Introduction: Literature and Art as Diagnosis and Dissent in the Work of Michel Foucault

By van Zyl, Susan; Kistner, Ulrike | Journal of Literary Studies, December 2006 | Go to article overview

Introduction: Literature and Art as Diagnosis and Dissent in the Work of Michel Foucault


van Zyl, Susan, Kistner, Ulrike, Journal of Literary Studies


In an interview on The Order of Things (1966), Foucault identifies a key feature of his own method: namely that of taking up "Don Quixote, Descartes and a decree by Pomponne de Bellievre about houses of internment in the same stroke" ([1966]1998e: 262). He goes on to say that he is concerned with all that "contains thought in a culture", be it in philosophy, or a novel, in jurisprudence, in an administrative system, or in a prison (p. 267).

The apparently disparate themes that characterise Foucault's work emerge partly as a matter of his choice of fields of evidence or reference, which consists not exclusively or even predominantly of established and authoritative scientific, theoretical, or historical literature. The wide range of material and subject matter that engages Foucault's attention encompasses, for example, botanical gardens, the inscrutable orderings of species in Borges's Chinese encyclopaedia, agendas relating to executions, the daily regimens of prison and of plague towns. But, importantly, within and between these disparate elements, Foucault uncovers discursive orders and epistemic configurations that govern knowledge systems, practices, and institutions. He writes the history of events as they appear and disappear within these systems, as they become ordered and as they lose their place within the orders that once held them together.

That his investigations do not present a casual stroll through the botanical gardens of discourses, becomes clear when we look at Foucault's methodological elaborations that explicitly attempt to find the thresholds of discourses that define them, their objects, their domains of application, and most importantly for Foucault, their limits. Displacement, discontinuity, transformation, and transgression, are concepts central to Foucault's work. They attain their meanings from the exploration of the limits of discourses. It is only in paying careful attention to the threshold positions and the great aesthetic works that so often exemplify them most vividly, that it is possible to uncover both the emergence and the obsolescence of discourses. This is why, most noticeably in Foucault's archaeological writings, references to works of art, and literature are never far off.

A closer examination of the role of these texts reveals their conceptual and analytic significance. They are not merely fortuitous or decorative references; nor are they deployed illustratively in terms of their contents or their capacity to articulate moral or social criticism. Literature and art occupy a privileged position in Foucault's work as a result of their capacity to establish both systematic and symptomatic links between knowledge and art.

Attempting to categorise the ways in which Foucault engages with art, literature and music is no easy task, one which cannot hope to adequately describe the extraordinary range or depth of his work with and about literature. However, we suggest here that Foucauit values aesthetic work, firstly, because of what we have called its diagnostic power; and secondly, for its capacity not just to argue for, but to instantiate dissent or radical critique.

The first or diagnostic role is best illustrated in "The Order of Things" ([1966]1998e), a role which we hope to show is integral to the archaeological enterprise itself. In this diagnostic role artworks can elucidate the paradigmatic organisation of discourses and epistemes. It is this role that three key threshold texts ("texts" in the broader sense) assume in Foucault's "Archaeology of the Human Sciences"--Cervantes's Don Quixote, Velazquez's Las Meninas, and the writings of the Marquis de Sade. But more importantly, in their exemplary status, these texts reveal not that which is at the heart of each episteme, but the cracks, instabilities, and tectonic shifts within and between them--in the periods between the Renaissance, the Classical Age, and Modernity,--exposing their limits and transformations. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Introduction: Literature and Art as Diagnosis and Dissent in the Work of Michel Foucault
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.