismissal, in the early parts of the book, of any approach to history that relies on 'secret' or 'silent' meanings. But the level of the statement is also very difficult to see at first, because it is the condition of the existence of the things we usually try to see in language. Seeing and analyzing the level of the statement is somewhat like seeing and analyzing space itself when one is used to describing the movement of the things in it.

A second new description of the field of the statement involves Foucault's wrestling with the apparent necessity of a 'lack' at the heart of not only language, but also statements. Language is 'hollow' by virtue of the fact that it always refers to something not present in itself; language is always a supplement for something else. Foucault, in keeping with his insistence on a historical method in which nothing is hidden, secret, silent, or invisible, claims that the statement is not subject to this lack (since its referentiality is not at issue). This is, no doubt, 'a difficult thesis to sustain,' and it seems to put Foucault in the rather extreme position of reading historical statements without knowing anything about what they 'mean.'

In order to get around this difficulty, we must allow that the level of the statement really is somehow prior to referential meaning. Again, the difference is best understood in the context of method: what do we want to know about a given statement? It is clear that we will read the statement and understand it to some degree no matter what analysis we perform on it. From there, however, the Foucauldian method suggests a very specific course. There is no mulling over the 'true' meaning of the words, no speculation as to the hidden intent of the author. Rather, the historian seeks out other statements related to the first by any number of mechanisms (negation, affirmation, expansion, extinction, etc.), discovering ever more about the laws that govern these relations between the statements (and therein describing the discursive field in which they are united). It is in this specific methodology that Foucault's apparently impossible dismissal of referential meaning finds its most powerful and intelligible role.

Although nothing about the statement is hidden (it is only difficult to see because it concerns the very existence of formulated language), it is still, in a sense, subject to its own version of lack: the unsaid. The unsaid is Foucault's answer to the inevitable fact that language, even considered strictly at the level of statements, may mean more than it says, or may mean different things to different people. It is crucial to recognize, however, that this unsaid is explicitly not an absence that somehow haunts the statement itself; it is not a silence built into the statement. The unsaid, on Foucault's method, can be described just like any other relational aspect of the statement, namely by examining the rules that govern the possibility and the emergence of that particular statement. Whatever a statement does not say, it fails to say it on the basis of its specific position within the discursive field. The unsaid can thus be described not in terms of an inherent absence, but rather in terms of specific 'exclusions, limits, or gaps' in the field of discourse in question.

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