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Foucault and rhetoric

Foucault and Rhetoric
Liz Kalbfleisch

The question I will investigate in this post is one that has puzzled me throughout my rhetorical studies-how and why is Foucault rhetorical? This question takes on added exigency when one considers “Archeology of Knowledge� where he explicitly distances himself from rhetoric, “Discursive relations are not internal to the discourse...they do not establish a deductive or rhetorical structure between propositions or sentences�.
On the one hand, a rigorous treatment of this question, must go back further to ask about the relationship between linguistics, particularly Saussurean linguistics and rhetoric, since in some sense, F’s project in “Archeology� could be described as Saussurean linguistics made answerable to a world in which language is used, while at the same time challenging a notion of realism in langage: “I would like to show that ‘discourses’ in the form in which they can be heaerd or read, are not, as one might expect, a mere intersection of things and words… I would like to show that discourse is not a slender surface of contact or confrontation between a reality and a language (langue)…I would like to show with precise examples that in analyzing discourses themselves, one sees the loosening of the embrace, apparently so tight, of words and things, and the emergence of a group of rules proper to discursive practice…Of course discourses are composed of signs; but what they do is more than use these signs to designate things. It is this more that renders them irreducible to the language (langue) and to speech. It is the ‘more’ that we must reveal and describe�. Such and endeavor being beyond the scope of this post, however, I will proceed with what F. gives the reader in this text.
In “Archaeology�, at the most basic level, F. sets out a method “the rules of formation� (1436, 2nd ed.) in order to explain the “meaning of statements� (1436, 2nd ed., footnote). In this sense, Foucault would seem to be more of a hermeneut than a rhetorician. The investigation into a ‘discursive formation’ with the rules of formation shows that objects are constituted by language (1436-37). Statements like this would seem to project F. into the realm of rhetoric by virtue of this acknowledgement that language does something; is classical, Aristotelian rhetoric, what language does in persuade, and for Foucault language constructs or constitutes. Thus, it would seem that in some sense, Foucault is revising Saussure in a rhetorical direction by nudging Saussure’s ideas to acknowledge the world and to acknowledge a certain power of language in that world.
At the same time, though, Foucault’s method seeks to eliminate or efface the world at the moment it is apprehended; to “dispense with things�: “To derepresentify them. To conjure up their rich heavy, immediate plentitude, which we usually regard as the primitive law of a discourse that has become divorced from it through error…To substitute for the enigmatic treasure of ‘things’ anterior to discourse, the regular formation of objects that emerge only in discourse. To define these objects without reference to the ground, the foundation of things, but by relating them to the body of rules that enable them to form as objects of a discourse and thus constitute the conditions of their historical appearances� (1441). Traditionally,(and perhaps until Foucault) rhetoric has depended upon this realism in language (the ability of language to, with reasonable accuracy, reflect the world that it describes). Thus, this dispensing of the world at the moment he apprehends it could for some separate his out from rhetoric, if one is relying on a rigorously historicized and perhaps reactionary notion of the term, or it could represent a development in and complication of notions of rhetoric that profoundly impacts what comes after it. Certainly this question about rhetoric and realism (the assumption in rhetorical theory that language is necessarily realistic) lies at the heart of some debates in modern rhetoric, most notably Dana Cloud and James Aune’s disagreement with Ron Greene over Marxist rhetorics. As such it would seem that Foucault’s thought has undoubtedly shaped new directions in rhetoric that come after it and given that the rhetoric of inquiry project begins right around the time that Foucault is publishing works like “Archaeology�, F. likely has a hand in reviving rhetorical studies in the last half of the twentieth century.