Book Summary: The Order of Things: The Archaeology of the Human Sciences / Michel Foucault


Foucault’s inspiration of writing the book originated from a joke by Borges, who provided various definitions from a ‘certain Chinese encyclopaedia’ that divided animals into categories such as belonging to the Emperor, embalmed, tame, sucking pigs, sirens, drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, that from a long way off look like flies… Having laughed for a long time by this, Foucault also felt a certain uneasiness. The unusual taxonomy mentioned by Borges provided Foucault some food for thought as he started questioning the validity of any sort of classification with complete certainty. “When we establish a considered classification […] on what ‘table’, according to what grid of identities, similitudes, analogies, have we become accustomed to sort out so many different and similar things? What is this coherence – which, as is immediately apparent, is neither determined by an a priori and necessary concatenation, nor imposed on us by immediately perceptible contents?”(p.xix).

According to Foucault, order exists in every culture and “is, at one and the same time, that which is given in things as their inner law, the hidden network that determines the way they confront one another, and also that which has no existence except in the grid created by a glance, an examination, a language: and it is only in the blank spaces of this grid that order manifests itself in depth as though already there, waiting in silence for the moment of its expression” (p.xx). So, order is a taken-for-granted knowledge that presents a relationship between things and what they are. It is very deeply embedded in our systems of thought that it seems natural; thus, requiring to be brought out—while not being something decided or imposed itself. He further explains: “The fundamental codes of a culture — those governing its language, its schemas of perception, its exchanges, its techniques, its values, the hierarchy of its practices — establish for every man, from the very first, the empirical orders with which he will be dealing and within which he will be at home. At the other extremity of thought, there are scientific theories or the philosophical interpretations which explain why order exists in general, what universal law it obeys, what principle can account for it, and why this particular order has been established and not some other” (p.xx). So, order is, at the same time, the code that governs our interaction with the world (ordering codes) and the ways devise of thinking about such codes (reflections on order itself).

Foucault claims that The Order of Things is an attempt to analyse the developments, since the sixteenth century, in the mainstream of a culture such as his; asking “in what way, as one traces — against the current, as it were — language as it has been spoken, natural creatures as they have been perceived and grouped together, and exchanges as they have been practiced; in what way, then, our culture has made manifest the existence of order, and how, to the modalities of that order, the exchanges owed their laws, the living beings their constants, the words their sequence and their representative value; what modalities of order have been recognized, posited, linked with space and time, in order to create the positive basis of knowledge as we find it employed in grammar, philology, in natural history and biology, in the study of wealth and political economy” (p.xxi).

While attempting to do so, Foucault is not concerned “to describe the progress of knowledge towards an objectivity in which today’s science can finally be recognized; what I am attempting to bring to light is the epistemological field, the episteme in which knowledge […] grounds its positivity and thereby manifests a history which is not that of its growing perfection, but rather that of its conditions of possibility” (p.xxii). Here, an important term that Foucault often refers to is episteme, which are embedded structures underlying the production of scientific knowledge in a certain time and place. “In any given culture and at any given moment, there is always only one episteme that defines the conditions of possibility of knowledge, whether expressed in a theory or silently invested in a practice” (p.168). The methodology that Foucault equips is archaeological inquiry , investigating the threshold between Classical knowledge (prior to the sixteenth century) and that separates us from Classical thought and constitutes modernity. The archaeological level of investigation is concerned with what made something possible (p.31).

Part I

Chapter 1: Las Meninas

Velasquez: Las Meninas

The opening chapter of the book is about a painting from 1656 by Diego Velasquez named Las Meninas. Foucault meticulously looks into the painting and writes his interpretation of this art in many pages which cannot be pinned down to a summary. In short, however, Foucault interprets the painting as “the representation of the Classical representation” (p.16). He writes, “around the scene are arranged all the signs and successive forms of representation; but the double relation of the representation to its model and to its sovereign, to its author as well as to the person to whom it is being offered, this relation is necessarily interrupted. It can never be present without some residuum, even in a representation that offers itself as a spectacle” (p.16). Las Meninas can never be accurate in including the foundation of what is being represented — as it can’t include the artist, the spectator, and the king and the queen (the object of representation). Thus, the observer (subject) and the observed (object) take part in a ceaseless exchange. To better understand what Foucault refers to as “Classical representation” and his interpretation of the painting, one ought to tackle the book as a whole and dive into the forthcoming chapters. It is best to leave it here.

Chapter 2: The Prose of the World

I The Four Similitudes

“Up to the end of the sixteenth century, resemblance played a constructive role in the knowledge of Western culture. It was resemblance that largely guided exegesis and the interpretation of texts; it was resemblance that organized the play of symbols, made possible knowledge of things visible and invisible, and controlled the art of representing them” (p.17); and it is in this chapter that Foucault expands on what he means by the crucial term resemblance. He introduces us to four similitudes that are essential to the knowledge of resemblance.

The first form of similitude is convenientia which “denotes the adjacency of places more strongly than it does similitude. [….] Body and soul, for example, are doubly ‘convenient’: the soul had to be made dense, heavy, and terrestrial for God to place it in the very heart of matter. But through this propinquity, the soul receives the movements of the body and assimilates itself to that body, while ‘the body is altered and corrupted by the passions of the soul’” (p.18).

Secondly, we have aemulatio, which is “a sort of ‘convenience’ that has been freed from the law of place and is able to function, without motion, from a distance. […] There is something in emulation of the reflection and the mirror: it is the means whereby things scattered through the universe can answer one another. The human face, from afar, emulates the sky […]” (p.19).

The third form of similitude is analogy in which convenientia and aemulatio are superimposed. “For example, the relation of the stars to the sky in which they shine may also be found: between plants and earth, between living beings and the globe they inhabit, between minerals such as diamonds and the rocks in which they are buried, […]” (p.21).

Lastly, the fourth form of similitude is sympathies, which “transforms. It alters, but in the direction of identity, so that if its power were not counter-balanced it would reduce the world to a point, to a homogeneous mass” (p.24). Sympathy is compensated for by its twin: antipathy; and the sympathy-antipathy pair gives rise to all the forms of resemblance.

II Signatures

The aforementioned four similitudes of resemblance “tell us how the world must fold in upon itself, duplicate itself, reflect itself, or form a chain with itself so that things can resemble one another. They they us what the paths of similitude are and the directions they take; but not where it is, how one sees it, or by what mark it may be recognized. […] There are no resemblances without signatures. The world of similarity can only be a world of signs” (p.25-26). Thus, it is via the unearthing and the decipherment of signs that the knowledge of similitudes is founded upon.

The role of resemblance and signs in sixteenth century knowledge can be summed up with the following: “Let us call the totality of the learning and skills that enable one to make the signs speak and to discover their meaning, hermeneutics; let us call the totality of learning and skills that enable one to distinguish the location of signs, to define what constitutes them as signs, and to know how and by what laws they are linked, semiology: the sixteenth century superimposed hermeneutics and semiology in the form of similitude. To search for a meaning is to bring to light a resemblance. To search for the law governing signs is to discover the things that are alike. The grammar of beings is an exegesis of these things” (p.29).

III The Limits of the World

“There is no difference between marks and words in the sense that there is between observation and accepted authority, or between verifiable fact and tradition. The process is everywhere the same: that of the sign and its likeness, and this is why nature and the word can intertwine with one another to infinity, for those who can read it, one vast single text” (p.34). Foucault’s linkage of resemblance and signs with nature itself is crucial as it will provide a vast contrast with further developments in the Classical period where there is a significant emphasis on representation.

IV The Writing of Things

Because the way signs and the world of resemblances are superimposed, “in its raw, historical sixteenth-century being, language is not an arbitrary system; it has been set down in the world and forms a part of it, both because things themselves hide and manifest their own enigma like a language and because words offer themselves to men as things to be deciphered. […] Language partakes in the world-wide dissemination of similitudes and signatures. It must, therefore, be studied itself as a thing in nature” (p.35).

In the original form of language, when it was given by God to men, “language was an absolutely certain and transparent sign for things, because it resembled them. The names of things were lodged in the things they designated, just as strength is written in the body of the lion, regality in the eye of the eagle, […]” (p.36). However, this transparency was destroyed at Babel, as a form of punishment for men, by God; and thus, “languages became separated and incompatible with one another only in so far as they had previously lost this original resemblance to the things that had been the prime reason for the existence of languages. All the languages known to us are now spoken only against the background of this lost similitude, and in the space that it left vacant” (p.36). However, this does not mean that languages are separate from the world, as the resemblance still continues. It is the diversity of word arrangements, writing styles, writing orders etc. in world languages that the unity of the nature is expressed. “Knowledge therefore consisted in relating one form of language to another form of language; in restoring the great, unbroken plain of words and things; and making everything speak” (p.40).

V The Being of Language

From the seventeenth-century, changes started to occur, as the arrangement of signs was to become binaries of a significant and signified. “[…] in the sixteenth-century, one asked oneself how it was possible to know that a sign did in fact designate what it signified; from the seventeenth-century, one began to ask how a sign could be linked to what is signified. A question to which the Classical period was to reply by the analysis of representation […]” (p.42-43). Thus, things and words were no longer seen as one text to be read but rather separated from one another. “The eye was destined to see and only to see, the ear to hear and only to hear” (p.43) — thus attaining the very essence of ‘literature’.

Chapter 3: Representing

I Don Quixote

This part is about Don Quixote, as it is the “first modern work of literature, because in it we see the cruel reason of identities and differences make endless sport of signs and similitudes; because in it language breaks off its old kinship with things and enters into that lonely sovereignty from which it will reappear, in its separated state, only as literature; because it marks the point where resemblance enters an age which is, from the point of view of resemblance, one of madness and imagination. Once similitude and signs are sundered from each other, two experiences can be established and two characters appear face to face” (p.48-49).

II Order

Foucault, again, presents the main questions that the book is after. “Generally speaking, what does it mean, no longer being able to think a certain thought? Or to introduce a new thought? […] Discontinuity — the fact that within the space of a few years a culture sometimes ceases to think as it had been thinking up till then and begins to think other things in a new way — probably begins with an erosion from outside, from that space which is, for thought, on the other side, but in which it has never ceased to think from the very beginning. Ultimately, the problem that presents itself is that of the relations between thought and culture: how is it that thought has a place in the space of the world, that it has its origin there, and that it never ceases, in this place or that, to begin anew?” (p.50).

Then, Foucault proceeds to explain how the Cartesian critique of resemblance led to an emphasis on comparison; thus the episteme of Western culture faced a shift. “As a result, the entire episteme of Western culture found its fundamental arrangements modified. And, in particular, the empirical domain which sixteenth-century man saw as a complex of kinships, resemblances, and affinities, and in which language and things were endlessly interwoven. This new configuration may, I suppose, be called ‘rationalism’ […]“ (p.54).

Foucault then sums up the modifications that he has so far presented. First, the analysis for the hierarchy of analogies have undergone a change. “In the sixteenth-century, the fundamental supposition was that of a system of correspondence (earth and sky, planets and faces, microcosm and macrocosm) […] from now on, every resemblance must be subjected to proof by comparison” (p.55). Secondly, “a complete enumeration will now be possible: whether in the form of an exhaustive census of all the elements constituting the envisaged whole, or in the form of a categorical arrangement that will articulate the field of study in its totality […]” (p.55). Thirdly, “comparison, then, can attain to perfect certainty” (p.55). The fourth point: “the activity of the mind […] will therefore no longer consist in drawing things together, in setting out on a quest for everything that might reveal some sort of kinship, attraction, or secretly shared nature within them, but, on the contrary, in discriminating, that is, in establishing their identities […]” (p.55). Lastly, “since to know is to discriminate, history and science will become separated from one another” (p.55).

The epistemic shift from the interpretation to the order of signs paved ways for various sciences. “So there first appeared general grammar, natural history, and the analysis of wealth, all sciences of order in the domain of words, beings, and needs; and none of these empirical studies, new in the Classical period and co-extensive with its duration, could have been founded without the relation that the entire episteme of Western culture maintenance at that time with a universal science of order. This relation to Order is as essential to the Classical age as the relation to Interpretation was to the Renaissance” (p.57).

III The Representation of the Sign

”On the threshold of the Classical age, the sign ceases to be a form of the world; and it ceases to be bound to what it marks by the solid and secret bonds of resemblance or affinity” (p.58).

Having presented this contrast of the place of signs in different periods of Western civilization, Foucault presents the three variables of sign that the Classical thought defines it. “First, the certainty of relation: a sign may be so constant that one can be sure of its accuracy (in the sense that breathing denotes life, but it may also be simply probable (in the sense that pallor probably denotes pregnancy” (p.58). In the sixteenth-century, signs played a role in men uncovering the secret of things —and their nature and virtues. However, a century later, signs were perceived to be constituted only by an act of knowing. To further elaborate, it is in the latter period that knowledge broke off its old kinship with divinatio. Before, the signs’ task was to “uncover a language which God had previously distributed across the face of the earth […] and the object of its divination was divine. From now on, however, it is within knowledge itself that the sign is to perform its signifying function; it is from knowledge that it will borrow its certainty or probability” (p.59).

Second, the type of relation: a sign may belong to the whole that it denotes (in the sense that a healthy appearance is part of the health it denotes) or be separate from it (in the sense that the figures of the Old Testament are distant signs of the Incarnation and Redemption)” (p.58). So, although similitude, in the sixteenth century, was able “to triumph over space and time: for it was within the power of the sign to draw things together and unite them. With the advent of Classical thought, on the other hand, the sign becomes characterised by its essential dispersion. The circular world of converging signs is replaced by an infinite progression” (p.60). Thus, in the Classical thought, “it is the sign that enables things to become distinct, to preserve themselves within their own identities, to dissociate themselves or bind themselves together. Western reason is entering the age of judgement” (p.61).

Third, the origin of the relation: a sign may be natural (in the sense that a reflection in a mirror denotes that which it reflects) or conventional (in the sense that a word may signify an idea to a given group of men)” (p.58). Also, signs, since the time of Plato, were thought to be either given by nature or established by man — which the sixteenth-century too recognized but saw artificial signs as owing their power to natural signs. However, from the seventeenth-century, “the values allotted to nature and convention in this field are inverted. […] the man-made sign is the sign at the peak of its activity. It is the man-made sign that draws the dividing-line between man and animal; that transforms imagination into voluntary memory, spontaneous attention into reflection, and instinct into rational knowledge. […] Natural signs are merely rudimentary sketches for these conventional signs” (p.61-62).

Foucault sees the new system of signs as the introduction of probability, analysis, and combination; the origins of calculability; the construction of tables; linkage of all knowledge to a language, and the replacement of all languages with a system of artificial symbols and operations of logical nature… which all “made possible the individuals we term Hobbes, Berkeley, Hume, or Condillac” (p.63).

IV Duplicated Representation

The binary arrangement of the sign in the Classical period has certain consequences; Foucault explains three. First, before, signs were “means of knowing and the keys to knowledge; now, they are co-extensive with representation, that is, with thought as a whole; they reside within it but they run through its entire extent” (p.65). Second, it becomes impossible to speak of a theory of signification. “For to ask ourselves questions about what signification is presupposes that it is a determinate form in our consciousness” (p.65). Lastly, “it was necessary that the Classical theory of the sign should provide itself with an ‘ideology’ to serve as its foundation and philosophical justification” (p.67) because the binary theory of the sign required a certain representation of the signifying and the signified element—so that one actually represented the other.

V The Imagination of Resemblance

As was explained in the previous parts, in the sixteenth-century, resemblance was intertwined with a system of signs; “and it was the interpretation of those signs that opened up the field of concrete knowledge. From the seventeenth century, resemblance was pushed out of the boundaries of knowledge, towards the humblest and basest of its frontiers. There, it links up with imagination, with doubtful repetitions, with misty analogies” (p.71) — instead of paving ways for a science of interpretation.

VI Mathesis and ‘Taxinomia’

Foucault presents a picture of the way sixteenth-century thinking saw the world. One end of the spectrum is resemblance, which is ordered according to a mathesis, and at the other end is the taxonomic ordering of complex natures based on representation. “This, at the two extremities of the Classical episteme, we have a mathesis as the science of calculable order and a genesis as the analysis of the constitution of orders on the basis of empirical series” (p.73). Thus, “it is patent that these three notions — mathesis, taxinomia, genesis — designate not so much separate domains as a solid grid of kinships that denies the general configuration of knowledge in the Classical age” (p.74).

Foucault also sees the centre of knowledge in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as the table. “If the Western world did battle with itself in order to know whether life was nothing but movement or whether nature was sufficiently well ordered to prove the existence of God, it was not because a problem had been opened up; it was because, after dispersing the undefined circle of signs and resemblances, and before organising the series of causality and history, the episteme of Western culture had opened up an area to form a table over which it wandered endlessly, from the calculable forms of order to the analysis of the most complex representations” (p.75).

Chapter 4: Speaking

I Criticism and Commentary

Foucault continues to explain the place of language in the Classical age. “The existence of language in the Classical age is both pre-eminent and unobtrusive. Pre-eminent, because words have been allotted the task and the power of ‘representing thought’. […] Representing must be understood in the strict sense: language represents thought as thought represents itself. […] And, because of this, it makes itself invisible, or almost so. In any case, it has become so transparent to representation that its very existence ceases to be a problem” (p.78-79). In other words, when language is thought to be the representation of thought itself, it is assumed to be neither enigmatic nor requiring interpretation. And this shift of Western thought on language, and episteme—in general—, has transformed commentary to criticism. “[…] one no longer attempts to uncover the great enigmatic statement that lies hidden beneath its signs; one asks how it functions: what representations it designates, what elements it cuts out and removes, how it analyses and composes, what play of substitutions enables it to accomplish its role of representation. Commentary has yielded to criticism” (p.79-80). Foucault then touches upon the reason for commentary-criticism duality being one of opposition. “Since the Classical age, commentary and criticism have been in profound opposition. By speaking of language in terms of representations and truth, criticism judges it and profanes it. Now, as language in the irruption of its being, and questioning it as to its secret, commentary halts before the precipice of the original text, and assumes the impossible and endless task of repeating its own birth within itself: it sacralises language” (p.81).

II General Grammar

Foucault emphasises on the significance of language among all the other signs because “what distinguishes language from all other signs and enables it to play a decisive role in representation is, therefore, not so much that it is individual or collective, natural or arbitrary, but that it analyses representation according to a necessarily successive order: the sounds, in facet, can be articulated only one by one; language cannot represent thought, instantly, in totality, it is bound to arrange it, part by part, in a linear order” (p.82). The attention on order is crucial here as it gives birth to general grammar, which is “the study of verbal order in its relation to the simultaneity that it is its task to represent” (p.83). And this ordering is so essential in representation that “what renders foreign languages opaque to one another, and so difficult to translate, is not so much the differences between the word as the incompatibility of their sequences” (p.83).

Foucault then touches upon four consequences. First, language, in the classical period, gets divided into two: rhetoric, dealing with figures and tropes, and grammar. “Rhetoric defines the spatiality of representation as it comes into being with language; grammar defines in the case of each individual language the order that distributes that spatiality in time” (p.84). Secondly, the possibility of a universal language or that of a universal discourse was born— as is evident in the emergence of Encyclopaedias. “In so far as language can represent all representations it is with good reason the element of the universal. There must exist within it at least the possibility of a language that will gather into isn’t self, between its words, the totality of the world, and, inversely, the world, as the totality of what is representable, must be able to become, in its totality, an Encyclopaedia” (p.85). Thirdly, knowledge and language become rigorously interwoven. Thus, “something like a history of knowledge becomes possible […] (languages) lead into error, but they record what has been learned” (p.87). Lastly, “the relation of language to time is inverted: it is no longer time that allots languages their places, one by one, in world history; it is languages that unfold representations and words in a sequence of which they themselves define the laws” (p.89). Therefore, the kinship of languages was not analysed in a chronological order but rather through grammar.

III The Theory of the Verb

In this part Foucault examines the connotation of verbs in the Classical period’s perception of language. “Comparing language to a picture, one late-eighteenth century grammarian defines nouns as forms, adjectives as colours, and the verb as the canvas itself, upon which the colours are visible” (p.95).

IV Articulation

Although for the Classical age, enigmatic and interpretive trait of language disappeared, certain vowels and common sounds of a group of word still unfolded the secret of the usage of old names. “It is by means of dental contact that one expresses the ideas that lie behind such berns as tonnner (to thunder), retentir (to resound)[…]” (p.102). However, this wasn’t enough to not see the naming process of things as somewhat arbitrary. “It is probably because it (language) is arbitrary, and because one can define the condition upon which it attains its power of signification, that language can become the object of a science” (p.103).

V Designation

To provide an explanation for the arbitrariness of language, the Classical age attempted “to bring the origin of language back into the light of day” in order to “discover the primitive moment in which it was pure designation” (p.104). So two things were looked into: the analysis of the language of action, the study of roots.

The language of action is about how certain words may have originated from and associated with certain gestures and sounds, such as a cry. Hence, the language of action links language to nature by means of genesis. The analysis of the language of action complements the theory of roots—as the roots of words are perceived to derive from nature “in the form of involuntary cries spontaneously employed by the language of action” (p.107).

So, “in the classical period, language is not a fragment of history authorising at any given moment a definite mode of thought and reflection; it is an are of analysis upon which time and human knowledge pursue their journey” (p.109). And it is the aforementioned two ways of study that reveal the genealogy of language.

VI Derivation

Foucault presents the shift from graphic writing — like curiological writing, hieroglyphics, symbolic writing — to alphabetical writing. “With alphabetic writing, in fact, the history of men is entirely changed. They transcribe in space, not their ideas but sounds, and from those sounds, they extract the common elements in order to form a small number of unique signs whose combination will enable them to form all possible syllables and words. Whereas symbolic writing, in attempting to spatialize representations themselves, obeys the confused law of similitudes, and causes language to slip out of the forms of reflective thought […]” (p.112).

And it was this time, during the seventeenth century, “that the whole Western experience of language foundered — the experience that had always led men to believe, until then, that language spoke” (p.115).

VII The Quadrilateral of Language

In this final part of the chapter, Foucault links all the four theories that he previously presented — Verb, Articulation, Designation, Derivation.

He reminds, again, the aim of the chapter. “The intention was to determine in what conditions language could become the object of a period’s knowledge, and between what limits this epistemological domain developed. Not to calculate the common denominator of men’s opinions, but to define what made it possible for opinions about language — whatever the opinions may have been — to exist at all” (p.119). Thus, looking into the conditions that made possible such thinking.

Finally, Foucault concludes by claiming that Classical knowledge was, despite all the changes throughout and the different ways of thinking, rooted in the order resemblances. “If language exists, it is because below the level of identities and differences there is the foundation provided by continuities, resemblances, repetitions, and natural criss-crossings. Resemblance, excluded from knowledge since the early seventeenth century, still constitute the outer edge of language: the ring surrounding the domain of that which can be analysed, reduced to order, and known. Discourse dissipates the murmur, but without it it could not speak” (p.120).

Chapter 5: Classifying

I What the Historians Say

During the periods of seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a new curiosity arose: that of the sciences of life. There were numerous causes for this that range from technical inventions, such as the microscope, to the bringing of exotic plants from the rest of the world. Thus, we are introduced to one of the main themes of the book. “Historians want to write histories of biology in the eighteenth century; but they do not realise that biology did not exist then, and that the pattern of knowledge that has been familiar to us for a hundred and fifty years is not valid for a previous period. And that, if biology was unknown, there was a very simple reason for it: that life itself did not exist. All that existed was living beings, which were viewed through a grid of knowledge constituted by natural history” (p.127-128).

II Natural History

A new way of making history emerged which had to become Natural. “To the Renaissance, the strangeness of animals was a spectacle: it was featured in fairs, in tournaments, in fictitious or real combats, in reconstitutions of legends in which the bestiary displayed its ageless fables. The natural history room and the garden, as created in the Classical period, replace the circular procession of the ‘show’ with the arrangement of things in a ‘table’. What came surreptitiously into being between the age of the theatre and that of the catalogue was not the desire for knowledge, but a new way of connecting things both to the eye and to discourse. A new way of making history” (p.131).

III Structure

”Natural history is nothing more than the nomination of the visible” (p.132). The emphasis on observation and sight is further explained by Foucault. “Observation, from the seventeenth century onward, is a perceptible knowledge furnished with a series of systematically negative conditions. Hearsay is excluded, that goes without saying; but so are taste and smell, because their lack of certainty […] The sense of touch is very narrowly limited to the designation of a few fairly evident distinctions; which leaves sight with an almost exclusive privilege […]” (p.132-133). The description and representation of what is observed in nature is constituted by four variables: “the form of the elements, the quantity of those elements, the manner in which they are distributed in space in relation to each other, and the relative magnitude of each element. […] These four values affecting, and determining, any given element or organ are what botanists term its structure” (p.134). And it was this structure that limited and filtered the visible — transcribing it into language. The description of the visible and the definition of natural history brought new epistemological grounds. “The plant and the animal are seen not so much in their organic unity as by the visible patterning of their organs. They are paws and hoof, flowers and fruits, before being respiratory systems or internal liquids” (p.137).

IV Character

Establishing the identities and the differences existing between all natural entities, two techniques were used: system, and method. “Either that of making total comparisons, but only within empirically constituted groups in which the number of resemblances is manifestly so high that the enumeration of the differences will not take long to complete; and in this way, step by step, the establishment of all identities and distinctions can be guaranteed. Or that of selecting a finite and relatively limited group of characteristics, whose variations and constants may be studied in any individual entity that presents itself. This last procedure was termed the System, the first the Method” (p.139). Despite the differences in these techniques, “both system and method rest upon the same epistemological base. It can be defined briefly by saying that, in Classical terms, a knowledge of empirical individuals can be acquired only from the continuous, ordered, and universal tabulation of all possible differences” (p.144).

Foucault further touches upon how the differential characters came to the fore in the Classical age. “The internal laws of the organism were to replace differential characters as the object of the natural sciences. Classification, as a fundamental and constituent problem of natural history, took up its position historically, and in a necessary fashion, between a theory of the mark and a theory of the organism” (p.145).

V Continuity and Catastrophe

There must be continuity in nature because “all nature forms one great fabric in which beings resemble one another from one to the next, in which adjacent individuals are infinitely similar to each other; so that any dividing-line that indicates, not the minute difference of the individual, but broader categories, is always unreal. There is a continuity produced by fusion in which all generality is nominal” (p.146). So, the more one increases the number of divisions in such continuity, the more one shall approach to the true. However, this continuity that the Classical era saw was not one that concerned time. “The eras of nature do not prescribe the internal time of beings and their continuity; they dictate the intemperate interruptions that have constantly dispersed them, mingled them, separated them, and interwoven them. There is not and cannot be event the suspicion of an evolutionism or a transformism in Classical thought; for time is never conceived as a principle of development for living beings in their internal organisation; it is perceived only as the possible bearer of a revolution in the external space in which they live” (p.150).

VI Monsters and Fossils

Long before Lamarck, there were various bodies of thought of the evolutionist type that already existed. Thus during a certain time period, an emphasis was placed on monsters, which were seen as the “temporal series” in the taxonomic table of continuity, and fossils, which “with its mixed animal and mineral nature, is the privileged locus of resemblance required by the historian of the continuum” (p.156). And, “the monster and the fossil both play a very precise role in this configuration. On the basis of the power of the continuum held by the nature, the monster ensures the emergence of difference. […] The fossil is what permits resemblances to subsist throughout all the derivations traversed by nature” (p.156).

VII The Discourse of Nature

Foucault explains that natural history cannot be dissociated from that of language and produces a “discourse of nature” which “is not a question of transference of methods from one to the other; nor of a communication of concepts; nor of the prestige of a model which, because it has ‘succeeded’ in one field, has been tried out in the one next to it. Nor is it a question of a more general rationality imposing identical forms upon grammatical thinking and upon taxinomia. Rather, it concerns a fundamental arrangement of knowledge, which orders the knowledge of beings so as to make it possible to represent them in a system of names” (p.157).

Foucault, at the same time, argues that natural history, in the Classical period, “cannot be established as biology. Up to the end of the eighteenth century, in fact, life does not exist: only living beings” (p.160). “We must therefore not connect natural history, as it was manifested during the Classical period, with a philosophy of life, albeit an obscure and still faltering one. In reality, it is interwoven with a theory of words. Natural history is situated before and after language; it decomposes the language of everyday life, but in order to recompose it and discover what has made it possible through the blind resemblances of imagination; it criticises language, but in order to reveal its foundation. If natural history reworks language and attempts to perfect it, this is because it also delves down into the origin of language” (p.161). Life eventually becomes the object of knowledge and, at the same time, brings to bear all possible knowledge.

Chapter 6: Exchanging

I The Analysis of Wealth

In this chapter, Foucault approaches the concept of wealth during the Classical age, which was also thought in terms of resemblance and representation. “There is no life in the Classical period, nor any science of life; nor any philology either. But there is natural history, and general grammar. In the same way, there is no political economy, because, in the order of knowledge, production does not exists. […] the ground and object of ‘economy’ in the Classical age, is that of wealth” (p.166).

II Money and Prices

Since, during the sixteenth century, “the value of money must be determined by the quantity of metal it contains” (p.169) and since ‘money-mass metal’ balance was subject to variations, Foucault argues that such linkage of value and nature provided a case for signs, similitudes and resemblances. “We are, then, presented with an arrangement analogous to that which characterises the general organization of signs in the sixteenth century: signs, it will be remembered, were constituted by resemblances which, in turn necessitated further signs in order to be recognized. Here, the monetary signs cannot define its exchange value, and can be established as a mark only on a metallic mass which in turn defines its value in the space of other commodities. If one admits that exchange, in the system of needs, corresponds to similitudes in the system of acquired knowledge, then one sees that knowledge of nature, and reflection or practices concerning money, were controlled during the Renaissance by one and the same configuration of the episteme” (p.172). For instance, relations of macrocosm and microcosm, under the provision of God, was emphasised as the metals buried underground were linked to the price of all commodities.

III Mercantilism

Foucault explains that a reversal of understanding of money occurred during the seventeenth century, which he calls ‘mercantilism’. “Money for the mercantilists had the power of representing all possible wealth” (p.175) — thus, it was possible to say that there was a systematic confusion between wealth and coinage.

The reversal of the understanding of money is explained as: “The relation so strictly laid down in the sixteenth century is forthwith reversed: money (and even the metal of which it was made) receives its value from its pure function as sign. […] Wealth is wealth because we estimate it, just as our ideas are what they are because we represent them. Monetary or verbal signs are additional to this” (p.176). Thus, “for classical thought in its formative phase, money is that which permits wealth to be represented” (p.177).

IV The Pledge and the Price

Foucault, in this part, investigates how money is a pledge and how what it signifies constantly changes during its circulation. “Now, as it circulates, one and the same monetary unit acquires the power to represent several things; when it changes hands it is sometimes payment to an entrepreneur for some object, sometimes payment to a worker of his wage, sometimes payment to a merchant for some commodity, sometimes payment to a farmer for his produce, sometimes payment to a landowner of his rent. A single piece of metal can, in the course of time and according to the individuals that receive it, represent several equivalent things — just as a common noun has the power to represent several things […]” (p.185).

V The Creation of Value

Foucault asks the question of what worth meant for Classical thought. “To be worth, for Classical thought, is first of all to be worth something, to be substitutable for that thing in a process of exchange. […] In other words, in order that one thing can represent another in an exchange, they must both exist as bearers of value; and yet value exists only within the representation (actual or possible), that is, within the exchange or the exchange ability” (p.190). He then explains the two possible ways of construing the matter: “the one analyses value in the act of exchange itself, at the point where the given and the received intersect; the other analyses it as anterior to the exchange and as a primary condition without which that exchange could not take place” (p.190). According to Foucault, the two approaches is tied to a perception of language. “The first […] corresponds to an analysis that places and encloses the whole essence of language within the proposition; the second corresponds to an analysis that reaves this same essence of language as residing in the region of primitive designations (language of action or roots)” (p.190).

VI Utility

Economists of the Classical age also equip the point of view “of the person who needs it, who wants it, and who agrees to give up what he possesses in order to obtain this other thing which in his estimation is more useful and to which he attaches greater value” (p.196). And their analysis “show how value and exchange interlock: there would be no exchange if there were no immediate values — that is, if there did not exist in things ‘an attribute which is accidental to them and which is dependent solely upon man’s needs, as an effect is dependent upon its cause’”.

VII General Table

Foucault connects everything by saying that “analysis of wealth obeys the same configuration as natural history and general grammar” (p.200). And reflects on the shift of episteme: “it is now possible, from a distance, to characterise the mutation that occurred in the entire Western episteme towards the end of the eighteenth century by saying that a scientifically strong moment was created in just that area where the Classical episteme was metaphysically strong; and that, on the other hand, a philosophical space emerged in that very are where Classicism had firmly established its epistemological grip” (p.206).

Foucault also reminds of a possible misconception. “Philology, biology, and political economy were established, not in the places formerly occupied by general grammar, natural history, and the analysis of wealth, but in an area where those forms of knowledge did not exist, in the space they left blank, in the deep gaps that separated their broad theoretical segments and that were filled with the murmur of the ontological continuum. The object of knowledge in the nineteenth century is formed in the very place where the Classical plenitude of being has fallen silent” (p.207).

“The essential problem of Classical thought lay in the relations between name and order: how to discover a nomenclature that would be a taxonomy, or again, how to establish a system of signs that would be transparent to the continuity of being” (p.208). Thus, lastly, Foucault argues that “structuralism is not a new method; it is the awakened and troubled consciousness of modern thought” (p.208).

VIII Desire and Representation

Foucault concludes the first part of the book in the following sentences. “The analysis of representation therefore has a determining value for all the empirical domains. The whole Classical system of order, the whole of that great taxinomia that makes it possible to know things by means of the system of their identities, is unfolded within the space that is opened up inside representation when representation represents itself, that are where being and the Same reside. Language is simply the representation of words; nature is simply the representation of beings; need is simply the representation of needs. The end of Classical thought — and of the episteme that made general grammar, natural history, and the science of wealth possible — will coincide with the decline of representation, or rather with the emancipation of language, of the living being, and of need, with regard to representation” (p.209). Thus, “it is no longer the ironic triumph of representation over resemblance; it is the obscure and repeated violence of desire battering at the limits of representation” (p.210).

Part II

Chapter 7: The Limits of Representation

I The Age of History

This chapter introduces us to what Foucault calls History (with a capital). “From the nineteenth century, History was to deeply, in a temporal series, the analogies that connect distinct organic structures to one another. This same History will also, progressively, impose its laws on the analysis of production, the analysis of organically structured beings, and, lastly, on the analysis of linguistic groups. History gives place to analogically organic structures, just as Order opened the way to successive identities and differences” (p.219). Thus, occurs the “mutation of Order into History” (p.220) at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century.

When we look at the emergence of disciplines such as philology, biology, and economics, we speak from “the point of view of the rationality of learning” (p.220). However, we also witness the emergence of another kind of positivity — that is, History. “And it took a fundamental event — certainly one of the most radical that ever occurred in Western culture — to bring about the dissolution of the positivity of Classical knowledge, and to constitute another positivity form which even now, we have doubtless not entirely emerged. This event, probably because we are still caught inside it, is largely beyond our comprehension” (p.220-221).

In the initial phase of the periods between eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, “the idea of the positivities do not change; men’s riches, the species of nature, an the words with which languages are peopled, still remain what they were in the Classical age: double representations, to analyse them, to compose and decompose them in order to bring into being within them, together with the system of their identities and differences, the general principle of an order” (p.221). However, it is in the latter phase of this period “words, classes, and wealth will acquire a mode of being no longer compatible with that of representation. What is modified very early on […] is the configuration of positivities” (p.221).

II The Measure of Labour

With Adam Smith’s founding of modern political economy and his emphasis on labour, what wealth represents “is no longer the object of desire; it is labour” (p.223). To further elaborate on Smith’s concept of labour, Foucault writes: “he formulates a principle of order that is irreducible to the analysis of representation: he unearths labour, that is, toil and time, the working-day that at once patterns and uses up man’s life. […] if gold is worth twice as much as silver, it is not because men have comparable desires; it is not because they experience the same hunger in their bodies, or because their hearts are all swayed by the same passions; it is because they are all subject to time, to toil, to weariness, and, in the last resort, to death itself” (p.225). Thus, “from Smith onward, the time of economics was no longer to be the cyclical time of alternating impoverishment and wealth; nor the linear increase achieved by astute policies, constantly introducing slight increases in the amount of circulating specie so that they accelerated production at a faster rate than they raised prices; it was to be the interior time of an organic structure which grows in accordance with its own necessity and develops in accordance with autochthonous laws — the time of capital and production” (p.226).

III The Organic Structure of Beings

When it comes to the changes in the field of natural history, “to classify, therefore, will no longer mean to refer the visible back to itself, while allotting one of its elements the task of representing the others; it will mean, in a movement that makes analysis pivot on its axis, to relate the visible to the invisible, to its deeper cause, as it were, then to rise upwards once more from that hidden architecture towards the more obvious signs displayed on the surfaces of bodies” (p.229). Eventually, a distinction between organic and inorganic was formed. So, “it can be seen how, by fragmenting in depth the great table of natural history, something resembling a biology was to become possible; and […] the fundamental opposition of life and death was able to emerge” (p.232).

IV Word Inflection

The exact counterpart of events described in the fields of natural history and the study of wealth can be found in the area of language analysis. “Now, the confrontation of languages at the end of the eighteenth century brings to light a form intermediary between the articulation of contents and the value of roots: namely, inflection” (p.234). Thus, “languages are no longer contrasted in accordance with what their words designate, but in accordance with the means whereby those words are linked together” (p.236).

V Ideology and Criticism

So, in the last years of the eighteenth century, an even took place that is of the same type in all the aforementioned spheres — general grammar, natural history, and, the analysis of wealth. “From this even onward, what gives value to the objects of desire is not solely the other objects that desire can represent to itself, but an element that cannot be reduced to that representation: labour; what makes it possible to characterise a natural being is no longer the elements that we can analyse in the representations we make four ourselves of it and other beings, it is a certain relation within this being, which we call its organic structure; what makes it possible to define a language is not the way in which it represents representations, but a certain internal architecture, a certain manner of modifying the words themselves in accordance with the grammatical position they take up in relation to one another; in other words, its inflectional system” (p.237). Thus, “the very being of that which is represented is now going to fall outside representation itself” (p.240).

VI Objective Syntheses

Foucault concludes by giving a summary of the chapter. “The most distant consequences — and the most difficult ones for us to evade — of the fundamental event that occurred in the Western episteme towards the end of the eighteenth century may be summed up as follows: negatively, the domain of the pure forms of knowledge becomes isolated, attaining both autonomy and sovereignty in relation to all empirical knowledge, causing the endless birth and rebirth of a project to formalise the concrete and to constitute, in spite of everything, pure sciences; positively, the empirical domains become linked with reflections on subjectivity, the human being, and finite, assuming the value and function of philosophy, as well as of the reduction of philosophy or counter-philosophy” (p.248-249).

Chapter 8: Labour, Life, Language

I The New Empiricities

The three terms that the chapter is named after (labour, life, language) is regarded as ‘quasi-transcendentals’ by Foucault. With the emergence of these fields, at the end of the eighteenth century, “the space of Western knowledge is now about to topple: the taxinomia, whose great, universal expanse extended in correlation with the possibility of a mathesis, and which constituted the down-beat of knowledge — at once its primary possibility and the end of its perfection — is now about to order itself in accordance with an obscure verticality: a verticality that is to define the law of resemblances, prescribe all adjacencies and discontinuities, provide the foundation for perceptible arrangements, and displace all the great horizontal deployments of the taxinomia towards the somewhat accessory region of consequences. Thus, European culture is inventing for itself a depth in which what matters is no longer identities, routes, but great hidden forces developed on the basis of their primitive and inaccessible nucleus, origin, causality, and history” (p.251). So, “what changed at the turn of the century, and underwent an irremediably modification, was knowledge itself as an anterior and indivisible mode of being between the knowing subject and the object of knowledge” (p.252).

II Ricardo

In this part, Foucault investigates Ricardo’s work and how his theories on labour which was regarded as “the source of all value” (p.254). So, “‘Wealth’, instead of being distributed over a table and thereby constituting a system of equivalencies, is organized and accumulated in a temporal sequence: all value is determined, not according to the instruments that permit its analysis, but according to the conditions of production that have brought it into being; and even prior to that, the conditions in question are determined by the quantities of labour applied in producing them” (p.256).

The positivity of economics is situated in that anthropological hollow. Homo oeconomicus is not the human being who represents his own needs to himself, and the objects capable of satisfying them; he is the human being who spends, wears out, and wastes his life in evading the imminence of death” (p.257). Thus, a focus — or an anthropology — was directed towards man’s natural finitude; whereas, “need and desire withdraw towards the subjective sphere — that sphere which, in the same period, is becoming an object of psychology” (p.257). And thus, “the reign of the episteme that based knowledge upon the ordering of representations will have been broken; and a new epistemological arrangement will have replaced it, an arrangement that distinguishes, though not without referring them to one another, between a psychology of needs represented and an anthropology of natural finitude” (p.257-258).

III Cuvier

Foucault continues to analyse the emergence of ‘quasi-transcendentals’ — this time, on ‘life’. “From Cuvier onward, the living being wraps itself in its own existence, breaks off its taxonomic links of adjacency, tears itself free from the vast, tyrannical plan of continuities, and constitutes itself as a new space: a double space, in fact — since it is both the interior one of anatomical conferences and physiological compatibilities, and the exterior one of the elements in which it resides and of which it forms its own body. But both these spaces are subject to a common control: it is no longer that of the possibilities of being, it is that of the conditions of life” (p.274).

IV Bopp

Next, Foucault investigates the shift from general grammar to philology. According to him, language no longer played the role of representation. Before, in the classical age, languages had a hierarchy based on their capacity to represent. Now, “by being cut off from what it represents, language was certainly made to emerge for the first time in its own particular legality, and at the same time it was doomed to be re-apprehensible only within history” (p.294).

V Language Become Object

”Classical knowledge was profoundly nominalistic. From the nineteenth century, language began to fold in upon itself, to acquire its own particular density, to deploy a history, and objectivity, and laws of its own. It became one object of knowledge among others, on the same level as living beings, wealth and value, and the history of events and men. It may possess its own concepts, but the analyses that bear upon it have their roots at the same level as those that deal with other empirical forms of knowledge. The pre-eminence that enabled general grammar to be logic while at the same time intersecting with it has now been lost. To know language is no longer to come as close as possible to knowledge itself; it is merely to apply the methods of understanding in general to a particular domain of objectivity” (p.296). Thus, “at the moment when language, as spoken and scattered words, becomes an object of knowledge, we see it reappearing in a strictly opposite modality: a silent, cautious deposition of the word upon the whiteness of a piece of paper, where it can possess neither sound nor interlocutor, where it has nothing to say but itself, nothing to do but shine in the brightness of its being” (p.300).

Unexpectedly, and most importantly, literature has appeared. “[…] literature as such — for there has of course existed in the Western world since Dante, since Homer, a form of language that we now call ‘literature’. […] Literature is the contestation of philology )of which it nevertheless the twin figure): it leads language back from grammar to the naked power of speech, and there it encounters the untamed, imperious being of words. From the Romantic revolt against a discourse frozen in its own ritual pomp, to the Mallarméan discovery of the word in its impotent power, it becomes clear what the function of literature was, in the nineteenth century, in relation to the modern mode of being language. […] it breaks with the whole definition of genres as forms adapted to an order of representations and becomes merely a manifestation of a language which has no other law that that of affirming – in opposition  to all other forms of discourse – its own precipitous existence; and so there is nothing for it to do but to curve backing a perpetual return upon itself, as if its discourse could have no other content than the expression of its own form; it addresses itself to itself as a writing subjectivity, or seeks to re-apprehend the essence of all literature in the movement that brought it into being; and thus all its threads converge upon the finest points – singular, instantaneous, and yet absolutely universal – upon the simple act of writing“ (p.300)

Chapter 9: Man and his Doubles

I The Return of Language

”When the table of natural history was dissociated, the living beings within it were not dispersed, but,, on the contrary, regrouped around the central enigma of life; when the analysis of wealth had disappeared, all economic processes were regrouped around the central fact of production and all that rendered it possible; on the other hand, when the unity of general grammar — discourse — was broken up, language appeared in a multiplicity of modes of being, whose unity was probably irrecoverable. It is for this reason, perhaps, that philosophical reflection for so long held itself aloof from language” (p.304). And the questions that now confront our curiosity like What is language? What is a sign? “were made possible by the fact that, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the law of discourse having been detached from representation, the being of language itself became, as it were, fragmented” (p.306).

II The Place of the King

Foucault starts talking about ‘the science of man’ and how the notion did not exist in the Classical age but came after it. “Classical language, as the common discourse of representation and things, as the place within which nature and human nature intersect, absolutely excludes anything that could be a ‘science of man’. As long as that language was spoken in Western culture it was not possible for human existence to be called in question on its own account, since it contained the nexus of representation and being” (p.311).

III The Analytic of Finitude

Man becomes an object of knowledge and a subject that knows “when natural history becomes biology, when the analysis of wealth becomes economics, when, above all, reflection upon language becomes, philology” (p.312). And thus man’s finitude is revealed as “all these contents that his knowledge reveals to him as exterior to himself, and older than his own birth, anticipate him, overhang him with all their solidarity, and traverse him as though he were merely an object of nature, a face doomed to be erased in the course of history. Man’s finitude is heralded — and imperiously so — in the positivity of knowledge; we know that man is finite, as we know of the anatomy of the brain, the mechanics of production costs, or the system of Indo-European conjugation […]” (p.313-314). And “if man’s knowledge is finite, it is because he is trapped, without possibility of liberation, within the positive contents of language, labour and life; and inversely, if life, labour, and language may be posited in their positivity, it is because knowledge has finite forms” (p.316).

Then Foucault presents the disappearance of metaphysics in Modern thought and the appearance of man. “Where there had formerly been a correlation between a metaphysics of representation and of the infinite and an analysis of living beings, of man’s desires, and of the words of his language, we find being constituted an analytic of finitude and human existence, and in opposition to (though in correlative opposition) a perpetual tendency to constitute a metaphysics of life, labour and language. But these are never anything more than tendencies, immediately opposed and is it were undermined from within, for there can be no question of anything but metaphysics reduced to the scale of human finitudes: the metaphysic of a life that converges upon man even if it does not stop with him; the metaphysic of a labour that frees man so that man, in turn, can free himself from it; the metaphysic of language that man can reappropriate in the consciousness of his own culture. Modern thought, then, will contest even its own metaphysical impulses, and show that reflections upon life, labours and language, in so far as they have value as analytics of finitude, express the end of metaphysics: the philosophy of life denounces metaphysics as a veil of illusion, that of labour denounces it as an alienated form of thought and an ideology, that of language as a cultural episode. But the end of metaphysics is only the negative side of a much more event in Western thought. This event is the appearance of man.” (p.317). Lastly, Foucault sums up the changes from Renaissance to Modernity as “Modern culture can conceive of man because it conceives of the finite on the basis of itself. […] Renaissance ‘humanism’ and Classical ‘rationalism’ were indeed able to allot human beings a privileged position in the order of the world, but they were not able to conceive of man” (p.318).

IV The Empirical and the Transcendental

According to Foucault, “the threshold of our modernity is situated not by the attempt to apply objective methods to the study of man, but rather by the constitution of an empirical-transcendental doublet which was called man. Two kinds of analysis then come into being. There are those that operate within the space of the body, and — by studying perception, senatorial mechanism, neuro-motor diagrams, and the articulation common to things and to the organism — function as a sort of transcendental aesthetic; these led to the discovery that knowledge has anatomo-physiological conditions, that it is formed gradually within the structures of the body, that it may have a privileged place within it, but that its forms cannot be dissociated from its peculiar functioning; in short, that there is a nature of human knowledge that determines its forms and that can at the same time be made manifest to it in its own empirical contents. There were also analysis that — by studying humanity’s more or less ancient, more or less easily vanquished illusions — functioned as a sort of transcendental dialectic; by this means it was shown that knowledge had historical, social, or economic conditions, that it was formed within the relations that are woven between men, and that it was not independent of the particular form they might take here or there; in short, that there was a history of human knowledge which could both be given to empirical knowledge and prescribe its forms” (p.319). And thus, the locus of such discourse was found “in modern thought by the analysis of actual experience” (p.321) as a contestation of positivism and eschatology.

V The ‘Cogito’ and the Unthought

Foucault explains the modern cogito, as opposed to that of Descartes’, “who was concerned to reveal thought as the most general form of all those thoughts we term error or illusion” (p.324). On the other hand, the “modern cogito explains why the ‘I think’ does not, in its case, lead to the evident truth of the ‘I am’. […] For can I, in fact ,say that I am this language I speak, into which my thought insinuates itself to the point of finding in it the system of all its own possibilities, yet which exists only in the weight of sedimentations my thought will never be capable of actualising together? Can I say that I am this labour I perform with my hands, yet which eludes me not only when I have finished it, but even before I have begun it? Can I say that I am this life I sense deep within me, but which envelops me both in the irresistible time that grows side by side with it and poses me for a moment on its crest, and in the imminent time that prescribes my death?” (p.324-325).

Then Foucault points out the shift from metaphysics to phenomenology which is “much less the resumption of an old rational goal of the West than the sensitive and precisely formulated acknowledgement of the great hiatus that occurred in the modern episteme at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries” (p.325).

Then, Foucault turns to morality. “For modern thought, no morality is possible. Thought had already ‘left’ itself in its own being as early as the nineteenth century; it is no longer theoretical. As soon as it functions it offends ore reconciles, attracts or repels, breaks, dissociates, unites, or reunites; it cannot help but liberate and enslave. Even before prescribing, suggesting a future, saying what must be done, even before exhorting or merely sounding an alarm, thought, at the level of its existence, in its very dawning, is in itself an action — a perilous act” (p.328).

VI The Retreat and Return of the Origin

In this part, Foucault touches upon how man is cut off from his origins in modernity. “This is because man, in fact, can be revealed only when bound to a previously existing historicity: he is never contemporaneous with that origin which is outlined through the time of things even as it eludes the gaze; when he tries to define himself as a living being, he can uncover his own beginning only against the background of a life which itself began long before him; when he attempts to re-apprehend himself as a labouring being, he cannot bring even the most rudimentary forms of such a being to light except within a human time and space which have been previously institutionalised, and previously subjugated by society; and when he attempts to define his essence as a speaking subject, prior to any effectively constituted language, all he ever finds is the previously unfolded possibility of language, and not stumbling sound, the first word upon the basis of which all languages and even language became possible” (p.330).

Then Foucault proceeds to explain the rupture of Western episteme, with the aid of the aforementioned factors in the chapter. “Thus, by rediscovering finitude in its interrogation of the origin, modern thought closes the great quadrilateral it began to outline when the Western episteme broke up at the end of the eighteenth century: the connection of the positivities with finitude, the reduplication of the empirical and the transcendental, the perpetual relation of the cogito to the unthought, the retreat and return of the origin, define for us man’s mode of being. It is in the analysis of that mode of being, and no longer in the analysis of representation, that reflection since the nineteenth century has sought a philosophical foundation for the possibility of knowledge” (p.335).

VII Discourse and Man’s Being

Foucault writes: “in Western culture the being of man and the being of language have never, at any time been able to coexist and to articulate themselves one upon the other. Their incompatibility has been one of the fundamental features of our thought” (p.339). He then describes the consequences of the modern thought: “calling to one another and answering one another throughout modern thought and throughout its history, we find a dialectical interplay and an ontology without metaphysics: for modern thought is one that moves no longer towards the never-completed formation of Difference, but towards the ever-to-be-accomplished unveiling of the Same. Now, such an unveiling is not accomplished without the simultaneous appearance of the Double, and that hiatus, minuscule and yet invincible, which resides in the ‘and’ of retreat and return, of thought and the unthought, of the empirical and the transcendental, of what belongs to the order of positivity and what belongs to the order of foundations” (p.340).

VIII The Anthropological Sleep

Foucault touches upon how “anthropology as an analytic of man has certainly played a constituent role in modern thought, since to a large extent we are still not free from it” (p.340). He wonderfully concludes the chapter by writing: “Anthropology constitutes perhaps the fundamental arrangement that has governed and controlled the path of philosophical thought from Kant until our own day. This arrangement is essential, since it forms part of our history; but it is disintegrating before our eyes, since we are beginning to recognise and denounce in it, in a critical mode, both a forgetfulness of the opening that made it possible and a stubborn obstacle standing obstinately in the way of an imminent new form of thought. To all those who still wish to talk about man, about his reign or his liberation, to all those who still ask themselves questions about what man is in his essence, to all those who wish to take him as their starting-point in their attempts to reach the truth, to all those who, on the other hand, refer all knowledge back to the truths of man himself, to all those who refuse to formalise without anthropologizing, who refuse to mythologise without demystifying, who refuse to think without immediately thinking that it is man who is thinking, to all these warped and twisted forms of reflection we can answer only with a philosophical laugh — which means, to a certain extent, a silent one” (p.342-343).

Chapter 10: The Human Sciences

I The Three Faces of Knowledge

Foucault writes “The epistemological field traversed by the human sciences was not laid down in advance: no philosophy, not political or moral option, no empirical science of any kind, no observation of the human body, no analysis of sensation, no imagination, or the passions, had ever encountered, in the seventeenth or eighteenth century, anything like man; for man did not exist (any more than life, or language, or labour); and the human sciences did not appear when, as a result of some pressing rationalism, some unresolved scientific problem, some practical concern, it was decided to include man (willy-nilly, and with a greater or lesser degree of success) among the objects of science – among which it has perhaps not been proved even yet that it is absolutely possible to class him; they appeared when man constituted himself in Western culture as both that which must be conceived of and that which is to be known” (p.344-345).

Foucault then writes that the modern episteme is represented in three dimensions. The first one is the “mathematical and physical sciences, for which order is always a deductive and linear linking together of evident or verified propositions” (p.347). The second one is the sciences “(such as those of language, life, and the production and distribution of wealth) that proceed by relating discontinuous but analogous elements in such a way that they are then able to establish casual relations and structural constants between them (p.347). Lastly is that of “philosophical reflection, which develops as thought of the Same; it forms a common plane with the dimension of linguistics, biology, and economics” (p.347). In this epistemological trihedron the human sciences are excluded as “they cannot be found along any of its dimensions or on the surface of any of the planes thus defined” (p.347). Thus, ‘the human sciences’ finds itself in an ambiguous position in their relation to the three dimensions mentioned.

II The Form of the Human Sciences

In this part, Foucault elaborates on what human sciences are. “The human sciences are not, then, an analysis of what man is by nature; but rather an analysis that extends from what man is in his positivity (living, speaking, labouring being) to what enables this same being to know (or seek to know) what life is, in what the essence of labour and its laws consist, and in what way he is able to speak. The human sciences thus occupy the distance that separates (though not without connecting them) biology, economics, and philology from that which gives them possibility in the very being of man” (p.353).

III The Three Models

Foucault links the human sciences to the three models he analysed throughout the book. “It might be possible to retrace the entire history of the human sciences, from the nineteenth century onward, on the basis of these three models. They have, in fact, covered the whole of that history, since we can follow the dynasty of their privileges for more than a century: first, the reign of the biological model (man, his psyche, his group, his society, the language he speaks — all these exist in the Romantic period as living beings and in so far as they were, in fact, alive; their mode of being is organic and is analysed in terms of function); then comes the reign of the economic mode (man and his entire activity are the locus of conflicts of which they are both the more or less manifest expression and the more or less successful solution); lastly — just as Freud comes after Comte and Marx — there begins the reign of the philological (when it is a matter of interpretation and the discovery of hidden meanings) and linguistic model (when it is a matter of giving a structure to and clarifying the signifying system)” (p.359).

The human sciences “laid down an essential division within their own field: they always extended between a positive pole and a negative pole; they always designated an alterity” (p.360). For instance, there was the ‘normal psychology’ and the ‘pathological psychology’. However, with Freud there was “a radical erasure of the division between positive and negative” (p.361), which led to the “transition from an analysis in terms of functions, conflicts, and significations to an analysis in terms of norms, rules, and systems […] Thus, all this knowledge, within which Western culture had given itself in one century a certain image of man, pivots on the word of Freud” (p.361).

Then Foucault establishes a relationship between the human sciences and representation. “Representation is not simply an object for the human sciences; it is, (…) the very field upon which the human sciences occur, and to their fullest extent; it is the general pedestals of that form of knowledge, the basis that makes it possible” (p.363). And thus comes the importance of Freud and psychoanalysis. ”We shall say, therefore, that a ‘human science’ exists, not wherever man is in question, but wherever there is analysis — within the dimension proper to the unconsciousness — of norms, rules, and signifying totalities which unveil to consciousness the conditions of its forms and contents” (p.364).

Foucault also talks about the ‘science’ part of the ‘human sciences’. “It is useless, then, to say that the ‘human sciences’ are false sciences; they are not sciences at all; the configuration that defines their positivity and gives them their roots in the modern episteme at the same time Kate’s it impossible for them to be sciences; and if it is then asked why they assumed that title, it is sufficient to recall that it pertains to the archaeological definition of their roots that they summon and receive the transference of models borrowed from the sciences” (p.366).

IV History

Foucault explains the relationship between History to the modern Western episteme and the human sciences. “behind the history of the positivities, there appears another, more radical, history, that of man himself — a history that now concerns man’s very being, since he now realises that he not only ‘has history’ all around him, but is himself, in his own historicity, that by means of which a history of human life, a history of economics, and a history of languages are given their form. In which case, at a very deep level, there exists a historicity of man which is itself its own history but also the radical dispersion that provides a foundation for all other histories”” (p.370).

Then he digs deeper into the ambiguous relationship between the human sciences and history. “History constitutes, therefore, for the human sciences, a favourable environment which is both privileged and dangerous. To each of the sciences of man it offers a background, which establishes it and provides it with a fixed ground and, as it were, a homeland; it determines the cultural area — the chronological and geographical boundaries — in which that branch of knowledge can be recognized as having validity; but it also surrounds the sciences of man with a frontier that limits them and destroys, from the outset, their claim to validity within the element of universality. It reveals in this way that though man — even before knowing it — has always been subjected to the determinations that can be expressed by psychology, sociology, and the analysis of language, he is not therefore the intemporal object of a knowledge which, at least at the level of its rights, must itself be thought of as ageless” (p.371). Thus, “by unveiling the unconsciousness as their most fundamental object, the human sciences showed that there was always something still to be thought in what had already been thought on a manifest level; by revealing the law of time as the external boundary of the human sciences, History shows that everything that has been thought will be thought again by a thought that does not yet exist” (p.372).

V Psychoanalysis and Ethnology

Foucault inspects psychoanalysis and ethnology, as they “occupy a privileged position in our knowledge” (p.373). Psychoanalysis “stands as close as possible, in fact, to that critical function which, as we have seen, exists within all the human sciences. In setting itself the task of making the discourse of the unconscious speak through consciousness, psychoanalysis is advancing in the direction of that fundamental region in which the relations of representation and finitude come into play […] This means that, unlike the human sciences, which even while turning back towards the unconsciousness, always remain within the space of the representable, psychoanalysis advances and leaps over representation” (p.374). Likewise, when it comes to ethnology, “just as psychoanalysis situates itself in the dimension of the unconscious […], so ethnology situates itself in the dimension of historicity […]. It is no doubt difficult to maintain that ethnology has fundamental relation with historicity since it is traditionally the knowledge we have of peoples without histories” (p.376). “Thus, ethnology shows how, within a given culture, there occur the normalisation of the broad biological functions, the rules that render possible or obligatory all forms of exchange, production, and consumption, and the systems that are organized around or on the model of linguistic structures. Ethnology, then, advances towards that region where the human sciences are articulated upon that biology, that economics, and that philology and linguistics which, as we have seen, dominate the human sciences from such a very great height” (p.377).

Thus, ethnology and psychoanalysis share common traits as they both attempt to represent the unconscious behaviour of man and what constitutes knowledge of man. “The privilege of ethnology and psychoanalysis, the reason for their profound kinship and symmetry, must not be sought, therefore, in some common concern to pierce the profound enigma, the most secret part of human nature; in fact, what illuminates the space of their discourse is much more the historical a priori of all the sciences of man — those great caesuras, furrows, and dividing-lines which traced man’s outline in the Western episteme and made him a possible area of knowledge. It was quite inevitable, then, that they should both be sciences of the unconscious: not because they reach down to what is below consciousness in man, but because they are directed towards that which, outside man, makes it possible to know, with a positive knowledge, that which is given to or eludes his consciousness” (p.378). “In relation to the ‘human sciences’, psychoanalysis and ethnology are rather ‘counter-sciences’; which does not mean that they are less ‘rational’ or ‘objective’ than the others, but that they flow in the opposite direction, that they lead them back to their epistemological basis, and that they ceaselessly ‘unmake’ that very man who is creating and re-creating his positivity in the human sciences” (p.379).

Then Foucault proceeds to writing about the role of linguistics as another “counter-science” and the return of language with literature by figures such as Kafka, Bataille, and Blanchot. “It is clear that this ‘return’ of language is not a sudden interruption in our culture; it is not the irruptive discovery of some long-buried evidence; it does not indicate a folding back of thought upon itself, in the movement by which it emancipates itself from all content, or a narcissism occurring within a literature freeing itself at last from what it has to say in order to speak henceforth only about the fact that it is language stripped naked. It is, in fact, the strict unfolding of Western culture in accordance with the necessity it imposed upon itself at the beginning of the nineteenth century” (p.384). Thus, Foucault asks the question: “Since man was constituted at a time when language was doomed to dispersion, will he not be dispersed when language regains its unity?” (p.386); and ends the part with the following: “Ought we not admit that, since language is here once more, man will return to that serene non-existence in which he was formerly maintaining by the imperious unity of Discourse? Man had been a figure occurring between two modes of language; or rather he was constituted only when language, having been situated within representation and, as it were, dissolved in it, freed itself form that situation at the cost of its own fragmentation: man composed his own figure in the interstices of that fragmented language. Of course, there are not affirmations; they are at most questions to which it is not possible to reply; they must be left in suspense, where they pose themselves, only with the knowledge that the possibility of posing them may well open the way to a future thought” (p.386).

VI In Conclusion

Foucault ends his book with the following conclusion, which requires quoting in full.

“One thing in any case is certain: man is neither the oldest nor the most constant problem that has been posed for human knowledge. Taking a relatively short chronological sample within a restricted geographical area — European culture since the sixteenth century — one can be certain that man is a recent invention within it. It is not around him and his secrets that knowledges prowled for so long in the darkness. In fact, among all the mutations that have affected the knowledge of things and their order, the knowledge of identities differences, characters, equivalences, words — in short, in the midst of all the episodes of that profound history of the Same — only one, that which began a century and a half ago and is now perhaps drawing to a close, has made it possible for the figure of man to appear. And that appearance was not the liberation of an old anxiety, the transition into luminous consciousness of an age-old concern, the entry into objectivity of something that had long remained trapped within beliefs and philosophies: it was the effect of a change in the fundamental arrangements of knowledge. As the archaeology of our thought easily shows, man is an invention of recent date. And one perhaps nearing its end.

If those arrangements were to disappear as they appeared, if some event of which we can at the moment do no more than sense the possibility — without knowing either what its form will be or what it promises — were to cause them to crumble, as the ground of Classical thought did, at the end of the eighteenth century, then one can certainly wager that man would be erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea” (p.386-387).

Note: The summary written here was of great help to me.

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