Monday, July 18, 2011

Foucault, Collingwood, And Deleuze

I have to read Deleuze's Difference & Repetition. Reading Foucault's The Archeology of Knowledge is making this infinitely clear to me.

The thing I'm finding so startling is the way that Foucault's work seems to be in direct opposition to Collingwood. I have often tried to compare Collingwood and Foucault. Typically, I was using Foucault's late work to make that comparison. But AK is explicitly refuting the type of historical method that Collingwood advocates.

Collingwood maintained several interconnected points. 1. All history is the history of thought. 2. Historians proceed by gathering evidence of past thought in the form of documents, archeological evidence, or anything else that expresses thought. 3. That the historian makes sense of this evidence by re-enacting those thoughts in his own mind. In essence, that historians must use evidence to replicate past thought in their own minds. Historians seek to recreate the inner world of past actors by using evidence of their thought. That evidence was created by a process that went from outward to inward: the historical actor had thoughts, and he then expressed them in his writing, in his actions, etc.. The historian must reverse that process, he must go from outside to in: he must use evidence to recreate those thoughts in his own mind.

Foucault explicitly opposes this type of historical study. He believes that language, and not the phenomenon/experience of thought, is the proper object of history. He says that typically history is occupied "with the opposition of interior and exterior, and wholly directed by a desire to move from the exterior... towards the essential nucleus of interiority. To undertake the history of what has been said is to re-do, in the opposite direction, the work of expression: to go back from statements preserved through time and dispersed and in space, towards that interior, secret that preceded them, left its mark in them, and (in every sense of the term) is betrayed by them" (120-121). Here, Foucault is saying that history is usually regarded in the way Collingwood described.

He, however, believes that history can proceed in another direction. That it can proceed with language (without a speaking subject) as its primary object. He says that "the field of statements is not described as a 'translation' of operations or processes that take place elsewhere (in men's thought, in their consciousness or unconscious, in the sphere of transcendental); but that it is accepted, in its empirical modesty, as the locus of particular events, regularities, relationships, modifications and systematic transformations; in short, that it is treated not as the result or trace of something else, but as a practical domain that is autonomous (although dependent), and which can be described at its own level (although it must be articulated on something other than itself). (121-122). Now this quotation might be opaque, but Foucault is essentially claiming that historical study must regard language as its primary object without the Collingwoodian notion of re-enactment. That historical must approach language as something autonomous from the speaking subject.

I am working hard on this issue.

I think that reading Difference And Repetition is the next logical step in my reading. It will hopefully give me some insight into what precisely repetition is, and thus hopefully give me a better sense of what re-enactment really is. I need to parse these two philosophers of history. There is a deeper compatibility than is immediately apparent.

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