Michel Foucault

The Archeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language

While this may be one of Foucault's more difficult works to wade through, it still offers quite an interesting message about how humans think about history. Foucault's main focus is on the discontinuity of history. In my presentation, I focused on his discussion of the fear that humans have of this breaking.
I spoke of Foucault's influences in multiple areas of study, including communication, with his work, "Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison." This work is on the idea of the prison and the destruction of individualism and privacy and can relate to the piece that we covered in its analysis of how views are formed about institutions. The institution of history, for instance, has, according to Foucault, been seen in the past as a continuous process, with individual events falling into place in a linear and chronological fashion. This he calls 'old history'. The more current view of history, and the one he seems to feel has more legitimacy, he terms 'new history', with a more realistic inclusion of the "phenomena of rupture, of discontinuity" (4). This leads to his discussion of the 'document', and its position as the medium through which "history aspires to the condition of archeology, to the intrinsic description of the monument" (7). Documents becomes for history what artifacts are for archeology.
In relation to my focus of Foucault's description of the human fear of discontinuity, I relayed what he said in regards to the comfort of continuity. Foucault says that continuous history is comforting to man because of the implication that nothing is ever lost. He says that continuous history is "the guarantee that everything that has eluded him may be restored to him; the certainty that time will disperse nothing without restoring it in a reconstituted unity..." (12). Foucault discusses the ideas of Marx and Nietzsche and their placement as "vigilant guardians", along with their failure in affirming that history "is living and continuous, that it is, for the subject in question, a place of rest, certainty, reconciliation, a place of tranquilized sleep" (14).

For my presentation, I used a clip from Wong Kar-Wai's film, "Chungking Express." The clip I chose to utilize portrayed a fear of discontinuity through the main male character's distress at the expiration date of canned pineapple. For the character, this discontinued fruit represented the breaking of his past relationship. The rupturing of his personal history through his life into chaos. When finding that his desired cans were no longer on the shelf, he attempted to rationalize the importance of the manufacturing process, which reflects the long, continuous spanse of history Foucault mentions, like the history of corn, for instance. When the main character offers a man on the street some of the expired cans, the man rejects the offer upon finding out that the fruit is expired. This human rejection reflects the discomfort associated with discontinuity. At the very end of the clip, the main character ponders his own realization that everything has an expiration date. It is perhaps at this moment that the man begins to see the discontinuities of history as a fact of life, instead of an idea to vehemently reject.

Audra Irvin

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