Order of Things, Preface

from An Archaeology of the Human Sciences

— Foucault, Michel. Preface.” In Order of Things, An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. Vintage Books, 1994.

This book first arose out of a pas­sage in Borges, out of the laugh­ter that shat­tered, as I read the pas­sage, all the fa­mil­iar land­marks of my thought — our thought, the thought that bears the stamp of our age and our ge­og­ra­phy — break­ing up all the or­dered sur­faces and all the planes with which we are ac­cus­tomed to tame the wild pro­fu­sion of ex­ist­ing things, and con­tin­u­ing long af­ter­wards to dis­turb and threaten with col­lapse our age-old dis­tinc­tion be­tween the Same and the Other. This pas­sage quotes a certain Chinese en­cy­clo­pe­dia” in which it is writ­ten that animals are di­vided into: (a) be­long­ing to the Emperor, (b) em­balmed, (c) tame, (d) suck­ing pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fab­u­lous, (g) stray dogs, (h) in­cluded in the pre­sent clas­si­fi­ca­tion, (i) fren­zied, (j) in­nu­mer­able, (k) drawn with a very fine camel­hair brush, (1) et cetera, (m) hav­ing just bro­ken the wa­ter pitcher, (n) that from a long way off” look like flies”. In the won­der­ment of this tax­on­omy, the thing we ap­pre­hend in one great leap, the thing that, by means of the fa­ble, is demon­strated as the ex­otic charm of an­other sys­tem of thought, is the lim­i­ta­tion of our own, the stark im­pos­si­bil­ity of think­ing that.

But what is it im­pos­si­ble to think, and what kind of im­pos­si­bil­ity are we faced with here? Each of these strange cat­e­gories can be as­signed a pre­cise mean­ing and a demon­stra­ble con­tent; some of them do cer­tainly in­volve fan­tas­tic en­ti­ties — fab­u­lous an­i­mals or sirens — but, pre­cisely be­cause it puts them into cat­e­gories of their own, the Chinese en­cy­clo­pe­dia lo­cal­izes their pow­ers of con­ta­gion; it dis­tin­guishes care­fully be­tween the very real an­i­mals (those that are fren­zied or have just bro­ken the wa­ter pitcher) and those that re­side solely in the realm of imag­i­na­tion. The pos­si­bil­ity of dan­ger­ous mix­tures has been ex­or­cized, her­aldry and fa­ble have been rel­e­gated to their own ex­alted peaks: no in­con­ceiv­able am­phibi­ous maid­ens, no clawed wings, no dis­gust­ing, squa­mous epi­der­mis, none of those poly­mor­phous and de­mo­ni­a­cal faces, no crea­tures breath­ing fire. The qual­ity of mon­stros­ity here does not af­fect any real body, nor does it pro­duce mod­i­fi­ca­tions of any kind in the bes­tiary of the imag­i­na­tion; it does not lurk in the depths of any strange power. It would not even be pre­sent at all in this clas­si­fi­ca­tion had it not in­sin­u­ated it­self into the empty space, the in­ter­sti­tial blanks sep­a­rat­ing all these en­ti­ties from one an­other. It is not the fabulous” an­i­mals that are im­pos­si­ble, since they are des­ig­nated as such, but the nar­row­ness of the dis­tance sep­a­rat­ing them from (and jux­ta­pos­ing them to) the stray dogs, or the an­i­mals that from a long way off look like flies. What trans­gresses the bound­aries of all imag­i­na­tion, of all pos­si­ble thought, is sim­ply that al­pha­bet­i­cal se­ries (a, b, c, d) which links each of those cat­e­gories to all the oth­ers.

Moreover, it is not sim­ply the odd­ity of un­usual Juxtapositions that we are faced with here. We are all fa­mil­iar with the dis­con­cert­ing ef­fect of the prox­im­ity of ex­tremes, or, quite sim­ply, with the sud­den vicin­ity of things that have no re­la­tion to each other; the mere act of enu­mer­a­tion that heaps them all to­gether has a power of en­chant­ment all its own: I am no longer hun­gry,” Eusthenes said. Until the mor­row, safe from my saliva all the fol­low­ing shall be: Aspics, Acalephs, Acanthocephalates, Amoebocytes, Ammonites, Axolotis, Amblystomas, Aphislions, Anacondas, Ascarids, Amphisbaenas, Angleworms, Amphipods, Anaerobes, Annelids, Anthozoans…” But all these worms and snakes, all these crea­tures redo­lent of de­cay and slime are slith­er­ing, like the syl­la­bles which des­ig­nate them, in Eusthenes’ saliva: that is where they all have their com­mon lo­cus, like the um­brella and the sewing-ma­chine on the op­er­at­ing table; star­tling though their propin­quity may be, it is nev­er­the­less war­ranted by that and, by that in, by that on whose so­lid­ity pro­vides proof of the pos­si­bil­ity of jux­ta­po­si­tion. It was cer­tainly im­prob­a­ble that arach­nids, am­monites, and an­nelids should one day min­gle on Eusthenes’ tongue, but, af­ter all, that wel­com­ing and vo­ra­cious mouth cer­tainly pro­vided them with a fea­si­ble lodg­ing, a roof un­der which to co­ex­ist.

The mon­strous qual­ity that runs through Borges’s enu­mer­a­tion con­sists, on the con­trary, in the fact that the com­mon ground on which such meet­ings are pos­si­ble has it­self been de­stroyed. What is im­pos­si­ble is not the propin­quity of the things listed, but the very site on which their propin­quity would be pos­si­ble. The an­i­mals (i) fren­zied, (j) in­nu­mer­able, (k) drawn with a very fine camel­hair brush” — where could they ever meet, ex­cept in the im­ma­te­r­ial sound of the voice pro­nounc­ing their enu­mer­a­tion, or on the page tran­scrib­ing it? Where else could they be jux­ta­posed ex­cept in the non-place of lan­guage? Yet, though lan­guage can spread them be­fore us, it can do so only in an un­think­able space. The cen­tral cat­e­gory of an­i­mals included in the pre­sent clas­si­fi­ca­tion”, with its ex­plicit ref­er­ence to para­doxes we are fa­mil­iar with, is in­di­ca­tion enough that we shall never suc­ceed in defin­ing a sta­ble re­la­tion of con­tained to con­tainer be­tween each of these cat­e­gories and that which in­cludes them all: if all the an­i­mals di­vided up here can be placed with­out ex­cep­tion in one of the di­vi­sions of this list, then aren’t all the other di­vi­sions to be found in that one di­vi­sion too? And then again, in what space would that sin­gle, in­clu­sive di­vi­sion have its ex­is­tence? Absurdity de­stroys the and of the enu­mer­a­tion by mak­ing im­pos­si­ble the in where the things enu­mer­ated would be di­vided up. Borges adds no fig­ure to the at­las of the im­pos­si­ble; nowhere does he strike the spark of po­etic con­fronta­tion; he sim­ply dis­penses with the least ob­vi­ous, but most com­pelling, of ne­ces­si­ties; he does away with the site, the mute ground upon which it is pos­si­ble for en­ti­ties to be jux­ta­posed. A van­ish­ing trick that is masked or, rather, laugh­ably in­di­cated by our al­pha­bet­i­cal or­der, which is to be taken as the clue (the only vis­i­ble one) to the enu­mer­a­tions of a Chinese en­cy­clo­pe­dia… What has been re­moved, in short, is the fa­mous operating table”; and ren­der­ing to Roussel a small part of what is still his due, I use that word table” in two su­per­im­posed senses: the nickel-plated, rub­bery table swathed in white, glit­ter­ing be­neath a glass sun de­vour­ing all shadow — the table where, for an in­stant, per­haps for­ever, the um­brella en­coun­ters the sewing-ma­chine; and also a table, a tab­ula, that en­ables thought to op­er­ate upon the en­ti­ties of our world, to put them in or­der, to di­vide them into classes, to group them ac­cord­ing to names that des­ig­nate their sim­i­lar­i­ties and their dif­fer­ences — the table upon which, since the be­gin­ning of time, lan­guage has in­ter­sected space.

That pas­sage from Borges kept me laugh­ing a long time, though not with­out a cer­tain un­easi­ness that I found hard to shake off. Perhaps be­cause there arose in its wake the sus­pi­cion that there is a worse kind of dis­or­der than that of the in­con­gru­ous, the link­ing to­gether of things that are in­ap­pro­pri­ate; I mean the dis­or­der in which frag­ments of a large num­ber of pos­si­ble or­ders glit­ter sep­a­rately in the di­men­sion, with­out law or geom­e­try, of the het­e­ro­clite; and that word should be taken in its most lit­eral, et­y­mo­log­i­cal sense: in such a state, things are laid”, placed”, arranged” in sites so very dif­fer­ent from one an­other that it is im­pos­si­ble to find a place of res­i­dence for them, to de­fine a com­mon lo­cus be­neath them all. Utopias af­ford con­so­la­tion: al­though they have no real lo­cal­ity there is nev­er­the­less a fan­tas­tic, un­trou­bled re­gion in which they are able to un­fold; they open up cities with vast av­enues, su­perbly planted gar­dens, coun­tries where life is easy, even though the road to them is chimeri­cal. Heterotopias are dis­turb­ing, prob­a­bly be­cause they se­cretly un­der­mine lan­guage, be­cause they make it im­pos­si­ble to name this and that, be­cause they shat­ter or tan­gle com­mon names, be­cause they de­stroy syntax” in ad­vance, and not only the syn­tax with which we con­struct sen­tences but also that less ap­par­ent syn­tax which causes words and things (next to and also op­po­site one an­other) to hold to­gether”. This is why Utopias per­mit fa­bles and dis­course: they run with the very grain of lan­guage and are part of the fun­da­men­tal di­men­sion of the fab­ula; het­ero­topias (such as those to be found so of­ten in Borges) des­ic­cate speech, stop words in their tracks, con­test the very pos­si­bil­ity of gram­mar at its source; they dis­solve our myths and ster­il­ize the lyri­cism of our sen­tences.

It ap­pears that cer­tain aphasi­acs, when shown var­i­ous dif­fer­ently coloured skeins of wool on a table top, are con­sis­tently un­able to arrange them into any co­her­ent pat­tern; as though that sim­ple rec­tan­gle were un­able to serve in their case as a ho­mo­ge­neous and neu­tral space in which things could be placed so as to dis­play at the same time the con­tin­u­ous or­der of their iden­ti­ties or dif­fer­ences as well as the se­man­tic field of their de­nom­i­na­tion. Within this sim­ple space in which things are nor­mally arranged and given names, the aphasiac will cre­ate a mul­ti­plic­ity of tiny, frag­mented re­gions in which name­less re­sem­blances ag­glu­ti­nate things into un­con­nected islets; in one cor­ner, they will place the light­est-coloured skeins, in an­other the red ones, some­where else those that are soft­est in tex­ture, in yet an­other place the longest, or those that have a tinge of pur­ple or those that have been wound up into a ball. But no sooner have they been ad­um­brated than all these group­ings dis­solve again, for the field of iden­tity that sus­tains them, how­ever lim­ited it may be, is still too wide not to be un­sta­ble; and so the sick mind con­tin­ues to in­fin­ity, cre­at­ing groups then dis­pers­ing them again, heap­ing up di­verse sim­i­lar­i­ties, de­stroy­ing those that seem clear­est, split­ting up things that are iden­ti­cal, su­per­im­pos­ing dif­fer­ent cri­te­ria, fren­ziedly be­gin­ning all over again, be­com­ing more and more dis­turbed, and tee­ter­ing fi­nally on the brink of anx­i­ety.

The un­easi­ness that makes us laugh when we read Borges is cer­tainly re­lated to the pro­found dis­tress of those whose lan­guage has been de­stroyed: loss of what is common” to place and name. Atopia, apha­sia. Yet our text from Borges pro­ceeds in an­other di­rec­tion; the myth­i­cal home­land Borges as­signs to that dis­tor­tion of clas­si­fi­ca­tion that pre­vents us from ap­ply­ing it, to that pic­ture that lacks all spa­tial co­her­ence, is a pre­cise re­gion whose name alone con­sti­tutes for the West a vast reser­voir of Utopias. In our dream­world, is not China pre­cisely this priv­i­leged site of space? In our tra­di­tional im­agery, the Chinese cul­ture is the most metic­u­lous, the most rigidly or­dered, the one most deaf to tem­po­ral events, most at­tached to the pure de­lin­eation of space; we think of it as a civ­i­liza­tion of dikes and dams be­neath the eter­nal face of the sky; we see it, spread and frozen, over the en­tire sur­face of a con­ti­nent sur­rounded by walls. Even its writ­ing does not re­pro­duce the fugi­tive flight of the voice in hor­i­zon­tal lines; it erects the mo­tion­less and still-rec­og­nize­able im­ages of things them­selves in ver­ti­cal columns. So much so that the Chinese en­cy­clopae­dia quoted by Borges, and the tax­on­omy it pro­poses, lead to a kind of thought with­out space, to words and cat­e­gories that lack all life and place, but are rooted in a cer­e­mo­nial space, over­bur­dened with com­plex fig­ures, with tan­gled paths, strange places, se­cret pas­sages, and un­ex­pected com­mu­ni­ca­tions. There would ap­pear to be, then, at the other ex­trem­ity of the earth we in­habit, a cul­ture en­tirely de­voted to the or­der­ing of space, but one that does not dis­trib­ute the mul­ti­plic­ity of ex­ist­ing things into any of the cat­e­gories that make it pos­si­ble for us to name, speak, and think.

When we es­tab­lish a con­sid­ered clas­si­fi­ca­tion, when we say that a cat and a dog re­sem­ble each other less than two grey­hounds do, even if both are tame or em­balmed, even if both are fren­zied, even if both have just bro­ken the wa­ter pitcher, what is the ground on which we are able to es­tab­lish the va­lid­ity of this clas­si­fi­ca­tion with com­plete cer­tainty? 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? For it is not a ques­tion of link­ing con­se­quences, but of group­ing and iso­lat­ing, of analysing, of match­ing and pi­geon-hol­ing con­crete con­tents; there is noth­ing more ten­ta­tive, noth­ing more em­pir­i­cal (superficially, at least) than the process of es­tab­lish­ing an or­der among things; noth­ing that de­mands a sharper eye or a surer, bet­ter-ar­tic­u­lated lan­guage; noth­ing that more in­sis­tently re­quires that one al­low one­self to be car­ried along by the pro­lif­er­a­tion of qual­i­ties and forms. And yet an eye not con­sciously pre­pared might well group to­gether cer­tain sim­i­lar fig­ures and dis­tin­guish be­tween oth­ers on the ba­sis of such and such a dif­fer­ence: in fact, there is no simil­i­tude and no dis­tinc­tion, even for the wholly un­trained per­cep­tion, that is not the re­sult of a pre­cise op­er­a­tion and of the ap­pli­ca­tion of a pre­lim­i­nary cri­te­rion. A system of el­e­ments” — a de­f­i­n­i­tion of the seg­ments by which the re­sem­blances and dif­fer­ences can be shown, the types of vari­a­tion by which those seg­ments can be af­fected, and, lastly, the thresh­old above which there is a dif­fer­ence and be­low which there is a simil­i­tude — is in­dis­pens­able for the es­tab­lish­ment of even the sim­plest form of or­der. Order 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.

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 the 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. But be­tween these two re­gions, so dis­tant from one an­other, lies a do­main which, even though its role is mainly an in­ter­me­di­ary one, is nonethe­less fun­da­men­tal: it is more con­fused, more ob­scure, and prob­a­bly less easy to analyse. It is here that a cul­ture, im­per­cep­ti­bly de­vi­at­ing from the em­pir­i­cal or­ders pre­scribed for it by its pri­mary codes, in­sti­tut­ing an ini­tial sep­a­ra­tion from them, causes them to lose their orig­i­nal trans­parency, re­lin­quishes its im­me­di­ate and in­vis­i­ble pow­ers, frees it­self suf­fi­ciently to dis­cover that these or­ders are per­haps not the only pos­si­ble ones or the best ones; this cul­ture then finds it­self faced with the stark fact that there ex­ists, be­low the level of its spon­ta­neous or­ders, things that are in them­selves ca­pa­ble of be­ing or­dered, that be­long to a cer­tain un­spo­ken or­der; the fact, in short, that or­der ex­ists. As though eman­ci­pat­ing it­self to some ex­tent from its lin­guis­tic, per­cep­tual, and prac­ti­cal grids, the cul­ture su­per­im­posed on them an­other kind of grid which neu­tral­ized them, which by this su­per­im­po­si­tion both re­vealed and ex­cluded them at the same time, so that the cul­ture, by this very process, came face to face with or­der in its pri­mary state. It is on the ba­sis of this newly per­ceived or­der that the codes of lan­guage, per­cep­tion, and prac­tice are crit­i­cized and ren­dered par­tially in­valid. It is on the ba­sis of this or­der, taken as a firm foun­da­tion, that gen­eral the­o­ries as to the or­der­ing of things, and the in­ter­pre­ta­tion that such an or­der­ing in­volves, will be con­structed. Thus, be­tween the al­ready encoded” eye and re­flex­ive knowl­edge there is a mid­dle re­gion which lib­er­ates or­der it­self: it is here that it ap­pears, ac­cord­ing to the cul­ture and the age in ques­tion, con­tin­u­ous and grad­u­ated or dis­con­tin­u­ous and piece­meal, linked to space or con­sti­tuted anew at each in­stant by the dri­ving force of time, re­lated to a se­ries of vari­ables or de­fined by sep­a­rate sys­tems of co­her­ences, com­posed of re­sem­blances which are ei­ther suc­ces­sive or cor­re­spond­ing, or­ga­nized around in­creas­ing dif­fer­ences, etc. This mid­dle re­gion, then, in so far as it makes man­i­fest the modes of be­ing of or­der, can be posited as the most fun­da­men­tal of all: an­te­rior to words, per­cep­tions, and ges­tures, which are then taken to be more or less ex­act, more or less happy, ex­pres­sions of it (which is why this ex­pe­ri­ence of or­der in its pure pri­mary state al­ways plays a crit­i­cal role); more solid, more ar­chaic, less du­bi­ous, al­ways more true” than the the­o­ries that at­tempt to give those ex­pres­sions ex­plicit form, ex­haus­tive ap­pli­ca­tion, or philo­soph­i­cal foun­da­tion. Thus, in every cul­ture, be­tween the use of what one might call the or­der­ing codes and re­flec­tions upon or­der it­self, there is the pure ex­pe­ri­ence of or­der and of its modes of be­ing.

The pre­sent study is an at­tempt to analyse that ex­pe­ri­ence. I am con­cerned to show its de­vel­op­ments, since the six­teenth cen­tury, in the main­stream of a cul­ture such as ours: 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 prac­tised; 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 and philol­ogy, in nat­ural his­tory and bi­ol­ogy, in the study of wealth and po­lit­i­cal econ­omy. Quite ob­vi­ously, such an analy­sis does not be­long to the his­tory of ideas or of sci­ence: it is rather an in­quiry whose aim is to re­dis­cover on what ba­sis knowl­edge and the­ory be­came pos­si­ble; within what space of or­der knowl­edge was con­sti­tuted; on the ba­sis of what his­tor­i­cal a pri­ori, and in the el­e­ment of what pos­i­tiv­ity, ideas could ap­pear, sci­ences be es­tab­lished, ex­pe­ri­ence be re­flected in philoso­phies, ra­tio­nal­i­ties be formed, only, per­haps, to dis­solve and van­ish soon af­ter­wards. I am not con­cerned, there­fore, 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, en­vis­aged apart from all cri­te­ria hav­ing ref­er­ence to its ra­tio­nal value or to its ob­jec­tive forms, grounds its pos­i­tiv­ity and thereby man­i­fests a his­tory which is not that of its grow­ing per­fec­tion, but rather that of its con­di­tions of pos­si­bil­ity; in this ac­count, what should ap­pear are those con­fig­u­ra­tions within the space of knowl­edge which have given rise to the di­verse forms of em­pir­i­cal sci­ence. Such an en­ter­prise is not so much a his­tory, in the tra­di­tional mean­ing of that word, as an archaeology”.

Now, this ar­chae­o­log­i­cal in­quiry has re­vealed two great dis­con­ti­nu­ities in the epis­teme of Western cul­ture: the first in­au­gu­rates the Classical age (roughly half-way through the sev­en­teenth cen­tury) and the sec­ond, at the be­gin­ning of the nine­teenth cen­tury, marks the be­gin­ning of the mo­dem age. The or­der on the ba­sis of which we think to­day does not have the same mode of be­ing as that of the Classical thinkers. Despite the im­pres­sion we may have of an al­most un­in­ter­rupted de­vel­op­ment of the European ra­tio from the Renaissance to our own day, de­spite our pos­si­ble be­lief that the clas­si­fi­ca­tions of Linnaeus, mod­i­fied to a greater or lesser de­gree, can still lay claim to some sort of va­lid­ity, that Condillac’s the­ory of value can be rec­og­nized to some ex­tent in nine­teenth-cen­tury mar­gin­al­ism, that Keynes was well aware of the affini­ties be­tween his own analy­ses and those of Cantillon, that the lan­guage of gen­eral gram­mar (as ex­em­pli­fied in the au­thors of Port-Royal or in Bauzee) is not so very far re­moved from our own — all this quasi-con­ti­nu­ity on the level of ideas and themes is doubt­less only a sur­face ap­pear­ance; on the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal level, we see that the sys­tem of pos­i­tiv­i­ties was trans­formed in a whole­sale fash­ion at the end of the eigh­teenth and be­gin­ning of the nine­teenth cen­tury. Not that rea­son made any progress: it was sim­ply that the mode of be­ing of things, and of the or­der that di­vided them up be­fore pre­sent­ing them to the un­der­stand­ing, was pro­foundly al­tered. If the nat­ural his­tory of Tournefort, Linnaeus, and Button can be re­lated to any­thing at all other than it­self, it is not to bi­ol­ogy, to Cuvier’s com­par­a­tive anatomy, or to Darwin’s the­ory of evo­lu­tion, but to Bauzee’s gen­eral gram­mar, to the analy­sis of money and wealth as found in the works of Law, or Veron de Fortbonnais, or Turgot. Perhaps knowl­edge suc­ceeds in en­gen­der­ing knowl­edge, ideas in trans­form­ing them­selves and ac­tively mod­i­fy­ing one an­other (but how? — his­to­ri­ans have not yet en­light­ened us on this point); one thing, in any case, is cer­tain: ar­chae­ol­ogy, ad­dress­ing it­self to the gen­eral space of knowl­edge, to its con­fig­u­ra­tions, and to the mode of be­ing of the things that ap­pear in it, de­fines sys­tems of si­mul­tane­ity, as well as the se­ries of mu­ta­tions nec­es­sary and suf­fi­cient to cir­cum­scribe the thresh­old of a new pos­i­tiv­ity.

In this way, analy­sis has been able to show the co­her­ence that ex­isted, through­out the Classical age, be­tween the the­ory of rep­re­sen­ta­tion and the the­o­ries of lan­guage, of the nat­ural or­ders, and of wealth and value. It is this con­fig­u­ra­tion that, from the nine­teenth cen­tury on­ward, changes en­tirely; the the­ory of rep­re­sen­ta­tion dis­ap­pears as the uni­ver­sal foun­da­tion of all pos­si­ble or­ders; lan­guage as the spon­ta­neous tab­ula, the pri­mary grid of things, as an in­dis­pens­able link be­tween rep­re­sen­ta­tion and things, is eclipsed in its turn; a pro­found his­toric­ity pen­e­trates into the heart of things, iso­lates and de­fines them in their own co­her­ence, im­poses upon them the forms of or­der im­plied by the con­ti­nu­ity of time; the analy­sis of ex­change and money gives way to the study of pro­duc­tion, that of the or­gan­ism takes prece­dence over the search for tax­o­nomic char­ac­ter­is­tics, and, above all, lan­guage loses its priv­i­leged po­si­tion and be­comes, in its turn, a his­tor­i­cal form co­her­ent with the den­sity of its own past. But as things be­come in­creas­ingly re­flex­ive, seek­ing the prin­ci­ple of their in­tel­li­gi­bil­ity only in their own de­vel­op­ment, and aban­don­ing the space of rep­re­sen­ta­tion, man en­ters in his turn, and for the first time, the field of Western knowl­edge. Strangely enough, man — the study of whom is sup­posed by the naive to be the old­est in­ves­ti­ga­tion since Socrates — is prob­a­bly no more than a kind of rift in the or­der of things, or, in any case, a con­fig­u­ra­tion whose out­lines are de­ter­mined by the new po­si­tion he has so re­cently taken up in the field of knowl­edge. Whence all the chimeras of the new hu­man­isms, all the facile so­lu­tions of an anthropology” un­der­stood as a uni­ver­sal re­flec­tion on man, half-em­pir­i­cal, half-philo­soph­i­cal. It is com­fort­ing, how­ever, and a source of pro­found re­lief to think that man is only a re­cent in­ven­tion, a fig­ure not yet two cen­turies old, a new wrin­kle in our knowl­edge, and that he will dis­ap­pear again as soon as that knowl­edge has dis­cov­ered a new form.

It is ev­i­dent that the pre­sent study is, in a sense, an echo of my un­der­tak­ing to write a his­tory of mad­ness in the Classical age; it has the same ar­tic­u­la­tions in time, tak­ing the end of the Renaissance as its start­ing-point, then en­coun­ter­ing, at the be­gin­ning of the nine­teenth cen­tury, just as my his­tory of mad­ness did, the thresh­old of a moder­nity that we have not yet left be­hind. But whereas in the his­tory of mad­ness I was in­ves­ti­gat­ing the way in which a cul­ture can de­ter­mine in a mas­sive, gen­eral form the dif­fer­ence that lim­its it, I am con­cerned here with ob­serv­ing how a cul­ture ex­pe­ri­ences the propin­quity of things, how it es­tab­lishes the tab­ula of their re­la­tion­ships and the or­der by which they must be con­sid­ered. I am con­cerned, in short, with a his­tory of re­sem­blance: on what con­di­tions was Classical thought able to re­flect re­la­tions of sim­i­lar­ity or equiv­a­lence be­tween things, re­la­tions that would pro­vide a foun­da­tion and a jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for their words, their clas­si­fi­ca­tions, their sys­tems of ex­change? What his­tor­i­cal a pri­ori pro­vided the start­ing-point from which it was pos­si­ble to de­fine the great checker­board of dis­tinct iden­ti­ties es­tab­lished against the con­fused, un­de­fined, face­less, and, as it were, in­dif­fer­ent back­ground of dif­fer­ences? The his­tory of mad­ness would be the his­tory of the Other — of that which, for a given cul­ture, is at once in­te­rior and for­eign, there­fore to be ex­cluded (so as to ex­or­cize the in­te­rior dan­ger) but by be­ing shut away (in or­der to re­duce its oth­er­ness); whereas the his­tory of the or­der im­posed on things would be the his­tory of the Same — of that which, for a given cul­ture, is both dis­persed and re­lated, there­fore to be dis­tin­guished by kinds and to be col­lected to­gether into iden­ti­ties.

And if one con­sid­ers that dis­ease is at one and the same time dis­or­der —the ex­is­tence of a per­ilous oth­er­ness within the hu­man body, at the very heart of life — and a nat­ural phe­nom­e­non with its own con­stants, re­sem­blances, and types, one can see what scope there would be for an ar­chae­ol­ogy of the med­ical point of view. From the limit-ex­pe­ri­ence of the Other to the con­stituent forms of med­ical knowl­edge, and from the lat­ter to the or­der of things and the con­cep­tions of the Same, what is avail­able to ar­chae­o­log­i­cal analy­sis is the whole of Classical knowl­edge, or rather the thresh­old that sep­a­rates us from Classical thought and con­sti­tutes our moder­nity. It was upon this thresh­old that the strange fig­ure of knowl­edge called man first ap­peared and re­vealed a space proper to the hu­man sci­ences. In at­tempt­ing to un­cover the deep­est strata of Western cul­ture, I am restor­ing to our silent and ap­par­ently im­mo­bile soil its rifts, its in­sta­bil­ity, its flaws; and it is the same ground that is once more stir­ring un­der our feet.