Journal #6: Foucaultian Methods and Standardization

Our discussion in class this week got me thinking about standardization. What does it mean, this shift from less controlled to more controlled that is, in reality, a shift in the exact opposite direction? In some ways, I view the developing changes in writing brought on by the Internet (and, perhaps more importantly, the proliferation of keyboards, touchscreens, and cell phone punchpads) as a return to orality. As I was clumsily trying to assert in class, with the shift in texts towards being predominantly digital, a certain amount of control in writing style, spelling, mechanics, etc, seems to be slipping away. I often bemoan what I see as the decline of rigor in spelling in texts I read online—most frequently when confronted with writers that say things like, “OMG your to much”. When we look at an Old English text today and see inconsistent spelling, we chalk it up to the fact that there was no standard for spelling or punctuation at the time, so a scribe went with what made the most sense to him at that moment, in that context. Of course, there are also things that I take for granted that may not necessarily be true: I assume the scribe in question was a professional, and was paying attention. Paralleling this assumption are my beliefs when I see a blog entry riddled with spelling errors that they are errors, that the writer in question is careless and sloppy, and that no one ever took the time to make sure this person knew that alright is not a word. It took centuries to get to the point where spelling is more or less standardized, and a great deal of that is due to advances in communication technologies. Now, we have instantcommunication and extremely advanced tools for protecting against errors. How ironic that the technologies that have allowed us to standardize writing, and standardize understanding, are now the main sites of standardization falling apart.

But this is beside the point. The question I want to ask today is, how should Foucault’s methods reflect on a discourse of the paradoxical progression of technology and regression of standardization? After finishing The Archaeology of Knowledge, I now feel no closer to a definitive answer to this question than I might have after only completing the first section, but perhaps that’s part of the point. Foucault does indeed seem to prefer to view discourse as existing relationally, outside the constraints of time or linearity. Maybe my issue with the decline of standards in text is that I choose to see it as a decline of the standards of text, rather than the possible rise of something else entirely. The history of English has left me with an expectation, a bias towards time. I look at writing “then” and I look at writing “now” and I see a lapse in uniformity, but I am looking at both periods with a prejudice instilled in me in the past. A great deal of the discourse on this subject is written from a similar perspective, taking a historical view; some of it even takes an attitude of “What’s the matter with kids today?”

However, even to try to view it from a positive perspective would step outside Foucault’s methods. The archaeological technique, it seems, prefers not to make value judgments, and look only at how elements of a discourse relate to one another in forming the archive. The conclusion I draw in the end is that the employment of archaeological techniques on the topic of online textual standards might afford an entire shift in how the discourse about it is organized.

This coming week, I have a number of goals. First of all, I plan to keep working on my ECGText functions. Donna’s revealing of her methods in changing “View Texts” has rejuvenated my own efforts—I’m getting all kinds of new frustrating error messages now, which is pretty great. I’m also trying to install OCS this weekend, which offers its own challenges (head over to http://ecgtext.com/sinervo/OCS/ if you like and see my headway as it hopefully progresses). Finally, of course, is putting together my project critique presentation—I can’t believe it’s already here.


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