60 pages 2 hours read

Michel Foucault

The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 1966

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Important Quotes

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“[If] one wishes to keep the relation of language to vision open, if one wishes to treat their incompatibility as a starting-point for speech instead of as an obstacle to be avoided, so as to stay as close as possible to both, then one must erase those proper names and preserve the infinity of the task. It is perhaps through the medium of this grey, anonymous language, always over-meticulous and repetitive because too broad, that the painting may, little by little, release its illuminations.”

(Part 1, Chapter 1, Page 10)

Foucault recognizes that his reading of Las Meninas is overwrought and incredibly dense. Foucault, however, believes that being over-meticulous is necessary for ensuring that language can communicate properly without collapsing in on itself. Foucault employs this incredibly meticulous and dense use of language throughout The Order of Things to enable himself to talk about concepts fundamental to the act of communication, which would be near-impossible to address in simpler terms.

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“Things and words were to be separated from one another. The eye was thenceforth destined to see and only to see, the ear to hear and only to hear. Discourse was still to have the task of speaking that which is, but it was no longer to be anything more than what it said.”

(Part 1, Chapter 2, Pages 47-48)

The original title of The Order of Things in French is Les Mots et Les Choses, which translates to “Words and Things.” Words and things are at the core of Foucault’s subject matter: How they interact in each episteme is how Foucault defines the episteme. The dissociation between words and things defines the Classical episteme. Knowledge was disseminated to the human senses and language became a purely neutral vehicle for conveying the information gathered elsewhere.

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“Magic, which permitted the decipherment of the world by revealing the secret resemblances beneath its signs, is no longer of any use except as an explanation, in terms of madness, of why analogies are always proved false.”

(Part 1, Chapter 3, Page 53)

Foucault’s idea of magic is the vital essence of language. Without it, he says that language ceases to exist in the Classical episteme. Language no longer possessed the ability to reveal secrets. Such a function would not be purely analytic and would make the orderly tables of