Notes for discussion on Foucault (The Order of Things) and Fuss, 9/19/05



Foucault on categories.  What, exactly, does he bring to the discussion?  Some of your ideas…




I had trouble reconciling these two desires in myself: I want to believe in women, but I don’t want to leave any woman – even one born with a penis – out. I like the Foucault quotation because it shows that this distress in relation to classification is a big problem. Are Vicks and I the dog and the cat, or the two greyhounds? How can I even begin to consider this? As Foucault says, what are my grounds for classifications?


Amy Pennington:

What I'd like to point out, something I feel like we've been sweeping aside in our more philosophical discussions of identity and existentialism, is Foucault's main point: all of the "science," both hard and soft, which societies conduct, all of the intellectual 'progress' which is made, is formed within strict cultural boundaries.



Preface:  Borges passage—

xvii “What has been removed, in short, is the famous ‘operating table’…”


How do we make sense of this?  What is the “table?”


More hints here:  xvi  “The monstrous quality…consists…in the fact that the common ground on which such meetings are possible has itself been destroyed. What is impossible is not the propinquity of the things listed, but the very site on which their propinquity would be possible.”


xiv  “It seems to me that the historical analysis of scientific discourse should…be subject, not to a theory of the knowing subject, but rather to a theory of discursive practice.”


(Thanks, Orah, for asking us to think about “discourse” --)



Stuart Hall on Foucault’s (1926-84) conceptions of discourse:


“A discourse is a group of statements which provide a language for talking about – i.e., a way of representing – a particular kind of knowledge about a topic.  When statements about a topic are made within a particular discourse, the discourse makes it possible to construct the topic in a certain way. It also limits the other ways in which the topic can be constructed…


“…it is not based on the conventional distinction between thought and action, language and practice.  Discourse is about the production of knowledge through language. But it is itself produced by a practice: ‘discursive practice’ – the practice of producing meaning.  Since all social practices entail meaning, all practices have a discursive aspect. So discourse enters into and influences all social practices…


“A discourse is similar to what sociologists call an ‘ideology’:  a set of statements of beliefs which produce knowledge that serves the interests of a particular group or class. Why, then, use ‘discourse’ rather than ‘ideology’?

            One reason which Foucault gives is that ideology is based on a distinction between true statements about the world (science) and false statements (ideology), and the belief that the facts about the world help us to decide between true and false statements. But Foucault argues that statements about the social, political, or moral world are rarely ever simply true or false; and ‘the facts’ do not enable us to decide definitively about their truth or falsehood, partly because ‘facts’ can be construed in different ways.  The very language we use to describe the so-called facts interferes in this process of finally deciding what is true and what is false.”


(Stuart Hall, “The West and the Rest: Discourse and Power”)





How does this compare to Fuss’ discussion of the hetero/homo dichotomy?

(Is there a “table” in her story?)


234  “heterosexuality secures its self-identity and shores up its ontological boundaries by protecting itself from what it sees as the continual predatory encroachments of its contaminated other, homosexuality...”


235 on homosexuality as an indispensable “interior exclusion” – an “outside” that is “inside” insofar as it makes articulation of the inside possible; it is the transgression that is necessary to creating a sense of the boundary as such.


(Recall, too, Thorne’s discussion of “border-work” – Barth)




I don't like to think that one's identity is founded on the basis of someone else. I'm not saying that it's not in some ways a valid idea, but it makes me feel like a big fake and I don't like that. Perhaps I can agree with the idea that there are some parts of one's identity that is founded in reference to an outside source, but I don't like the idea of having that outside source define another person's inside.



Fuss is explicit (more so than Foucault, at least in this piece) about her wish to unsettle the hetero/homo relationship she has described.  We struggled to figure out what this might mean…with a powerful binary in place, where are possibilities for incoherence/resistance supposed to come in?



Both writers seemed to suggest that the way to overcome an existing system is by changing it either by questioning its logic (“restoring to our…soil its rifts, its instability…” Foucault, 24) or by wearing out its logic (“…working on the insides of our inherited sexual vocabularies and turning them inside out,” (Fuss, 239). I still found myself longing for a essay promoting real actions one can do to help this, not vague invasions of an unseen system.



as flora says in her post, it seems that to defeat the concept of categories, we need to talk them to death. but i dont even know what that means…



[Fuss] asks “How do we know when the homo is contributing to the confirmation of the hetero and when it is disturbing it?” (p 238) I think Althusser would say that both occur at once to the same effect. Whether one is confirming/disturbing the other, the same social structures are being validated. It works like repression: the more one repudiates an ideology, the more one is actually attempting to conceal his place within the ideology (or, maybe, in Fuss’ terms, the more one tries to be outside, the more one is inside). One cannot be a Subject without also being subject to the ideology, so the more one resists, the more effective the ideology is.


…in order to figure out…what discourse is, we may consider what discourse is NOT. discourse is NOT incoherence, or misunderstanding, nor is it non-linguistic ...
there are, i think, acts (projections) that are incoherent. what do we do with those? how do they effect discourse? where do we put the individuals who generate such anti-order?



Think about these problems of the production of knowledge and of “resistance” as you read more Foucault for Wednesday…