Re: poststructuralism and archaeology

Christopher Pound (pound@IS.RICE.EDU)
Tue, 12 Apr 1994 03:22:44 -0500


This sounds like a great idea, and I think the questions you raise are
important and provocative. You know how little experience I have with
archaeology, so I don't have much to ask or add about it; however, there
were some points in your message that really grabbed my attention.

> I not only consider the
> French guys here, but also more recent work produced in such areas as
> film studies that takes a different approach to applying poststructuralism.

I'm wondering, here, if you've been inspired by Ulmer, Ray, Nygren, et al.,
(the film studies people in UF's English department)? I recommended Ulmer's
books (the two I've read; I've already tried to get the third, but Goering's
says they don't expect it in until May) in an earlier discussion here on
Anthro-L when someone asked for examples of how Derrida might be
fruitfully applied to something more, uh, ordinary than it usually is.

_Applied Grammatology_ and _Teletheory_ both provide models for the reformation
of academic practices (pedagogy and writing, respectively) according to a
primarily Derridean but generally post-structuralist program. They're both
exciting in that they are less concerned with the critique of representation
or analytic methods than they are with inventing a way of thinking otherwise.
Although Ulmer's nostalgia for the avant-garde leads him away from answers
that comprehend the world as it is given, it sounds like he has either already
influenced your plans or would be just the thing you're looking for.

However, I would have entirely different things to say to someone who is still
interested in the "stones and bones" of archaeology. With Ulmer or Derrida
or whomever, you'll always only be speaking the language of representation
(the **bus, in this case, the rebus with the _res_ erased), and accordingly, I
think you run the risk of not being able to get out of the frame of the
world picture (q.v. in Heidegger's "The Age of the World Picture"). If you
find at some point that the "stones and bones" are still important to you,
I would suggest taking Heidegger very seriously. He usually straddles the
fence between the discourse of "things" and the discourse on discourse and
of course, he was inspirational for Derrida. In fact, a friend of mine has
written a paper on how Heidegger's concepts of _Vorhandenheit_,
_Zuhandenheit_, and what is _eigentlich_ justify and explain an alternative
archaeological method, and there are some really interesting amalgamations
of Heidegger and Derrida, et al., out there with which you could go even
further (better, really, to say you'll be returned to what has been most
familiar but without betraying it to metaphysics; I'm thinking particularly
of John Caputo's _Radical Hermeneutics_). To sum up, a new way of writing
(which is what Derrida, Ulmer, and other film theorists have to offer) will
always have been born of the _techne_ of the text and cannot, then, hope to
set aside the world of technology that has given us contemporary archaeology.

But, of course, that may not be what you're after.

> For me and for the research that I am doing, the important thing about
> poststructuralism is that it is about epistemology, in a loose sense.

I don't know. Derrida, at least, would seem to only be "about" epistemology
inasmuch as he outlines the _episteme_ of writing, which translates into the
_episteme_ of _episteme_ itself. I can't tell if you have someone else in mind,
or maybe what you mean by epistemology is the critique of epistemology (and
its concomitant subject).

> The results, I
> think, would be pretty stimulating.

I agree completely, and hope you'll share your ideas about the seminar as
you continue to plan it.

> p.s. Chris Pound: You would benefit by looking for the death of the author
> in structuralism and for subject formation in poststructuralism.

Where'd this death of the author point come from? I don't recall it having
been mentioned here on the list. I agree that when Foucault and Barthes took
up the question of authorship, they were each working within a recognizably
structuralist paradigm (accepting such a thing, for the moment, as exactly
what it is often said to be). Foucault's "What is an Author?" came on the
verge of his escape from the archaeology of knowledge, but it is by no means
genealogical yet. I can't say as I've read any Barthes (including "The
Death of the Author") that really disrupts the triangular relation of
constitutive signs (_Camera Lucida_ was only propaedeutic in this
regard, IMHO), so I agree with you again, but I still wonder what brought
up this question.

As for subject formation in post-structuralism, I don't get it. Do you
mean to point out that the various post-structuralists are engaged in
all kinds of different attempts to imagine some phrase other than "subject"
with which they might redirect questions like "who" or "what"? (Deleuze's
"flows" or "haeccities" or Derrida's evasion of the subject and his focus
on the signature, for example?) Maybe you mean to remind me that Lacan
didn't abandon the term "subject" even while he decentered it and deployed
it in a way that would explain rather than recapitulate that Cartesian-ish
subject to which the "death of the subject" refers? Obviously, this is a
problem for which a wide variety of positions have been announced, but I'm
curious since no one has yet given a decent account of their relevance to
anthropology (Paul Smith included, but again that's very much IMHO).

Anyway, good luck, and although these comments don't deal with archaeology in
any substantive way, I hope they've addressed some of the difficulties of
your project.

Christopher Pound ( | They think they are Parisians, but
Department of Anthropology, Rice U. | they are nothing. -- Pierre Bourdieu