The Discourse on Language

The Archaeology of Knowledge (French: L’archéologie du savoir) is a 1969 book by the French philosopher, Michel Foucault. He develops the theory with the description of “Discourse.” His version of discourse is the most pervasive theoretical idea in the Archeology. The term has a history as the object of study for a new kind of history, the history of ideas.
But Foucault devotes much of the Archeology to refining and winnowing the usual sense of discourseMichel_Foucault_sithum into an object of analysis that is very strictly delimited. The first major alteration that Foucault makes is a casting aside of everything but the processes of discourse itself. Thus, his method studies only the set of ‘things said’ in their emergences and transformations, without any speculation about the overall, collective meaning of those statements. Archeology does not describe history through discourse; it describes the history of discourse.

Foucault carries his insistence on discourse-in-itself down to the most basic unit of things said: the statement. Just as discourse is never taken as a partial sign of a greater, partially hidden historical truth, so individual statements are never taken as expressions of a psychology, nor even as vehicles for referential meanings and propositions. Foucault addresses statements only in the specific conditions of their emergence and transformation; these conditions are themselves discursive (and sometimes institutional).

JcivilconversationbubblesThus, discourse is not just a set of articulated propositions, nor is it the trace of an otherwise hidden psychology, spirit, or encompassing historical idea; it is the set of relations within which all of these other factors gain their sense (their conditions of possibility). This argument is responsible both for the immense success of Foucault’s method and for the most persistent criticisms of it. The idea that discourse can be described in and of itself, not as a sign of what is known but as a precondition for knowledge, opens up limitless possibilities for showing that what we think we know is actually contingent on how we talk about it.

In Class Assignment

Google’s vice-president, Vint Cerf,  has warned that piles of digitized material may be lost forever. The reason he insists it is the programs needed to view them will become defunct. Cerf called for the development of  “digital vellum” to preserve old software and hardware so that out-of-date files could be recovered no matter how old they are. The 21st century could become a second “Dark Ages. Future generations would struggle to understand our society because technology is advancing so quickly that old files will be inaccessible. We don’t want our digital lives offered away. If we want to preserve them the same way we preserve them the same way we preserve books and so on we need to make sure that the digital objects we create will be rendered far into the future.

In the UK, the British Library is taking bold steps to rectify what it refers to as the “digital black hole”, where information is lost once it is taken down from a webpage or an entire site shuts down. Since 2004, it has been working to archive websites for future generations, just like paper-based literature.

“We digitize things because we think we will preserve them, but what we don’t understand is that unless we take other steps, those digital versions may not be any better, and may even be worse, than the artifacts that we digitized. If there are photos you really care about, print them out.” As Cerf points out, there are actually some disincentives to developing the kind of systems that could mimic old software. One example is the cost of buying the rights from companies that close or stop supporting updates for certain products.

Google boss warns of ‘forgotten century’ with email and photos at risk
The digital black hole: will it delete your memories?
A Warehouse Fire of Digital Memories


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