Jessie Kuei-yi Chu
Dr. Kate Liu
Summary and Response to Michel Foucault's "The Order of Discourse"
"The Order of Discourse" focuses on the theme of Foucauldian study, the discourse. It is obvious that Foucault shifting from the earlier focus on the study of synchronical phenomenon and conventions under the domain of discourses in the contemporary to the diachronical study of the discourses' initiation and development in human history. The concept "the order of discourse" comes form Foucault's early attempt to find the repressed voice of the minority, such as madmen. The construction of knowledge is an ongoing process of excluding and annihilating others (discursive practice). By defining the difference and the diverted, the orthodox consolidates its dominant position. Then Foucault turns his attention to the infrastructure of the dominating institutionalized power, in Foucauldian term, the discourse. Under what kind of circumstance can discourse function so unconsciously and overwhelmingly? In this way, I would like to emphasize the restraints of the discourse and the formation of the discourse.
Foucault presents his argument by questions. "The social procedures of exclusion, prohibition, and the division of 'the subject' and 'its other' from the way in which the discourse of knowledge function in our society" (49). Through the social procedures of exclusion and "rarefaction" (49), people are subject to the discourse. The power of exclusion comes from the duality within the social hierarchy. The idea has to keep on rejecting, denying and denouncing in order to justify itself; in other words, to reinforce its authority. So actually this concept corresponds to Derrida's opinion that the existing meaning of the present relies on the absent. In order to be the dominant power, the discourse should terminate others. This notion also illustrates clearly in Foucalt's Madness and Civilization. In this book, Foucalt intends to unravel the myth of the madmen's banishment form the society. The madman violates the rules of speech, for instance, talking about some taboos prohibited by reason and civillization. In this way, the mad must be banished in order to confirm and reconfirm the correctness of the discourse. when it comes to the function of "rarefaction," Foucault elaborates that "there are internal procedures of 'rarefaction.' The effect of an analysis of the forms of discourse is to reveal not a plentitude of rarefaction, but a scarcity" (49). I think it is a very interesting and controversial argument. When certain discourse manipulates human thinking, the next step is to "rarefy" itself so that everyone in the society take the value or the discourse for granted. In other words, it tries to conceal its power behind the disciplines and conventions, so the negative representations, such as sin, madness and sexual perversion, are categorized as the abnormality. On the other hand, reason and civilization become the omnipotent and ubiquitous truth to guide and to modify the wrong others.
Talking of the history of western philosophy, Foucault indicates that any school of philosophy has the tendency to discover the ultimate truth, the ideal in the universe. Foucault teases it as "the logophilia" (66), similar to Derrida's idea of "logocentrism." Derrida suggests that the logos, in the process of prevailing and permeating, assert it by subverting the previous and repudiating others. Foucault moreover points out the constraints of exclusion, prohibition, abandonment interacted with writing, reading and exchange. That is to say, western philosophy, which seeks for the ideal, the logos, the truth, is only in its own trap of revolting the predecessors. On the way to take over the precedent, there are always contradictions and attempts to assimilate, to unify others. Foucault parodies this process as "logophobia" (66). He somehow indicates that people, including scholars, are overwhelmed by the multiple theories.
This article is Foucault's elaboration about the ideas of discourse constructing order in human society and civilization. It provides a new perspective for human beings to scrutinize what people take for granted in daily life. Are social conventions really meaningful for people to obey and to carry out? Or it is only a discourse imposed on mankind. As Foucault mentioned in his speaking, "we must call into questions our will to truth, restore to discourse its character as an event, and finally throw off the sovereignty of the signifier"(50). That is to say, the will to truth should be suspicious of the meaning of the discourse and resist the imposition of the discourse. It seems a struggle to search for subjectivity in bunch of discourses and an attempt to free oneself form the discourse. But Foucault also claims that everything is within discourse. It seems a helpless and circumvented condition for human beings, who are aware of the hegemony of discourse. I think the consistency of restraining from the discourse and pursuit for identity is Foucault's ultimate concern.
Foucault, Michel. "The Order of Discourse." Untying the Text: A Post-structuralist. Reader. Robert Young, ed. Boston: Routledge, 1981. 48-78.