Second, Foucault rejects an understanding of the archive as an expression of an individual or collective consciousness. We are familiar with this rejection from the theory of the statement, but here Foucault frames the question slightly differently, in terms of interiority and exteriority. The Foucauldian archive is composed of statements that exist solely in an exterior space, without dependence on a subjective, interior consciousness or a hidden (interior) meaning. In fact, Foucault notes, the exteriority proper to the level of the statement is so pure that it is almost a paradox, since there is no interiority against which that exteriority can be defined. These considerations mean that the description of the archive as a kind of memory (whether individual or collective) is no longer valid.

Finally, Foucault rejects any understanding of the archive as the 'accidental…prolongation of an existence originally intended solely for the moment.' Instead, the accumulation of statements in an archive is itself a highly variable and describable process, dependent on the shifting rules of different discourses and on the institutions that those discourses define. Statements also accumulate or disappear based on the network of other statements with which they are involved; statements recur as citations, for example, or even as examples of things once said but since disproved.

The archive, then, loses its identity as a musty collection of documents that refer to a hidden history. In Foucault's hands, it is brought to life in the wholly visible, discursive processes of which it is constituted. It is no longer a collection, but a system, the 'general system of the formulation and transformation of statements.' The archive thus becomes less distinct from history itself, since history itself is no longer to be sought outside of the statements that form the archive. The archive also becomes something much less familiar than a set of texts that tell us about ourselves as we were and are. The archive that is the system of our present statements is too close to us for us to see it clearly; thus, we only ever know the archive in its distance from us, in the distance of its statements from those we make now. It is this fact of difference that enables the Foucauldian historian to work on the archive at all, and so for Foucault it is a central lesson of history: the difference of the archive 'establishes that we are difference, that our reason is the difference of discourses, our history the difference of times, our selves the difference of masks.'

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