Foucault, From the Order of Discourse

Foucault, Michel. “From The Order of Discourse." The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present. 2nd ed. Trans. Ian McLeod. Eds. Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2001. 1460-1470. Print.

Foucault talks about discourse as a conversation that exists long before we join it, yet we follow the conventions of the “beginnings” (1460). This is an example of how power operates through discourse; “that in every society the production of discourse is at once controlled, selected, organized, and redistributed by a certain number of procedures whose role is to ward off its powers and dangers, to gain mastery over its chance events, to evade its ponderous, formidable materiality” (Foucault 1461).

Foucault discusses the “three great systems of exclusion which forge discourse”:  prohibition in speech, especially relating to sexuality and politics; the supposed split between reason and madness; and the “will to truth” as evidenced by “the opposition between true and false” (1461-3). 

In discussing how the true/false opposition enforces a principle of exclusion, Foucault notes that “For the Greek poets of the sixth century B.C., the true discourse . . . which in prophesying the future not only announced what was going to happen but also helped make it happen, carrying men’s minds along with it and thus weaving itself into the fabric of destiny” (Foucault 1462).  I like that this uses the weaving metaphor to show how ideas get sewn into the fabric of time.  It seems like he’s using the term “destiny” looking backward, and yet I often think of it as something I conceptualize as forward; but does it really signify that? Upon reflection, I think it’s just relative.

Foucault talks about the literary vs. scientific, and describes how the concepts of primary and secondary texts create an order that allows for new discourses, as the primary texts are considered more permanent and dominant, and the secondary texts exist to illuminate supposedly hidden meanings from the author, which is itself a concept with room to explore, especially the concept of attribution (1464-5).

Next, Foucault moves from the “commentary-principle” and “author-principle” to the idea of disciplines (1466). To show that disciplines control what is considered to be knowledge, Foucault describes this difference between “truth” and what is “’in the true’”: “one is ‘in the true’ only be obeying the rules of a discursive ‘policing’” (1467).  I think the “author” enacts this through his or her identity as an author; Foucault states that “the discipline fixes limits for discourse by the action of an identity which takes the form of a permanent re-actuation of the rules” (1467).

Foucault also discusses controlled discourse with respect to rituals, and to the rhapsodists—archaic poets whose knowledge of poetry could be shared orally, but not learned easily (1468). He compares this with doctrine which tend “to be diffused,” remarking that doctrine subjects those who speak it as well as those who are subjected to it (1468). Foucault connects ritual, doctrine, and the goal of seeking truth as all part of the modern education system (1469).

In the final section, Foucault examines the logos as a form of mediation between “originating experience” and knowledge produced by discourse (1470). Foucault writes that while our society has been seemingly respectful to discourse, under the surface there may be great terror over its power to control and define existence (1470). Foucault suggests we “call into question our will to truth, restore to discourse its character as an event, and finally throw off the sovereignty of the signifier” (1470).