The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences by Michael Foucault
Random House, 1970
416 pages – Amazon
To answer why do things make sense, in The Order of Things: An Archeology of the Human Sciences, Foucault starts by drawing historical periods of sense making. Because he cannot account for why change has happened to determine how our sense making operates, he instead presents a view that historically-speaking sense making comes in stages.
This trajectory is threefold: in the sixteenth century and before we had resemblance as the episteme of knowing. This past heuristic did not distinguish as strictly between valid and invalid modes as our current epoch of sense making might. For example, today astrology isn’t considered valid but modern scientific formulation is. For the previous the seventeenth century, Foucault writes:
The world is covered with signs that must be deciphered, and those signs, which reveal resemblances and affinities, are themselves no more than forms of similitude. To know must therefore be to interpret: to find a way from the visible mark to that which is being said by it and which, without that mark, would lie like unspoken speech, dormant within things.
This is another way of saying that before the Classical era, knowledge was the ability to name and relate signs to one another heuristically. Likewise, our knowledge about manipulating the material world was through access to those named marks. As Foucault adds “This is why the plants that represent the head, or the eyes, or the heart, or the liver, will possess an efficacity in regard to that organ; this is why the animals themselves will react to the marks that designate them.” This is an understanding of the world in terms of the names of things, or what we might dismiss as interacting with the world through wordplay. We can draw a parallel with how the secret Agent Sterling Archer in the animated TV show “Archer” resolves his conflicts through wordplay with other characters. The application of discursive meaning on the material world reflects the violent process of discourse alignment through his aggressive puns, and seemingly non-sequitur connections, which are always revealed to have an interior logic that is respectful to the reality of the Other (be this other a steak, or a wild ocelot, or a gigantic St. Bernard). Often, Archer’s wordplay slides between his fulfillment of his desires, and as a kind of justification to his mother or to mother figures (the men around him also all answer to mother figures, or at least other women in the office). Nonetheless, violence and disobedience coexist in his ability to get what he wants. In other words, minimally justifying his spy actions from his domineering mother is simultaneous with his hermeneutics. In pre-Classical applications of knowledge, this is akin to Archer being a sorcerer, to needing to say all the magic words to change material and social situations to hide his indiscretions.
Foucault points out that this kind of semiotic chaining as the mode of knowing gives way to the Classical Age which is best explained by representationalism as an episteme. This split duality between sign and signified, stared with Descartes, and amounted to the presentation of information via the metaphor of the tabulation. The model of knowing can be expressed as a Cartesian coordinate system of absolute ordering. The three areas of structure Foucault chooses to look at in this era to centralize his examination, roughly speaking, are linguistics, biology and economics. Foucault notes that these developing areas eventually exceeded representationalism by getting a jump start with Kantian transcendentalism against the Ideology of the Classical Era. While unnamed, this Ideology (a throwback to Foucault’s Marxist foundations) is a form of hierarchical social control. Thus, according to Foucault, the Classical Era ends with Kant dropping representationalism as a model of knowing, changing the conditions of power for the contemporary times. “Confronting Ideology, the Kantian critique, on the other hand, marks the threshold of our modernity; it questions representation, not in accordance with the endless movement that proceeds from the simple element.”
Although Kant still adheres to some representationalism with his distinction between the noumenal and the phenomenal, Foucault notes that in this advanced form of modernism, Kant straddles representationalism by echoing a transcendental field and an unknownable thing-in-itself as the limits of the pure Subject. This pure Kantian Subject provides a model for various subjects (discourses) as formalisms. From Classical to contemporary, the aforementioned three areas re-order around a simple element. Linguistics becomes philology, biology and economics:
Labour, life, and language appear as so many ‘transcendentals’ which make possible the objective knowledge of living beings, of the laws of production, and of the forms of language. In their being, they are outside knowledge but by the very fact they are conditions of knowledge; they correspond to Kant’s discovery of a transcendental field and yet they differ from it in two essential points: they are situated with the object, and, in a way, beyond it; [the a priori] provides these subjects with a foundation in the form of a being whose enigmatic reality constitutes, prior to all knowledge.
To cut the quote short, Foucault notes that these areas avoid any analysis of the conditions of knowledge (which Foucault is claiming is historical in nature, yet uncapturable by history), thus are less predicated by the capture of pure content that is out there. This dependence of history on a form of knowing is an appearance of the “‘pre-critical,’” as each field becomes own separate world, as a “whole layer of phenomenon given to experience” that paradoxically gives rise to “the appearance of a ‘positivism’” in nature which “is not possible to bring to light [. . .]; possible to know phenomena but not substances; laws, but not essences; regularities, but not the beings that obey them.” These phenomenal layers seed off into discourses detached from all else, and include their objects of study to form separate plateaus woven as consistencies derived from their own episteme. As Badiou would add from Being and Event II, each of these phenomenal layers are modeled through Kantian knowing as being different transcendentalisms, but not an absolute Transcendentalism as no field is resolved by a Kantian Subject but instead anchored with this simple element immanent to its field, what Foucault calls an episteme.
In other words, Foucault, for our own epoch, describes a condition today where the absence of representationalism is also a detachment from the thing-in-itself. Without the thing-in-itself, there is no real connection between these different areas of content, as this formalization of structure is only organized immanent to a self generated generic structure, developing a particular historicity that is discrete.
[T]he link between one organic structure and another can no longer, in fact, be the identity of one or several elements (a relation in which visibility no longer plays a role) and of the functions they perform; moreover if these organic structures happen to be adjacent to one another, on account of a particularly high density of analogies, it is not because they occupy proximate places within an area of classification; it is because they have both been formed at the same time, and one immediately after the other in the emergence of successions.
This larger discursive set of practices is, of course, what Foucault mostly examines in the latter half of The Order of Things. In this sense, Foucault utilizes the past sense making epochs to demonstrate that our own epoch while fragmented is still unified in form. Our sensibility is not a universal application that is outside of time; rather, it is an application that creates time as a modality of knowing.
Foucault’s examination of time in all his three discourses ultimately establishes the mode of finitude through a root episteme. This episteme belongs wholly within its discourse, organizing any given knowing. In examining David Ricardo’s economics, Foucault correlates the length of time we have until revolt as the decrease of landlord profits to keep apace the rise of the “nominal wage of the labourers [. . .] in order to cover the minimum costs of their subsistence.” The tipping point comes when there are too many workers and not enough additional work. This condition establishes the end of history, when “the tide of History will at least become slack. Man’s finitude will have been defined – once and for all, that is, for an indefinite time (original italics).” This basis for remapping time in economics gives evidence of a functionalism immanent to economics as a function of labor. Economics formulates labor as its pure figure. Likewise, biology is explained through the functional aspects of the organs rather than a representation of a pure expression of a specific life-spirit. From this, taxonomy is developed, connections are traced and evolution becomes a field. Similarly, philology works for culture to “give [a whole people] the power to speak a language solely belonging to itself.” That is to say, language allows the subject to self-actualize, as language is rooted “in the active subject” and “language expresses a profound will to something.” The functionality of language as an expression of desire gives way to the formalization of language in terms of its functions. We measure/categorize marks of language, expressive of its specific processings, according to their relation of ‘fraternity’, to introduce “historicity [. . .] into the domain of languages in the same way as that of living beings.”
From here, Foucault traces the origin of each separate field as an ordering through function, a “travers[al] by History.” For example, today we have many formalized knowings. Each has a history of its own: a history of the People’s Republic of China, a history of anthropology, a biography of Bill Clinton, a history of the Earth. In each, say for Bill Clinton, we want to know his development, his characteristic behavior, his way of affecting people. In this epoch, history is the development of what makes something or someone what it is. History is a projection of an episteme back to its origin. A biography of Clinton will trace his development as a character, perhaps with certain tropes describing his behavior until he becomes the man we know. For Foucault, history and the episteme are both reflexive—that is, to know a field is to create a history for it (to ground its existence as real) and likewise to draw a history is to define what the episteme for that field is, that the knowing is likewise grounded having existence in time. Either the larger field of history is used as an apparatus to measure the episteme or the episteme is used to measure the larger history. This tracing to the origin is borrowed by Foucault from Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo, and On the Genealogy of Morals, although Nietzsche uses it to examine morality. While Foucault does not extrapolate a completely reflexive apparatus of measurement to determine the episteme, he nonetheless pursues a knowing of this elusive origin as for him this origin is the ultimate organizing ground for both knowledge and time.
So when Foucault moves on to speak of our epoch, it follows that he must speak of the history of our formalism, which is what The Order of Things is about, the implicit order of things. From this history, Foucault abstracts the infinite as an experience of man’s finitude, the origin that grounds time itself.
[T]he level of the original is probably that which is closest to man: the surface he traverses so innocently, always for the first time, and upon which he scarcely opened his eyes discern figures as young as his own gaze—figures that must necessarily be just as ageless as he himself, though for an opposite reason; it is not because they are always equally young, it is because they belong to a time that has neither the same standards of measurement nor the same foundation as him. But this thin surface of the original, which accompanies our entire existence and never deserts it [. . .] is not the immediacy of a birth [. . .]; the simplest need expressed, the must neutral word emitted [. . .] is all the intermediaries of a time that governs him also to infinity.
This is to say that for Foucault, temporal origins are a continual projection towards infinity, grounded by disjointed fields, each of which projects their own measure of knowing. The parroting of structure in each discourse paradoxically links us back to our origin as consciousness but also of ourselves. These
irreducible chronologies [scatter humankind] through time and opinions him at the centre of the duration of things. [The origin] links him to that which does not have the same time as himself; and it sets free in him everything that is not contemporaneous with him; it indicates ceaselessly, and in an ever-renewed proliferation, that things began long before him, and that for this very reason, since his experience is wholly constituted and limited by things, no one can ever assign him an origin.
This brings us back to ourselves through our finitude as a kind of transcendental filter. The finitude of man paradoxically casts the world as an infinite construction because the search for an origin is always pushed back further. We can’t find an origin because the origin depends on our episteme. Refinement of our episteme will always give rise to a different origin. This shows us that the reliance of an order is inherent in our episteme and not dependent on a neutral causation through time, as thought with Classical Knowledge. Thus the shadow of Man is universalized through the episteme because Man is inverted as a metric to establish these fields of discourse and not because Man has a specific origin. Man is a creature “whose birth is never accessible because it never took ‘place.’” This transcendentalisation of our episteme is “the opening from which time in general can be reconstituted, duration can flow, and things, at the appropriate moment, can make their appearance.” This figure of man, as self-realizing self as Zizek might say, is what makes Foucault pessimistic as our discourses’ limitation is arbitrary to what is reflexive about our condition. This examination of our human trope is a return that is “posited only in the extreme recession of the origin,” a
promise of fulfillment and perfect plentitude [reestablishes] the origin of the void—the void created both by its recession and by its approach [. . .] which articulates human experience upon the time of nature and life, upon history, upon the sediments of past cultures, modern thought makes its task to return to man in his identity, in that plentitude or in that nothing which he is himself, to his and time in the repetition which they render impossible but which they force us to conceive and to being in that which it is.
You can unpack this quote by understanding that the parameters of each discourse are functional to us, an intimate reflection of what is meaningful (and therefore functional) to our culture. This functionality defines the epistemological ground for each discourse. Economics, for example, as a “human science,” is constrained under the motives and literal values that we deem to be worthwhile to work for, to create and to live by. How these collective behaviors can be aggregated and described formally coheres the field of economics. Biology obviously consists of that which is most pertinent to us as biological creatures, as a material formalization to sustain life. In philology, the most studied aspects of languages are also the most useful to us, as we constrain how we know each other through language. For Foucault, and in every contemporaneous field, the various inquiries we make into the world to further our will highlights the cultural values driving the material discourses and meaningful processes of our knowing.
The logical projection of any episteme allows Foucault to establish that our history is our knowledge mediated through a metric that is drawn from us in as much as it “cuts [us] off not only from the dawn from which [we] sprang but also from the other dawn promised [to us] as still to come.” Formalized knowledge relies on how a specific episteme allows us to know an aspect of our world or some specific aspect of us. This episteme also marks both past and future as vectors folding and unfolding of itself. In other words, the finitude of our episteme is cast into the future, as a resolution and retroactively cast into the past as a solution to ground where we are today and what we know now. So for Foucault
[H]ere we meet once again the initial theme of finitude. But this finitude, which was expressed first of all by the weight of things upon man—[. . .] now appears at a more fundamental level: it is the insurmountable relation of [our] being with time.
While Foucault is capable of great insight into characterizing this epoch, he is careful to emphasize that he can only note the formal measure of past and future as modes of present knowing. He is not here to predict specific contents for past or future. To solidify our recognition of the episteme, Foucault finds it useful to compare our episteme today to the Classical period.
In the Classical period, knowledge is conjoined as knowledge is not mediated through the figure of Man as finite being, as Kant remarks, but rather through the infinite. In this way, for Classical Era, the infinite inflection, God, establishes identity and unity once and for all, so that language becomes transparent and things are knowable through language but unknowable because of Man’s finitude. What I mean is that in the Classical period, knowledge was mediated by the infinite but limited by Man, whereas for today, the world looks infinite only because Man is finite and partial. Another way of relating to our finitude is to understand that knowledge is made possible because cultural valuation is the null point of view by which we stabilize meaning and establish the episteme. This stabilization is how “[h]istoricism is a means of validating for itself the perpetual critical relation at play between History and the human sciences.” In this way, history serves as a third point of view to ground the episteme as a real thing outside of Man even while Man is the figure that provides the parameters for that episteme to be reified. Thus, each episteme is formalized into its own field.
Foucault narrows formalization as a necessary way to recombine a field using a specific root episteme. It is through each fields’ formalization, each fields’ method, wherein he finds the commonalities that characterize our epoch. He names this formalization as “mathesis universalis (original italics).” Mathesis provides the expression of each of these fields to seed “an organic structure which grows accordance with its own necessity and develops in accordance with autochthonous laws.” This episteme as a shadow of Man yields an
event that places formalization or mathematicization, at the heart of any modern scientific project; it is this event, too, that explains why all hasty mathematicization or naïve formalization of the empirical seems like ‘pre-critical’ dogmatism and a return to the platitudes of Ideology.
Contemporary to this break, but not discussed by Foucault, is the formalization of Boolean Algebra and set theory. While modern set theory allows sets to be members of sets (whereas Boolean Algebra does not), for the episteme itself to identify and self organize, Boolean Algebra needed to posit a universal class to be complete, and establish identity to be equivalent to multiplication by one. Is this introduction of the universal class by Boole not a reliance on the infinite as a mediation of knowing? Does not modern set theory, by discarding the universal class, instead rely on excessive formalization alone to constitute any class such that any set can be the final determination for any of its members as themselves? This difference between Boolean Algebra, with its reliance on a universal class, and modern set theory, with its cardinal limits and its excessive formalization, is the same difference between Classical Knowledge with its transcendentalism through God (guaranteeing representationalism as a mode of knowledge) and our contemporary fields of knowledge with their separate but formalized root epistemes. Even within the field of math, we can note the same break that Foucault notes, concurrent with this break in kinds of knowing.
In this way, we can understand that our epoch, while characterized by excessive formalism, seeks through mathesis the zero degree angle, for the minimal signification of difference qua episteme.
The rest of this review will explicate how Foucault uses the episteme in its rigorous formalization to characterize the limits of our finitude and how his theory likewise is a shadow of his own condition of knowing.
To illustrate reflexive stabilization in a field as a trace of Man as the limit of knowing, Foucault examines the painting Las Meninas by Diego Velasquez.
He examines the multifaceted reflexivity within Las Meninas noting that the field of the gaze includes everything from the painter himself to the object of the painting, the princess, to the final faint mirror of the royal couple in the side of the painting. As Foucault writes that
The function of the reflection [of the royal couple] is to draw into the interior of the picture what is intimately foreign to it: the gaze which has organized it and the gaze for which it is displayed. But because they are present within the picture, to the right and the left, the artist and the visitor cannot be given a place in the mirror: just as the king appears in the depths of the looking glass precisely because he does not belong to the picture.
When the subject, in this case, the king, drops out of the field, he becomes a null reference point for us to understand the field of the painting and how it came to be seen as it is (as it is only seen from the king). Only then can we see the field of the canvas as a clear absolute as organized by the gazes within it, and the process that stabilizes the field.
At once object [. . .] and subject—since what [Velasquez] had in front of his eyes [. . .] was himself, since the gazes portrayed in the picture are all directed towards the fictitious position occupied by the ambiguous place [. . .]. Even so, that absence is not lacuna, [. . .] as is proved by the concentration of the painter thus represented, by the respect of the characters portrayed in the picture, by the presence of the great canvas with its back to us, and by our gaze, for which the painting exists and for which, in the depths of time, it was arranged.
In this way, “representation freed finally from the relation that was impeding it, can offer itself as representation in its pure form.”Instead of the literal space in the room with the figures, Las Meninas knows itself through a painter painting himself, from a point, a finitude contingent in an arrangement rather than simultaneous infinitude of endless space that establishes the field of Classical Knowledge, where each of the gazes belongs to that field absolutely and nothing is not what it seems, nor is nothing hidden from view.
While Foucault takes this to be a Classical picture with all the aspects of representationalism in it as a painting, he is also showing us how to contemporarize a reading of this painting. By subtracting the definition of space from the painting, he frees the painting from the field depth, allowing us to understand its organization as mediated through a null point of the royal couple’s reflection. Thus, that reflection becomes central to the field of view the painting presents, that null point where painting as representation can be wholly itself, the minimal gesture of meaning “There,” Foucault writes, “in the midst of this dispersion which is simultaneously grouping together and spreading out before us, indicated compellingly from every side, is an essential void: the necessary disappearance of that which is its foundation.”
This self reflexivity marks the limit of knowing in Las Meninas, for knowing and field as one is the crux of The Order of Things. In the same way, Foucault studies the human sciences and tries to elucidate
what eluded consciousness: the influences that affected it, the implicit philosophies that were subjacent to it, the unformulated thematic, the unseen obstacles; it describes the unconscious of science. This unconscious of science is always the negative side of science—that which resists it, deflects it, or disturbs it.
Here we see at work Foucault’s adaptation of genealogy as a method of inquiry from Nietzsche. This tracing the origins of ideas, which of course in this volume is limited to various fields of study (in this case, biology, economics and philology) as examples of our epoch, allows Foucault to come to the edge of the very thinkable, in trying to think the unthinkable. The prime example, for Foucault, is psychoanalysis which comes as close as possible to “that critical function [. . .] exist[ing] within all the human sciences.” This critical function originates all that is conscious (and knowable) and is thus “by definition inaccessible to any theoretical knowledge of man, [. . .] at which the contents of consciousness articulate themselves, or rather stand gaping, upon man’s finitude.” Coming to the edge of formalization, the very figure of Man stands to be transformed through his (un)knowing. As we come closer to determining that boundary, the indeterminacy of the situation doubles as the dissolution of Man.
The ideas of a ‘psychoanalytic anthropology,’ and the idea of a ‘human nature’ reconstituted by ethnology, are no more than pious wishes. Not only are they unable to do without the concept of man, they are also unable to pass through it, for they always address themselves to that which constitutes his outer limits
Any field that would deal directly with determining what humanity is like requires a neutral ground that is unavailable, as the neutral ground of knowing is the place of the void, where desire and difference originate for parameters of knowing to be defined. For this reason, Foucault calls such studies “’counter-sciences’ which does not mean that they are less ‘rational’ or ‘objective’ than the others, but that they flow in the opposite direction.” In going back to the epistemological root, such sciences “ceaselessly ‘unmake’ that very man who is creating and re-creating his positivity in the human sciences.” In this way, the double of the figure of Man must be culture. Foucault draws this “fundamental correlation” between psychology and ethnology that “the possibility of discourse that could move from one to the other without discontinuity [is] the double articulation of the history of individuals upon the unconscious of culture.” This limit of signification has a parallel structure, which is how Foucault explains as Nietzsche’s attempt at finding the Overman as a way of trying to re-start society, so we do not need to be trapped in the empty formalizations of today, as we chase our own shadow through the sciences which are conditioned by the culture their ideas were produced in.
At this point, I want to draw a parallel between Badiou’s subject and situation as a generic form for truth and Foucault’s tracing of Man within human sciences, epistemes within cultural knowledge and the break between Classical Knowledge’s mediation by infinitude and contemporary knowledge by finitude. In each area, the reflexivity is apparent. While explication of Badiou would immeasurably lengthen this review, it suffices to say Foucault realizes that the larger defraction of the subject into culture is the same motion as the fragmentation of culture into an expression of what is unthinkable. While Foucault locates agency of change within the larger milieu of each, he does understand that “as long as Classical discourse lasted, no interrogation as to the mode of being implied by the cogito could be articulated.” In other words, as long as the transparency of language to adequately describe real things subsisted, there could be no truly accountable phenomenon that wasn’t related to everything else as a completeness. But as soon as we began to understand phenomenon on its own terms as a mode of mastering a function we were interested in, we find ourselves faced with a fragmentation of knowledge that creates separate discourses from each other all the while the shadow of Man as an object of finitude organizes each of these disparate gazes while each field remains mostly unrelatable as their epistemes are incompatible.
This incompatibility is due to the episteme being the limit of what each field can repeat. (In Badiou’s terms, this is a limit cardinal). Because each core is a reflection of our material desires and value oriented processes, explication of the episteme as a null point of view uses the episteme as a way of measuring Man, thus destroys the coherency of Man by splitting him into discrete parts. Likewise, culture becomes invisible when we cut Man as an agential figure in determining what the episteme should be. When our desire is the null point of view, it is culture that carries the marks of desire. In this way, measurement can be understood in the terms developed by Karen Barad in Meeting the Universal Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Barad differentiates agency by noting that each form of knowing echoes the material conditions created by an apparatus of measurement. To reverse the logic of the previous sentence, the highlighting of the apparatus of measurement is a way of understanding that discourses are material processes that create the conditions of knowing. Thus, it becomes impossible to draw an agential cut between the limits of what we know from how we know as the phenomenal objects of measurement, in this case, the epistemes, become hopelessly entangled with the material processes that constitute and formalize them.
Our desire to cut phenomenon out of the fold of a field, or to locate agency, is central to our being human. In our quest to refine knowledge, Foucault comes to appreciate the entanglement of the apparatus of measurement with the object of measuring. While at times he attributes the change in knowing to the epoch itself, other times he locates the agency within the shadow of Man’s finitude as an expression of a desire he finds value in. Foucault realizes that this duality between culture and Man, episteme and discourse is hopelessly entangled. He writes
It is probably impossible to give empirical contents transcendental value, or to displace them in the direction of a constituent subjectivity, without giving rise, at least silently, to an anthropology—that is, to a mode of thought in which the rightful limitations of acquired knowledge (and consequently of all empirical knowledge) are at the same time the concrete forms of existence, precisely as they are given in that same empirical knowledge.
Our inability to locate a conclusive agency is the same as our inability to decide what has being. In this way, Foucault states over and over that he does not understand why the fragmentation of Classical infinitude leads to formalization. He does, however, want us to take away the understanding that while science may afford us technology useful to us, the development of sciences is contingent on an ideology, a social form of control, newly formed and a new way of knowing Man that defines who he is in as much as it defines how we can be.
This brings us to Foucault himself. His own epistemic examination of power, and his work in discourse, highlights for us the journeys he took in his personal life. Although he left communism because of disillusionment with utopia, his continued work allows us to see the situation he created for himself in his search for Truth.
Recently an article came out in Jacobin which speaks of Foucault’s hidden neo-liberalism. This seeming jump in politics (from a vague Left to Right) may seem shocking for most of us. If Foucault’s philosophy reaches an encounter with nullity in discourse, it is because he himself has facets of being in a null position, a man devoid of characterizations. Like the mysterious sages full of Eastern paradox, Foucault occupies slightly more or less than all grades of stratification, slipping between the smallest difference to always be found as an opposite something else, a defining of not: a man and gay, an erudite professor and mad-acid dropper. As this brilliant interview from 1981 highlights, Foucault is “a non-historical historian, an anti-humanistic human scientist,” straddling boundaries to be “an impossible object.” In an encounter with a crowd seeking to define him, Foucault asked that society not mark him and let him be. He acknowledges that we can name him but it is not right that we should ask him to keep that identity as not even cultural awareness remains the same. “Do not ask me who I am, do not ask me to remain the same,” he says. In this way, Foucault as a cultural figure reflects back to us our own contingent values as excessive negative images of what he appeared to be before because he himself does not embody these current values.
This is why today Foucault, being closer to neutral than the rest of us, appears as his opposite again: a neo-liberal continental philosopher. Even from the grave, he is straddling the boundaries, resisting our attempts to nail him down.
The question remains then, if Foucault is in fact close to null within an infinite, an absolute null, when we understand that he appears to change, is it not because our frame of reference is changing around him? After all, Foucault is deceased. It’s not that he was secretly a neo-liberal all this time; rather, that our society came to understand neo-liberalism as a viable (nameable) position, and so some of his thoughts previously unselected became selected. If, however, he does really seem to be in a null position, then this is because we are moving still in sync with the logic he already explored. And so, should our ideology, our hierarchal power structures dissolve, we will find a different Foucault, and ourselves “erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea,” to find new histories, new futures, new null points, new agency and a new Foucault.
In this way, Foucault remains a great philosopher, one who forces us to come to break with the classical. Especially in this book, The Order of Things, Foucault shows us that the attempt to force a Classical view necessitates reality be fixed as something absolutely knowable while our formalization also creates a gap in the Classical view, as the Classical view cannot include everything and itself as the Classical view. This reading, of course, also applies to any particular discourse which would claim an absolute point of reference. As the schizotypical Kurt Godel shows us with his incompleteness theorem, first order logic cannot encompass itself. In the words of Alain Badiou, from Being and Event, “Legitimate nomination is impossible. If you can name the multiple, it is because you discern it according to its elements. But if it is an element of itself, you would have had to previously discerned it.” In other words, the formalization of things is not self evident. The order of things is not given as the thing itself, a spontaneous agency of the thing itself. Rather, epistemes and knowledge arise together, mutually self supportive. Foucault is right to tell us not to ask him to remain the same, for us to not define him nor for him to define himself. Discursive categorization is the first step for repression, to tell us what we are and how we should be (and to tell us what we are not and how we shouldn’t be). Conversely, our knowledge as given is a mode of rigorously competing for what Man is. As undecideable as the figure of humankind remains, we cannot separate what we know from how we know it. Any further push would fragment our experience of ourselves further. To present us with this lacuna, in his writings and in his life, Foucault still slips through the nominal cracks of accepted discourse to continue to court indeterminacy, showing us that there is a trap door available all this time, that formalization must always remain incomplete.