Selections from Foucault

Given the recent discussion about Chiapas, the internet, the list, etc, I
thoughtthat I would post the following bit from the preface to _The Birth
of the Clinic_.


"It may well be that we belong to an age of criticism whose lack of a
primary philosophy reminds us at every moment of its reign and its
fatality: an age of intelligence that keeps us irremediably at a
distance from an original language. For Kant, the possibility and
necessity of critique were linked, through certain scientific contents,
to the fact that there is such a thing as knowledge. In our time -- and
Nietzsche the philologist testifies to it -- they are linked to the fact
that language exists and that, in the innumerable words spoken by men --
whether they are reasonable or senseless, demonstrative or poetic -- a
meaning has taken shape that hangs over us, leading us forward in our
blindness, but awaiting in the darkness for us to attain awareness before
emerging into the light of day and speaking. We are doomed historically
to history, to the patient construction of discourses, and to the task of
hearing what has already been said.

But is it inevitalbe that we should know of no other function for speech
(_parole_) than that of commentary? _Commentary_ questions discourse as
to what it says and intended to say; it tries to uncover that deeper
meaning of speech that enables it to acheive an indentity with itself,
supposedly nearer to its essential truth; in other words, in stating what
has been said, one has to re-state what has never been said. In this
activity known as commentary which tries to transmit an old, unyeilding
discourse seemingly silent to itself, into another, more prolix discourse
that is both more archaic and more contemporary -- is concealed a strange
attitude towards language: to comment is to admit by definition an
excess of the signified over the signifier; a necessary, unformulated
remainder of thought that language has left in the shade -- a remainder
that is the very essence of thought, driven outside its secret -- but to
comment also presupposes that this spoken element slumbers within speech
(_parole_), and that, by a superabundance proper to the signifier, one
may, in questioning it, give voice to a content that was not explicitely
signified. By opening up the possibility of commentary, this double
plethora dooms us to an endless task that nothing can limit: there is
always a certain amount of signified remaining that must be allowed to
speak, while the signifier is always offered to us in an abundance that
questions us, in spite of ourselves, as to what it means (_veut dire_).
Signifier and signified thus assume a substantial autonomy that accords
the treasure of a virtual signification to each of them seperatly; one
may even exist without the other, and begin to speak of itself:
commentary resides in that supposed space. But at the same time, it
invents a complex link between them, a whole tangled web that concerns the
poetic values of expression: the signifier is not supposed to 'translate'
without concealing, without leaving the signified with an inexhaustible
reserve; the signfied is revealed only in the visible, heavy world of a
signifier that is itself burdened with a meaning that it cannot control.
Commentary rest on the postulate that speech (_parole_) is an act of
'translation', that it has the dangerous privaledge images have of showing
while concealing, and that it can be substituted for itself indefinitly
in the open series of discursive repititions; in short, it rest on a
psychologistic interpretation of language that shows the stigmatas of
its historical origin. This is an exegesis, which listens, through the
prohibitions, the symbols, the concrete images, through the whole
apparatus of Revelation, to the Word of God, ever secret, ever beyond
itself. For years we have been commenting on the language of our culture
from the very point where for centuries we had awaited in vain for the
decision of the Word.

To speak about the thoughts of others, to try to say what they have said
has, by tradition, been to analyse the signified. But must the things
said, elsewhere and by others, be treated exclusively in accordance with
the play of signifier and signified, as a series of themes present more
or less implicitly to one another? Is it not possible to make a
structural analysis of discourses that would evade the fate of commentary
by supposing no remainder, nothing in excess of what has been said, but
only the fact of its historical appearance? The facts of discourse would
then have to be treated not as autonomous nuclei of multiple
significations, but as events and multiple segments gradually coming
together to form a system. The meaning of a statement would be defined
not by the treasure of intentions that it might contain, revealing
and concealing it at the same time, but by the difference that
articulates it upon the other real or possible statements, which are
contemporary to it or to which it is opposed in the linear series of
time. A systematic history of discourse would then become possible."

(pp.xv - xvii)


I suppose at this point to offer my own commentary would be out of line.



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