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Assignment 1 - Michel Foucault - The Historical a Priori and the Archive

Assignment 1 - Michel Foucault - The Historical a Priori and the Archive

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Published by: svengoyvaerts on Nov 27, 2010
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07/17/2014

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THE ARCHIVE 
ASSIGNMENT 1 /
Michel Foucault –
The Historical a priori & the Archive
(
The Archaeology of Knowledge
, 1969) _______________________________________________________________ 
This excerpt from Foucault’s text, included in the book on
The Archive
, was not an easy read!First I will make an attempt to summarize the text:Foucault starts off this chapter by introducing the notion of ‘discourse’ by pointing out its‘positivity’ - implying its visible or traceable form. This ‘positivity’ of a discourse encompasses afield “well beyond individual oeuvres, books and texts” and creates the condition for what he callsa ‘historical a priori’; “the a priori of a history that is given, since it is that of things actually said”.From this reality of statements produced, systems are created which establish these statementsas either ‘events’ or ‘things’. Systems such as these are what Foucault defines as ‘archive’. For the sake of argument, Foucault goes on to state that the archive is
NOT
- “… the sum of all the texts that a culture has kept upon its person as documentsattesting to its own past, or as evidence of a continuing identity” 
NOR
- “… the institutions, which, in a given society, make it possible to record and preservethese discourses that one wishes to remember and keep in circulation” 
BUT, INSTEAD
- “… the law of what can be said, the system that governs the appearance of statementsas unique events”It is important to stress that Foucault does not consider the archive as the mere repository of statements, but as the “general system of formation and transformation of statements” itself.In his introduction to
The Archive
, editor Charles Merewether makes this clear as well: “For Foucault the archive governs what is said or unsaid, recorded or unrecorded. (…) Thus whodetermines, and what conditions enable, a history to be written depend upon the definitionof the archive.”This leads to Foucault’s claim that “it is not possible for us to describe our own archive, sinceit is from within these rules that we speak.” A proper description of the archive can therefore onlybe approximated “on the basis of the very discourses that have just ceased to be ours”. Foucaultlocates the archive “outside of our own language” and considers it as “the gap between our owndiscursive practices”.Michel Foucault concludes the text by remarking that the archive should be thought of in terms of ‘difference’, much like we ourselves are difference as individuals: “… our reason is the differenceof discourses, our history the difference of times, our selves the difference of masks.” In the finalparagraph, Foucault explains his choice of the word ‘archaeology’ as a metaphor for uncoveringknowledge and defines it as “the general theme of a description that questions the already saidat the level of its existence: of the enunciative function that operates within it, of the discursiveformation, and the general archive system to which it belongs”.
 
THE ARCHIVE 
After the summary I will now describe how this text relates to my own research and art practice.When considering the notion of ‘discourse’, I feel that I need to address one specific field of discourse I consider myself to be part of, which is the discussion surrounding the documentationof live performance art. My research project
Documenting Durational Live Performance Art Using Social Media
is clearly invested in this sub-genre of contemporary art and also owes a great dealof its statements to what has already been said about the matter. But as soon as we begin tothink of the ‘positivity’ of this discourse – that what can be seen and traced back - for mequestions start to arise.For what is fundamental in this whole debate around performance documentation is precisely thisstubborn conviction that something is always lost after a performance, that not everything can beput into words or documents after the fact. The archive - in our conventional understanding of theword - that is left behind, is always lacking.When I volunteered to assist in the documentation of the Live Laboratory Symposium
The Pigs of Today Are the Hams of Tomorrow 
earlier this year, organized by the Marina Abramovic Instituteand Plymouth Arts Centre, Transmedia classmate Filip Daniels and myself proposed to install amapping table,
Negotiated Map 1.0 
, inside the resource space that was created for the event:
 picture of installation in resource space
“One table - offering a possibility to add tags to two original tags, being ‘Marina AbramovicInstitute’ & ‘Performance’. The visitors use pencils, a ruler and an eraser. All media that can be or have been used to document performance get some sort of ‘felt disc’ with ‘Voting Poll chips’. Votefor your favourite medium for the future of documentation: Social Media / Writing / Photography /Video / Audio / Re-enactment.”By the end of the 3 day symposium more fields had been added to the table than the 6 we hadinitially offered to choose from in the poll. Some included: 'Cryogenics', 'Body', 'Young Artists', ...

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