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Archaeology of Knowledge (Routledge Classics) Paperback – Aug 9 2002


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  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Routledge; 2nd Revised edition edition (Aug. 9 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415287537
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415287531
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.5 x 19.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 299 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #285,614 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 15 2000
Format: Paperback
Let's be childish enough to use coarse categories: "Discipline&Punish" is Foucault's most beautiful book. "The Order of Things" is the most brilliant (that's why it made him a star). Let's also say "The History of Sexuality" is his most exciting book. Then "The Archaeology of Knowledge" is the most fascinating: it is Foucault's attempt to write a theory of what he is doing. And it is a brilliant failure: this is the only time that we see Foucault, the master of brilliant formulation, completely naked. It is endearing to watch how he is trying to write a piece of philosophical theory, while all his other books demonstrate how unnecessary such theory is.
This is no light reading and the English translation is barely comprehensible. I bet that there is a serious mistranslation on any given page. With good translations at hand, some notorious readers (Foucault lovers and Foucault enemies alike) might actually have understood what the words "discourse" and "dispositif" mean. Countless articles and books would not have been written. That's why a good German translation would have been even more desirable (the one in print is as miserable as the English one, same bet)...
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Matthew on Sept. 14 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It's okay, if you're a fedora wearing hipster.
It's not as good as video games, though. It's not Halo or anything.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 18 reviews
28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Another (difficult) chapter in Foucault's oeuvre Oct. 4 2003
By Giovanni Mantilla - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
"Archaeology Of Knowledge" finds Foucault at his barest, trying to build up his own theory. Like others have said, it is fascinating to see how much he tries to encompass and how extremely difficult his own enterprise is. Foucault spends many pages trying to explain to us what he means by "discoursive formation", "object formation", "formation of concepts", etc., and the place where his own theory stands vis-à-vis a so-called "history of ideas". You can learn lots from this book, because, like myself, sometimes you get lost in Foucault's magistral writing, his fabulous way of weaving history and thus cannot clearly follow his own particular method of research. If you want to see some of his (earlier, almost stricly discourse-oriented) key concepts clarified, reading this book will prove very fruitful. As always, you're left with a lot of questions and with a distinctive feeling of "now what?". But then again, that's what's so utterly beautiful and engaging about Foucault... he forces you to think for yourself and provides you of the right tools to do it.
I read the spanish translation of this book so I can't comment on the english one, but the contents of this book are priceless.
106 of 142 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating failure March 15 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Let's be childish enough to use coarse categories: "Discipline&Punish" is Foucault's most beautiful book. "The Order of Things" is the most brilliant (that's why it made him a star). Let's also say "The History of Sexuality" is his most exciting book. Then "The Archaeology of Knowledge" is the most fascinating: it is Foucault's attempt to write a theory of what he is doing. And it is a brilliant failure: this is the only time that we see Foucault, the master of brilliant formulation, completely naked. It is endearing to watch how he is trying to write a piece of philosophical theory, while all his other books demonstrate how unnecessary such theory is.
This is no light reading and the English translation is barely comprehensible. I bet that there is a serious mistranslation on any given page. With good translations at hand, some notorious readers (Foucault lovers and Foucault enemies alike) might actually have understood what the words "discourse" and "dispositif" mean. Countless articles and books would not have been written. That's why a good German translation would have been even more desirable (the one in print is as miserable as the English one, same bet)...
16 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Indispensible Jan. 19 2004
By Dave P - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Do not be fooled by those who dismiss this as a mere curiousity in Foucault's oeuvre. This difficult work is absolutely essential for understanding his central concept of 'discourse'. All of his works are better understood after a careful reading of this difficult work; this is true even for the later 'geneaological' works.
33 of 48 people found the following review helpful
The worst sort of literary self-indulgence June 22 2009
By not a natural - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
A friend who found Foucault's The Order of Things useful and interesting recommended that I give the Archaeology of Knowledge a try. I had enjoyed his first book, Madness and Civilization, so I took up the challenge.

I spent an extremely frustrating month trying to make sense of The Archaeology and then gave up. From the first page on Foucault uses totally unfamiliar concepts in a vocabulary loaded with neologisms which he neither defines nor references. Since the concepts are used in extraordinarily complex locutions, invariably along with other idiosyncratically opaque terminology, it seems impossible to discern their meaning from the context in which they occur.

I have since been advised that The Archaeology of Knowledge is much more approachable for one who has read everything else that Foucault has written, and who has also mastered Derrida and Kristeva. That may be true, but it's not a risk I'm willing to take. Even if I did eventually manage to decipher the code used in producing The Archaeology, I doubt that the intellectual payoff would be substantial. Foucault is the kind of author who delights in keeping people guessing, making sure that no one can ever be certain as to his meaning. It all sounds very profound, but what does it mean? When all is said and done, Foucault wants to keep us off balance, uncertain, but somehow deeply impressed, as in "Perhaps this is what Foucault means by discursive formation! Ah ha!" Or, "Oh, I see: dispersion refers to the post-structuralist notion that any signifier is inevitably modified by an infinitely large number of other signifiers, so its meaning is never absolute... I think ..." But we're never sure.

I have since read interviews with Foucault written when he was at his most influential. Success seems to have been an intoxicating experience for him, and he indulged himself in a sort of yes-I-am, no-I'm-not obfuscation. There is a common and suitably profane English term for this, head-[blanking], sufficiently familiar so that most readers can fill in the blank. Readers who find virtue in head-[blanking] by construing it as an instance of "the death of the author" are kidding themselves. An author who writes an incomprehensible book that somehow gets to be taken very seriously is not dead, but very much in control.

In any case, I'm sure that The Archaeology of Knowledge will have a long life in references and indexes as Foucault's major methodological work. Learned people, moreover, will purport to discern its meaning and will discuss it with ease and assurance.

I had a similar experience 30 years ago when I studied ethnomethodology. I could talk about it with facility and self-satisfaction, but I couldn't shake the vague suspicion that I had merely become adept at exchanging utterances in a shared but meaningless logic of head-[blanking].

As an addendum, irate readers of this review have taken me to task for evaluating a book that I do not have the conceptual wherewithal to appreciate. They may have a point, but I've read Habermas, Eagleton, Giddens, Peter Berger, Umberto Eco, Sloterdijk, Gadamer's Truth and Method, and other contemporary social and cultural theorists with relatively little difficulty, so I don't think it's unreasonable to expect to be able to make some sense of Foucault. Nevertheless, I think that critics' comments were written in good faith, and I undoubtedly have an aversion to post-structuralism and post-modernism, though Eco and Sloterdijk are often characterized as post-modernists.
THE FOLLOW-UP TO FOUCAULT’S “THE ORDER OF THINGS” March 6 2015
By Steven H Propp - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Michel Foucault (1926-1984) was a French philosopher, historian of ideas, and social theorist and activist; he wrote many books, such as Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason, The Birth of the Clinic, Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison, The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction, The History of Sexuality, Vol. 2: The Use of Pleasure, The History of Sexuality, Vol. 3: The Care of the Self, etc. Openly gay [see the James Miller biography, The Passion of Michel Foucault], he died of AIDS---the first “public figure” in France to die of the virus.

He wrote in the Introduction to this 1969 book, “my earlier books … were a very imperfect sketch… These tasks were outlined in a rather disordered way, and their general articulation was never clearly defined. It was time that they were given greater coherence---or, at least, that an attempt was made to do so. This book is the result. In order to avoid misunderstanding, I should like to begin with a few observations… My aim is to uncover the principles and consequences of an autochthonous transformation that is taking place in the field of historical knowledge… In short, this book, like those that preceded it, does not belong… to the debate on structure … it belongs to that field in which the questions of the human being, consciousness, origin, and the subject emerge, intersect, mingle, and separate off.” (Pt. II, pg. 14-15)

He admits, “in ‘The Order of Things,’ the absence of methodological sign-posting may have given the impression that my analyses were being conducted in terms of cultural totality. It is mortifying that I was unable to avoid these dangers: I console myself with the thought that they were intrinsic to the enterprise itself, since, in order to carry out its task, it had first to free itself from these various methods and forms of history; moreover, without the questions that I was asked, without the difficulties that arose, without the objections that were made, I may never have gained so clear a view of the enterprise to which I am now inextricably linked… I have tried to define this blank space from which I speak, and which is slowly taking shape in a discourse that I still feel to be so precious and so unsure.” (Pt. II, pg. 16-17)

He explains, “It is this group of relations that constitutes a system of conceptual formation. The description of such a system could not be valid for a direct, immediate description of the concepts themselves. My intention is not to carry out an exhaustive observation of them, to establish the characteristics that they may have in common, to undertake a classification of them, to measure their internal coherence, or to test their mutual compatibility. I do not wish to take as an object analysis the conceptual architecture of an isolated text… or a science at a particular moment in time.” (Pt. II, pg. 60)

He summarizes, ,”At the outset I questioned those pre-established unities according to which one has traditionally divided up the indefinite, repetitive, prolific domain of discourse. My intention was not to deny all value to these unities or try to forbid their use; it was to show that they required, in order to be defined exactly, a theoretical elaboration. However… was it necessary to superpose upon these unities… another category of less visible, more abstract, and certainly for more problematical unities? But in cases where their historical limits and the specificity of their organization are fairly easy to perceive … these discursive formations present far more difficult problems then the location of the book… I shall try to answer all these questions later.” (Pt. II, pg. 71)

He begins the third chapter with the statement, “I now find that the analysis has shifted its ground to a quite considerable extent; it was my intention to return to the definition of the statement, which, at the outset, I had left in suspense… But I now feel that I must answer two questions: what do I now understand by the task, which I originally set myself, of describing statements? How can this theory of the statement be adjusted to the analysis of discursive formations that I outlined previously?” (Pt. III, pg. 106)

He concludes the 4th chapter with the statement, “If, by substituting the analysis of rarity for the search for totalities, the description of relations of exteriority for the theme of the transcendental foundation, the analysis of accumulations for the question of the origin, one is a positivist, then I am quite happy to be one. Similarly, I am not in the least unhappy about the fact that several times (though still in a rather blind way) I have used the term positivity to designate from afar the tangled mass that I was trying to unravel.” (Pt. III, pg. 125)

He concludes Part Three by saying, “The right of words… authorizes, therefore, the use of the term ‘archaeology’ to describe all these searches. This term does not imply the search for a beginning; it does not relate analysis to geological excavation. It designates the general theme of a description that questions the already-said at the level of its existence: of the enunciative function that operates within it, of the discursive formation, and the general archive system to which it belongs. Archaeology describes discourses as practices specified in the element of the archive.” (Pg. 131)

In the Conclusion, he has a fictional interlocutor say, “Throughout this book you have been at great pains to dissociate yourself from ‘structuralism’… you have tried to show that you used neither the methods nor the concepts of structuralism; that you made no reference to the procedures of linguistic description; that you are not concerned with formalization… in the void left by the methods that you have chosen not to use, you have precipitated a whole series of notions that seem quite alien to the concepts now accepted by those who describe languages, myths, or works of literature; you have spoken of formations, positivities , knowledge, discursive practices: a whole panoply of terms whose uniqueness and marvelous powers you were proud to point out at every step. But would you have invented so many oddities if you had not tried to apply, in a domain that was irreducible to them, some of the fundamental themes of structuralism---and those very themes that constitute its most debatable and philosophically dubious postulates? It is as if you had used not the empirical, serious work of structural analysis, but two or three themes that are really extrapolations rather than necessary principles.” (Pg. 199) The interlocutor later asks, “you have promised to tell us what these discourses are that you have been pursuing so obstinately for the past ten years, without ever bothering to define their status. In short, what are they: history or philosophy?” (Pg. 205)

Foucault replies, “I admit that this question embarrasses me more than your earlier objections… It is a discourse about discourses: but it is not trying to find in them a hidden law, a concealed origin that it only remains to free; nor is it trying to establish by itself , taking itself as a starting-point, the general theory of which they would be the concrete models. It is trying to deploy a dispersion that can never be reduced to a single system of differences, a scattering that is not related to absolute axes of reference; it is trying to operate a decentring that leaves no privilege to any centre. The role of such a discourse is not to dissipate oblivion, to rediscover, in the depths of things said, at the very place in which they are silent, the moment of their birth … it does not set out to be a recollection of the original or a memory of the truth. On the contrary, its task is to MAKE difference: to constitute them as objects, to analyze then, and to define their concept.” (Pg. 205)

Later, he adds, “This book was written simply in order to overcome certain preliminary difficulties. I know as well as anyone how ‘thankless’ is the task that I undertook some ten years ago. I know how irritating it can be to treat discourses in terms not of the gentle, silent, intimate consciousness that is expressed in them, but of an obscure set of anonymous rules. How unpleasant it is to reveal the limitations and necessities of a practice where one is used to seeing, in all its pure transparency, the expression of genius and freedom.” (Pg. 210)

This book is somewhat less dense than “The Order of Things” was, and its smaller scale makes Foucault’s purpose in it clearer. It will be of great interest to anyone studying Foucault’s thought and its development.

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