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Béatrice Han-Pile “Is Early Foucault an Historian?”

Han-Pile, Béatrice 2005. Is Early Foucault an Historian? History, history and the analytic of finitude. Philosophy & Social Criticism 31(5-6): 585-608.

[…] as the new ‘radical mode of being’ for ‘all empirical beings’ (OT: 219), History is ‘not so very different from Order at the Classical age (ibid.). In fact, it is our new historical a priori, whose appearance is the ‘fundamental event . . . whereby a positivity has constituted itself, from which we have probably not come out yet’ (ibid.). (587)

Properly understood, History (the capitalization indicates the shift to the level of the épistémè) differs both from an ‘empirical science of events’ and from ‘factual succession’ (OT: 219). It ‘exists as much more than a probable form of succession: it constitutes a sort of fundamental mode of being’ (OT: 276). To put it in the traditional Hegelian terms, History is neither historia rerum gestarum (history of past deeds) nor res gestae(the deeds themselves): it is their joint condition of possibility. (588)

Thus the reason why we now think of all entities as historical (as opposed to being transparent to linguistic representation) is not that we have studied a posteriori their transformations, or imposed a temporal order on them from the outside: on the contrary, it is because History has become our new épistémè, the ‘mode of being of everything that is given to us in experience’ (OT: 219), that we are led to see entities as historical. (589)

[…] what Foucault means by saying that History is both the condition under which entities are known and their mode of being, then, is that History has become the very framework (in his terms, the historical a priori) under which they are constituted as the entities they are. It does not mean that their historicity is an arbitrary construction of the mind, as Foucault makes it clear that we do not choose our épistémè; on the contrary, we are bound to construe beings as historical by the fact that we are governed by History, and this until a new épistémè arises (such as the ‘Return of language’). (591)

Like the entities or events that were referred to it, the origin itself was a representation (thus the origin of language was ‘the transparency between the representation of a thing and the representation of the cry . . . which accompanied it’ [OT: 329]). As such, it was fully insertable in the Classical tables and did not play a particularly important role in the organization of knowledge (‘it was of little importance whether this origin was considered as fictitious or real, whether it possessed the value of an explanatory hypothesis or as a historical event’ [OT: 329]). By contrast, the theme of the origin becomes central to modern thought in so far as it provides the junction between History and Man. (595)

What makes the origin of things elusive is that it belongs to such a distant past that man has no direct experience of it and can never be sure to recapture it in thought. Thus ‘man is never contemporary of this origin which through the time of things is both drawn and withdrawn’ (OT: 330; translation modified). In this sense, the existence of the origin is a mark of human finitude, as it signals the autonomy of empirical contents which have their own history, which pre-exist us and over which we have little power. (596)

[…] a reversal of the relation between man and the origin, a reversal made possible by the shift from the empirical to the transcendental: although the (empirical) origin of things escapes us, man himself is the (transcendental) origin of the history of things in that he is the condition of possibility of time itself. This reversal is characteristic of the movement of the analytic of finitude as what reveals the epistemic dependence of empirical forms of finitude on their transcendental counterpart: ‘thus from the heart of empiricity is indicated the obligation to go back, or if one likes to descend, to an analytic of finitude where the being of man can found in their positivity all the forms which indicate to him that he is not infinite’ (OT: 326). (596)

While man is finite in that he is determined by the various empiricities he belongs to (and thus is subject to the laws of biology, of economics, etc.), he nevertheless ‘founds’ them, as Foucault puts it, in that he makes it possible for them to be intelligible as such. So although the origin (in the first sense) of things is causallyindependent from us, at the level of the historical a priori it is epistemicallydependent on man’s finitude construed at the transcendental level (for example, as the absence of intellectual intuition for Kant). (597)

[…] the analytic of finitude. As we have seen, the latter’s logic consists (1) in going from empirical contents to their transcendental conditions of possibility and (2) in identifying these conditions with Man considered in his transcendental capacity. The meaning of the analytic of finitude thus resides in trying to overcome man’s empirical limitations (according to which he is, as a living, working and speaking being, determined by empiricities he neither chooses nor controls) by means of a shift to the perspective of transcendental determination. This new perspective reveals that the very empiricities which (causally) determine him as an empirical being are dependent on his existence as a transcendental subject to appear as such. (599)

Thus man is uncovered as ‘a being whose enigmatic reality constitutes, prior to all knowledge, the order and connection of what it has to know’ (OT: 244; emphasis added). Yet there is a third aspect to the analytic of finitude, whereby this foundational logic is defeated: it is the impossibility, originating in Kant’s transition from the Critique to the Anthropology,of thinking the connection between the transcendental and the empirical within Man. (600)

Because of the dual nature of man, bothempirical and transcendental, the moment of transcendental constitution (‘as soon as he thinks’), which considered in itself is not temporal but opens up the possibility of time, must be replaced within the empirical succession which depends on it. This generates a paradox (as a condition of possibility should not be homogeneous to what it conditions) whereby transcendental determination can appear only as somehow pre-existing itself in the chronological time it generates (‘already there’, ‘irreducible anteriority’) in a past analogical to the ‘primitivity’ analysed by Derrida in the work of Husserl. Thus the origin of time becomes ‘in concrete existence an originary which . . . as soon as it appears reveals itself as an already there’ (C: 60). (600)

This analysis allows a third meaning for the origin to emerge in chapter IX: from this new perspective, it is neither the autonomous origin of things, nor man as the origin of time, but the ambiguous ‘fold’ (OT: 330) of the one on the other, i.e. the originary as the endlessly receding relation between the time of things and originary temporality. (600)

[…] the analytic of finitude was developed as the way in which the relation between the empirical and the transcendental could be analysed. However, this analytic turns out to be aporetic in so far as the relation between the empirical and the transcendental established by the doubles is circular: this is expressed by the theme of the ‘fold’ (also characteristic of the originary) in which ‘the transcendental function comes to cover with its imperious network the grey and inert space of empiricity; conversely, empirical contents animate themselves . . . and are immediately subsumed within a discourse which furthers their transcendental presumption’ (OT: 341; translation modified). (601)

Yet while archaeology shares with the analytic this critical concern for correlating empirical data with their epistemic conditions of possibility, its conclusions are very different. Contrary to the analytic, it does not identify the historical a priori with man’s ‘mode of being’ (OT: 344); nor does it hold that it is necessary to ‘interrogate man’s being as the foundation of all positivities’ (OT: 342). On the contrary, the archaeology is meant to undermine the analytic by showing that there is no necessaryconnection between the transcendental and Man. That we have been led to think so is the contingent result of our belonging to the current, man-based épistémè; yet part of the thrust of the Order of Thingsis to show that Man played no constitutive part in the prior épistémès. (603-604)

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