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The Archaeology of Knowledge & The Discourse on Language [Paperback]

Michel Foucault
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book by Foucault, Michel

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For many years now historians have preferred to turn their attention to long periods, as if, beneath the shifts and changes of political events, they were trying to reveal the stable, almost indestructible system of checks and balances, the irreversible processes, the constant readjustments, the underlying tendencies that gather force, and are then suddenly reversed after centuries of continuity, the movements of accumulation and slow saturation, the great silent, motionless bases that traditional history has covered with a thick layer of events. Read the first page
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating failure March 15 2000
By A Customer
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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5.0 out of 5 stars 5/5 BRETTY GOOD :DDDD Sept. 14 2013
By Matthew
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: 3.8 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 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.
104 of 140 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 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
5.0 out of 5 stars 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.
30 of 43 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars 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.
8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Obtuse but important Feb. 23 2006
By Rachel Bussan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Foucault is not a light read - you will spend several hours just trying to interpret this text. His wording is unusual and complicated, and sentences can run on for almost a paragraph. Sometimes you'll just want to tear your hair out.

Nonetheless, this book is important. The theories Foucault presents in this book, while nearly impossible to cite correcly, do reappear in many modern texts, especially ones about modern literature or the academy. My suggestion is you read it with the assistence of others, preferably including someone with more academic experience (i.e. a professor.)
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