© Mukesh Williams, 2010
Michel Foucault rejects the vast unities imagined by historians in historical periods and instead suggests “rupture” and “discontinuity.” He uses the notion of discontinuity as both the “instrument” and “object” of research. He objects to the themes of “cultural totalities” and “search for origins.” Instead he develops his own theory and procedure to explain the paradox of discontinuity.
Foucault identifies various discourses as they emerge in society and get transformed in the process of their implementation. Archeology is a unique method of investigating their emergence and transformation. Foucault does not unravel the hidden meaning of discourses or the deep structure of their rational content. He is not interested to access the larger impact of discourses on the collective unconscious or group psychology. Unlike Derrida he does not wish to investigate the traces or outside implications of discourses. Foucault uses this archaeological method to study the positive aspects of existence. He believes that the method of archeological investigation creates the requisite detachment necessary for a historian to evaluate and clearly explain an archive. The method of archeology involves the distance a historian must maintain while chronicling events. Therefore history can be defined as a system of difference. Archaeology describes the verifiable and positive aspects of a discourse, as if was describing an artifact or a monument.
An archive is understood to be a set of available texts in a given historical period. Foucault analyzes the conditions which give rise to an archive, the relations and institutions that allow statements in texts to become archived. An archive is neither a collection of artifacts nor a set of statements. It is a series of relationships—“the general system of the formation and transformation of statements.”
Foucault interrogates the concept of oeuvres, commonly understood as a set of texts approved by an author in his lifetime. However there are various texts, manuscripts, oral recordings and materials of an author collected posthumously. The author takes various positions from which he makes statements. These positions are independent from the author’s approved position. Therefore the notion of the oeuvre is not a pure category of totalities but a fragmentariness of an author’s works ranging from thoughts, experience, and imagination to unconscious and historical determinants that influence him. An oeuvre is also the secret origin, something that cannot be “quite grasped.” Any person can write from any of the positions not approved by the author and the author himself can express his thoughts from multiple positions. An author’s book contract details and scribbling on a paper napkin do not occupy the same status as an approved manuscript of a book. Foucault therefore destabilizes the conventional meaning of an oeuvre.
An episteme can be defined as a collection of shifting practices and relationships between language, knowledge and science within a discourse controlled by human authority. In other words and episteme is embedded in a discursive positivity. In itself an episteme does not constitute knowledge or establish historical connectivity. It is neither a worldview not ‘a slice of history’ but a record of shifting relationships encompassing many historical periods.
Adversarialism is a new phenomenon where we are taught to be highly competitive in society and become better than the others. There is nothing wrong in this but as Gordon Fellman suggest in Rambo and the Dalai Lama (1998) that we have become so obsessed with the competitive spirit that we have forgotten to cooperate with others. Our communities have developed a neurotic adversarialsim that threatens the very fabric of fellowship and cooperation. Fellman advocates a paradigm shift that would allow us to return to cooperation and mutual togetherness.
In this book I suggest that the assumption that human life is based on conflicts of interests, wars, and the opposition of people to each other and to nature exists as a model, a framework, a paradigm that supplies meaning and orientation to the world. An alternative paradigm sees cooperation, caring, nurturing, and loving as equally viable ways of organizing relationships of humans to each other and to nature.
This is not to pose mutuality as good and adversarialism as bad. Both must be honored as expressing real parts of the self and configured differently in different historical moments. So far in history, adversarialism appears unavoidable in many situations and is often experienced as positive in contexts where it appears not especially harmful (Fellman, 1998 5).
Modern philosophy uses theword alterity as referring to the other. Michel Foucault uses the word other as referring to those who are marginalized, victimized and excluded by people in power. The peripheral position of the other can be more clearly understood in a liberal and humanist notion of the subject. Pierre Clastres explains the hegemony of the powerful in his book Archeology of Violence, Semiotext(e) (1994):
All cultures thus create a division of humanity between themselves on the one hand, a representation par excellence of the human, and the others, which only participate in humanity to a lesser degree. The discourse that primitive societies use for themselves, a discourse condensed in the names they confer upon themselves [Ava, men; Ache, persons; Yanomami, people; Inuit, men], is thus ethnocentric through and through . . .. It is part of a culture's essence to be ethnocentric, precisely to the degree to which every culture considers itself the culture par excellence. In other words, cultural alterity is never thought of as positive difference, but always as inferiority on a hierarchical axis (Clastres, 1996 46).
Clastres explains that “cultural alterity” is always conceptualized as an inferior category in a system of ethnic or cultural hierarchy. Societies formulate themselves around traits and beliefs including some and leaving out others.
The Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary defines the word apocryphal as something of doubtful authenticity, spurious; or of or resembling the Apocrypha.
© 2010 Mukesh Williams