Classical Episteme—No Place To Engage “Search For Man”

The Breakup Of A Universe Of Purpose And Order

If Foucault’s reconstituted structuralism sounds pessimistic or even nihilistic, I have succeeded in accurately describing his thought, for Foucault is commonly criticized for his nihilistic views. On the other hand, by recognizing culture to be a product of power/knowledge relationships (the subjugating and the subjugated), Foucault’s analysis of the classical and modern episteme, it seems to me, is a reshaping of the holism/elementarism debate. Difference occurring within sameness is how Foucault describes medieval culture and further, in this culture, “even though an `objective’ mode of thought was operated by and for men, `man’ as a concept was absent.” [Alan Sheridan, Michel Foucault, The Will To Truth, 1980, p. 82]

It was during the Renaissance, according to Foucault, that the classical episteme began to change into the modern episteme. Knowledge of the world became an interpretation of signs, and difference and sameness became organized around interpretation. In the classical episteme, whereas “the complex doctrine of `resemblances’ defined the way in which things were linked to each other,” in the more modern episteme, “the doctrine of `signatures’ became concerned with how these marks of resemblance were recognized.”[Mark Cousins, 1984, p. 31] The real break with the classical episteme, however, occurred with the philosophy of Descartes.
Foucault describes this break:

“…(W)e must not forget that Descartes wrote “meditations”–and meditations are
a practice of the self. But the extraordinary thing in Descartes’s texts is that
he succeeded in substituting a subject as founder of practices of knowledge, for
a subject constituted through practices of the self.

“….In European culture up to the sixteenth century, the problem remains: What
is the work which I must effect upon myself so as to be capable and worthy of
acceding to the truth? To put it another way: truth always has a price; no
access to truth without ascesis. In Western culture up to the sixteenth century,
asceticism and access to truth are always more or less obscurely linked.

“Descartes, I think, broke with this when he said, `To accede to truth, it
suffices that I be any subject which can see what is evident.’ Evidence is
substituted for ascesis at the point where the relationship to the self
intersects the relationship to others and the world.” [Paul Rabinow, 1984, p.


About bwinwnbwi

About me: Marvin Gaye’s song, "What’s Going On" was playing on the jukebox when I went up to the counter and bought another cup of coffee. When I got back, the painting on the wall next to where I was sitting jumped out at me, the same way it had done many times before. On it was written a diatribe on creativity. It was the quote at the bottom, though, that brought me back to this seat time after time. The quote had to do with infinity; it went something like this: Think of yourself as being in that place where infinity comes together in a point; where the infinite past and the infinite future meet, where you are at right now. The quote was attributed to Hermann Hesse, but I didn’t remember reading it in any of the books that I had read by him, so I went out and bought Hesse’s last novel, Magister Ludi. I haven’t found the quote yet, but I haven't tired of looking for it either.
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2 Responses to Classical Episteme—No Place To Engage “Search For Man”

  1. Thank you for the reminder…

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