Prelude to Tomorrow’s Discussion

Monday, March 10th, 2014 by brandontruett

In advance of my presentation tomorrow, I will outline a few of my main points in regard to Foucault and the archive. Indeed, I hope to elucidate Foucault’s The Archaeology of Knowledge in order to help us better understand the springboard from which Wolfgang Ernst and other media archaeologists have launched their theories.

The Archaeology of Knowledge succeeds The Order of Things, and in so doing, the former offers a methodological explanation for archaeology as a way to describe an archive of the present. Rejecting the ways in which historians have described the past and imposed linearity, Foucault eschews progressive, continuous accounts of the past that have been overly anthropomorphized; instead, archaeology contends with disruptions and discontinuities, proposing a method to describe the discourses that have constitute our present moment, regulating and determining what can be said, written, and even argued. These discourses find their materiality, as it were, in archives by which information is stored and rules are systemized. These archives ensure linearity. To tackle an analysis of an archive, Foucault outlines the four principles of archaeology: (1) “to define … discourses themselves, those discourses as practices obeying certain rules. It does not treat discourse as a document, as a sign of something else … It is not an interpretative discipline”; (2) “does not seek to rediscover the continuous, insensible transition that relates discourses, on a gentle slope, to what precedes them, surrounds them, or follows them”; (3) “is not ordered in accordance with the sovereign figure of the oeuvres”; (4) “is nothing more than a rewriting: that is, in the preserved form of exteriority, a regulated transformation of what has already been written. It is not a return to the innermost secret of the origin; it is the systematic description of a discourse-object” (138-140).

Foucault’s method of archaeology has of course been quite influential for the field of media archaeology as Jussi Parikka has pointed out and Wolfgang Ernst has demonstrated in his own theories. One of my own interests in the intersections of Ernst and Foucault has to do with media archaeology’s obvious profiting from Foucault’s argument “to define a method of historical analysis freed from the anthropological theme” (16). Foucault surely paved the way for Ernst’s “cold gaze of the media archaeologist” (Parikka qtd in Ernst 8). However, much of The Archaeology of Knowledge deals with print and orality even though Ernst is more interested in the agency of the machine. I see here the departure from which Ernst defines his own brand of (media) archaeology that deals with the silences and absences in the archive in order to highlight the irruptions. I am looking forward to discussing with others in the seminar the intersections and perhaps discordances between Foucault and Ernst.

How does Ernst’s media archaeology build on or modify the archive as theorized by Foucault?

Since arguably Foucault’s predominant aim was to describe an archive of the present through archaeology, how do media-archaeological methods extend his project and demonstrate it in our present? 

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