Some insights into Destruktion and Archeology

Fabricio Pontin, 5/2009.

The concept of being is just a concept, based on the ontological difference, in which we operate in order to comprehend the World and in it Ourselves. Such circularity is the circularity of Finitude, a good circularity. The existential element in Heidegger says that the categories are not simply rigid categories that are predicated from objects, but as existentials they are possibilities of Dasein and are possibilities that give themselves as structures from this construct which is Dasein. This is, in synthesis, the fundamental ontology, the base of the deconstruction of metaphysics, that leads, by both fundamental Teoremas of existential analysis or fundamental ontology, to the hermeneutic circle and the ontological difference introduced by the comprehension of being.

Ernildo Stein in Diferença e Metafísica, p. 61.

It is by the concept of ontological difference that Heidegger aims to overcome western metaphysic. The relation between Being (Sein) and Comprehension leads to the revelation of something about the facticity of the World. This trinomiun of World-Language-Being holds the metaphysical foundation with which Heidegger aims to overcome the traditional concept of being.

But what is at stake in this overcomming? Why was this overcomming nec-cessary? For Heidegger, Kant was not able, with the transcendental analytic, to deal with the problem of the Being, and in order to overcome this, the transcendental schema is provided in the Critic of Practical Reason as a way to deal with personality from a normative-reflexive point of view. With this schema Kant sacrifices ontology in order to provide a study of morals inside the critical perspective. This sacrifice that puts Dasein as a data that cannot be known, creating a form of thought that allow us to deal with the concept of person only politically is one of the most important points for the shift proposed by Heidegger that would once again revolutionize metaphysics: the transcendental analytic would be turned into an existential analytic, in order to provide the structures that would make it possible to build Dasein as the ontological ground and condition of possibility for all philosophical discourse.

But it wasn’t enough to go back to Kant and transform his metaphysics. Metaphysics needed to be transformed from its roots. With this, Heidegger provides a deflationary ontology, a historicization of the process of reification and forgetfullness of this fundamental ground of philosophy. At this point, the idea of ontological difference comes at play as a form of veiling and unveiling something about the beings that are in the world. The question of worldliness is thus connected to this methodological proceedure, the World is that which we are capable of comprehending about the World, as beings are revelated into language in time. Gadamer sums it beautifully:

The Human being does not only ‘have’ language, lógos, reason – he is posited in the open, always exposed to the potentiality-to-ask and the having-to-ask beyond every reachable answer. This is what Da-sein means. Here the triad art-religion-philosophy takes on hold of its ancient rights. The West tamed the path of Sciences and with this submitted the forms of live of humanity to a transformation with consequences we can not yet foresee. Thus, philosophy has conquered a strict relationship with science – risking, inversely, a distance with art and religion that was never before taken in western classical culture or the cultural spaces outside Europe.

We live in the era of science. With this it seems that metaphysics have also encountered its end. Is it also the end of reltigion? Is it also the end of art? While we thus ask this questions, better yet, as we simply ask, everything seems to be in the open. Even the possibilities of metaphysics itself. Metaphysics might be more than just – and even in Aristotle more than just – that ontoteology that aims to resolve in the supreme being what is Being. Moreover, metaphysics means the openness to a dimension that, endless as time itself and with the flow of presence as time itself, encompasses all our asking, all our sayings and all our hope. (Gadamer, Hermeneutik im Rückblick. p.108)

The project of the destruktion of metaphysics, thus, is a metaphysical project itself. The position of the World is a metaphysical one, the openness that characterizes our being-in-the-world is also a metaphysical effort and so is the fact our finitude – and its deep relation to experience. So Heidegger appears as a deep metaphysical effort to revisit the history of metaphysics, the History of being is deconstructed, but the destiny of being in the era of Science is a re-casting of Being as a way out of technical annihilation.

In the paragraph 43 of Being and Time Heidegger stresses this metaphysical structure when he says that “The substance of men is his existence”. Being-in-the-world, existence, Dasein, care and temporality are constructed over this previous structure of sense, of comprehension where man is posited. The ontological and linguistic turn presented by Heidegger is hence understood as a reflection on this metaphysical structure, on a Being which is reflected by language, posited in the world and ever haunted and signified by his own finitude. World-Finitude-Solitude are then the metaphysical structure where this Being is pre-comprehended, every being that comprehends itself pre-comprehends in its substance this structure of Worldliness (openess), Finitude (experience), and Solitude (melancholy). This pre-comprehension is the transcendental structure of Heideggerian philosophy, it posits the condition of possibility of our own being, of our objective experiences. This reduced transcedentalism is the turning point of Heideggerian thought in relation to Kant and Aristotle, where Heidegger keeps a strong semantical objectivism in the coherentist approach to language as a method of analysis (in this, Heidegger echoes Husserl’s efforts into the so-called linguistic rigour of phenomenology) without sacrificing the anthropological relevance of the world (as Kant did) or turning semantic into being (as Aristotle might have done).

Heidegger stands in this kind of limine between Immance and Transcendence, a limine that Foucault never reaches with his notion of Archeology.

During the archeological period of his Philosophy, Foucault tried to overcome the tensions of the structuralist and funcionalist debate in France with the notion of an archeology of Knowledge. His main effort was one of attempting to overcom the historicism of the Hegelian analysis of time and facts. In this, Foucault introduces the notion of an overcoming of the strict comprehention of History for a narrative undertaken of the historical processes. This archeology of human sciences aims to analyse local discourses and to reach some conclusions on the relevance of this discourses and how they constitute regimes of discoursive truth. This history of truth, history of the possibility of truth, is casted upon an epochè of reference and signification that will allow us to overcome the imposition of regimes of truth as the singular possibility of truth. 1 Foucault seems to follow Heidegger’s account of Kant to a certain extent, but he does not buy into the metaphysical project of Ontological Difference as he grounds his archeology.

This is because Foucault could not accept the notion of Transcendence. His method, up to the latter period of his philosophy, is always quasi-transcendental. It never quite grasps the metaphysical complexity of Heideggerian phenomenology of knowledge, or the political advantages of Kant’s anthroponomy. Foucault chooses to suggest a duplicity in the pattern of regimes of truth and its relations to power, and argues that the discursive practices that suggest truth are just discursive practices suggesting truth, and that every truth claim holds only a linguistic pattern towards truth. Objectivistic discourse is only another discourse. In this sense, archeological method will lead to the claim that Truth is a game of power.

Any fundamental claim into knowledge or the possibility of knowledge would have to be historicized in the Archeological method, and in this we can see the difference that makes Foucault incompatible with phenomenology as a whole: the methodological recourse to a relation between consciousness and lifeworld or between comprehension and being are also games of power, are also rational schema that try to tame the splendor of different discursive practices. The resort to the transcendental denounces this rationalistic ground of Phenomenology. If anything, for Foucault, Heidegger and Husserl were not radical enough.

Archeology is indeed a method of unveilment of historical conceptions of truth, but what it unveils is a form of discursive practice, relations between forms of power and conceptions of truth. It does not lead to any formal conception of Being, it does not posit a way of Being-in-the-world which is metaphysical. The discursive practices are in the archeological moment in Foucault’s effort just a way to uncover how contingent are our conceptions of truth, and how they are related to sovereign impositions of forms-of-life.

In this sense, Foucault is closer to Walter Benjamin than to Heidegger, and the election of Baudaleire as the guide into the narration processes of modernity is a sign of how much Foucault relied on Benjamin’s reflections on modernity. The project of the passages, of learning and positing oneself aesthetically, of caring and seeking for different forms of experience is always there, present in Foucault’s archeology. However, its limits are clear:

With archeology we are limited to the discursive practices of a determined historical time, moreover, we cannot really know anything about what we analyze, we can only investigate as to how discoursive practices lead to power-relations. Moreover, Archeology, unlike Phenomenology, makes science impossible while at the same time it limits the scope of the narrative process. Because Archeology cannot take hold of the non-discoursive (and Foucault himself recognizes that as he moves to the notion of Genealogy), it cannot reach the relevance of the non-narrative, of the pre-narrative and that cannot be narrated at all. Also, by claiming to the impossibility of objective truth, Foucault falls into the abyss of the self-contradiction. Is this claim objective? How can one assert that all notions of truth are not really truth without saying that this very claim is also truth? How can one seek for an interpretation which is defensible, if every interpretation is but a game of power?

Finally, one must recognize the importance of the archeological method as an advantageous way into practices of truth, with it we can recognize that some of the claims into objectivity are failed and problematic, we can also denounce – as Foucault did so well – the absurd of some of the claims of truth. But it is a limited way into philosophy, and it is hardly, if it is at all, a method.

1DREYFUS et RABINOW in Michel Foucault: Beyound Structuralism and Hermeneutics


5 comentários

  1. Extremely interesting thoughts, Fabs! That all claims to knowledge must be historicized just attests to MF’s debt to FN’s will to knowledge, will to power, and genealogy –as it will become more explicit in the former’s later writings. Although I certainly agree w/ you as for MF’s suspicion of phenomenology’s betrayal of the lifeworld as an inevitable return to a philosophy of consciousness (a lesson well learned by Habermas!), I am not so sure his savoir-pouvoir correlation and discursive-cum-nondiscursive practices actually succeed in overcoming the transcendental gesture: it seems JD’s recasting of the displacements within the destruction of metaphysics and different interplays of deconstruction turn out to unveil the quasi-transcendental move of every attempt to get rid of the transcendental, even on the level of lifeworldly everydayness –this is precisely what I have dubbed the phenomenological deficit of critical theory (in Adorno and Benjamin –but also in Habermas and Honneth), on my view, very reminiscent of MF’s own blindspots in Les Mots et les Choses, as we think of work, life, and speech as the most trivial daily practices and handlings.
    of phenomenology. If anything, for Foucault, Heidegger and Husserl were not radical enough.

  2. The thing is, in Genealogy we at least have the shadow of a method. Even if somehow failed, Foucault’s attempt at the recasting of the practices of the self in the second period of his work at least give us something to work with. The archeology kind of puts me down, because it shows us a way into history, but it does not offer much more than this. In this way it is a pretty failed attempt at epistemology. I agree with the “phenomenological deficit” in Foucault’s attempt to construct a way out of rationalism, though I am not sure it works as a critique to Habermas – since Habermas deliberately avoids phenomenology with the idea of the sub-sistemic colonization of the Lifeworld.

    As for the overcome of the transcendental philosophy, my point is that MF wants to avoid any transcendental turn in his though in the Archeology. Any idea of truth is immediately historicized as a “conception”, and falsehood will be a claim of power. I think this is a highly problematic assertion, since practices of truth might only assert something which is really objective, and the dialogical concerns of power-relations do not need to resort to violence. Though Foucault himself will admit that, this is only later in his Hermeneutics of Subject.

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