Dr. Kate Liu
Journal: "The Order of Discourse"
Michel Foucault's "The Order of Discourse"
In his "The Order of Discourse," Foucault asserts that the discourse is constituted of a relation between 'desire' and 'institution'. Desire is a drive, which urges discourse to be unrestrained, but institution is a method to attain the power by restriction. Through the operation of desire and institution, the discourse possesses the power. Hence, the relation between the opposite power of desire and institution is inseparable.
The contradictory power of desire and institution shows an anxiety of the material reality of the discourse. Foucault proposes that in our society the production of the discourse is related to the 'the procedure of exclusion.' The procedure of exclusion is operating through the exercise of prohibitions. Foucault divides the prohibitions into the division of reason and madness. Foucault also makes a distinction in the social procedure of exclusion, which is related to the divisions of desire/power, reason/madness, and true/false that put the knowledge to work in our society. Another procedure of exclusion is the internal procedures of 'rarefaction.' Under the notion of rarefaction, to analyze the discourse will only reveal a scarcity of meaning.
Discourse is formed by the three systems: the forbidden speech, the division of madness, and the will to truth. Discourse does not hide or reveal our desire; rather, it is the object of desire. Discourse does not explain the 'struggle' or 'law' (the system of domination). Actually, the power people seek to control the discourse is the discourse itself. The distinction of reason and madness lies in the judgement of whether his/hers discourse can be understood or not. Discourse determines whether a man is of reason or of madness.
Foucault then proceeds to discuss the reality of truth. The truth people know and understand is a selection of discourse which excluding things omitted from the history we understand. However, the 'truth' of history keeps reversing through time. Our understanding of the truth is based on a forever-changing history. Hence, our recognition about the truth will have no fixed standard. Therefore, we might conclude that the so-called 'truth' is not what discourse says, but the discourse itself. What makes a truth true is the discourse about truth. Knowledge, a product of people's will to acquire truth, which people are constantly looking for, is determined also by the discourse.
In fact, people decide the truth they are willing to know based on their understanding of discourse. The knowledge is a production of discourse. The way people acquire their knowledge is through education. However, for Foucault, the education apparatus is a system to exercise the procedure of exclusion. Moreover, the moral standard for people to judge in the capitalistic world is actually formed by the operation of economic practices, but there is no certain true morality.
Commentary, a way people believed that would control the discourse, is a kind of classification that intends to reach a continuous process of exclusion. Commentary differentiates from one to another, and thus makes the discourse different. Some of the commentaries will certainly become the 'main stream'. These main stream commentaries will become the canon known by people. Through this establishment of canon, the main stream commentaries would form a hierarchy that excluded other commentaries. The established hierarchy thus allows the new discourse to dominate on the interpretation of primary text. Consequently, this hierarchy of commentaries will nonetheless beyond the text. However, the commentary system is in a forever overlapping and circling system because a new commentary must tell what was said before in order to tell what has not been told yet.
In the order of literary discourse, the relation between the author and his works was once deeply related. Before the commentary leads the primary text, the author was the one who gave "the disturbing language of fiction its unities . . . its insertion of the real."
'Discipline' is another principle of the order of literary discourse. According to this 'discipline,' whoever follows the law of discipline could possibly pose a new discourse regardless of the primary text and the author. The notion of the discipline serves as a principle control over the production of discourse.
Foucault goes on proposing other principles for the discourse: the principle of reversal which reverses the traditional point of view toward discourse, the principle of discontinuity which treats the discourse as 'discontinuous' practices, the principle of specificity which conceives discourse as a 'violence we do to things', and the principle of exteriority which urges a perception of the exterior possibility of the discourse.
"The Order of the Discourse" is Foucault's emphasis on the 'instability' of discourse and the 'possibility of the resistance as well as exercise the power'. Relying heavily on language to create images, discourse is always subverting itself and constantly suggesting creating the ideology for people to submit.
Foucault, Michel. "The Order of Discourse." Untying the Text: A Post-Structuralist Reader. Ed. Robert Young. Boston: Routledge, 1981. 48-78.