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Peer Reviews for Cast Study #1

For this week, I responded to Maury’s case study on a Foucauldian study of LARPing and Suzanne’s application of Genre Theory to the Underground Press Syndicate. I loved reading Maury’s case study because LARPing offers such a parallel and yet such a distinction to video games, especially in terms of human spontaneity. As I was reading her unraveling of the relationships between the nodes of  playable character- non-playable character -Game Master – system – mechanics, there was definitely the sense that there is always a system in play of human activity that builds a discourse in itself. I really liked Maury’s analogy of the different kinds of trees, with her idea that LARPing was more like a Tree of Life with a cycle whereas Foucault’s was a branching tree with leaves. Her entry gave me a new perspective as it was a practical application of Foucault, which made his concepts much easier (if not completely clear) to understand. I enjoyed looking at the thought process she had going on as she was designing diagrams that evolved as she started to unpack her own analysis and application.

Suzanne’s entry was especially enlightening as the intersections between the different Genre theorists we have read in class. Reading her work made me wonder about how I could deepen my own case study regarding World of Warcraft and the different kinds of genres and artifacts are being created when there really are no traditional texts in play in a virtual game. Her entry was also very insightful because I was introduced to the Underground Press Syndicate (something I had never stumbled on before) and the socio-cultural factors that went into play for its birth, continuance, and later its dissolution. I liked reading about the networks within the UPS and outwards towards other media outlets, its creation of artifacts and why those artifacts were so historically and culturally packed, and how the changing of technology and societal frames finally made the UPS outdated.

After reading bother Maury and Suzanne’s entries, I wonder what a diagram of the network of WoW guilds would look like on both a game-local and game-global level. Would it include relationships among the players? Relationships among the guilds? Relationships among the guilds among the different servers? Would it be before guild perks were introduced? Only explore after guild perk emergence? Would it include before and after? I think doing each of these and connecting the diagrams slowly would be an insightful project (though extensive) because then I could then trace how players gain agency and to what extent they are permitted agency within their own guilds and the game at large. But, that would be for another day (or week…or month).

Every Review Deserves a Breakaway:

MindMap: 18 Feb.

Mind Map: This last week’s introduction to Spinuzzi created all sorts of unifying connections to the Popplet! And yet… The trouble is, I have been thinking that now is the time to integrate a 3-D element.  I had been … Continue reading

Mind Map: Class Meeting 1/28/14

The archive as a theoretical concept is one that I first encountered in my doctoral studies. It was introduced to me first in New Media (ideas like private versus public archives and archives and collective memory), but has also been present in other courses I have taken like Dr. Roh's ENGL891, which focused on issues of copyright (complicated by questions of gathering copyrighted materials into archives). I have found it compelling as it relates to my ongoing research and scholarship goals discussed at several points in this blog.

Therefore, when Foucault discusses archives in his book Archaeology of Knowledge, I was curious to examine how his discussion of the concept connected to the previous scholarship I have read and to the other themes from the course work thus far.

In the Mind Map (new additions are orange this week), the first node I added connected to a node from Foucault last week that networks allow for the study of connections and relations. I found this idea to be also well-embedded in the discussion of archives, and how these collections of content are less about creating passive repositories and more about how they allow for the analysis of "difference" (131), of "systems of functioning" (129), of the "formation and transformation of statements" (130). This node represents archives as a form of network, which is connected to books, which seems to me to be similar in description to how Foucault sees books - nodes that are meaningful based on their connections.

I also saw this as connecting to Vatz's emphasis on the rhetor's role in editing and selecting information for discourse. The archivist fulfills a similar role by selecting the information that is stored in the network. If meaning (or rhetoric) is constructed in the analysis of an archive (or discourse), and the archivist (or rhetorician) is essential in the selection process, than the archivist (like Vatz's rhetor) is elevated to an important position as a mediator of meaning-making.

I also added nodes explaining how archives exist between the space of language and corpus - the rules that govern language creation and the static collection of created language. I feel this explanation helps me justify the archive I have been working on - as a tool for analysis and not just another website that "collects the dust of statements that have become inert once more" (129).

Foucault, Michel. Archaeology of Knowledge. New York: Vintage Books, 2010. Print.

Suzanne's Mind Map


Reading Notes: Class Meeting 1/28/14

Michel Foucault: Archaeology of Knowledge, Part III - V

But first...

Last week, I started the blog post with a reflection on Foucault's reoccurring presence in my academic career. Then as if to play a cosmic game of synchronicity, I find myself this week with assigned readings of Foucault's work in both of the courses I am taking this semester.

Good one, universe. Good one.

Image of book cover for Jung's Synchronicity

Jung argued that synchronicity is that feeling we get sometimes that two or more experiences are connected even when there is no scientific explanation for their relation. Some might say coincidence, but Jung argued that synchronicity is an opportunity from which one can draw unusual insights otherwise unseen. Now, there may be a rational explanation for my experience - namely that Foucault's work is influential in many fields and his body of scholarship is large enough and diverse enough to be relevant across disciplines at different times and from different theories. However, I find the confluence of these reading assignments to be an opportunity for me to find a new way to understand both selections from Foucault and the course content in each course.

In English 891: Seminar in Literature, we are studying the concept of home, what it means to have a home or be homeless, and what it means to dwell, which is complicated by the work of Heidegger. This week our assigned theorist was Foucault with his work "Of Other Spaces".

Naturally, the use of the word space in the title immediately brought to mind the idea of space that he brings to the table in Archaeology of Knowledge - "space in which discursive events are deployed" (29).  He also is concerned with "fields" and "dispersion" in space. It is within space that objects exist, where connections can be seen, and relationships explored. We need space onto which a network can grow, move, advance, withdraw, and live dimensionally and not just linearly or causally.

Therefore, it's worthwhile to consider how Foucault discusses space in this article. He writes, “The site [space] is defined by relations of proximity between points or elements; formally, we can describe these relations as series, trees, or grids…space takes for us the form of relations among sites (23). Rather than space being understood by what exists within its borders, Foucault argues for an understanding of a particular space based on examining it as it relates to other objects. It is not what something is, but rather how it connects to everything else, that matters. 

For our study of networks, this underlines the importance of studying connections and relationships as opposed to merely objects. Foucault rebels against a Structuralist view that meaning exists in the confines of the text; he argues that the field must be set free to study the implications of texts as nodes in a network. Examine its position in the field - in space - for its relevance. Look beyond the boundaries of the text. 

The synchronicity this week allows me to consider the nature of a home - a home-space - to be about the relations and not the building. I can consider networks about the connections and the space within which we can make relationships and not the technology that facilitates connectivity. Foucault wants us to think about more than the object. He wants us to find what meaning there is from the object as it exists in a particular space with particular proximity to other objects and particular relations. 

We are not isolated entities. We exist in space. And we are connected by way of being in the same space. 

So thanks Foucault. That makes me feel kind of warm and fuzzy inside.

From the book...

I've been interested in archives since New Media I. My research has been primarily about the rediscovery of periodicals published in the late 1960s and early 70s and attempting to preserve them through digital archiving. Naturally, I was drawn to the chapter "The Statement and the Archive", and I think I am still recovering from the claims therein.

Let me start with a quote:
"The archive is not that which...safeguards the event of the statement and preserves [it] for future memories...Nor is the archive that which collects the dust of statements that have become inert once more, and which may make possible the miracle of their resurrection" (129).
Like a dagger through the heart, Foucault. He lays waste to the theoretical underpinnings of my work. I have championed the digital archive as a repository, a tool of preservation, and a worthwhile endeavor exactly so that these important texts can be resurrected for contemporary and future readers. Here Foucault argues that my work thus far equates to that of a dust collector. I am a scholarly janitor.

But if an archive is not a preserved collection, than what is it?

Foucault seems glad I ask. He writes that archives are not the collection of statements, but the "system of [their] functioning" (129). Again, there is the idea that the meaning is not in the object itself - not in the pile of papers in an archive - but in what that pile of papers can tell us about how they came into being, about the system(s) that facilitated their creation. He writes that an archive "reveals the rules of a practice that enables statements both to survive and to undergo regular modification. It is the general system of the formation and transformation of statements" (130).

In my work with the Underground Press then, my archive should not seek simply to collect documents, but to consider how this collection informs my understanding of systems of publication in this time, systems that produced subaltern voices, systems of information sharing or information restriction, systems of oppression, systems of self-expression. I should consider the archive as a space onto which objects can be placed and understood in proximity and relation to other objects.

Like a refrain - not the object, but the object's connections. The network.

This chapter has provided me with both a challenge and some renewed energy. I have this avenue to explore now where my interest in archiving and in scholarly-making has this new sense of purpose and possibility. The archive I make will not just have relevance for the preservation or the rediscovery, but for the expansive field it builds. This archival space-field allows for the study of the governing systems working at that time that created the conditions from which the Underground Press exploded - the catalysts. I hear Foucault screaming in my head - don't just study the papers. Study the systems that converged and birthed them. 

I will try to listen.

One last point...

Foucault is intimidating; it's not a secret. He's abstract and conceptual and erudite and thinking on planes of the brain I have never discovered nor probably ever will. It takes a concerted effort to read and reread and summarize, which is a good and welcome endeavor. But it is intimidating. It brings forth the self-doubt and the impostor syndrome full-force.

So it is rather comforting to see Foucault grapple with his own self-doubt, and arm himself (and us) with the attitude we need to undertake daunting tasks of the mind. Of his own thoughts he explains that they are "slowly taking shape in a discourse that I still feel to be so precarious and so unsure" (17). Precarious and unsure? But you're Foucault!

He describes writing "with a rather shaky hand" and his work as "a labyrinth into which I can venture" (17). Shaky? A maze of possibilities where you can lose yourself and are unsure of the direct path through? But that insecurity about one's writing and one's thoughts, well, that sounds like all the rest of us? 

Yet, Foucault does not let these feelings prevent him from digging into the work. He pushes onward, undeterred. He would even reprimand any would be critics who would demand greater conviction on the part of the writer, exclaiming, "Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same; leave it to our bureaucrats and our police to see that our papers are in order. At least spare us their morality when we write" (17). Do not force me into the box of these thoughts! I am experimenting and thinking and don't have all the answers! I reserve the right to change my thoughts in the future! And the fact that I might change does not invalidate this work nor does it negate my right to have the ideas!

And to that I say, yes! Be brave! Be unsure! But think anyway. Think big and be unafraid to fall short or to make amendments. It's heartening to see in someone so revered in the discipline, to see our own struggles in the realm of the mind reflected back from such a great mind.

He writes, "[O]ne is forced to advance beyond familiar territory, far from the certainties to which one is accustomed, towards an as yet uncharted land and unforeseeable conclusion" (39). It reminds me of the old sea maps with ominous phrases like "Here there be monsters" scrawled across swaths of ocean with frightening creatures peeking up through waves. Yet the mariners were undeterred. They provisioned their ships and assembled their crews. They set forth for the unknown despite the danger. 

The human spirit is intrepid and undeterred, and I will try to remember these lessons when I too find myself with a shaky hand.

Carta Marina map circa 1539
Wikipedia Commons

Works Cited:

"Carl Jung - Synchronicity." Carl Jung Resources for Home Study and Practice. Web. 27 Jan. 2014.

Foucault, Michel. Archaeology of Knowledge. New York: Vintage Books, 2010. Print.

Foucault, Michel. "Of Other Spaces." Diacritics. 16.1 (Spring 1986): 22-27. Print.

Reading Notes: Class Meeting 1/21/14

Michel Foucault: Archaeology of Knowledge, Part I and II

A Few Thoughts:

Ah, Michel Foucault. We meet again good sir. And again. And again. And whenever I see your work on my reading list, my first thought is...

Graffiti image in black and white featuring an iconic image of Michel Foucault with the text "What the Foucault?" underneath
Image by Leopold Lambert and featured on his blog The Funambulist

Followed closely by this thought:

I think to myself, there is no simple anything when it comes you. Your intelligence and ability to think and write about abstract and nuanced concepts is intimidating, and often causes my brow to furrow in deep concentration (or is that consternation) when attempting to teases meaning from your sentences.

My first encounter with you was as an undergraduate in a Humanities course where you taught me about Postmodernism. Then in graduate school we met again under the auspices of an introduction to literary criticism. We met again while I studied modern rhetoric. You have surfaced in countless courses for countless reasons, and when you weren't brought up specifically, I could often feel your presence lurking there in the shadows of what went unstated. Now here we are, meeting again in Theories of Networks. Come to think of it, our interaction itself is something of a network - you, me, discourse, theory, course work... 

I am fain to undertake your work, The Archaeology of Knowledge, and look forward to where you take me this time. 

Books as Networks:

"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" (23, emphasis added).

Is a book part of a network? Foucault argues it is, but how is it useful to think of literary texts as participating in a network? It seems the answer is that it becomes possible to "analyse the interplay of their appearances and dispersion" (35).

It becomes possible to think of a novel not a singular entity, but as a node, making it possible to study the connections and links that exist between it and other nodes in the network. Rather than attempting to do a close reading and finding all meaning embedded in the text, the book as network approach looks out into the entirety of human literary production and asks, "how does this relate"? How does it change the network? How is it responding to other nodes? How has it been incorporated into other nodes?

It allows the "entire field to be set free" (26). The scholar is unbound to explore the network is a non-linear way, free of the structures of analysis previously governing the discipline that consider the text as a singularity.

Total description and General History:

"A total description draws all phenomena around a single center - a principle, a meaning, a spirit, a world-view, an overall shape; a general history, on the contrary, would deploy the space of dispersion" (10).

Throughout the introduction, Foucault advocates for a new theoretical approach to studying history, or any field where a critical approach applies. Here he labels that approach "a general history" as opposed to "a total description." The total description seeks to follow linear or chronological approaches, where causes and effects can be traced to a particular origin - a center. On the other hand, the general history eschews the restrictions of lineality or chronology and recognizes that objects exist in spatial relation to one another - dispersed across a field. This of course is at the heart of networks; the notion that knowledge exists in a series of nodes and connections - not a clean, straight line from one idea to another but rather a chaotic, interwoven rhizome of human thought.

wheel featuring a central hub with outwardly emanating spokes
The total description: all knowledge able to be directly traced back to central origin.
Image by Bhakti Yoga Meditation

black and white illustration featuring hubs and connections of varying size in random pattern
The general history: knowledge exists dispersed across space.
Image by Nomadology

Documents as instruments of the past and present:

Foucault explains that traditionally documents "sometimes merely hint at...the past from which they emanate...the document was always treated as the language of a voice since reduced to silence, its fragile, but possibly decipherable trace" (6). He continues to explain that this traditional view of the document as a repository of past voices overlooks the possibility for documents to go beyond a mere record of history into objects which function to create discourse, to "be grouped, made relevant, placed in relation to one another to form totalities" (7). Later, he discusses "the possibility of discovering or constituting a meaning in the inertia of the past" (11).

For me this discussion resonates with the work I do to uncover and preserve underground press publications. These artifacts are important in the sense of both theories of documents. The newspapers do provide a trace, a hint, at voices from the past. We are able to learn about our collective history and gain insight into an historical era through the rhetorical examination of their contents. Furthermore, when these newspapers and magazines are left in the basements and attics and museum archives, they become silent voices no longer capable of reaching an audience.

However, as Foucault suggests in the second and third quotes, the study of these documents is also a powerful tool for uncovering previously unexplored relations and connections to politics, art, journalism, or activist movements from other times and places for example. Additionally, in the pursuit of this work, I have been able to rekindle connections between writers and illustrators that had also fallen silent over time. Foucault suggests, and my work supports, the idea that a document functions as both an artifact revealing the past and as an object that through grouping and relating to other texts can create new network connections and insights.

Embracing the chaos of the rhizomatic world: 

For me, one of the persistent obstacles I face in graduate school is the tension between my desire for the concrete and tangible and the abstract nature of theory and research. In research, there are always contradictions and questions left unanswered. there are dead ends and conflicting data. It's messy. Same with theory. As soon as you get through Bitzer, here comes Vatz to flip the discussion upside-down and Biesecker to...complicate...the matter. It can be disconcerting, hard to find a foothold in the academic conversation that is happening all around me, in all directions, stretching backwards and laterally. It's like being dropped into the rhizome picture above when all you want is someone to show you the wheel's center.

Given this, it was interesting to see Foucault comment, "If the history of thought...could weave, around everything that men say and do, obscure synthesis that anticipate for him, prepare him, and lead him endlessly towards his future, it would provide a privileged shelter for the sovereignty of consciousness" (12). However, in this view "revolutions are never more than moments of consciousness" (12). In a world where all thought is synthesized and anticipated, the world is safe, controllable, knowable - my desire for the concrete has shelter. And it feels good to have something to point to, to say - "This. This is Truth." I want that clarity and stability.

Yet, as Foucault points out, this view reduces revolutionary thinking to a temporary hiccup that disrupts the continuity and stability of thought. Revolution is a moment waiting to be subsumed by the traditional thinking. Encountering this thought has me rethinking my tendency toward the stable. I have always thought of myself outside academia as embracing revolutionary thinking, welcoming the questioning mind, working to destabilize static modes of thought. However, if I cling to the desire for the concrete, then I am devaluing the revolutionary; I am relegating it to an intellectual hiccup to be suppressed so that order and predictability can be restored.

Revolutionary thought is not an anomaly before returning to stasis; it is a brave push in an uncharted direction, an exploration of the "space of a dispersion" and a worthwhile venture into the unknown (10).

"One is forced to advance beyond familiar territory, far from the certainties to which one is accustomed, towards an as yet uncharted land and unforeseeable conclusion" (39).

I will be brave, dear Foucault! I will be brave. Until we meet again...

Works Cited:

Foucault, Michel. Archaeology of Knowledge. New York: Vintage Books, 2010. Print.