Understanding Foucault

Dustin Pickering

If I understand Foucault’s poststructuralist analysis– essentially it takes chaos as the starting point of historical development, but shrugs away the methods of structural analysis. That is, history emerges from a void but we cannot illuminate that void’s mechanisms. The reason we can’t illuminate the mechanisms is that they are “decentered”– that is, chaos sort of wipes the slate clean and leaves us with little to go by. History then begins with the loosening of structural laws– a breakdown of the usual patterns and their unity (alas, a discontinuity!) which then reconfigure. Yes, but what is the agent responsible for breaking these laws and reconvening them? How is this pattern deterministic? Some agent must be responsible for this motion. Foucault does not seem to be able to answer this– he suggests that the historian invents this as a way of unearthing knowledge. Ha! So the method is questionable! Is that all? The laws are mere inventions– then what’s the use? You can’t trust the narrator for his/her inherent bias for the sole fact his/her method of structuring the narrative is bizarre, haphazard, inconsistent, unreasonable. So let’s look at how the narrative is structured! But wait– doesn’t that imply some objective criteria really are present? How do you know you can’t trust the narrator? Is this some a priori approximation? So radical distrust is the law now? But you can’t trust your own distrust! The circle continues. What I mean to say is the subject is also a narrator if considered by another subject. So which subject has the advantage? This seems to beg the question. It places the center within the consciousness of the one analyzing– sort of prefigures a kind of remote narcissism. Let all the metanarratives duke it out then for history’s sake! The last man standing is– you guessed it! The subject!

This seems to deny the collective altogether by nature of its conclusion. Yet another vain contradiction. We’ve narrowed the archaeology of knowledge down to the individual and his/her study of the laws independently– yet the laws are irrelevant because we only invented them ourselves. As if narrowing a postulate down to a statement, then considering the rest of the text peripheral actually defines these unconscious laws and their dynamics. How do we choose the statement from its periphery? Considering the vortex of signifiers/signified, etc. Is this unconscious structure universal? What determines its expressions within a culture or historical period?

Also if the meaning of structures depends on the conditions from which they emerge– how do we explain decenteredness?

Is there any objective datum to consider in poststructural analysis?

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