Archive-Foucault-ArchaeologyKnowledge-intro apriori

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Notes on Foucault Archaeology Knowledge: Introduction; The Historic a Priori and the Archive

Introduction: history and documents


  • Foucault distinguishes between: rapidly changing history & unmoving histories, history & history of ideas
  • rapidly changing history

(governments, wars, famines) and

  • unmoving histories

(history of sea routes, history of corn or gold-mining, history of drought and irrigation, history of crop rotation, history of balance achieved by the human species between hunger and abundance)

  • history

looks for continuities of long unities of time: centuries, periods 

  • history of ideas

looks for discontinuities, ruptures in history. 

both disciplines (history and history of ideas) are questioning the document. history has altered is position in relation to the document: it is NOT its primary concern the interpretation of the document, but to work within and develop the document "history now organizes the document

Analysis of history

  • Old questions of analysis

(What link should be made between disparate events? How can a causal succession be established between them? What continuity or overall significance do they possess? Is it possible to define a totality, or must one be content with reconstituting connexions?)

are replaced by

  • new questions

(Which strata should be isolated from others? What types of series should be established? What criteria of periodization should be adopted for each of them? What system of relations may be established between them? What series of series may be established? In what large-scale chronological table may distinct series of events be determined?)

  • history ≠ collective memory, based on documents to keep memories alive
  • history = work expended on material documentation (books, texts, accounts, registers, acts, buildings, institutions, laws, techniques, objects, customs) that exists in every time and place, in every society

  • "history is now trying to define within the documentary material itself units, totalities, series, relations" p.7 
  • "history is one way in which a society recognizes and develops a mass of documentation with which it is inextricably linked" 
  • history defines relationship between facts and events

Since history exist, documents that are record these data are existing


  • documents have always been used, questioned
  • Is the document sincere or deliberately misleading, well informed or ignorant, authentic or manipulated
  • documents always try to reconstruct the history
  • document = language of a voice that became silent
  • interpretation of history is always time dependent
  • documents reveal the history. The documents have to be organized and questioned
  • the document is always interpertated differently

documents and monuments

  • earlier: in the past history aimed at memorizing the monuments of the past and transform them into documents (in order to give a speech to those silent monuments) 
  • nowadays:  today's history transforms the documents into monuments

The Historic a Priori and the Archive


  • Enunciation of the notion of a priori;
  • Description of the archive (different perspective on the archive than the traditional one) +
  • introduction of the term: Archaeology

Historic a priori

  • different from formal a priori - knowledge independent of experience

  • set of rules determining which statements and things can be part of a discourse, how they persist, are transformed, coexist with others or excluded. "A condition of reality for statements"

The definitions of the archive:

the archive is what allows statements and things to emerge

  • The archive is the system of statements that establish statements as events and things
  • "it is that which defines the mode of occurrence of the statement-thing"
    • what does it means to establish a statement as a thing?
    • what is a statement and a thing in an archive such as youtube

  • "the archive is first the law of what can be said, the system that governs the appearance of statements as unique events
    • the system defines and what can be added to archive (youtube)

  • "it is also that which determines that all these things ... are grouped together in distinct figures, composed together in accordance with multiple relations, maintained or blurred in accordance with specific regularities" p.145-146
  • "it is the system of its functioning"
    • The way it functions defines it. If we have 2 archives with the same documents, but functioning differently, the materials or meanings that you gather from them will be distinct.

  • "it is that which differentiates discourses in their multiple existence and specifies their multiple duration"
    • grouping discourses into given sections - gives them a context, and therefore a meaning;

duration to the archive: the importance of a document having its own duration (?)

  • "it does not constitute the library of all libraries, outside time and space"

  • "nor is it the welcoming oblivion that opens up all new speech to the operational field of its freedom"
    • it does not encompass all the speech - not everything fits within its space

  • "it reveals the rules of a practice that enable statements both to survive and to undergo regular modification"
    •  ?? it reveals the rules  ?

  • "It is the general system of the formation and transformation of statements" p.146
    • Alive nature of the archive.
    • The document kept in the archive is not a proof of the past, but a document subjected to present and subjective view upon it.

  • "The archive cannot be described in its totality ... It emerges in fragments, regions and levels"


- The paradox of internal and external: if you look from within an archive you are not able to see a totality and when you look from the outside into it, you do not see what happens inside?

- We can learn more from how and why an archive is ordered rather then searching answers in what is inside the archive?

The Objective and the subjective:

- Can an archive be objective??

- Is it possible at all that the archive is an adequate reflection of history?

(language itself is never adequate for what we mean and thus never objective according to Foucault - because of context, time and individual experience) (So maybe the archive is more the law of what can NOT be said? Something outside language?)

- Is it possible to capture our own experience (of events or things) in an archive and avoid that it changes over time; through history??

- How can we deal with the archive today?