Landing : Athabascau University

Ouch, My Brain: Foucault and Agamben on "Archive" and "Testimony"

The good thing about this post is that next to these readings, anything at all that considers the archive a tangible collection of artifacts or records, any literary theory that deals with testimony as a genre or document, will be a breeze, no matter how thoroughly it problematizes "artifact," "record," or "witness," which are all proving to be very fishy terms. But even at my most esoteric, what I mean when I say "archive" and "testimony" are not what these two mean.

The AU library doesn't have the Agamben book Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive, but I found it online, and I have a copy of the Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, on hand, which is good because the library's two copies are out till next March (how come I don't get loans that long...). 

It starts with what Foucault means by "archive." This is, BTW, a really. hard. book. But I think the most workable definition, especially in light of the doubling already happening in the project between CLGA's collection of OOB as an artifact and OOB's collection of cultural productions as documents, is this:

The archive is first the law of what can be said, the system that governs the appearance of statements as unique events. But the archive is also that which deter-mines that all these things said do not accumulate endlessly in  an amorphous mass, nor are they inscribed in an unbroken linearity, nordo they disappear at the mercy of chance external accidents; but they are grouped together in distinct figures, composed together in accordance with multiple relations, maintained or blurred in accordance with specific regularities [...] . It is that which defines the mode of occurrence of the statement-thing; it is the system of its functioning. Far from being that which unifies every-thing that has been said in the great confused murmur of a discourse, far from being only that which ensures that we exist in the midst of preserved discourse, it is that which differentiates discourses in their multiple existence and specifies them in their own duration. (145-46)

You know that feeling when something makes sense to you as you read it, but that doesn't mean you understand it, it just means whoever wrote it understood it? That. But earlier in Archaeology of Knowledge Foucault writes about discursive formations in almost exactly the same way, except he says they "imply" the capacity to set rules. Unless I'm missing the mark here (I might be), this is a really helpful and relatively tangible clarification of the "archive" that can be readily applied to both the CLGA and OOB -- especially OOB, if the individual stories can be understood as uncovering and mobilizing statements that had previously been repressed, opening new subject-positions to be assigned. Here is what he says about implying capacity to order things:

Now, what has been described as discursive formations are, strictly speaking, groups of statements. That is, groups of verbal performances that are not linked to one another at the sentence level by grammatical (syntactical or semantic) links; which are not linked to one another at the proposition level by logical links (links of formal coherence or conceptual connexion); and which are not linked either at the formulation level by psychological links (either the identity of the forms of consciousness, the constancy of the mentalities, or the repetition of a project); but which are linked at the statement level. That which implies that one can define the general set of rules that govern their objects, the form of dispersion that regularly divides up what they say, the system of their referentials; that which implies that one defines the general set of rules that govern the different modes of enunciation, the possible distribution of the subjective positions, and the system that defines and prescribes them; that which implies that one defines the set of rules common to all their associated domains, the forms of succession, of simultaneity, of the repetition of which they are capable, and the system that links all these fields of co-existence together; lastly, that which implies that one can define the general set of rules that govern the status of these statements, the way in which they are institutionalized, received, used, re-used., combined together, the mode according to which they become objects of appropriation, instruments for desire or interest, elements for a strategy. (129)

I think I would like to come back to whether and how OOB implies that "one can define the general set of rules that govern the status of [its] statements." This is an exciting idea: one that makes sense of why OOB 'had to' be a periodical, and why it 'had to' include the content it did, in the order it did, why the CLGA's database records (and doesn't record) information about the magazine in particular ways. If I'm reading Foucault right, the archive both promises agency (the archive tells you that you can bring order to it, you can examine it and find out its order...) and denies it (but it also tells you that the rules by which you do so are pre-existing, historically contingent...). 


Agamben picks up Foucault's archive, and runs with it until he has a similarly thick, brain-melting definition of "testimony." First, Agamben very helpfully explains what the fuck Foucault was talking about:

As the set of rules that define the events of discourse, the archive is situated between langue, as the system of construction of possible sentences -- that is, of possibilities of speaking -- and the corpus that unites the set of what has been said, the things actualy uttered or written," or "the system of relations between the unsaid and the said. (144)

Oh, well, obviously it's the system of relations between sayable and said. 

OK, so unpacking that, maybe I do understand it. The "unsaid" includes everything that it is possible to say which has not yet been said (but as you think of it and document it, it would cease to be "unsaid"), and the "said" is everything that is is possible to say which has been said, but which can only be referred to through documentation of the event of speech: the act of saying itself cannot be reproduced. In Agamben's prose, the act of saying, or enunciation, is "nothing other than language's pure reference to itself as actual discourse" (138). The archive is not the statements, said or unsaid (though they are about to become important), and nor is it any particular relation or set of relations between them. Rather, it is the system that orders the relations, what Foucault describes above as "law" and "rules." The feeling is still one of trying to remember something I never quite knew to begin with, but we're getting there. 

Following Foucault, Agamben says that the "author" is not a person, but a subject-position that gets "assigned" to people who enunciate statements from the predetermined collection of those that are possible. In having a subject-position assigned to her, the individual is forced to acknowledge that she is not a stable, permanent subject herself. So the process of becoming a subject (in this case, the author) is also a process of desubjectification that Agamben thinks it is impossible to testify to: "what does it mean to be subject to desubjectification? How can a subject give an account of its own ruin?" (142) But there is more to the said and unsaid than just that: there are also those things that cannot be said. In my rudimentary Foucauldian terms, I think that means the things that are beyond the boundaries of discourse, that historical contingency has not made possible the way it has made possible all the sayable things. 

For Agamben, if the archive is the system of relations between unsaid and said, then testimony is

the system of relations between the inside and outside of langue [unsaid], between the sayable and the unsayable n every language---that is, between a potentiality of speech and its existence, between a possibility and an impossibility of speech. [...] In the relation between what is said and its taking place, it was possible to bracket the subject of enunciation [author, she who enunciates] since speech [object, that which is enunciated] had already taken place. But the relation between language and its existence, between langue and the archive, demands subjectivity as that which, in its very possibility of speech, bears witness to an impossibility of speech. [...] Testimony is a potentiality that becomes actual through an impotentiality of speech; it is, moreover, an impossibility that gives itself existence through a possibility of speaking. These two movements cannot be identified with either a subject or with a consciousness; yet they cannot be divided into two incommunicable substances. Their inseparable intimacy is testimony. (145-46)

Erm, so what is testimony? Do I still want to claim that pornography can be taken as testimony on its producers' and consumers' political statuses? I think what I've read means that testimony is the possibility of speech exerting itself as possibility, similar to how a statement was language exerting itself just as pure language, as discourse. And it does that in two ways, not separately, but bother at the same time: the testimony is something that can't be said (something "indescribable") that makes itself real through the possibility that it is real and could or might or should be the object of enunciation; and it is something that is spoken but is recognizable as "potential" because it stood a chance of being repressed, of not being spoken. Desubjectification, and dehumanization are reasons people might not be able to speak to their experiences, whether because the people have lost the ability to speak or because the experiences are indescribable. 

I think I will stop here because things will get twisted up in my brain even more if I start to try to apply them to my archive content. Definitely a better idea to check in and see how much I understood before moving on. 


  • These books are both extremely difficult reads. When it comes to Foucault's Archeaology, it is helpful to contextualize where he was coming from. On one hand he was responding to French structuralism, particularly the way it deployed structural linguistics to explain culture. In this sense he was developing a completely different way of describing discourse. On the other hand, he was developing a new historical method for researching the development of the sciences. In this regard he was committed to developing an historical method that was free of 'anthropological themes,' in other words, a method that did not reduce history to the agency (thoughts, inspirations, breakthroughs) of individuals but instead decentered human agency by focusing on the implicit rules that governed what could be said at a given point in time. An archeology hence is not concerned with what was going on in the minds of scientists or doctors but rather strives to describe the conditions that form the context for this thinking (what Foucault earlier called the savoir, then the episteme, and later the archive, and sometimes the historical unconscious).

    Foucault is a primary touchstone for Agamben. He refers to him in almost every one of his books. To understand Remnants of Auschwitz, and where he is going with testimony, it is useful to place the book in Agamben's larger project, particular his writing on biopolitics. Agamben develops different ideas about how human life becomes insinuated into politics, particularly  the way it is divided between human and inhuman forms. In Homo Sacer he argues that the 'the camp,' which functions to separate human life from inhuman (bare life) is the hidden biopolitical paradigm of modernity. In Remnants he is developing a method to interpret life in these camps (In this regard the book is quite a dark endeavor).  His theorization of testimony is carried out to this end. Your quote above contrasting archive with testimony is important. Testimony draws connections with what can be said with language and what is experienced but remains unexpressable. The archive governs relations between what is said and what could possibly be said. Agamben is thus going further than Foucault.

    Foucault might have been reticent to wade into this territory because at the time he was also critiqueing phenomenology and existentialism (particularly of Satre) and was deeply critical of psychoanalysis and the value it placed on the unconcious.

    Viewed through the conceptual lens of the statement (i.e. enunciative mechanisms), the archive, discursive formations, testimony OOB appears as a unique historical object/event. One question is, how do these concepts help us understand OOB and what does this understanding means for how we make sense of our present?

    Joshua Evans August 10, 2012 - 10:42am

  • Where I think these concepts might help to understand OOB is to begin to provide a framework for examining a lot of content and a very layered manifestation of "the archive" (the tangible kind). A lot of the archive theory I have looked at refers to either or both Foucault or Derrida, so I probably just have to understand the concepts and not the whole books, but I think I will keep trying with Archaeology of Knowledge, so that by the end of this degree I understand it a little better. I haven't tried the Derrida yet.

    Anyway, a framework. So there is:

    • OOB as a unique event in the CLGA's collection
    • Each story in OOB as a unique event in OOB's collection (and the idea of "statements" and meanings beyong language might be really helpful for some of OOB's more troubling content here)
    • The CLGA as a unique event in [queer history's? Toronto's?] collection
    • The experiences and responses of OOB writers and readers, which we only have traces of through stories, photos, letters to the editor

    That last is where Agamben's "testimony" comes in. The literary theory I have read so far follows John Beverly's "On Testimonio," which takes testimony as a fairly straightforward thing, and sets out a few means by which a particular piece of literature can be recognized as belonging in the genre of testimonial literature. (Beverly later thought "the West" was no longer interested, so testimonial literature had lost its effect, but writers since then, like Wendy Hesford, have used his ideas very productively to examine rape, human trafficking, prostitution, and deportation testimonies, among others.) Agamben's suggestion that testimony refers to "inexpressable" experiences catches my interest because it provides a lens for understanding some testimonies as "true but not necessarily literal."

    Where I feel a little awkward about talking about testimony and testimonial literature at all is that Agamben was writing about the Holocaust, and meant "bare life," as far as I know, in a very literal way: people whose bodies were technically alive, but had been stripped of "humanity." (But then I want to be cautious about the association of abjection with the loss of humanity, and of their 'silence,' the inaccessibility of their experiences to non-abject life, with not speaking or expressing anything. I'm not sure I want to make either of those associations right away.) Literary theory on testimony is also all about terrible things happening to people. OOB is intended to document pleasure, desire, fantasy -- it does so in the context of real atrocities, and it often represents desires that are uncomfortable (at least) or unethical -- but it's not and doesn't attempt to be a representation of atrocity itself. So it is a stretch to interpret it as testimony, and could be taken as (or just be) a crass stretch, to say porn should be read through the same lens as Holocaust literature.

    sarah beth August 10, 2012 - 11:38am

  • This is my second attempt at responding. I wrote a longer and much better response yesterday and with great satisfaction hit the post button only to learn my ‘session has timed out’. Uuuggh.

    Agamben’s conception of testimony is really controversial. I have read that his book, Remnants, alienated some due to the way he used the Holocaust as a case study to develop a generalizable concept. Critics argued that by using the experience of Auschwitz to develop his notion of testimony Agamben detracted from the singularity of the Holocaust. This controversy cuts right to Agamben’s method which is to develop paradigmatic concepts from historical singularities. I’ve felt the same tension when trying to apply Agamben’s concept of ‘the camp’ to contemporary spaces in the city. It is a challenging proposition to suggest that the extreme forms of dehumanization that defined places like Auschwitz not only persist today but function as the paradigm of modern biopolitics. This is perhaps one of Agamben’s most challenging ideas. My understanding is that the production of bare life is something like a threshold that is managed, negotiated and resisted but nonetheless always present. Where it is present and how it manifests is dependent upon these practices of management, negotiation, resistance.  

    I like the nested framework you have developed (OOB-CLGA-Toronto queer history).  One important distinction is to recognize that statements may transverse or bridge an array of stories, letters, photos that appear in OOB. A single statement (enunciative function/mechanism) may be present within different stories, letters and photos. Or a single story may contain multiple statements.

    The challenge is to describe how OOB only became possible in the context of a certain constellation of statements and the enunciative environment they formed in their co-existence and interconnection. But it strikes me that the challenge is also to describe the relationship between this OOB enunciative environment and the broader CLGA collection, and Toronto’s queer history more generally. If you pursue this line of inquiry I think you will find that it might be useful to reflect on the statements and enunciative environments that characterize the CLGA and Toronto’s queer history as well (recognizing that these are different categories and are interrelated). There might be some published work examining queer history (maybe even Toronto’s) as a discursive formation.  If it exists this work would be really useful to your project.

    It also occurred to me that it might be interesting, at some point, to explore Foucault’s History of Sexuality Volume 1, particularly his critique of the ‘repressive hypothesis’ (that Victorians were not prudes but actually said a lot about sex). Foucault is working with a different methodology (genealogy instead of archaeology) but the arguments mobilized in his book resonate with what you are trying to do with Agamben. Foucault was examining what was said about sex in this period from the point of view of power/knowledge. But his sensitivity to what is said and what is possible to say about sex is still there. Alternatively Agamben explores  the relationship between what is said and expressed and what remains unexpressible but is nonetheless experienced. Victorian testimonials about sex, from the point of view of Agamben, would be an interesting extension of what Foucault was attempting in this book. Foucault makes gestures towards these ideas (particularly in Madness and Civilization) but does not fully develop them. I am not suggesting you examine Victorian sexuality but there may be parallels between such a  Agambian reading of volume 1 and your project’s engagement with OOB vis-à-vis the wider queer studies literature.   


    Joshua Evans August 14, 2012 - 11:56am

  • I suppose it's no help now, but for the timeouts: pushing the "back" button in your browser will return you to your comment. 

    The rest: I need a second to think. 

    sarah beth August 14, 2012 - 12:55pm

  • Blast! Now I know. Thanks.

    Joshua Evans August 14, 2012 - 3:47pm

  • I have a lot of trouble with "bare life" because I'm not sure I'm convinced that what is represented to me as absolute abjection -- the image of Holocaust survivors' skeletal bodies for Agamben, or seeign the iconic panhandler in an urban environment, or whatever -- is a clear view of the person I'm looking at. I don't question that a structure has been created to let people die, or that an incredible amount of suffering accompanies being left to die, I just think that these pictures, endlessly repeated by History TV or newspapers, pointedly divorced from context (e.g., the history of genocide), reproduced with the purpose of emphasizing how little the people in the images can express of their own experiences, are the kinds of images that are designed to make us make associations that feel like knowledge, but actually are not (what Paul Gilroy calls "iconization"). We end up believing that because the things that make the person's life life are inaccessible to us -- because we cannot see them, or because they are inexpressable to those of us who have not had the same experience -- they do not exist. 

    So I wonder if I can take "testimony" without necessarily accepting "bare life." Because I really like the suggestion that testimony "testifies" to the inexpressable as well as what is stated, but I'm less convinced by what seems to be an idea of en essentially inexpressable form of experience permanently united with a completely, irreversible abject body, itself with no agency at all. But maybe I'm getting Agamben wrong here. 


    If you go one blog post back, you'll see a suggestion from another researcher that I should take OOB as a hyperbolic, reactionary document. The feeling was that off our backs, the radical feminist magazine to which OOB was reacting, was a repressive force -- and this was demonstrated by actual attempts to censor sex-positive feminist speech, to prevent sex-positive knowledge production. But read in the same way as Victorian discourse on sexuality, radical feminist discourse actually talks about BDSM, whoring, the most degrading images availabe in hetero porn a lot. I wonder if I could say that condition of constant, supposedly-repressive speech about the deviance embraced by sex-positivity is actually a necessary one for the creation of sex positivity, or that it couldn't exist without that very vocal "negativity" to pave the way.. Does that work?

    sarah beth August 14, 2012 - 10:06pm

  • I think you are getting Agamben right here. Your critique of bare life makes a lot of sense. I say go with it. One important thing about Agamben's conception of bare life is that he did not simply locate it only in camps. It potentially exists in all of us. Potentiality is a major theme in Agamben's work. We are all split/divided into political and biological life.  Biological life is not the same as bare life. Stripping someone of political life, reducing them to pure biology, is what Agamben means when he talks about the production of bare life. Agamben is also very interested in the types power that facilitate the production of bare life, particularly sovereign power and the juridicial technologies such as the 'state of the exception.' A national 'state of emergency' is one example. But there are other more mundane examples. Police officers hold sovereign power insofar as they are granted the authority to suspend political rights and use 'lethal force.'  If you talk to cops about 'lethal force' the assailant is no longer a person, he/she is a heart in the centre of a chest, a biological target.The spatialities and temporalities of bare life are variable.

    As for the off our backs/on our backs...has anyone examined off our backs as a discursive event in the wider context of radical feminism? The archaeological "hypothesis" so to speak would be that off our backs was couched in a wider shift or mutation in the enunciative environment (radical feminism more generally) and on our backs itself reflects the emergence of an augmented or maybe altogether different enunciative environment. Maybe on our backs reappropriates the fields of knowlede, systems of classification, speaking positions,  sites, situations, that radical feminism itself critiqued to resist the burgeoning normativity of radical feminism?

    Joshua Evans August 15, 2012 - 9:49am

  • Hm. Yeah, I can see how the potential, or lack of potential, for political action or recognition would make a very important qualification to my critique of bare life. Taking the panhandler image as an example (the iconic image of Holocaust survivors seems too loaded to play around with if I don't have to), even though the "whole" person obscured by that image might have political thoughts, citizenship on paper, or even act out small-scale politics in her own community or network (like say she's this neighbourhood's illegal cigarette vendor, and manages gossip, small credit tabs, relationships, etc) -- if from the point of view of the state she is just biology, then they can still hand down a rule to a shelter that women get 16 tampons per month (a friend was responsible for doling out and checking off tampons at a shelter with that rule) and reduce her to biology that way. Or by shooting her, or not responding to conditions that might result in her death, as with sex workers in Vancouver. Do I have that right? (Aside from the obvious that the iconic panhandler is male, and women's homelessness is invisible.)


    For the question about off our backs: I'm not sure how I would find that out. I tried plugging into Google Scholar search terms like "'off our backs' + discursive enunciation," but that would only pull up articles with really blunt theoretical stances. I also tried a few versions of "archaeology + 'sex wars,'" but got stuff about the digging-up-bones kind of archaeology and feminism. How should I try to find out if anyone has written about off our backs as a discursive enunciation? 


    I have been able to find a little bit about how the sex wars mirrored the "culture wars," and especially the astro-turfed resistance to postmodernism and poststructuralism (and theory in general) that came from the "Right" in the culture wars. As one statement in the bigger discourse of sex positive feminism, On Our Backs could have been a part of a reappropriation of the right to theory, to theorize, which feminism fought hard for in the decade before the sex wars (and immediately before radical feminism began launching claims that poststructuralist feminisms were too abstract, too hard to understand). That could be shown through the 'work' OOB makes you do as a reader: it doesn't provide a straightforward interpretation of its politics and effects, so you have to suss it out -- the more challenging pieces might even force an interrogation of your own  political foundations. Is that on track towards your suggestion?

    sarah beth August 15, 2012 - 9:00pm

  • I tried searching around the library and web but did not find any obvious matches. I did come across this e-book in the AU library: "Up against Foucault: explorations of some tensions between Foucault and feminism"/ edited by Caroline Ramazanoæglu. Chapter 4 has some relevant content as far as your methodology for examining the archive is concerned. But I am thinking that there must be some neo-foucauldian lit on radical feminism out there. 

    Joshua Evans August 15, 2012 - 11:22pm

  • Thanks -- I will check out the Foucault/feminism book. I am also thinking that the histories of radical feminism must already be written, but my search terms just aren't turning them up. It seems ludicrous that they wouldn't already be written. 

    As a start, I am looking at some of Heather Love's work. "A Gentle Angry People," an article that is actually a book review, gives a decent history of the "sex wars" and what came immediately before and after. On the last page she posits that "lesbian feminism" (what I've been calling radical feminism here) commenced from mainstream rejection of lesbians, as both an assertion of lesbian existence and a deviation from the lesbian culture and sexuality that was being rejected. 

    More recently, Love edited this GLQ special issue on Gayle Rubin's work; Rubin looks at sex-positivity and BDSM. In her introduction, Love again poses an idea of source, this time of sexuality studies:

    In my invitation to Rubin, I asked her to reflect on the original contexts of "Thinking Sex" and on the changes—both intellectual and political—that have taken place in the decades since it was published. The essay has been canonized—most notably in The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader(1993)—as a point of origin for sexuality studies, but it has often been read without significant attention to its original context. By organizing a general state-of-the-field conference around this essay, I wanted to test my hypothesis that the field as it is currently constituted owes an unacknowledged debt to feminism, and particularly to the debates about porn, S/M, and butch/femme in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

    I haven't made it past the introduction (at this very second, I am having a very happy, nerdy little fit about how the diagrams under the "sexual rabble" section are EXACTLY the illustration I need to relate Derrida's archive to sexuality -- but Archive Fever will get its own blog post), but it sounds like Rubin's contribution is a geneological study, or a part of one, of her own work and the sex-radical and lesbian feminist contexts that surrounded it. 

    So I think my next stop is Rubin's essay in that special issue, and the original "Thinking Sex" essay, if that's where the sexual rabble diagrams come from. (I can't quite tell.)

    sarah beth August 16, 2012 - 12:27am

  • The passage from "A Gentle Angry People" that suggests a direction for a geneological approach is this one; its broader theme, relevant to much of OOB's content, is the possibility that lesbians might be just like straight people, however exciting or boring or oppressive or liberating that may be: 

    Giving up the myth of lesbian purity, lesbian difference, and the transformative power of love between women is quite a letdown. We come face-to-face with some intractable problems: gender isn't easy; power is unevenly distributed in relationships; love is always strange, and often ugly.

    Most difficult, perhaps, may be the realization that, while love between women is not necessarily better or different, it must bear an extra burden-the depressing effects of stigma and social vioence. Our thirty-year habit of idealization is a response to this history-our pride is tied very closely to our shame.

    sarah beth August 16, 2012 - 12:37am

  • To weigh in somewhat late here, the thread shows your theoretical inquiry crystallizing nicely, I'd say. The idea of testimonial does work as a way to understand On Our Backs, perhaps more (as Josh suggests) in the context of genealogy than of archaeology, although Foucault's theory of archaeology - which is the theory of the horizons and foundations of discourses - remains relevant to understanding the formal and genre contexts on which basis OOB formulated its statements. Genealogy, in contrast, better models the historical and political contexts for thinking about those statements as testimonial. Genealogy is a way of "doing history" (and to an extent historiography) that excavates and retrieves suppressed subjectivities, marginalized ideologies, erased histories, disappeared experiences. What OOB may have been doing as testimonial was restoring and articulating such suppressed and disappeared subjects and realities (sometimes quite transgressively so) - in a way, OOB was perhaps doing genealogy.

    Further, that OOB's content adopted genre forms like the autobiographical, the confessional, the recherche du temps perdu (et sale!), as well as more forensic or documentary forms like photography, might be considered a way in which the magazine's testimonial practices took place at a kind of intersection between genealogy and archaeology.

    Mark A. McCutcheon August 16, 2012 - 9:44am

  • in a way, OOB was perhaps doing genealogy

    Huh. Yeah, you're right, definitely. In the first of the Love articles above, for example, she decribes how OOB, and the lesbian identity and sex radical feminism it represented, retrieved the butch/femme subjectivities or working class American lesbianism that lesbian feminism tried to suppress (in favour of androgynous lesbians whose essential womanhood wasn't tainted by masculinity). 

    I am confused though because I thought I had to work with "testimony" and "archive" as a pair to be able to carry on with testimony as statements of the unsayable -- that it wouldn't work without that idea of a "horizon" beyond which things are inexpressible. (I think there are fairly succinct descriptions of archaeology and genealogy in "What is Critique?" Maybe I still don't understand the difference. I'll start by re-reading that.)

    sarah beth August 16, 2012 - 3:16pm

  • Foucault wrote on genealogy in an essay entitled "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History". It appears in several collections. One is Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology" Volume 2 of Essential Works of Michel Foucault.

    Archaeology is focused on describing the emergence of discursive formations and their rules which structure or condition what is said. Archaeologies focus on documents, texts, images, ect tied to particular places and times. Foucault applied this method in the History of Madness, The Birth of the Clinic and the Order of Things to explain the formation of reason from the middle ages through the enlightenment, the birth of modern medicine, and the emergence of the human sciences.

    Genealogy is focused not so much on grand narratives and structures (like some of his archaeological works) but instead on small scale changes that occur at a micro-level. It also turns its focus to the body and space. The body is the surface of inscription of history (paraphrasing Foucault in above essay) hence Foucault's turn to the body in later books like Discipline and Punish and the History of Sexuality series.

    Archaeologies work with horizons given their focus on mapping ruptures, breaks or discontinuities in ways of thinking and knowing. Geneologies are more focused on mapping the entanglement of knowledge and power in the ways the body has been regulated in particular times and places.

    Joshua Evans August 16, 2012 - 3:57pm

  • To check my understanding then, and none of these are ideas I'd stake my life on as true, just a bunch of hypotheses that I've tried to sort to be sure I understand the larger concepts --

    If I was 'doing' archaeology at OOB, I might hypothesize:

    OOB is a document that shows how prostitution and pornography, trans rights, and BDSM emerged as a set of issues that polarized feminist discourse. creating clear, rigid radical feminist and sex-positive feminist 'camps' where previously these discourses had been ill-defined and haphazardly regulated within a larger discourse of "feminism."


    The majority of OOB's content creates, reproduces, exemplifies, and enforces the "rules" of sex-positive feminist discourse (and I would try to tie particular examples of content to particular examples of sex-positive ideology, or might try to establish how this was done in opposition to radical feminist discourse), but on occasion, OOB published content designed to reach beyond the horizon of sex-positive discourse, to give voice and name to queer and transgressive desire and pleasure, and thus to expand the boundaries of the discourse. 

    But if I was 'doing' genealogy at it, I might instead say:

    As above, OOB's political statements attempted to expose how the crystallization of radical feminist discourse obsurced and erased sexual subjectivities that didn't fit the ideology of essential womanhood, while its creative statements attempted to recover, reform, or invent anew the sexual subjectivities that had been repressed. (As an aside, I don't like the binary I set up there with "political" and "creative.')


    There are differences between archives (tangible kind) that destroy or decline to carry OOB, or hold it but do not make known what its content is (this describes all collections of OOB that I have located), or hold it and make its content known and available to researchers (what we are doing at the CLGA). The former two recreate the impulse during the sex wars to attempt to protect women by refusing them access to knowledge about their own feelings of desire and pleasure. The status quo acts almost like a prison for knowledge: it's off the streets, preserved almost like a curiosity, but preserved in a way that makes sure only the trusted and authoritative figures of archivsts will read it. The final option, hopefully, will untie knowledge and power, or undo the ways they have been tied until now -- though it may create new ways of exerting power over the ojects of OOB's knowledge (e.g., the prolems I've been having trying to created keywords that aren't oppressive or limiting). 


    Sarah does the Foucault right? (If I'm still getting it wrong, then I might just go ahead with the ideas about testimony and rely on archive theorists who do get it instead of trying to understand it myself. Especially since I am about the repeat this process with the Derrida.)

    sarah beth August 16, 2012 - 6:13pm

  • That seems about right. I don't think it has to be either-or here; Josh has outlined how Foucault's ideas changed in the course of his work, and moreover both archaeology and genealogy appear to have useful models to offer here for contextualizing and reading OOB. Hope that doesn't seem like a further complication.

    Mark A. McCutcheon August 16, 2012 - 8:30pm

  • Further complication is ok with me, as long as I get the beginning right first. :) I'm still working on the Derrida, but Archive Fever starts with an explanation of the "archive" as both "commencement" and "commandment." This seems to fit very well with the evidence that OOB can be regarded as either a part of the beginning of a new feminist discourse, or the product of a struggle, via discourse, for power over feminism. Deciding between the two vs. accepting both as parallel interpretations seems likely to make a big difference in what I think the sex wars' legacy is -- that is, what, if anything, opening access to the magazine contributes to contemporary feminism.

    sarah beth August 16, 2012 - 11:27pm

  • I am a big advocate of resisting (or at least recognizing) expectations to maintain fidelity to the 'master' (in this case Foucault), but I also enjoy exhausting a theoretical framework to see where it leads, what it misses, what it can accomplish. So I guess what I am saying is that I would not judge someone for doing Foucault wrong. In fact, as much useful theory has resulted in missapplying the ideas of others as has resulted from maintaining strict adherence to doctrine.  But I've found it useful to use tools in the ways they were meant to be used.

    In this case an archaeology would direct you to examine the conditions that made OOB possible (OOB is the discursive formation). Or it might direct you to consider OOB as a discursive event or practice worthy of consideration in an examination of the conditions that made radical feminism possible (radical feminism is the discursive formation).  

    A geneaology would direct you to examine OOB as the manifestation of a concrete struggle between different forces to establish their own form of domination. The history of OOB is seen through the lens of warfare.

    Joshua Evans August 24, 2012 - 3:17pm

  • The loss of tone that comes with communicating online means I can't tell if you are correcting or confirming my practice hypotheses. I'm not really attached to any of them; they're just attempts to turn abstract concepts into concrete applications, to make sure I understand the basics before I start fucking around with them. 

    What I think I've done is to describe, in the first two examples, OOB as a condition of possibility for other events: the establishment of a rigid boundary between two kinds of feminist discourse, and the bringing to visibility of both the "edge" of sex-positive feminist discourse and some of the possibilities for queer desires that might exist beyond the edge. 

    That's different from what you're saying, I think, because OOB here is the condition of possibility and what became possible (the discursive formation) is what I'm trying to make clearer, not the other way around. Radical feminism predates OOB by about 15-25 years, but could definitely be considered a condition by which OOB became possible, or necessary even: OOB was created in response to radical feminism with the stated purpose of opposing radical feminists' "sex negative" ideology. Oh. But if I swap "sex positive feminism" for "radical feminism" in what you've written (at the time, they would also have referred to themselves as "sex radicalism" and "lesbian feminism," respectively, so they're hard to keep track of), then maybe I am on track: OOB is the condition of possibility, and the emerging feminisms are the discursive formation(s), which I am comparing, using Foucault's metaphor, to archives or collections. (But with lots and lots of deconstructive additions to Foucault's metaphor, per the next post here.)

    In the latter two examples, I think what I'm doing and what you're saying are the same thing. In its time, OOB (especially if paired with its radical feminist counterpart, off our backs) was a manifestation of a struggle for control over feminism. Now, as a record or as an absence in queer and feminist archives, it's a manifestation of a struggle over history and future. 

    Am I understanding what you're saying, or going way off here?

    sarah beth August 24, 2012 - 5:21pm

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