Foucault's Archaeology: Science and Transformation

By David Webb | Go to book overview

1. TO WHAT PROBLEM DOES THE
ARCHAEOLOGY OF KNOWLEDGE RESPOND?

In The Order of Things, Foucault recounts how, in his view, thought in modernity has run into something of a dead end. Different branches of enquiry are held within a structure which ensures that each alone is necessarily incomplete, or which commits them to tracking an origin that moves continually beyond reach. At the heart of this diagnosis of the condition of thought in modernity lies the figure of man, and in particular of the finitude of man.1The Order of Things famously closes with the suggestion that man, this pivotal figure in the drama of modernity, may be a recent invention and one perhaps nearing its end, soon to disappear ‘like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea’ (OT 387, 398). If The Archaeology of Knowledge is read as a methodological clarification of how Foucault understood the practice of thinking at the time, then, in its simplest form, his challenge is to explain the meaning of this disappearance. Yet the final two chapters of The Order of Things leave no doubt that Foucault was more than just a dispassionate observer of the changes he saw overtaking the figure of man in modernity and regarded himself as a participant in the transformation of the practice of thinking described in those chapters. However, for all the rich detail in Foucault’s analysis of what had become of thinking in modernity, the description of what lay ahead is sketchy. The Archaeology of Knowledge, published three years after The Order of Things, can therefore be read not just as a retrospective exercise in methodology covering his earlier works, but as an experiment in a form of thought that he saw taking shape in the wake of the disappearance of man. As such, it takes up some of the ideas merely outlined in the closing pages of The Order of Things and works them into a lengthy (though never complete) inventory of concepts, problems and approaches in a new practice of thinking; one intended to break free from the impasse in which thinking had been caught in modernity.

In their early phases, the sciences of biology, economics and philology tried to draw the truth of their object of study from its own depths: life was to be defined from itself, labour was to illuminate the meaning and conditions of exchange, profit and production, and language was to yield up the conditions of grammar and discourse (OT 312, 323). This left ‘man’ in an ambiguous position. For it is only in terms of his body, his works and his language that he can be known, yet the sciences that address them depend in their turn on man as a living being, as the one whose labour is exchanged for profit, and one whose desires and thoughts are expressed in language. At the point where the laws

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Foucault's Archaeology: Science and Transformation
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Abbreviations vii
  • Acknowledgements viii
  • Introduction 1
  • Background 5
  • 1- To What Problem Does the Archaeology of Knowledge Respond? 7
  • 2- Gaston Bachelard- Construction and Temporal Discontinuity 11
  • 3- Jean Cavaillès- Grounding Thought in Its Own History 16
  • 4- Michel Serres- Mathematics, Epistemology, History 22
  • 5- Michel Serres- Atomism 28
  • 6- The Mathematical a Priori 31
  • 7- Temporal Dispersion 34
  • Commentary on the Archaeology of Knowledge 39
  • Part I - Introduction 41
  • Part II - The Discursive Regularities 48
  • Part III - The Statement and the Archive 85
  • Part IV - Archaeological Description 120
  • Part V - Conclusion 152
  • Closing Remarks 159
  • Notes 166
  • Selected Bibliography 174
  • Index 178
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