Tema 16- Las operaciones discursivas y enunciativas

Tema 16- Las operaciones discursivas y enunciativas

Enunciation is a key term in Foucault’s attempt to make his method consistent as a theoretical structure. The long, central chapter on ‘The Enunciative Function’ serves to describe a specific, so far unrecognized level of existence for signs: Foucault calls this level the statement. In trying to define the statement, Foucault ends up defining the enunciative function by which the level of the statement operates.

We have generally analyzed pieces of language based on their content (whether this is a proposition, an expression of a psychology, or both) or based on their material existence (their appearance once, at a specific time and place). If we analyze a statement in terms of the enunciative function, we seek to describe the discursive conditions under which it could be said, rather than the grammatical, propositional, or strictly material conditions under which it could be formulated. Thus, an enunciation always involves a position from which something is said. This position is not defined by a psychology, but by its place within (and its effect on) a field of discourse in all its complexity. The enunciative function designates that aspect of language by which statements relate to other statements.

Discourse is the object of Foucault’s history. It is extremely wide-ranging and variable, tending to cross over almost every traditional historical unity (from the book to the spirit of an age). But it does so only because it has a very specific level of existence that has never before been analyzed in and of itself. This level is defined in a way similar to that of the statement (the basic element of discourse) and that of the enunciative function (the function by which discourse operates), as an aspect of language that captures its emergence and transformation in the active world. The analysis of discourse rigorously ignores any fundamental dependence on anything outside of discourse itself; discourse is never taken as a record of historical events, an articulation of meaningful content, or the expression of an individual or collective psychology. Instead, it is analyzed strictly at the level of ‘things said,’ the level at which statements have their ‘conditions of possibility’ and their conditions of relation to one another. Thus, discourse is not just a set of articulated propositions, nor is it the trace of an otherwise hidden psychology, spirit, or encompassing historical idea; it is the set of relations within which all of these other factors gain their sense.

Statement is the basic unit of discourse, and therefore the basic unit analyzed in the archeological method. The statement has, however, no stable unit; depending on the conditions in which it emerges and exists within a field of discourse, and depending on scope of the ‘field of use’ in which it is to be analyzed, anything from a scientific chart to a sentence to a novel can be a statement. This makes the statement difficult to define in and of itself, and Foucault ends up defining it not in terms of a stable unit (like the sentence), but in terms of a specific field of function and a corresponding level of the analysis of signs. The enunciative function defines the level at which the statement operates; at issue is how a set of signs emerges and functions in relation to a field of other statements. The level of analysis by which we can describe the statement lies between the analysis of grammar and propositional content on the one hand, and the fact of pure materiality on the other. The analysis of statements works at the level of the active life of language as it functions in a discourse. This in-between status of the statement, in which it is neither just content nor just material, gives statements the definitive quality of material repeatability.

Parrhesia Etymologically, “parrhesiazesthai” means “pan” (everything) and “rhema” (that which is said). The one who uses parrhesia, the parrhesiastes, is someone who says everything he has in mind: he does not hide anything, but opens his heart and mind completely to other people through his discourse. In parrhesia, the speaker is supposed to give a complete and exact account of what he has in mind so that the audience is able to comprehend exactly what the speaker thinks. The word “parrhesia” then, refers to a type of relationship between the speaker and what he says. For in parrhesia, the speaker makes it manifestly clear and obvious that what he says is his own opinion. And he does this by avoiding any kind of rhetorical form which would veil what he thinks. Instead, the parrhesiastes uses the most direct words and forms of expression he can find. Whereas rhetoric provides the speaker with technical devices to help him prevail upon the minds of his audience (regardless of the rhetorician’s own opinion concerning what he says), in parrhesia, the parrhesiastes acts on other people’s mind by showing them as directly as possible what he actually believes.

If we distinguish between the speaking subject (the subject of the enunciation) and the grammatical subject of the enounced, we could say that there is also the subject of the enunciandum -which refers to the held belief or opinion of the speaker. In parrhesia the speaker emphasizes the fact that he is both the subject of the enunciation and the subject of the enunciandum -that he himself is the subject of the opinion to which he refers. The specific “speech activity” of the parrhesiastic enunciation thus takes the form: “I am the one who thinks this and that”

The Enunciative Function

We cannot consider the enunciative function in a sentence without considering various other domains or we could only speculate as to the possible nature of that particular enunciative function. The statement is not a statement in isolation. The sentence and the proposition, however, are. Although they refer outside themselves, they remain perfect sentences or propositions even in isolation. A statement always has borders peopled by other statements. This is not, however, the same thing as ‘context’ in its usual sense, for two reasons: first, the enunciative formation extends beyond the group of contextual factors that motivate a given statement; and second, this formation does not concern the psychological factors that are usually part of context. In short, the ‘associated field’ of the statement is more extensive than the motivational ‘context’ we are used to. The associated field (or ‘enunciative field’) of a given statement, then, is made up primarily of other statements, both actual and possible. It includes the series of statements of which the statement in question is an element; all the statements to which the given statement refers by adaptation, opposition, commentary, and so on (‘there can be no statement that…does not reactualize others’); all the formulations that the statement makes possible; and all the formulations that share the statement’s ‘status’ (its authority, its irrelevance, and so on). This associated field is what makes a series of signs a statement.

The statement has to have a material existence. In fact, it cannot exist without one: the statement is ‘partly made up of this materiality’ in that material existence gives us the crucial ‘coordinates’ of a statement, its role in a spoken conversation, a novel, a legal brief, etc. Statements have a very specific kind of materiality, different both from sentences or propositions and from enunciations. Enunciations occur whenever a group of signs is emitted, and therefore each enunciation is unique. If we consider an enunciation simply as a propositional sentence, however, we find that it is identical with any of its repetitions (since we are only considering its content, not the conditions of its emission). In some cases, we can identify a single statement even when there are multiple enunciations of it (as in, say, a group prayer). Yet in other cases, two enunciations that share the same content, form, rules of construction, and intention must still be seen as distinct statements if their associated fields differ.

The materiality proper to the statement, unlike the materiality of the enunciation, involves more than just the particular physical material that carries the statement. Generally, two copies (or even editions) of the same book contain identical statements, even though their materiality may vary widely; in fact, this identity of different material statements is part of what is guaranteed by the authority of the book. On the other hand, a posthumous edition of a book may not have the same value to a literary historian as an edition published in the author’s lifetime. In short, the materiality of the statement comes into play at the level of material institutions like the book or the contract, rather than the level of simple material objects or sounds.

The aim here is not to come up with criteria by which statements can be individuated; we are not concerned with finding a stable unit for the statement (as there is in the case of the sentence). The unit of the statement is highly variable, even for the same text. In a large-scale history, for example, two texts could be seen as a making a single statement in support of theory of Darwinian evolution. In a close study of the history of that theory, however, the two texts would no doubt be found to be different statements (one Darwinian, one neo-Darwinian). Thus, the identity of a statement also depends on this ‘field of use.’

In sum the statement has a peculiar kind of ‘repeatable materiality’ that distinguishes it from linguistic signs on the one hand and material signs on the other. Because the enunciative function of the statement lies in the middle ground between these two restricted aspects of language, it allows us to see a new kind of history, a history whose basic element is that of the statement.

Types of enunciation:

  1. Statements: The function of a statement is to declare or give a piece of information.

2. Questions: The function of a question is to ask for information.

  1. Commands: You use commands to boss people around so to speak, to give them orders. They are typically imperative clauses, but may also have other forms.

4. Exclamations: are defined more or less the same way as interjections.

  1. Performatives: actually perform and action and changes the state-of affairs in the world.

6. Optatives: express some kind of wish, benediction or malediction.