Re: [Foucault-L] RE?: Translation of ?nonc? to English (Thomas Lord)

Tom, you are claiming you wrote politely and with respect but were not
received that way. Can you explain then in what way "wtf" is polite and
respectful, and how someone writing this kind of language should be
received? It is not a matter of profession but of education (good manners
that is, not academic).

I do not understand the person asking me to avoid flaming, I think my last
post was perfectly polite, and calm, but firm. I was just taking up the role
of moderator because I do not tolerate such inappropriate behaviour. There
are rules to read and follow when signing up to this group, and they should
be read and followed.

This is a serious discussion group where people help each other out on
Foucault and actually discuss matters relevant to his thought. I suggest
that Tom takes his personal polemical tone elsewhere, and only post in here
if he has actually something substantial to contribute with - i.e. with a
convincing argumentation demonstrating a thesis, and backed up with
examples. I am sorry to be the one to tell you this obvious fact but Tom's
personal "impressions" on Foucault are of no interest to anyone. But don't
get me wrong, even Paul Rabinov's or Hubert Dreyfus' personal thoughts on
Foucault without a convincing line of argumentation and examples would be
meaningless. The only person whose unsubstantiated impressions about
Foucault would be of interest is Foucault himself.

I really did not feel like answering to you Tom because of the condescending
tone you use. But the "ontological" critique you make is quite legitimate,
and I do not want to give you the satisfaction of playing the victim again
for allegedly not being well received. So I am going to answer you, but
without sinking to your level of personal polemic. I will spare you comments
of how I am imagining you thinking about Foucault, and I will avoid using
all sorts of sarcasm and irony under guise of argumentation. I take your
statement seriously, even if you are not seriously elaborating on it, not
giving convincing arguments, nor providing any concrete example.

To be clear, I do not fully agree with Deleuze's term "science" for
characterising the archaeological method, or more rightly, it should not be
understood as "science" the way you seem to misunderstand it (as so called
"hard science" or "natural science"). Actually, I think that Foucault and
positivism is a bit like Foucault and structuralism. He refused being called
a structuralist (in an interview he claimed that the word "structure" was
nowhere to be found in AK), and in a way he is right. On the other hand,
what he does is not exactly methodological individualism either - his
archaeology is non-anthropological and ignoring the role of authorship
("What is an author?"). But it is definitely not structuralism because he is
not concerned with structures, and micro levels do play a role (say
micro-power for instance). It is something in the middle, that can only be
called "Foucault" (and not Foucaultism).

I think that the same kind of paradox applies to the nature of his research
method. In "What is Enlightenment?" he is stating what his meta-theoretical
"paradigm" (if I may say so) is the one of Kant in explaining what the
Enlightenment is: grabbing a little candle and going in the dark to seek out
the truth. (A bit like Diogenes of Synope looking for Man). The
archaeological project is just that: a little candle. It is not a theory,
and Foucault understood very well the difficulty and the paradox of placing
his own research method in relation to others.

Kendal & Wickham (1999) argue persuasively that Foucault's method could be
summed up as applying a "Pyrhonean scepticism": you do not know anything
including the fact that you do not know anything. This is impossible to do
concretely, but one ought to try his/her best by avoiding "second order
judgements" (first order judgements are your own personal judgements,
second-order judgements are the judgements of others, e.g. Marxist theory or
Weberian "ideal type"). It is persuasive because Foucault himself in an
interview expressed how he disliked our judgemental nature, and was dreaming
of a (Kantian) criticism freed from judgements:

"it's amazing how people like judging. Judgement is being passed everywhere
all the time. Perhaps it is one of the simplest things mankind has ever been
given to do. And you know very well that the last [person], when radiation
has finally reduced [their] last enemy to ashes, will sit down behind some
rickety table and begin the trial of the individual responsible… I can't
help but dream, about a kind of criticism that would try not to
judge."* *(Politics,
Philosophy, Culture: Interviews and Other Writings, 1977-1984 ed. Lawrence
D. Kritzman, 1988: 326).

Therefore, he developed his own non-judgemental method, and he was actually
developing a different one according to the subject at hand and the research
question. In other words, criticising ontology was at the heart of his
thought, and especially the ontology of the present. So it would make no
sense to understand him as creating an ontology such as a "science" or
"theory" (that he explicitely rejected).

But two things. First, it is very difficult to develop a whole
methodological apparatus for every research question. Not everyone is a
talented theorist as Foucault (understood as not making a theory but
abstracting some general conceptual tools from a vast empirical material).
Secondly, how can one follow such a method, without making a second-order
judgement of his/her own (i.e. Foucault's second order judgement)?

So of course, there is an ontological problem there. And I am very well
aware of it. But let me ask you this: if everyone is enclosed in an ontology
that is criticisable without any possibility of coming out of it, how can we
successfully communicate at all? And how do you actually account for
progress in science?

This is the reason why Foucault is still remaining on the ground of
positivism. He is actually doing a historico-philosophical research that
claims to research the "positivities" of a discourse. The specificity of
Archaeology is that it enables a different approach to the history of ideas,
with different tools and different results:

"L'*a priori* historique"

The "historical a priori" is the main interest for using Foucault's method.
The "historical a priori" is defined by the "positivity" of the discourse.
This positivity defines the unity of the discourse through time, a "limited
space of communication" (Foucault 1969, 166).

The positivity

Foucault considers that describing a discursive formation is describing the
type of positivity of the discourse (Foucault 1969, 166). Foucault considers
his approach positivist because it does not pursue any interpretation of
so-called "hidden meanings", it does not describe an énoncé in relation to
the inside of a thought, and it does not accept a teleological view of
history with a beginning that one should identify.

The a priori

The positivity of a discourse gives its unity through time. This unity
defines a limited space of communication: the historical a priori. Foucault
gives this following definition:

"… j'entends désigner par là un *a priori* qui serait non pas condition de
validité pour des jugements, mais condition de réalité pour des
énoncés" (Foucault
1969, 167).
These are not metaphors, but actual research methods, very concise, very
comprehensive and thorough. So Deleuze is not completely wrong in calling
all this a "science". It's not a science in the sense of being a system. It
is up to everyone to come up with his/her own "tools". One does not make
"THE" archaeology of something but "A" archaeology. Foucault in this sense
wrote "A" archaeology of human sciences, because anyone should also use his
Pyrronhean scepticism towards Foucault himself. However, there has to remain
a minimum of positivism otherwise it is not possible to make archaeology at
all. Therefore he wrote "The" archaeology of knowledge.

It is not either without epistemological issues. But again, so is anything

In AK Foucault is stating that it is not possible to make an archaeology of
something too close to our present:

« … il ne nous est pas possible de décrire notre propre archive puisque
c'est à l'intérieur de ses règles que nous parlons. » (171)
This is probably what you referred to as discursive strategy. It is only
possible to describe the archives of discourses that are remote to us
because we are no longer inside this discursive formation. So can we make an
archaeology of modernity while being in modernity? Is he then a
postmodernist? But he is still inside the discourse of positivism.

This point is highly problematic I reckon, because it is difficult to
justify the validity of such an analysis, the "history of the present" that
he intends to make through a genealogy (that is taking up on the archaeology
but with the power/knowledge nexus in the non-discursive realm that accounts
for the explanation of changes in the discursive realm). The claim of
validity is the problem.

In the French version of his exegesis of Kant's article entitled *"Was ist
Aufklärung?"*, differing from the English version, Foucault identifies Kant
as the founder of two modes of critique and questioning that has haunted
modern philosophy ever since: an analytic of truth and an ontology of the
present (Foucault, Qu'est-ce que les Lumières? 1994 [1984]). The ontology of
the present during Kant's time was "What is Enlightenment?". Foucault places
himself in this critical tradition.

Foucault's aim was to write a "history of the present".[1] <#_ftn1> In an
interview, Foucault explained the work of the historian of the present (Lévy
1977) in relation to the publication of his first volume on the *History of
sexuality*, Foucault explains what actions can be taken to change the
position of power at play in the dispositive of sexuality. The philosopher
is since the nineteenth century[2] <#_ftn2> asking himself the same
question, which is in fact the one of a historian: "what is happening
today?" Perhaps being a social constructivist (in its reflectivist branch)
before its development, Foucault states that philosophy is entirely
political and entirely historian: it is the immanent politics to history,
and the indispensable history to politics (Lévy 1977, 266).

In order to understand what is meant by a "history of the present", one has
to recall Foucault's intellectual affiliation with Nietzsche.

Nietzsche's view of history is in opposition with Hegel. It is an "open"
narrative of history or "redemptive narrative", as opposed to Hegel's
"closed" narrative or "reconciliatory narrative" (Dienstag 1997, 183f.).
Nietzsche creates a meaning for the past as part of our own attempt to alter
the future. Hegel seeks out "THE" meaning of history with the idea that it
is there and waiting for our inspection. Contrary to Hegel, Nietzsche does
not consider one's inheritance to be a birth in which one is thrown and has
no power to change. The past is inherently mutable and cannot be changed at
will, but the meaning of an inheritance can be worked upon (Dienstag 1997,

This has two consequences. The first one is not to consider history as an
ontological condition. This means that history can be changed, retold, told
in different ways. This means, that there is a political responsibility that
comes with history, and that history is used to make a political point. The
second is that the present is untimely, not the result of a straight
narrative line of evolution to a better and superior present; the present is
a problem:

The "present", in Foucault's work, is less an epoch than an array of
questions; and the coherence with which the present presents itself to us –
and in which guise it is re-imagined by so much social theory – is something
to be acted upon by historical investigation… (Barry, Osborne and Rose 1996,

This "problematisation" of the present is the "redemption" Nietzsche hopes
to make with history.

Thus, a "history of the present" in this sense is a reconcilitatory
narrative in order to make a political point in an untimely present. The
history made is anti-essentialist, as the ontology of history is
questionned. And here lays all the epistemological rub for genealogy. For in
that sleep of positivism what dreams may come? What validity has a genealogy
then, if it is simply making a point that could be another?

For the time being, this point has to be bared in mind: the history of the
present is less concerned with epochs than with problematisations, and this
enables us to make a diachronic historical analysis with a focus in the
past, which has relevance for today's problems. For instance, Ancient Greece
has relevance for today when it comes to sexuality because of the
problematisation of sexuality under the theme of moral: the way the Greeks
developed certain practises around sex, the idea of enveloping sex in a
certain discourse, is relevant for today's subjectivisation of individuals.
So all in all, I do not think that Foucault is a post-positivist (better
than postmodernist, that he is definitely not as he is exploring the
beginning of modernity, or the edge between classicism and modernity).
(although considering his statement about the limits of the archaeology, it
could be possible to argue that he considered us to be in a postmodern
world, because otherwise it would not be possible to make an archaeology of
modernity, i.e. our own period). I think that he is very much positivist,
just like the French historian Paul Veyne claimed he was (cited in a
previous post). But he is so in his own way, just like he found his own way
between structuralism and methodological individualism. He found a way of
making positivism that could be critical. Philosophically speaking there
could be a lot of research done to elaborate on this idiosyncratic
development of a "science" (don't get it wrong) that is both positive and

If you like it better then, I am a "historian of the present", and anyone
borrowing Foucault's method is. I am not expecting to find a "science of
archaeology" and get a diploma after 3 years to become a "professional
archaeologist". What I am doing is using a method, which is not without
posing problems just like any method. I am actually transforming it to my
own use, doing concrete research in order to produce some original
knowledge, a "history of the present", that may be of use to tackle
contemporary problems in political theory. I believe it to be more useful to
this world than unproductive sarcasm and irony.


[1] <#_ftnref1> Merquior assesses where Foucault made reference to it (J.
G. Merquior 1985, 161 note 2): Foucault, *The Order of Things*,* *1970: ch.
VI, 7, *in** fine*; Foucault, *Discipline and *Punish, 1977a: 30-31;
Interview with Bernard-Henri Lévy in *Le Nouvel Observateur*, 644, March
1977; trs. in *Telos*, 32, summer 1977.

[2] <#_ftnref2> Later, Foucault will associate this question with Kant's *"Was
ist Aufklärung?"* (Foucault 1994 [1984]).

Frank Ejby Poulsen

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