Michel Foucault: Archaeology of Knowledge, Part III - V
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
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
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.