Ways of Speaking: Michel Foucault and Other Archaeologies

I’ve just finished The Archeaology of Knowledge by Michel Foucault, and as methodical and ‘cautious’ as it is, I enjoyed its systematic approach to the subject and the accessible style of Foucault’s writing.

The following extended quote seems to encapsulate Foucault’s thinking (both in this book, and perhaps in his writing in general) quite nicely. In it he attempts to go beyond the regions of scientific discourse that he had previously been concerned with (here as well as in the previous works that this is somewhat of a summation and reassessment of: Madness and Civilization1, The Birth of the Clinic2 and The Order of Things3), to outline some archaeologies of other bodies of knowledge. In so doing, I can begin to see where this series of works sits in relation to Structuralism in general, and specifically the thorny issue of the position of the ‘producer’ in relation to their ‘productions’:

. . . I can also see another possible direction for analysis: instead of studying the sexual behaviour of men at a given period (by seeking its law in a social structure, in a collective unconscious, or in a certain moral attitude), instead of describing what men thought about sexuality (what religious interpretation they gave it, to what extent they approved or disapproved of it, what conflicts of opinion or morality it gave rise to), one would ask oneself whether, in this behaviour, as in these representations, a whole discursive practice is not at work; whether sexuality, quite apart from any orientation towards a scientific discourse, is not a group of objects that can be talked about (or that it is forbidden to talk about), a field of possible enunciations (whether in lyrical or legal language), a group of concepts (which can no doubt be presented in the elementary form of notions or themes), a set of choices (which may appear in the coherence of behaviour or in systems of prescription). Such an archaeology would show, if it succeeded in it’s task, how the prohibitions, exclusions, limitations, values, freedoms, and transgressions of sexuality, all its manifestations, verbal or otherwise, are linked to a particular discursive practice. It would reveal, not of course as the ultimate truth of sexuality, but as one of the dimensions in accordance with which one can describe it, a certain ‘way of speaking’; and one would show how this way of speaking is invested not in scientific discourses, but in a system of prohibitions and values. An analysis that would be carried out not in the direction of the episteme, but in that of what we might call the ethical.4

  1. FOUCAULT, Michel (1961). Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique – Folie et déraison. Paris: Plon. Translated by Jonathan Murphy and Jean Khalfa as: Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. London: Routledge.
  2. FOUCAULT, Michel (1963). Naissance de la clinique – une archéologie du regard médical. Paris: PUF. Translated as: The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception. London: Routledge.
  3. FOUCAULT, Michel (1966). Les mots et les choses – une archéologie des sciences humaines. Paris: Gallimard. Translated as: The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. London: Routledge.
  4. FOUCAULT, Michel (1969). L’archéologie du savoir. Paris: Gallimard. Translated by A. M. Sheridan Smith as: The Archeaology of Knowledge. London: Routledge. pp. 212–213.

Seung Ah Lee and Joe Stevens, APT Gallery

19 – 29 July, 2007

Seung Ah Lee at APT Gallery

APT Gallery, Deptford

Seung Ah is a friend from Goldsmiths, who completes her MA in Interactive Media this year. She is currently showing with fellow student Joe Stevens at the APT Gallery in Deptford, which is not too far away from where I live. It was a beautiful, warm evening last night so I walked down to see them at the opening.

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a commentary on a comment

Some friends of mine have been having a hard time understanding the comments I made about Jeff Jahn’s review of Bryan Schellinger’s show at Quality Pictures in Portland, Oregon. So I thought I’d take the opportunity to retrace my steps and provide an overview of the discussion, such as it is.

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Disrupting Narratives symposium, tate Modern

I had an excellent day up at tate Modern (I seem to be living there at the moment) yesterday for their symposium, Disrupting Narratives. Put together by Kate Southworth from University College Falmouth and the tate themselves, this event brought together an interesting group of new media artists and/or theorists, presenting papers and discussing counter-narratives and counter-protocols in new media art.

Overall it was a good series of talks, from a diverse set of participants who, together, made for some interesting connections between different techniques and methods. Most significant, I think, was the inclusion of the decidedly lo-fi work of Kate Rich and Feral Trade, which served as a useful counterpoint preventing me from the ever-present risk of a too computer-centric reading of the subject-matter.

One thing that particularly interested me was the promise of Alexander Galloway’s presentation. The blurb announced it as follows:

Imagine an art exhibit of computer viruses. How would one curate such a show? Would the exhibition consist of documentation of known viruses, or of viruses roaming live? Would it be more like an archive or more like a zoo? Perhaps the exhibit would require the coordination of several museums, each with “honey pot” computers, sacrificial lambs offered up as attractor hosts for the contagion. A network would be required, the sole purpose of which would be to reiterate sequences of infection and replication. Now imagine an exhibit of a different sort: a museum exhibit dedicated to epidemics. Again, how would one curate an exhibit of disease? Would it include the actual virulent microbes themselves (in a sort of “microbial menagerie”), in addition to the documentation of epidemics in history? Would the epidemics have to be “historical” in order for them to qualify for exhibition? Or would two entirely different types of institutions be required: a museum of the present versus a museum of the past? In this talk Alexander Galloway explores a “counter-protocol” aesthetic and how it relates to the contemporary landscape of artmaking.*

In the event, his talk only touched upon this subject indirectly, in the first half he concentrated on pieces he had produced hacking games and movies, while the second half was dedicated to his work on Guy Debord’s Game of War port to a Java environment. Although the talk was interesting from an art-historical point of view, I was hoping for more about the notion of the virus and it’s “porting” to an art environment. I was particularly interested in its philosophical significance. Over lunch, just prior to this talk, I got quite excited about these ideas and started writing some notes. I’ll decide whether they’re worth posting over the next day or so.

* GALLOWAY, Alexander R. & THACKER, Eugene (2006). On Misanthropy. In Curating Immateriality: The work of the curator in the age of network systems. New York: Autonomedia, 2006, p. 153–168.

Patrick Keiller: forthcoming talk at tate Modern

Sunday-week (22 July) is a bit of a Patrick Keiller-fest at the tate Modern*.

Two of Keiller’s films are being shown that afternoon, “London” at 1pm and “Robinson in Space” at 3pm. I have both these on DVD so I won’t bother going to see them, but I would heartily recommend them to everyone.

The DVD cover for Patrick Keiller

The DVD cover

Then at 6pm the man himself is presenting a lecture about his work.

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Diploma course results

The results for the postgraduate diploma have arrived (well, they arrived last week, but I’ve not been in a writing mood recently).

Here they are, broken down into the separate courses that comprised the diploma:

  • Framing Art: Museums, Galleries, Exhibitions: 70 (pass)
  • Core course: Histories of Art: 71 (pass)
  • Philosophy and… : 60 (pass)

So, I passed!

I’m slightly disappointed by the Philosophy mark, as it’s lower than the mark I was given for my previous essay. Although I knew I was not very good at philosophy at this stage, I felt that my pieces displayed an inherent ability that could be developed over time. And I think I should have been rewarded for this aspect of the work. Then again, perhaps I was being rewarded and I have much further to develop than I thought!

Oh well, the important thing is that I passed, for which I’m very pleased. Now onto the MA!