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Hacking Lecture

Hacking Lecture

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Published by Alexandre Camargo

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Published by: Alexandre Camargo on Jul 05, 2012
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 Mots et les choses,
40 years on
 Les Mots et les choses
, forty years on
Ian Hacking, Collège de FranceFor Humanities Center, Columbia University, 6
October 2005
1 1966 
 Les Mots et les Choses, une archéologie des scienceshumaines
was an instant success when it was published in April,1966, sold out in 90 days. Everyone was talking about thefamous final paragraph about the erasure of Man, and a sentenceshocking to Parisian eyes, namely ‘Marxism swam in 19
century thought like a fish in the water’.
, France’ssimulacrum to
magazine, billed it as the greatest revolutionin philosophy since existentialism [23 May 1966].For a good sense of one way that Foucault saw his book justafter it was published, look at an interview for 
 La quinzainelittéraire
16 May 1966. [‘Entretien avec Madeleine Chapsal’
 , Dits et écrits,
2 vol. edn., vol. 1, 541-546.] He is a member, hetold the interviewer, of the generation who were not yet 20during the war. (He himself was 13 when it began and 18 whenFrance was liberated.) Much as that generation admired Sartre’scourage and generosity, his passion for life, politics, andexistence, he said, ‘we, we have discovered something else,another passion: the passion of the concept and for what I callthe “system”.’ [p. 542.]As far as grand and overstated themes go, we find them inthis interview: ‘Our present task is to liberate ourselvesdefinitively from humanism, and, in this sense, our work is political.’ Political? Yes, for in Foucault’s view, ‘all the regimesof East and West market their evil wares under the flag of 
 Mots et les choses,
40 years on
humanism.’ [p. 544.] Remember those were the days whenTeilhard de Chardin was a big thing, and when Foucault could praise ‘Althusser and his courageous companions battlingagainst “chardino-marxism”.’ [p. 544.] But note also hisdenunciation of ‘the monolingual narcissism of the French’ for thinking that they have just discovered a new set of problems,when in fact the field of research that so engaged young Frenchintellectuals had emerged in America, England and France justafter the first world war, when ideas were coming in from theGerman- and Slavic-speaking lands. France has been called theHexagon by the French ever since their boundaries becameroughly hexagonal. We have such hexagonal minds, Foucaultcontinued by saying, that De Gaulle passes among us for anintellectual.Forty years. A few months ago in Paris I organized, as an actof local piety, what turned out to be a very livelycommemoration of a book published sixty years ago, Merleau-Ponty’s
 Phenomenology of Perception
. That remains a great book. Since I own up to having been a fan of Jean-Paul Sartreever since I first read the man at the age of 18, I may be allowedto say that the
is far more interesting philosophythan anything Sartre wrote. But what an amazing time span istwenty years. The cultural and conceptual gulf between the
The Order of Things
is total. It was not onlythis book that came on the scene. Daniel Defert observes in theabsolutely terrific 90 page
which introduces hiscollection of Michel Foucault’s
 Dits et écrits
, that ‘1966 is oneof the great vintage years (
 grands crus
) of French humansciences: Lacan, Lévi-Strauss, Benveniste, Genette, Greimas,Doubrovsky, Todorov and Barthes published some of their most
 Mots et les choses,
40 years on
important texts.’ [ Vol. 1, p. 37, entry for June 1966.] Some newgeneration.
2 1970
The intended title of 
 Les Mots et les choses
 L’Ordre deschoses
, but that could not be used because it had served as thetitle of one recent and one less recent book by other authors.Hence the English translation of 1970,
The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences
was the right title. It had amore mixed reception when it was published in 1970 by theTavistock Press, than the French book had in 1966. My ownresponse was unequivocal. I bought my third hardcover copywithin the year. On the flyleaf I wrote,
This is my third copyafter losing 2. Please return; I don’t want to buy a 4
@ £4.60 atime!
So evidently my copies were being loaned around. The book enabled me to do philosophy in what was, for me, a newway. This does not mean that I quit doing philosophy in oldways, but that I started also to do something different.
The Archaeology of Knowledge
came out in English in 1972, and Iwrote it up immediately in the weekly
Cambridge Review
 – sohastily that I, the editors, and the printers all left out the ‘
’ in themiddle of ‘Archaeology’, thereby making it look like a Frenchword that had lost its accent.In the early seventies, I gave as lectures what was to be published as,
Why Does Language Matter to Philosophy?
Thereare some signs there, but not too many, of having read Foucault.In the spring of 1974 I gave a course of lectures about some of Foucault’s work. A colleague is reported to have told a visitor,‘if you wonder why the bookshops have copies of Foucault intheir front windows, it is all Hacking’s fault’. That spring, or the

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