Journal number five – Of Statements and Archives: a.k.a, “Allow me to refute and deconstruct what I just said. Again.”
(I won’t be in class tomorrow, so this journal is a little long to compensate. My plan this week is to continue brushing up on php and start working on my project critique presentation.)
The most pressing question related to editing and Foucault for me this week was: why is Foucault allowed to have so many run on sentences and still be published!? And then I thought perhaps it was a matter of translation, which Foucault thinks doesn’t necessarily warrant the status of another statement altogether, but is just part of “single group of statements in different linguistic forms” (117). But isn’t this translation that I’m reading another statement, because of its new performative function of indicating not only The Archeology of Knowledge, but also that Foucault jives well with a certain group of French structuralists that all use semi-colons in the same un-patternable way? Foucault himself vehemently denies these structuralist leanings, but hey, I’m just taking his statements in the wider network of context, his book as a “node within a network” (20).
But of course, he systematically refutes and then nuances (his previously held) idea that the translation is not a new statement. So why argue? He’s doing it for me. Cheeky trickster. (It’s impossible to take notes on this).
Yet, this type of paranoia makes possible his self-reflexive point, which I appreciate: this discussion of the unities of discursive formations is not meant to give rise to a new system of unities made up by Foucault. Instead, it’s meant “to reveal a descriptive possibility, outline the domain of which it is capable, define its limits and its autonomy” (122). He emphasizes the relations between the dispersion of statements, and the point is paralleled in his writing because it is writing that is based on the relations between paragraphs, not the paragraphs themselves. It seems to me that in his writing, Foucault makes it impossible for his readers to uncritically accept his own methodology, his own unities, as a replacement for those familiar unities that he is deconstructing.
And then, the programming stuff enters my thoughts: isn’t the whole foundation of php language the formation of unities at the level of statements? How does that play into thinking about whether or not Foucauldian discourse analysis can apply to the digital edition?
There are many things that I thought about when reading Part 3, but in the interest of attempting non-rambly brevity (ha), I’ll focus on one particular passage that struck me as encompassing of the few ideas I had in response to the journal questions this week: from the bottom of page 113, when he starts discussing the materiality of the statement, until the next section.
I think one way to interrogate whether Foucault’s discourse analysis can be applied to the digital humanities is to attempt to trace it onto our own project. So let’s try:
An article I read for my bibliography entry last week spoke about an editor named W.W Greg, I brought him up in class as an illustration of one way of thinking of the role and work of the editor as a literal transcriber – if you alter the text at all, even/especially rendering it as a translation, you are not performing the work of an editor, but an author. Unlike Greg, Foucault seems to think that the book “is a locus of exact equivalence for statements – for them it is an authority that permits repetition without any change of identity” (116). Not only due to the unity of their materiality, but also because of the institutional and economic context of the book. Even though he complicates this sweeping statement in brackets “(variants and rejected versions apart)” (ibid), he mostly sticks to his guns that the statement is defined by “its status as a thing or object,” that “identity varies with a complex set of material institutions” (116).
So if we imagine ECGtext gets going in all of its theoretical splendour – would it be a different statement than the other manuscripts of the Proverbs of Alfred? (Would it even be a manuscript?) Because of its digital interface, its identity changes as a statement. The Proverbs of Alfred are now part of a wider network, the discourse of digital humanities, and textual criticism even. If “the term discourse can be defined as the group of statements that belong to a single system of formation” (131), is ECGtext a statement in a new discourse?
In its basic idea of making transparent the discussions about variants in the text, for example, we could say ECGtext facilitates an illustration of discursive formation – instead of hearkening back to recensionist ideal that there is an unattainable original, or in Foucault’s terms, the “statement as an ideal, silent figure” (113). It is a statement that does not conceal the material medium from which the statements within it are given, though there are more layers of problems when we consider the hidden processes of calling up a webpage that we discussed in class.
Does ECGtext, or more broadly, digital archiving itself, allow for a Foucauldian discursive analysis in its conception because it illustrates the systems of dispersion of statements?
If statements can only exist in a multiplicity of statements (“there is no statement in general, no free, neutral, independent statement; but a statement always belongs to a series or a whole, always plays a role among other statements, deriving support from them and distinguishing itself from them: it is always part of a network of statements” (122)), then the digital archive holds potential as a statement in a discourse itself, that also shows a variation of other statements in it (variant versions – statements – of the Proverbs of Alfred). In fact, ECGtext is a new statement because in its capacity as an archive, it showcases the other statements to which it is relating. Whaaaaa!?
“Far from being that which unifies every-thing that has been said in the great confused murmur of a discourse, far from being only that which ensures that we exist in the midst of preserved discourse, [the archive] is that which differentiates discourses in their multiple existence and specifies them in their own duration (146),”
“between tradition and oblivion, [the archive] reveals the rules of a practice that enables statements both to survive and to undergo regular is the general system of the formation and transformation of statements (ibid).”
So many layers. In many ways I think this book reeks of Deleuze. Actually, his reaction to this book (according to Wikipedia) was to call it “the most decisive step yet taken in the theory-practice of multiplicities.”
Made me wonder, to be the devil’s advocate about this whole practice – why do structuralists delight in this book so much? Isn’t the study of methodology self-fulfilling, a bit tautological, like a dog chasing its tail? Like a prominent International Relations scholar, Hedley Bull, said in 1972 (3 years after Foucault’s Archeology of Knowledge was published), “It is a bad sign in a subject that it should be preoccupied with questions of methodology rather than substance.”