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The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences

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Librarian note: an alternate cover for this edition can be found here. With vast erudition, Foucault cuts across disciplines and reaches back into seventeenth century to show how classical systems of knowledge, which linked all of nature within a great chain of being and analogies between the stars in the heavens and the features in a human face, gave way to the modern scie Librarian note: an alternate cover for this edition can be found here. With vast erudition, Foucault cuts across disciplines and reaches back into seventeenth century to show how classical systems of knowledge, which linked all of nature within a great chain of being and analogies between the stars in the heavens and the features in a human face, gave way to the modern sciences of biology, philology, and political economy. The result is nothing less than an archaeology of the sciences that unearths old patterns of meaning and reveals the shocking arbitrariness of our received truths. In the work that established him as the most important French thinker since Sartre, Michel Foucault offers startling evidence that “man”—man as a subject of scientific knowledge—is at best a recent invention, the result of a fundamental mutation in our culture.


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Librarian note: an alternate cover for this edition can be found here. With vast erudition, Foucault cuts across disciplines and reaches back into seventeenth century to show how classical systems of knowledge, which linked all of nature within a great chain of being and analogies between the stars in the heavens and the features in a human face, gave way to the modern scie Librarian note: an alternate cover for this edition can be found here. With vast erudition, Foucault cuts across disciplines and reaches back into seventeenth century to show how classical systems of knowledge, which linked all of nature within a great chain of being and analogies between the stars in the heavens and the features in a human face, gave way to the modern sciences of biology, philology, and political economy. The result is nothing less than an archaeology of the sciences that unearths old patterns of meaning and reveals the shocking arbitrariness of our received truths. In the work that established him as the most important French thinker since Sartre, Michel Foucault offers startling evidence that “man”—man as a subject of scientific knowledge—is at best a recent invention, the result of a fundamental mutation in our culture.

30 review for The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences

  1. 4 out of 5

    Trevor

    I hadn't expected this book to be nearly as interesting as it turned out to be. Unfortunately, I've only just finished it and I suspect I'm going to need to think about it for a while yet before I really understand some of the arguments here - but this is a stunningly interesting book. I've a feeling that if you looked up 'erudite' in the dictionary ... This book was written on the basis of a joke by Borges - where in a short story Borges gives a definition of animals from a supposed Chinese ency I hadn't expected this book to be nearly as interesting as it turned out to be. Unfortunately, I've only just finished it and I suspect I'm going to need to think about it for a while yet before I really understand some of the arguments here - but this is a stunningly interesting book. I've a feeling that if you looked up 'erudite' in the dictionary ... This book was written on the basis of a joke by Borges - where in a short story Borges gives a definition of animals from a supposed Chinese encyclopaedia. The definition divides animals into a dozen or so categories: animals belonging to the Emperor, animals that look like ants when seen from a distance being but two of my favourite 'non-mutually exclusive' categories. But while Foucault was laughing at this joke he realised that how we categorise the world says remarkable things about us. The other work of art described in this book, also right at the start, is Velasquez's Las Meninas - I'll wait while you search for this on google images if you like. His interpretation of this art work is stunning, but it takes most of the book to really understand his point in including it. This is a book that tracks three general areas of human enquiry - natural history on its path to biology, value and exchange on their way to economics and general grammar on its way to linguistics. We start with each in the Renaissance and make our way to the present. The main turning points come about a century apart - from Renaissance to Classical, from Classical to Romantic and from Romantic to Modern. His point is that the revolutions that each of these subjects experienced were remarkably consistent over all three - even though these subject seek to explain quite different subject-matters, the way people have gone about structuring these subjects displays an order that says fascinating things about the underlying categories we use to structure our knowledge in particular epochs. In the Renaissance, for example, one of the underlying ideas structuring the way we approached the world was a rather literal interpretation of the Bible. In relation to animals that means two stories from the Bible are of particular interest - Noah's Ark and the Tower of Babel. Why Babel? Well, prior to Babel we all spoke the original language God gave us, presumably somewhat similar to Hebrew, and that was the language used by Adam to name the animals. In this sense animals were 'marked' by this original categorisation and so if we could only re-create these marks - these essentially linguistic features - we would know something worth knowing of the mind of God, of the mind of the creator and therefore something very important about how to order the animal kingdom. With the Classical period there was a fundamental shift away from seeking this kind of representational identity between words and animals - now the task of natural history was pretty much to create a huge grid and for that grid to be filled with animals according to some or other organising principle. For example, you might classify plants by the number of petals their flowers have or the shapes of their leaves. You wouldn't classify them according to how bitter they taste - taste isn't a highly quantifiable sense - or the colour of the plants - colours change - so you end up with a very limited number of criteria that you can classify plants (a point that has Foucault commenting on how we classified as if the only sense we had was colour-blind sight) - and using these you end up with a huge table with rows and columns - and if you have done your job properly, one day you might even be able to mathematically determine which plants are 'missing' from this great grid of life because you will have the mathematical underpinning of the table of life before you. The shift to the Romantic period is generally assumed to be an understanding, however naive, of evolution. One of my favourite little things to say is that Darwin's grandfather had already understood evolution was a fact, all Darwin did was show how it worked. Now, while this is more or less true, there was a much more interesting revolution going on in Natural History - one that would finally transform it into Biology. And that is to move away from categorising animals and plants as 'things', as collections of features, and to finally see them as living creatures in a dynamic relationship with their environment (relationships always being more interesting than things) - that is, the features they have are only interesting on the basis of what they have to say about the objective life tasks that the animal confronts. These reduce down to seven - I would need to look this up, but basically: digestion, reproduction, locomotion (bugger, not even half, how hopeless is that?but you get the idea). Now, the interesting thing here is that these processes are all essential to life, but they are abstract - you don't see digestion or reproduction directly - two dogs shagging is not reproduction - and so we have moved one level up from the kind of 'concrete' reality the previous organising systems employed, counting stuff. Also, how animals achieve these general and essential processes differs from animal and species to species, even if the end result is 'abstractly' the same. The insect that breathes through its skin, the fish that breathes through its gills, the human that breathes with its lungs, all breathe. We now have biology because we now have life - there was a real sense in which all of the plants and animals previously could have been dead and 'God's plan' could still have been manifest to us - now that life is central to our way of building our system to classify life, that is no longer the case. What is fascinating here is that Darwin is not the fulcrum on which the revolution turns, but rather this move to the new science is about fifty years prior to Darwin and not even on the basis of evolution. I think there is much to this - it is a fascinating idea even if it doesn't prove to be right. The book presents equally interesting histories of economics and linguistics - the point being to show that the fundamental organising schemes in each of these eras and each of these subjects is much the same. With economics, for example, the process moves from a fascination with exchange as the organising principle and creator of value, as defined as simple barter and therefore demand and supply as being the origin of value, through to Smith's understanding that value is essentially a quantification of the labour contained in goods through to more abstract notions of production. Yet again the process is from seemingly concrete exchanges to an abstract understanding of the underlying organising principle. And then things get really interesting. There is a bit where he talks about modern understandings that I pretty much didn't understand - he mentions Nietzsche a lot here, and just about every time he mentioned Nietzsche I stopped being able to follow him. But what he does say that I finally could follow again was that the reason he has picked biology, economics and linguistics is because these are quintessentially the most basic of the Human Sciences. If you talk about psychology, sociology or any of the human sciences, basically you are talking about either humanity as an animal, humanity as an economically engaged member of society or humanity as linguistically aware. Draw those three circles on your Venn Diagram and the overlapping sections allow you to more or less define all of the other human sciences. This makes a very interesting response to Marx - where Marx sees economics as the basis for human progress and as the underpinning of revolutions in thought, Foucault is saying that our understanding of these big three: economics, linguistics and biology, are the key defining and interrelated modes of progress in our understanding of the world. The move towards more abstract organising criteria with the dawn of Romanticism in all three of these subjects, he links, more or less, to Kant's critical philosophy, or Kant's transcendental philosophy, rather. I can't really review this book without saying something more about Nietzsche - Foucault sees the death of God, and therefore the simultaneous (or thereabouts) death of man (the myth of the last man and of the superman being the same as the death of man), and of the myth of the eternal return of the same as being the key 'projects' facing modern humanity. The removal of all absolute criteria for organising the world presents us with a remarkable task - how do we go about grounding our science, our world view, without such an absolute perspective? Foucault's view is that our human sciences will move more towards psychoanalysis, ethnography and linguistics - how people understand their personal identity, how they understand their cultural identity and how they use language to make these transparent to themselves therefore are the central projects of human sciences. He ends by discussing literature - and how literature has moved so far from the Renaissance view of language as being about attempting to parallel the notion of language from the start of John's gospel - God as the word that issues forth and creates the universe. Now, literature seeks to press language to its limits and to create emotional responses we are incapable of achieving elsewhere. A kind of return in the Nietzscean sense. Like I said, a fascinating book, and one I will need to spend more time thinking about.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Bradley

    I have now devoted nearly three months to doing close readings of nearly every book by Michel Foucault. I can die happy :) Except, I'm more confused! I know less now than I did before. And that's precisely the point. We are still living with Philosophical ideas from the Classical Period (i.e. humanism, Neo-Classical Liberalism, Capitalism, etc.). Yet Foucault shows, time and time again, that the institutions established during the Classical Period have taken on a life of their own, often times v I have now devoted nearly three months to doing close readings of nearly every book by Michel Foucault. I can die happy :) Except, I'm more confused! I know less now than I did before. And that's precisely the point. We are still living with Philosophical ideas from the Classical Period (i.e. humanism, Neo-Classical Liberalism, Capitalism, etc.). Yet Foucault shows, time and time again, that the institutions established during the Classical Period have taken on a life of their own, often times violently. Yet we are all still trapped within the inertia of History. A professor of mine explained everything I ever needed to know about Post-Modern Subjectivity. He said, "Have you ever watched Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines?" "No," I said. He replied disgruntled, "Where's your education? Ok, so contemporary society is like the end of that movie. John Conner goes to the Central Command center to avoid the Judgment Day, where the machines overthrow the humans. And he finds out that there is no central command. The machines are ruling themselves, there is no center, and nothing the hero can do will stop the inevitable destruction on Judgment Day. No human actor can stop the inevitable downfall of the human race. The machines represent the subjectivity of the coming revolution, the people are humanists, and Judgment Day means we are all basically fucked." He's right. Global Warming, Boom and Bust Cycles of Capitalism, the growing alienation of disaffected youth populations, all point to a coming crisis, collapse, or total revolution. But this does not mean that we're going to be better off! In my opinion, Birth of the Clinic, History of Sexuality vol. 2, and History of Madness are my favorite books by Foucault. As they say in Sideways... Quaffable, but far from transcendent. My favorite part of this book is the bit on Ricardo, which turns into a digression on Marx and Nietzsche, and the charts that are sprinkled throughout the text.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Bastian

    "Between language and the theory of nature there exists therefore a relation that is of a critical type; to know nature is, in fact, to build upon the basis of language a true language, one that will reveal the conditions in which all language is possible and the limits within which it can have a domain of validity." (p. 161) There's no need to beat around the bush: The Order of Things is, bar none, the densest read on my shelf to date. Philosophy tyros steer clear; an entry-level text this is no "Between language and the theory of nature there exists therefore a relation that is of a critical type; to know nature is, in fact, to build upon the basis of language a true language, one that will reveal the conditions in which all language is possible and the limits within which it can have a domain of validity." (p. 161) There's no need to beat around the bush: The Order of Things is, bar none, the densest read on my shelf to date. Philosophy tyros steer clear; an entry-level text this is not. To say that this was as difficult to read as it was to understand would be a heavy understatement. Snippets patterned after the one above would frequently invite two- and three-peat readings to absorb before moving on to the next, equally demanding line of Foucaultian esoterica. Michel Foucault, writing in the French philosophy tradition, is touted as a librarian of ideas, and his works demonstrate such canonical breadth that they are surely not intended to be consumed in isolation. Indeed, you had better have a working understanding of the systems of knowledge throughout Western history if you stand any chance of deconstructing this significant opus. Foucault's acumen and seemingly bottomless knack for depth are on full display in this, his most ambitious and the one that propelled him to stardom, work. However, even with a solid grasp of philosophy and the pivotal shifts in Western thought, you must then also place these insights within the tramlines of the baroque prose Foucault has prepared. 'Similitudes,' 'resemblances,' 'representation,' 'significations,' 'character,' 'the analytic of finitude,' 'empirico-transcendental': familiarity with this repetition of terminology will be critical if one is to grok the landscape Foucault has delicately painted. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (1966) is nothing less than a genealogy of ideas, an intellectual ancestry of the Western mind. Along the way, Foucault somehow manages to retrace the entire development of science, restricting his analysis to a specific slice of spacetime: European culture since the 16th century. It is a work so daunting in scope, and so winged in its execution, that it seems to relish in keeping the mind in a perpetual state of entanglement, sputtering, caroming as you eagerly await for a resting point to collect your wits and proceed further into the well. He blinds you with brilliance, and insists that you see. Foucault ricochets between the intellectual giants of the Western world in rapid-fire fashion, traipsing from Spinoza to Descartes to Kant to Marx, Freud, and Adam Smith to Nietzsche, seemingly all while assuming on the part of the reader a dissertation-level of intimacy with each. Come prepared. As I understand it—and I am most emphatically not claiming that I do—Foucault is demonstrating that there do exist traceable patterns in the great developments of Western thought in terms of limits, possibilities, and approaches to new and old knowledge, but also discontinuities and breaks from old ways of thinking. How "clean" these breaks were is of course a matter of debate. He focuses in on three domains—linguistics and philology (language), biology (life), and economics (labor)—emphasizing how the intellectual boundaries present in each historical era shaped how man thought about these venues and how we approached and reflected on new developments and discoveries that pervaded our consciousness. Whether we were categorizing or taxonomizing, articulating or deconstructing, we operated in the epistemes confined to our period of history, but also turned toward new modes of discourse as ideas emerged out of the Western world's interminable, civilizational march. There is also the niggling question of "man" and how and where s/he figures into the whole grandiose state of affairs. Foucault seems to be arguing that man, like everything else, is a historical construct, and its relation to the order of nature pivots according to developments in each area of inquiry, including but not limited to, the human sciences. That is, man's interpretation of 'man' is a product of the historical development of the spaces that have most dominated the human intellect, viz the human sciences of (proto-)biology, anthropology, and psychoanalysis, the social sciences of economics and labor, and, most intricately, the all-enveloping force of language, which is coextensive with every sphere with which we make contact. Certainly, man's shifting coordinates within the grid of knowledge and human inquiry is of special emphasis here in Foucault's sweeping manifesto. In the closing sections, Foucault hints toward a new episteme, something that is ill-defined, turbid, hazy, but which carries all the signs of a break from what came before. He doesn't specify with any precision what this branching episteme consists of, or which domain(s) has largely catalyzed its brachiation, but he seems to think it is imminent as a reflection of the mid-20th century region Foucault occupied. Closing Thoughts A work like this is one which eludes classification, much like how the centerpiece of the book itself—man—resists arrangement within its relation to human knowledge. The Order of Things is simply, and not so simply, sui generis, transcending the common boundaries of empirical disciplines and even philosophy. Foucault's writing is ornate, painstakingly precise in places yet frustratingly ambiguous in others (so much so that, like me, you might desire the opportunity to stop every now and again and ask questions). I wish I could say that I grasped the book in its overarching messages as well as its more subtle analyses, but this will require subsequent readings, likely several more. If you've previously been introduced to Foucault or his French antecedents, you may be in a better position to follow along. But if you're like me, this will be a humbling read, an intellectual tour de force that incessantly reminds you how much more there is yet to learn. For a more informed and capable post-book analysis, I recommend this page for a good starting point. "History shows that everything that has been thought will be thought again by a thought that does not yet exist." (p. 372) Note: This review is republished from my official website.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Stef Rozitis

    It is quite possible that there was a lot more to this book than I got out of it, and that Foucault's thinking might have been extremely exciting if only I could have decoded it. I am not annoyed at the use of so many long and unfamiliar words, because sometimes long words do say something that shorter words can't. I am not irritated that I had to look up lots of words nor that I had to struggle with the definitions to try to get my head around unfamiliar ways of thinking...I would expect all th It is quite possible that there was a lot more to this book than I got out of it, and that Foucault's thinking might have been extremely exciting if only I could have decoded it. I am not annoyed at the use of so many long and unfamiliar words, because sometimes long words do say something that shorter words can't. I am not irritated that I had to look up lots of words nor that I had to struggle with the definitions to try to get my head around unfamiliar ways of thinking...I would expect all that from a post-structuralist. I did not expect that he would use his words in such an absolute way, not defining what he means by words even when he is using them in a slightly off-centre way (I am not sure whether my criticisms apply more to FOUCAULT MICHEL himself or his translator). I did not appreciate how many of the sentences ran on for over ten lines (ten dense and adequately wide lines) and that one had several colons and semicolons to give the wrong impression of a break ran on for EIGHTEEN LINES of densely written, wordy, hard to grasp academic show-offyness (I accept that a smarter person than me might find the words easier, but the sentence structure I think would put anyone off). What it is, is a history of thinking and classifying thought/concepts. So it takes in evolutions in science, history, linguistics and more recently psychology and sociology. I appreciate the idea that "man" did not exist as something to be considered until comparatively recently. I had not thought of that, but it makes sense once you have read through the whole book. I enjoyed the illustration of the painting with the different roles and points of view, the argument was still difficult to follow but there was a focus in that and I liked that the author returned to this to illustrate the newness of the centrality of "man" (though I had some waspish feminist thoughts about gender here and also added my own thoughts about the race and class of this narcissistic god-replacing "man"). I didn;t enjoy Foucault's androcentric language, but on the other hand reading critically the whole history of thought and thinking (rationality) can be then portrayed (with Foucault's lovely long sentences that take forever to wade through) as a male self-indulgent wank-fest while women were relegated more ordinary things like conversations and connections and meals and care of the young and old. This nasty interpretation of why Foucault talks about "man", "men" and "he" consistently may not be the whole truth but it is not wholly untrue either. The guy does not put references in properly (except occasionally when he feels like footnoting), probably because being so much greater and smarter than the rest of us he does not need to back up his thinking and we should take what he says on faith. At times I wanted to know where a thought (supposing I even understood it) was coming from. In this way, I would have liked him to write more pedagogically, to write to inform or teach me rather than just to showcase his admittedly great knowledge of ancient texts and ability to name-drop a whole heap of important writers that I never heard of. I also got confused that he writes in each age in the present tense (so he says "we think this and such and such is true" in the sixteenth century -for example). Once I got used to this I sort of enjoyed it but it means he is dangerous to use in a literature review as you could easily take him right out of context. I was disappointed actually considering that anybody who is anybody these days quoted Foucault (especially if they are even remotely post-structuralist and many critical writers do too). The disappointment was that this was not more useful for my thesis or even I think for my thinking. It was interesting and clever but I am not sure it meaningfully expanded my mind or knowledge (maybe because some of it was over my head- I must be honest). I am not sure who I would recommend this book to apart from people who think they are smarter than everyone else and need the challenge (or at least will stop acting superior for a few days while they wrestle with the LENGTHY overwording). Sort of fun I suppose in a masochistic way, but if it was condensed to half the length I would mean the "fun" a lot more sincerely!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Xander

    After publishing Madness and Civilization (1961) and The Birth of the Clinic (1963) in which Michel Foucault dug into the historical layers to find out how each historical era is guided by its own substratum. In The Order of Things (1966) Foucault does the exact same thing, covering the exact same historical time-frame (roughly 1500-1900 A.D.), but now in a more complete and systematic fashion. The gist is the same: the period from the late Middle Ages up to the Renaissance had its own grid that After publishing Madness and Civilization (1961) and The Birth of the Clinic (1963) in which Michel Foucault dug into the historical layers to find out how each historical era is guided by its own substratum. In The Order of Things (1966) Foucault does the exact same thing, covering the exact same historical time-frame (roughly 1500-1900 A.D.), but now in a more complete and systematic fashion. The gist is the same: the period from the late Middle Ages up to the Renaissance had its own grid that it laid over the world and which determined its knowledge, ethics, social structure, etc. This grid was broken up around 1600 when a new grid developed which made old ways of looking at and being in the world break up and opened up a formation of a new substratum on which to build a superstructure of knowledge, ethics, social institutions, etc. This period ended around the end of the eighteenth century, when a new grid was formed and the whole process begun again. We are currently still in this latter historical period, although we can already see, according to Foucault, the first cracks developing, hinting at the breakdown of our current time. This is, basically, the underlying theme of The Order of Things. It is important to keep this in underlying theme in mind when reading this book, since Foucault never explicitly works this out. What he does is explain first what the episteme of a historical era was, and then proceed to flesh the implications of this particular episteme for (mostly) matters of knowledge were. He does this three times, for the three historical phases mentioned above. It is important to stress that Foucault is not attempting to offer a historical sketch of how thought developed over time – he explicitly rejects the approach of historians of science. What he does is analyze the manifestations (as scientific theory) of the underlying episteme within a defined historical period. In doing so, he is able to sketch how an a priori structure leads to human thought, behavior and feeling that is contained within that historical period. How one episteme follows upon another – in other words: how history proceeds – if causality and chronology are both rejected, is unclear to me. Or rather, after finishing the book it is rather unclear to me what the mechanism is that ends one episteme and builds another. Foucault’s analyses of particular sciences and theories of knowledge leave this (important) question unanswered, at least as far as I can tell – please correct me if I’m wrong. Without going into all the intricate detail of each historical period (at the end of this review I’ll explain why), this is the general overview of the book. In the Renaissance, the episteme was founded on resemblance. The world was perceived specifically in four forms of resemblance: convenience, emulation, analogy, and sympathy/antipathy. Knowledge consisted of reading the world as a text: the scientist would unearth and decipher all the signs that he read in the world. Signs were interpreted in terms of resemblance. In this epistemological framework, knowledge is never knowledge of a thing, but knowledge of the relationship of a thing to all other things. In short: the worlds was perceived in its totality, knowledge being empty and infinite. Foucault calls this mode of perceiving the world Commentary, in the sense that knowledge consists in (endless) commentary on things. A scientific book would consist of a huge collection of all the available descriptions of a thing by others. In a sense, written text was the foundation of the (known) world. This episteme broke down around 1600 and was replaced by a new one. The episteme of the Classic Era was founded on representation. Descartes immediately comes to mind as the archetype of this new worldview: he divided the world up into matter and mind. The world was nothing but matter in motion, to be grasped mathematically and mechanically. The question now became how this knowledge of the world is possible: all the elements of our scientific theories originate in ideas, which themselves originate in impressions of external stimuli on our mind. For the Classical Era knowledge was knowledge of our ideas and their relations. In short: the ordering of our mind of all the worldly things. The grid that was laid over the world was one of order: general grammar ordered our ideas as (spoken) words in propositions – discourse; natural history ordered all worldly things in (hierarchies of) classes based on structure and character – taxonomy; and the analysis of wealth ordered all money in terms of distribution through exchange, which originated in the endless productivity of nature (cultivated land). Underlying these three domains of knowledge were key concepts such as representation, identity and differentiation, and order. In natural history, all natural objects (from minerals to human beings) were seen as finite manifestations of an infinite natural order. What we see and what we subsequently speak about are our own artificially created tables of classes of things. In the science of wealth, all wealth was seen as money, which signified value that itself derived from (endless) exchange of naturally produced goods. This episteme is able to relate the physiocrats (who viewed land as the summum bonum of wealth) to Adam Smith (who viewed division of labor and free trade as the summum bonum of wealth). Lastly, general grammar was the overarching theory that explained how words designated and articulated things, how words are crucial in the ontological transformation of things into ideas (through the verb), and how words are derived from prior words and gain meaning. In sum, the Classical Era was preoccupied with finding order in the world and signifying this order through discourse. This episteme broke down around the end of the eighteenth century and was replaced by the episteme of Modernity. Representation was substituted by Man himself. To understand this, the concept of organisztion is crucial. During Modernity natural history was replaced by the science of living beings – biology; the science of wealth was replaced by the science of production through labor – economics; and general grammar (discourse) was broken up into the science of language (philology), the study of the language of thought (symbolic logic) and language as language (literature). Setting aside the last (literature), all of these new sciences had in common that they were firmly rooted in organization. A living being is an organized totality of organs; the capitalist mode of production is an organized structure of capital, labour, means of production, etc.; and language is an intricate system of words, inflections, etc. organized by grammatical rules peculiar to that language. Biology, economics and philology have in common that they are positive sciences, in the sense that they empirically study objects in the world. But, unlike the Classical Era which ordered everything according to visible qualities of things, the Modern Era studies visible objectivities of things according to deeper, invisible principles. Life, production, and grammatical rules are transcendental origins on which all the positivist theories are based. Another thing these three sciences have in common is their historicity. They are founded in temporality: whether it is the accumulation of capital, the growth and decay of living beings or the change and relativity of languages, we are dealing with historical developments. A third commonality between biology, economics and philology is that they have man as their object of knowledge. We study man as a living being, as a productive and consuming being, and as a speaking being. But here is a problem that forms the pivot of Foucault’s whole project: not only do these positivistic sciences have man as an object of knowledge, man himself is equally the subject of this knowledge. That is, it is man who studies man, and in so doing forms an intrinsic element of this knowledge. According to Foucault, this subjectivity is a radical break with earlier epistemes: in Modernity Man has been invented. The problem is, Man is a double. We already saw he plays both the role of object of his knowledge as well as the subject of his knowledge. This duality is rooted in the finitude of man – in his Being Man is finite, i.e. temporality (a rather Heideggerian echo, more or less). The problems that Man poses for himself as knowing being leads to a critical study of this concept of Man . And through this philosophical criticism Man discovers four dualities: 1. The analysis of finitude shows us the duality finitude-infinity. Man himself, as a living being, is finite, yet life is infinite. Man’s life is nothing but the progress towards death. 2. The analysis of Man also shows us the empirical-transcendental duality. Positivism (the study of Man being) and eschatology (the destruction of Man) conflict. Phenomenology is a rather imperfect solution to this problem: it seeks to return to actual experience yet is never able to overcome the intrinsic duality of empirical-transcendentality. 3. The analysis of the Unthought: Man thinks, implying there is the Unthought. In reflection, man is able to view his Being in a dimension in which thought speaks to the Unthought and articulates itself in terms of this. Basically, Foucault is – rather obscurely – pointing to e.g. Hegel’s unknown, Marx’s alienated man, Freud’s unconscious man, etc. In general terms: the Unthought as positivistic object of knowledge. 4. Lastly, the analysis of the retreat and return of Origins. Man, as a living being, is not his origin; the origin retreats in man. Through philosophical reflection, Man is able to view his origin – outside himself – and this notion makes him realize the fact that his existence is temporality. I mentioned these four critical analyses of Man because they serve a two-fold purpose. First, they show how tedious and obscure Foucault can be when he isn’t analysing historical data and theories. Second, and more importantly, they point to Foucault’s main thesis: the study of Man – Anthropology – is the foundation of the Modern episteme. Through this critical study, particularly the resulting four unsolvable dualities – they are the epistemological origin of fields like phenomenology, psychology, history, sociology, psychoanalysis, etc. – Man is dissolving himself. Before the nineteenth century Man didn’t exist; with the invention of Man, as the episteme of the modern world, this changed. But the result is that Man is, through himself, dissolving himself into a nothingness. (The death of Man, after the Death of God – they both are a strong echo of Nietzsche, and throughout the book Foucault seems obsessed with this Nietzschean analysis. Man has destroyed God and is now busy self-destructing. What comes after him is still unclear, just as Nietzsche was rather unclear about how his Superman of the future would look like.) According to Foucault, this anthropology – so central in the modern (western) world – is destroying its own foundation and in this sense is the heralding of the destruction of the Modern episteme and the heralding of a new episteme. The book was published in 1966, yet even though I read it in 2020, we still seem to be in the age of Man. Perhaps even more so than ever before. Which makes one wonder about the value of a book as this (see the end of this review). A last important point of this book is the general scheme of things. Foucault agrees that events at the historical level can be causes of the retreat or emergence of fields of knowledge. During the nineteenth century, industrial production can be seen as a force in the development of psychology, just like the revolutions and social unrest can be seen as a force in the development of sociology. But these new sciences couldn’t have originated without a radical change on the underlying, archaeological level: the order of knowledge changed and with this the foundation underlying the total superstructure of knowledge. Organization replaced Order, and Man was invented. This is the condition that made these historical changes possible and not the other way around. Tangentially, Foucault presages his later works when he deals with the retreat and emergence of certain epistemological concepts. He claims the nineteenth century saw the gradual retreat of function, conflict and signification, and at the same time the gradual emergence of norms, rules and systems. Of course, readers vaguely familiar with Foucault can recognize the concepts of normalization and discipline (both in Discipline and Punish [1975]), and repression (in The History of Sexuality [1984]) from his later works. Anyway, let me close this review by return to an earlier remark of mine. I have left out all the particular analyses of Foucault. They are very interesting in their own right – for example his treatment of Adam Smith as the breaking point in the science of wealth and David Riccardo as the first economist. But my problem with his analyses of historical sources, which is more than three quarters of the whole book, is that they are not only very selective (Why these sources? Why not others?) but, more importantly, Foucault is interpreting them in a way that suits his purposes. For example, it is easy to find another scholar who offers us a totally different interpretation of Smith and Riccardo. This is not meant to belittle Foucault’s ambitious project – I do admire his attempt and I find his originality and creativity highly rewarding. But it does beg the question of how his main theory (of change of epistemes at the archaeological level) holds up after the historical interpretations are left out. This leaves us with a fascinating hypothesis of how historical changes in our knowledge and theories are rooted in more fundamental and more radical shifts in the epistemes we employ. And how these epistemes not only shape the world we perceive and act upon, but also form us from our earliest days of youth. This, in and of itself, is a very interesting hypothesis. Yet the main problem I have with Foucault’s approach is that he confounds epistemology with ontology. Even if we grant his his grid, this seems to imply that it is just one way for us of relating to the world. But how is the world in its fundamental state of being? In an old television debate with Noam Chomsky (still accessible on Youtube – highly recommended!) he explains how the succession of grids continuously makes certain things appear in the world and makes certain other things disappear. But what does that say about the world – the world underlying all of these grids – in its original state? Is it impossible for us to know this world in its original Being? Is its original Being the collection of the manifestations within all these grids? ----------------------------------- FINAL PARAGRAPH IN COMMENTS

  6. 4 out of 5

    Angel 一匹狼

    Michel Foucault is doing something with words in this book, which is actually trying to make something that should be easy to understand (and explain) quite complicated to follow, as he creates "awesome" sentences that last for ages and paragraphs that defy the laws of mathematics and understanding of the way words can be put in order one after the other. Our friend Foucault has decided that explaining something in an easy to follow way is for people that don't really care about language, philos Michel Foucault is doing something with words in this book, which is actually trying to make something that should be easy to understand (and explain) quite complicated to follow, as he creates "awesome" sentences that last for ages and paragraphs that defy the laws of mathematics and understanding of the way words can be put in order one after the other. Our friend Foucault has decided that explaining something in an easy to follow way is for people that don't really care about language, philosophy and the understanding of how the Western world has created itself as the time has advanced, with stops on how the people have explained to themselves and others different concepts, starting with the depiction of a picture from a Spanish painter which paints himself or maybe he doesn't or maybe he is painting the viewer to the most present obsession with man while touching on economy, the description of nature or animals, and some nice moments talking about paper money or Nietzsche. Some of his ideas get lost in his love for making extra-long sentences where he can congratulate himself with how smart he is and get the reader lost because it may necessary to stop once or twice to follow what he was saying two pages ago where he started a course of thought that maybe is not as clear as it should be, but, hey, this is an awesome book that plays beautifully with language and all these things we humans use when trying to understand each other and the world we live in. That doesn't mean to say that the reader won't learn anything from this book, but probably many will find themselves quite lost in it, while many others will be patting their backs as they think that following Foucault's ideas means they are very smart, which they may be, but this really doesn't matter, because whatever they understand of Foucault's ideas depends on constructions on language and things of the society they live in, and on the power relations, and the bio-power and all beautiful things we may pass hours talking about (again, they are actually quite interesting, but unnecessary to make them over-complicated when the idea behind them would be way easier to follow with a clearer explanation, which may or may not be forthcoming, but it is possible, as language, words and the construction of sentences depend on the writer, or the one that is saying the words, making it not as complicated for the reader to follow the sentences that have been written on paper ("paper" being just a way in which symbols explain a thing, constructs that we humans try to create to explain the world that surrounds us, because without language, which may be something we kind of are born with, as an organ, helps us to communicate with each other, some kind of evolution organ which explains why we learn how to talk with each other (or could just be that I'm trying to make this sentence extra long (which may have to do with the order of these brackets)))). Oh, yeah, and the way people (or men, as the books keeps saying) have understood things in Europe has changed a lot with the pass of time. And we are determined by the constructs (or deconstructs) all around us. You know, the order of things. Or words and things. 3.5/10

  7. 4 out of 5

    Billie Pritchett

    I don't really know what to make of Michel Foucault's The Order of Things. Some things appear to be true in it, and other things new. The things that are true aren't new, and the things that are new aren't true. Foucault argues that there was a turning point in understanding and inquiry which occurred during the 18th century, perhaps near the tail end. All fine so far, and that is surely one way to divide up intellectual history. Foucault is right that the Age of Enlightenment brought about new I don't really know what to make of Michel Foucault's The Order of Things. Some things appear to be true in it, and other things new. The things that are true aren't new, and the things that are new aren't true. Foucault argues that there was a turning point in understanding and inquiry which occurred during the 18th century, perhaps near the tail end. All fine so far, and that is surely one way to divide up intellectual history. Foucault is right that the Age of Enlightenment brought about new ways of thinking about human beings and the world, but the rest I don't claim to understand. Foucault has this complicated idea that language's role in knowledge changed into the 18th century. How does he determine this? Through philological analysis, looking at how the use of certain key terms changed over time. That's at least a main way he goes about the studies. But this philological or semantic analysis hardly renders the kind of evidence needed to justify such tall claims as Foucault as making. Maybe someone out there smarter than I am can explain the views to me and give me Foucault's evidence for the claims. I can't understand it from Foucault himself. Could just be my problem.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    Foucault is hard to categorize. Some see him as a post-structuralist, others argue that he is a new historicist. I think he sees himself as a descendant of Friedrich Nietzsche. The first part of this book is great simply on the level of entertainment. Foucault's analysis of Velazquez's Las Meninas stands out as an essay that can be read on its own. I also enjoyed the discussion of Don Quixote. The latter part of the book is much more of a historical study. Foucault has an interesting theory ab Foucault is hard to categorize. Some see him as a post-structuralist, others argue that he is a new historicist. I think he sees himself as a descendant of Friedrich Nietzsche. The first part of this book is great simply on the level of entertainment. Foucault's analysis of Velazquez's Las Meninas stands out as an essay that can be read on its own. I also enjoyed the discussion of Don Quixote. The latter part of the book is much more of a historical study. Foucault has an interesting theory about the changes in the dominant epistemes--the ways we organize knowledge--and he employs an analysis of Enlightenment texts to substantiate his argument. As an English major, I enjoyed Foucault's discussion of language; the sections on biology and on economics were somewhat more work for me, as I am not as knowledgeable about these subjects, so there are probably points Foucault makes that I have missed. Although his argument is dense and theoretical, and he makes references to things that may be obscure to the general reader, yet Foucault writes in a straightforward way that is generally free of the jargon and convoluted grammar one finds in some other contemporary theorists (*ahem* Jacques La-*cough*)

  9. 5 out of 5

    Louise Garner

    The most pretentious load of drivel I have ever come across.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Alex Lee

    In this impressive book, Foucault takes on the basic organizational episteme of our current epoch. He highlights the contemporary modality of our post-modern world by tracing the development of our episteme from the 16th century to the present day. While this may seem to be a simple tale of historical causation Foucault says explicitly on several occasions that he cannot account for the break between the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th century. What he is referring to has severa In this impressive book, Foucault takes on the basic organizational episteme of our current epoch. He highlights the contemporary modality of our post-modern world by tracing the development of our episteme from the 16th century to the present day. While this may seem to be a simple tale of historical causation Foucault says explicitly on several occasions that he cannot account for the break between the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th century. What he is referring to has several possible angles to it, which strongly emphasizes that in our current era we have not processed this break fully, that we are still within this logic and therefore unable to account for it. One way to speak of this break is to note that in the Classical era, knowledge was mediated through a reference to the infinite. This had the happy consequence of making language transparent. If there was a limit to our knowledge it lay in the fact that human beings were finite and unable to extend to the fullest reaches of knowing, which would otherwise be available. When one contrasts this with the current epoch, we have the condition of knowing being mediated by man. As Zizek might say, a subject-hood is self-realized selfhood, that all conditions of knowing pass through the self. While it may be tempting to digress into philosophical contemplation with this idealist twist, Foucault is quick to add that this subjectivity is only made possible because the inherent formalization of various fields have fragmented into their own logic (for him, biology, economics and philology are the ones he looks at, but by no means are these positions foundational). What I mean by immanent logic is that the formalization, which is expressed as the adoptation of mathesis as a neutral symbology by which to express immanent logic, forces each of these fields to define the conditions of their knowledge by an appeal to a central agency that is both immanent to the field and conditioned beyond it. What ends up happening is that we chase our own shadow. Human beings created these fields of knowledge to solve specific tasks relating to how we valuate our situation. We want to know certain things and value knowing those things in the way that we do; thus these fields come to reflect our basis premises as to who we are and how we are. To say this in another way, these different fragmented sciences are created from and simultaneously inform the cultural biases which outlines these various fields of study. In these areas (biology, economics, language and so on) ultimately reflect back how we create knowing, so that when we attempt to know these fields completely we end up chasing our own reflection. Foucault uses the Diego's painting Las Meninas as the metaphor for this knowing. The various figures in the field become stabilized in our attempt to see what is going on, and in that moment we catch a faint glimpse of our own reflection in the distance. For this reason, man and subjecthood, as Foucault notes, are in fact recent authorizations which did not exist previous to this break. You can find many ideas that he skims here as echoing positions by other thinkers, Deleuze, Derrida, Lyotard, Meillasoux, Baudrillard... they all arrange our situation differently but their arrangement of our situation isn't a genuine stepping out of it. In much the same way, writers like Kafka and Beckett are only made possible because of the epoch; they are already expressing the confusion of the order which refers back to us, they are not creating the order nor are they recording its transition. One of the most telling features that Foucault writes about, telling in the sense that this is an Event, is how he recasts time as a matter of epistemological entrapment. Our inability to decide for ourselves an origin for consciousness is a sign that consciousness exists outside our ability to know because it is the condition of how we know. This strongly matches Badious writing on the Event, signaling that our criteria for knowing remains invisible to us. Consciousness like the figure of Man remains the limit to our knowledge because we are the figure by which we can come to know everything else around us. Foucault would like to realize the historical causality in the rising of this event but he can't explain it. There can be no causality because our methods of understanding will not be able to account for itself. In fact, I am expressing this episteme right now, as the current trace of philosophy and knowledge today (sciences included) wish to think the unthinking, to bring about consciousness to the real conditions of knowing. This of course is a problem because if our human parameters for what matters isn't objective enough for us, and in fact can only bring about the cultural biases which are expressed in how we decide what is, worthy of knowing and how we should know something (what terms are relevant) then what should be the basis for the creation of a new knowledge? Foucault offers Nietzche's superman as a possible condition of the new. The Eternal Return marks a horrifically new epoch for which we can have new conditions. (The Nazi trauma as it were, was not it, because it was not enough to mark a difference-- that false event was too conditioned already by recent and ancient histories, its baggage signaled an allegiance to the current epoch in much the same way Mao or Stalinism did the same.) Of course, a new condition also means a new history, also means the end of philosophy... or the start of a new one, but I digress.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Darran Mclaughlin

    I'm finished in the sense that I know I'm not going to pick it up and continue again any time soon. I made it to page 273, but I have found it a bit too boring and difficult to find the discipline to continue. What Foucault has to say is fairly interesting, but after getting the gist of the idea from the introduction, and (to be honest) a synopsis of the contents I don't think there's much to be gained from actually reading the book. I understand the idea of paradigm shift's in our body of knowle I'm finished in the sense that I know I'm not going to pick it up and continue again any time soon. I made it to page 273, but I have found it a bit too boring and difficult to find the discipline to continue. What Foucault has to say is fairly interesting, but after getting the gist of the idea from the introduction, and (to be honest) a synopsis of the contents I don't think there's much to be gained from actually reading the book. I understand the idea of paradigm shift's in our body of knowledge and I believe they happen and that culture affects everything, including supposedly objective practices such as science. However, Foucault's attempt to demonstrate this is narrow, unconvicing, full of unquestioned assumptions that what has taken place in Western Europe can be said to demonstrate universal principles, and written in an extremely boring fashion, which I wasn't expecting. Nietsche railed against German thinkers for writing such a dull, heavy, ugly prose and envied the French for their light, witty writing tradition. Unfortunately the French seem to have bought into the idea of Germanic profundity in their writing style these days.

  12. 4 out of 5

    DoctorM

    One of those books that I keep coming back to again and again. "The Order of Things" (the French title, "Words and Things" is probably more precise) is one of those key books that re-orders the way you think. It begins with a classic and bravura passage--- an analysis of Velasquez's "Las Meninas" ---that should be required reading for anyone interested in exegesis or hermeneutics. The book goes on to discuss how we categorise and valorise knowledge--- how we choose to draw the boundaries of the One of those books that I keep coming back to again and again. "The Order of Things" (the French title, "Words and Things" is probably more precise) is one of those key books that re-orders the way you think. It begins with a classic and bravura passage--- an analysis of Velasquez's "Las Meninas" ---that should be required reading for anyone interested in exegesis or hermeneutics. The book goes on to discuss how we categorise and valorise knowledge--- how we choose to draw the boundaries of the objects in the world, how we prioritise kinds of knowledge. Not an easy read, but a powerful one. A key work--- highly recommended.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    This book is about how we're all just an empirico-transcendental doublet strapped to the back of a tiger. Now that I've read it the only thing I know is that Foucault is totally gay for Nietzsche—"he was so wise, he knew so much, he wrote such good books." Nietzsche! This book is about how we're all just an empirico-transcendental doublet strapped to the back of a tiger. Now that I've read it the only thing I know is that Foucault is totally gay for Nietzsche—"he was so wise, he knew so much, he wrote such good books." Nietzsche!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Michael Burnam-Fink

    The Order of Things is Foucault at his most Foucauldian, a grand tour through the history of orderings, discourses, scientific methods, and ultimately Man Himself from the 16th century through the 19th century. He's at his best when he's making the incommensurable theological commentaries of the 16th century readable and relateable for modern eyes. His discussion of the rise of Classical era human sciences of difference, biology, economics, and philology, is deeply read and insightful. The concl The Order of Things is Foucault at his most Foucauldian, a grand tour through the history of orderings, discourses, scientific methods, and ultimately Man Himself from the 16th century through the 19th century. He's at his best when he's making the incommensurable theological commentaries of the 16th century readable and relateable for modern eyes. His discussion of the rise of Classical era human sciences of difference, biology, economics, and philology, is deeply read and insightful. The conclusion is the radical claim that prior to the 19th century, Man did not exist as an element of analysis, and that modern (and post-modern) ways of knowing are in fact highly divergent from their predecessors. My problem is one of style. Clarity is not Foucault's thing, and I get that, but The Order of Things felt noticeably less clear than Discipline and Punish , The Birth of the Clinic, Madness and Civilization, or The History of Sexuality Vol. 1. The theory is thick here, the strands of argument tangled, and often for no apparent reason. My most common experience reading this was seeing a long series of negative statements ("The science of economics is not this, or this, or this...") that would take pages to resolve into an affirmative of what the thing is. The sentences are amazing: I took to reading them out loud like a Shakespearean soliloquy, and just admiring the rollicking flow of clauses and phrases. But at the end of one of these titanic discursive flows I'd be left with very little, just a philosophical laugh of "Lol wut?" Some ideas demand density in argumentation, and a lot of intelligent commentators have read very smart things into The Order of Things. But if every reader finds a different meaning, is there a text? Is there actually an order to things?

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sunny

    i have to admit that i foudn this really really complicated in most parts but the parts that i managed to understand were very very impressive. i love books that glide my thinking into areas ive never ventured before and parts this does book does this. there are three big areas Foucault covers intermittently throughout the book: life, language and wealth/money/labour. the book talks about history, episteme, epistemology, time inter alia. there is a beautiful chapter right at the start which anal i have to admit that i foudn this really really complicated in most parts but the parts that i managed to understand were very very impressive. i love books that glide my thinking into areas ive never ventured before and parts this does book does this. there are three big areas Foucault covers intermittently throughout the book: life, language and wealth/money/labour. the book talks about history, episteme, epistemology, time inter alia. there is a beautiful chapter right at the start which analyses a Velasquezs painting and no matter who i show that picture they dont seem to understand (neither did i) what the painting is trying to depict. the book also talks a great deal of the classic period juxtaposed against where were are today and the "end of man" or the last man as fukuyama calls it. there is also an amazing chapter on the art of speaking which is of course linked to language and how that differs from thought. ultimatly the book is based aroudn a thory of representation adn language is a prime example of the representation which we are subsumed within. on this foucault writes: if, fundamentally, the funciton of language, that is, to raise up a represenntation or to point it out, as though with a finger, then it is indication and not judgement." certainly worth a read overall but a bit too intellecctual for me.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lance

    As with most of Foucault's work, this book oscillates between barely discernible prose, discussion of obscure texts, and moments of clear profundity that will blow your mind. Foucault's overall argument is fairly simple, at least in today's context, where many of Foucault's ideas and methods are often taken as a priori. Basically, shifts in epistemes created a space where "man" appeared as an object of study. The human sciences didn't appear because of new enlightened ideas, but because the disc As with most of Foucault's work, this book oscillates between barely discernible prose, discussion of obscure texts, and moments of clear profundity that will blow your mind. Foucault's overall argument is fairly simple, at least in today's context, where many of Foucault's ideas and methods are often taken as a priori. Basically, shifts in epistemes created a space where "man" appeared as an object of study. The human sciences didn't appear because of new enlightened ideas, but because the discursive organizations changed. Since Foucault is working with a new paradigm and new method, he really takes the reader literally step by step. In fact, I'm not sure I entirely buy his argument, but I'm not willing to read all the books he read to double-check :-). The thing about much of Foucault's work is that he lives in a pretty narrow world -- the canonical male thinkers in European philosophy. I also highly recommend reading "The Archaeology of Knowledge," where Foucault describes his methodological apparatus with more detail. In a way, I think these too books are more useful today as methodologies, rather than philosophical or theoretical treatises.

  17. 4 out of 5

    David M

    The death of man turns out to be one big fat anti-climax. It's just a melodramatic way of saying the social sciences are changing their focus. Don't be fooled by all the Nietzsche-mongering. The shadow of Kant falls heaviest on this book. An investigation into the knowledge of knowledge. The death of man turns out to be one big fat anti-climax. It's just a melodramatic way of saying the social sciences are changing their focus. Don't be fooled by all the Nietzsche-mongering. The shadow of Kant falls heaviest on this book. An investigation into the knowledge of knowledge.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Hunter McClure

    My head hurts.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Thomas J. Hubschman

    I have been reading Foucault—again. Rereading. Unless you are as quick and clever as he is, you don't just "read" Michel Foucault as if he were a mystery novel or an office memo. He frequently requires the kind of concentration you bring to the solution of a geometry theorem or the translation of an ancient text. I was never very good at either of those activities—mathematics or translation—with a few significant exceptions, significant because what I achieved in each case not only gave me confid I have been reading Foucault—again. Rereading. Unless you are as quick and clever as he is, you don't just "read" Michel Foucault as if he were a mystery novel or an office memo. He frequently requires the kind of concentration you bring to the solution of a geometry theorem or the translation of an ancient text. I was never very good at either of those activities—mathematics or translation—with a few significant exceptions, significant because what I achieved in each case not only gave me confidence in the power of my abilities but opened up a brief but enduring view into the rich worlds of mathematical logic and Latin poetry. Had I been assigned Michel Foucault to read back then, I never would have made it through any of his books, never mind read them serially and with an eagerness that is more typical of the consumption of a fast-moving thriller. But that's exactly what happened when I was looking for a book about the prison system and a neighbor offered me the copy of Discipline and Punish on his bookshelf left over from his graduate school days. I devoured it, then went on to Madness and Civilization, The Order of Things & The Archaeology of Knowledge, Psychiatric Power, was put off by the turgid prose of Birth of the Clinic, but soon discovered Foucault's three volumes on sexuality, his final effort, half of the projected six volumes he had planned for the topic before he died in 1984. It wasn't all easy reading, of course. Very little of Foucault is. But I always find him engaging, stimulating and manage to stay with him, the reward being exciting insights into how the world we live in has come about, especially what it owes to the intellectual world of the Enlightenment and the one that preceded it—the Renaissance—their "epistemes," to use Foucault's word, the way they saw the world and the systems of knowledge they devised to explain and control it. They were worlds as alien and exotic to our own as anything that might walk off a spaceship ship from another galaxy, and yet also familiar by their cultural residues if only (but certainly not only) in our popular art and common assumptions—what we call "magic," e.g., actually the science of the pre-Enlightenment episteme. This was why as late as the mid-1600s a mind liked Newton's (if there ever has been such a thing as a mind "like" his) could occupy itself most of the time with alchemy and the study of ancient Hebrew. It was probably never clear to Newton that the revolution he was effecting was a contradiction of the thousands of years of "science" that preceded him. He believed that all he was doing was rediscovering truths that the ancient Greeks had postulated that had been lost, just as Aristotle's works were lost for more than a thousand years before being rediscovered at the end of the Middle Ages. Intellectual history was Foucault's bailiwick, specifically 18th-century France, what we have come to know as the Enlightenment. In school we were taught it was a period much akin to our own, a kind of proto-modern way of thinking, when real science got started and notions of democracy and economics came into being. All of which is true, but, as Foucault shows, not in the way we think, and different in ways that are very important. The Enlightenment had its own assumptions and prejudices and models that are almost as alien to what was to come later as were the assumptions of the models that preceded it for two thousand years. I should probably point out that I delight in finding that the received truth is, if not exactly the opposite of what we think, very different from it, whether it's the current unmasking of the vaporous frauds on which the world financial markets have operated for so many years or the exposure of common medical practices that cost so much and do so little for our health. Such unmaskings, slow at first, a few lone voices crying out that the accepted ideas or paradigms are really just conventions with no clothes on, only gradually become acceptable and even then only after the renegades have been roundly criticized or even persecuted: there really were no WMD despite the propaganda in the New York Times and the impassioned testimony at the UN of America's most respected public figure; Credit Default Swaps are no better than last month's lottery tickets; the sun does not revolve around the earth. By unearthing (he calls it archaeology) the origins and developments of the prison system, psychiatry and medicine generally and the other so-called social sciences, Foucault implicitly questions other precepts upon which our contemporary disciplines are founded. He reminds us of absurd notions we like to believe are peculiar to the unenlightened thinking of the past, even the not-so-distant past, such as the medical establishment's "discovery" of masturbation at the start of the 19th century, thanks to new observational practices developed as a means of controlling populations in prisons, schools and hospitals. Freud himself was under the influence of this medical witch hunt which lasted well into the 20th century. It was as if, as Foucault remarks, an epidemic of self-abuse had broken out across Europe at the close of the 18th century. Modern medicine would also rather not recall some of the silly—"silly" if they didn't ruin so many lives—other tenets and practices, such as bleeding for almost any condition, female clitorectomies (practiced mostly on white middle-class women, the class which has always been most medicalized), promoting the use of infant formula over mother's milk, etc. There are plenty of contemporary equivalents to these useless or harmful nostrums, but we accept them as good medical science, physicians and patients alike. We cooperate with them every time we pay a visit to the doctor. But for me Foucault's most fascinating subject is the pre-Enlightenment model of reality, the one that prevailed virtually unchallenged since the time of the Stoics, as meticulously constructed and rigorously practiced as anything that takes place in our own science labs. In this model the Creator passed on to Adam and Eve the language in which He himself thinks. It's not language in the narrow sense we understand that word, because every word in it embodies the reality, the essential truth, of the object it designates and, as it were, incorporates, so that to know the word is to know the very being of the thing—or person. The consequences for scholarship and knowledge generally to such a concept are profound. Because we no longer have access to the primal master language (thanks to the Tower of Babel) we are reduced to approaching the truth via the watered-down derivative tongues we now speak. Even classical Greek and Latin are pale substitutions. Our job—the job of intellectuals from antiquity to the mid-17th century—was to "divine" the lost meanings and forgotten truths—what today we would call scientific data—we knew once simply by knowing the original language of creation. This was what magic was about. Today the word means skillful allusion, a pretense for entertainment, turning handkerchiefs into doves and cutting pretty girls in half only to put them back together again. But, in the old days, two, three, five thousand years ago, great minds could piece together the lost remnants of the true language of God as well as read the "marks" he has embedded in his creation for our understanding. As a result, they believed they could manipulate reality the way we do chemicals in a test tube—turn not just handkerchiefs but people into birds, transform lead into gold, read the future in the stars, cure the sick, even raise the dead. More practically, they could curse their enemies in a way that went beyond mere vilification. If you knew someone's name, their real name, the word that contained their very being, you could—with the right verbal formula—kill them or at least make them very ill, a practice that goes back to the very beginnings of language, certainly written language, when the latter was the purview of a select elite. But the Creator did more than give man (and it was almost always "man," wasn't it) the true language. He also imbedded in his creation "characters" and "signs" that enabled the scientific whizzes of their day to understand how everything, literally every thing, in the universe was related to everything else and therefore how it could be manipulated, altered, transformed. We have our own received wisdoms and shibboleths that we accept as uncritically as did anyone in previous centuries, believing them to be based on good scientific evidence. To this day many of us seem to harbor a belief in the intrinsic value of gold, as the recent flight to that metal out of stocks and other less substantial financial instruments demonstrates. Is this so different from the Renaissance assumption that gold was inherently precious because God had created just enough of it to equal all the goods and services mankind would ever create? Is our current faith in more and more testing and aggressive treatment of patients (originally the word used for someone undergoing torture for the sake of discovering criminal truth), regardless of demonstrated risk and benefit, any better grounded than was the practice of bleeding and purging? Meanwhile, we still can't get doctors to wash their hands before examining patients in the hospital, a lack of hygiene that costs thousands of lives each year. The beauty of reading a scholar as astute as Foucault is not that he poses any of these questions himself. As I say, he pretty much sticks to his professional last. But, his "archaeology" of the development of intellectual thought from the early 17th century into the 19th, allows us to hold up a mirror to our own time. We, like the people of other centuries, think we pretty much have figured out what it's all about, apart from some tinkering around the edges—nailing down that pesky Unified Field Theory that has annoyed scientists ever since Einstein got a bee in his bonnet about it. The idea that our own science one day might be seen as flawed as that of the 17th century seems to us absurd. We are building, we believe, on hard-won truths, scientifically demonstrable truths, leaving nothing to speculation or faith. But Ptolemaic cosmology had seemed just as unshakably scientific, an elegant explanation for how the heavens revolve around the earth, cleverly explaining the odd backward and forward motion of the planets that seemed to contradict this hypothesis. It was such a rigorous piece of work that it lasted well over a thousand years and was discarded only with much reluctance and only after a good deal of persecution of those who contested it. Who are our own Ptolemies? Are they the scientific "studies" promising eternal life out of fish oil and statins? Are they those who affirm or those who deny global warming? Those who tell us our lives will be extended by their medicines and their machines or those who can demonstrate that longevity ultimately depends upon our socio-economic status and general satisfaction with life? Our own misguided scientists are operating within what we think of as the heart of orthodoxy. Which of them is actually telling us that the heavens revolve around the earth or that the cure for what ails us is a good bleeding? There are other kinds of anxieties and questions that reading Foucault or any other great scholar excites. But, if you're like me, you thrill at the prospect of unmasking an accepted falsehood and seeing the way toward a new truth—with the proviso that truth is "a hypothesis that has not yet been disproven." You not only weather the threat to the received orthodoxy but relish the intellectual vistas that take its place.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Alastair Heffernan

    The Order of Things revolves around the concept of the episteme (from the word epistemology, or theory of knowledge). This is Foucault’s term for the underlying structure of thought that constitutes (determines the shape of) what can be thought. This term is introduced by analogy and not really defined. Only by reading the book do you get a sense of what it means. The book proceeds to describe the episteme – this background against which knowledge develops. To get at the episteme, the author und The Order of Things revolves around the concept of the episteme (from the word epistemology, or theory of knowledge). This is Foucault’s term for the underlying structure of thought that constitutes (determines the shape of) what can be thought. This term is introduced by analogy and not really defined. Only by reading the book do you get a sense of what it means. The book proceeds to describe the episteme – this background against which knowledge develops. To get at the episteme, the author undertakes an “archaeological” survey of the history of thought, from the Renaissance to Modern times. This archaeology means taking knowledge of a particular time and digging below it to see what underpins it. By doing so, Foucault believes he has identified two great discontinuities in the episteme of European thought: that between the Renaissance and the Classical period (halfway through the 17th century) and between the Classical period and the Modern (late 18th to early 19th century). The book proper begins with a description of the Renaissance episteme – in which the underlying structure of thought is considered to be the ‘resemblance’. What this means is that the science of the time relied on the concept of “similitude”. Many examples are given such as how, at that time, a nut that resembles the brain will be viewed as having curative powers for that organ. The episteme is reflected by the encyclopaedias of the time: far from the alphabetised approach of today, encyclopaedias then attempted to follow the structure of the world, ordered by the “forms of adjacency … prescribed by the world itself”. This just made more sense to people of the time. What we can see Foucault doing here is attempting to construct an underlying structure of thought from the sciences of a particular time. And this is what the majority of the rest of the book is about. Chapters 3 to 6 cover the Classical episteme; 7 to 8 the Modern and 9 and 10 tie up loose ends. We will (as briefly as possible) rattle through these sections in turn. The Classical episteme is characterised by order and structure. Instead of signs that are really a part of things themselves (as per the Renaissance), we now have representations of things that can be analysed and dissected. This is exemplified by the Classical-era natural historian who developed huge taxonomies of animals, grouping them not by superficial resemblances as in the Renaissance, but by comprehensive lists of features. This Classical episteme is best illustrated as a ‘table’ – an ordered space where representations are sorted and studied. The transition to the Modern episteme is made by way of (of all people, given my scathing recent review of Justine): the Marquis de Sade. Why? According to Foucault, the “obscure and repeated violence of desire battering at the limits of representation” in Sade symbolises the absence of a consideration of “Man” as he really is in a Classical world of cold, desireless structure. The modern age will be marked by the introduction of a subject into the mix. Foucault begins the move to the Modern episteme by describing the limits of representation. This is achieved through discussions of changes in sciences in the late 18th century, for example in natural history and the classification of animals. From simply tabulating similarities and differences in animals, e.g. that a certain number of a particular feature of a plant are shared across several plants and so constitute a species, the Modern era investigates the point of this shared feature and explains classification by way of “function”. This ultimately results in needing to understand the history of organisms: shared functions emerge in different species because of evolution. Suddenly, the static study of kingdoms and phyla has become the dynamic study of life itself. But life is not a representation, it is beyond representation, it enables representations (in the jargon: it is transcendental). Foucault summarises the changes from the Classical to Modern episteme: “things, in their fundamental truth, have escaped from the space of the table … the space of order is from now on shattered”. Meanwhile in the modern era: “representation can draw out, piece by piece, only tenuous elements whose unity, whose point of connection, always remains hidden in that beyond”. In other words: the objects of study for humankind – life, labour and language – now exist beyond the things we find in representations. The last two chapters deals with unanswered questions. Having described the limits of representation and how the empirical sciences have set about to objectively study man’s life, labour and language, Foucault turns to the question of what is behind the “transcendentals” (life, labour, language)? Man makes sense of the world, so he, as subject, must become the object of study. Chapter Nine outlines how this happens from the inside by philosophy. The final chapter covers how we can attempt to study man, as the subject of thought, from the outside in the fields of psychology, sociology and literary analysis. These chapters, the hardest in the book, push the reader to confront the peculiar “empirico-transcendental” nature of man, since “he is a being such that knowledge will be attained in him of what renders all knowledge possible”. But what is this being? We have created a “void”, but “this void has not created a deficiency … it is nothing more, nothing less, than the unfolding of a space in which it is once more possible to think.” The book finishes with a wholly unsatisfying conclusion suggesting we may, or may not, be on the cusp of a new episteme. Phew. The process of writing that bloated summary of the book really is illustrative of not only the challenge of the subject matter but the lack of signposting in the book. I feel that there is much of interest here. Not least the notion that a given culture has its own mode of thinking that is determinative of what can actually be thought (leading to statements like: a Newton could not exist today and so on). Foucault also centres the human sciences within the “trihedron of knowledge” (don’t ask), a valuable attempt to re-orient the focus of a history of science, while Foucault’s refusal to view scientific progress through the lens of mathematics alone is admirable given the pre-eminence this field usually gets. My problems run deep, however. Take the episteme itself. This is an intriguing concept – the idea that there are unspoken rules that constitute what and how we can think. This has insightful consequences, such as indicating why a Renaissance encyclopaedist would merrily group things in a totally alien way to a Classical reader. And this is what readers seem to have taken away from Foucault: the importance of culture as a backdrop against which we exist, and that is much more constitutive of us as thinking subjects than we probably like to imagine. This is all to the good: my issue here is that I’m not convinced this very broad brush rendering of Foucault is really what he says in the Order of Things. My reading of the book suggests a lot of issues that I believe are skirted around in summaries of the book. First is the issue of what the episteme is for the author. It isn’t at all clear to me that the intuitive version sketched above is Foucault’s actual episteme. Standard ways of discussing it tend to base it in the culture of the time and Foucault certainly does this as well. But in the passage where he introduces the episteme, he situates it between the “fundamental codes of a culture – those governing its language, its schemas of perception, its exchanges, its techniques, its values, the hierarchy of its practices” and “the scientific theories or the philosophical interpretations which explain why order exists in general”. Between “these two regions” is where “a culture, imperceptibly deviating from the empirical orders prescribed for it by its primary codes … frees itself sufficiently to discover that these orders are perhaps not the only possible ones or the best ones”. Foucault clarifies later in this section: “between the already ‘encoded’ eye and reflexive knowledge there is a middle region which liberates order itself”. I have quoted at length to illustrate just how murky Foucault’s conception of the episteme is: is it based in culture or not? What are the “empirical orders” cited as the primary codes that the episteme intervenes in? I would have thought perhaps basic physiology which permits experience, but Foucault explicitly says that these are the “codes of a culture – those governing its language” and so on. He appears, in short, to have a very poor grasp on where this epistemological structuring layer resides. This leads to more issues. By being so poorly characterised in the first instance, we are left wondering what the role of the episteme is (a classic chicken-and-egg problem). As it develops in the course of the book, we have described to us different features of different epistemes as they are seen through the sciences of the day. There is something intelligible in all this. Foucault’s use of archaeology to connote the uncovering of what underlies thought is helpful in this regard. But we are left wondering in what sense the episteme plays a constitutive role (how much it determines thought) and to what extent we are simply picking up on patterns in thought after the fact. Foucault very much leans towards the first yet it is in no way obvious to me that he is doing any more than giving interesting cultural descriptions of what passed for meaningful discourse in particular time and place, rather than discovering forms of thought that (in a one-directional sense) limited thought itself. It is not at all evident why all thinking in a certain time should have a unifying underlying structure rather than, well, just being similar because it is of the same time. And if there is a unifying structure, this presumably emerges from the culture and is re-absorbed into it in a two-directional process and cannot be disaggregated from it. Furthermore, if the episteme represents something more than just a description of similarities in thought at a given time, how can it change? Foucault charts the changes of the episteme. But what is changing? If the episteme makes thought possible, then how on Earth can it be changed. He describes these changes in the episteme by a curious mixture of reference to the thought of the day (which is circular) or in an almost teleological way, meaning by reference to a kind of goal at which the episteme is headed. That Foucault does not intend the episteme to be teleological is stated clearly: in describing the transition from Renaissance to Classical episteme, he states it is not the case “that reason [has] made any progress: it was simply that the mode of being of things, and of the order that divided them up before presenting them to the understanding, was profoundly altered.” However, it is difficult, in the Hegelian breakdown and rebuilding of the episteme, not to sense an overarching purpose or point at which the episteme is aimed (as the Absolute was the endpoint of Hegel’s spirit). In discussing the transition to the Modern era, Foucault notes that “the table [the mark of Classical thinking] … forms no more than a thin surface film for knowledge” while “the syntheses, or structures, or systems [the mark of Modern thinking] … reside far beyond all the divisions that can be ordered on the basis of the visible [Classical thinking].” This sounds like exactly the kind of progress (an improving) Foucault claimed the movements of the episteme did not imply. The overarching issue is: Foucault wisely avoids claiming the episteme (in some nebulous sense) ‘improves’ itself towards some ultimate end, but then cannot resist discussing it in precisely those terms, leading to even more confusion in the reader. My remaining issues come down to presentation and method. Presentational problems are too few summaries and too little signposting for the reader. There is a huge amount of content rammed into the last couple of extremely dense chapters; we hurry through philosophy into the human sciences while the counter-sciences and history are bolted on in the closing pages for good measure. No wonder these aspects receive far less attention in the popular imagining of this book. Which is a pity, because the key point of discussion here – man is “that being such that knowledge will be attained in him of what renders all knowledge possible” (or: we are the conditions of the knowledge we want to have of ourselves) – is an intriguing issue thrown open by Kant and not, to my eye, answered in any subsequent work. On the methodological front: Foucault’s attempt to unpick the secret rules of thought from a scattergun analysis of a tiny number of authors, in a small number of fields, in a given time leaves me extremely unconvinced. Incredible, sweeping claims are made based on virtually no evidence: in describing the features of natural history in the 17th and 18th century, for example, the author states that “anatomy lost the leading role that it had played during the Renaissance”. This, in turn, is used to justify a statement about changes in how natural history was done which, in turn, is used to evidence the shifting of the episteme. Another technique I noted in the book is a penchant for arbitrary list making which, I believe is intended to give the veneer of systematicity to better ground the big moves Foucault makes. When discussing the models underpinning the human sciences, for instance, Foucault claims that “these three pairs of [elements] completely cover the entire domain of what can be known about man”. This is rhetoric not reasoning. Which is really the crux of the matter for me. Foucault is storytelling, weaving intricate and often convincing narratives about thought at a particular time to reveal his ‘episteme’. But confabulating is all he is doing; there is far too little evidence, to say nothing of the serious conceptual issues of this project - from the chicken and egg issue of whether episteme or culture comes first, to the questions of how the episteme changes, to what in a meaningful sense the episteme can be considered to be or reside in. This is a contentious project but one that does point towards interesting lines of thinking, notably that of framing thought as existing only within a culture’s specific codes and values. If Foucault had focussed on this, rather than running amok into other fields, this may have been a brilliant book; as it is, it is a highly tedious, highly onerous read. Just like this review, I suppose.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lukáš

    Perhaps the most useful book for getting together some of the Foucault's ideas scattered through his work. First, by putting together a history of epistemes of labour, life and language, showing the patterns of discontinuity, this one offers Focuault a lot of space to elaborate on the current (or perhaps his current) structure of thought about the human sciences. One could clearly discover where the importance of subjectivity, normality and life (biopower) have played role in the formation of mo Perhaps the most useful book for getting together some of the Foucault's ideas scattered through his work. First, by putting together a history of epistemes of labour, life and language, showing the patterns of discontinuity, this one offers Focuault a lot of space to elaborate on the current (or perhaps his current) structure of thought about the human sciences. One could clearly discover where the importance of subjectivity, normality and life (biopower) have played role in the formation of modern episteme. Second, the discontinuities described to detail here provide a set of questions and although Foucault's speculations on them are sophisticated, many of these have gone further in Foucault's work ever since the publication of this collection. Since his later works often go back to some of the ideas developed in this book as much as they often follow patterns of their own, I believe there is a lot to be gained from some of the chapters in here, especially of those on representation and its limits, the role of finitude and nature in contemporary thought. The fact that this is an essential reading is better to be seen for what this book is rather than for how it is, although several parts remain quite readable in particular.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    The Order of Things is Foucault at his densest and most baroque. On one hand, I suppose there is value in it as a project as it provides an overarching framework for his more specific inquiries into the prison/the clinic/etc., but it's not a pleasant read-- it's a slog, and one that doesn't really seem to enhance my understanding of Foucault's thought all that much. To a certain degree, it does sharpen his project and gives it a grand-level basis, but in doing so, it reveals some of the inherent The Order of Things is Foucault at his densest and most baroque. On one hand, I suppose there is value in it as a project as it provides an overarching framework for his more specific inquiries into the prison/the clinic/etc., but it's not a pleasant read-- it's a slog, and one that doesn't really seem to enhance my understanding of Foucault's thought all that much. To a certain degree, it does sharpen his project and gives it a grand-level basis, but in doing so, it reveals some of the inherent flaws in Foucault's approach-- an over-reliance on specific texts, a tendency towards the ad hominem-- as well as elaborating all the best elements of what he called his archaeological method.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    1 1/2 stars. Most of Foucault's time here is spent describing a mildly interesting (but a far, far too wordy) account of how two periods in history are fundamentally different in their epistemological basis. It's all a kind of, what I guess I would call a "dogmatic" brand of, historicism/historism. Yawn. It ends with a section praising psychoanalysis over the other "human sciences." So yeah. 1 1/2 stars. Most of Foucault's time here is spent describing a mildly interesting (but a far, far too wordy) account of how two periods in history are fundamentally different in their epistemological basis. It's all a kind of, what I guess I would call a "dogmatic" brand of, historicism/historism. Yawn. It ends with a section praising psychoanalysis over the other "human sciences." So yeah.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Conor

    I'd be lying if I said that I found reading this book pleasant - it's super dense, even compared to Foucault's other work. I'd also be lying if I said that it didn't change the way I view thought in the west. I'd be lying if I said that I found reading this book pleasant - it's super dense, even compared to Foucault's other work. I'd also be lying if I said that it didn't change the way I view thought in the west.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    Disappointing. I'm sure that's my fault, not Foucault's. I'm sure I could have gotten more out of this, but I don't seem to have the patience anymore for this kind of rhetoric. This ended being a chore to read. I'm glad to be done with it. Disappointing. I'm sure that's my fault, not Foucault's. I'm sure I could have gotten more out of this, but I don't seem to have the patience anymore for this kind of rhetoric. This ended being a chore to read. I'm glad to be done with it.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Marc

    I once started to read this, in my twenties, but had to abandon it, due to my busy professional and private life. Is on my to reread list.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Horrid book! So verbose and unnecessary.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    As I read this unique study, I kept asking myself how I could reduce it to a meaningful comment. For some reason I came up with a thought that does not bear directly on Foucault's work but may have some relation to it. The thought was: Literature is that which otherwise would not be said. I turned this thought over in my mind and was not sure that I knew how I could contradict it and might possibly believe it. In fact, I am still wondering if I will use it as my motto instead of the one that appea As I read this unique study, I kept asking myself how I could reduce it to a meaningful comment. For some reason I came up with a thought that does not bear directly on Foucault's work but may have some relation to it. The thought was: Literature is that which otherwise would not be said. I turned this thought over in my mind and was not sure that I knew how I could contradict it and might possibly believe it. In fact, I am still wondering if I will use it as my motto instead of the one that appears at the top of this blog: Why pick up a pen if not to change the world? The point may be that there is in the world a division between two modes of speech: that which is utilitarian and that which is not. The utilitarian must be said. Pass me the salt. I need aspirin. Are you going my way? The gross national product is 14.5 trillion dollars. These are useful statements and need saying. Statements that do not need saying are everything we think about the world and cannot even express except indirectly, through stories, or poems, or plays. Now, as we know, literature originally was closely aligned with religion, as were all the arts, but Foucault pinpoints a 16th-18th century period in which the divinity of literature was cast aside, and the post-Renaissance rumble that came to be "life today" began expressing itself. He is not preoccupied with literature or its fate--I am-- but he pursues an analytic method that sidelines it in a curious and interesting way. He choses the word "archeology" advisedly. What he is looking for is a kind of sedimentary evidence of change that propelled us into the modern age, and he seeks to find it in odd pairings like grammar on the one hand and exchange on the other. His focus on grammar, and "speaking," is profoundly important to this study. The core insight here is that humankind experienced a shift through the Renaissance away from "likeness" to "representation." "Likeness" is a two thousand year old way of understanding the world. This is like that. This is similar to that. Therefore this and that are related. One can never fully abandon that mode of thought but thought itself is more ore less unlike anything. When we speak or write, we are using grammatical conventions to represent thought. Thought is faster that its written or oral expression; it is instantaneous and sometimes has to wait a long time for someone to give it grammatical form, which is merely a representation of thought, not thought itself. So words come to signify something and do so arbitrarily and in those 16th-18th centuries referred to above, we began to realize that there was no such thing as a universal grammar that expressed itself uniformly through all post-Babel languages. As economies burgeoned, we also faced a challenge we still have not mastered: what is the value of something? Is there a universal value? Gold, for instance? Silver? Not really. Think of going into your driveway and getting into a solid gold car. It would go nowhere, weighing too much. But if we perform two operations that Foucault attributes to the segment of human archeology on which he is focused, we can solve the problem of gold: first, we assign it mathematical values, and then we establish an order that encompasses these values. Again, this is imperfectly achieved even today, otherwise we would not have billionaires profiting from what are called exchange rate fluctuations. But we have moved from likeness--fool's gold to real gold--to representation grounded in the relative stability of mathematics and order. When I was in eighth grade I learned something called the "new math." I was taught that you could perform any mathematical operation on an other than decimal system. This proved abysmally pointless except that tonight I recall that our standard math is arbitrary, as is the grammar of one language versus another. This is a long, erudite, possibly correct book. Foucault has had his ups and downs as a socio-intellectual historian and philosopher. Without question, he has done his homework and there are ample instances of him supporting his thesis with myriad persuasive examples. His focus is not on literature. His focus is on explaining the zeitgeist that unified disparate disciplines in creating our analytic, empirically-based and yet highly relative and somewhat arbitrary modern world. He makes the point at the end, per Nietzsche, that we may wake up some day and be other than we are, throwing out all of our presuppositions, and establishing new methods for representing our thoughts, or our forms of knowledge. I tend to think he is right up to a point in this. When I publish this comment, it will be available worldwide. Very few people will read it, but still, those who do will be joining me in a global community that could conceivably chuck the nation state idea and turn its back on the idea of monetizing the air we breathe (carbon marketing) . . . or accept the idea of monetizing air. I don't know. What I do know is that there is a connection between those of us who read and think and my general reaction: Literature is that which otherwise would not be said. We did not need Foucault in a utilitarian sense, but we do need writers whose knowledge and curiosity are so great that the things about which we are both unaware and incapable of expressing do get said. That's literature, and ultimately it may change the world.

  29. 5 out of 5

    James

    My examination of The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences produced personal findings of significance. I like order. My house is in order. Let's start with the basic codes "governing language, its schemas of perception, its exchanges, its techniques, its values, the hierarchy of its practice" (xx) in the dynamics of culture. According to Foucault, these provide order and the reflection of order in our experience. A level above resemblance is interpretive. In the signatory, a sig My examination of The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences produced personal findings of significance. I like order. My house is in order. Let's start with the basic codes "governing language, its schemas of perception, its exchanges, its techniques, its values, the hierarchy of its practice" (xx) in the dynamics of culture. According to Foucault, these provide order and the reflection of order in our experience. A level above resemblance is interpretive. In the signatory, a sign of resemblances such as a mathematical symbol (p: mathematical constant) provides a binary representation of significance, e.g., a calculation based on pi. Here is where my insight grew rapidly. "The double requisite is patent. There must be, in the representation, the perpetual possibility of imaginative recall" (69). I got the possibility of Other is not conscious contemporaneously, is becoming the same as himself and is no longer obscure space (328). Other comes into play. The unthought no longer eludes the man that had been striving to recover it. The Other, Distant is "the Near and the Same" in "an ever-to-be-accomplished unveiling of the Same" (328-340).

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kieran

    Though a difficult text to manage and ridden with complexity, points of internal anxiety, and even requiring some knowledge derived from elsewhere, Foucault's text is an excavation on the order of symbols and the categories of thought which the Classical era brought, especially to Western Europe. Rather than a direct, localised understanding of human history, Foucault's text serves to abstract and dissolve certain concrete concepts which are established within social convention and structure. By Though a difficult text to manage and ridden with complexity, points of internal anxiety, and even requiring some knowledge derived from elsewhere, Foucault's text is an excavation on the order of symbols and the categories of thought which the Classical era brought, especially to Western Europe. Rather than a direct, localised understanding of human history, Foucault's text serves to abstract and dissolve certain concrete concepts which are established within social convention and structure. By looking at several means of symbolism including the meaning implied by Miguel de Cervantes' "Don Quixote", Foucault gives his archaeology of thought a certain cultural relevance, and a certain sense of humanity trying to reach beyond itself, into new symbols which defy the physical restrictions before it. His impetus, a certain undisclosed work by Jorge Luis Borges, is also very curious. A Spanish poet and novelist inspired by latent depth and complexity, and the work of the earliest and most pivotal philosopher of the enlightenment, Benedict de Spinoza, the intention running beneath the challenging text is quite clear: Foucault seeks like one of his several inspirations, Friedrich Nietzsche (the champion of freethinking in the nineteenth century), to uncover certain latent potentials underlying the rigid organisation of human thought. The text does not represent hypothesis as much as it does represent discovery, and Foucault keeps a consistent academic tone within his writing. His purpose is clear: to create a set of instruments and precise tools of criticism and thought for certain modes of thinking about knowledge as containment, knowledge as something quite distinct from actual human thought and understanding. Though Foucault's book is academic in tone, it's focus and aim are clearly social and in the interests of releasing certain folds of thought which are currently hidden by the apparent limitations of knowledge. As Foucault says, knowledge isn't for knowing, it is for cutting. The suggestion of the book is clear: that knowledge itself is not the relevant objective, or the categorisation or ordering of knowledge. Rather, Foucault desires to point to the origin of human thought, and the hidden areas of perspective, which he highlights in the field of psycho-analysis and ethnography. This book is of incredible value for people interested in understanding the underpinnings of knowledge and the way in which it is structured, and a good complement would perhaps be the work of Jorge Luis Borges, or even Gilles Deleuze who was a friend with similar objectives to Michel Foucault. Deleuze's texts, written with Felix Guattari, "Capitalism and Schizophrenia" are further insights into problems in scholarship, knowledge structuring, etc.

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