Publisher's Note

A literal translation o f t h e title o f t h e F r e n c h e d i t i o n o f this w o r k (Les
Mots e t les choses) w o u l d h a v e g i v e n r i s e t o c o n f u s i o n w i t h t w o o t h e r
b o o k s t h a t h a v e a l r e a d y a p p e a r e d u n d e r the title Words and things. T h e
p u b l i s h e r t h e r e f o r e a g r e e d w i t h t h e a u t h o r o n t h e a l t e r n a t i v e title

The

order o f things, w h i c h w a s , i n fact, M . F o u c a u l t ' s o r i g i n a l p r e f e r e n c e .
I n v i e w o f the r a n g e o f literature r e f e r r e d t o i n t h e t e x t , i t has n o t p r o v e d
feasible i n e v e r y case t o u n d e r t a k e t h e b i b l i o g r a p h i c a l task o f t r a c i n g
E n g l i s h translations o f w o r k s o r i g i n a t i n g i n o t h e r l a n g u a g e s a n d l o c a t i n g
t h e passages q u o t e d b y M .

F o u c a u l t . T h e p u b l i s h e r has a c c o r d i n g l y

r e t a i n e d the a u t h o r ' s references t o F r e n c h w o r k s a n d t o F r e n c h translations o f L a t i n a n d G e r m a n w o r k s , f o r e x a m p l e , b u t has, a s far a s p o s s i b l e ,
cited E n g l i s h editions o f w o r k s originally w r i t t e n i n that l a n g u a g e .

viii

Foreword to the English edition
This f o r e w o r d should perhaps b e headed 'Directions for U s e ' . N o t b e c a u s e I feel that the r e a d e r c a n n o t b e trusted - h e is, o f c o u r s e , free t o
m a k e w h a t h e w i l l o f t h e b o o k h e has b e e n k i n d e n o u g h t o r e a d . W h a t
r i g h t h a v e I , t h e n , t o s u g g e s t that i t s h o u l d b e used i n o n e w a y r a t h e r t h a n
a n o t h e r ? W h e n I w a s w r i t i n g i t there w e r e m a n y t h i n g s that w e r e n o t
clear t o m e : s o m e o f these s e e m e d t o o o b v i o u s , o t h e r s t o o o b s c u r e . S o I
said t o m y s e l f : this i s h o w m y ideal r e a d e r w o u l d h a v e a p p r o a c h e d m y
b o o k , i f m y i n t e n t i o n s h a d b e e n clearer a n d m y p r o j e c t m o r e r e a d y t o
take form.
i . H e w o u l d r e c o g n i z e that i t w a s a s t u d y o f a r e l a t i v e l y n e g l e c t e d f i e l d .
I n F r a n c e a t least, t h e h i s t o r y o f s c i e n c e a n d t h o u g h t g i v e s p r i d e o f p l a c e
to

mathematics,

cosmology,

and

physics - noble

sciences,

rigorous

sciences, sciences o f t h e n e c e s s a r y , all c l o s e t o p h i l o s o p h y : o n e c a n o b s e r v e
in their history the almost uninterrupted e m e r g e n c e of truth and pure
r e a s o n . T h e o t h e r disciplines, h o w e v e r - t h o s e , f o r e x a m p l e , that c o n c e r n
living beings, languages, or e c o n o m i c f a c t s - a r e considered too tinged
w i t h e m p i r i c a l t h o u g h t , t o o e x p o s e d t o the v a g a r i e s o f c h a n c e o r i m a g e r y ,
t o a g e - o l d t r a d i t i o n s a n d e x t e r n a l e v e n t s , f o r i t t o b e s u p p o s e d t h a t their
h i s t o r y c o u l d b e a n y t h i n g o t h e r t h a n i r r e g u l a r . A t m o s t , t h e y are e x p e c t e d
t o p r o v i d e e v i d e n c e o f a state o f m i n d , a n i n t e l l e c t u a l fashion, a m i x t u r e
o f archaism and b o l d conjecture, o f intuition and blindness. B u t w h a t i f
e m p i r i c a l k n o w l e d g e , at a g i v e n t i m e a n d in a g i v e n c u l t u r e , did possess a
w e l l - d e f i n e d r e g u l a r i t y ? I f t h e v e r y p o s s i b i l i t y o f r e c o r d i n g facts, o f a l l o w i n g o n e s e l f t o b e c o n v i n c e d b y t h e m , o f d i s t o r t i n g t h e m i n traditions o r
o f m a k i n g p u r e l y s p e c u l a t i v e u s e o f t h e m , i f e v e n this w a s n o t a t t h e
m e r c y o f c h a n c e ? I f errors

(and t r u t h s ) , t h e p r a c t i c e o f o l d beliefs,

i n c l u d i n g n o t o n l y g e n u i n e d i s c o v e r i e s , b u t also t h e m o s t n a i v e n o t i o n s ,
o b e y e d , a t a g i v e n m o m e n t , the l a w s o f a c e r t a i n c o d e o f k n o w l e d g e ? If, i n
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short, t h e h i s t o r y o f n o n - f o r m a l k n o w l e d g e h a d i t s e l f a s y s t e m ? T h a t w a s
my initial h y p o t h e s i s - t h e first risk I t o o k .
2. T h i s b o o k must be read as a c o m p a r a t i v e , and n o t a s y m p t o m a t o l o g i c a l , s t u d y . I t w a s n o t m y i n t e n t i o n , o n t h e basis o f a p a r t i c u l a r t y p e
o f k n o w l e d g e o r b o d y o f ideas, t o d r a w u p a p i c t u r e o f a p e r i o d , o r t o
r e c o n s t i t u t e t h e spirit o f a c e n t u r y . W h a t I w i s h e d t o d o w a s t o present,
side b y side, a definite n u m b e r o f e l e m e n t s : t h e k n o w l e d g e o f l i v i n g
beings, the k n o w l e d g e o f the l a w s o f language, and the k n o w l e d g e o f
e c o n o m i c facts, a n d t o relate t h e m t o t h e p h i l o s o p h i c a l d i s c o u r s e that w a s
c o n t e m p o r a r y w i t h t h e m during a period e x t e n d i n g f r o m the seventeenth
t o the n i n e t e e n t h c e n t u r y . I t w a s t o b e n o t a n analysis o f C l a s s i c i s m i n
g e n e r a l , n o r a s e a r c h f o r a Weltanschauung, b u t a strictly ' r e g i o n a l ' s t u d y .

1

B u t , a m o n g o t h e r t h i n g s , this c o m p a r a t i v e m e t h o d p r o d u c e s results
that are o f t e n s t r i k i n g l y different f r o m t h o s e t o b e f o u n d i n s i n g l e discipline studies. ( S o t h e r e a d e r m u s t n o t e x p e c t t o f i n d h e r e a h i s t o r y o f
b i o l o g y j u x t a p o s e d w i t h a history of linguistics, a history of political
e c o n o m y , a n d a h i s t o r y o f p h i l o s o p h y . ) T h e r e are shifts o f e m p h a s i s : the
c a l e n d a r o f saints a n d h e r o e s i s s o m e w h a t altered ( L i n n a e u s i s g i v e n m o r e
space t h a n B u f f b n , D e s t u t t d e T r a c y t h a n R o u s s e a u ; t h e P h y s i o c r a t s are
o p p o s e d s i n g l e - h a n d e d b y C a n t i l l o n ) . F r o n t i e r s are r e d r a w n a n d t h i n g s
u s u a l l y far a p a r t are b r o u g h t closer, a n d v i c e v e r s a : instead o f r e l a t i n g the
b i o l o g i c a l t a x o n o m i e s t o o t h e r k n o w l e d g e o f t h e l i v i n g b e i n g (the t h e o r y
o f g e r m i n a t i o n , o r the p h y s i o l o g y o f a n i m a l m o v e m e n t , o r t h e statics o f
p l a n t s ) , I h a v e c o m p a r e d t h e m w i t h w h a t m i g h t h a v e b e e n said a t t h e
s a m e t i m e a b o u t l i n g u i s t i c signs, t h e f o r m a t i o n o f g e n e r a l ideas, the l a n g u a g e o f action, the hierarchy o f needs, and the e x c h a n g e o f g o o d s .
T h i s had t w o consequences: I w a s led to a b a n d o n the great divisions
that are n o w f a m i l i a r t o u s all. I d i d n o t l o o k i n the s e v e n t e e n t h a n d
e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r i e s f o r t h e b e g i n n i n g s o f n i n e t e e n t h - c e n t u r y b i o l o g y (or
p h i l o s o p h y o r e c o n o m i c s ) . W h a t I s a w w a s the appearance o f figures
p e c u l i a r t o t h e C l a s s i c a l a g e : a ' t a x o n o m y ' o r ' n a t u r a l history* that w a s
r e l a t i v e l y u n a f f e c t e d b y the k n o w l e d g e that t h e n e x i s t e d i n a n i m a l o r
p l a n t p h y s i o l o g y ; a n 'analysis o f w e a l t h ' that t o o k l i t d e a c c o u n t o f the
a s s u m p t i o n s o f t h e ' p o l i t i c a l a r i t h m e t i c ' t h a t w a s c o n t e m p o r a r y w i t h it;
a n d a ' g e n e r a l g r a m m a r ' t h a t w a s q u i t e alien t o t h e h i s t o r i c a l analyses a n d
w o r k s o f exegesis then b e i n g carried out. E p i s t e m o l o g i c a l figures, that
is, that w e r e n o t s u p e r i m p o s e d o n t h e sciences a s t h e y w e r e i n d i v i d u a l i z e d
1

1 sometimes use terms l i k e ' t h o u g h t ' or 'Classical science', but t h e y refer practically
a l w a y s to the particular discipline under consideration.

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a n d n a m e d i n the n i n e t e e n t h c e n t u r y . M o r e o v e r , I s a w t h e e m e r g e n c e ,
b e t w e e n these different f i g u r e s , o f a n e t w o r k o f a n a l o g i e s that t r a n s c e n d e d
the traditional p r o x i m i t i e s : b e t w e e n t h e classification o f plants a n d t h e
theory of coinage,

b e t w e e n t h e n o t i o n o f g e n e r i c c h a r a c t e r a n d the

analysis o f trade, o n e finds i n t h e C l a s s i c a l sciences i s o m o r p h i s m s that
a p p e a r t o i g n o r e the e x t r e m e d i v e r s i t y o f t h e o b j e c t s u n d e r c o n s i d e r a t i o n .
T h e space o f k n o w l e d g e w a s t h e n a r r a n g e d i n a t o t a l l y different w a y f r o m
that s y s t e m a t i z e d i n t h e n i n e t e e n t h c e n t u r y b y C o m t e o r S p e n c e r . T h e
s e c o n d risk I t o o k w a s i n h a v i n g w i s h e d t o d e s c r i b e n o t s o m u c h t h e
genesis of o u r sciences as an e p i s t e m o l o g i c a l space specific to a p a r t i c u l a r
period.
3. I d i d n o t o p e r a t e , t h e r e f o r e , at the l e v e l that is u s u a l l y that of t h e
historian o f s c i e n c e - 1 s h o u l d say a t the t w o levels that are u s u a l l y his.
F o r , o n t h e o n e h a n d , t h e h i s t o r y o f science traces t h e p r o g r e s s o f d i s c o v e r y , the f o r m u l a t i o n o f p r o b l e m s , a n d t h e clash o f c o n t r o v e r s y ; i t also
analyses t h e o r i e s i n their internal e c o n o m y ; i n short, i t describes t h e p r o cesses a n d p r o d u c t s o f the scientific c o n s c i o u s n e s s . B u t , o n t h e o t h e r h a n d ,
it tries to restore w h a t e l u d e d that c o n s c i o u s n e s s : t h e influences that
affected it, t h e i m p l i c i t p h i l o s o p h i e s that w e r e subjacent t o it, t h e u n f o r m u l a t e d t h e m a t i c s , the u n s e e n o b s t a c l e s ; i t describes t h e u n c o n s c i o u s
o f s c i e n c e . T h i s u n c o n s c i o u s i s a l w a y s the n e g a t i v e side o f science - that
w h i c h resists it, deflects it, o r disturbs it. W h a t I w o u l d l i k e t o d o , h o w e v e r , is to r e v e a l a positive unconscious of k n o w l e d g e : a l e v e l that e l u d e s t h e
consciousness o f the scientist a n d y e t i s part o f scientific discourse, instead
o f d i s p u t i n g its v a l i d i t y a n d s e e k i n g t o d i m i n i s h its scientific n a t u r e . W h a t
w a s c o m m o n to the natural history, the e c o n o m i c s , and the g r a m m a r of
the C l a s s i c a l p e r i o d w a s c e r t a i n l y n o t present t o t h e consciousness o f t h e
scientist; o r t h a t p a r t o f i t that w a s c o n s c i o u s w a s superficial, l i m i t e d , a n d
a l m o s t fanciful ( A d a n s o n , for e x a m p l e , w i s h e d t o d r a w u p a n artificial
d e n o m i n a t i o n f o r plants; T u r g o t c o m p a r e d c o i n a g e w i t h l a n g u a g e ) ; b u t ,
u n k n o w n t o t h e m s e l v e s , t h e naturalists, e c o n o m i s t s , a n d g r a m m a r i a n s
e m p l o y e d the s a m e rules t o define the o b j e c t s p r o p e r t o their o w n s t u d y ,
t o f o r m their c o n c e p t s , t o b u i l d their theories. I t i s these rules o f f o r m a t i o n ,
w h i c h w e r e n e v e r f o r m u l a t e d i n their o w n r i g h t , b u t are t o b e f o u n d o n l y
i n w i d e l y differing t h e o r i e s , c o n c e p t s , a n d objects o f s t u d y , that I h a v e
tried to r e v e a l , by i s o l a t i n g , as t h e i r specific l o c u s , a l e v e l that I h a v e
c a l l e d , s o m e w h a t arbitrarily p e r h a p s , a r c h a e o l o g i c a l . T a k i n g a s a n e x a m p l e
the p e r i o d c o v e r e d i n this b o o k , I h a v e tried t o d e t e r m i n e t h e basis o r a r c h a e o l o g i c a l s y s t e m c o m m o n t o a w h o l e series o f scientific ' r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s '
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or 'products' dispersed t h r o u g h o u t the natural history, e c o n o m i c s , and
p h i l o s o p h y o f the C l a s s i c a l p e r i o d .
4 . I s h o u l d l i k e this w o r k t o b e r e a d a s a n o p e n site. M a n y q u e s t i o n s
are laid o u t o n i t t h a t h a v e n o t y e t f o u n d a n s w e r s ; a n d m a n y o f the g a p s
refer e i t h e r t o earlier w o r k s o r t o o t h e r s t h a t h a v e n o t y e t b e e n c o m p l e t e d ,
or even b e g u n . B u t I should like to m e n t i o n three p r o b l e m s .
T h e p r o b l e m o f c h a n g e . I t has b e e n said that this w o r k d e n i e s the v e r y
p o s s i b i l i t y o f c h a n g e . A n d y e t m y m a i n c o n c e r n has b e e n w i t h c h a n g e s .
I n fact, t w o t h i n g s i n p a r t i c u l a r s t r u c k m e : the s u d d e n n e s s a n d t h o r o u g h ness w i t h w h i c h c e r t a i n sciences w e r e s o m e t i m e s r e o r g a n i z e d ; a n d the fact
that a t t h e s a m e t i m e s i m i l a r c h a n g e s o c c u r r e d i n a p p a r e n t l y v e r y different
disciplines. W i t h i n a f e w y e a r s ( a r o u n d 1800), t h e t r a d i t i o n o f g e n e r a l
g r a m m a r w a s r e p l a c e d b y a n essentially h i s t o r i c a l p h i l o l o g y ; n a t u r a l
classifications w e r e o r d e r e d a c c o r d i n g t o t h e analyses o f c o m p a r a t i v e
a n a t o m y ; and a political e c o n o m y w a s founded w h o s e main themes w e r e
labour and production. C o n f r o n t e d by such a curious combination of
p h e n o m e n a , i t o c c u r r e d t o m e that these c h a n g e s s h o u l d b e e x a m i n e d
m o r e closely, w i t h o u t b e i n g reduced, in the n a m e of continuity, in either
a b r u p t n e s s o r s c o p e . I t s e e m e d t o m e a t t h e o u t s e t that different k i n d s o f
c h a n g e w e r e t a k i n g p l a c e i n scientific d i s c o u r s e - c h a n g e s that d i d n o t
occur at the same level, p r o c e e d at the same pace, or o b e y the same l a w s ;
the w a y i n w h i c h , w i t h i n a p a r t i c u l a r science, n e w p r o p o s i t i o n s w e r e p r o d u c e d , n e w facts isolated, o r n e w c o n c e p t s b u i l t u p (the e v e n t s that m a k e
u p t h e e v e r y d a y life o f a s c i e n c e ) d i d n o t , i n all p r o b a b i l i t y , f o l l o w t h e
s a m e m o d e l a s the a p p e a r a n c e o f n e w fields o f s t u d y (and t h e f r e q u e n t l y
c o r r e s p o n d i n g d i s a p p e a r a n c e o f o l d o n e s ) ; b u t the a p p e a r a n c e o f n e w
fields of study must not, in turn, be confused w i t h those overall redist r i b u t i o n s that alter n o t o n l y t h e g e n e r a l f o r m o f a s c i e n c e , b u t also its
relations w i t h o t h e r areas o f k n o w l e d g e . I t s e e m e d t o m e , t h e r e f o r e , t h a t
all these c h a n g e s s h o u l d n o t b e treated a t the s a m e l e v e l , o r b e m a d e t o
culminate at a single point, as is s o m e t i m e s d o n e , or be attributed to the
g e n i u s o f a n i n d i v i d u a l , o r a n e w c o l l e c t i v e spirit, o r e v e n t o the f e c u n d i t y
o f a s i n g l e d i s c o v e r y ; t h a t i t w o u l d b e b e t t e r t o respect s u c h differences,
a n d e v e n t o t r y t o g r a s p t h e m i n their s p e c i f i c i t y . I n this w a y I tried t o
d e s c r i b e the c o m b i n a t i o n o f c o r r e s p o n d i n g t r a n s f o r m a t i o n s that c h a r acterized the appearance of b i o l o g y , political e c o n o m y , p h i l o l o g y , a
n u m b e r o f h u m a n sciences, a n d a n e w t y p e o f p h i l o s o p h y , a t the t h r e s h o l d
o f the n i n e t e e n t h c e n t u r y .
T h e p r o b l e m o f c a u s a l i t y . I t i s n o t a l w a y s easy t o d e t e r m i n e w h a t has
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c a u s e d a specific c h a n g e in a s c i e n c e . W h a t m a d e s u c h a d i s c o v e r y p o s s i b l e ?
W h y d i d this n e w c o n c e p t a p p e a r ? W h e r e d i d this o r that t h e o r y c o m e
f r o m ? Q u e s t i o n s l i k e these are o f t e n h i g h l y e m b a r r a s s i n g b e c a u s e there
a r e n o d e f i n i t e m e t h o d o l o g i c a l p r i n c i p l e s o n w h i c h t o base s u c h a n
analysis. T h e e m b a r r a s s m e n t i s m u c h g r e a t e r i n the case o f t h o s e g e n e r a l
c h a n g e s that alter a s c i e n c e as a w h o l e . It is g r e a t e r still in the case of
s e v e r a l c o r r e s p o n d i n g c h a n g e s . B u t i t p r o b a b l y reaches its h i g h e s t p o i n t
i n t h e case o f t h e e m p i r i c a l sciences: f o r the r o l e o f i n s t r u m e n t s , t e c h n i q u e s ,
institutions, e v e n t s , i d e o l o g i e s , a n d interests i s v e r y m u c h i n e v i d e n c e ; b u t
one does not k n o w h o w an articulation so c o m p l e x and so diverse in
c o m p o s i t i o n actually operates. It seemed to me that it w o u l d n o t be
p r u d e n t f o r t h e m o m e n t t o f o r c e a s o l u t i o n I felt i n c a p a b l e , I a d m i t , o f
o f f e r i n g : t h e t r a d i t i o n a l e x p l a n a t i o n s - spirit o f t h e t i m e , t e c h n o l o g i c a l o r
s o c i a l c h a n g e s , influences o f v a r i o u s k i n d s - s t r u c k m e for the m o s t p a r t
a s b e i n g m o r e m a g i c a l t h a n effective. I n this w o r k , t h e n , I left the p r o b l e m
o f causes t o o n e s i d e ;

1

I c h o s e instead t o c o n f i n e m y s e l f t o d e s c r i b i n g t h e

t r a n s f o r m a t i o n s t h e m s e l v e s , t h i n k i n g that this w o u l d b e a n indispensable
step if, o n e d a y , a t h e o r y o f scientific c h a n g e a n d e p i s t e m o l o g i c a l c a u s a l i t y
was to be constructed.
T h e p r o b l e m o f t h e subject. I n d i s t i n g u i s h i n g b e t w e e n t h e e p i s t e m o l o g i c a l l e v e l o f k n o w l e d g e (or scientific c o n s c i o u s n e s s ) a n d the a r c h a e o l o g i c a l l e v e l o f k n o w l e d g e , I a m a w a r e that I a m a d v a n c i n g i n a d i r e c t i o n
that i s f r a u g h t w i t h difficulty. C a n o n e s p e a k o f science a n d its h i s t o r y (and
t h e r e f o r e o f its c o n d i t i o n s o f e x i s t e n c e , its c h a n g e s , t h e e r r o r s i t has p e r p e t r a t e d , t h e s u d d e n a d v a n c e s that h a v e sent i t o f f o n a n e w c o u r s e ) w i t h o u t reference t o the scientist h i m s e l f - a n d I a m s p e a k i n g n o t m e r e l y o f
t h e c o n c r e t e i n d i v i d u a l r e p r e s e n t e d b y a p r o p e r n a m e , b u t o f his w o r k
a n d the p a r t i c u l a r f o r m o f his t h o u g h t ? C a n a v a l i d h i s t o r y o f s c i e n c e b e
a t t e m p t e d that w o u l d retrace f r o m b e g i n n i n g t o e n d the w h o l e s p o n t a n e ous m o v e m e n t of an a n o n y m o u s b o d y of k n o w l e d g e ? Is it legitimate, is
i t e v e n useful, t o r e p l a c e t h e t r a d i t i o n a l ' X t h o u g h t t h a t . . . ' b y a 'it w a s
k n o w n t h a t . . .'? B u t this i s n o t e x a c t l y w h a t I set o u t t o d o . I d o n o t
w i s h to d e n y the validity of intellectual biographies, or the possibility of a
h i s t o r y o f t h e o r i e s , c o n c e p t s , o r t h e m e s . I t i s s i m p l y that I w o n d e r w h e t h e r
s u c h descriptions a r e t h e m s e l v e s e n o u g h , w h e t h e r t h e y d o j u s t i c e t o the
i m m e n s e d e n s i t y o f scientific d i s c o u r s e , w h e t h e r t h e r e d o n o t exist, o u t s i d e
t h e i r c u s t o m a r y b o u n d a r i e s , s y s t e m s o f regularities t h a t h a v e a d e c i s i v e
1

1 had approached this question in connection w i t h psychiatry and clinical medicine in
t w o earlier w o r k s .

xiii

F O R E W O R D

TO

THE

ENGLISH

E D I T I O N

r o l e i n t h e h i s t o r y o f t h e sciences. I s h o u l d l i k e t o k n o w w h e t h e r the
subjects r e s p o n s i b l e f o r scientific d i s c o u r s e a r e n o t d e t e r m i n e d i n their
situation, their f u n c t i o n , t h e i r p e r c e p t i v e c a p a c i t y , a n d their p r a c t i c a l
possibilities b y c o n d i t i o n s t h a t d o m i n a t e a n d e v e n o v e r w h e l m t h e m . I n
short, I tried t o e x p l o r e scientific d i s c o u r s e n o t f r o m the p o i n t o f v i e w o f
t h e i n d i v i d u a l s w h o a r e s p e a k i n g , n o r f r o m t h e p o i n t o f v i e w o f the
f o r m a l structures o f w h a t t h e y are s a y i n g , b u t f r o m the p o i n t o f v i e w o f
the rules that c o m e i n t o p l a y i n the v e r y e x i s t e n c e o f s u c h d i s c o u r s e : w h a t
c o n d i t i o n s d i d L i n n a e u s (or P e t t y , o r A r n a u l d ) h a v e t o fulfil, n o t t o m a k e
his d i s c o u r s e c o h e r e n t a n d t r u e i n g e n e r a l , b u t t o g i v e it, a t t h e t i m e
w h e n it w a s w r i t t e n and accepted, v a l u e and practical application as
scientific d i s c o u r s e - o r , m o r e e x a c t l y , a s naturalist, e c o n o m i c , o r g r a m m a t i c a l discourse?
O n this p o i n t , t o o , I a m w e l l a w a r e that I h a v e n o t m a d e m u c h p r o g r e s s .
B u t I s h o u l d n o t l i k e t h e effort I h a v e m a d e i n o n e d i r e c t i o n t o b e t a k e n
as a rejection of a n y other possible approach. Discourse in general, and
scientific discourse i n p a r t i c u l a r , i s s o c o m p l e x a r e a l i t y t h a t w e n o t o n l y
c a n , b u t s h o u l d , a p p r o a c h i t a t different l e v e l s a n d w i t h different m e t h o d s .
I f there i s o n e a p p r o a c h that I d o reject, h o w e v e r , i t i s t h a t (one m i g h t
c a l l it, b r o a d l y s p e a k i n g , t h e p h e n o m e n o l o g i c a l a p p r o a c h ) w h i c h g i v e s
a b s o l u t e p r i o r i t y t o the o b s e r v i n g subject, w h i c h attributes a c o n s t i t u e n t
r o l e t o a n act, w h i c h places its o w n p o i n t o f v i e w a t the o r i g i n o f all h i s t o r i c i t y - w h i c h , in short, leads to a t r a n s c e n d e n t a l c o n s c i o u s n e s s . It s e e m s
t o m e that t h e historical analysis o f scientific d i s c o u r s e s h o u l d , i n the last
resort, b e subject, n o t t o a t h e o r y o f the k n o w i n g subject, b u t rather t o a
theory o f discursive practice.
5. T h i s last p o i n t is a r e q u e s t to t h e E n g l i s h - s p e a k i n g reader. In F r a n c e ,
c e r t a i n h a l f - w i t t e d ' c o m m e n t a t o r s ' persist i n l a b e l l i n g m e a 'structuralist'.
I h a v e b e e n u n a b l e t o g e t i t i n t o their t i n y m i n d s that I h a v e used n o n e o f
t h e m e t h o d s , c o n c e p t s , o r k e y t e r m s that c h a r a c t e r i z e structural analysis.
I s h o u l d b e g r a t e f u l i f a m o r e serious p u b l i c w o u l d free m e f r o m a
c o n n e c t i o n that c e r t a i n l y d o e s m e h o n o u r , b u t that I h a v e n o t d e s e r v e d .
T h e r e m a y w e l l b e c e r t a i n similarities b e t w e e n t h e w o r k s o f t h e s t r u c turalists a n d m y o w n w o r k . I t w o u l d h a r d l y b e h o v e m e , o f all p e o p l e , t o
c l a i m t h a t m y d i s c o u r s e i s i n d e p e n d e n t o f c o n d i t i o n s a n d rules o f w h i c h
I a m v e r y l a r g e l y u n a w a r e , a n d w h i c h d e t e r m i n e o t h e r w o r k that i s b e i n g
d o n e t o d a y . B u t i t i s o n l y t o o e a s y t o a v o i d the t r o u b l e o f a n a l y s i n g s u c h
w o r k by g i v i n g it an admittedly impressive-sounding, but inaccurate, label.
xiv

Preface
T h i s b o o k first arose o u t o f a p a s s a g e i n B o r g e s , o u t o f t h e l a u g h t e r t h a t
shattered, a s I read t h e passage, all the f a m i l i a r l a n d m a r k s o f m y t h o u g h t
- our t h o u g h t ,

the t h o u g h t t h a t bears t h e s t a m p o f o u r a g e a n d o u r

g e o g r a p h y - b r e a k i n g u p all the o r d e r e d surfaces a n d all the planes w i t h
w h i c h w e are a c c u s t o m e d t o t a m e t h e w i l d p r o f u s i o n o f e x i s t i n g t h i n g s ,
a n d c o n t i n u i n g l o n g a f t e r w a r d s t o disturb a n d t h r e a t e n w i t h c o l l a p s e o u r
a g e - o l d distinction b e t w e e n the S a m e and the O t h e r . T h i s passage quotes
a ' c e r t a i n C h i n e s e e n c y c l o p a e d i a ' in w h i c h it is w r i t t e n that ' a n i m a l s are
d i v i d e d i n t o : (a) b e l o n g i n g t o the E m p e r o r , (b) e m b a l m e d , (c) t a m e ,
(d) s u c k i n g p i g s , (e) sirens, (f) f a b u l o u s , ( g ) stray d o g s , (h) i n c l u d e d in
the present classification, (i) f r e n z i e d , (j) i n n u m e r a b l e , (k) d r a w n w i t h a
v e r y fine c a m e l h a i r b r u s h , (1) et cetera, ( m ) h a v i n g j u s t b r o k e n the w a t e r
p i t c h e r , (n) that f r o m a l o n g w a y o f f l o o k l i k e flies'. I n t h e w o n d e r m e n t
o f this t a x o n o m y , t h e t h i n g w e a p p r e h e n d i n o n e g r e a t l e a p , t h e t h i n g
that, b y m e a n s o f t h e fable, i s d e m o n s t r a t e d a s the e x o t i c c h a r m o f a n o t h e r
s y s t e m o f t h o u g h t , i s the l i m i t a t i o n o f o u r o w n , the stark i m p o s s i b i l i t y o f
t h i n k i n g that.
B u t w h a t i s i t i m p o s s i b l e t o t h i n k , a n d w h a t k i n d o f i m p o s s i b i l i t y are
w e f a c e d w i t h h e r e ? E a c h o f these s t r a n g e c a t e g o r i e s c a n b e assigned a
precise m e a n i n g and a demonstrable content; s o m e of t h e m do certainly
i n v o l v e fantastic entities - f a b u l o u s a n i m a l s or sirens - b u t , p r e c i s e l y b e c a u s e i t puts t h e m i n t o c a t e g o r i e s o f their o w n , t h e C h i n e s e e n c y c l o p a e d i a
l o c a l i z e s their p o w e r s o f c o n t a g i o n ; i t distinguishes c a r e f u l l y b e t w e e n t h e
v e r y real a n i m a l s (those that are f r e n z i e d o r h a v e j u s t b r o k e n t h e w a t e r
p i t c h e r ) a n d t h o s e t h a t reside s o l e l y i n t h e r e a l m o f i m a g i n a t i o n . T h e
p o s s i b i l i t y o f d a n g e r o u s m i x t u r e s has b e e n e x o r c i z e d , h e r a l d r y a n d fable
h a v e b e e n r e l e g a t e d t o their o w n e x a l t e d p e a k s : n o i n c o n c e i v a b l e a m p h i b i ous maidens, no c l a w e d w i n g s , no disgusting, squamous epidermis, none
xv

FJ'.EFACE

o f those p o l y m o r p h o u s a n d d e m o n i a c a l faces, n o creatures b r e a t h i n g fire.
T h e q u a l i t y o f m o n s t r o s i t y h e r e d o e s n o t affect a n y real b o d y , n o r d o e s
it p r o d u c e modifications of a n y kind in the bestiary of the imagination; it
does n o t lurk in the depths of any strange p o w e r . It w o u l d n o t e v e n be
present at all in this classification h a d it n o t insinuated itself i n t o the e m p t y
space, t h e interstitial b l a n k s separating all these entities f r o m o n e a n o t h e r .
I t i s n o t the ' f a b u l o u s ' a n i m a l s that are i m p o s s i b l e , since t h e y are d e s i g n a t e d a s s u c h , b u t t h e n a r r o w n e s s o f t h e distance s e p a r a t i n g t h e m f r o m
(and j u x t a p o s i n g t h e m t o ) t h e stray d o g s , o r t h e a n i m a l s that f r o m a l o n g
w a y o f f l o o k l i k e flies. W h a t transgresses t h e b o u n d a r i e s o f all i m a g i n a t i o n , o f all p o s s i b l e t h o u g h t , i s s i m p l y that a l p h a b e t i c a l series (a, b , c , d )
w h i c h links e a c h o f those c a t e g o r i e s t o all the o t h e r s .
M o r e o v e r , i t i s n o t s i m p l y the o d d i t y o f u n u s u a l j u x t a p o s i t i o n s that
w e are faced w i t h h e r e . W e are all familiar w i t h t h e d i s c o n c e r t i n g effect
o f the p r o x i m i t y o f e x t r e m e s , o r , q u i t e s i m p l y , w i t h the s u d d e n v i c i n i t y o f
t h i n g s that h a v e n o r e l a t i o n t o e a c h o t h e r ; t h e m e r e act o f e n u m e r a t i o n
that heaps t h e m all t o g e t h e r has a p o w e r o f e n c h a n t m e n t all its o w n : T a m
n o l o n g e r h u n g r y , ' E u s t h e n e s said. ' U n t i l t h e m o r r o w , safe f r o m m y
saliva all t h e f o l l o w i n g shall b e : A s p i c s , A c a l e p h s , A c a n t h o c e p h a l a t e s ,
A m o e b o c y t e s , A m m o n i t e s , Axolotls, Amblystomas, Aphislions, A n a c o n das, A s c a r i d s , A m p h i s b a e n a s , A n g l e w o r m s , A m p h i p o d s , A n a e r o b e s , A n n e lids, A n t h o z o a n s . . . .' B u t all these w o r m s a n d snakes, all these creatures
r e d o l e n t o f d e c a y a n d s l i m e are s l i t h e r i n g , l i k e the s y l l a b l e s w h i c h d e s i g nate t h e m , in E u s t h e n e s ' s a l i v a : that is w h e r e t h e y all h a v e their common
locus, l i k e the u m b r e l l a a n d t h e s e w i n g - m a c h i n e o n t h e o p e r a t i n g t a b l e ;
startling t h o u g h t h e i r p r o p i n q u i t y m a y b e , i t i s n e v e r t h e l e s s w a r r a n t e d b y
that and, b y that in, b y that o n w h o s e s o l i d i t y p r o v i d e s p r o o f o f the
possibility of j u x t a p o s i t i o n . It w a s certainly i m p r o b a b l e that arachnids,
a m m o n i t e s , a n d annelids s h o u l d o n e d a y m i n g l e o n E u s t h e n e s ' t o n g u e ,
b u t , after all, that w e l c o m i n g a n d v o r a c i o u s m o u t h c e r t a i n l y p r o v i d e d
t h e m w i t h a feasible l o d g i n g , a r o o f u n d e r w h i c h t o c o e x i s t .
T h e m o n s t r o u s q u a l i t y that runs t h r o u g h B o r g e s ' s e n u m e r a t i o n c o n sists, o n the c o n t r a r y , i n the fact that t h e c o m m o n g r o u n d o n w h i c h s u c h
m e e t i n g s are p o s s i b l e has itself b e e n d e s t r o y e d . W h a t i s i m p o s s i b l e i s n o t
the p r o p i n q u i t y o f t h e t h i n g s listed, b u t the v e r y site o n w h i c h their
p r o p i n q u i t y w o u l d b e p o s s i b l e . T h e a n i m a l s ' (i) f r e n z i e d , (j) i n n u m e r a b l e ,
(k) d r a w n w i t h a v e r y fine c a m e l h a i r b r u s h ' - w h e r e c o u l d t h e y e v e r
meet, e x c e p t i n the immaterial sound o f the v o i c e p r o n o u n c i n g their
e n u m e r a t i o n , o r o n t h e p a g e t r a n s c r i b i n g it? W h e r e else c o u l d t h e y b e
xvi

j u x t a p o s e d e x c e p t i n the n o n - p l a c e o f l a n g u a g e ? Y e t , t h o u g h l a n g u a g e
c a n spread t h e m b e f o r e us, i t c a n d o s o o n l y i n a n u n t h i n k a b l e s p a c e .
T h e central c a t e g o r y o f a n i m a l s ' i n c l u d e d i n the present classification',
w i t h its e x p l i c i t r e f e r e n c e t o p a r a d o x e s w e are familiar w i t h , i s i n d i c a t i o n
e n o u g h that w e shall n e v e r s u c c e e d i n d e f i n i n g a stable r e l a t i o n o f c o n tained t o c o n t a i n e r b e t w e e n e a c h o f these c a t e g o r i e s a n d that w h i c h
i n c l u d e s t h e m a l l : i f all t h e a n i m a l s d i v i d e d u p h e r e c a n b e p l a c e d w i t h o u t
e x c e p t i o n i n o n e o f the d i v i s i o n s o f this list, t h e n a r e n ' t all t h e o t h e r
d i v i s i o n s t o b e f o u n d i n that o n e d i v i s i o n t o o ? A n d t h e n a g a i n , i n w h a t
space w o u l d t h a t single, i n c l u s i v e d i v i s i o n h a v e its e x i s t e n c e ? A b s u r d i t y
d e s t r o y s the and o f t h e e n u m e r a t i o n b y m a k i n g i m p o s s i b l e the i n w h e r e
the t h i n g s e n u m e r a t e d w o u l d b e d i v i d e d u p . B o r g e s a d d s n o f i g u r e t o the
atlas o f the i m p o s s i b l e ; n o w h e r e d o e s h e strike the spark o f p o e t i c c o n f r o n t a t i o n ; h e s i m p l y dispenses w i t h the least o b v i o u s , b u t m o s t c o m p e l l i n g , o f necessities; h e d o e s a w a y w i t h t h e site, the m u t e g r o u n d u p o n
w h i c h it is p o s s i b l e f o r entities to be j u x t a p o s e d . A v a n i s h i n g trick that is
m a s k e d o r , rather, l a u g h a b l y i n d i c a t e d b y o u r a l p h a b e t i c a l o r d e r , w h i c h
i s t o b e t a k e n a s the c l u e (the o n l y v i s i b l e o n e ) t o the e n u m e r a t i o n s o f a
C h i n e s e e n c y c l o p a e d i a . . . . W h a t has b e e n r e m o v e d , in short, is t h e
famous 'operating table'; and rendering to Roussel

1

a small part of w h a t

is still his d u e , I use that w o r d ' t a b l e ' in t w o s u p e r i m p o s e d senses: t h e
n i c k e l - p l a t e d , r u b b e r y table s w a t h e d i n w h i t e , g l i t t e r i n g b e n e a t h a glass
sun d e v o u r i n g all s h a d o w - the table w h e r e , f o r an instant, p e r h a p s f o r e v e r , the u m b r e l l a e n c o u n t e r s the s e w i n g - m a c h i n e ; a n d also a table, a
tabula, that enables t h o u g h t t o o p e r a t e u p o n the entities o f o u r w o r l d , t o
p u t t h e m i n o r d e r , t o d i v i d e t h e m i n t o classes, t o g r o u p t h e m a c c o r d i n g
to n a m e s that d e s i g n a t e their similarities a n d their differences - the table
u p o n w h i c h , since the b e g i n n i n g o f t i m e , l a n g u a g e has intersected space.
T h a t passage f r o m B o r g e s k e p t m e l a u g h i n g a l o n g t i m e , t h o u g h n o t
w i t h o u t a c e r t a i n uneasiness that I f o u n d h a r d to s h a k e off. P e r h a p s b e cause there arose in its w a k e the s u s p i c i o n that there is a w o r s e k i n d of
d i s o r d e r than that o f the incongruous, the l i n k i n g t o g e t h e r o f t h i n g s that
are i n a p p r o p r i a t e ; I m e a n t h e d i s o r d e r i n w h i c h f r a g m e n t s o f a l a r g e
n u m b e r o f p o s s i b l e o r d e r s g l i t t e r separately i n the d i m e n s i o n , w i t h o u t l a w
o r g e o m e t r y , o f the hetcroclite; a n d that w o r d s h o u l d b e t a k e n i n its m o s t
literal, e t y m o l o g i c a l sense: in s u c h a state, t h i n g s are ' l a i d ' , ' p l a c e d ' ,
' a r r a n g e d ' in sites so v e r y different f r o m o n e a n o t h e r that it is i m p o s s i b l e
1

R a y m o n d Roussel, the French novelist. C f . M i c h e l Foucault's Raymond Roussel (Paris,
£X53)- [Translator's note.]

X

xvii

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to find a p l a c e of r e s i d e n c e f o r t h e m , to d e f i n e a common locus b e n e a t h
t h e m all. Utopias afford c o n s o l a t i o n : a l t h o u g h t h e y h a v e n o real l o c a l i t y
there is n e v e r t h e l e s s a fantastic, u n t r o u b l e d r e g i o n in w h i c h t h e y are a b l e
t o u n f o l d ; t h e y o p e n u p cities w i t h v a s t a v e n u e s , s u p e r b l y p l a n t e d g a r d e n s ,
c o u n t r i e s w h e r e life i s easy, e v e n t h o u g h the r o a d t o t h e m i s c h i m e r i c a l .
Heterotopias are

disturbing,

probably

because

they secretly

undermine

l a n g u a g e , b e c a u s e t h e y m a k e i t i m p o s s i b l e t o n a m e this and that, b e c a u s e
t h e y shatter o r t a n g l e c o m m o n n a m e s , b e c a u s e t h e y d e s t r o y ' s y n t a x ' i n
a d v a n c e , a n d n o t o n l y t h e s y n t a x w i t h w h i c h w e c o n s t r u c t sentences b u t
also t h a t less a p p a r e n t s y n t a x w h i c h causes w o r d s a n d t h i n g s ( n e x t t o a n d
also o p p o s i t e o n e a n o t h e r ) t o ' h o l d t o g e t h e r ' . T h i s i s w h y Utopias p e r m i t

fables a n d d i s c o u r s e : t h e y r u n w i t h t h e v e r y g r a i n o f l a n g u a g e a n d are
part o f the f u n d a m e n t a l d i m e n s i o n o f the fabula;

heterotopias

(such a s

t h o s e t o b e f o u n d s o o f t e n i n B o r g e s ) desiccate s p e e c h , stop w o r d s i n their
tracks, c o n t e s t t h e v e r y p o s s i b i l i t y o f g r a m m a r a t its s o u r c e ; t h e y d i s s o l v e
o u r m y t h s a n d sterilize t h e l y r i c i s m o f o u r sentences.
It appears

that

certain

aphasiacs,

when

shown

various

differently

c o l o u r e d skeins o f w o o l o n a table t o p , are c o n s i s t e n t l y u n a b l e t o a r r a n g e
t h e m i n t o a n y c o h e r e n t p a t t e r n ; a s t h o u g h that s i m p l e r e c t a n g l e w e r e
u n a b l e to s e r v e in their case as a h o m o g e n e o u s a n d n e u t r a l space in w h i c h
t h i n g s c o u l d b e p l a c e d s o a s t o d i s p l a y a t the s a m e t i m e the c o n t i n u o u s
o r d e r o f their identities o r differences a s w e l l a s the s e m a n t i c field o f their
d e n o m i n a t i o n . W i t h i n this s i m p l e s p a c e i n w h i c h t h i n g s are n o r m a l l y
a r r a n g e d and g i v e n n a m e s , t h e aphasiac w i l l c r e a t e a m u l t i p l i c i t y o f t i n y ,
f r a g m e n t e d r e g i o n s i n w h i c h nameless r e s e m b l a n c e s a g g l u t i n a t e t h i n g s
i n t o u n c o n n e c t e d islets; i n o n e c o r n e r , t h e y w i l l p l a c e the l i g h t e s t - c o l o u r e d
skeins, in a n o t h e r t h e r e d o n e s , s o m e w h e r e else t h o s e that are softest in
t e x t u r e , i n y e t a n o t h e r p l a c e the l o n g e s t , o r t h o s e that h a v e a t i n g e o f
p u r p l e o r those that h a v e b e e n w o u n d u p i n t o a b a l l . B u t n o s o o n e r h a v e
t h e y b e e n a d u m b r a t e d than all these g r o u p i n g s d i s s o l v e a g a i n , for the
field o f i d e n t i t y t h a t sustains t h e m , h o w e v e r l i m i t e d i t m a y b e , i s still t o o
w i d e n o t t o b e u n s t a b l e ; a n d s o t h e sick m i n d c o n t i n u e s t o infinity,
c r e a t i n g g r o u p s t h e n d i s p e r s i n g t h e m a g a i n , h e a p i n g u p d i v e r s e similarities, d e s t r o y i n g t h o s e t h a t s e e m clearest, s p l i t t i n g u p t h i n g s that are
identical, s u p e r i m p o s i n g different criteria, f r e n z i e d l y b e g i n n i n g all o v e r
a g a i n , b e c o m i n g m o r e a n d m o r e d i s t u r b e d , a n d t e e t e r i n g f i n a l l y o n the
brink of anxiety.
T h e uneasiness that m a k e s u s l a u g h w h e n w e r e a d B o r g e s i s c e r t a i n l y
related

to

the p r o f o u n d

distress

o f those w h o s e
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has

been

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d e s t r o y e d : loss o f w h a t i s ' c o m m o n ' t o p l a c e a n d n a m e . A t o p i a , aphasia.
Y e t o u r t e x t f r o m B o r g e s p r o c e e d s i n a n o t h e r d i r e c t i o n ; the m y t h i c a l
h o m e l a n d B o r g e s assigns t o that d i s t o r t i o n o f classification that p r e v e n t s
us f r o m a p p l y i n g it, to t h a t p i c t u r e that l a c k s all spatial c o h e r e n c e , is a
p r e c i s e r e g i o n w h o s e n a m e a l o n e constitutes f o r the W e s t a vast r e s e r v o i r
o f Utopias. I n o u r d r e a m w o r l d , i s n o t C h i n a p r e c i s e l y this p r i v i l e g e d site
of space? In o u r traditional i m a g e r y , t h e C h i n e s e c u l t u r e is the m o s t m e t i culous, the m o s t rigidly ordered, the one m o s t d e a f to temporal events,
m o s t a t t a c h e d t o the p u r e d e l i n e a t i o n o f s p a c e ; w e t h i n k o f i t a s a c i v i l i z a t i o n o f dikes a n d d a m s b e n e a t h the eternal face o f t h e s k y ; w e see it,
spread and f r o z e n , o v e r t h e entire surface o f a c o n t i n e n t s u r r o u n d e d b y
w a l l s . E v e n its w r i t i n g d o e s n o t r e p r o d u c e t h e f u g i t i v e f l i g h t o f t h e v o i c e
i n h o r i z o n t a l lines; i t erects the m o t i o n l e s s a n d s t i l l - r e c o g n i z e a b l e i m a g e s
o f t h i n g s t h e m s e l v e s i n v e r t i c a l c o l u m n s . S o m u c h s o that the C h i n e s e
e n c y c l o p a e d i a q u o t e d b y B o r g e s , a n d the t a x o n o m y i t p r o p o s e s , l e a d t o a
k i n d o f t h o u g h t w i t h o u t space, t o w o r d s a n d c a t e g o r i e s that l a c k all life
a n d p l a c e , b u t are r o o t e d i n a c e r e m o n i a l s p a c e , o v e r b u r d e n e d w i t h c o m p l e x f i g u r e s , w i t h t a n g l e d paths, s t r a n g e p l a c e s , secret passages, a n d u n e x pected c o m m u n i c a t i o n s . T h e r e w o u l d appear to be, then, at the other
e x t r e m i t y o f t h e earth w e i n h a b i t , a c u l t u r e e n t i r e l y d e v o t e d t o t h e o r d e r i n g o f space, b u t o n e that d o e s n o t distribute t h e m u l t i p l i c i t y o f e x i s t i n g
things into a n y of the categories that m a k e it possible for us to name,
speak, a n d t h i n k .
W h e n w e establish a c o n s i d e r e d classification, w h e n w e say t h a t a cat
a n d a d o g r e s e m b l e e a c h o t h e r less t h a n t w o g r e y h o u n d s d o , e v e n i f b o t h
are t a m e o r e m b a l m e d , e v e n i f b o t h are f r e n z i e d , e v e n i f b o t h h a v e j u s t
b r o k e n the w a t e r p i t c h e r , w h a t i s t h e g r o u n d o n w h i c h w e are a b l e t o
establish the v a l i d i t y o f this classification w i t h c o m p l e t e c e r t a i n t y ? O n
w h a t ' t a b l e ' , a c c o r d i n g t o w h a t g r i d o f identities, s i m i l i t u d e s , a n a l o g i e s ,
h a v e w e b e c o m e a c c u s t o m e d t o sort o u t s o m a n y different a n d s i m i l a r
things? W h a t is this c o h e r e n c e - w h i c h , as is i m m e d i a t e l y a p p a r e n t , is
n e i t h e r d e t e r m i n e d b y a n a priori a n d necessary c o n c a t e n a t i o n , n o r i m posed on us by immediately perceptible contents? For it is not a question
o f linking consequences, but o f g r o u p i n g and isolating, o f analysing, o f
m a t c h i n g and p i g e o n - h o l i n g concrete contents; there is n o t h i n g m o r e
t e n t a t i v e , n o t h i n g m o r e e m p i r i c a l (superficially, a t least) t h a n the p r o c e s s
o f establishing a n o r d e r a m o n g t h i n g s ; n o t h i n g that d e m a n d s a sharper
e y e o r a surer, b e t t e r - a r t i c u l a t e d l a n g u a g e ; n o t h i n g t h a t m o r e insistently
requires t h a t o n e a l l o w o n e s e l f t o b e c a r r i e d a l o n g b y t h e p r o l i f e r a t i o n o f
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qualities a n d f o r m s . A n d y e t a n e y e n o t c o n s c i o u s l y p r e p a r e d m i g h t w e l l
g r o u p together certain similar figures and distinguish b e t w e e n others on
the basis o f s u c h a n d s u c h a d i f f e r e n c e : i n fact, there i s n o s i m i l i t u d e a n d
n o d i s t i n c t i o n , e v e n for t h e w h o l l y u n t r a i n e d p e r c e p t i o n , that i s n o t the
result o f a p r e c i s e o p e r a t i o n a n d o f t h e a p p l i c a t i o n o f a p r e l i m i n a r y
criterion. A 'system of elements' - a definition of the segments by w h i c h
the r e s e m b l a n c e s a n d differences c a n b e s h o w n , t h e t y p e s o f v a r i a t i o n b y
w h i c h those s e g m e n t s c a n b e affected, and, lastly, the t h r e s h o l d a b o v e
w h i c h there is a difference a n d b e l o w w h i c h there is a s i m i l i t u d e - is
indispensable for t h e e s t a b l i s h m e n t o f e v e n t h e simplest f o r m o f o r d e r .
O r d e r is, a t o n e a n d t h e s a m e t i m e , that w h i c h i s g i v e n i n t h i n g s a s their
i n n e r l a w , t h e h i d d e n n e t w o r k that d e t e r m i n e s the w a y t h e y c o n f r o n t o n e
a n o t h e r , and also that w h i c h has n o e x i s t e n c e e x c e p t i n the g r i d c r e a t e d b y
a g l a n c e , an e x a m i n a t i o n , a l a n g u a g e ; a n d it is o n l y in t h e b l a n k spaces of
this g r i d that o r d e r manifests itself i n d e p t h a s t h o u g h a l r e a d y there,
w a i t i n g i n silence f o r t h e m o m e n t o f its e x p r e s s i o n .
T h e f u n d a m e n t a l c o d e s o f a c u l t u r e - those g o v e r n i n g its l a n g u a g e , its
s c h e m a s o f p e r c e p t i o n , its e x c h a n g e s , its t e c h n i q u e s , its v a l u e s , the h i e r a r c h y o f its practices - establish f o r e v e r y m a n , f r o m t h e v e r y first, t h e
empirical orders w i t h w h i c h he w i l l be dealing and w i t h i n w h i c h he w i l l
b e a t h o m e . A t t h e o t h e r e x t r e m i t y o f t h o u g h t , there are the scientific
theories o r the p h i l o s o p h i c a l interpretations w h i c h e x p l a i n w h y o r d e r
exists i n g e n e r a l , w h a t u n i v e r s a l l a w i t o b e y s , w h a t p r i n c i p l e c a n a c c o u n t
f o r it, a n d w h y this p a r t i c u l a r o r d e r has b e e n established a n d n o t s o m e
o t h e r . B u t b e t w e e n these t w o r e g i o n s , s o distant f r o m o n e a n o t h e r , lies a
d o m a i n w h i c h , e v e n t h o u g h its r o l e i s m a i n l y a n i n t e r m e d i a r y o n e , i s
nonetheless f u n d a m e n t a l : i t i s m o r e c o n f u s e d , m o r e o b s c u r e , a n d p r o b a b l y less easy to a n a l y s e . It is h e r e t h a t a c u l t u r e , i m p e r c e p t i b l y d e v i a t i n g
f r o m the e m p i r i c a l o r d e r s p r e s c r i b e d f o r i t b y its p r i m a r y c o d e s , i n s t i t u t i n g
a n initial s e p a r a t i o n f r o m t h e m , causes t h e m t o l o s e their o r i g i n a l transp a r e n c y , relinquishes its i m m e d i a t e a n d i n v i s i b l e p o w e r s , frees itself
sufficiently t o d i s c o v e r that these o r d e r s are p e r h a p s n o t the o n l y possible
o n e s o r the best o n e s ; this c u l t u r e t h e n finds i t s e l f f a c e d w i t h t h e stark
fact that there exists, b e l o w t h e l e v e l o f its s p o n t a n e o u s o r d e r s , t h i n g s t h a t
are i n t h e m s e l v e s c a p a b l e o f b e i n g o r d e r e d , t h a t b e l o n g t o a c e r t a i n
u n s p o k e n o r d e r ; t h e fact, i n short, that o r d e r exists. A s t h o u g h e m a n c i p a t i n g itself t o s o m e e x t e n t f r o m its l i n g u i s t i c , p e r c e p t u a l , a n d p r a c t i c a l
grids, the culture superimposed o n t h e m another kind o f grid w h i c h
n e u t r a l i z e d t h e m , w h i c h b y this s u p e r i m p o s i t i o n b o t h r e v e a l e d a n d e x xx

PREFACE

e l u d e d t h e m a t the s a m e t i m e , s o that the c u l t u r e , b y this v e r y p r o c e s s ,
c a m e face t o face w i t h o r d e r i n its p r i m a r y state. I t i s o n t h e basis o f this
n e w l y p e r c e i v e d o r d e r t h a t the c o d e s o f l a n g u a g e , p e r c e p t i o n , a n d p r a c tice a r e c r i t i c i z e d a n d r e n d e r e d p a r t i a l l y i n v a l i d . I t i s o n t h e basis o f this
o r d e r , t a k e n as a f i r m f o u n d a t i o n , that g e n e r a l t h e o r i e s as to t h e o r d e r i n g
o f t h i n g s , a n d t h e i n t e r p r e t a t i o n that s u c h a n o r d e r i n g i n v o l v e s , w i l l b e
c o n s t r u c t e d . T h u s , b e t w e e n the a l r e a d y ' e n c o d e d ' e y e a n d r e f l e x i v e k n o w l e d g e there is a m i d d l e r e g i o n w h i c h liberates o r d e r itself: it is h e r e that
i t appears, a c c o r d i n g t o t h e c u l t u r e a n d the a g e i n q u e s t i o n , c o n t i n u o u s a n d
graduated or discontinuous and piecemeal, linked to space or constituted
a n e w a t e a c h instant b y t h e d r i v i n g f o r c e o f t i m e , related t o a series o f
v a r i a b l e s o r d e f i n e d b y separate s y s t e m s o f c o h e r e n c e s , c o m p o s e d o f r e semblances

w h i c h are either successive or c o r r e s p o n d i n g ,

organized

a r o u n d i n c r e a s i n g differences, e t c . T h i s m i d d l e r e g i o n , t h e n , i n s o far a s
it makes manifest the m o d e s of b e i n g of order, can be posited as the
m o s t fundamental of all: anterior to w o r d s , perceptions, and gestures,
w h i c h are t h e n t a k e n t o b e m o r e o r less e x a c t , m o r e o r less h a p p y , e x pressions o f i t ( w h i c h i s w h y this e x p e r i e n c e o f o r d e r i n its p u r e p r i m a r y
state a l w a y s p l a y s a c r i t i c a l r o l e ) ; m o r e solid, m o r e a r c h a i c , less d u b i o u s ,
a l w a y s m o r e ' t r u e ' t h a n t h e t h e o r i e s that a t t e m p t t o g i v e t h o s e e x p r e s s i o n s
explicit form, exhaustive application, or philosophical foundation. T h u s ,
i n e v e r y c u l t u r e , b e t w e e n t h e use o f w h a t o n e m i g h t call the o r d e r i n g
c o d e s a n d reflections u p o n o r d e r itself, t h e r e i s t h e p u r e e x p e r i e n c e o f
o r d e r a n d o f its m o d e s o f b e i n g .
T h e present study is an attempt to analyse that experience. I am c o n c e r n e d t o s h o w its d e v e l o p m e n t s , s i n c e the s i x t e e n t h c e n t u r y , i n the m a i n s t r e a m o f a c u l t u r e s u c h a s o u r s : i n w h a t w a y , a s o n e traces - a g a i n s t t h e
c u r r e n t , as it w e r e - l a n g u a g e as it has b e e n s p o k e n , natural creatures as
they h a v e been perceived and g r o u p e d together, and exchanges as they
h a v e b e e n p r a c t i s e d ; i n w h a t w a y , t h e n , o u r c u l t u r e has m a d e m a n i f e s t
t h e e x i s t e n c e - o f o r d e r , a n d h o w , t o t h e m o d a l i t i e s o f that o r d e r , the
e x c h a n g e s o w e d their l a w s , the l i v i n g b e i n g s t h e i r c o n s t a n t s , t h e w o r d s
their s e q u e n c e a n d their r e p r e s e n t a t i v e v a l u e ; w h a t m o d a l i t i e s o f o r d e r
h a v e been r e c o g n i z e d , posited, linked w i t h space and time, in order to
c r e a t e t h e p o s i t i v e basis o f k n o w l e d g e a s w e f i n d i t e m p l o y e d i n g r a m m a r
a n d p h i l o l o g y , i n natural h i s t o r y a n d b i o l o g y , i n t h e s t u d y o f w e a l t h a n d
p o l i t i c a l e c o n o m y . Q u i t e o b v i o u s l y , s u c h a n analysis d o e s n o t b e l o n g t o
the h i s t o r y o f ideas o r o f s c i e n c e : i t i s r a t h e r a n i n q u i r y w h o s e a i m i s t o
r e d i s c o v e r o n w h a t basis k n o w l e d g e a n d t h e o r y b e c a m e p o s s i b l e ; w i t h i n
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w h a t s p a c e o f o r d e r k n o w l e d g e w a s c o n s t i t u t e d ; o n t h e basis o f w h a t
h i s t o r i c a l a priori, a n d i n the e l e m e n t o f w h a t p o s i t i v i t y , ideas c o u l d
a p p e a r , sciences b e established, e x p e r i e n c e b e reflected i n p h i l o s o p h i e s ,
rationalities b e f o r m e d , o n l y , p e r h a p s , t o d i s s o l v e a n d v a n i s h s o o n afterw a r d s . I a m n o t c o n c e r n e d , t h e r e f o r e , t o d e s c r i b e the p r o g r e s s o f k n o w l e d g e t o w a r d s a n o b j e c t i v i t y i n w h i c h t o d a y ' s science c a n f i n a l l y b e r e c o g n i z e d ; w h a t I a m a t t e m p t i n g t o b r i n g t o l i g h t i s t h e e p i s t e m o l o g i c a l field,
the episteme i n w h i c h k n o w l e d g e , e n v i s a g e d a p a r t f r o m all criteria h a v i n g
r e f e r e n c e t o its r a t i o n a l v a l u e o r t o its o b j e c t i v e f o r m s , g r o u n d s its
p o s i t i v i t y a n d t h e r e b y manifests a h i s t o r y w h i c h i s n o t that o f its g r o w i n g
p e r f e c t i o n , b u t r a t h e r that o f its c o n d i t i o n s o f p o s s i b i l i t y ; i n this a c c o u n t ,
w h a t s h o u l d a p p e a r are t h o s e c o n f i g u r a t i o n s w i t h i n t h e space o f k n o w l e d g e w h i c h h a v e g i v e n rise t o t h e d i v e r s e f o r m s o f e m p i r i c a l s c i e n c e .
S u c h a n enterprise i s n o t s o m u c h a h i s t o r y , i n t h e t r a d i t i o n a l m e a n i n g o f
that w o r d , a s a n ' a r c h a e o l o g y ' .

1

N o w , this a r c h a e o l o g i c a l i n q u i r y has r e v e a l e d t w o g r e a t d i s c o n t i n u i t i e s
i n t h e episteme o f W e s t e r n c u l t u r e : t h e first i n a u g u r a t e s the C l a s s i c a l a g e
( r o u g h l y h a l f - w a y t h r o u g h the s e v e n t e e n t h c e n t u r y ) a n d t h e s e c o n d , a t
t h e b e g i n n i n g o f the n i n e t e e n t h c e n t u r y , m a r k s the b e g i n n i n g o f t h e
m o d e r n a g e . T h e o r d e r o n t h e basis o f w h i c h w e t h i n k t o d a y d o e s n o t
h a v e the s a m e m o d e o f b e i n g a s t h a t o f the C l a s s i c a l t h i n k e r s . D e s p i t e t h e
impression w e m a y h a v e o f a n almost uninterrupted d e v e l o p m e n t o f the
E u r o p e a n ratio f r o m t h e R e n a i s s a n c e t o o u r o w n d a y , despite o u r p o s s i b l e
b e l i e f that t h e classifications o f L i n n a e u s , m o d i f i e d t o a g r e a t e r o r lesser
d e g r e e , c a n still l a y c l a i m t o s o m e sort o f v a l i d i t y , that C o n d i l l a c ' s t h e o r y
of value can be recognized to some extent in nineteenth-century marg i n a l i s m , t h a t K e y n e s w a s w e l l a w a r e o f t h e affinities b e t w e e n his o w n
analyses a n d t h o s e o f C a n t i l l o n , t h a t t h e l a n g u a g e o f general grammar (as
e x e m p l i f i e d i n t h e a u t h o r s o f P o r t - R o y a l o r i n B a u z e e ) i s n o t s o v e r y far
r e m o v e d f r o m o u r o w n - all this q u a s i - c o n t i n u i t y o n t h e l e v e l o f ideas
a n d t h e m e s i s d o u b t l e s s o n l y a surface a p p e a r a n c e ; o n t h e a r c h a e o l o g i c a l
l e v e l , w e see that t h e s y s t e m o f p o s i t i v i t i e s w a s t r a n s f o r m e d i n a w h o l e sale f a s h i o n a t t h e e n d o f t h e e i g h t e e n t h a n d b e g i n n i n g o f t h e n i n e t e e n t h
c e n t u r y . N o t that r e a s o n m a d e a n y p r o g r e s s : i t w a s s i m p l y t h a t the m o d e
o f b e i n g o f t h i n g s , a n d o f t h e o r d e r that d i v i d e d t h e m u p b e f o r e p r e s e n t i n g t h e m t o the u n d e r s t a n d i n g , w a s p r o f o u n d l y altered. I f the n a t u r a l
h i s t o r y o f T o u r n e f o r t , L i n n a e u s , a n d B u f f b n c a n b e related t o a n y t h i n g
1

T h e problems of m e t h o d raised by such an ' a r c h a e o l o g y ' w i l l be e x a m i n e d in a later
work.

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a t all o t h e r t h a n itself, i t i s n o t t o b i o l o g y , t o C u v i e r ' s c o m p a r a t i v e
anatomy, or to D a r w i n ' s theory of evolution, but to Bauzee's general
g r a m m a r , t o t h e analysis o f m o n e y a n d w e a l t h a s f o u n d i n t h e w o r k s o f
L a w , o r V e r o n d e Fortbonnais, o r T u r g o t . Perhaps k n o w l e d g e succeeds i n
e n g e n d e r i n g k n o w l e d g e , ideas i n t r a n s f o r m i n g t h e m s e l v e s a n d a c t i v e l y
m o d i f y i n g o n e a n o t h e r ( b u t h o w ? - historians h a v e n o t y e t e n l i g h t e n e d
u s o n this p o i n t ) ; o n e t h i n g , i n a n y case, i s c e r t a i n : a r c h a e o l o g y , a d d r e s s i n g
itself t o t h e g e n e r a l space o f k n o w l e d g e , t o its c o n f i g u r a t i o n s , a n d t o t h e
m o d e o f b e i n g o f t h e t h i n g s t h a t a p p e a r i n it, defines s y s t e m s o f s i m u l taneity, a s w e l l a s t h e series o f m u t a t i o n s n e c e s s a r y a n d sufficient t o
circumscribe the threshold of a n e w positivity.
I n this w a y , analysis has b e e n a b l e t o s h o w t h e c o h e r e n c e that e x i s t e d ,
t h r o u g h o u t the Classical age, b e t w e e n the t h e o r y of representation and
the theories o f l a n g u a g e , o f the n a t u r a l o r d e r s , a n d o f w e a l t h a n d v a l u e .
I t i s this c o n f i g u r a t i o n that, f r o m t h e n i n e t e e n t h c e n t u r y o n w a r d , c h a n g e s
e n t i r e l y ; the t h e o r y o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n disappears a s t h e u n i v e r s a l f o u n d a t i o n o f all p o s s i b l e o r d e r s ; l a n g u a g e a s t h e s p o n t a n e o u s tabula, the p r i m a r y
grid of things, as an indispensable link b e t w e e n representation and things,
i s e c l i p s e d i n its t u r n ; a p r o f o u n d h i s t o r i c i t y p e n e t r a t e s i n t o t h e h e a r t o f
t h i n g s , isolates a n d defines t h e m i n t h e i r o w n c o h e r e n c e , i m p o s e s u p o n
t h e m the f o r m s o f o r d e r i m p l i e d b y t h e c o n t i n u i t y o f t i m e ; t h e analysis o f
e x c h a n g e a n d m o n e y g i v e s w a y t o t h e s t u d y o f p r o d u c t i o n , that o f t h e
o r g a n i s m takes p r e c e d e n c e o v e r t h e s e a r c h f o r t a x o n o m i c characteristics,
and, a b o v e all, l a n g u a g e loses its p r i v i l e g e d p o s i t i o n a n d b e c o m e s , i n its
turn, a h i s t o r i c a l f o r m c o h e r e n t w i t h t h e d e n s i t y o f its o w n past. B u t a s
t h i n g s b e c o m e i n c r e a s i n g l y r e f l e x i v e , s e e k i n g the p r i n c i p l e o f their i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y o n l y i n their o w n d e v e l o p m e n t , a n d a b a n d o n i n g the s p a c e o f
r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , m a n enters i n his t u r n , a n d f o r t h e f i r s t t i m e , the f i e l d o f
Western knowledge.

Strangely e n o u g h , m a n - the study o f w h o m i s

s u p p o s e d b y t h e n a i v e t o b e t h e o l d e s t i n v e s t i g a t i o n since S o c r a t e s - i s p r o b a b l y n o m o r e t h a n a k i n d o f rift i n t h e o r d e r o f t h i n g s , o r , i n a n y case, a
c o n f i g u r a t i o n w h o s e o u t l i n e s a r e d e t e r m i n e d b y t h e n e w p o s i t i o n h e has
s o r e c e n d y t a k e n u p i n t h e f i e l d o f k n o w l e d g e . W h e n c e all t h e c h i m e r a s
o f t h e n e w h u m a n i s m s , all t h e facile s o l u t i o n s o f a n ' a n t h r o p o l o g y ' u n d e r stood as a universal reflection on m a n , half-empirical, half-philosophical.
I t i s c o m f o r t i n g , h o w e v e r , a n d a s o u r c e o f p r o f o u n d r e l i e f t o t h i n k that
m a n is o n l y a recent invention, a figure not y e t t w o centuries old, a n e w
w r i n k l e i n o u r k n o w l e d g e , a n d that h e w i l l d i s a p p e a r a g a i n a s s o o n a s t h a t
k n o w l e d g e has d i s c o v e r e d a n e w f o r m .
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I t i s e v i d e n t that the p r e s e n t s t u d y is, i n a sense, a n e c h o o f m y u n d e r t a k i n g t o w r i t e a h i s t o r y o f m a d n e s s i n the C l a s s i c a l a g e ; i t has the s a m e
a r t i c u l a t i o n s i n t i m e , t a k i n g the e n d o f the R e n a i s s a n c e a s its s t a r t i n g p o i n t , t h e n e n c o u n t e r i n g , a t the b e g i n n i n g o f t h e n i n e t e e n t h c e n t u r y , j u s t
a s m y h i s t o r y o f m a d n e s s d i d , the t h r e s h o l d o f a m o d e r n i t y that w e h a v e
n o t y e t left b e h i n d . B u t w h e r e a s i n t h e h i s t o r y o f m a d n e s s I w a s i n v e s t i g a t i n g the w a y i n w h i c h a c u l t u r e c a n d e t e r m i n e i n a m a s s i v e , g e n e r a l
f o r m t h e difference that l i m i t s it, I a m c o n c e r n e d h e r e w i t h o b s e r v i n g h o w
a c u l t u r e e x p e r i e n c e s t h e p r o p i n q u i t y o f t h i n g s , h o w i t establishes t h e
tabula o f their relationships a n d t h e o r d e r b y w h i c h t h e y m u s t b e c o n sidered. I am c o n c e r n e d , in short, w i t h a history of resemblance: on w h a t
c o n d i t i o n s w a s C l a s s i c a l t h o u g h t a b l e t o reflect relations o f s i m i l a r i t y o r
e q u i v a l e n c e b e t w e e n t h i n g s , relations t h a t w o u l d p r o v i d e a f o u n d a t i o n
a n d a j u s t i f i c a t i o n f o r t h e i r w o r d s , t h e i r classifications, t h e i r s y s t e m s o f
e x c h a n g e ? W h a t h i s t o r i c a l a priori p r o v i d e d t h e s t a r t i n g - p o i n t f r o m w h i c h
i t w a s p o s s i b l e t o d e f i n e t h e g r e a t c h e c k e r b o a r d o f distinct identities
established a g a i n s t the c o n f u s e d , u n d e f i n e d , faceless, a n d , a s i t w e r e ,
indifferent b a c k g r o u n d o f differences? T h e h i s t o r y o f m a d n e s s w o u l d b e
t h e h i s t o r y o f t h e O t h e r - o f that w h i c h , f o r a g i v e n c u l t u r e , i s a t o n c e
i n t e r i o r a n d f o r e i g n , t h e r e f o r e t o b e e x c l u d e d (so a s t o e x o r c i z e t h e
i n t e r i o r d a n g e r ) b u t b y b e i n g shut a w a y (in o r d e r t o r e d u c e its o t h e r n e s s ) ;
whereas the history of the order i m p o s e d on things w o u l d be the history
o f the S a m e - o f that w h i c h , f o r a g i v e n c u l t u r e , i s b o t h dispersed a n d
related, t h e r e f o r e t o b e d i s t i n g u i s h e d b y k i n d s a n d t o b e c o l l e c t e d t o g e t h e r
i n t o identities.
A n d i f o n e c o n s i d e r s that disease i s a t o n e a n d t h e s a m e t i m e d i s o r d e r t h e e x i s t e n c e o f a p e r i l o u s otherness w i t h i n t h e h u m a n b o d y , a t t h e v e r y
h e a r t o f life - a n d a n a t u r a l p h e n o m e n o n w i t h its o w n c o n s t a n t s , r e s e m b l a n c e s , a n d t y p e s , o n e c a n see w h a t s c o p e t h e r e w o u l d b e f o r a n a r c h a e o l o g y o f the medical p o i n t o f v i e w . F r o m the limit-experience o f the
O t h e r t o t h e c o n s t i t u e n t f o r m s o f m e d i c a l k n o w l e d g e , a n d f r o m the latter
to the order of things and the conceptions of the S a m e , w h a t is available
t o a r c h a e o l o g i c a l analysis i s t h e w h o l e o f C l a s s i c a l k n o w l e d g e , o r r a t h e r
t h e t h r e s h o l d that separates u s f r o m C l a s s i c a l t h o u g h t a n d c o n s t i t u t e s o u r
m o d e r n i t y . I t w a s u p o n this t h r e s h o l d t h a t the s t r a n g e f i g u r e o f k n o w l e d g e
c a l l e d m a n f i r s t a p p e a r e d a n d r e v e a l e d a space p r o p e r t o the h u m a n sciences.
I n a t t e m p t i n g t o u n c o v e r the deepest strata o f W e s t e r n c u l t u r e , I a m r e s t o r i n g to o u r silent a n d a p p a r e n t l y i m m o b i l e soil its rifts, its i n s t a b i l i t y , its
f l a w s ; a n d i t i s t h e s a m e g r o u n d that i s o n c e m o r e s t i r r i n g u n d e r o u r feet.
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C H A P T E R

I

Las Meninas
i
T h e p a i n t e r i s s t a n d i n g a little b a c k f r o m his c a n v a s f i ] . H e i s g l a n c i n g a t
his m o d e l ; p e r h a p s h e i s c o n s i d e r i n g w h e t h e r t o a d d

s o m e finishing

t o u c h , t h o u g h i t i s also p o s s i b l e that the first s t r o k e has n o t y e t b e e n m a d e .
T h e a r m h o l d i n g t h e b r u s h i s b e n t t o t h e left, t o w a r d s t h e p a l e t t e ; i t i s
m o t i o n l e s s , f o r a n instant, b e t w e e n c a n v a s a n d paints. T h e skilled h a n d i s
s u s p e n d e d i n m i d - a i r , arrested i n r a p t a t t e n t i o n o n t h e p a i n t e r ' s g a z e ; a n d
the g a z e , i n r e t u r n , w a i t s u p o n t h e arrested g e s t u r e . B e t w e e n t h e fine p o i n t
o f t h e b r u s h a n d the s t e e l y g a z e , t h e scene i s a b o u t t o y i e l d u p its v o l u m e .
B u t n o t w i t h o u t a subtle s y s t e m o f feints. B y s t a n d i n g b a c k a little,
the p a i n t e r has p l a c e d h i m s e l f t o o n e side o f t h e p a i n t i n g o n w h i c h h e i s
w o r k i n g . T h a t is, f o r t h e s p e c t a t o r "at p r e s e n t o b s e r v i n g h i m h e i s t o t h e
r i g h t o f his c a n v a s , w h i l e t h e latter, t h e c a n v a s , takes u p t h e w h o l e o f t h e
e x t r e m e left. A n d t h e c a n v a s has its b a c k t u r n e d t o that s p e c t a t o r : h e c a n
see n o t h i n g o f i t b u t t h e r e v e r s e side, t o g e t h e r w i t h t h e h u g e f r a m e o n
w h i c h i t i s s t r e t c h e d . T h e painter, o n t h e o t h e r h a n d , i s p e r f e c t l y v i s i b l e
i n his full h e i g h t ; o r a t a n y rate, h e i s n o t m a s k e d b y t h e tall c a n v a s w h i c h
m a y s o o n a b s o r b h i m , w h e n , t a k i n g a step t o w a r d s i t a g a i n , h e r e t u r n s t o
his task; h e has n o d o u b t j u s t a p p e a r e d , a t this v e r y instant, b e f o r e t h e e y e s
o f t h e s p e c t a t o r , e m e r g i n g f r o m w h a t i s v i r t u a l l y a sort o f v a s t c a g e p r o j e c t e d b a c k w a r d s b y t h e surface h e i s p a i n t i n g . N o w h e c a n b e seen,
c a u g h t i n a m o m e n t o f stillness, a t t h e n e u t r a l c e n t r e o f this o s c i l l a t i o n .
H i s d a r k t o r s o a n d b r i g h t face are h a l f - w a y b e t w e e n the v i s i b l e a n d t h e
i n v i s i b l e : e m e r g i n g f r o m that c a n v a s b e y o n d o u r v i e w , h e m o v e s i n t o
o u r g a z e ; b u t w h e n , i n a m o m e n t , h e m a k e s a step t o t h e r i g h t , r e m o v i n g
himself f r o m o u r g a z e , he w i l l be standing e x a c t l y in front of the canvas
h e i s p a i n t i n g ; h e w i l l e n t e r that r e g i o n w h e r e his p a i n t i n g , n e g l e c t e d f o r
a n instant, w i l l , f o r h i m , b e c o m e v i s i b l e o n c e m o r e , free o f s h a d o w a n d
3

THE

ORDER

OF

THINGS

free o f r e t i c e n c e . A s t h o u g h the p a i n t e r c o u l d n o t a t t h e s a m e t i m e b e
seen o n t h e p i c t u r e w h e r e h e i s r e p r e s e n t e d a n d also see t h a t u p o n w h i c h
h e i s r e p r e s e n t i n g s o m e t h i n g . H e rules a t t h e t h r e s h o l d o f t h o s e t w o i n c o m p a t i b l e visibilities.
T h e p a i n t e r i s l o o k i n g , his face t u r n e d s l i g h t l y a n d his h e a d l e a n i n g
t o w a r d s o n e shoulder. He is staring at a p o i n t to w h i c h , e v e n t h o u g h it is
i n v i s i b l e , w e , t h e s p e c t a t o r s , can easily assign a n o b j e c t , since i t i s w e , o u r s e l v e s , w h o are that p o i n t : o u r b o d i e s , o u r faces, o u r e y e s . T h e s p e c t a c l e
he is o b s e r v i n g is thus d o u b l y i n v i s i b l e : first, b e c a u s e it is n o t r e p r e s e n t e d
w i t h i n t h e s p a c e o f t h e p a i n t i n g , a n d , s e c o n d , b e c a u s e i t i s situated p r e c i s e l y i n t h a t b l i n d p o i n t , i n that essential h i d i n g - p l a c e i n t o w h i c h o u r
g a z e disappears f r o m o u r s e l v e s a t t h e m o m e n t o f o u r a c t u a l l o o k i n g . A n d
y e t , h o w c o u l d w e fail t o see that i n v i s i b i l i t y , t h e r e i n f r o n t o f o u r e y e s ,
since i t has its o w n p e r c e p t i b l e e q u i v a l e n t , its s e a l e d - i n f i g u r e , i n t h e
p a i n t i n g itself? W e c o u l d , i n effect, g u e s s w h a t i t i s t h e p a i n t e r i s l o o k i n g
at if it w e r e possible for us to glance for a m o m e n t at the canvas he is
w o r k i n g o n ; b u t all w e c a n see o f that c a n v a s i s its t e x t u r e , t h e h o r i z o n t a l
a n d v e r t i c a l bars o f t h e stretcher, a n d t h e o b l i q u e l y rising f o o t o f t h e easel.
T h e tall, m o n o t o n o u s r e c t a n g l e o c c u p y i n g t h e w h o l e left p o r t i o n o f t h e
real p i c t u r e , a n d r e p r e s e n t i n g the b a c k o f t h e c a n v a s w i t h i n t h e p i c t u r e ,
r e c o n s t i t u t e s i n t h e f o r m o f a surface t h e i n v i s i b i l i t y i n d e p t h o f w h a t t h e
artist i s o b s e r v i n g : that s p a c e i n w h i c h w e a r e , a n d w h i c h w e are. F r o m
t h e e y e s o f the p a i n t e r t o w h a t h e i s o b s e r v i n g t h e r e r u n s a c o m p e l l i n g
line that w e , t h e o n l o o k e r s , h a v e n o p o w e r o f e v a d i n g : i t runs t h r o u g h
t h e real p i c t u r e a n d e m e r g e s f r o m its surface t o j o i n the p l a c e f r o m w h i c h
w e see the p a i n t e r o b s e r v i n g us; this d o t t e d line r e a c h e s o u t t o u s i n e l u c t ably, and links us to the representation of the picture.
I n a p p e a r a n c e , this l o c u s i s a s i m p l e o n e ; a m a t t e r o f p u r e r e c i p r o c i t y :
we are l o o k i n g at a picture in w h i c h the painter is in turn l o o k i n g o u t at
us. A m e r e c o n f r o n t a t i o n , e y e s c a t c h i n g o n e a n o t h e r ' s g l a n c e , d i r e c t
l o o k s s u p e r i m p o s i n g t h e m s e l v e s u p o n o n e a n o t h e r a s t h e y cross. A n d y e t
this slender line o f r e c i p r o c a l v i s i b i l i t y e m b r a c e s a w h o l e c o m p l e x n e t w o r k o f u n c e r t a i n t i e s , e x c h a n g e s , a n d feints. T h e p a i n t e r i s t u r n i n g his
e y e s t o w a r d s u s o n l y i n s o far a s w e h a p p e n t o o c c u p y t h e s a m e p o s i t i o n
a s his s u b j e c t . W e , t h e spectators, are a n a d d i t i o n a l f a c t o r . T h o u g h g r e e t e d
b y that g a z e , w e are also dismissed b y it, r e p l a c e d b y that w h i c h w a s a l w a y s
there b e f o r e w e w e r e : the m o d e l itself. B u t , i n v e r s e l y , t h e p a i n t e r ' s g a z e ,
addressed t o t h e v o i d c o n f r o n t i n g h i m o u t s i d e t h e p i c t u r e , accepts a s m a n y
m o d e l s a s t h e r e are s p e c t a t o r s ; i n this p r e c i s e b u t n e u t r a l p l a c e , the o b s e r v e r
4

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a n d the o b s e r v e d t a k e part i n a ceaseless e x c h a n g e . N o g a z e i s stable, o r
rather, i n the n e u t r a l f u r r o w o f t h e g a z e p i e r c i n g a t a r i g h t a n g l e t h r o u g h
the c a n v a s , s u b j e c t a n d o b j e c t , the s p e c t a t o r a n d t h e m o d e l , r e v e r s e their roles
t o infinity. A n d h e r e t h e g r e a t c a n v a s w i t h its b a c k t o u s o n the e x t r e m e
left o f t h e p i c t u r e e x e r c i s e s its s e c o n d f u n c t i o n : s t u b b o r n l y i n v i s i b l e , i t
p r e v e n t s t h e r e l a t i o n o f these g a z e s f r o m e v e r b e i n g d i s c o v e r a b l e o r d e finitely established. T h e o p a q u e f i x i t y that i t establishes o n o n e side r e n d e r s
f o r e v e r unstable the p l a y o f m e t a m o r p h o s e s established i n t h e c e n t r e b e t w e e n s p e c t a t o r a n d m o d e l . B e c a u s e w e c a n see o n l y that r e v e r s e side,
w e d o n o t k n o w w h o w e are, o r w h a t w e are d o i n g . S e e n o r s e e i n g ?
T h e painter is o b s e r v i n g a place w h i c h , f r o m m o m e n t to m o m e n t , never
ceases to c h a n g e its c o n t e n t , its f o r m , its face, its i d e n t i t y . B u t the a t t e n t i v e
i m m o b i l i t y o f his e y e s refers u s b a c k t o a n o t h e r d i r e c t i o n w h i c h t h e y h a v e
often f o l l o w e d a l r e a d y , a n d w h i c h s o o n , t h e r e c a n b e n o d o u b t , t h e y w i l l
t a k e a g a i n : t h a t o f t h e m o t i o n l e s s c a n v a s u p o n w h i c h i s b e i n g t r a c e d , has
a l r e a d y b e e n t r a c e d p e r h a p s , for a l o n g t i m e a n d f o r e v e r , a p o r t r a i t that
w i l l n e v e r a g a i n b e erased. S o that the painter's s o v e r e i g n g a z e c o m m a n d s
a v i r t u a l t r i a n g l e w h o s e o u t l i n e defines this p i c t u r e of a p i c t u r e : at t h e
t o p - the o n l y v i s i b l e c o r n e r - t h e painter's e y e s ; a t o n e o f the base a n g l e s ,
the i n v i s i b l e p l a c e o c c u p i e d b y the m o d e l ; a t t h e o t h e r base a n g l e , t h e
f i g u r e p r o b a b l y s k e t c h e d o u t o n the i n v i s i b l e surface o f t h e c a n v a s .
A s s o o n a s t h e y p l a c e t h e s p e c t a t o r i n the field o f their g a z e , the p a i n t e r ' s
e y e s seize h o l d o f h i m , f o r c e h i m t o e n t e r t h e p i c t u r e , assign h i m a p l a c e
a t o n c e p r i v i l e g e d a n d i n e s c a p a b l e , l e v y their l u m i n o u s a n d v i s i b l e t r i b u t e
f r o m h i m , a n d p r o j e c t i t u p o n t h e inaccessible surface o f the c a n v a s w i t h i n
the p i c t u r e . H e sees his i n v i s i b i l i t y m a d e v i s i b l e t o the p a i n t e r a n d transp o s e d i n t o a n i m a g e f o r e v e r i n v i s i b l e t o himself. A s h o c k that i s a u g m e n t e d a n d m a d e m o r e i n e v i t a b l e still b y a m a r g i n a l t r a p . A t the e x t r e m e
r i g h t , the p i c t u r e i s lit b y a w i n d o w r e p r e s e n t e d i n v e r y sharp p e r s p e c t i v e ;
s o sharp that w e c a n see s c a r c e l y m o r e t h a n the e m b r a s u r e ; s o t h a t the
f l o o d o f l i g h t s t r e a m i n g t h r o u g h i t bathes a t t h e s a m e t i m e , a n d w i t h e q u a l
g e n e r o s i t y , t w o n e i g h b o u r i n g spaces, o v e r l a p p i n g b u t i r r e d u c i b l e : t h e
surface o f t h e p a i n t i n g , t o g e t h e r w i t h the v o l u m e i t represents ( w h i c h i s
t o s a y , t h e p a i n t e r ' s s t u d i o , o r t h e s a l o n i n w h i c h his easel i s n o w set u p ) ,
and, i n front o f that surface, t h e real v o l u m e o c c u p i e d b y the s p e c t a t o r
(or a g a i n , t h e u n r e a l site o f the m o d e l ) . A n d a s i t passes t h r o u g h t h e r o o m
f r o m r i g h t t o left, this v a s t f l o o d o f g o l d e n l i g h t carries b o t h the s p e c t a t o r
t o w a r d s t h e p a i n t e r a n d the m o d e l t o w a r d s the c a n v a s ; i t i s this l i g h t t o o ,
w h i c h , w a s h i n g o v e r t h e p a i n t e r , m a k e s h i m v i s i b l e t o the s p e c t a t o r a n d
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turns i n t o g o l d e n lines, i n t h e m o d e l ' s e y e s , the f r a m e o f that e n i g m a t i c
c a n v a s o n w h i c h his i m a g e , o n c e t r a n s p o r t e d t h e r e , i s t o b e i m p r i s o n e d .
T h i s e x t r e m e , partial, s c a r c e l y i n d i c a t e d w i n d o w frees a w h o l e f l o w o f
d a y l i g h t w h i c h serves as the c o m m o n locus of the representation. It
b a l a n c e s t h e i n v i s i b l e c a n v a s o n t h e o t h e r side o f the p i c t u r e : j u s t a s that
c a n v a s , b y t u r n i n g its b a c k t o t h e spectators, f o l d s i t s e l f i n a g a i n s t t h e
p i c t u r e r e p r e s e n t i n g it, a n d f o r m s , b y t h e s u p e r i m p o s i t i o n o f its r e v e r s e
a n d v i s i b l e side u p o n t h e surface o f t h e p i c t u r e d e p i c t i n g it, t h e g r o u n d ,
inaccessible t o us, o n w h i c h there s h i m m e r s t h e I m a g e par excellence, s o
d o e s t h e w i n d o w , a p u r e a p e r t u r e , establish a s p a c e as m a n i f e s t as the
other is hidden; as m u c h the c o m m o n g r o u n d of painter, figures, m o d e l s ,
a n d spectators, a s the o t h e r i s s o l i t a r y (for n o o n e i s l o o k i n g a t it, n o t e v e n
t h e p a i n t e r ) . F r o m the r i g h t , there s t r e a m s i n t h r o u g h a n i n v i s i b l e w i n d o w
t h e p u r e v o l u m e o f a l i g h t that r e n d e r s all r e p r e s e n t a t i o n v i s i b l e ; t o t h e
left e x t e n d s t h e surface that c o n c e a l s , o n the o t h e r side o f its all t o o v i s i b l e
w o v e n t e x t u r e , the r e p r e s e n t a t i o n i t bears. T h e l i g h t , b y f l o o d i n g t h e
scene ( I m e a n t h e r o o m a s w e l l a s the c a n v a s , t h e r o o m r e p r e s e n t e d o n
t h e c a n v a s , a n d t h e r o o m i n w h i c h t h e c a n v a s stands), e n v e l o p s the f i g u r e s
a n d t h e s p e c t a t o r s a n d carries t h e m w i t h it, u n d e r t h e p a i n t e r ' s g a z e ,
t o w a r d s t h e p l a c e w h e r e his b r u s h w i l l r e p r e s e n t t h e m . B u t t h a t p l a c e i s
c o n c e a l e d f r o m us. W e are o b s e r v i n g o u r s e l v e s b e i n g o b s e r v e d b y t h e
p a i n t e r , a n d m a d e v i s i b l e t o his e y e s b y the s a m e l i g h t t h a t e n a b l e s u s t o
see h i m . A n d j u s t a s w e are a b o u t t o a p p r e h e n d o u r s e l v e s , t r a n s c r i b e d b y
his h a n d a s t h o u g h i n a m i r r o r , w e f i n d that w e c a n i n fact a p p r e h e n d
n o t h i n g o f t h a t m i r r o r b u t its lustreless b a c k . T h e o t h e r side o f a p s y c h e .
N o w , a s i t h a p p e n s , e x a c t l y o p p o s i t e the s p e c t a t o r s - o u r s e l v e s - o n t h e
w a l l f o r m i n g t h e far e n d o f the r o o m , V e l a z q u e z has r e p r e s e n t e d a series
o f p i c t u r e s ; a n d w e see that a m o n g all those h a n g i n g c a n v a s e s there i s o n e
that shines w i t h p a r t i c u l a r b r i g h t n e s s . Its f r a m e i s w i d e r a n d d a r k e r t h a n
t h o s e o f t h e o t h e r s ; y e t t h e r e i s a fine w h i t e l i n e a r o u n d its i n n e r e d g e
diffusing o v e r its w h o l e surface a l i g h t w h o s e s o u r c e i s n o t e a s y t o d e t e r m i n e ; f o r i t c o m e s f r o m n o w h e r e , unless i t b e f r o m a s p a c e w i t h i n itself.
I n this s t r a n g e l i g h t , t w o silhouettes are a p p a r e n t , w h i l e a b o v e t h e m , a n d
a little b e h i n d t h e m , i s a h e a v y p u r p l e c u r t a i n . T h e o t h e r p i c t u r e s r e v e a l
little m o r e t h a n a f e w p a l e r p a t c h e s b u r i e d i n a d a r k n e s s w i t h o u t d e p t h .
T h i s particular o n e , on the other hand, opens o n t o a perspective of space
in w h i c h r e c o g n i z a b l e forms recede f r o m us in a light that b e l o n g s o n l y
t o itself. A m o n g all these e l e m e n t s i n t e n d e d t o p r o v i d e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s ,
w h i l e i m p e d i n g t h e m , h i d i n g t h e m , c o n c e a l i n g t h e m because o f their
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p o s i t i o n o r t h e i r d i s t a n c e f r o m us, this i s t h e o n l y o n e that fulfils its
f u n c t i o n i n all h o n e s t y a n d enables u s t o see w h a t i t i s s u p p o s e d t o s h o w .
D e s p i t e its d i s t a n c e f r o m us, d e s p i t e the s h a d o w s all a r o u n d it. B u t i t
isn't a p i c t u r e : it is a m i r r o r . It offers us at last that e n c h a n t m e n t of t h e
d o u b l e that u n t i l n o w has b e e n d e n i e d us, n o t o n l y b y t h e distant p a i n t i n g s
b u t also b y t h e l i g h t i n t h e f o r e g r o u n d w i t h its i r o n i c c a n v a s .
O f all t h e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s r e p r e s e n t e d i n t h e p i c t u r e this i s the o n l y o n e
v i s i b l e ; b u t n o o n e i s l o o k i n g a t it. U p r i g h t b e s i d e his c a n v a s , his a t t e n t i o n
e n t i r e l y t a k e n u p b y his m o d e l , the p a i n t e r i s u n a b l e t o see this l o o k i n g glass s h i n i n g s o s o f t l y b e h i n d h i m . T h e o t h e r f i g u r e s i n t h e p i c t u r e are
a l s o , f o r t h e m o s t part, t u r n e d t o face w h a t m u s t b e t a k i n g p l a c e i n f r o n t t o w a r d s t h e b r i g h t i n v i s i b i l i t y b o r d e r i n g t h e c a n v a s , t o w a r d s that b a l c o n y
o f l i g h t w h e r e their e y e s c a n g a z e a t t h o s e w h o are g a z i n g b a c k a t t h e m ,
a n d n o t t o w a r d s t h a t d a r k recess w h i c h m a r k s the far e n d o f t h e r o o m
i n w h i c h t h e y are r e p r e s e n t e d . T h e r e are, i t i s true, s o m e h e a d s t u r n e d
a w a y f r o m u s i n p r o f i l e : b u t n o t o n e o f t h e m i s t u r n e d far e n o u g h t o see,
a t t h e b a c k o f t h e r o o m , that s o l i t a r y m i r r o r , that t i n y g l o w i n g r e c t a n g l e
w h i c h is n o t h i n g other than visibility, y e t w i t h o u t a n y g a z e able to grasp
it, t o r e n d e r i t a c t u a l , a n d t o e n j o y t h e s u d d e n l y r i p e fruit o f the s p e c t a c l e
it offers.
I t m u s t b e a d m i t t e d that this indifference i s e q u a l l e d o n l y b y the m i r r o r ' s
o w n . I t i s r e f l e c t i n g n o t h i n g , i n fact, o f all that i s t h e r e i n t h e s a m e s p a c e
a s itself: n e i t h e r t h e p a i n t e r w i t h his b a c k t o it, n o r t h e f i g u r e s i n t h e c e n t r e
o f t h e r o o m . I t i s n o t t h e v i s i b l e i t reflects, i n t h o s e b r i g h t d e p t h s . I n
D u t c h painting it w a s traditional for mirrors to play a duplicating role:
t h e y r e p e a t e d t h e o r i g i n a l c o n t e n t s o f t h e p i c t u r e , o n l y inside a n u n r e a l ,
modified, contracted, c o n c a v e space. O n e s a w in t h e m the same things
a s o n e s a w i n t h e first instance i n t h e p a i n t i n g , b u t d e c o m p o s e d a n d r e c o m p o s e d a c c o r d i n g t o a different l a w . H e r e , t h e m i r r o r i s s a y i n g n o t h i n g
t h a t has a l r e a d y b e e n said b e f o r e . Y e t its p o s i t i o n i s m o r e o r less c o m p l e t e l y
c e n t r a l : its u p p e r e d g e i s e x a c t l y o n a n i m a g i n a r y l i n e r u n n i n g h a l f - w a y
b e t w e e n the t o p and the b o t t o m of the painting, it hangs right in the
m i d d l e o f t h e far w a l l (or a t least i n the m i d d l e o f t h e p o r t i o n w e c a n
s e e ) ; i t o u g h t , t h e r e f o r e , t o b e g o v e r n e d b y t h e s a m e lines o f p e r s p e c t i v e
a s t h e p i c t u r e itself; w e m i g h t w e l l e x p e c t t h e s a m e s t u d i o , t h e s a m e p a i n t e r ,
the s a m e c a n v a s t o b e a r r a n g e d w i t h i n i t a c c o r d i n g t o a n i d e n t i c a l s p a c e ;
it c o u l d be the perfect duplication.
I n fact, i t s h o w s u s n o t h i n g o f w h a t i s r e p r e s e n t e d i n t h e p i c t u r e itself.
Its m o t i o n l e s s g a z e e x t e n d s o u t i n f r o n t o f t h e p i c t u r e , i n t o that necessarily
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i n v i s i b l e r e g i o n w h i c h f o r m s its e x t e r i o r f a c e , t o a p p r e h e n d t h e f i g u r e s
a r r a n g e d i n that s p a c e . Instead o f s u r r o u n d i n g v i s i b l e o b j e c t s , this m i r r o r
cuts s t r a i g h t t h r o u g h t h e w h o l e f i e l d o f the r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , i g n o r i n g all
i t m i g h t a p p r e h e n d w i t h i n that f i e l d , a n d restores v i s i b i l i t y t o that w h i c h
resides o u t s i d e all v i e w . B u t the i n v i s i b i l i t y that i t o v e r c o m e s i n this w a y
i s n o t t h e i n v i s i b i l i t y o f w h a t i s h i d d e n : i t d o e s n o t m a k e its w a y a r o u n d
a n y obstacle, it is n o t distorting a n y perspective, it is addressing itself to
w h a t is invisible b o t h because of the picture's structure and because of
its e x i s t e n c e as p a i n t i n g . W h a t it is r e f l e c t i n g is that w h i c h all the f i g u r e s
w i t h i n t h e p a i n t i n g are l o o k i n g a t s o f i x e d l y , o r a t least t h o s e w h o a r e
l o o k i n g straight ahead; it is therefore w h a t the spectator w o u l d be able
t o see i f t h e p a i n t i n g e x t e n d e d further f o r w a r d , i f its b o t t o m e d g e w e r e
b r o u g h t l o w e r until it included the figures the painter is using as m o d e l s .
B u t i t i s also, since t h e p i c t u r e d o e s s t o p t h e r e , d i s p l a y i n g o n l y the p a i n t e r
a n d his s t u d i o , w h a t is e x t e r i o r to t h e p i c t u r e , in so far as it is a p i c t u r e - in
o t h e r w o r d s , a r e c t a n g u l a r f r a g m e n t o f lines a n d c o l o u r s i n t e n d e d t o r e p resent s o m e t h i n g t o t h e e y e s o f a n y p o s s i b l e s p e c t a t o r . A t the far e n d o f
t h e r o o m , i g n o r e d b y all, t h e u n e x p e c t e d m i r r o r h o l d s i n its g l o w t h e
f i g u r e s that t h e p a i n t e r i s l o o k i n g a t (the p a i n t e r i n his r e p r e s e n t e d , o b j e c t i v e r e a l i t y , t h e r e a l i t y o f t h e p a i n t e r a t his w o r k ) ; b u t also t h e f i g u r e s
that a r e l o o k i n g a t t h e p a i n t e r (in t h a t m a t e r i a l r e a l i t y w h i c h t h e lines
a n d t h e c o l o u r s h a v e laid o u t u p o n t h e c a n v a s ) . T h e s e t w o g r o u p s o f
f i g u r e s are b o t h e q u a l l y inaccessible, b u t i n different w a y s : t h e f i r s t b e c a u s e o f a n effect o f c o m p o s i t i o n p e c u l i a r t o t h e p a i n t i n g ; t h e s e c o n d b e c a u s e o f the l a w that presides o v e r the v e r y e x i s t e n c e o f all p i c t u r e s i n
g e n e r a l . H e r e , t h e a c t i o n o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n consists i n b r i n g i n g o n e o f
these t w o f o r m s o f i n v i s i b i l i t y i n t o t h e p l a c e o f t h e o t h e r , i n a n u n s t a b l e
s u p e r i m p o s i t i o n - a n d i n r e n d e r i n g t h e m b o t h , a t the s a m e m o m e n t , a t
t h e o t h e r e x t r e m i t y o f the p i c t u r e - a t that p o l e w h i c h i s t h e v e r y h e i g h t
o f its r e p r e s e n t a t i o n : that o f a reflected d e p t h i n t h e far recess o f t h e
p a i n t i n g ' s d e p t h . T h e m i r r o r p r o v i d e s a m e t a t h e s i s o f v i s i b i l i t y that affects
b o t h t h e space r e p r e s e n t e d i n t h e p i c t u r e a n d its n a t u r e a s r e p r e s e n t a t i o n ;
i t a l l o w s u s t o see, i n the c e n t r e o f t h e c a n v a s , w h a t i n t h e p a i n t i n g i s o f
necessity d o u b l y i n v i s i b l e .
A s t r a n g e l y literal, t h o u g h i n v e r t e d , a p p l i c a t i o n o f t h e a d v i c e g i v e n ,
s o i t i s said, t o his p u p i l b y the o l d P a c h e r o w h e n t h e f o r m e r w a s w o r k i n g
i n his s t u d i o i n S e v i l l e : ' T h e i m a g e s h o u l d stand o u t f r o m the f r a m e . '

8

LAS

MENINAS

II
B u t p e r h a p s i t i s t i m e t o g i v e a n a m e a t last t o that i m a g e w h i c h a p p e a r s i n
the d e p t h s o f t h e m i r r o r , a n d w h i c h the p a i n t e r i s c o n t e m p l a t i n g i n f r o n t
o f the p i c t u r e . P e r h a p s i t w o u l d b e better, o n c e a n d f o r all, t o d e t e r m i n e
the identities o f all t h e figures p r e s e n t e d o r i n d i c a t e d h e r e , s o a s t o a v o i d
e m b r o i l i n g o u r s e l v e s f o r e v e r i n t h o s e v a g u e , rather abstract d e s i g n a t i o n s ,
so constantly prone to misunderstanding and duplication, 'the painter',
'the characters', 'the m o d e l s ' , 'the spectators', 'the i m a g e s ' . Rather than
p u r s u e t o i n f i n i t y a l a n g u a g e i n e v i t a b l y i n a d e q u a t e t o t h e v i s i b l e fact, i t
w o u l d b e b e t t e r t o say that V e l a z q u e z c o m p o s e d a p i c t u r e ; that i n this
p i c t u r e h e r e p r e s e n t e d himself, i n his s t u d i o o r i n a r o o m o f the E s c u r i a l ,
i n t h e act o f p a i n t i n g t w o f i g u r e s w h o m t h e Infanta M a r g a r i t a has c o m e
there t o w a t c h , t o g e t h e r w i t h a n e n t o u r a g e o f d u e n n a s , m a i d s o f h o n o u r ,
c o u r t i e r s , and d w a r f s ; that w e c a n a t t r i b u t e n a m e s t o this g r o u p o f p e o p l e
w i t h g r e a t p r e c i s i o n : t r a d i t i o n r e c o g n i z e s that h e r e w e h a v e D o n a M a r i a
Agustina

Sarmiente,

over

there N i e t o ,

in

the

foreground

Nicolaso

P e r t u s a t o , a n Italian j e s t e r . W e c o u l d t h e n a d d that t h e t w o p e r s o n a g e s
s e r v i n g a s m o d e l s t o t h e p a i n t e r are n o t v i s i b l e , a t least d i r e c t l y ; b u t that
w e c a n see t h e m i n a m i r r o r ; a n d that t h e y are, w i t h o u t a n y d o u b t , K i n g
P h i l i p I V a n d his w i f e , M a r i a n a .
T h e s e p r o p e r n a m e s w o u l d f o r m useful l a n d m a r k s a n d a v o i d a m b i g u o u s
d e s i g n a t i o n s ; t h e y w o u l d tell u s i n a n y case w h a t the p a i n t e r i s l o o k i n g
at, a n d t h e m a j o r i t y o f the characters i n the p i c t u r e a l o n g w i t h h i m . B u t
the r e l a t i o n of l a n g u a g e to p a i n t i n g is an infinite r e l a t i o n . It is n o t that
w o r d s are i m p e r f e c t , o r that, w h e n c o n f r o n t e d b y the v i s i b l e , t h e y p r o v e
insuperably inadequate. Neither can be reduced to the other's terms: it
i s i n v a i n that w e say w h a t w e see; w h a t w e see n e v e r resides i n w h a t w e
say. A n d i t i s i n v a i n that w e a t t e m p t t o s h o w , b y t h e use o f i m a g e s ,
m e t a p h o r s , o r similes, w h a t w e a r e s a y i n g ; the space w h e r e t h e y a c h i e v e
their s p l e n d o u r i s n o t that d e p l o y e d b y o u r e y e s b u t that d e f i n e d b y the
sequential e l e m e n t s o f s y n t a x . A n d the p r o p e r n a m e , i n this p a r t i c u l a r
c o n t e x t , i s m e r e l y a n artifice: i t g i v e s u s a f i n g e r t o p o i n t w i t h , i n o t h e r
w o r d s , t o pass s u r r e p t i t i o u s l y f r o m t h e s p a c e w h e r e o n e speaks t o t h e
space w h e r e o n e l o o k s ; i n o t h e r w o r d s , t o f o l d o n e o v e r t h e o t h e r a s
t h o u g h they w e r e equivalents. B u t i f one wishes t o k e e p the relation o f
l a n g u a g e t o v i s i o n o p e n , i f o n e w i s h e s t o treat their i n c o m p a t i b i l i t y a s a
s t a r t i n g - p o i n t for s p e e c h instead o f a s a n o b s t a c l e t o b e a v o i d e d , s o a s t o
stay a s c l o s e a s possible t o b o t h , t h e n o n e m u s t erase those p r o p e r n a m e s
9

THE

ORDER

OF

THINGS

a n d p r e s e r v e t h e i n f i n i t y o f the task. I t i s p e r h a p s t h r o u g h the m e d i u m o f
this g r e y , a n o n y m o u s l a n g u a g e , a l w a y s o v e r - m e t i c u l o u s a n d r e p e t i t i v e b e cause t o o b r o a d , that t h e p a i n t i n g m a y , little b y little, release its i l l u m i n a tions.
W e m u s t t h e r e f o r e p r e t e n d n o t t o k n o w w h o i s t o b e reflected i n the
d e p t h s o f that m i r r o r , a n d i n t e r r o g a t e that r e f l e c t i o n i n its o w n t e r m s .
First, i t i s t h e r e v e r s e o f t h e g r e a t c a n v a s r e p r e s e n t e d o n t h e left. T h e
r e v e r s e , o r r a t h e r t h e r i g h t side, since i t d i s p l a y s i n full face w h a t t h e
c a n v a s , b y its p o s i t i o n , i s h i d i n g f r o m us. F u r t h e r m o r e , i t i s b o t h i n
o p p o s i t i o n t o the w i n d o w a n d a r e i n f o r c e m e n t o f it. L i k e the w i n d o w , i t
p r o v i d e s a g r o u n d w h i c h i s c o m m o n t o t h e p a i n t i n g a n d t o w h a t lies
o u t s i d e it. B u t t h e w i n d o w o p e r a t e s b y the c o n t i n u o u s m o v e m e n t o f a n
effusion w h i c h , f l o w i n g f r o m r i g h t t o left, unites t h e a t t e n t i v e f i g u r e s , t h e
p a i n t e r , a n d the c a n v a s , w i t h the spectacle t h e y a r e o b s e r v i n g ; w h e r e a s
t h e m i r r o r , o n t h e o t h e r h a n d , b y m e a n s o f a v i o l e n t , instantaneous m o v e m e n t , a m o v e m e n t o f p u r e surprise, leaps o u t f r o m t h e p i c t u r e i n o r d e r
t o r e a c h that w h i c h i s o b s e r v e d y e t i n v i s i b l e i n f r o n t o f it, a n d t h e n , a t
t h e far e n d o f its fictitious d e p t h , t o r e n d e r i t v i s i b l e y e t indifferent t o e v e r y
g a z e . T h e c o m p e l l i n g tracer line, j o i n i n g t h e reflection t o that w h i c h i t
i s r e f l e c t i n g , cuts p e r p e n d i c u l a r l y t h r o u g h the lateral f l o o d o f l i g h t . L a s t l y a n d this is t h e m i r r o r ' s t h i r d f u n c t i o n - it stands adjacent to a d o o r w a y
w h i c h f o r m s a n o p e n i n g , l i k e the m i r r o r itself, i n t h e far w a l l o f the r o o m .
T h i s d o o r w a y t o o f o r m s a b r i g h t a n d s h a r p l y d e f i n e d r e c t a n g l e w h o s e soft
light does not shine t h r o u g h into the r o o m . It w o u l d be n o t h i n g b u t a
g i l d e d p a n e l i f i t w e r e n o t recessed o u t f r o m t h e r o o m b y m e a n s o f o n e
l e a f o f a c a r v e d d o o r , t h e c u r v e o f a c u r t a i n , a n d the s h a d o w s o f s e v e r a l
steps. B e y o n d t h e steps, a c o r r i d o r b e g i n s ; b u t instead o f l o s i n g itself i n
o b s c u r i t y , i t i s dissipated i n a y e l l o w d a z z l e w h e r e t h e l i g h t , w i t h o u t c o m i n g i n , w h i r l s a r o u n d o n itself i n d y n a m i c r e p o s e . A g a i n s t this b a c k g r o u n d ,
a t o n c e n e a r a n d limitless, a m a n stands o u t i n f u l l - l e n g t h s i l h o u e t t e ; h e
is seen in profile; w i t h o n e hand he is h o l d i n g b a c k the w e i g h t of a
c u r t a i n ; his feet a r e p l a c e d o n different steps; o n e k n e e i s b e n t . H e m a y
be about to enter the r o o m ; or he m a y be m e r e l y o b s e r v i n g w h a t is
g o i n g o n inside it, c o n t e n t t o surprise t h o s e w i t h i n w i t h o u t b e i n g seen h i m self. L i k e the m i r r o r , his e y e s are d i r e c t e d t o w a r d s the o t h e r side o f t h e
s c e n e ; n o r i s a n y o n e p a y i n g a n y m o r e a t t e n t i o n t o h i m t h a n t o the m i r r o r .
W e d o n o t k n o w w h e r e h e has c o m e f r o m : i t c o u l d b e that b y f o l l o w i n g
u n c e r t a i n c o r r i d o r s h e has j u s t m a d e his w a y a r o u n d t h e o u t s i d e o f t h e
r o o m i n w h i c h these characters are c o l l e c t e d a n d t h e p a i n t e r i s a t w o r k ;
10

LAS

MENINAS

p e r h a p s h e t o o , a short w h i l e a g o , w a s there i n t h e f o r e f r o n t o f t h e s c e n e ,
i n the i n v i s i b l e r e g i o n still b e i n g c o n t e m p l a t e d b y all t h o s e e y e s i n t h e p i c ture. L i k e t h e i m a g e s p e r c e i v e d i n t h e l o o k i n g - g l a s s , i t i s p o s s i b l e that h e
t o o i s a n e m i s s a r y f r o m that e v i d e n t y e t h i d d e n space. E v e n so, t h e r e i s a
difference: h e i s there i n f l e s h a n d b l o o d ; h e has a p p e a r e d f r o m the o u t s i d e ,
on t h e t h r e s h o l d of t h e area r e p r e s e n t e d ; he is i n d u b i t a b l e - n o t a p r o b a b l e
reflection b u t a n i r r u p t i o n . T h e m i r r o r , b y m a k i n g v i s i b l e , b e y o n d e v e n
the w a l l s o f t h e s t u d i o itself, w h a t i s h a p p e n i n g i n f r o n t o f the p i c t u r e ,
creates, in its sagittal d i m e n s i o n , an o s c i l l a t i o n b e t w e e n the i n t e r i o r a n d
t h e e x t e r i o r . O n e f o o t o n l y o n t h e l o w e r step, his b o d y e n t i r e l y i n p r o file, the a m b i g u o u s v i s i t o r i s c o m i n g i n a n d g o i n g o u t a t the s a m e t i m e ,
l i k e a p e n d u l u m c a u g h t a t t h e b o t t o m o f its s w i n g . H e repeats o n t h e
spot, b u t i n t h e d a r k r e a l i t y o f his b o d y , t h e i n s t a n t a n e o u s m o v e m e n t o f
those i m a g e s f l a s h i n g across t h e r o o m , p l u n g i n g i n t o the m i r r o r , b e i n g
reflected there, a n d s p r i n g i n g o u t f r o m i t a g a i n l i k e v i s i b l e , n e w , a n d
identical species. P a l e , m i n u s c u l e , t h o s e s i l h o u e t t e d f i g u r e s i n t h e m i r r o r
are c h a l l e n g e d b y the tall, solid stature o f the m a n a p p e a r i n g i n the d o o r w a y .
B u t w e m u s t m o v e d o w n a g a i n f r o m the b a c k o f t h e p i c t u r e t o w a r d s
the f r o n t o f t h e s t a g e ; w e m u s t l e a v e that p e r i p h e r y w h o s e v o l u t e w e h a v e
just been f o l l o w i n g . Starting f r o m the painter's g a z e , w h i c h constitutes
a n o f f - c e n t r e c e n t r e t o t h e left, w e p e r c e i v e first o f all t h e b a c k o f the
c a n v a s , t h e n t h e p a i n t i n g s h u n g o n the w a l l , w i t h the m i r r o r i n t h e i r
centre, t h e n t h e o p e n d o o r w a y , t h e n m o r e p i c t u r e s , o f w h i c h , b e c a u s e o f
the sharpness o f the p e r s p e c t i v e , w e c a n see n o m o r e than t h e e d g e s o f
the f r a m e s , a n d f i n a l l y , a t the e x t r e m e r i g h t , t h e w i n d o w , o r r a t h e r the
g r o o v e i n t h e w a l l f r o m w h i c h t h e l i g h t i s p o u r i n g . T h i s spiral shell
presents u s w i t h the entire c y c l e o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n : t h e g a z e , the palette
a n d brush, t h e c a n v a s i n n o c e n t o f signs (these are the m a t e r i a l t o o l s o f
r e p r e s e n t a t i o n ) , the p a i n t i n g s , t h e reflections, t h e real m a n (the c o m p l e t e d
representation, b u t as it w e r e freed f r o m its i l l u s o r y or truthful c o n t e n t s ,
w h i c h are j u x t a p o s e d t o i t ) ; t h e n t h e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n dissolves a g a i n : w e
c a n see o n l y the frames, a n d t h e l i g h t that i s f l o o d i n g t h e p i c t u r e s f r o m
o u t s i d e , b u t t h a t t h e y , i n r e t u r n , m u s t r e c o n s t i t u t e i n their o w n k i n d ,
a s t h o u g h i t w e r e c o m i n g f r o m e l s e w h e r e , passing t h r o u g h their d a r k
w o o d e n f r a m e s . A n d w e d o , i n fact, see this l i g h t o n t h e p a i n t i n g , a p p a r e n t l y w e l l i n g o u t f r o m t h e c r a c k o f the f r a m e ; a n d f r o m there i t m o v e s
o v e r t o t o u c h t h e b r o w , t h e c h e e k b o n e s , t h e e y e s , the g a z e o f the p a i n t e r ,
w h o is h o l d i n g a palette in o n e h a n d a n d in t h e o t h e r a f i n e b r u s h . . .
A n d s o the spiral i s c l o s e d , o r rather, b y m e a n s o f that l i g h t , i s o p e n e d .

THE

ORDER

OF

THINGS

T h i s o p e n i n g i s n o t , l i k e the o n e i n t h e b a c k w a l l , m a d e b y p u l l i n g
b a c k a d o o r ; i t i s t h e w h o l e b r e a d t h o f t h e p i c t u r e itself, a n d the l o o k s that
pass across i t are n o t t h o s e o f a distant v i s i t o r . T h e frieze that o c c u p i e s
the f o r e g r o u n d

a n d t h e m i d d l e g r o u n d o f t h e p i c t u r e represents - i f

w e i n c l u d e t h e p a i n t e r - e i g h t c h a r a c t e r s . F i v e o f these, their h e a d s m o r e
o r less b e n t , t u r n e d o r i n c l i n e d , a r e l o o k i n g s t r a i g h t o u t a t r i g h t a n g l e s
t o the surface o f t h e p i c t u r e . T h e c e n t r e o f t h e g r o u p i s o c c u p i e d b y t h e
little Infanta, w i t h her f l a r e d p i n k a n d g r e y dress. T h e princess i s t u r n i n g
h e r h e a d t o w a r d s the r i g h t side o f t h e p i c t u r e , w h i l e h e r t o r s o a n d the
b i g p a n n i e r s o f h e r dress slant a w a y s l i g h t l y t o w a r d s t h e left; b u t h e r g a z e
is directed absolutely straight t o w a r d s the spectator standing in front of
t h e p a i n t i n g . A v e r t i c a l line d i v i d i n g the c a n v a s i n t o t w o e q u a l h a l v e s
w o u l d pass b e t w e e n t h e c h i l d ' s e y e s . H e r face i s a t h i r d o f the total h e i g h t
o f t h e p i c t u r e a b o v e t h e l o w e r f r a m e . S o that h e r e , b e y o n d all q u e s t i o n ,
resides t h e p r i n c i p a l t h e m e o f the c o m p o s i t i o n ; this i s t h e v e r y o b j e c t o f
this p a i n t i n g . A s t h o u g h t o p r o v e this a n d t o e m p h a s i z e i t e v e n m o r e ,
V e l a z q u e z has m a d e use o f a traditional v i s u a l d e v i c e : b e s i d e the p r i n c i p a l
f i g u r e h e has p l a c e d a s e c o n d a r y o n e , k n e e l i n g a n d l o o k i n g i n t o w a r d s t h e
central one. L i k e a d o n o r in prayer, like an angel greeting the V i r g i n , a
m a i d of h o n o u r on her knees is stretching o u t her hands t o w a r d s the
princess. H e r face stands o u t i n p e r f e c t p r o f i l e against t h e b a c k g r o u n d .
I t i s a t t h e s a m e h e i g h t a s that o f the c h i l d . T h i s a t t e n d a n t i s l o o k i n g a t
t h e princess a n d o n l y at t h e princess. A little to the r i g h t , t h e r e stands
a n o t h e r m a i d o f h o n o u r , also t u r n e d t o w a r d s the Infanta, l e a n i n g s l i g h t l y
o v e r h e r , b u t w i t h h e r e y e s c l e a r l y d i r e c t e d t o w a r d s the f r o n t , t o w a r d s the
s a m e s p o t a l r e a d y b e i n g g a z e d a t b y t h e p a i n t e r a n d t h e princess. L a s t l y ,
t w o o t h e r g r o u p s m a d e u p o f t w o f i g u r e s e a c h : o n e o f these g r o u p s i s
further a w a y ; t h e o t h e r , m a d e u p o f t h e t w o d w a r f s , i s r i g h t i n t h e f o r e g r o u n d . O n e c h a r a c t e r i n e a c h o f these pairs i s l o o k i n g straight o u t , t h e
o t h e r t o t h e left o r t h e r i g h t . B e c a u s e o f their p o s i t i o n s a n d their size,
these t w o g r o u p s c o r r e s p o n d a n d t h e m s e l v e s f o r m a p a i r : b e h i n d , t h e
c o u r t i e r s (the w o m a n , t o t h e left, l o o k s t o t h e r i g h t ) ; i n f r o n t , the d w a r f s
(the b o y , w h o i s a t the e x t r e m e r i g h t , l o o k s i n t o w a r d s t h e c e n t r e o f t h e
p i c t u r e ) . T h i s g r o u p o f characters, a r r a n g e d i n this m a n n e r , c a n b e t a k e n
t o c o n s t i t u t e , a c c o r d i n g t o the w a y o n e l o o k s a t t h e p i c t u r e a n d t h e c e n t r e
o f r e f e r e n c e c h o s e n , t w o different f i g u r e s . T h e first w o u l d b e a l a r g e X :
the t o p l e f t - h a n d p o i n t o f this X w o u l d b e t h e p a i n t e r ' s e y e s ; t h e t o p
r i g h t - h a n d o n e , t h e m a l e c o u r t i e r ' s e y e s ; a t the b o t t o m l e f t - h a n d c o r n e r
t h e r e i s t h e c o r n e r o f t h e c a n v a s represented w i t h its b a c k t o w a r d s u s (or,

LAS

MENINAS

m o r e e x a c t l y , the f o o t o f the e a s e l ) ; a t the b o t t o m r i g h t - h a n d c o r n e r ,
t h e d w a r f (his f o o t o n t h e d o g ' s b a c k ) . W h e r e these t w o lines intersect,
a t t h e c e n t r e o f the X , are t h e e y e s o f the Infanta. T h e s e c o n d f i g u r e w o u l d
b e m o r e t h a t o f a v a s t c u r v e , its t w o ends d e t e r m i n e d b y t h e p a i n t e r o n the
left a n d t h e m a l e c o u r t i e r o n t h e r i g h t - b o t h these e x t r e m i t i e s o c c u r r i n g
h i g h u p i n the p i c t u r e and set b a c k f r o m its surface; t h e c e n t r e o f t h e c u r v e ,
m u c h nearer t o us, w o u l d c o i n c i d e w i t h t h e princess's face a n d t h e l o o k
h e r m a i d o f h o n o u r i s d i r e c t i n g t o w a r d s h e r . T h i s c u r v e describes a
s h a l l o w h o l l o w across t h e c e n t r e o f t h e p i c t u r e w h i c h a t o n c e c o n t a i n s a n d
sets o f f t h e p o s i t i o n o f t h e m i r r o r a t the b a c k .
T h e r e a r e t h u s t w o centres a r o u n d w h i c h the p i c t u r e m a y b e o r g a n i z e d ,
a c c o r d i n g t o w h e t h e r t h e f l u t t e r i n g a t t e n t i o n o f the s p e c t a t o r d e c i d e s t o
settle i n this p l a c e o r i n that. T h e princess i s s t a n d i n g u p r i g h t i n t h e c e n t r e
o f a S t A n d r e w ' s cross, w h i c h i s r e v o l v i n g a r o u n d h e r w i t h its e d d i e s
o f c o u r t i e r s , m a i d s o f h o n o u r , a n i m a l s , a n d f o o l s . B u t this p i v o t i n g m o v e m e n t i s f r o z e n . F r o z e n b y a s p e c t a c l e that w o u l d b e a b s o l u t e l y i n v i s i b l e
i f t h o s e s a m e characters, s u d d e n l y m o t i o n l e s s , w e r e n o t o f f e r i n g us, a s
t h o u g h i n the h o l l o w o f a g o b l e t , the p o s s i b i l i t y o f s e e i n g i n the d e p t h s o f a
m i r r o r the unforeseen d o u b l e of w h a t they are o b s e r v i n g . In depth, it is
the princess w h o i s s u p e r i m p o s e d o n the m i r r o r ; v e r t i c a l l y , i t i s t h e r e f l e c t i o n that i s s u p e r i m p o s e d o n the face. B u t , b e c a u s e o f t h e p e r s p e c t i v e ,
t h e y are v e r y c l o s e t o o n e a n o t h e r . M o r e o v e r , f r o m e a c h o f t h e m t h e r e
s p r i n g s a n i n e l u c t a b l e l i n e : t h e line issuing f r o m the m i r r o r crosses the
w h o l e o f the d e p t h r e p r e s e n t e d (and e v e n m o r e , since the m i r r o r f o r m s a
h o l e i n the b a c k w a l l a n d b r i n g s a further space i n t o b e i n g b e h i n d i t ) ;
the o t h e r line i s s h o r t e r : i t c o m e s f r o m t h e c h i l d ' s e y e s a n d crosses o n l y
t h e f o r e g r o u n d . T h e s e t w o sagittal lines c o n v e r g e a t a v e r y sharp a n g l e ,
a n d the p o i n t w h e r e t h e y m e e t , s p r i n g i n g o u t f r o m d i e p a i n t e d surface,
o c c u r s i n f r o n t o f t h e p i c t u r e , m o r e o r less e x a c t l y a t t h e s p o t f r o m w h i c h
w e are o b s e r v i n g it. I t i s a n u n c e r t a i n p o i n t b e c a u s e w e c a n n o t see it; y e t
it is an i n e v i t a b l e a n d p e r f e c t l y d e f i n e d p o i n t t o o , since it is d e t e r m i n e d
b y those t w o d o m i n a t i n g f i g u r e s a n d c o n f i r m e d further b y o t h e r , a d j a c e n t
d o t t e d lines w h i c h also h a v e their o r i g i n inside the p i c t u r e a n d e m e r g e
f r o m it in a s i m i l a r fashion.
W h a t i s t h e r e , t h e n , w e ask a t last, i n that p l a c e w h i c h i s c o m p l e t e l y
inaccessible b e c a u s e it is e x t e r i o r to t h e p i c t u r e , y e t is p r e s c r i b e d by all t h e
lines o f its c o m p o s i t i o n ? W h a t i s the spectacle, w h a t a r e t h e faces that are
reflected first o f all i n the d e p t h s o f t h e Infanta's e y e s , t h e n i n the c o u r t i e r s '
a n d the p a i n t e r ' s , a n d f i n a l l y i n the distant g l o w o f t h e m i r r o r ? B u t t h e
13

THE

ORDER

OF

THINGS

q u e s t i o n i m m e d i a t e l y b e c o m e s a d o u b l e o n e : t h e face reflected i n t h e
m i r r o r i s also t h e face t h a t i s c o n t e m p l a t i n g i t ; w h a t all t h e f i g u r e s i n t h e
picture are l o o k i n g at are the t w o figures to w h o s e eyes t h e y t o o present
a scene to be o b s e r v e d . T h e entire picture is l o o k i n g o u t at a scene for
w h i c h i t i s itself a s c e n e . A c o n d i t i o n o f p u r e r e c i p r o c i t y m a n i f e s t e d b y t h e
o b s e r v i n g a n d o b s e r v e d m i r r o r , t h e t w o stages o f w h i c h a r e u n c o u p l e d a t
t h e t w o l o w e r c o r n e r s o f t h e p i c t u r e : o n t h e left t h e c a n v a s w i t h its b a c k
t o us, b y m e a n s o f w h i c h t h e e x t e r i o r p o i n t i s m a d e i n t o p u r e s p e c t a c l e ;
t o t h e r i g h t t h e d o g l y i n g o n t h e f l o o r , the o n l y e l e m e n t i n the p i c t u r e
that i s n e i t h e r l o o k i n g a t a n y t h i n g n o r m o v i n g , b e c a u s e i t i s n o t i n t e n d e d ,
w i t h its d e e p reliefs a n d t h e l i g h t p l a y i n g o n its s i l k y hair, t o b e a n y t h i n g
b u t a n o b j e c t t o b e seen.
O u r f i r s t g l a n c e a t t h e p a i n t i n g t o l d u s w h a t i t i s t h a t creates this
s p e c t a c l e - a s - o b s e r v a t i o n . I t i s t h e t w o s o v e r e i g n s . O n e c a n sense t h e i r
p r e s e n c e a l r e a d y i n t h e respectful g a z e o f t h e f i g u r e s i n t h e p i c t u r e , i n t h e
a s t o n i s h m e n t o f t h e c h i l d a n d the d w a r f s . W e r e c o g n i z e t h e m , a t t h e far
e n d o f t h e p i c t u r e , i n t h e t w o t i n y silhouettes g l e a m i n g o u t f r o m t h e
l o o k i n g - g l a s s . I n the m i d s t o f all t h o s e a t t e n t i v e faces, all t h o s e r i c h l y
dressed b o d i e s , t h e y a r e t h e palest, t h e m o s t u n r e a l , t h e m o s t c o m p r o m i s e d
o f all t h e p a i n t i n g ' s i m a g e s : a m o v e m e n t , a little l i g h t , w o u l d b e sufficient
t o eclipse t h e m . O f all these f i g u r e s r e p r e s e n t e d b e f o r e us, t h e y are also
t h e m o s t i g n o r e d , since n o o n e i s p a y i n g t h e slightest a t t e n t i o n t o that
r e f l e c t i o n w h i c h has s l i p p e d i n t o t h e r o o m b e h i n d t h e m all, s i l e n t l y
o c c u p y i n g its u n s u s p e c t e d s p a c e ; i n s o far a s t h e y are v i s i b l e , t h e y are
t h e frailest a n d t h e m o s t distant f o r m o f all r e a l i t y . I n v e r s e l y , i n s o far a s
t h e y stand o u t s i d e t h e p i c t u r e a n d are t h e r e f o r e w i t h d r a w n f r o m i t i n
a n essential i n v i s i b i l i t y , t h e y p r o v i d e t h e c e n t r e a r o u n d w h i c h the e n t i r e
representation is ordered: it is they w h o are b e i n g faced, it is t o w a r d s
t h e m t h a t e v e r y o n e i s t u r n e d , i t i s t o their e y e s t h a t t h e princess i s b e i n g
p r e s e n t e d i n h e r h o l i d a y c l o t h e s ; f r o m t h e c a n v a s w i t h its b a c k t o u s t o
the Infanta, a n d f r o m t h e Infanta t o t h e d w a r f p l a y i n g o n t h e e x t r e m e
r i g h t , there r u n s a c u r v e (or a g a i n , t h e l o w e r f o r k o f t h e X o p e n s ) that
o r d e r s t h e w h o l e a r r a n g e m e n t o f t h e p i c t u r e t o t h e i r g a z e a n d thus m a k e s
a p p a r e n t t h e t r u e c e n t r e o f t h e c o m p o s i t i o n , t o w h i c h t h e Infanta's g a z e
a n d t h e i m a g e i n t h e m i r r o r are b o t h f i n a l l y s u b j e c t .
I n t h e r e a l m o f t h e a n e c d o t e , this c e n t r e i s s y m b o l i c a l l y s o v e r e i g n ,
s i n c e i t i s o c c u p i e d b y K i n g P h i l i p I V a n d his w i f e . B u t i t i s s o a b o v e all
b e c a u s e o f t h e t r i p l e f u n c t i o n i t fulfils i n r e l a t i o n t o the p i c t u r e . F o r i n i t
t h e r e o c c u r s a n e x a c t s u p e r i m p o s i t i o n o f the m o d e l ' s g a z e a s i t i s b e i n g
14

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M E N I N A S

p a i n t e d , o f t h e s p e c t a t o r ' s a s h e c o n t e m p l a t e s the p a i n t i n g , a n d o f t h e
p a i n t e r ' s a s h e i s c o m p o s i n g his p i c t u r e ( n o t t h e o n e r e p r e s e n t e d , b u t t h e
o n e i n f r o n t o f u s w h i c h w e are d i s c u s s i n g ) . T h e s e t h r e e ' o b s e r v i n g '
f u n c t i o n s c o m e t o g e t h e r i n a p o i n t e x t e r i o r t o t h e p i c t u r e : that is, a n ideal
p o i n t i n r e l a t i o n t o w h a t i s r e p r e s e n t e d , b u t a p e r f e c t l y real o n e t o o , s i n c e
i t i s also t h e s t a r t i n g - p o i n t that m a k e s t h e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n p o s s i b l e . W i t h i n
that r e a l i t y itself, i t c a n n o t n o t b e i n v i s i b l e . A n d y e t , t h a t r e a l i t y i s p r o j e c t e d w i t h i n t h e p i c t u r e - p r o j e c t e d a n d diffracted i n t h r e e f o r m s w h i c h
c o r r e s p o n d t o t h e t h r e e f u n c t i o n s o f that ideal a n d real p o i n t . T h e y a r e :
o n the left, t h e p a i n t e r w i t h his p a l e t t e i n his h a n d ( a s e l f - p o r t r a i t o f
V e l a z q u e z ) ; t o t h e r i g h t , t h e v i s i t o r , o n e f o o t o n the step, r e a d y t o e n t e r
t h e r o o m ; h e i s t a k i n g i n the s c e n e f r o m t h e b a c k , b u t h e c a n see t h e r o y a l
c o u p l e , w h o a r e t h e s p e c t a c l e itself, f r o m t h e f r o n t ; a n d l a s t l y , i n t h e
c e n t r e , t h e r e f l e c t i o n o f t h e k i n g a n d t h e q u e e n , r i c h l y dressed, m o t i o n l e s s ,
in the attitude of patient m o d e l s .
A r e f l e c t i o n that s h o w s u s q u i t e s i m p l y , a n d i n s h a d o w , w h a t all t h o s e
i n the f o r e g r o u n d are l o o k i n g at. I t restores, a s i f b y m a g i c , w h a t i s l a c k i n g i n e v e r y g a z e : i n t h e p a i n t e r ' s , t h e m o d e l , w h i c h his r e p r e s e n t e d d o u b l e
i s d u p l i c a t i n g o v e r there i n the p i c t u r e ; i n t h e k i n g ' s , his p o r t r a i t , w h i c h
i s b e i n g finished o f f o n that s l o p e o f the c a n v a s t h a t h e c a n n o t p e r c e i v e
f r o m w h e r e h e stands; i n that o f t h e s p e c t a t o r , t h e real c e n t r e o f the s c e n e ,
w h o s e p l a c e h e h i m s e l f has t a k e n a s t h o u g h b y u s u r p a t i o n . B u t p e r h a p s
this g e n e r o s i t y o n t h e p a r t o f t h e m i r r o r i s f e i g n e d ; p e r h a p s i t i s h i d i n g
as m u c h as and e v e n m o r e than it reveals. T h a t space w h e r e the k i n g and
his w i f e h o l d s w a y b e l o n g s e q u a l l y w e l l t o t h e artist a n d t o the s p e c t a t o r :
i n t h e d e p t h s o f the m i r r o r there c o u l d also a p p e a r - t h e r e o u g h t t o a p p e a r
- t h e a n o n y m o u s face o f t h e p a s s e r - b y a n d t h a t o f V e l a z q u e z . F o r t h e
function of that reflection is to d r a w into the interior of the picture w h a t
i s i n t i m a t e l y f o r e i g n t o it: the g a z e w h i c h has o r g a n i z e d i t a n d t h e g a z e
for w h i c h it is displayed. B u t because they are present w i t h i n the picture,
t o t h e r i g h t a n d t o t h e left, the artist a n d t h e v i s i t o r c a n n o t b e g i v e n a
p l a c e i n t h e m i r r o r : j u s t a s the k i n g a p p e a r s i n t h e d e p t h s o f the l o o k i n g glass p r e c i s e l y b e c a u s e h e d o e s n o t b e l o n g t o t h e p i c t u r e .
I n t h e g r e a t v o l u t e that r u n s a r o u n d the p e r i m e t e r o f the s t u d i o , f r o m t h e
g a z e o f t h e p a i n t e r , w i t h his m o t i o n l e s s h a n d a n d p a l e t t e , r i g h t r o u n d t o
the finished p a i n t i n g s , r e p r e s e n t a t i o n c a m e i n t o b e i n g , r e a c h e d c o m p l e t i o n ,
o n l y t o d i s s o l v e o n c e m o r e i n t o the l i g h t ; t h e c y c l e w a s c o m p l e t e . T h e
lines that r u n t h r o u g h t h e d e p t h o f the p i c t u r e , o n t h e o t h e r h a n d , are
n o t c o m p l e t e ; t h e y all l a c k a s e g m e n t o f their trajectories. T h i s g a p i s
15

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THINGS

caused by t h e absence of t h e k i n g - an absence t h a t is an artifice on t h e
p a r t o f t h e p a i n t e r . B u t this artifice b o t h conceals a n d indicates a n o t h e r
v a c a n c y w h i c h is, o n t h e c o n t r a r y , i m m e d i a t e : t h a t o f t h e p a i n t e r a n d t h e
s p e c t a t o r w h e n t h e y arc l o o k i n g a t o r c o m p o s i n g t h e p i c t u r e . I t m a y b e
that, in this p i c t u r e , as in all t h e representations of w h i c h it is, as it w e r e ,
t h e manifest essence, t h e p r o f o u n d invisibility of w h a t o n e sees is i n separable f r o m t h e invisibility of t h e p e r s o n seeing - despite all m i r r o r s ,
reflections, imitations, a n d p o r t r a i t s . A r o u n d t h e scene are a r r a n g e d all
t h e signs a n d successive f o r m s o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n ; b u t t h e d o u b l e relation
of t h e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n to its m o d e l a n d to its s o v e r e i g n , to its a u t h o r as
well as to t h e p e r s o n to w h o m it is b e i n g offered, this relation is necessarily i n t e r r u p t e d . I t can n e v e r b e p r e s e n t w i t h o u t s o m e r e s i d u u m , e v e n
in a representation that offers itself as a spectacle. In t h e d e p t h that traverses
t h e p i c t u r e , h o l l o w i n g it i n t o a fictitious recess a n d p r o j e c t i n g it f o r w a r d
in front of itself, it is n o t possible for t h e p u r e felicity of t h e i m a g e ever
to present in a full light b o t h t h e m a s t e r w h o is r e p r e s e n t i n g a n d t h e
s o v e r e i g n w h o i s b e i n g represented.
P e r h a p s t h e r e exists, in this p a i n t i n g by V e l a z q u e z , t h e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n
as it w e r e , of Classical representation, a n d t h e definition of t h e space it
o p e n s up to us. A n d , indeed, representation u n d e r t a k e s to represent itself
h e r e in all its e l e m e n t s , w i t h its images, t h e eyes to w h i c h it is offered,
t h e faces it m a k e s visible, t h e gestures t h a t call it i n t o b e i n g . B u t t h e r e ,
in t h e m i d s t of this dispersion w h i c h it is s i m u l t a n e o u s l y g r o u p i n g t o g e t h e r a n d s p r e a d i n g o u t before us, indicated c o m p e l l i n g l y f r o m e v e r y
side, is an essential v o i d : t h e necessary disappearance of that w h i c h is its
f o u n d a t i o n - of t h e p e r s o n it resembles a n d t h e p e r s o n in w h o s e eyes it
is o n l y a r e s e m b l a n c e . T h i s v e r y subject - w h i c h is t h e s a m e - has b e e n
elided. A n d r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , freed finally f r o m t h e relation t h a t w a s i m p e d i n g it, can offer itself as r e p r e s e n t a t i o n in its p u r e f o r m .

16

C H A P T E R

2

The Prose of the World
I

THE

FOUR

SIMILITUDES

U p t o the e n d o f the s i x t e e n t h c e n t u r y , r e s e m b l a n c e p l a y e d a c o n s t r u c t i v e
r o l e i n the k n o w l e d g e o f W e s t e r n c u l t u r e . I t w a s r e s e m b l a n c e that l a r g e l y
g u i d e d e x e g e s i s and t h e i n t e r p r e t a t i o n o f t e x t s ; i t w a s r e s e m b l a n c e that
organized the play o f s y m b o l s , m a d e possible k n o w l e d g e o f things visible
and i n v i s i b l e , a n d c o n t r o l l e d t h e art o f r e p r e s e n t i n g t h e m . T h e u n i v e r s e
w a s f o l d e d i n u p o n itself: the earth e c h o i n g t h e s k y , faces s e e i n g t h e m selves reflected i n t h e stars, a n d plants h o l d i n g w i t h i n their s t e m s t h e
secrets that w e r e o f use t o m a n . P a i n t i n g i m i t a t e d s p a c e . A n d r e p r e s e n t a t i o n - w h e t h e r i n the s e r v i c e o f pleasure o r o f k n o w l e d g e - w a s p o s i t e d
a s a f o r m o f r e p e t i t i o n : the theatre o f life o r t h e m i r r o r o f n a t u r e , that w a s
the c l a i m m a d e b y all l a n g u a g e , its m a n n e r o f d e c l a r i n g its e x i s t e n c e a n d
o f f o r m u l a t i n g its r i g h t o f s p e e c h .
W e m u s t p a u s e h e r e f o r a w h i l e , a t this m o m e n t i n t i m e w h e n r e s e m b l a n c e w a s a b o u t t o r e l i n q u i s h its r e l a t i o n w i t h k n o w l e d g e a n d disappear,
i n p a r t a t least, f r o m t h e sphere o f c o g n i t i o n . H o w , a t the e n d o f t h e
sixteenth century, and even in the early seventeenth century, w a s similitude c o n c e i v e d ? H o w d i d i t o r g a n i z e the f i g u r e s o f k n o w l e d g e ? A n d i f
the t h i n g s that r e s e m b l e d o n e a n o t h e r w e r e i n d e e d infinite i n n u m b e r ,
c a n o n e , a t least, establish t h e f o r m s a c c o r d i n g t o w h i c h t h e y m i g h t
resemble o n e another?
T h e s e m a n t i c w e b o f r e s e m b l a n c e i n the s i x t e e n t h c e n t u r y i s e x t r e m e l y
rich:

Amicitia,

Aequalitas

(contractus,
Concertus,

consensus,

Continuum,

matrimonium,

et similia),

Consonantia,

Paritas,

Conjunctio,

Copula[i]. A n d t h e r e are a g r e a t m a n y

societas,

Proportio,
other

pax,

Similitudo,

notions

that

intersect, o v e r l a p , r e i n f o r c e , o r l i m i t o n e a n o t h e r o n the surface o f t h o u g h t .
I t i s e n o u g h f o r t h e m o m e n t t o i n d i c a t e the p r i n c i p a l f i g u r e s that d e t e r m i n e the k n o w l e d g e o f r e s e m b l a n c e w i t h t h e i r a r t i c u l a t i o n s . T h e r e a r e
f o u r o f these t h a t are, b e y o n d d o u b t , essential.
17

THE

ORDER

OF

THINGS

First o f all, convenientia. T h i s w o r d r e a l l y d e n o t e s t h e a d j a c e n c y o f
places m o r e s t r o n g l y t h a n i t d o e s s i m i l i t u d e . T h o s e t h i n g s are ' c o n v e n i e n t '
w h i c h c o m e sufficiently c l o s e t o o n e a n o t h e r t o b e i n j u x t a p o s i t i o n ; their
e d g e s t o u c h , their fringes i n t e r m i n g l e , t h e e x t r e m i t y o f the o n e also d e n o t e s t h e b e g i n n i n g o f t h e o t h e r . I n this w a y , m o v e m e n t , influences,
passions, a n d p r o p e r t i e s t o o , are c o m m u n i c a t e d . S o that i n this h i n g e
b e t w e e n t w o t h i n g s a r e s e m b l a n c e appears. A r e s e m b l a n c e that b e c o m e s
d o u b l e a s s o o n a s o n e a t t e m p t s t o u n r a v e l it: a r e s e m b l a n c e o f the p l a c e ,
t h e site u p o n w h i c h n a t u r e has p l a c e d the t w o t h i n g s , a n d thus a s i m i l i t u d e
o f p r o p e r t i e s ; f o r i n this n a t u r a l c o n t a i n e r , t h e w o r l d , a d j a c e n c y i s n o t a n
e x t e r i o r r e l a t i o n b e t w e e n t h i n g s , b u t the s i g n o f a r e l a t i o n s h i p , o b s c u r e
t h o u g h i t m a y b e . A n d t h e n , f r o m this c o n t a c t , b y e x c h a n g e , there arise
n e w resemblances; a c o m m o n r e g i m e n b e c o m e s necessary; u p o n the simil i t u d e that w a s t h e h i d d e n r e a s o n for their p r o p i n q u i t y i s s u p e r i m p o s e d
a r e s e m b l a n c e t h a t i s the v i s i b l e effect o f that p r o x i m i t y . B o d y a n d s o u l ,
f o r e x a m p l e , are d o u b l y ' c o n v e n i e n t ' : the s o u l h a d t o b e m a d e dense,
h e a v y , a n d terrestrial f o r G o d t o p l a c e i t i n t h e v e r y h e a r t o f m a t t e r .
B u t t h r o u g h this p r o p i n q u i t y , the s o u l r e c e i v e s t h e m o v e m e n t s o f t h e b o d y
a n d assimilates itself t o that b o d y , w h i l e ' t h e b o d y i s altered a n d c o r r u p t e d
b y t h e passions o f the soul'[2]. I n t h e v a s t s y n t a x o f the w o r l d , the differe n t b e i n g s adjust t h e m s e l v e s t o o n e a n o t h e r ; t h e p l a n t c o m m u n i c a t e s w i t h
t h e a n i m a l , the e a r t h w i t h the sea, m a n w i t h e v e r y t h i n g a r o u n d h i m .
R e s e m b l a n c e i m p o s e s adjacencies that i n their t u r n g u a r a n t e e further r e s e m b l a n c e s . P l a c e a n d s i m i l i t u d e b e c o m e e n t a n g l e d : w e see m o s s e s g r o w i n g o n the o u t s i d e s o f shells, plants i n t h e antlers o f stags, a sort o f grass
o n t h e faces o f m e n ; a n d t h e s t r a n g e z o o p h y t e , b y m i n g l i n g t o g e t h e r
the p r o p e r t i e s t h a t m a k e i t similar t o t h e plants a s w e l l a s t o the a n i m a l s ,
also j u x t a p o s e s t h e m [3]. A l l s o m a n y signs o f ' c o n v e n i e n c e ' .
Convenientia is a r e s e m b l a n c e c o n n e c t e d w i t h space in t h e f o r m of a
g r a d u a t e d scale o f p r o x i m i t y . I t i s o f the s a m e o r d e r a s c o n j u n c t i o n a n d
a d j u s t m e n t . T h i s i s w h y i t pertains less t o t h e t h i n g s t h e m s e l v e s than t o t h e
w o r l d i n w h i c h they exist. T h e w o r l d i s simply the universal ' c o n v e n i e n c e '
o f t h i n g s ; t h e r e are t h e s a m e n u m b e r o f fishes i n the w a t e r a s t h e r e are
a n i m a l s , o r o b j e c t s p r o d u c e d b y n a t u r e o r m a n , o n t h e l a n d (are t h e r e
n o t fishes c a l l e d Episcopus, o t h e r s c a l l e d Catena, a n d o t h e r s c a l l e d Priapus?);
t h e s a m e n u m b e r o f b e i n g s i n t h e w a t e r a n d o n t h e surface o f t h e earth
a s t h e r e a r e i n t h e s k y , t h e inhabitants o f t h e f o r m e r c o r r e s p o n d i n g w i t h
those o f the latter; a n d lastly, there are t h e s a m e n u m b e r o f b e i n g s i n t h e
w h o l e o f c r e a t i o n a s m a y b e f o u n d e m i n e n t l y c o n t a i n e d i n G o d himself,
18

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'the S o w e r o f Existence, o f P o w e r , o f K n o w l e d g e and o f Love'[4]. T h u s ,
b y this l i n k i n g o f r e s e m b l a n c e w i t h space, this ' c o n v e n i e n c e ' that b r i n g s l i k e
t h i n g s t o g e t h e r a n d m a k e s adjacent t h i n g s similar, t h e w o r l d i s l i n k e d t o gether like a chain. At each point of contact there begins and ends a link
that r e s e m b l e s t h e o n e b e f o r e i t a n d the o n e after it; a n d f r o m c i r c l e t o
c i r c l e , these s i m i l i t u d e s c o n t i n u e , h o l d i n g t h e e x t r e m e s apart ( G o d a n d
m a t t e r ) , y e t b r i n g i n g t h e m t o g e t h e r i n s u c h a w a y that t h e w i l l o f t h e
A l m i g h t y m a y p e n e t r a t e i n t o t h e m o s t u n a w a k e n e d c o r n e r s . I t i s this
i m m e n s e , taut, a n d v i b r a t i n g c h a i n , this r o p e o f ' c o n v e n i e n c e ' , t h a t P o r t a
e v o k e s in a p a s s a g e f r o m his Magie naturelle:
A s w i t h r e s p e c t t o its v e g e t a t i o n t h e p l a n t stands c o n v e n i e n t t o the
b r u t e beast, s o t h r o u g h f e e l i n g d o e s the b r u t i s h a n i m a l t o m a n , w h o i s
c o n f o r m a b l e t o t h e rest o f t h e stars b y his i n t e l l i g e n c e ; these l i n k s p r o c e e d so strictly that t h e y a p p e a r as a r o p e s t r e t c h e d f r o m t h e first c a u s e
a s far a s t h e l o w e s t a n d smallest o f t h i n g s , b y a r e c i p r o c a l a n d c o n t i n u o u s c o n n e c t i o n ; i n s u c h w i s e that the s u p e r i o r v i r t u e , s p r e a d i n g its
b e a m s , reaches s o far that i f w e t o u c h o n e e x t r e m i t y o f that c o r d i t w i l l
m a k e t r e m b l e a n d m o v e all t h e r e s t [ s ] .
T h e s e c o n d f o r m o f s i m i l i t u d e i s aemulatio: a sort o f ' c o n v e n i e n c e ' t h a t
has b e e n freed f r o m t h e l a w o f p l a c e a n d i s a b l e t o f u n c t i o n , w i t h o u t
m o t i o n , f r o m a distance. R a t h e r a s t h o u g h t h e spatial c o l l u s i o n o f convenientia h a d b e e n b r o k e n , s o that t h e links o f t h e c h a i n , n o l o n g e r c o n n e c t e d , r e p r o d u c e d their circles a t a distance f r o m o n e a n o t h e r i n a c c o r d a n c e w i t h a r e s e m b l a n c e that n e e d s n o c o n t a c t . T h e r e i s s o m e t h i n g i n
e m u l a t i o n o f t h e r e f l e c t i o n a n d the m i r r o r : i t i s t h e m e a n s w h e r e b y t h i n g s
scattered t h r o u g h the u n i v e r s e c a n a n s w e r o n e a n o t h e r . T h e h u m a n face,
f r o m afar, e m u l a t e s t h e s k y , a n d j u s t a s m a n ' s intellect i s a n i m p e r f e c t r e f l e c t i o n o f G o d ' s w i s d o m , s o his t w o e y e s , w i t h their l i m i t e d b r i g h t n e s s ,
are a reflection o f t h e v a s t i l l u m i n a t i o n s p r e a d across t h e s k y b y sun a n d
m o o n ; t h e m o u t h i s V e n u s , since i t g i v e s p a s s a g e t o kisses a n d w o r d s o f
l o v e ; the n o s e p r o v i d e s a n i m a g e i n m i n i a t u r e o f J o v e ' s sceptre a n d M e r c u r y ' s staff[6]. T h e r e l a t i o n o f e m u l a t i o n enables t h i n g s t o i m i t a t e o n e
another f r o m one end of the universe to the other w i t h o u t connection or
p r o x i m i t y : b y d u p l i c a t i n g itself i n a m i r r o r t h e w o r l d abolishes t h e d i s tance p r o p e r t o it; i n this w a y i t o v e r c o m e s t h e p l a c e a l l o t e d t o e a c h t h i n g .
B u t w h i c h o f these reflections c o u r s i n g t h r o u g h s p a c e are t h e o r i g i n a l
images? W h i c h is the reality and w h i c h the projection? It is often n o t
possible t o s a y , f o r e m u l a t i o n i s a sort o f natural t w i n s h i p e x i s t i n g i n
19

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t h i n g s ; i t arises f r o m a f o l d i n b e i n g , t h e t w o sides o f w h i c h stand i m m e d i a t e l y o p p o s i t e t o o n e a n o t h e r . Paracelsus c o m p a r e s this f u n d a m e n t a l
d u p l i c a t i o n o f the w o r l d t o the i m a g e o f t w o t w i n s ' w h o r e s e m b l e o n e
a n o t h e r c o m p l e t e l y , w i t h o u t its b e i n g p o s s i b l e for a n y o n e t o say w h i c h o f
t h e m b r o u g h t its s i m i l i t u d e t o t h e o t h e r ' [ 7 ] .
H o w e v e r , e m u l a t i o n d o e s n o t l e a v e the t w o reflected figures i t has
c o n f r o n t e d i n a m e r e l y i n e r t state o f o p p o s i t i o n . O n e m a y b e w e a k e r , a n d
t h e r e f o r e r e c e p t i v e t o t h e s t r o n g e r influence o f the o t h e r , w h i c h i s thus
reflected i n his p a s s i v e m i r r o r . A r e n o t the stars, f o r e x a m p l e , d o m i n a n t
o v e r t h e plants o f t h e e a r t h , o f w h i c h t h e y are t h e u n c h a n g e d m o d e l ,
the unalterable f o r m , and o v e r w h i c h they h a v e been secretly e m p o w e r e d
t o p o u r the w h o l e d y n a s t y o f their influences? T h e d a r k e a r t h i s t h e
m i r r o r o f t h e s t a r - s o w n s k y , b u t t h e t w o rivals are n e i t h e r o f e q u a l v a l u e
n o r o f e q u a l d i g n i t y i n that t o u r n a m e n t . T h e b r i g h t c o l o u r s o f the f l o w e r s
r e p r o d u c e , w i t h o u t v i o l e n c e , the p u r e f o r m o f the s k y . A s C r o l l i u s s a y s :
T h e stars a r e t h e m a t r i x o f all t h e p l a n t s a n d e v e r y star i n t h e s k y i s o n l y
the spiritual p r e f i g u r a t i o n of a p l a n t , s u c h that it represents that p l a n t ,
a n d j u s t as e a c h h e r b or p l a n t is a terrestrial star l o o k i n g up at the s k y ,
so also e a c h star is a celestial p l a n t in spiritual f o r m , w h i c h differs f r o m
t h e terrestrial plants in m a t t e r a l o n e . . . , t h e celestial plants a n d h e r b s
are t u r n e d t o w a r d s t h e e a r t h a n d l o o k d i r e c t l y d o w n u p o n the p l a n t s
t h e y h a v e p r o c r e a t e d , i m b u i n g t h e m w i t h s o m e p a r t i c u l a r virtue[8].
B u t the lists m a y r e m a i n o p e n , a n d the u n t r o u b l e d m i r r o r reflect o n l y
t h e i m a g e o f ' t w o w r a t h f u l soldiers'. S i m i l i t u d e t h e n b e c o m e s the c o m b a t
o f o n e f o r m a g a i n s t a n o t h e r - o r rather o f o n e a n d the s a m e f o r m s e p a r ated f r o m itself b y t h e w e i g h t o f m a t t e r o r distance i n space. M a n a s
Paracelsus describes h i m is, l i k e t h e f i r m a m e n t , ' c o n s t e l l a t e d w i t h stars',
b u t h e i s n o t b o u n d t o i t l i k e ' t h e t h i e f t o his g a l l e y - o a r , t h e m u r d e r e r
t o t h e w h e e l , t h e fish t o t h e f i s h e r m a n , the q u a r r y t o t h e h u n t s m a n ' . I t
pertains t o t h e f i r m a m e n t o f m a n t o b e 'free a n d p o w e r f u l ' , t o ' b o w t o
no order', and ' n o t to be ruled by a n y odier created beings'. His inner s k y
m a y r e m a i n a u t o n o m o u s a n d d e p e n d o n l y u p o n itself, b u t o n c o n d i t i o n
that b y m e a n s o f his w i s d o m , w h i c h i s also k n o w l e d g e , h e c o m e s t o r e s e m b l e the o r d e r o f t h e w o r l d , takes i t b a c k i n t o h i m s e l f a n d thus r e creates i n his i n n e r f i r m a m e n t the s w a y o f t h a t o t h e r f i r m a m e n t i n w h i c h
h e sees the g l i t t e r o f t h e v i s i b l e stars. I f h e d o e s this, t h e n the w i s d o m o f
t h e m i r r o r w i l l i n t u r n b e reflected b a c k t o e n v e l o p t h e w o r l d i n w h i c h
i t has b e e n p l a c e d ; i t s g r e a t r i n g w i l l spin o u t i n t o t h e d e p t h s o f the h e a v e n s ,
20

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a n d b e y o n d ; m a n w i l l d i s c o v e r that h e c o n t a i n s ' t h e stars w i t h i n h i m s e l f . . . , a n d that he is thus t h e b e a r e r of t h e f i r m a m e n t w i t h all its i n fluences'[9].
E m u l a t i o n i s p o s i t e d i n t h e first p l a c e i n the f o r m o f a m e r e r e f l e c t i o n ,
f u r t i v e a n d distant; i t traverses t h e spaces o f t h e u n i v e r s e i n silence. B u t
the distance i t crosses i s n o t a n n u l l e d b y t h e s u b t l e m e t a p h o r o f e m u l a t i o n ;
i t r e m a i n s o p e n t o t h e e y e . A n d i n this d u e l , t h e t w o c o n f r o n t i n g f i g u r e s
seize u p o n o n e a n o t h e r . L i k e e n v e l o p s l i k e , w h i c h i n t u r n s u r r o u n d s t h e
other, perhaps to be enveloped once m o r e in a duplication w h i c h can
c o n t i n u e a d infinitum. T h e l i n k s o f e m u l a t i o n , u n l i k e t h e e l e m e n t s o f
convenientia, d o n o t f o r m a c h a i n b u t rather a series o f c o n c e n t r i c circles
reflecting and rivalling o n e another.
T h e third f o r m o f s i m i l i t u d e i s analogy. A n o l d c o n c e p t a l r e a d y f a m i l i a r
t o G r e e k s c i e n c e a n d m e d i e v a l t h o u g h t , b u t o n e w h o s e use has p r o b a b l y
b e c o m e different n o w .

In this a n a l o g y , convenientia a n d aemulatio a r e

s u p e r i m p o s e d . L i k e t h e latter, i t m a k e s p o s s i b l e t h e m a r v e l l o u s c o n f r o n tation o f r e s e m b l a n c e s across s p a c e ; b u t i t also speaks, l i k e t h e f o r m e r , o f
adjacencies, o f b o n d s a n d j o i n t s . Its p o w e r i s i m m e n s e , f o r t h e s i m i l i t u d e s
o f w h i c h i t treats are n o t the v i s i b l e , substantial o n e s b e t w e e n t h i n g s t h e m selves; they need o n l y b e the m o r e subtle resemblances o f relations.
D i s e n c u m b e r e d thus, i t c a n e x t e n d , f r o m a s i n g l e g i v e n p o i n t , t o a n e n d less n u m b e r o f relationships. F o r e x a m p l e , t h e r e l a t i o n o f t h e stars t o t h e
s k y i n w h i c h t h e y shine m a y also b e f o u n d : b e t w e e n p l a n t s a n d t h e earth,
b e t w e e n l i v i n g b e i n g s a n d the g l o b e t h e y i n h a b i t , b e t w e e n m i n e r a l s s u c h
a s d i a m o n d s a n d the r o c k s i n w h i c h t h e y a r e b u r i e d , b e t w e e n sense o r g a n s
a n d the face t h e y a n i m a t e , b e t w e e n s k i n m o l e s a n d t h e b o d y o f w h i c h
t h e y are t h e secret m a r k s . A n a n a l o g y m a y also b e t u r n e d a r o u n d u p o n
itself w i t h o u t t h e r e b y r e n d e r i n g i t s e l f o p e n t o d i s p u t e . T h e o l d a n a l o g y
o f p l a n t t o a n i m a l (the v e g e t a b l e i s a n a n i m a l l i v i n g h e a d d o w n , its
m o u t h - or r o o t s - b u r i e d in t h e e a r t h ) , is n e i t h e r c r i t i c i z e d n o r d i s p o s e d
of by C e s a l p i n o ; on the contrary, he gives it added force, he multiplies
i t b y itself w h e n h e m a k e s the d i s c o v e r y that a p l a n t i s a n u p r i g h t a n i m a l ,
w h o s e n u t r i t i v e p r i n c i p l e s rise f r o m t h e base u p t o the s u m m i t , c h a n n e l l e d
a l o n g a s t e m t h a t stretches u p w a r d s l i k e a b o d y a n d is t o p p e d by a h e a d s p r e a d i n g f l o w e r s a n d l e a v e s : a r e l a t i o n that i n v e r t s b u t d o e s n o t c o n t r a d i c t
the initial a n a l o g y , since i t p l a c e s ' t h e r o o t i n t h e l o w e r p a r t o f t h e p l a n t
and the s t e m i n the u p p e r part, f o r t h e v e n o u s n e t w o r k i n a n i m a l s also
b e g i n s i n the l o w e r part o f the b e l l y , a n d t h e p r i n c i p a l v e i n rises u p t o t h e
heart and head'[10].
21

THE

ORDER

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THINGS

T h i s r e v e r s i b i l i t y a n d this p o l y v a l e n c y e n d o w a n a l o g y w i t h a u n i v e r s a l
field o f a p p l i c a t i o n . T h r o u g h it, all t h e figures i n t h e w h o l e u n i v e r s e c a n
b e d r a w n t o g e t h e r . T h e r e d o e s exist, h o w e v e r , i n this s p a c e , f u r r o w e d i n
e v e r y d i r e c t i o n , o n e p a r t i c u l a r l y p r i v i l e g e d p o i n t : i t i s saturated w i t h
a n a l o g i e s (all a n a l o g i e s c a n f i n d o n e o f their n e c e s s a r y t e r m s t h e r e ) , a n d a s
t h e y pass t h r o u g h it, their r e l a t i o n s m a y b e i n v e r t e d w i t h o u t l o s i n g a n y
o f t h e i r f o r c e . T h i s p o i n t i s m a n : h e stands i n p r o p o r t i o n t o t h e h e a v e n s ,
j u s t a s h e d o e s t o a n i m a l s a n d plants, a n d a s h e d o e s also t o t h e earth,
t o m e t a l s , t o stalactites o r s t o r m s . U p r i g h t b e t w e e n t h e surfaces o f t h e
u n i v e r s e , h e stands i n r e l a t i o n t o t h e f i r m a m e n t (his face i s t o his b o d y
w h a t t h e face o f h e a v e n i s t o t h e e t h e r ; his p u l s e beats i n his v e i n s a s t h e
stars c i r c l e t h e s k y a c c o r d i n g t o their o w n f i x e d p a t h s ; t h e s e v e n orifices
i n his h e a d a r e t o his face w h a t t h e s e v e n planets a r e t o t h e s k y ) ; b u t h e
i s also t h e f u l c r u m u p o n w h i c h all these relations t u r n , s o that w e f i n d
t h e m again, their similarity unimpaired, in the a n a l o g y of the h u m a n
a n i m a l to t h e e a r t h it i n h a b i t s : his flesh is a g l e b e , his b o n e s are r o c k s , his
v e i n s g r e a t r i v e r s , his b l a d d e r i s t h e sea, a n d his s e v e n p r i n c i p a l o r g a n s a r c
the m e t a l s h i d d e n i n t h e shafts o f m i n e s [ n ] . M a n ' s b o d y i s a l w a y s t h e
p o s s i b l e h a l f o f a u n i v e r s a l atlas. I t i s w e l l k n o w n h o w P i e r r e B e l o n d r e w ,
a n d d r e w i n t h e greatest detail, t h e first c o m p a r a t i v e illustration o f t h e
h u m a n s k e l e t o n a n d that o f b i r d s : i n it, w e see
t h e p i n i o n c a l l e d the a p p e n d i x w h i c h i s i n p r o p o r t i o n t o t h e w i n g a n d i n
t h e s a m e p l a c e a s t h e t h u m b o n the h a n d ; the e x t r e m i t y o f the p i n i o n
w h i c h is like the fingers in us . . . ; the b o n e g i v e n as legs to the bird
c o r r e s p o n d i n g t o o u r h e e l ; j u s t a s w e h a v e f o u r toes o n o u r feet, s o t h e
birds h a v e four fingers o f w h i c h the o n e b e h i n d i s p r o p o r t i o n a t e t o
the b i g toe in us[i2].
So m u c h precision is not, h o w e v e r , comparative anatomy except to an
e y e a r m e d w i t h n i n e t e e n t h - c e n t u r y k n o w l e d g e . I t i s m e r e l y that t h e g r i d
t h r o u g h w h i c h w e p e r m i t the figures o f resemblance t o enter our k n o w l e d g e h a p p e n s t o c o i n c i d e a t this p o i n t (and a t a l m o s t n o o t h e r ) w i t h that
w h i c h s i x t e e n t h - c e n t u r y l e a r n i n g h a d laid o v e r t h i n g s .
I n f a c t , B e l o n ' s d e s c r i p t i o n has n o c o n n e c t i o n w i t h a n y t h i n g b u t t h e
p o s i t i v i t y w h i c h , i n his d a y , m a d e i t p o s s i b l e . I t i s n e i t h e r m o r e r a t i o n a l
n o r m o r e scientific t h a n a n o b s e r v a t i o n s u c h a s A l d r o v a n d i ' s c o m p a r i s o n
o f m a n ' s baser parts t o t h e f o u l e r parts o f t h e w o r l d , t o H e l l , t o the d a r k ness o f H e l l , t o t h e d a m n e d souls w h o a r e l i k e t h e e x c r e m e n t o f t h e
U n i v e r s e [ i 3 ] ; it belongs to the same analogical c o s m o g r a p h y
22

as

the

THE

PROSE

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THE

W O R L D

c o m p a r i s o n , classic i n C r o l l i u s ' s t i m e , b e t w e e n a p o p l e x y a n d t e m p e s t s :
the s t o r m b e g i n s w h e n the air b e c o m e s h e a v y a n d a g i t a t e d , t h e a p o p l e c t i c
a t t a c k a t the m o m e n t w h e n o u r t h o u g h t s b e c o m e h e a v y a n d d i s t u r b e d ;
t h e n the c l o u d s p i l e u p , t h e b e l l y s w e l l s , t h e t h u n d e r e x p l o d e s a n d t h e
b l a d d e r bursts; t h e l i g h t n i n g flashes a n d t h e e y e s g l i t t e r w i t h a t e r r i b l e
b r i g h t n e s s , t h e rain falls, t h e m o u t h f o a m s , t h e t h u n d e r b o l t i s u n l e a s h e d
a n d t h e spirits b u r s t o p e n b r e a c h e s i n the s k i n ; b u t t h e n the s k y b e c o m e s
clear a g a i n , a n d i n t h e sick m a n r e a s o n r e g a i n s a s c e n d a n c y [14]. T h e s p a c e
occupied by analogies is really a space of radiation. M a n is surrounded
b y i t o n e v e r y side; b u t , i n v e r s e l y , h e transmits these r e s e m b l a n c e s b a c k
i n t o t h e w o r l d f r o m w h i c h h e r e c e i v e s t h e m . H e i s the g r e a t f u l c r u m o f
p r o p o r t i o n s - t h e c e n t r e u p o n w h i c h r e l a t i o n s are c o n c e n t r a t e d a n d f r o m
w h i c h t h e y a r e o n c e a g a i n reflected.
L a s t l y , t h e f o u r t h f o r m o f r e s e m b l a n c e i s p r o v i d e d b y the p l a y o f
sympathies.

A n d h e r e , n o p a t h has b e e n

determined

in

advance,

no

distance laid d o w n , n o l i n k s p r e s c r i b e d . S y m p a t h y p l a y s t h r o u g h the
d e p t h s of t h e u n i v e r s e in a free state. It c a n t r a v e r s e t h e vastest spaces in
a n instant: i t falls l i k e a t h u n d e r b o l t f r o m t h e distant p l a n e t u p o n t h e
m a n ruled by that planet; on the other hand, it can be b r o u g h t into b e i n g
b y a s i m p l e c o n t a c t - a s w i t h t h o s e ' m o u r n i n g roses that h a v e b e e n used
a t o b s e q u i e s ' w h i c h , s i m p l y f r o m their f o r m e r a d j a c e n c y w i t h d e a t h , w i l l
r e n d e r all p e r s o n s w h o s m e l l t h e m 'sad a n d m o r i b u n d ' [ 1 5 ] . B u t s u c h i s
its p o w e r that s y m p a t h y i s n o t c o n t e n t t o s p r i n g f r o m a s i n g l e c o n t a c t
and speed t h r o u g h space; it excites the things of the w o r l d to m o v e m e n t
a n d c a n d r a w e v e n t h e m o s t distant o f t h e m t o g e t h e r . I t i s a p r i n c i p l e
o f m o b i l i t y : i t attracts w h a t i s h e a v y t o t h e h e a v i n e s s o f the earth, w h a t
is light up t o w a r d s the weightless ether; it drives the r o o t t o w a r d s the
w a t e r , a n d i t m a k e s t h e g r e a t y e l l o w disk o f the s u n f l o w e r t u r n t o f o l l o w
the c u r v i n g p a t h o f t h e s u n . M o r e o v e r , b y d r a w i n g t h i n g s t o w a r d s o n e
a n o t h e r i n a n e x t e r i o r a n d v i s i b l e m o v e m e n t , i t also g i v e s rise t o a h i d d e n
interior m o v e m e n t - a d i s p l a c e m e n t o f qualities that t a k e o v e r f r o m o n e
a n o t h e r i n a series o f r e l a y s : fire, b e c a u s e i t i s w a r m a n d l i g h t , rises u p
i n t o the air, t o w a r d s w h i c h its f l a m e s u n t i r i n g l y s t r i v e ; b u t i n d o i n g s o i t
loses its d r y n e s s ( w h i c h m a d e i t a k i n t o the e a r t h ) a n d s o a c q u i r e s h u m i d i t y
( w h i c h l i n k s i t t o w a t e r a n d a i r ) ; i t disappears t h e r e f o r e i n t o l i g h t v a p o u r ,
i n t o b l u e s m o k e , i n t o c l o u d s : i t has b e c o m e air. S y m p a t h y i s a n i n s t a n c e
o f t h e Same s o s t r o n g a n d s o insistent that i t w i l l n o t rest c o n t e n t t o b e
m e r e l y o n e o f t h e f o r m s o f l i k e n e s s ; i t has t h e d a n g e r o u s p o w e r o f
assimilating, o f r e n d e r i n g t h i n g s i d e n t i c a l t o o n e a n o t h e r , o f m i n g l i n g
23

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ORDER

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THINGS

t h e m , o f c a u s i n g their i n d i v i d u a l i t y t o d i s a p p e a r - a n d thus o f r e n d e r i n g
t h e m f o r e i g n t o w h a t t h e y w e r e b e f o r e . S y m p a t h y t r a n s f o r m s . I t alters,
b u t i n the d i r e c t i o n o f i d e n t i t y , s o that i f its p o w e r w e r e n o t c o u n t e r b a l a n c e d i t w o u l d r e d u c e t h e w o r l d t o a p o i n t , t o a h o m o g e n e o u s mass,
t o t h e featureless f o r m o f t h e S a m e : all its parts w o u l d h o l d t o g e t h e r a n d
c o m m u n i c a t e w i t h o n e a n o t h e r w i t h o u t a b r e a k , w i t h n o distance b e t w e e n t h e m , l i k e t h o s e m e t a l c h a i n s h e l d s u s p e n d e d b y s y m p a t h y t o the
attraction of a single m a g n e t [ i 6 ] .
T h i s i s w h y s y m p a t h y i s c o m p e n s a t e d for b y its t w i n , a n t i p a t h y .
A n t i p a t h y m a i n t a i n s t h e i s o l a t i o n o f t h i n g s a n d p r e v e n t s their a s s i m i l a t i o n ;
i t e n c l o s e s e v e r y species w i t h i n its i m p e n e t r a b l e difference a n d its p r o p e n s i t y t o c o n t i n u e b e i n g w h a t i t is:
I t i s fairly w i d e l y k n o w n that the plants h a v e hatreds b e t w e e n t h e m s e l v e s . . . i t i s said that the o l i v e a n d t h e v i n e h a t e the c a b b a g e ; t h e
c u c u m b e r f l i e s f r o m t h e o l i v e . . . S i n c e t h e y g r o w b y m e a n s o f the sun's
w a r m t h a n d t h e earth's h u m o u r , i t i s i n e v i t a b l e t h a t a n y t h i c k a n d
o p a q u e tree s h o u l d b e p e r n i c i o u s t o the o t h e r s , a n d also the t r e e that
.has several r o o t s [ i 7 ] .
A n d s o t o i n f i n i t y , t h r o u g h all t i m e , the w o r l d ' s b e i n g s w i l l h a t e o n e
a n o t h e r a n d p r e s e r v e their f e r o c i o u s appetites i n o p p o s i t i o n t o all s y m pathy.
T h e rat o f India i s p e r n i c i o u s t o the c r o c o d i l e , since N a t u r e has c r e a t e d
t h e m e n e m i e s ; i n s u c h w i s e t h a t w h e n that v i o l e n t r e p t i l e t a k e s his
p l e a s u r e i n t h e sun, t h e rat l a y s a n a m b u s h f o r i t o f m o r t a l s u b t l e t y ;
p e r c e i v i n g that t h e c r o c o d i l e , l y i n g u n a w a r e f o r d e l i g h t , i s s l e e p i n g w i t h
its j a w s a g a p e , i t m a k e s its w a y t h r o u g h t h e m and slips d o w n t h e w i d e
t h r o a t i n t o t h e c r o c o d i l e ' s b e l l y , g n a w i n g t h r o u g h t h e entrails o f w h i c h ,
i t e m e r g e s a t last f r o m t h e slain beast's b o w e l .
B u t t h e rat's e n e m i e s are l y i n g i n w a i t for i t i n their t u r n : f o r i t l i v e s i n
d i s c o r d w i t h the spider, a n d ' b a t t l i n g w i t h the aspic i t o f t s o d i e s ' . T h r o u g h
this p l a y o f a n t i p a t h y , w h i c h disperses t h e m , y e t d r a w s t h e m w i t h e q u a l
force into m u t u a l c o m b a t , makes t h e m into murderers and then exposes
t h e m t o d e a t h i n their t u r n , t h i n g s a n d a n i m a l s and all the f o r m s o f the
w o r l d r e m a i n w h a t t h e y are.
T h e i d e n t i t y o f t h i n g s , the fact that t h e y c a n r e s e m b l e o t h e r s a n d b e
d r a w n to them, t h o u g h w i t h o u t being s w a l l o w e d up or losing their
s i n g u l a r i t y - this i s w h a t i s assured b y the c o n s t a n t c o u n t e r b a l a n c i n g o f
24

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s y m p a t h y and antipathy. It explains h o w things g r o w , d e v e l o p , interm i n g l e , disappear, d i e , y e t endlessly f i n d t h e m s e l v e s a g a i n ; i n short, h o w
there c a n b e space ( w h i c h i s n e v e r t h e l e s s n o t w i t h o u t l a n d m a r k s o r r e p e t i tions, n o t w i t h o u t h a v e n s o f similitude) a n d t i m e ( w h i c h n e v e r t h e l e s s
a l l o w s the s a m e f o r m s , t h e s a m e species, t h e s a m e e l e m e n t s t o r e a p p e a r
indefinitely).
T h o u g h y e t o f t h e m s e l v e s the f o u r b o d i e s ( w a t e r , air, fire, e a r t h ) b e
s i m p l e a n d possessed o f their distinct qualities, y e t f o r a s m u c h a s t h e
C r e a t o r has o r d a i n e d that t h e e l e m e n t a r y b o d i e s shall b e c o m p o s e d o f
mingled elements,

t h e r e f o r e are their h a r m o n i e s

and discordancies

r e m a r k a b l e , a s w e m a y k n o w f r o m their qualities. T h e e l e m e n t o f fire
i s h o t a n d d r y ; i t has t h e r e f o r e a n a n t i p a t h y t o those o f w a t e r , w h i c h i s
c o l d a n d d a m p . H o t air i s h u m i d , c o l d e a r t h i s d r y , w h i c h i s a n a n t i p a t h y .
T h a t t h e y m a y b e b r o u g h t i n t o h a r m o n y , air has b e e n p l a c e d b e t w e e n
f i r e a n d w a t e r , w a t e r b e t w e e n e a r t h a n d air. I n a s m u c h a s t h e air i s h o t ,
i t m a r c h e s w e l l w i t h f i r e a n d its h u m i d i t y g o e s w e l l w i t h that o f w a t e r .
T h e h u m i d i t y o f w a t e r i s h e a t e d b y the h e a t o f the air a n d b r i n g s r e l i e f
t o the c o l d d r y n e s s o f t h e earth [ i 8].
B e c a u s e o f t h e m o v e m e n t a n d the dispersion c r e a t e d b y its l a w s , t h e
s o v e r e i g n t y o f t h e s y m p a t h y - a n t i p a t h y p a i r g i v e s rise t o all the f o r m s o f
r e s e m b l a n c e . T h e f i r s t three s i m i l i t u d e s are thus all r e s u m e d a n d e x p l a i n e d
b y it. T h e w h o l e v o l u m e o f the w o r l d , all t h e adjacencies o f ' c o n v e n i e n c e ' ,
all the e c h o e s o f e m u l a t i o n , all the l i n k a g e s o f a n a l o g y , are s u p p o r t e d ,
maintained,

and

doubled

by

this

space g o v e r n e d b y s y m p a t h y a n d

a n t i p a t h y , w h i c h are ceaselessly d r a w i n g t h i n g s t o g e t h e r and h o l d i n g
t h e m apart. B y m e a n s o f this i n t e r p l a y , the w o r l d r e m a i n s i d e n t i c a l ; r e s e m b l a n c e s c o n t i n u e t o b e w h a t t h e y are, a n d t o r e s e m b l e o n e a n o t h e r .
T h e s a m e r e m a i n s the s a m e , r i v e t e d o n t o itself.

II

SIGNATURES

A n d y e t the s y s t e m i s n o t c l o s e d . O n e a p e r t u r e r e m a i n s : a n d t h r o u g h i t
the w h o l e i n t e r p l a y o f r e s e m b l a n c e s w o u l d b e i n d a n g e r o f e s c a p i n g
f r o m itself, o r o f r e m a i n i n g h i d d e n i n d a r k n e s s , i f t h e r e w e r e n o t a further
f o r m o f s i m i l i t u d e t o c l o s e the c i r c l e - t o r e n d e r i t a t o n c e p e r f e c t a n d
manifest.
Convenientia,

aemulatio,

analogy,

and

sympathy

tell

us h o w the w o r l d

m u s t fold in u p o n itself, d u p l i c a t e itself, reflect itself, or f o r m a c h a i n w i t h

25

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i t s e l f s o that t h i n g s c a n r e s e m b l e o n e a n o t h e r . T h e y tell u s w h a t t h e paths
o f s i m i l i t u d e a r e a n d t h e d i r e c t i o n s t h e y t a k e ; b u t n o t w h e r e i t is, h o w
o n e sees it, o r b y w h a t m a r k i t m a y b e r e c o g n i z e d . N o w t h e r e i s a p o s s i b i l i t y that w e m i g h t m a k e o u r w a y t h r o u g h all this m a r v e l l o u s t e e m i n g
a b u n d a n c e o f r e s e m b l a n c e s w i t h o u t e v e n s u s p e c t i n g that i t has l o n g b e e n
p r e p a r e d b y t h e o r d e r o f t h e w o r l d , f o r o u r g r e a t e r b e n e f i t . I n o r d e r that
w e m a y k n o w that a c o n i t e w i l l c u r e o u r e y e disease, o r that g r o u n d
w a l n u t m i x e d w i t h spirits o f w i n e w i l l ease a h e a d a c h e , t h e r e m u s t o f
c o u r s e b e s o m e m a r k that w i l l m a k e u s a w a r e o f these t h i n g s : o t h e r w i s e ,
t h e secret w o u l d r e m a i n i n d e f i n i t e l y d o r m a n t . W o u l d w e e v e r k n o w that
t h e r e i s a r e l a t i o n o f t w i n s h i p o r r i v a l r y b e t w e e n a m a n a n d his p l a n e t , i f
there w e r e n o s i g n u p o n his b o d y o r a m o n g t h e w r i n k l e s o n his face that
he is an emulator of M a r s or akin to Saturn? T h e s e buried similitudes must
b e i n d i c a t e d o n t h e surface o f t h i n g s ; there m u s t b e v i s i b l e m a r k s f o r the
i n v i s i b l e a n a l o g i e s . I s n o t a n y r e s e m b l a n c e , after all, b o t h the m o s t o b v i o u s and the m o s t hidden of things? Because it is n o t m a d e up of j u x t a p o s e d f r a g m e n t s , s o m e identical a n d o t h e r s different, i t i s all o f a p i e c e ,
a s i m i l i t u d e t h a t c a n b e seen a n d y e t n o t seen. I t w o u l d thus l a c k a n y
c r i t e r i o n if it d i d n o t h a v e w i t h i n it - or a b o v e it or b e s i d e it - a d e c i s i v e
e l e m e n t t o t r a n s f o r m its u n c e r t a i n g l i m m e r i n t o b r i g h t c e r t a i n t y .
T h e r e a r e n o r e s e m b l a n c e s w i t h o u t signatures. T h e w o r l d o f s i m i l a r i t y
c a n o n l y b e a w o r l d o f signs. Paracelsus s a y s :
I t i s n o t G o d ' s w i l l that w h a t h e creates f o r m a n ' s b e n e f i t a n d w h a t h e
has g i v e n u s s h o u l d r e m a i n h i d d e n . . . A n d e v e n t h o u g h h e has h i d d e n
c e r t a i n t h i n g s , h e has a l l o w e d n o t h i n g t o r e m a i n w i t h o u t e x t e r i o r a n d
v i s i b l e signs i n the f o r m o f special m a r k s - j u s t a s a m a n w h o has b u r i e d
a h o a r d o f treasure m a r k s the s p o t that h e m a y find i t a g a i n [ i o ] .
A k n o w l e d g e of similitudes is founded u p o n the unearthing and decipherm e n t o f these signatures. I t i s useless t o g o n o further t h a n the s k i n o r
b a r k o f plants i f y o u w i s h t o k n o w their n a t u r e ; y o u m u s t g o s t r a i g h t
t o t h e i r m a r k s - ' t o t h e s h a d o w a n d i m a g e o f G o d that t h e y b e a r o r t o
their internal v i r t u e , w h i c h has b e e n g i v e n t o t h e m b y h e a v e n a s a n a t u r a l
d o w r y , . . . a v i r t u e , I say, that i s t o b e r e c o g n i z e d r a t h e r b y its s i g n a ture'[20]. T h e s y s t e m o f signatures reverses t h e r e l a t i o n o f the v i s i b l e
t o t h e i n v i s i b l e . R e s e m b l a n c e w a s the i n v i s i b l e f o r m o f that w h i c h , f r o m
the d e p t h s o f t h e w o r l d , m a d e t h i n g s v i s i b l e ; b u t i n o r d e r that this f o r m
m a y b e b r o u g h t o u t i n t o t h e l i g h t i n its t u r n t h e r e m u s t b e a v i s i b l e
f i g u r e that w i l l d r a w i t o u t f r o m its p r o f o u n d i n v i s i b i l i t y . T h i s i s w h y
26

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the face o f t h e w o r l d i s c o v e r e d w i t h b l a z o n s , w i t h c h a r a c t e r s , w i t h
ciphers a n d o b s c u r e w o r d s - w i t h ' h i e r o g l y p h i c s ' , a s T u r n e r c a l l e d t h e m .
A n d the space i n h a b i t e d b y i m m e d i a t e r e s e m b l a n c e s b e c o m e s l i k e a v a s t
o p e n b o o k ; i t bristles w i t h w r i t t e n s i g n s ; e v e r y p a g e i s seen t o b e f d l e d
w i t h s t r a n g e f i g u r e s that i n t e r t w i n e a n d i n s o m e places r e p e a t t h e m s e l v e s .
A l l that r e m a i n s i s t o d e c i p h e r t h e m : 'Is i t n o t t r u e that all h e r b s , p l a n t s ,
trees a n d o t h e r t h i n g s issuing f r o m t h e b o w e l s o f the e a r t h are s o m a n y
m a g i c b o o k s a n d signs?'[2i] T h e g r e a t u n t r o u b l e d m i r r o r i n w h o s e d e p t h s
t h i n g s g a z e d a t t h e m s e l v e s a n d reflected t h e i r o w n i m a g e s b a c k t o o n e
a n o t h e r is, i n r e a l i t y , filled w i t h t h e m u r m u r o f w o r d s . T h e m u t e r e f l e c t i o n s all h a v e c o r r e s p o n d i n g w o r d s w h i c h i n d i c a t e t h e m . A n d b y t h e
g r a c e o f o n e final f o r m o f r e s e m b l a n c e , w h i c h e n v e l o p s all t h e o t h e r s a n d
encloses t h e m w i t h i n a s i n g l e c i r c l e , t h e w o r l d m a y b e c o m p a r e d t o a
m a n w i t h the p o w e r o f s p e e c h :
Just a s t h e secret m o v e m e n t s o f his u n d e r s t a n d i n g a r e m a n i f e s t e d b y
his v o i c e , s o i t w o u l d s e e m t h a t the h e r b s s p e a k t o t h e c u r i o u s p h y s i c i a n
t h r o u g h t h e i r signatures, d i s c o v e r i n g to h i m . . . their i n n e r v i r t u e s
h i d d e n b e n e a t h n a t u r e ' s v e i l o f silence[22].
B u t w e m u s t p a u s e a little h e r e t o e x a m i n e this l a n g u a g e ! itself. T o
e x a m i n e the signs o f w h i c h i t i s m a d e u p a n d t h e w a y i n w h i c h these
signs refer b a c k t o w h a t t h e y i n d i c a t e .
T h e r e exists a s y m p a t h y b e t w e e n a c o n i t e a n d o u r e y e s . T h i s u n e x p e c t e d
affinity w o u l d r e m a i n i n o b s c u r i t y i f there w e r e n o t s o m e s i g n a t u r e o n
the p l a n t , s o m e m a r k , s o m e w o r d , a s i t w e r e , t e l l i n g u s that i t i s g o o d f o r
diseases o f t h e e y e . T h i s s i g n i s easily l e g i b l e i n its s e e d s : t h e y a r e t i n y
d a r k g l o b e s set i n w h i t e s k i n l i k e c o v e r i n g s w h o s e a p p e a r a n c e i s m u c h
l i k e that o f e y e l i d s c o v e r i n g a n e y e [23]. I t i s t h e s a m e w i t h the affinity o f
the w a l n u t a n d t h e h u m a n h e a d : w h a t c u r e s ' w o u n d s o f the p e r i c r a n i u m '
i s t h e t h i c k g r e e n r i n d c o v e r i n g t h e b o n e s - t h e shell - o f the fruit; b u t
internal h e a d a i l m e n t s m a y b e p r e v e n t e d b y use o f t h e n u t itself ' w h i c h
i s e x a c t l y l i k e t h e b r a i n i n appearance'[24]. T h e s i g n o f affinity, a n d w h a t
renders i t v i s i b l e , i s q u i t e s i m p l y a n a l o g y ; t h e c i p h e r o f s y m p a t h y resides
in the p r o p o r t i o n .
B u t w h a t signature can the p r o p o r t i o n itself bear in order to m a k e its e l f r e c o g n i z a b l e ? H o w i s o n e t o k n o w t h a t t h e lines o f a h a n d o r t h e
f u r r o w s o n a b r o w are t r a c i n g o n a m a n ' s b o d y t h e t e n d e n c i e s , a c c i d e n t s ,
o r obstacles p r e s e n t i n t h e w h o l e v a s t fabric o f his life? H o w i n d e e d , i f
n o t b e c a u s e w e k n o w that s y m p a t h y creates c o m m u n i c a t i o n b e t w e e n o u r

27

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b o d i e s a n d the h e a v e n s , a n d transmits the m o v e m e n t o f t h e planets t o t h e
affairs o f m e n . A n d i f n o t , t o o , b e c a u s e t h e shortness o f a line reflects
the s i m p l e i m a g e o f a s h o r t life, t h e intersection o f t w o f u r r o w s a n o b stacle i n o n e ' s p a t h , t h e u p w a r d d i r e c t i o n o f a w r i n k l e a m a n ' s rise t o
success. B r e a d t h i s a s i g n o f w e a l t h a n d i m p o r t a n c e ; c o n t i n u i t y d e n o t e s
g o o d f o r t u n e , d i s c o n t i n u i t y ill fortune[25]. T h e g r e a t a n a l o g y b e t w e e n
b o d y a n d d e s t i n y has its s i g n i n t h e w h o l e s y s t e m o f m i r r o r s a n d a t t r a c t i o n s . It is s y m p a t h i e s a n d e m u l a t i o n s that i n d i c a t e a n a l o g i e s .
E m u l a t i o n m a y b e r e c o g n i z e d b y a n a l o g y : t h e e y e s are stars b e c a u s e
t h e y spread l i g h t o v e r o u r faces j u s t a s stars l i g h t u p the darkness, a n d
b e c a u s e b l i n d p e o p l e e x i s t i n the w o r l d l i k e c l a i r v o y a n t s i n the d a r k e s t
o f n i g h t s . I t c a n also b e r e c o g n i z e d t h r o u g h convenientia: w e h a v e k n o w n ,
e v e r since the G r e e k s , that the s t r o n g e s t a n d b r a v e s t a n i m a l s h a v e l a r g e
a n d w e l l - d e v e l o p e d e x t r e m i t i e s t o their l i m b s , a s t h o u g h their s t r e n g t h
h a d c o m m u n i c a t e d i t s e l f t o t h e m o s t distant parts o f their b o d i e s . I n
the s a m e w a y , m a n ' s face a n d h a n d s m u s t r e s e m b l e t h e s o u l t o w h i c h
t h e y are j o i n e d . T h e r e c o g n i t i o n o f the m o s t v i s i b l e similitudes o c c u r s ,
t h e r e f o r e , a g a i n s t a b a c k g r o u n d o f t h e d i s c o v e r y that t h i n g s i n g e n e r a l
a r c ' c o n v e n i e n t ' a m o n g t h e m s e l v e s . A n d i f o n e t h e n c o n s i d e r s that c o n v e n i e n c y i s n o t a l w a y s d e f i n e d b y actual l o c a l i z a t i o n , b u t that m a n y
b e i n g s separated in space are also ' c o n v e n i e n t ' (as w i t h a disease a n d its
r e m e d y , m a n a n d his stars, or a p l a n t a n d t h e soil it n e e d s ) , t h e n a g a i n a
s i g n o f their c o n v e n i e n c y i s essential. A n d w h a t o t h e r s i g n i s there that
t w o t h i n g s are l i n k e d t o o n e a n o t h e r unless i t i s that t h e y h a v e a m u t u a l
a t t r a c t i o n f o r e a c h o t h e r , a s d o t h e s u n and t h e s u n f l o w e r , o r w a t e r a n d
a c u c u m b e r s h o o t , t h a t there is an affinity a n d , as it w e r e , a s y m p a t h y
between them?
A n d so the circle is closed. T h o u g h it is apparent w h a t a c o m p l i c a t e d
s y s t e m o f d u p l i c a t i o n s w a s n e c e s s a r y t o a c h i e v e this. R e s e m b l a n c e s r e quire a signature, for n o n e of t h e m w o u l d ever b e c o m e observable w e r e
i t n o t l e g i b l y m a r k e d . B u t w h a t are these signs? H o w , a m i d all the aspects
o f the w o r l d and s o m a n y interlacing forms, does one r e c o g n i z e that o n e
i s f a c e d a t a n y g i v e n m o m e n t w i t h a c h a r a c t e r that s h o u l d g i v e o n e
p a u s e b e c a u s e i t indicates a secret a n d essential r e s e m b l a n c e ? W h a t f o r m
c o n s t i t u t e s a s i g n a n d e n d o w s it w i t h its p a r t i c u l a r v a l u e as a s i g n ? - R e s e m b l a n c e d o e s . I t signifies e x a c t l y i n s o far a s i t r e s e m b l e s w h a t i t i s
i n d i c a t i n g (that is, a s i m i l i t u d e ) . B u t w h a t i t indicates i s n o t t h e h o m o l o g y ;
f o r its distinct e x i s t e n c e as a s i g n a t u r e w o u l d t h e n be i n d i s t i n g u i s h a b l e
f r o m the face of w h i c h it is the s i g n ; it is another r e s e m b l a n c e , an adjacent
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s i m i l i t u d e , o n e o f a n o t h e r t y p e w h i c h enables u s t o r e c o g n i z e t h e first,
a n d w h i c h i s r e v e a l e d i n its t u r n b y a t h i r d . E v e r y r e s e m b l a n c e r e c e i v e s
a s i g n a t u r e ; b u t this s i g n a t u r e i s n o m o r e t h a n a n i n t e r m e d i a t e f o r m o f
the s a m e r e s e m b l a n c e . A s a result, the t o t a l i t y o f these m a r k s , s l i d i n g o v e r
the g r e a t c i r c l e o f s i m i l i t u d e s , f o r m s a s e c o n d c i r c l e w h i c h w o u l d b e a n
e x a c t d u p l i c a t i o n o f the first, p o i n t b y p o i n t , w e r e i t n o t for that t i n y
d e g r e e o f d i s p l a c e m e n t w h i c h causes the s i g n o f s y m p a t h y t o reside i n a n
a n a l o g y , that o f a n a l o g y i n e m u l a t i o n , that o f e m u l a t i o n i n c o n v e n i e n c e ,
w h i c h i n t u r n r e q u i r e s t h e m a r k o f s y m p a t h y for its r e c o g n i t i o n . T h e
signature a n d w h a t i t d e n o t e s are o f e x a c t l y t h e s a m e n a t u r e ; i t i s m e r e l y
that t h e y o b e y a different l a w o f d i s t r i b u t i o n ; the p a t t e r n f r o m w h i c h t h e y
are c u t is the s a m e .
T h e f o r m m a k i n g a s i g n a n d t h e f o r m b e i n g s i g n a l i z e d are r e s e m b l a n c e s ,
b u t t h e y d o n o t o v e r l a p . A n d i t i s i n this respect t h a t r e s e m b l a n c e i n
sixteenth-century k n o w l e d g e is w i t h o u t d o u b t the most universal thing
there is: a t t h e s a m e t i m e that w h i c h i s m o s t c l e a r l y v i s i b l e , y e t s o m e t h i n g
that o n e m u s t n e v e r t h e l e s s s e a r c h f o r , since it is also t h e m o s t h i d d e n ;
w h a t d e t e r m i n e s the f o r m o f k n o w l e d g e (for k n o w l e d g e c a n o n l y f o l l o w
the paths o f s i m i l i t u d e ) , a n d w h a t g u a r a n t e e s its w e a l t h o f c o n t e n t (for the
m o m e n t o n e lifts aside the signs a n d l o o k s a t w h a t t h e y i n d i c a t e , o n e
a l l o w s R e s e m b l a n c e itself t o e m e r g e i n t o the l i g h t o f d a y a n d shine w i t h
its o w n inner l i g h t ) .
L e t u s call t h e t o t a l i t y o f the l e a r n i n g a n d skills that e n a b l e o n e t o m a k e
the signs s p e a k a n d t o d i s c o v e r their m e a n i n g , h e r m e n e u t i c s ; let u s call
the t o t a l i t y o f t h e l e a r n i n g a n d skills that e n a b l e o n e t o d i s t i n g u i s h t h e
l o c a t i o n o f the signs, t o d e f i n e w h a t constitutes t h e m a s signs, a n d t o k n o w
h o w a n d b y w h a t l a w s t h e y are l i n k e d , s e m i o l o g y : the s i x t e e n t h c e n t u r y
superimposed

hermeneutics and

semiology in

the f o r m o f s i m i l i t u d e .

T o search for a m e a n i n g i s t o b r i n g t o l i g h t a r e s e m b l a n c e . T o search f o r
the l a w g o v e r n i n g signs i s t o d i s c o v e r the t h i n g s that are a l i k e . T h e g r a m m a r o f b e i n g s i s a n e x e g e s i s o f these t h i n g s . A n d w h a t t h e l a n g u a g e t h e y
speak has to tell us is q u i t e s i m p l y w h a t t h e s y n t a x is that b i n d s t h e m
t o g e t h e r . T h e n a t u r e o f t h i n g s , their c o e x i s t e n c e , the, w a y i n w h i c h t h e y
are l i n k e d t o g e t h e r a n d c o m m u n i c a t e i s n o t h i n g o t h e r t h a n their r e s e m b l a n c e . A n d that r e s e m b l a n c e i s v i s i b l e o n l y i n the n e t w o r k o f signs
that crosses t h e w o r l d f r o m o n e e n d t o the o t h e r . ' N a t u r e ' i s t r a p p e d i n
the thin

layer that holds s e m i o l o g y and hermeneutics o n e a b o v e the

o t h e r ; i t i s n e i t h e r m y s t e r i o u s n o r v e i l e d , i t offers itself t o o u r c o g n i t i o n ,
w h i c h it s o m e t i m e s leads astray, o n l y in so far as this s u p e r i m p o s i t i o n
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necessarily i n c l u d e s a s l i g h t d e g r e e o f n o n - c o i n c i d e n c e b e t w e e n t h e r e s e m b l a n c e s . As a result, t h e g r i d is less e a s y to see t h r o u g h ; its t r a n s p a r e n c y
i s c l o u d e d o v e r f r o m t h e v e r y f i r s t . A d a r k space appears w h i c h m u s t b e
m a d e p r o g r e s s i v e l y c l e a r e r . T h a t s p a c e i s w h e r e 'nature* resides, a n d i t i s
w h a t o n e m u s t attempt t o k n o w . E v e r y t h i n g w o u l d b e manifest and i m m e d i a t e l y k n o w a b l e i f t h e h e r m e n e u t i c s o f r e s e m b l a n c e a n d the s e m i o l o g y o f signatures c o i n c i d e d w i t h o u t t h e slightest p a r a l l a x . B u t b e c a u s e
t h e s i m i l i t u d e s t h a t f o r m t h e g r a p h i c s o f t h e w o r l d are o n e ' c o g ' o u t o f
a l i g n m e n t w i t h t h o s e that f o r m its d i s c o u r s e , k n o w l e d g e a n d the infinite
l a b o u r it i n v o l v e s find h e r e the space that is p r o p e r to t h e m : it is their task
t o w e a v e t h e i r w a y across this distance, p u r s u i n g a n endless z i g z a g c o u r s e
f r o m r e s e m b l a n c e t o w h a t r e s e m b l e s it.

m

T H E

Such,

LIMITS

OF

THE

W O R L D

s k e t c h e d i n its m o s t g e n e r a l aspects, i s the s i x t e e n t h - c e n t u r y

episteme. T h i s c o n f i g u r a t i o n carries w i t h i t a c e r t a i n n u m b e r o f c o n s e quences.
First a n d f o r e m o s t , t h e p l e t h o r i c y e t a b s o l u t e l y p o v e r t y - s t r i c k e n c h a r a c ter o f this k n o w l e d g e . P l e t h o r i c b e c a u s e i t i s limitless. R e s e m b l a n c e n e v e r
r e m a i n s stable w i t h i n itself; i t c a n b e f i x e d o n l y i f i t refers b a c k t o a n o t h e r
s i m i l i t u d e , w h i c h t h e n , i n t u r n , refers t o o t h e r s ; e a c h r e s e m b l a n c e , t h e r e f o r e , has v a l u e o n l y f r o m t h e a c c u m u l a t i o n o f all t h e o t h e r s , a n d t h e w h o l e
w o r l d m u s t b e e x p l o r e d i f e v e n t h e slightest o f a n a l o g i e s i s t o b e j u s t i f i e d
and finally take on the appearance of certainty. It is therefore a k n o w l e d g e
that c a n , a n d m u s t , p r o c e e d b y t h e infinite a c c u m u l a t i o n o f c o n f i r m a t i o n s
all d e p e n d e n t o n o n e a n o t h e r . A n d f o r this r e a s o n , f r o m its v e r y f o u n d a t i o n s , this k n o w l e d g e w i l l b e a t h i n g o f sand. T h e o n l y p o s s i b l e f o r m o f
l i n k b e t w e e n t h e e l e m e n t s o f this k n o w l e d g e i s a d d i t i o n . H e n c e t h o s e
i m m e n s e c o l u m n s o f c o m p i l a t i o n , hence their m o n o t o n y . B y positing
r e s e m b l a n c e a s the l i n k b e t w e e n signs a n d w h a t t h e y i n d i c a t e

(thus

m a k i n g r e s e m b l a n c e b o t h a t h i r d f o r c e a n d a s o l e p o w e r , since it resides
in b o t h the m a r k and the content in identical fashion), sixteenth-century
k n o w l e d g e c o n d e m n e d itself t o n e v e r k n o w i n g a n y t h i n g b u t t h e s a m e
t h i n g , a n d t o k n o w i n g that t h i n g o n l y a t the u n a t t a i n a b l e e n d o f a n e n d less j o u r n e y .
A n d i t i s h e r e that w e f i n d that o n l y t o o w e l l - k n o w n c a t e g o r y , t h e
m i c r o c o s m , c o m i n g into play. T h i s ancient n o t i o n w a s n o d o u b t r e v i v e d ,
d u r i n g t h e M i d d l e A g e s a n d a t the b e g i n n i n g o f t h e R e n a i s s a n c e , b y a
30

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certain n e o - P l a t o n i s t t r a d i t i o n . B u t b y the s i x t e e n t h c e n t u r y i t h a d c o m e
to play a fundamental role in the field of k n o w l e d g e . It hardly matters
w h e t h e r i t w a s o r w a s n o t , a s w a s o n c e c l a i m e d , a w o r l d v i e w o r Weltanschauung. T h e fact i s t h a t i t h a d o n e , o r r a t h e r t w o , p r e c i s e f u n c t i o n s
in t h e e p i s t e m o l o g i c a l c o n f i g u r a t i o n of this p e r i o d . As a category of thought,
i t applies the i n t e r p l a y o f d u p l i c a t e d r e s e m b l a n c e s t o all t h e r e a l m s o f
n a t u r e ; i t p r o v i d e s all i n v e s t i g a t i o n w i t h a n assurance that e v e r y t h i n g w i l l
f i n d its m i r r o r a n d its m a c r o c o s m i c j u s t i f i c a t i o n o n a n o t h e r a n d l a r g e r
scale; i t affirms, i n v e r s e l y , that t h e v i s i b l e o r d e r o f t h e h i g h e s t spheres
w i l l b e f o u n d reflected i n t h e d a r k e s t d e p t h s o f t h e e a r t h . B u t , u n d e r s t o o d as a general configuration of n a t u r e , it poses real a n d , as it w e r e , t a n g i b l e limits t o t h e i n d e f a t i g a b l e t o - a n d - f r o o f s i m i l i t u d e s r e l i e v i n g o n e
a n o t h e r . It indicates that t h e r e exists a g r e a t e r w o r l d , a n d t h a t its p e r i m e t e r
defines the l i m i t o f all c r e a t e d t h i n g s ; that a t t h e far e x t r e m i t y o f this g r e a t
w o r l d there exists a p r i v i l e g e d c r e a t i o n w h i c h r e p r o d u c e s , w i t h i n its
restricted d i m e n s i o n s , t h e i m m e n s e o r d e r o f t h e h e a v e n s , t h e stars, t h e
m o u n t a i n s , r i v e r s , a n d s t o r m s ; a n d that i t i s b e t w e e n t h e e f f e c t i v e l i m i t s
o f this c o n s t i t u e n t a n a l o g y that t h e i n t e r p l a y o f r e s e m b l a n c e s takes p l a c e .
B y this v e r y fact, h o w e v e r i m m e n s e the distance f r o m m i c r o c o s m t o
m a c r o c o s m m a y b e , i t c a n n o t b e infinite; t h e b e i n g s t h a t reside w i t h i n
i t m a y b e e x t r e m e l y n u m e r o u s , b u t i n t h e e n d t h e y c a n b e c o u n t e d ; and,
c o n s e q u e n t l y , t h e s i m i l i t u d e s that, t h r o u g h t h e a c t i o n o f t h e signs t h e y
r e q u i r e , a l w a y s rest o n e u p o n a n o t h e r , c a n cease their endless f l i g h t . T h e y
h a v e a p e r f e c t l y c l o s e d d o m a i n t o s u p p o r t a n d buttress t h e m . N a t u r e ,
l i k e t h e i n t e r p l a y o f signs a n d r e s e m b l a n c e s , i s c l o s e d i n u p o n i t s e l f i n
c o n f o r m i t y w i t h the d u p l i c a t e d f o r m o f t h e c o s m o s .
W e m u s t therefore b e careful n o t t o invert the relations here. T h e r e i s
n o d o u b t that t h e idea o f t h e m i c r o c o s m w a s , a s w e say, ' i m p o r t a n t ' i n
the s i x t e e n t h c e n t u r y ; i t w o u l d p r o b a b l y h a v e b e e n o n e o f the m o s t f r e q u e n t l y m e n t i o n e d t e r m s i n the results o f a n y p o l l t a k e n a t t h e t i m e . B u t
w e are n o t c o n c e r n e d h e r e w i t h a s t u d y o f o p i n i o n s , w h i c h c o u l d b e
u n d e r t a k e n o n l y b y a statistical analysis o f c o n t e m p o r a r y r e c o r d s . If, o n
the

other

hand,

o n e i n v e s t i g a t e s s i x t e e n t h - c e n t u r y k n o w l e d g e a t its

a r c h a e o l o g i c a l l e v e l - that is, a t t h e l e v e l o f w h a t m a d e i t p o s s i b l e - t h e n
the relations o f m a c r o c o s m a n d m i c r o c o s m a p p e a r a s a m e r e surface
effect. I t w a s n o t b e c a u s e p e o p l e b e l i e v e d i n s u c h relations that t h e y set
a b o u t t r y i n g t o h u n t d o w n all t h e a n a l o g i e s i n t h e w o r l d . B u t t h e r e w a s a
necessity l y i n g a t the h e a r t o f their k n o w l e d g e : t h e y h a d t o f i n d a n adjustm e n t b e t w e e n the infinite richness of a r e s e m b l a n c e i n t r o d u c e d as a third
3i

THE

ORDER

OF

THINGS

t e r m b e t w e e n signs a n d their m e a n i n g , a n d the m o n o t o n y that i m p o s e d
t h e s a m e p a t t e r n o f r e s e m b l a n c e u p o n the s i g n a n d w h a t i t signified. I n
a n episteme i n w h i c h signs a n d s i m i l i t u d e s w e r e w r a p p e d a r o u n d o n e
a n o t h e r i n a n endless spiral, i t w a s essential that the r e l a t i o n o f m i c r o c o s m
t o m a c r o c o s m s h o u l d b e c o n c e i v e d a s b o t h t h e g u a r a n t e e o f that k n o w l e d g e a n d the l i m i t o f its e x p a n s i o n .
I t w a s this s a m e n e c e s s i t y that o b l i g e d k n o w l e d g e t o a c c e p t m a g i c a n d
e r u d i t i o n o n t h e s a m e l e v e l . T o us, i t s e e m s that sixteenth-rcentury l e a r n ing w a s m a d e u p o f a n unstable m i x t u r e o f rational k n o w l e d g e , notions
derived f r o m m a g i c a l practices, and a w h o l e cultural heritage w h o s e
p o w e r and authority had been vastly increased b y the r e d i s c o v e r y o f
G r e e k a n d R o m a n a u t h o r s . P e r c e i v e d thus, the l e a r n i n g o f that p e r i o d
appears s t r u c t u r a l l y

weak:

a

common

ground

w h e r e fidelity

to

the

A n c i e n t s , a taste f o r t h e s u p e r n a t u r a l , a n d an a l r e a d y a w a k e n e d a w a r e n e s s
o f that s o v e r e i g n rationality i n w h i c h w e r e c o g n i z e ourselves, confronted
o n e a n o t h e r i n e q u a l f r e e d o m . A n d this tripartite p e r i o d w o u l d c o n s e q u e n t l y b e reflected i n t h e m i r r o r o f e a c h w o r k a n d e a c h d i v i d e d m i n d
o c c u r r i n g w i t h i n it. . . . I n fact, i t i s n o t f r o m a n insufficiency o f s t r u c t u r e
that s i x t e e n t h - c e n t u r y k n o w l e d g e suffers. O n t h e c o n t r a r y , w e h a v e a l r e a d y seen h o w v e r y m e t i c u l o u s the c o n f i g u r a t i o n s are that d e f i n e its
space. I t i s this v e r y r i g o u r that m a k e s the r e l a t i o n o f m a g i c t o e r u d i t i o n
i n e v i t a b l e - t h e y are n o t selected c o n t e n t s b u t r e q u i r e d f o r m s . T h e w o r l d
i s c o v e r e d w i t h signs that m u s t b e d e c i p h e r e d , a n d those signs, w h i c h r e v e a l r e s e m b l a n c e s a n d affinities, are t h e m s e l v e s n o m o r e than f o r m s o f
s i m i l i t u d e . T o k n o w m u s t t h e r e f o r e b e t o i n t e r p r e t : t o find a w a y f r o m
the v i s i b l e m a r k t o that w h i c h i s b e i n g said b y i t a n d w h i c h , w i t h o u t that
m a r k , w o u l d lie l i k e u n s p o k e n s p e e c h , d o r m a n t w i t h i n t h i n g s .
B u t w e m e n d i s c o v e r all that i s h i d d e n i n the m o u n t a i n s b y signs a n d
o u t w a r d c o r r e s p o n d e n c e s ; a n d i t i s thus t h a t w e f i n d o u t all t h e p r o perties o f h e r b s a n d all that i s i n stones. T h e r e i s n o t h i n g i n the d e p t h s
o f the seas, n o t h i n g i n t h e h e i g h t s o f t h e f i r m a m e n t that m a n i s n o t
c a p a b l e o f d i s c o v e r i n g . T h e r e i s n o m o u n t a i n s o v a s t that i t c a n h i d e
f r o m the g a z e o f m a n w h a t i s w i t h i n it; i t i s r e v e a l e d t o h i m b y c o r r e s p o n d i n g signs [26].
D i v i n a t i o n i s n o t a r i v a l f o r m o f k n o w l e d g e ; i t i s part o f t h e m a i n b o d y
o f k n o w l e d g e itself. M o r e o v e r , these signs that m u s t b e i n t e r p r e t e d i n d i c a t e w h a t is h i d d e n o n l y in so far as t h e y r e s e m b l e it; a n d it is n o t
p o s s i b l e t o act u p o n those m a r k s w i t h o u t a t the s a m e t i m e o p e r a t i n g u p o n
32

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that w h i c h i s s e c r e t l y i n d i c a t e d b y t h e m . T h i s i s w h y the plants that r e present the h e a d , o r t h e e y e s , o r t h e heart, o r the l i v e r , w i l l possess a n
efficacity i n r e g a r d t o t h a t o r g a n ; this i s w h y the a n i m a l s t h e m s e l v e s w i l l
react t o t h e m a r k s t h a t d e s i g n a t e t h e m . Paracelsus asks:
T e l l m e , t h e n , w h y snakes i n H e l v e t i a , A l g o r i a , S w e d l a n d u n d e r s t a n d
the G r e e k w o r d s O s y , O s y a , O s y . . . I n w h a t a c a d e m i e s d i d t h e y l e a r n
them, so that scarcely h a v e they heard the w o r d than they i m m e d i a t e l y
t u r n tail i n o r d e r n o t t o hear i t a g a i n ? S c a r c e l y d o t h e y hear t h e w o r d
w h e n , n o t w i t h s t a n d i n g their n a t u r e a n d their spirit, t h e y r e m a i n i m m o b i l e a n d p o i s o n n o o n e w i t h their v e n o m o u s w o u n d s .
A n d let n o o n e say that this i s m e r e l y the effect o f the s o u n d m a d e b y t h e
w o r d s w h e n p r o n o u n c e d : ' I f y o u w r i t e these w o r d s a l o n e o n v e l l u m ,
p a r c h m e n t o r p a p e r a t a f a v o u r a b l e t i m e , t h e n p l a c e t h e m i n f r o n t o f the
serpent, i t w i l l stay n o less m o t i o n l e s s t h a n i f y o u h a d p r o n o u n c e d t h e m
aloud.' T h e project o f elucidating the 'Natural M a g i c s ' , w h i c h occupies
a n i m p o r t a n t p l a c e a t t h e e n d o f the s i x t e e n t h c e n t u r y a n d s u r v i v e s i n t o
the m i d d l e o f t h e s e v e n t e e n t h , i s n o t a v e s t i g i a l p h e n o m e n o n i n the
E u r o p e a n c o n s c i o u s n e s s ; i t w a s r e v i v e d - a s C a m p a n c l l a e x p r e s s l y tells
u s [ 2 7 ] - a n d f o r c o n t e m p o r a r y reasons: b e c a u s e

the

fundamental

con-

f i g u r a t i o n o f k n o w l e d g e c o n s i s t e d o f the r e c i p r o c a l c r o s s - r e f e r e n c e o f
signs a n d similitudes. T h e f o r m o f m a g i c w a s i n h e r e n t i n this w a y o f
knowing.
A n d b y the s a m e t o k e n , s o w a s e r u d i t i o n : f o r , i n the treasure h a n d e d
d o w n t o u s b y A n t i q u i t y , the v a l u e o f l a n g u a g e l a y i n the fact that i t w a s
the s i g n o f t h i n g s . T h e r e i s n o difference b e t w e e n the v i s i b l e m a r k s that
G o d has s t a m p e d u p o n t h e surface o f the earth, s o that w c m a y k n o w its
inner secrets, a n d t h e l e g i b l e w o r d s that t h e S c r i p t u r e s , o r the sages o f
A n t i q u i t y , h a v e set d o w n i n the b o o k s p r e s e r v e d for u s b y t r a d i t i o n . T h e
relation t o these texts i s o f the s a m e n a t u r e a s the r e l a t i o n t o t h i n g s : i n
b o t h cases there are signs that m u s t b e d i s c o v e r e d . B u t G o d , i n o r d e r t o
e x e r c i s e o u r w i s d o m , m e r e l y s o w e d n a t u r e w i t h f o r m s for u s t o d e c i p h e r
(and it is in this sense that k n o w l e d g e s h o u l d be divinatio), w h e r e a s t h e
Ancients h a v e already p r o v i d e d u s w i t h interpretations, w h i c h w e need
d o n o m o r e than gather together. O r w h i c h w e w o u l d need o n l y t o
g a t h e r t o g e t h e r , w e r e i t n o t f o r the necessity o f l e a r n i n g their l a n g u a g e ,
r e a d i n g their t e x t s , a n d u n d e r s t a n d i n g w h a t t h e y h a v e said. T h e h e r i t a g e
o f A n t i q u i t y , l i k e n a t u r e itself, i s a v a s t s p a c e r e q u i r i n g i n t e r p r e t a t i o n ;
i n b o t h cases there arc signs t o b e d i s c o v e r e d a n d t h e n , little b y little,
33

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m a d e t o speak. I n o t h e r w o r d s , divinatio a n d emditio are b o t h part o f t h e
s a m e h e r m e n e u t i c s ; b u t this d e v e l o p s , f o l l o w i n g similar f o r m s , o n t w o
different l e v e l s : o n e m o v e s f r o m t h e m u t e s i g n t o t h e t h i n g itself (and
m a k e s nature speak); the other m o v e s f r o m the u n m o v i n g g r a p h i s m
t o c l e a r s p e e c h (it restores s l e e p i n g l a n g u a g e s t o life). B u t j u s t a s n a t u r a l
signs are l i n k e d t o w h a t t h e y i n d i c a t e b y t h e p r o f o u n d r e l a t i o n o f r e s e m b l a n c e , s o t h e d i s c o u r s e o f t h e A n c i e n t s i s i n t h e i m a g e o f w h a t i t expresses;
i f i t has the v a l u e o f a p r e c i o u s s i g n , that i s b e c a u s e , f r o m t h e d e p t h o f its
b e i n g , a n d b y m e a n s o f t h e l i g h t that has n e v e r ceased t o shine t h r o u g h
it since its o r i g i n , it is adjusted to t h i n g s t h e m s e l v e s , it f o r m s a m i r r o r
f o r t h e m a n d e m u l a t e s t h e m ; i t i s t o eternal t r u t h w h a t signs are t o the
secrets o f n a t u r e (it i s the m a r k w h e r e b y t h e w o r d m a y b e d e c i p h e r e d ) ;
a n d it possesses an ageless affinity w i t h t h e t h i n g s t h a t it u n v e i l s . It is
useless t h e r e f o r e to d e m a n d its title to a u t h o r i t y ; it is a treasury of signs
l i n k e d b y s i m i l i t u d e t o that w h i c h t h e y are e m p o w e r e d t o d e n o t e . T h e
o n l y difference i s that w e are d e a l i n g w i t h a t r e a s u r e - h o a r d o f the s e c o n d
d e g r e e , o n e t h a t refers t o the n o t a t i o n s o f n a t u r e , w h i c h i n t h e i r t u r n
i n d i c a t e o b s c u r e l y t h e p u r e g o l d o f t h i n g s t h e m s e l v e s . T h e t r u t h o f all
these m a r k s - w h e t h e r t h e y are w o v e n i n t o n a t u r e i t s e l f o r w h e t h e r t h e y
e x i s t i n lines o n p a r c h m e n t s a n d i n l i b r a r i e s - i s e v e r y w h e r e t h e s a m e :
c o e v a l w i t h t h e institution o f G o d .
T h e r e i s n o difference b e t w e e n m a r k s a n d w o r d s i n the sense t h a t t h e r e
is b e t w e e n observation and accepted authority, or b e t w e e n verifiable
fact a n d t r a d i t i o n . T h e process i s e v e r y w h e r e t h e s a m e : t h a t o f the s i g n
a n d its likeness, a n d this i s w h y n a t u r e a n d the w o r d c a n i n t e r t w i n e w i t h
o n e a n o t h e r t o i n f i n i t y , f o r m i n g , f o r t h o s e w h o can read it, o n e v a s t s i n g l e
text.

IV

THE

WRITING

OF

THINGS

In the s i x t e e n t h c e n t u r y , real l a n g u a g e is n o t a t o t a l i t y of i n d e p e n d e n t
signs, a u n i f o r m a n d u n b r o k e n e n t i t y i n w h i c h t h i n g s c o u l d b e reflected
o n e by o n e , as in a m i r r o r , a n d so express their p a r t i c u l a r truths. It is rather
a n o p a q u e , m y s t e r i o u s t h i n g , c l o s e d i n u p o n itself, a f r a g m e n t e d mass,
its e n i g m a r e n e w e d i n e v e r y i n t e r v a l , w h i c h c o m b i n e s h e r e a n d there
w i t h the forms o f the w o r l d and b e c o m e s i n t e r w o v e n w i t h t h e m : s o
m u c h s o that all these e l e m e n t s , t a k e n t o g e t h e r , f o r m a n e t w o r k o f m a r k s
i n w h i c h e a c h o f t h e m m a y p l a y , a n d d o e s i n fact p l a y , i n r e l a t i o n t o all
the o t h e r s , t h e r o l e o f c o n t e n t o r o f s i g n , that o f secret o r o f i n d i c a t o r .
34

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OF

THE

W O R L D

I n its r a w , historical s i x t e e n t h - c e n t u r y b e i n g , l a n g u a g e i s n o t a n a r b i t r a r y
s y s t e m ; i t has b e e n set d o w n i n t h e w o r l d a n d f o r m s a p a r t o f it, b o t h
because things themselves hide and manifest their o w n e n i g m a like a
l a n g u a g e a n d b e c a u s e w o r d s offer t h e m s e l v e s t o m e n a s t h i n g s t o b e d e c i p h e r e d . T h e g r e a t m e t a p h o r o f the b o o k that o n e o p e n s , that o n e p o r e s
o v e r a n d reads i n o r d e r t o k n o w n a t u r e , i s m e r e l y the r e v e r s e a n d v i s i b l e
side o f a n o t h e r transference, a n d a m u c h d e e p e r o n e , w h i c h forces l a n g u a g e t o reside i n t h e w o r l d , a m o n g the p l a n t s , the h e r b s , the stones,
and the animals.
L a n g u a g e partakes i n the w o r l d - w i d e dissemination o f similitudes and
signatures. It m u s t , t h e r e f o r e , be s t u d i e d itself as a t h i n g in n a t u r e . L i k e
animals, plants, o r stars, its e l e m e n t s h a v e their l a w s o f affinity a n d c o n v e n i e n c e , their necessary a n a l o g i e s . R a m u s d i v i d e d his g r a m m a r i n t o
t w o parts. T h e first w a s d e v o t e d t o e t y m o l o g y , w h i c h m e a n s that o n e
l o o k e d i n i t t o d i s c o v e r , n o t the o r i g i n a l m e a n i n g s o f w o r d s , b u t t h e i n trinsic ' p r o p e r t i e s ' o f letters, s y l l a b l e s , a n d , f i n a l l y , w h o l e w o r d s . T h e
s e c o n d p a r t d e a l t w i t h s y n t a x : its p u r p o s e w a s t o t e a c h ' t h e b u i l d i n g o f
w o r d s t o g e t h e r b y m e a n s o f their p r o p e r t i e s ' , a n d i t consisted ' a l m o s t
entirely i n the c o n v e n i e n c e and m u t u a l c o m m u n i o n o f properties, a s o f
the n o u n w i t h t h e n o u n o r w i t h t h e v e r b , o f t h e a d v e r b w i t h all the w o r d s
t o w h i c h i t i s a d j o i n e d , o f the c o n j u n c t i o n i n t h e o r d e r o f t h i n g s c o n joined'[28]. L a n g u a g e is n o t w h a t it is b e c a u s e it has a m e a n i n g ; its
representative c o n t e n t , w h i c h w a s t o h a v e s u c h i m p o r t a n c e for g r a m marians o f the s e v e n t e e n t h a n d e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r i e s that i t p r o v i d e d t h e m
w i t h the g u i d i n g thread o f their analyses, has n o r o l e t o p l a y h e r e . W o r d s
g r o u p syllables t o g e t h e r , a n d syllables letters, b e c a u s e t h e r e are v i r t u e s
p l a c e d i n i n d i v i d u a l letters that d r a w t h e m t o w a r d s e a c h o t h e r o r k e e p
t h e m apart, e x a c t l y a s the m a r k s f o u n d i n n a t u r e also r e p e l o r attract o n e
another. T h e s t u d y o f g r a m m a r i n the s i x t e e n t h c e n t u r y i s b a s e d u p o n t h e
same e p i s t e m o l o g i c a l a r r a n g e m e n t a s the s c i e n c e o f n a t u r e o r the esoteric
disciplines. T h e o n l y differences a r e that t h e r e i s o n l y o n e n a t u r e a n d t h e r e
are several l a n g u a g e s ; a n d that i n the esoteric f i e l d t h e p r o p e r t i e s o f w o r d s ,
syllables, a n d letters are d i s c o v e r e d b y a n o t h e r d i s c o u r s e w h i c h a l w a y s
remains secret, w h e r e a s i n g r a m m a r i t i s t h e w o r d s a n d phrases o f e v e r y d a y life t h a t t h e m s e l v e s e x p r e s s their p r o p e r t i e s . L a n g u a g e stands halfw a y b e t w e e n t h e v i s i b l e f o r m s o f n a t u r e a n d t h e secret c o n v e n i e n c e s o f
esoteric d i s c o u r s e . It is a f r a g m e n t e d n a t u r e , d i v i d e d against itself a n d
d e p r i v e d o f its o r i g i n a l t r a n s p a r e n c y b y a d m i x t u r e ; i t i s a secret that carries
w i t h i n itself, t h o u g h near the surface, the d e c i p h e r a b l e signs o f w h a t i t
35

THE

ORDER

OF

THINGS

is t r y i n g to say. It is at t h e s a m e t i m e a b u r i e d r e v e l a t i o n a n d a r e v e l a t i o n
that i s g r a d u a l l y b e i n g r e s t o r e d t o e v e r g r e a t e r c l a r i t y .
I n its o r i g i n a l f o r m , w h e n i t w a s g i v e n t o m e n b y G o d himself, l a n g u a g e
w a s a n a b s o l u t e l y c e r t a i n and transparent s i g n for t h i n g s , b e c a u s e i t r e sembled them. T h e names of things w e r e l o d g e d in the things they design a t e d , j u s t a s s t r e n g t h i s w r i t t e n i n t h e b o d y o f the l i o n , r e g a l i t y i n the
e y e o f the e a g l e , j u s t a s t h e influence o f t h e planets i s m a r k e d u p o n the
b r o w s o f m e n : b y the f o r m o f similitude. T h i s transparency was dest r o y e d a t B a b e l a s a p u n i s h m e n t f o r m e n . L a n g u a g e s b e c a m e separated
a n d i n c o m p a t i b l e w i t h o n e a n o t h e r o n l y i n s o far a s t h e y h a d p r e v i o u s l y
lost this o r i g i n a l r e s e m b l a n c e t o the t h i n g s that h a d b e e n t h e p r i m e reason
for the e x i s t e n c e o f l a n g u a g e . A l l t h e l a n g u a g e s k n o w n t o u s are n o w
s p o k e n o n l y a g a i n s t the b a c k g r o u n d o f this lost s i m i l i t u d e , a n d i n the space
that i t left v a c a n t . T h e r e i s o n l y o n e l a n g u a g e that retains a m e m o r y o f
that s i m i l i t u d e , b e c a u s e i t d e r i v e s i n d i r e c t d e s c e n t f r o m that first v o c a b u lary w h i c h is n o w forgotten; because G o d did not w i s h m e n to forget
t h e p u n i s h m e n t inflicted a t B a b e l ; b e c a u s e this l a n g u a g e h a d t o b e used
i n o r d e r t o r e c o u n t G o d ' s a n c i e n t A l l i a n c e w i t h his p e o p l e ; a n d lastly,
b e c a u s e i t w a s i n this l a n g u a g e that G o d addressed h i m s e l f t o t h o s e w h o
listened t o h i m . H e b r e w t h e r e f o r e c o n t a i n s , a s i f i n the f o r m o f f r a g m e n t s ,
the m a r k s o f that o r i g i n a l n a m e - g i v i n g . A n d those w o r d s p r o n o u n c e d
b y A d a m a s h e i m p o s e d t h e m u p o n the v a r i o u s a n i m a l s h a v e e n d u r e d , i n
p a r t a t least, a n d still c a r r y w i t h t h e m i n t h e i r d e n s i t y , l i k e a n e m b e d d e d
f r a g m e n t o f silent k n o w l e d g e , t h e u n c h a n g i n g p r o p e r t i e s o f b e i n g s :
T h u s t h e s t o r k , s o g r e a t l y l a u d e d f o r its c h a r i t y t o w a r d s its father a n d
its m o t h e r , is c a l l e d in H e b r e w Chasida, w h i c h is to say, m e e k , c h a r i t a b l e , e n d o w e d w i t h p i t y . . . T h e horse is n a m e d Sus, t h o u g h t to be
f r o m the v e r b Hasas, unless that v e r b i s rather d e r i v e d f r o m t h e n o u n ,
a n d i t signifies t o rise u p , f o r a m o n g all f o u r - f o o t e d a n i m a l s t h e h o r s e
is m o s t p r o u d a n d b r a v e , as J o b depicts it in C h a p t e r 3 9 [29].
B u t these arc n o m o r e than f r a g m e n t a r y m o n u m e n t s ; all o t h e r l a n g u a g e s
h a v e lost these radical similitudes, w h i c h h a v e b e e n p r e s e r v e d i n H e b r e w
o n l y i n o r d e r t o s h o w that i t w a s o n c e t h e c o m m o n l a n g u a g e o f G o d ,
A d a m , a n d t h e a n i m a l s o f the n e w l y c r e a t e d earth.
B u t t h o u g h l a n g u a g e n o l o n g e r bears a n i m m e d i a t e r e s e m b l a n c e t o
t h e t h i n g s i t n a m e s , this d o e s n o t m e a n that i t i s separate f r o m the w o r l d ;
i t still c o n t i n u e s , i n a n o t h e r f o r m , t o b e t h e l o c u s o f r e v e l a t i o n s a n d t o b e
i n c l u d e d i n t h e area w h e r e t r u t h i s b o t h m a n i f e s t e d a n d e x p r e s s e d . T r u e ,
36

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W O R L D

it is no l o n g e r n a t u r e in its p r i m a l v i s i b i l i t y , b u t n e i t h e r is it a m y s t e r i o u s
instrument w i t h p o w e r s k n o w n o n l y to a f e w privileged persons. It is
rather t h e f i g u r a t i o n of a w o r l d r e d e e m i n g itself, l e n d i n g its ear at last
t o t h e t r u e w o r d . T h i s i s w h y i t w a s G o d ' s w i s h that L a t i n , the l a n g u a g e
o f his C h u r c h , s h o u l d s p r e a d o v e r t h e w h o l e o f t h e terrestrial g l o b e .
A n d i t i s also w h y all t h e l a n g u a g e s o f t h e w o r l d , a s i t b e c a m e p o s s i b l e
t o k n o w t h e m t h r o u g h this c o n q u e s t , m a k e u p t o g e t h e r the i m a g e o f t h e
truth. T h e i r i n t e r l a c i n g a n d t h e space i n w h i c h t h e y a r e d e p l o y e d free
the s i g n o f t h e r e d e e m e d w o r l d , j u s t a s t h e a r r a n g e m e n t o f t h e first n a m e s
b o r e a likeness t o t h e t h i n g s that G o d h a d g i v e n t o A d a m for his use.
C l a u d e D u r e t p o i n t s o u t that t h e H e b r e w s , the C a n a a n s , t h e S a m a r i t a n s ,
the C h a l d e a n s , t h e S y r i a n s , the E g y p t i a n s , t h e C a r t h a g i n i a n s , t h e P h o e nicians, t h e A r a b s , the S a r a c e n s , t h e T u r k s ,

t h e M o o r s , t h e Persians,

and the T a r t a r s all w r i t e f r o m r i g h t t o left, f o l l o w i n g ' t h e c o u r s e a n d
d a i l y m o v e m e n t o f t h e first h e a v e n , w h i c h i s m o s t p e r f e c t , a c c o r d i n g t o
the o p i n i o n o f the g r e a t A r i s t o t l e , t e n d i n g t o w a r d s u n i t y ' ; t h e G r e e k s ,
the G e o r g i a n s , the M a r o n i t e s , t h e Serbians, t h e J a c o b i t e s , the C o p t s ,
t h e P o z n a n i a n s , a n d o f c o u r s e the R o m a n s a n d all E u r o p e a n s w r i t e f r o m
left t o r i g h t , f o l l o w i n g ' t h e c o u r s e a n d m o v e m e n t o f the s e c o n d h e a v e n ,
h o m e o f t h e s e v e n p l a n e t s ' ; t h e Indians, C a t h a y a n s , C h i n e s e , a n d J a p a n e s e
w r i t e f r o m t o p t o b o t t o m , i n c o n f o r m i t y w i t h the ' o r d e r o f n a t u r e , w h i c h
has g i v e n m e n heads a t t h e t o p s o f their b o d i e s a n d feet a t the b o t t o m ' ;
'in o p p o s i t i o n t o the a f o r e m e n t i o n e d ' , the M e x i c a n s w r i t e either f r o m
b o t t o m t o t o p o r else i n 'spiral lines, s u c h a s t h o s e m a d e b y the sun i n
its a n n u a l j o u r n e y t h r o u g h the Z o d i a c ' . A n d thus ' b y these f i v e d i v e r s e
sorts o f w r i t i n g the secrets a n d m y s t e r i e s o f the w o r l d ' s f r a m e a n d the
f o r m o f the cross, t h e u n i t y o f the h e a v e n ' s r o t u n d i t y and that o f the
earth, are p r o p e r l y d e n o t e d a n d expressed'[3o]. T h e r e l a t i o n o f l a n g u a g e s
t o the w o r l d i s o n e o f a n a l o g y r a t h e r than o f s i g n i f i c a t i o n ; o r rather,
their v a l u e a s signs a n d t h e i r d u p l i c a t i n g f u n c t i o n are s u p e r i m p o s e d ; t h e y
speak the h e a v e n and t h e earth o f w h i c h t h e y are the i m a g e ; t h e y r e p r o d u c e i n their m o s t m a t e r i a l a r c h i t e c t u r e t h e cross w h o s e c o m i n g t h e y
a n n o u n c e - that c o m i n g w h i c h establishes its e x i s t e n c e i n its o w n t u r n
t h r o u g h t h e S c r i p t u r e s a n d the W o r d . L a n g u a g e possesses a s y m b o l i c
f u n c t i o n ; b u t since the disaster a t B a b e l w e m u s t n o l o n g e r seek for i t w i t h rare e x c e p t i o n s [31] - i n t h e w o r d s t h e m s e l v e s b u t rather i n t h e v e r y
existence o f l a n g u a g e , i n its total r e l a t i o n t o the t o t a l i t y o f the w o r l d , i n
the i n t e r s e c t i n g o f its space w i t h the l o c i a n d f o r m s o f the c o s m o s .
H e n c e the f o r m o f the e n c y c l o p a e d i c p r o j e c t a s i t appears a t the e n d o f
37

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t h e s i x t e e n t h c e n t u r y o r i n the first y e a r s o f t h e s e v e n t e e n t h : n o t t o reflect
w h a t o n e k n o w s i n t h e neutral e l e m e n t o f l a n g u a g e - t h e use o f t h e a l p h a b e t a s a n a r b i t r a r y b u t efficacious e n c y c l o p a e d i c o r d e r d o e s n o t a p p e a r
u n t i l t h e s e c o n d h a l f of t h e s e v e n t e e n t h c e n t u r y [3 2] - b u t to r e c o n s t i t u t e
the v e r y order o f the universe b y the w a y i n w h i c h w o r d s are linked
t o g e t h e r a n d a r r a n g e d i n s p a c e . I t i s this p r o j e c t that w e f i n d i n G r e g o i r e ' s
Syntaxeon

artis

mirabilis

(1610),

and

in A l s t e d i u s ' s Encyclopaedia

(1630);

or a g a i n in t h e Tableau de tous les arts liberaux by C h r i s t o p h e de S a v i g n y ,
w h o c o n t r i v e s t o spatialize a c q u i r e d k n o w l e d g e b o t h i n a c c o r d a n c e w i t h
the c o s m i c , u n c h a n g i n g , a n d p e r f e c t f o r m o f the c i r c l e a n d i n a c c o r d a n c e w i t h the s u b l u n a r y , p e r i s h a b l e , m u l t i p l e , a n d d i v i d e d f o r m o f t h e
t r e e ; i t i s also t o b e f o u n d i n t h e w o r k o f L a C r o i x d u M a i n e , w h o e n v i s a g e s a space that w o u l d b e a t o n c e a n E n c y c l o p a e d i a a n d a L i b r a r y ,
and w o u l d permit the arrangement of written texts according to the forms
of adjacency,

kinship,

analogy,

and subordination prescribed b y the

w o r l d itself[33]. B u t i n a n y case, s u c h a n i n t e r w e a v i n g o f l a n g u a g e a n d
t h i n g s , i n a space c o m m o n t o b o t h , p r e s u p p o s e s a n a b s o l u t e p r i v i l e g e o n
the part o f w r i t i n g .
T h i s p r i v i l e g e d o m i n a t e d the entire Renaissance, and w a s n o d o u b t o n e
of the great events in W e s t e r n culture. Printing, the arrival in E u r o p e of
O r i e n t a l m a n u s c r i p t s , t h e a p p e a r a n c e o f a literature n o l o n g e r c r e a t e d for
the v o i c e o r p e r f o r m a n c e a n d t h e r e f o r e n o t g o v e r n e d b y t h e m , t h e p r e c e d e n c e g i v e n t o t h e i n t e r p r e t a t i o n o f r e l i g i o u s texts o v e r t h e t r a d i t i o n
a n d m a g i s t e r i u m o f t h e C h u r c h - all these t h i n g s b e a r w i t n e s s , w i t h o u t
its b e i n g possible t o i n d i c a t e causes a n d effects, t o t h e f u n d a m e n t a l p l a c e
accorded in the W e s t to W r i t i n g . Henceforth, it is the primal nature of
language t o b e written. T h e sounds m a d e b y voices p r o v i d e n o m o r e
t h a n a t r a n s i t o r y a n d p r e c a r i o u s translation o f it. W h a t G o d i n t r o d u c e d
i n t o the w o r l d w a s w r i t t e n w o r d s ; A d a m , w h e n h e i m p o s e d t h e i r first
n a m e s u p o n t h e a n i m a l s , d i d n o m o r e t h a n r e a d t h o s e v i s i b l e a n d silent
m a r k s ; the L a w w a s entrusted t o the T a b l e s , n o t t o men's m e m o r i e s ;
a n d i t i s i n a b o o k that t h e t r u e W o r d m u s t b e f o u n d a g a i n . V i g e n e r e
and

Duret[34]

both

said-and

in

almost

identical

terms-that

the

written had a l w a y s preceded the spoken, certainly in nature, and perhaps
e v e n i n t h e k n o w l e d g e o f m e n . F o r i t w a s v e r y p o s s i b l e that b e f o r e B a b e l ,
before the F l o o d , there had already existed a f o r m of w r i t i n g c o m p o s e d
o f t h e m a r k s o f n a t u r e itself, w i t h t h e result that its c h a r a c t e r s w o u l d h a v e
h a d t h e p o w e r t o a c t u p o n t h i n g s d i r e c t l y , t o attract t h e m o r r e p e l t h e m ,
to represent their p r o p e r t i e s , their v i r t u e s , a n d their secrets. A p r i m i t i v e l y
38

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W O R L D

n a t u r a l w r i t i n g , o f w h i c h certain f o r m s o f esoteric k n o w l e d g e , a n d t h e
c a b a l a first a n d f o r e m o s t , m a y p e r h a p s h a v e

p r e s e r v e d t h e scattered

m e m o r y a n d w e r e n o w a t t e m p t i n g t o r e t r i e v e its l o n g - d o r m a n t p o w e r s .
Esoterism in the sixteenth century is a p h e n o m e n o n of the written w o r d ,
n o t the s p o k e n w o r d . A t all e v e n t s , t h e latter i s s t r i p p e d o f all its p o w e r s ;
i t i s m e r e l y t h e f e m a l e p a r t o f l a n g u a g e , V i g e n e r e a n d D u r e t tell us, j u s t
as its intellect is p a s s i v e ; W r i t i n g , on t h e o t h e r h a n d , is t h e a c t i v e intellect,
the ' m a l e principle' of l a n g u a g e . It alone harbours the truth.
T h i s p r i m a c y o f t h e w r i t t e n w o r d e x p l a i n s the t w i n p r e s e n c e o f t w o
forms w h i c h ,

despite t h e i r a p p a r e n t a n t a g o n i s m ,

are i n d i s s o c i a b l e i n

s i x t e e n t h - c e n t u r y k n o w l e d g e . T h e first o f these i s a n o n - d i s t i n c t i o n b e t w e e n w h a t i s seen a n d w h a t i s read, b e t w e e n o b s e r v a t i o n a n d r e l a t i o n ,
w h i c h results i n t h e c o n s t i t u t i o n o f a s i n g l e , u n b r o k e n surface i n w h i c h
o b s e r v a t i o n a n d l a n g u a g e intersect t o i n f i n i t y . A n d t h e s e c o n d , t h e i n v e r s e
o f t h e first, i s a n i m m e d i a t e d i s s o c i a t i o n o f all l a n g u a g e , d u p l i c a t e d , w i t h o u t a n y assignable t e r m , b y t h e c o n s t a n t r e i t e r a t i o n o f c o m m e n t a r y .
Later, B u f f o n w a s to express astonishment at finding in the w o r k of a
naturalist l i k e A l d r o v a n d i s u c h a n i n e x t r i c a b l e m i x t u r e o f e x a c t d e s c r i p tions, r e p o r t e d q u o t a t i o n s , fables w i t h o u t c o m m e n t a r y , r e m a r k s d e a l i n g
indifferently w i t h an a n i m a l ' s a n a t o m y , its use in h e r a l d r y , its h a b i t a t , its
m y t h o l o g i c a l v a l u e s , o r t h e uses t o w h i c h i t c o u l d b e p u t i n m e d i c i n e
o r m a g i c . A n d i n d e e d , w h e n o n e g o e s b a c k t o t a k e a l o o k a t the Historia
serpentum et draconum, o n e finds t h e c h a p t e r ' O n the serpent in g e n e r a l '
arranged under the f o l l o w i n g headings: e q u i v o c a t i o n ( w h i c h means the
v a r i o u s m e a n i n g s o f t h e w o r d serpent),

synonyms

and

etymologies,

differences, f o r m a n d d e s c r i p t i o n , a n a t o m y , n a t u r e a n d habits, t e m p e r a m e n t , c o i t u s a n d g e n e r a t i o n , v o i c e , m o v e m e n t s , p l a c e s , diet, p h y s i o g n o m y , antipathy, s y m p a t h y , m o d e s o f capture, death and w o u n d s caused
b y t h e serpent, m o d e s a n d signs o f p o i s o n i n g , r e m e d i e s ,
nominations, prodigies and presages, monsters,

epithets,

mythology,

de-

gods to

w h i c h i t i s d e d i c a t e d , fables, a l l e g o r i e s a n d m y s t e r i e s , h i e r o g l y p h i c s , e m b l e m s and s y m b o l s , p r o v e r b s , c o i n a g e , m i r a c l e s , riddles, d e v i c e s , h e r a l d i c
signs, historical facts, d r e a m s , s i m u l a c r a a n d statues, use in h u m a n diet, use
i n m e d i c i n e , m i s c e l l a n e o u s uses. W h e r e u p o n B u f f o n c o m m e n t s : ' L e t i t
b e j u d g e d after that w h a t p r o p o r t i o n o f natural h i s t o r y i s t o b e f o u n d i n
such a h o t c h - p o t c h o f w r i t i n g . T h e r e i s n o d e s c r i p t i o n h e r e , o n l y l e g e n d . '
A n d i n d e e d , f o r A l d r o v a n d i a n d his c o n t e m p o r a r i e s , it w a s all legenda things t o b e r e a d . B u t t h e r e a s o n f o r this w a s n o t that t h e y p r e f e r r e d t h e
a u t h o r i t y o f m e n t o t h e p r e c i s i o n o f a n u n p r e j u d i c e d e y e , b u t that n a t u r e ,
39

THE

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i n itself, i s a n u n b r o k e n tissue o f w o r d s a n d signs, o f a c c o u n t s and c h a r a c ters, o f discourse and f o r m s . W h e n o n e i s faced w i t h the task o f w r i t i n g a n
a n i m a l ' s history, it is useless and i m p o s s i b l e to c h o o s e b e t w e e n the p r o f e s sion o f naturalist a n d that o f c o m p i l e r : o n e has t o c o l l e c t t o g e t h e r i n t o
o n e a n d the s a m e f o r m o f k n o w l e d g e all that has b e e n seen a n d heard,
all that has b e e n recounted, either b y n a t u r e o r b y m e n , b y the l a n g u a g e
o f t h e w o r l d , b y t r a d i t i o n , o r b y the p o e t s . T o k n o w a n a n i m a l o r a plant,
o r a n y terrestrial t h i n g w h a t e v e r , i s t o g a t h e r t o g e t h e r the w h o l e dense
l a y e r o f signs w i t h w h i c h i t o r t h e y m a y h a v e b e e n c o v e r e d ; i t i s t o r e d i s c o v e r also all the constellations o f f o r m s f r o m w h i c h t h e y d e r i v e their
v a l u e as h e r a l d i c signs. A l d r o v a n d i w a s n e i t h e r a better n o r a w o r s e o b s e r v e r
t h a n B u t t o n ; h e w a s n e i t h e r m o r e c r e d u l o u s than he, n o r less a t t a c h e d t o
the faithfulness o f the o b s e r v i n g e y e o r t o t h e r a t i o n a l i t y o f t h i n g s . H i s
o b s e r v a t i o n w a s s i m p l y n o t l i n k e d t o t h i n g s i n a c c o r d a n c e w i t h the s a m e
s y s t e m o r b y the s a m e a r r a n g e m e n t o f the episteme. F o r A l d r o v a n d i w a s
meticulously contemplating a nature w h i c h w a s , f r o m top to b o t t o m ,
written.
K n o w l e d g e t h e r e f o r e consisted i n r e l a t i n g o n e f o r m o f l a n g u a g e t o
a n o t h e r f o r m o f l a n g u a g e ; i n r e s t o r i n g the g r e a t , u n b r o k e n plain o f w o r d s
a n d t h i n g s ; i n m a k i n g e v e r y t h i n g speak. T h a t is, i n b r i n g i n g i n t o b e i n g ,
a t a l e v e l a b o v e that o f all m a r k s , the s e c o n d a r y d i s c o u r s e o f c o m m e n t a r y .
T h e function p r o p e r to k n o w l e d g e is not seeing or demonstrating; it is
interpreting. Scriptural c o m m e n t a r y , commentaries on A n c i e n t authors,
c o m m e n t a r i e s o n the a c c o u n t s o f travellers, c o m m e n t a r j e s o n l e g e n d s
a n d fables: n o n e o f these f o r m s o f discourse i s r e q u i r e d t o j u s t i f y its c l a i m
to be e x p r e s s i n g a t r u t h b e f o r e it is i n t e r p r e t e d ; all that is r e q u i r e d of it is
the possibility o f t a l k i n g a b o u t it. L a n g u a g e c o n t a i n s its o w n inner p r i n c i p l e o f p r o l i f e r a t i o n . ' T h e r e i s m o r e w o r k i n i n t e r p r e t i n g interpretations
than in interpreting things; and m o r e b o o k s about b o o k s than on any
o t h e r subject; w e d o n o t h i n g b u t w r i t e glosses o n

one

another'[35].

T h e s e w o r d s are n o t a s t a t e m e n t o f the b a n k r u p t c y o f a c u l t u r e b u r i e d
b e n e a t h its o w n m o n u m e n t s ; t h e y are a d e f i n i t i o n o f t h e i n e v i t a b l e r e l a t i o n that l a n g u a g e m a i n t a i n e d w i t h itself i n t h e s i x t e e n t h c e n t u r y . T h i s
r e l a t i o n e n a b l e d l a n g u a g e t o a c c u m u l a t e t o infinity, since i t n e v e r ceased
t o d e v e l o p , t o revise itself, a n d t o l a y its successive f o r m s o n e o v e r
a n o t h e r . P e r h a p s f o r the first t i m e i n W e s t e r n c u l t u r e , w e f i n d r e v e a l e d
the a b s o l u t e l y o p e n d i m e n s i o n o f a l a n g u a g e n o l o n g e r a b l e t o halt itself,
b e c a u s e , n e v e r b e i n g e n c l o s e d in a d e f i n i t i v e s t a t e m e n t , it c a n e x p r e s s its
t r u t h o n l y i n s o m e future discourse and i s w h o l l y intent o n w h a t i t w i l l
40

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h a v e said; b u t e v e n this future d i s c o u r s e itself d o e s n o t h a v e the p o w e r t o
halt the p r o g r e s s i o n , a n d w h a t it says is e n c l o s e d w i t h i n it like a p r o m i s e ,
a b e q u e s t to y e t a n o t h e r d i s c o u r s e . . . . T h e task of c o m m e n t a r y c a n n e v e r ,
by definition, be c o m p l e t e d . A n d y e t c o m m e n t a r y is directed entirely
towards the enigmatic, m u r m u r e d element o f the l a n g u a g e b e i n g c o m m e n t e d o n : i t calls i n t o b e i n g , b e l o w t h e e x i s t i n g d i s c o u r s e , a n o t h e r
discourse that i s m o r e f u n d a m e n t a l and, a s i t w e r e , ' m o r e p r i m a l ' , w h i c h
i t sets itself t h e task o f r e s t o r i n g . T h e r e c a n b e n o c o m m e n t a r y unless,
b e l o w the l a n g u a g e o n e i s r e a d i n g a n d d e c i p h e r i n g , there runs the s o v e r e i g n t y o f a n o r i g i n a l T e x t . A n d i t i s this t e x t w h i c h , b y p r o v i d i n g a
f o u n d a t i o n f o r t h e c o m m e n t a r y , offers its u l t i m a t e r e v e l a t i o n as t h e
promised

reward

of commentary.

T h e necessary

p r o l i f e r a t i o n o f the

exegesis i s t h e r e f o r e m e a s u r e d , i d e a l l y l i m i t e d , a n d y e t ceaselessly a n i m a t e d , b y this silent d o m i n i o n . T h e l a n g u a g e o f t h e s i x t e e n t h c e n t u r y u n d e r s t o o d n o t a s a n e p i s o d e i n the h i s t o r y o f a n y o n e t o n g u e , b u t a s a
g l o b a l c u l t u r a l e x p e r i e n c e - f o u n d itself c a u g h t , n o d o u b t , b e t w e e n these
interacting e l e m e n t s , i n t h e interstice o c c u r r i n g b e t w e e n t h e p r i m a l T e x t
and the infinity o f I n t e r p r e t a t i o n . O n e speaks u p o n t h e basis o f a w r i t i n g
that i s p a r t o f the fabric o f t h e w o r l d ; o n e speaks a b o u t i t t o i n f i n i t y ,
and e a c h o f its signs b e c o m e s i n t u r n w r i t t e n m a t t e r for further d i s c o u r s e ;
b u t e a c h o f these stages o f d i s c o u r s e i s addressed t o that p r i m a l w r i t t e n
w o r d w h o s e return it simultaneously promises and postpones.
I t w i l l b e seen that t h e e x p e r i e n c e o f l a n g u a g e b e l o n g s t o t h e s a m e
a r c h a e o l o g i c a l n e t w o r k a s the k n o w l e d g e o f t h i n g s and nature. T o k n o w
those t h i n g s w a s t o b r i n g t o l i g h t t h e s y s t e m o f r e s e m b l a n c e s that m a d e
t h e m close to and dependent u p o n o n e another; but o n e c o u l d discover
the similitudes b e t w e e n t h e m o n l y i n s o far a s t h e r e e x i s t e d , o n their surface, a t o t a l i t y o f signs f o r m i n g the t e x t o f a n u n e q u i v o c a l m e s s a g e . B u t
then, these signs t h e m s e l v e s w e r e n o m o r e t h a n a p l a y o f r e s e m b l a n c e s ,
and t h e y r e f e r r e d b a c k t o the infinite a n d necessarily u n c o m p l e t e d task
o f k n o w i n g w h a t i s similar. I n t h e s a m e w a y , t h o u g h t h e a n a l o g y i s i n v e r t e d , l a n g u a g e sets itself the task o f r e s t o r i n g a n a b s o l u t e l y p r i m a l d i s course, b u t i t c a n e x p r e s s that d i s c o u r s e o n l y b y t r y i n g t o a p p r o x i m a t e t o
it, b y a t t e m p t i n g t o say t h i n g s a b o u t i t that are similar t o it, t h e r e b y
b r i n g i n g i n t o e x i s t e n c e t h e i n f i n i t y o f adjacent a n d similar fidelities o f
interpretation.

T h e c o m m e n t a r y r e s e m b l e s endlessly that w h i c h i t i s

c o m m e n t i n g u p o n and w h i c h it can never express; just as the k n o w l e d g e
o f nature c o n s t a n t l y finds n e w signs f o r r e s e m b l a n c e b e c a u s e r e s e m b l a n c e
c a n n o t b e k n o w n i n itself, e v e n t h o u g h the signs c a n n e v e r b e a n y t h i n g b u t

41

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s i m i l i t u d e s . A n d j u s t a s this infinite p l a y w i t h i n n a t u r e finds its l i n k , its
f o r m , a n d its l i m i t a t i o n i n t h e r e l a t i o n o f t h e m i c r o c o s m t o the m a c r o c o s m , s o d o e s t h e infinite task o f c o m m e n t a r y d e r i v e its s t r e n g t h f r o m t h e
p r o m i s e o f a n effectively written text w h i c h interpretation w i l l o n e day
r e v e a l in its e n t i r e t y .

V

THE

BEING

OF

L A N G U A G E

E v e r since the S t o i c s , t h e s y s t e m o f signs i n t h e W e s t e r n w o r l d h a d b e e n a
t e r n a r y o n e , f o r i t w a s r e c o g n i z e d a s c o n t a i n i n g t h e significant, t h e s i g nified, a n d t h e ' c o n j u n c t u r e '

(the xvyyavov). F r o m t h e s e v e n t e e n t h c e n -

t u r y , o n t h e o t h e r h a n d , t h e a r r a n g e m e n t o f signs w a s t o b e c o m e b i n a r y ,
since i t w a s t o b e d e f i n e d , w i t h P o r t - R o y a l , a s t h e c o n n e c t i o n o f a s i g n i ficant a n d a s i g n i f i e d . At t h e R e n a i s s a n c e , t h e o r g a n i z a t i o n is different,
and m u c h m o r e c o m p l e x : i t i s t e r n a r y , since i t requires t h e f o r m a l d o m a i n
o f m a r k s , t h e c o n t e n t i n d i c a t e d b y t h e m , a n d t h e s i m i l i t u d e s that l i n k
the m a r k s t o t h e t h i n g s d e s i g n a t e d b y t h e m ; b u t since r e s e m b l a n c e i s the
f d r m o f t h e signs a s w e l l a s their c o n t e n t , t h e t h r e e distinct e l e m e n t s o f
this a r t i c u l a t i o n are r e s o l v e d i n t o a s i n g l e f o r m .
T h i s arrangement, together w i t h the interplay it authorizes, is found
also, t h o u g h i n v e r t e d , i n t h e e x p e r i e n c e o f l a n g u a g e . I n fact, l a n g u a g e
exists first o f all, i n its r a w a n d p r i m i t i v e b e i n g , i n t h e s i m p l e , m a t e r i a l
f o r m o f w r i t i n g , a s t i g m a u p o n t h i n g s , a m a r k i m p r i n t e d across the w o r l d
w h i c h is a p a r t of its m o s t ineffaceable f o r m s . In a senses this l a y e r of
l a n g u a g e i s u n i q u e a n d a b s o l u t e . B u t i t also g i v e s rise t o t w o o t h e r f o r m s
o f d i s c o u r s e w h i c h p r o v i d e i t w i t h a f r a m e : a b o v e it, there i s c o m m e n t a r y ,
w h i c h recasts t h e g i v e n signs t o s e r v e a n e w p u r p o s e , a n d b e l o w it, the
text, w h o s e p r i m a c y is presupposed by c o m m e n t a r y to exist hidden b e n e a t h the m a r k s v i s i b l e t o all. H e n c e there are t h r e e l e v e l s o f l a n g u a g e ,
all based u p o n the s i n g l e b e i n g o f the w r i t t e n w o r d . I t i s this c o m p l e x
i n t e r a c t i o n o f e l e m e n t s that w a s t o d i s a p p e a r w i t h t h e e n d o f the R e n a i s sance. A n d i n t w o w a y s : b e c a u s e t h e f o r m s o s c i l l a t i n g endlessly b e t w e e n
o n e a n d three t e r m s w e r e t o b e f i x e d i n a b i n a r y f o r m w h i c h w o u l d r e n d e r
t h e m stable; a n d b e c a u s e l a n g u a g e , instead o f e x i s t i n g a s t h e m a t e r i a l
w r i t i n g o f t h i n g s , w a s t o find its area o f b e i n g restricted t o t h e g e n e r a l
o r g a n i z a t i o n o f r e p r e s e n t a t i v e signs.
This n e w arrangement b r o u g h t about the appearance of a n e w problem,
u n k n o w n until then: in the sixteenth century, one asked oneself h o w it
w a s p o s s i b l e t o k n o w t h a t a s i g n d i d i n fact d e s i g n a t e w h a t i t s i g n i f i e d ;

42

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f r o m the s e v e n t e e n t h c e n t u r y , o n e b e g a n t o ask h o w a s i g n c o u l d b e
l i n k e d t o w h a t i t signified. A q u e s t i o n t o w h i c h the C l a s s i c a l p e r i o d w a s
t o r e p l y b y t h e analysis o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n ; a n d t o w h i c h m o d e m t h o u g h t
w a s t o r e p l y b y t h e analysis o f m e a n i n g a n d s i g n i f i c a t i o n . B u t g i v e n t h e
fact itself, l a n g u a g e w a s n e v e r t o b e a n y t h i n g m o r e t h a n a p a r t i c u l a r case
o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n (for the Classics) o r o f s i g n i f i c a t i o n (for u s ) . T h e p r o f o u n d k i n s h i p o f l a n g u a g e w i t h t h e w o r l d w a s thus d i s s o l v e d . T h e p r i m a c y
o f the w r i t t e n w o r d w e n t i n t o a b e y a n c e . A n d

that u n i f o r m l a y e r , i n

w h i c h the seen a n d t h e read, the v i s i b l e a n d the e x p r e s s i b l e , w e r e e n d l e s s l y
i n t e r w o v e n , v a n i s h e d t o o . T h i n g s a n d w o r d s w e r e t o b e separated f r o m
o n e a n o t h e r . T h e e y e w a s t h e n c e f o r t h d e s t i n e d t o see a n d o n l y t o see,
the ear t o h e a r a n d o n l y t o hear. D i s c o u r s e w a s still t o h a v e t h e task o f
s p e a k i n g that w h i c h is, b u t i t w a s n o l o n g e r t o b e a n y t h i n g m o r e t h a n
w h a t it said.
This i n v o l v e d an immense reorganization of culture, a reorganization
o f w h i c h t h e C l a s s i c a l a g e w a s the first a n d p e r h a p s t h e m o s t i m p o r t a n t
stage, since i t w a s r e s p o n s i b l e f o r the n e w a r r a n g e m e n t i n w h i c h w e are
still c a u g h t - since it is the C l a s s i c a l a g e that separates us f r o m a c u l t u r e
i n w h i c h the s i g n i f i c a t i o n o f signs d i d n o t exist, b e c a u s e i t w a s r e a b s o r b e d
into the s o v e r e i g n t y o f the L i k e ; b u t i n w h i c h their e n i g m a t i c , m o n o t o n ous, s t u b b o r n , a n d p r i m i t i v e b e i n g s h o n e i n a n endless dispersion.
T h e r e i s n o t h i n g n o w , either i n o u r k n o w l e d g e o r i n o u r reflection,
that still recalls e v e n the m e m o r y o f that b e i n g . N o t h i n g , e x c e p t p e r h a p s
literature - a n d e v e n then in a fashion m o r e a l l u s i v e a n d d i a g o n a l t h a n
direct. It m a y be said in a sense that 'literature', as it w a s c o n s t i t u t e d a n d
s o d e s i g n a t e d o n the t h r e s h o l d o f the m o d e r n a g e , manifests, a t a t i m e
w h e n i t w a s least e x p e c t e d , the r e a p p e a r a n c e , o f the l i v i n g b e i n g o f l a n g u a g e . I n the s e v e n t e e n t h a n d e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r i e s , t h e p e c u l i a r e x i s t e n c e
and ancient s o l i d i t y o f l a n g u a g e a s a t h i n g i n s c r i b e d i n the fabric o f t h e
w o r l d w e r e d i s s o l v e d i n t h e f u n c t i o n i n g o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n ; all l a n g u a g e
h a d v a l u e o n l y a s d i s c o u r s e . T h e art o f l a n g u a g e w a s a w a y o f ' m a k i n g
a sign' - of simultaneously signifying s o m e t h i n g and arranging

signs

a r o u n d that t h i n g ; a n art o f n a m i n g , t h e r e f o r e , a n d t h e n , b y m e a n s o f a
r e d u p l i c a t i o n b o t h d e m o n s t r a t i v e a n d d e c o r a t i v e , o f c a p t u r i n g that n a m e ,
o f e n c l o s i n g a n d c o n c e a l i n g it, o f d e s i g n a t i n g i t i n t u r n b y o t h e r n a m e s
that w e r e t h e d e f e r r e d p r e s e n c e o f t h e first n a m e , its s e c o n d a r y s i g n , its
figuration, its r h e t o r i c a l p a n o p l y . A n d y e t , t h r o u g h o u t t h e n i n e t e e n t h
century, and right up to o u r o w n d a y - f r o m Holderlin to M a l l a r m e and
o n t o A n t o n i n A r t a u d - literature a c h i e v e d a u t o n o m o u s e x i s t e n c e , a n d
43

THE

ORDER

OF

THINGS

separated itself f r o m all o t h e r l a n g u a g e w i t h a d e e p scission, o n l y b y f o r m i n g a sort o f ' c o u n t e r - d i s c o u r s e ' , a n d b y f i n d i n g its w a y b a c k f r o m the
r e p r e s e n t a t i v e o r s i g n i f y i n g f u n c t i o n o f l a n g u a g e t o this r a w b e i n g that
h a d b e e n f o r g o t t e n since t h e s i x t e e n t h c e n t u r y .
I t i s p o s s i b l e t o b e l i e v e that o n e has attained the v e r y essence o f literature w h e n o n e i s n o l o n g e r i n t e r r o g a t i n g i t a t the l e v e l o f w h a t i t says
b u t o n l y i n its significant f o r m : i n d o i n g so, o n e i s l i m i t i n g o n e ' s v i e w o f
l a n g u a g e to its C l a s s i c a l status. In the m o d e r n a g e , literature is that w h i c h
c o m p e n s a t e s for (and n o t that w h i c h c o n f i r m s ) the s i g n i f y i n g f u n c t i o n o f
l a n g u a g e . T h r o u g h literature, the b e i n g o f l a n g u a g e shines o n c e m o r e
on the frontiers of W e s t e r n c u l t u r e - and at its c e n t r e - f o r it is w h a t has
b e e n m o s t f o r e i g n t o that c u l t u r e since the s i x t e e n t h c e n t u r y ; b u t i t has
also, since this s a m e c e n t u r y , b e e n a t the v e r y c e n t r e o f w h a t W e s t e r n
c u l t u r e has o v e r l a i n . T h i s i s w h y literature i s a p p e a r i n g m o r e a n d m o r e a s
that w h i c h m u s t b e t h o u g h t ; b u t e q u a l l y , a n d f o r the s a m e reason, a s that
w h i c h can never, in any circumstance, be thought in accordance w i t h
a t h e o r y o f s i g n i f i c a t i o n . W h e t h e r o n e analyses i t f r o m t h e p o i n t o f v i e w
o f w h a t i s signified ( o f w h a t i t i s t r y i n g t o s a y , o f its ' i d e a s ' , o f w h a t i t
promises, o r o f w h a t i t c o m m i t s one to) o r f r o m the point o f v i e w o f
that w h i c h signifies ( w i t h the h e l p o f p a r a d i g m s b o r r o w e d f r o m l i n g u i s tics or p s y c h o a n a l y s i s ) m a t t e r s little: all that is m e r e l y i n c i d e n t a l . In b o t h
cases o n e w o u l d b e s e a r c h i n g f o r i t o u t s i d e t h e g r o u n d i n w h i c h , a s r e g a r d s o u r c u l t u r e , it has n e v e r ceased for t h e past c e n t u r y a n d a h a l f to
c o m e i n t o b e i n g a n d t o i m p r i n t itself. S u c h m o d e s o f d e c i p h e r m e n t b e l o n g t o a C l a s s i c a l situation o f l a n g u a g e - t h e situation that p r e d o m i n a t e d
d u r i n g the s e v e n t e e n t h c e n t u r y , w h e n the o r g a n i z a t i o n o f signs b e c a m e
b i n a r y , a n d w h e n s i g n i f i c a t i o n w a s reflected i n the f o r m o f the r e p r e s e n t a tion;

for at

that

t i m e literature r e a l l y w a s c o m p o s e d o f a s i g n i f y i n g

e l e m e n t a n d a signified c o n t e n t , so that it w a s p r o p e r to a n a l y s e it
a c c o r d i n g l y . B u t f r o m the n i n e t e e n t h c e n t u r y , literature b e g a n t o b r i n g
l a n g u a g e b a c k t o l i g h t o n c e m o r e i n its o w n b e i n g : t h o u g h n o t a s i t
h a d still a p p e a r e d a t the e n d o f the R e n a i s s a n c e . F o r n o w w e n o l o n g e r
h a v e that p r i m a r y , that a b s o l u t e l y initial, w o r d u p o n w h i c h the infinite
m o v e m e n t o f discourse w a s founded and b y w h i c h i t w a s

limited;

henceforth, language was t o g r o w w i t h n o point o f departure, n o end, and
n o p r o m i s e . I t i s t h e traversal o f this futile y e t f u n d a m e n t a l space that
the t e x t o f literature traces f r o m d a y t o d a y .

44

CHAPTER

3

Representing
I

DON

QUIXOTE

W i t h all their t w i s t s a n d turns, D o n Q u i x o t e ' s a d v e n t u r e s f o r m t h e
b o u n d a r y : t h e y m a r k t h e e n d o f the o l d i n t e r p l a y b e t w e e n r e s e m b l a n c e
a n d signs a n d c o n t a i n t h e b e g i n n i n g s o f n e w relations. D o n Q u i x o t e i s
n o t a m a n g i v e n t o e x t r a v a g a n c e , b u t rather a d i l i g e n t p i l g r i m b r e a k i n g
his j o u r n e y b e f o r e all t h e m a r k s o f s i m i l i t u d e . H e i s the h e r o o f the S a m e .
H e n e v e r m a n a g e s t o e s c a p e f r o m t h e f a m i l i a r p l a i n s t r e t c h i n g o u t o n all
sides o f the A n a l o g u e , a n y m o r e t h a n h e d o e s f r o m his o w n s m a l l p r o v i n c e . H e t r a v e l s e n d l e s s l y o v e r that p l a i n , w i t h o u t e v e r c r o s s i n g t h e
c l e a r l y d e f i n e d frontiers o f difference, o r r e a c h i n g the h e a r t o f i d e n t i t y .
M o r e o v e r , he is h i m s e l f l i k e a s i g n , a l o n g , t h i n g r a p h i s m , a letter that
has j u s t e s c a p e d f r o m t h e o p e n p a g e s o f a b o o k . H i s w h o l e b e i n g i s n o t h i n g b u t l a n g u a g e , t e x t , p r i n t e d p a g e s , stories that h a v e a l r e a d y b e e n
w r i t t e n d o w n . H e i s m a d e u p o f i n t e r w o v e n w o r d s ; h e i s w r i t i n g itself,
w a n d e r i n g t h r o u g h t h e w o r l d a m o n g the r e s e m b l a n c e s o f t h i n g s . Y e t
n o t e n t i r e l y s o : f o r i n his r e a l i t y a s a n i m p o v e r i s h e d h i d a l g o h e c a n b e c o m e a k n i g h t o n l y b y l i s t e n i n g f r o m afar t o t h e a g e - o l d e p i c that g i v e s
its f o r m t o L a w . T h e b o o k i s n o t s o m u c h his e x i s t e n c e a s his d u t y . H e i s
constantly o b l i g e d to consult it in order to k n o w w h a t to do or say, and
w h a t signs h e s h o u l d g i v e h i m s e l f a n d o t h e r s i n o r d e r t o s h o w that h e
r e a l l y i s o f t h e s a m e n a t u r e a s the t e x t f r o m w h i c h he-springs. T h e c h i v a l r i c
r o m a n c e s h a v e p r o v i d e d o n c e a n d f o r all a w r i t t e n p r e s c r i p t i o n f o r his
adventures. A n d e v e r y episode, e v e r y decision, e v e r y exploit w i l l b e y e t
a n o t h e r s i g n that D o n Q u i x o t e i s a t r u e likeness o f all the signs that h e has
t r a c e d f r o m his b o o k .

B u t the fact t h a t h e w i s h e s t o b e l i k e t h e m m e a n s

t h a t h e m u s t p u t t h e m t o the test, that t h e ( l e g i b l e ) signs n o l o n g e r
r e s e m b l e (visible) p e o p l e . A l l t h o s e w r i t t e n t e x t s , all t h o s e e x t r a v a g a n t
r o m a n c e s are, q u i t e literally, u n p a r a l l e l e d : n o o n e i n t h e w o r l d e v e r d i d
46

REPRESENTING

r e s e m b l e t h e m ; t h e i r timeless l a n g u a g e r e m a i n s s u s p e n d e d , unfulfilled
b y a n y s i m i l i t u d e ; t h e y c o u l d all b e b u r n e d i n their e n t i r e t y and d i e f o r m
o f t h e w o r l d w o u l d n o t b e c h a n g e d . I f h e i s t o r e s e m b l e t h e texts o f w h i c h
h e i s t h e w i t n e s s , t h e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , t h e real a n a l o g u e , D o n Q u i x o t e m u s t
also furnish p r o o f a n d p r o v i d e t h e i n d u b i t a b l e s i g n t h a t t h e y are t e l l i n g
the t r u t h , that t h e y r e a l l y are t h e l a n g u a g e o f t h e w o r l d . I t i s i n c u m b e n t
u p o n h i m t o fulfil t h e p r o m i s e o f t h e b o o k s . I t i s his task t o r e c r e a t e t h e
e p i c , t h o u g h b y a r e v e r s e p r o c e s s : t h e epic r e c o u n t e d (or c l a i m e d t o r e c o u n t ) real e x p l o i t s , o f f e r i n g t h e m t o o u r m e m o r y ; D o n Q u i x o t e , o n
t h e o t h e r h a n d , m u s t e n d o w w i t h r e a l i t y the s i g n s - w i t h o u t - c o n t e n t o f t h e
narrative. His adventures w i l l be a deciphering of the w o r l d : a diligent
search o v e r t h e entire surface o f t h e earth f o r t h e f o r m s that w i l l p r o v e
that w h a t t h e b o o k s say i s true. E a c h e x p l o i t m u s t b e a p r o o f : i t consists,
n o t i n a real t r i u m p h - w h i c h i s w h y v i c t o r y i s n o t r e a l l y i m p o r t a n t - b u t
i n a n a t t e m p t t o t r a n s f o r m r e a l i t y i n t o a s i g n . I n t o a s i g n t h a t t h e signs o f
l a n g u a g e r e a l l y are i n c o n f o r m i t y w i t h t h i n g s t h e m s e l v e s . D o n Q u i x o t e
reads t h e w o r l d i n o r d e r t o p r o v e his b o o k s . A n d the o n l y p r o o f s h e g i v e s
h i m s e l f are t h e g l i t t e r i n g reflections o f r e s e m b l a n c e s .
H i s w h o l e j o u r n e y i s a q u e s t f o r s i m i l i t u d e s : t h e slightest a n a l o g i e s
are pressed i n t o s e r v i c e a s d o r m a n t signs that m u s t b e r e a w a k e n e d a n d
m a d e t o s p e a k o n c e m o r e . F l o c k s , s e r v i n g g i r l s , a n d inns b e c o m e o n c e
m o r e the l a n g u a g e o f b o o k s t o the imperceptible degree t o w h i c h they
r e s e m b l e castles, ladies, a n d a r m i e s - a p e r p e t u a l l y u n t e n a b l e r e s e m b l a n c e
w h i c h transforms the s o u g h t - f o r p r o o f i n t o d e r i s i o n a n d l e a v e s t h e w o r d s
o f t h e b o o k s f o r e v e r h o l l o w . B u t n o n - s i m i l i t u d e itself has its m o d e l , a n d
o n e that i t imitates i n t h e m o s t s e r v i l e w a y : i t i s t o b e f o u n d i n t h e transf o r m a t i o n s p e r f o r m e d b y m a g i c i a n s . S o all t h e indices o f n o n - r e s e m b l a n c e ,
all t h e signs t h a t p r o v e that t h e w r i t t e n t e x t s are n o t t e l l i n g the t r u t h ,
r e s e m b l e t h e a c t i o n o f s o r c e r y , w h i c h i n t r o d u c e s difference i n t o t h e i n d u b i t a b l e e x i s t e n c e o f s i m i l i t u d e b y m e a n s o f deceit. A n d since this m a g i c
has b e e n foreseen a n d d e s c r i b e d i n the b o o k s , t h e i l l u s o r y difference that i t
introduces can n e v e r be a n y t h i n g but an enchanted similitude, and, theref o r e , y e t a n o t h e r s i g n that the signs i n the b o o k s r e a l l y d o r e s e m b l e t h e
truth.
Don Quixote is a n e g a t i v e of t h e R e n a i s s a n c e w o r l d ; w r i t i n g has ceased
t o b e t h e p r o s e o f t h e w o r l d ; r e s e m b l a n c e s a n d signs h a v e d i s s o l v e d t h e i r
former alliance; similitudes h a v e b e c o m e deceptive and v e r g e u p o n the
v i s i o n a r y o r m a d n e s s ; t h i n g s still r e m a i n s t u b b o r n l y w i t h i n t h e i r i r o n i c
i d e n t i t y : t h e y are n o l o n g e r a n y t h i n g b u t w h a t t h e y are; w o r d s w a n d e r

"

THE

ORDER

OF

THINGS

o f f o n their o w n , w i t h o u t c o n t e n t ,

w i t h o u t r e s e m b l a n c e t o fill their

e m p t i n e s s ; t h e y are n o l o n g e r the m a r k s o f t h i n g s ; t h e y lie s l e e p i n g b e t w e e n the p a g e s o f b o o k s a n d c o v e r e d i n dust. M a g i c , w h i c h p e r m i t t e d
t h e d e c i p h e r m e n t o f t h e w o r l d b y r e v e a l i n g the secret r e s e m b l a n c e s b e n e a t h its signs, i s n o l o n g e r o f a n y use e x c e p t a s a n e x p l a n a t i o n , i n t e r m s
o f m a d n e s s , o f w h y a n a l o g i e s are a l w a y s p r o v e d false. T h e e r u d i t i o n that
o n c e read n a t u r e a n d b o o k s a l i k e a s parts o f a s i n g l e t e x t has b e e n r e l e g a t e d
t o the s a m e c a t e g o r y a s its o w n c h i m e r a s : l o d g e d i n the y e l l o w e d p a g e s o f
b o o k s , the signs o f l a n g u a g e n o l o n g e r h a v e a n y v a l u e apart f r o m t h e
slender f i c t i o n w h i c h t h e y represent. T h e w r i t t e n w o r d a n d t h i n g s n o
longer resemble one another. A n d b e t w e e n them, D o n Q u i x o t e wanders
off

on

his

own.

>

Y e t l a n g u a g e has n o t b e c o m e e n t i r e l y i m p o t e n t . I t n o w possesses n e w
p o w e r s , a n d p o w e r s p e c u l i a r t o i t a l o n e . I n the s e c o n d p a r t o f the n o v e l ,
D o n Q u i x o t e m e e t s characters w h o h a v e read t h e first p a r t o f his s t o r y
a n d r e c o g n i z e h i m , t h e real m a n , a s the h e r o o f the b o o k . C e r v a n t e s ' s
t e x t turns b a c k u p o n itself, thrusts itself b a c k i n t o its o w n d e n s i t y , a n d
b e c o m e s the o b j e c t o f its o w n n a r r a t i v e . T h e first p a r t o f t h e h e r o ' s
a d v e n t u r e s p l a y s i n t h e s e c o n d part t h e r o l e o r i g i n a l l y a s s u m e d b y t h e
c h i v a l r i c r o m a n c e s . D o n Q u i x o t e m u s t r e m a i n faithful t o t h e b o o k that
h e has n o w b e c o m e i n r e a l i t y ; h e m u s t p r o t e c t i t f r o m errors, f r o m
c o u n t e r f e i t s , f r o m a p o c r y p h a l sequels; h e m u s t fill i n t h e details that h a v e
b e e n left o u t ; h e m u s t p r e s e r v e its truth. B u t D o n Q u i x o t e h i m s e l f has
n o t read this b o o k , a n d d o e s n o t h a v e t o read it, since h e i s the b o o k i n
f l e s h a n d b l o o d . H a v i n g first read s o m a n y b o o k s that h e b e c a m e a s i g n ,
a s i g n w a n d e r i n g t h r o u g h a w o r l d that did n o t r e c o g n i z e h i m , h e has n o w ,
despite h i m s e l f a n d w i t h o u t his k n o w l e d g e , b e c o m e a b o o k that c o n t a i n s
his truth, that r e c o r d s e x a c t l y all that he has d o n e and said a n d seen a n d
t h o u g h t , a n d that a t last m a k e s h i m r e c o g n i z a b l e , s o c l o s e l y d o e s h e r e s e m b l e all t h o s e signs w h o s e ineffaceable i m p r i n t h e has left b e h i n d h i m .
Between

t h e first a n d s e c o n d parts o f t h e n o v e l , i n t h e n a r r o w g a p

b e t w e e n those t w o v o l u m e s , a n d b y their p o w e r a l o n e , D o n Q u i x o t e has
a c h i e v e d his r e a l i t y - a reality he o w e s to l a n g u a g e a l o n e , a n d w h i c h
resides e n t i r e l y inside the w o r d s . D o n Q u i x o t e ' s t r u t h i s n o t i n the r e lation o f t h e w o r d s t o t h e w o r l d b u t i n that slender a n d c o n s t a n t r e l a t i o n
w o v e n b e t w e e n t h e m s e l v e s b y v e r b a l signs. T h e h o l l o w f i c t i o n o f e p i c
e x p l o i t s has b e c o m e the r e p r e s e n t a t i v e p o w e r o f l a n g u a g e . W o r d s h a v e
s w a l l o w e d u p their o w n n a t u r e a s signs.
Don Quixote is the first m o d e r n w o r k of literature, b e c a u s e in it we see
48

REPRESENTING

the c r u e l r e a s o n o f identities a n d differences m a k e endless s p o r t o f signs
a n d s i m i l i t u d e s ; b e c a u s e i n i t l a n g u a g e b r e a k s o f f its o l d k i n s h i p w i t h t h i n g s
a n d enters i n t o that l o n e l y s o v e r e i g n t y f r o m w h i c h i t w i l l r e a p p e a r , i n
its separated state, o n l y as literature; b e c a u s e it m a r k s the p o i n t w h e r e
r e s e m b l a n c e enters a n a g e w h i c h is, f r o m t h e p o i n t o f v i e w o f r e s e m b l a n c e ,
o n e o f m a d n e s s a n d i m a g i n a t i o n . O n c e s i m i l i t u d e a n d signs are s u n d e r e d
f r o m e a c h o t h e r , t w o e x p e r i e n c e s c a n b e established a n d t w o c h a r a c t e r s
a p p e a r face t o face. T h e m a d m a n , u n d e r s t o o d n o t a s o n e w h o i s sick b u t
as an established a n d m a i n t a i n e d d e v i a n t , as an i n d i s p e n s a b l e c u l t u r a l
f u n c t i o n , has b e c o m e , i n W e s t e r n e x p e r i e n c e , t h e m a n o f p r i m i t i v e r e s e m b l a n c e s . T h i s c h a r a c t e r , a s h e i s d e p i c t e d i n the n o v e l s o r p l a y s o f t h e
B a r o q u e age, and as he w a s gradually institutionalized right up to the
a d v e n t o f n i n e t e e n t h - c e n t u r y p s y c h i a t r y , i s the m a n w h o i s alienated i n
analogy. H e i s the d i s o r d e r e d p l a y e r o f the S a m e and t h e O t h e r . H e takes
t h i n g s for w h a t t h e y are n o t , a n d p e o p l e o n e for a n o t h e r ; h e cuts his
friends a n d r e c o g n i z e s c o m p l e t e strangers; h e t h i n k s h e i s u n m a s k i n g
w h e n , i n fact, h e i s p u t t i n g o n a m a s k . H e i n v e r t s all v a l u e s a n d all
p r o p o r t i o n s , b e c a u s e he is c o n s t a n t l y u n d e r t h e i m p r e s s i o n

that he

is

d e c i p h e r i n g s i g n s : for h i m , the c r o w n m a k e s the k i n g . I n the c u l t u r a l
p e r c e p t i o n o f t h e m a d m a n that p r e v a i l e d u p t o t h e e n d o f the e i g h t e e n t h
c e n t u r y , h e i s D i f f e r e n t o n l y i n s o far a s h e i s u n a w a r e o f D i f f e r e n c e ; h e
sees n o t h i n g b u t r e s e m b l a n c e s a n d signs o f r e s e m b l a n c e e v e r y w h e r e ; f o r
h i m all signs r e s e m b l e o n e a n o t h e r , a n d all r e s e m b l a n c e s h a v e t h e v a l u e
o f signs. A t t h e o t h e r e n d o f t h e c u l t u r a l area, b u t b r o u g h t c l o s e b y s y m metry, the p o e t is he w h o , beneath the named, constantly expected
differences, r e d i s c o v e r s t h e b u r i e d kinships b e t w e e n t h i n g s , their scattered
r e s e m b l a n c e s . B e n e a t h t h e established signs, a n d i n spite o f t h e m , h e hears
a n o t h e r , d e e p e r , d i s c o u r s e , w h i c h recalls t h e t i m e w h e n w o r d s g l i t t e r e d
i n the u n i v e r s a l r e s e m b l a n c e o f t h i n g s ; i n the l a n g u a g e o f the p o e t , t h e
S o v e r e i g n t y o f the S a m e , s o difficult t o e x p r e s s , eclipses, t h e d i s t i n c t i o n
e x i s t i n g b e t w e e n signs.
T h i s a c c o u n t s , n o d o u b t , for the c o n f r o n t a t i o n o f p o e t r y a n d m a d n e s s
in m o d e r n W e s t e r n culture. B u t it is no l o n g e r the old Platonic t h e m e of
inspired m a d n e s s . I t i s t h e m a r k o f a n e w e x p e r i e n c e o f l a n g u a g e a n d
things. A t t h e fringes o f a k n o w l e d g e that separates b e i n g s , signs, a n d
similitudes, a n d a s t h o u g h t o l i m i t its p o w e r , the m a d m a n fulfils the
function o f homosemanticism: h e g r o u p s all signs t o g e t h e r a n d leads t h e m
w i t h a r e s e m b l a n c e that n e v e r ceases t o p r o l i f e r a t e . T h e p o e t fulfils t h e
o p p o s i t e f u n c t i o n : his i s the allegorical r o l e ; b e n e a t h t h e l a n g u a g e o f

THE

ORDER

OF

THINGS

signs a n d b e n e a t h the i n t e r p l a y o f their p r e c i s e l y d e l i n e a t e d d i s t i n c t i o n s ,
h e strains his ears t o c a t c h that ' o t h e r l a n g u a g e ' , the l a n g u a g e , w i t h o u t
w o r d s o r discourse, o f resemblance. T h e p o e t brings similitude t o the
signs that s p e a k it, w h e r e a s t h e m a d m a n l o a d s all signs w i t h a r e s e m b l a n c e
that u l t i m a t e l y erases t h e m . T h e y share, t h e n , o n t h e o u t e r e d g e o f o u r
c u l t u r e a n d a t t h e p o i n t nearest t o its essential d i v i s i o n s , that ' f r o n t i e r '
situation - a

marginal

position

and

a

profoundly

archaic

silhouette -

w h e r e their w o r d s u n c e a s i n g l y r e n e w the p o w e r o f their strangeness a n d
the s t r e n g t h o f their c o n t e s t a t i o n .

B e t w e e n t h e m there has o p e n e d u p

a field o f k n o w l e d g e i n w h i c h , b e c a u s e o f a n essential r u p t u r e i n t h e
W e s t e r n w o r l d , w h a t has b e c o m e i m p o r t a n t i s n o l o n g e r r e s e m b l a n c e s
b u t identities a n d differences.

ft
II

ORDER

E s t a b l i s h i n g discontinuities is n o t an easy task e v e n for h i s t o r y in g e n e r a l .
A n d i t i s c e r t a i n l y e v e n less s o f o r t h e h i s t o r y o f t h o u g h t . W e m a y w i s h
t o d r a w a d i v i d i n g - l i n e ; b u t a n y l i m i t w e set m a y p e r h a p s b e n o m o r e t h a n
an arbitrary division m a d e in a constantly m o b i l e w h o l e . We m a y w i s h
t o m a r k o f f a p e r i o d ; b u t h a v e w e t h e r i g h t t o establish s y m m e t r i c a l
breaks at t w o points in time in order to g i v e an appearance of continuity
a n d u n i t y t o t h e s y s t e m w e p l a c e b e t w e e n t h e m ? W h e r e , i n t h a t case,
w o u l d t h e cause o f its e x i s t e n c e lie? O r that o f its s u b s e q u e n t d i s a p p e a r a n c e
a n d fall? W h a t r u l e c o u l d i t b e o b e y i n g b y b o t h its e x i s t e n c e a n d its
d i s a p p e a r a n c e ? I f i t c o n t a i n s a p r i n c i p l e o f c o h e r e n c e w i t h i n itself, w h e n c e
c o u l d c o m e t h e f o r e i g n e l e m e n t c a p a b l e o f r e b u t t i n g it? H o w c a n a
t h o u g h t m e l t a w a y before a n y t h i n g other than itself? G e n e r a l l y speaking,
w h a t does it m e a n , no l o n g e r b e i n g able to think a certain thought? Or
to introduce a n e w thought?
D i s c o n t i n u i t y - the fact that w i t h i n the s p a c e of a f e w y e a r s a c u l t u r e
s o m e t i m e s ceases t o t h i n k a s i t h a d b e e n t h i n k i n g u p till t h e n and b e g i n s
to think other things in a n e w w a y - p r o b a b l y begins w i t h an erosion
f r o m o u t s i d e , f r o m that space w h i c h is, f o r t h o u g h t , o n the o t h e r side,
b u t i n w h i c h i t has n e v e r ceased t o t h i n k f r o m t h e v e r y b e g i n n i n g .
U l t i m a t e l y , t h e p r o b l e m t h a t presents itself i s that o f t h e relations b e t w e e n
t h o u g h t a n d c u l t u r e : h o w i s i t that t h o u g h t has a p l a c e i n the space o f t h e
w o r l d , that i t has its o r i g i n there, a n d that i t n e v e r ceases, i n this p l a c e o r
that, t o b e g i n a n e w ? B u t p e r h a p s i t i s n o t y e t t i m e t o p o s e this p r o b l e m ;
p e r h a p s w e s h o u l d w a i t until t h e a r c h a e o l o g y
50

of thought

has

been

REPRESENTING

established m o r e f i r m l y , until i t i s b e t t e r a b l e t o g a u g e w h a t i t i s c a p a b l e
o f d e s c r i b i n g d i r e c t l y a n d p o s i t i v e l y , until i t has d e f i n e d t h e p a r t i c u l a r
systems a n d i n t e r n a l c o n n e c t i o n s i t has t o d e a l w i t h , b e f o r e a t t e m p t i n g
t o e n c o m p a s s t h o u g h t a n d t o i n v e s t i g a t e h o w i t c o n t r i v e s t o e s c a p e itself.
F o r the m o m e n t , t h e n , let i t suffice that w e a c c e p t these d i s c o n t i n u i t i e s
in the simultaneously manifest and obscure empirical order w h e r e v e r
they posit themselves.
A t t h e b e g i n n i n g o f the s e v e n t e e n t h c e n t u r y , d u r i n g t h e p e r i o d that
has b e e n t e r m e d , r i g h t l y o r w r o n g l y , t h e B a r o q u e , t h o u g h t ceases t o
m o v e i n the e l e m e n t o f r e s e m b l a n c e . S i m i l i t u d e i s n o l o n g e r the f o r m o f
k n o w l e d g e b u t rather t h e o c c a s i o n o f e r r o r , t h e d a n g e r t o w h i c h o n e
exposes oneself w h e n one does not e x a m i n e the obscure r e g i o n o f c o n fusions. 'It is a f r e q u e n t h a b i t , ' says D e s c a r t e s , in t h e first lines of his
Regulae, ' w h e n w e d i s c o v e r s e v e r a l r e s e m b l a n c e s b e t w e e n t w o t h i n g s ,
t o a t t r i b u t e t o b o t h e q u a l l y , e v e n o n p o i n t s i n w h i c h t h e y are i n r e a l i t y
different, that w h i c h w e h a v e r e c o g n i z e d t o b e t r u e o f o n l y o n e o f
t h e m ' [ i ] . T h e age of resemblance is d r a w i n g to a close. It is leaving n o t h ing behind it but games. G a m e s w h o s e p o w e r s of enchantment g r o w out
o f the n e w kinship b e t w e e n resemblance and illusion; the chimeras o f
s i m i l i t u d e l o o m u p o n all sides, b u t t h e y are r e c o g n i z e d a s c h i m e r a s ; i t i s
the p r i v i l e g e d a g e o f trompe-l'oeil p a i n t i n g , o f t h e c o m i c illusion,

of the

p l a y that d u p l i c a t e s itself b y r e p r e s e n t i n g a n o t h e r p l a y , o f t h e quid pro
quo, o f d r e a m s a n d v i s i o n s ; i t i s t h e a g e o f t h e d e c e i v i n g senses; i t i s t h e
age in w h i c h the poetic dimension of language is defined by metaphor,
simile, a n d a l l e g o r y . A n d i t w a s also i n the n a t u r e o f t h i n g s that t h e k n o w l e d g e o f the s i x t e e n t h c e n t u r y s h o u l d l e a v e b e h i n d i t the d i s t o r t e d m e m o r y
o f a m u d d l e d a n d d i s o r d e r e d b o d y o f l e a r n i n g i n w h i c h all the t h i n g s i n
the w o r l d c o u l d b e l i n k e d i n d i s c r i m i n a t e l y t o m e n ' s e x p e r i e n c e s , t r a d i tions, o r credulities. F r o m t h e n o n , the n o b l e , r i g o r o u s , a n d restrictive
figures o f s i m i l i t u d e w e r e t o b e f o r g o t t e n . A n d t h e signs that d e s i g n a t e d
t h e m w e r e t o b e t h o u g h t o f a s t h e fantasies a n d c h a r m s o f a k n o w l e d g e
that h a d n o t y e t attained t h e a g e o f r e a s o n .
We already find a critique of resemblance in B a c o n - an empirical
c r i t i q u e that c o n c e r n s , n o t the relations o f o r d e r a n d e q u a l i t y b e t w e e n
t h i n g s , b u t the t y p e s o f m i n d a n d the f o r m s o f illusion t o w h i c h t h e y m i g h t
b e subject. W e are d e a l i n g w i t h a d o c t r i n e o f the quid pro quo. B a c o n d o e s
n o t dissipate similitudes b y m e a n s o f e v i d e n c e a n d its a t t e n d a n t rules. H e
s h o w s t h e m , s h i m m e r i n g b e f o r e o u r e y e s , v a n i s h i n g a s o n e d r a w s near,
then r e - f o r m i n g a g a i n a m o m e n t later, a little further off. T h e y are idols.
51

THE

ORDER

OF

THINGS

T h e idols of the den a n d the idols of the theatre m a k e us b e l i e v e that t h i n g s
r e s e m b l e w h a t w e h a v e l e a r n e d a n d the t h e o r i e s w e h a v e f o r m e d for
o u r s e l v e s ; o t h e r i d o l s m a k e u s b e l i e v e that t h i n g s are l i n k e d b y r e s e m blances b e t w e e n themselves.
T h e h u m a n Intellect, f r o m its p e c u l i a r n a t u r e , easily supposes a g r e a t e r
o r d e r a n d e q u a l i t y i n t h i n g s than i t a c t u a l l y finds; a n d , w h i l e t h e r e are
m a n y t h i n g s i n N a t u r e u n i q u e , a n d q u i t e i r f e g u l a r , still i t feigns p a r a l lels, c o r r e s p o n d e n t s , a n d relations that h a v e n o e x i s t e n c e . H e n c e that
f i c t i o n , ' t h a t a m o n g t h e h e a v e n l y b o d i e s all m o t i o n takes p l a c e b y
perfect circles'.
S u c h arc the idols of the tribe, s p o n t a n e o u s fictions of the m i n d ; to w h i c h
are a d d e d - as effects a n d s o m e t i m e s as causes - the c o n f u s i o n s of l a n g u a g e : o n e a n d t h e s a m e n a m e b e i n g a p p l i e d indifferently t o t h i n g s that
a r e n o t of t h e s a m e n a t u r e . T h e s e a r e the idols of the

market[2].

Only

p r u d e n c e o n the part o f t h e m i n d c a n dissipate t h e m , i f i t abjures its
n a t u r a l haste a n d l e v i t y i n o r d e r t o b e c o m e ' p e n e t r a t i n g ' a n d u l t i m a t e l y
p e r c e i v e t h e differences i n h e r e n t i n n a t u r e .
T h e Cartesian critique of resemblance is of another type. It is no longer
s i x t e e n t h - c e n t u r y t h o u g h t b e c o m i n g t r o u b l e d a s i t c o n t e m p l a t e s itself
a n d b e g i n n i n g t o j e t t i s o n its m o s t f a m i l i a r f o r m s ; i t i s C l a s s i c a l t h o u g h t
excluding resemblance as the fundamental experience and primary f o r m
o f k n o w l e d g e , d e n o u n c i n g i t a s a c o n f u s e d m i x t u r e that m u s t b e a n a l y s e d
i n t e r m s o f i d e n t i t y , difference, m e a s u r e m e n t , a n d o r d e r . T , h o u g h D e s cartes rejects r e s e m b l a n c e , h e d o e s s o n o t b y e x c l u d i n g t h e act o f c o m p a r i s o n f r o m rational t h o u g h t , n o r e v e n b y s e e k i n g t o l i m i t it, b u t o n t h e
c o n t r a r y b y u n i v e r s a l i z i n g i t a n d t h e r e b y g i v i n g i t its p u r e s t f o r m . I n d e e d ,
i t i s b y m e a n s o f c o m p a r i s o n that w e d i s c o v e r ' f o r m , e x t e n t , m o v e m e n t
a n d o t h e r s u c h t h i n g s ' - that is to say, s i m p l e natures - in all subjects in
w h i c h t h e y m a y b e present. A n d , m o r e o v e r , i n a d e d u c t i o n o f t h e t y p e
'all o f A i s B , all o f B i s C , t h e r e f o r e all o f A i s C , i t i s c l e a r that the m i n d
' m a k e s a c o m p a r i s o n b e t w e e n the term sought and the term g i v e n , to
w i t A a n d C , w i t h r e l a t i o n t o t h e k n o w l e d g e that b o t h are B ' . I n c o n sequence, if one makes an e x c e p t i o n of the intuition one m a y h a v e of a single
t h i n g , o n e c a n say that all k n o w l e d g e 'is o b t a i n e d b y t h e c o m p a r i s o n o f
t w o o r m o r e t h i n g s w i t h e a c h o t h e r ' [ 3 ] . B u t i n fact, t h e r e c a n b e n o t r u e
k n o w l e d g e e x c e p t b y i n t u i t i o n , that is, b y a s i n g u l a r a c t o f p u r e a n d
a t t e n t i v e i n t e l l i g e n c e , a n d b y d e d u c t i o n , w h i c h links the o b s e r v e d e v i d e n c e together. H o w then can c o m p a r i s o n , w h i c h is required for the
52

REPRESENTING

a c q u i s i t i o n o f a l m o s t all k n o w l e d g e a n d w h i c h , b y d e f i n i t i o n , i s n e i t h e r
an isolated o b s e r v a t i o n n o r a d e d u c t i o n , stand as an a u t h o r i t y f o r a t r u e
t h o u g h t ? ' A l m o s t all t h e l a b o u r a c c o m p l i s h e d b y h u m a n r e a s o n consists
w i t h o u t d o u b t i n r e n d e r i n g this o p e r a t i o n p o s s i b l e ' [ 4 ] .
T h e r e exist t w o f o r m s o f comparison, and o n l y t w o : the c o m p a r i s o n
o f m e a s u r e m e n t a n d that o f o r d e r . O n e c a n m e a s u r e sizes o r m u l t i p l i c i t i e s ,
i n o t h e r w o r d s c o n t i n u o u s sizes o r d i s c o n t i n u o u s sizes; b u t i n b o t h cases
the use o f m e a s u r e m e n t p r e s u p p o s e s that, u n l i k e c a l c u l a t i o n , w h i c h p r o ceeds f r o m e l e m e n t s t o w a r d s a t o t a l i t y , o n e c o n s i d e r s t h e w h o l e f i r s t a n d
t h e n d i v i d e s i t u p i n t o parts. T h i s d i v i s i o n results i n a n u m b e r o f units,
o f w h i c h s o m e are m e r e l y c o n v e n t i o n a l o r ' b o r r o w e d '

(in the case o f

c o n t i n u o u s size) a n d o t h e r s (in t h e case o f m u l t i p l i c i t i e s o r d i s c o n t i n u o u s
sizes) are t h e units o f a r i t h m e t i c . T h e c o m p a r i s o n o f t w o sizes o r t w o
m u l t i p l i c i t i e s r e q u i r e s , i n a n y case, that t h e y b o t h b e a n a l y s e d a c c o r d i n g
t o a c o m m o n u n i t ; s o that c o m p a r i s o n effected a c c o r d i n g t o m e a s u r e m e n t i s r e d u c i b l e , i n e v e r y case, t o t h e a r i t h m e t i c a l r e l a t i o n s o f e q u a l i t y
a n d i n e q u a l i t y . M e a s u r e m e n t enables u s t o a n a l y s e l i k e t h i n g s a c c o r d i n g
t o the c a l c u l a b l e f o r m o f i d e n t i t y a n d d i f f e r e n c e ^ ] .
O r d e r , o n t h e o t h e r h a n d , i s established w i t h o u t r e f e r e n c e t o a n e x t e r i o r u n i t : T c a n r e c o g n i z e , in effect, w h a t t h e o r d e r is that exists b e t w e e n
A and B

w i t h o u t considering anything

apart f r o m

those t w o outer

t e r m s ' ; o n e c a n n o t k n o w the o r d e r o f t h i n g s 'in their isolated n a t u r e ' ,
b u t b y d i s c o v e r i n g that w h i c h i s the simplest, t h e n that w h i c h i s t h e n e x t
simplest, o n e c a n p r o g r e s s i n e v i t a b l y t o t h e m o s t c o m p l e x t h i n g s o f all.
W h e r e a s c o m p a r i s o n by measurement requires a division to b e g i n f r o m ,
t h e n t h e a p p l i c a t i o n o f a c o m m o n unit, h e r e , c o m p a r i s o n a n d o r d e r are
o n e a n d t h e s a m e t h i n g : c o m p a r i s o n b y m e a n s o f o r d e r i s a s i m p l e act
w h i c h enables u s t o pass f r o m o n e t e r m t o a n o t h e r , t h e n t o a third, etc.,
b y m e a n s o f a n ' a b s o l u t e l y u n i n t e r r u p t e d ' [6] m o v e m e n t . I n this w a y w e
establish series i n w h i c h t h e f i r s t t e r m i s a n a t u r e t h a t w e m a y intuit
independently

of any other nature;

a n d i n w h i c h t h e o t h e r t e r m s are

established a c c o r d i n g t o i n c r e a s i n g differences.
S u c h , t h e n , a r e the t w o t y p e s o f c o m p a r i s o n : t h e o n e analyses i n t o units
i n o r d e r t o establish relations o f e q u a l i t y a n d i n e q u a l i t y ; the o t h e r e s t a b lishes e l e m e n t s , t h e simplest that c a n be f o u n d , and a r r a n g e s differences
a c c o r d i n g t o t h e smallest p o s s i b l e d e g r e e s . N o w , i t i s p o s s i b l e t o use t h e
m e a s u r e m e n t o f sizes a n d m u l t i p l i c i t i e s i n establishing a n o r d e r ; a r i t h m e t i c a l v a l u e s c a n a l w a y s b e a r r a n g e d a c c o r d i n g t o a scries; a m u l t i p l i c i t y
o f units c a n t h e r e f o r e ' b e a r r a n g e d a c c o r d i n g t o a n o r d e r s u c h that t h e
53

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ORDER

OF

THINGS

difficulty, w h i c h p r e v i o u s l y lay i n t h e k n o w i n g o f m e a s u r e m e n t , c o m e s
f i n a l l y t o d e p e n d solely o n t h e c o n s i d e r a t i o n o f o r d e r ' [ 7 ] . A n d i t i s p r e cisely i n this t h a t t h e m e t h o d a n d its ' p r o g r e s s ' consist: t h e r e d u c t i o n o f
all m e a s u r e m e n t

(all d e t e r m i n a t i o n by e q u a l i t y a n d i n e q u a l i t y ) to a

serial a r r a n g e m e n t w h i c h , b e g i n n i n g f r o m t h e simplest, will s h o w u p all
differences as degrees of c o m p l e x i t y . After b e i n g analysed a c c o r d i n g to
a g i v e n u n i t a n d t h e relations of e q u a l i t y or i n e q u a l i t y , t h e like is analysed
a c c o r d i n g to its e v i d e n t i d e n t i t y a n d differences: differences that c a n be
t h o u g h t i n t h e o r d e r o f inferences. H o w e v e r , this o r d e r o r generalized
f o r m o f c o m p a r i s o n can b e established o n l y a c c o r d i n g t o its p o s i t i o n i n
t h e b o d y o f o u r a c q u i r e d k n o w l e d g e ; t h e a b s o l u t e character w e r e c o g n i z e
in w h a t is simple concerns n o t the being of things but rather the m a n n e r
i n w h i c h t h e y c a n b e k n o w n . A t h i n g can b e absolute a c c o r d i n g t o o n e
relation y e t relative a c c o r d i n g t o o t h e r s [8]; o r d e r can b e a t o n c e n e c e s sary a n d n a t u r a l (in r e l a t i o n t o t h o u g h t ) a n d a r b i t r a r y (in relation t o
t h i n g s ) , since, a c c o r d i n g t o t h e w a y i n w h i c h w e consider it, t h e s a m e
t h i n g m a y b e placed a t differing p o i n t s i n o u r o r d e r .
A l l this w a s o f t h e greatest c o n s e q u e n c e t o W e s t e r n t h o u g h t . R e s e m blance, w h i c h h a d for l o n g b e e n t h e f u n d a m e n t a l c a t e g o r y o f k n o w l e d g e
- b o t h t h e f o r m a n d t h e c o n t e n t o f w h a t w e k n o w - b e c a m e dissociated i n
a n analysis based o n t e r m s o f i d e n t i t y a n d difference; m o r e o v e r , w h e t h e r
indirectly b y t h e i n t e r m e d i a r y o f m e a s u r e m e n t , o r d i r e c t l y a n d , a s i t
w e r e , o n t h e s a m e f o o t i n g , c o m p a r i s o n b e c a m e a function o f o r d e r ; a n d ,
lastly, c o m p a r i s o n ceased t o fulfil t h e function o f r e v e a l i n g h o w t h e w o r l d
i s o r d e r e d , since i t w a s n o w a c c o m p l i s h e d a c c o r d i n g t o t h e o r d e r laid
d o w n b y t h o u g h t , p r o g r e s s i n g n a t u r a l l y f r o m t h e Simple t o t h e c o m p l e x .
As a result, t h e entire episteme of W e s t e r n c u l t u r e f o u n d its f u n d a m e n t a l
a r r a n g e m e n t s m o d i f i e d . A n d , i n particular, t h e e m p i r i c a l d o m a i n w h i c h
s i x t e e n t h - c e n t u r y m a n s a w as a c o m p l e x of kinships, resemblances, a n d
affinities, a n d in w h i c h l a n g u a g e a n d t h i n g s w e r e endlessly i n t e r w o v e n this w h o l e vast f i e l d w a s t o take o n a n e w c o n f i g u r a t i o n . T h i s n e w c o n figuration m a y , I suppose, be called ' r a t i o n a l i s m ' ; o n e m i g h t say, if o n e ' s
m i n d i s f i l l e d w i t h r e a d y - m a d e concepts, t h a t t h e s e v e n t e e n t h c e n t u r y
m a r k s t h e disappearance o f t h e o l d superstitious o r m a g i c a l beliefs a n d t h e
e n t r y o f n a t u r e , a t l o n g last, i n t o t h e scientific o r d e r . B u t w h a t w e m u s t
grasp a n d a t t e m p t t o r e c o n s t i t u t e a r e t h e modifications t h a t affected
k n o w l e d g e itself, a t t h a t archaic level w h i c h m a k e s possible b o t h k n o w ledge itself a n d t h e m o d e o f b e i n g o f w h a t i s t o b e k n o w n .
T h e s e modifications m a y b e s u m m e d u p a s follows. First, t h e substi54

REPRESENTING

tution o f analysis for t h e h i e r a r c h y o f analogies: i n t h e sixteenth c e n t u r y ,
the f u n d a m e n t a l s u p p o s i t i o n w a s t h a t of a total system of c o r r e s p o n d e n c e
(earth a n d sky, planets a n d faces, m i c r o c o s m a n d m a c r o c o s m ) , a n d each
particular similitude w a s t h e n l o d g e d w i t h i n this overall relation. F r o m
n o w o n , e v e r y r e s e m b l a n c e m u s t b e subjected t o p r o o f b y c o m p a r i s o n ,
that is, it will n o t be a c c e p t e d u n t i l its i d e n t i t y a n d t h e series of its differences h a v e b e e n discovered b y m e a n s o f m e a s u r e m e n t w i t h a c o m m o n
unit, or, m o r e radically, b y its p o s i t i o n i n a n o r d e r . F u r t h e r m o r e , t h e
interplay o f similitudes w a s h i t h e r t o infinite: i t w a s a l w a y s possible t o
discover n e w ones, a n d t h e o n l y l i m i t a t i o n c a m e f r o m t h e f u n d a m e n t a l
ordering o f t h i n g s , f r o m t h e finitude o f a w o r l d h e l d f i r m l y b e t w e e n t h e
m a c r o c o s m a n d t h e m i c r o c o s m . A c o m p l e t e e n u m e r a t i o n will n o w b e
possible: w h e t h e r i n t h e f o r m o f a n e x h a u s t i v e census o f all t h e e l e m e n t s
constituting t h e envisaged w h o l e , o r i n t h e f o r m o f a categorical a r r a n g e m e n t that will articulate t h e field o f s t u d y i n its totality, o r i n t h e f o r m o f
an analysis of a certain n u m b e r of p o i n t s , in sufficient n u m b e r , taken a l o n g
the w h o l e l e n g t h of a series. C o m p a r i s o n , t h e n , can attain to perfect
certainty: t h e o l d system o f similitudes, n e v e r c o m p l e t e a n d a l w a y s o p e n
to fresh possibilities, c o u l d , it is t r u e , t h r o u g h successive c o n f i r m a t i o n s ,
achieve steadily increasing p r o b a b i l i t y ; b u t i t w a s n e v e r certain. C o m p l e t e
e n u m e r a t i o n , a n d t h e possibility o f assigning a t each p o i n t t h e necessary
c o n n e c t i o n w i t h t h e n e x t , p e r m i t a n absolutely certain k n o w l e d g e o f
identities a n d differences: ' E n u m e r a t i o n alone, w h a t e v e r t h e q u e s t i o n t o
w h i c h we a r e a p p l y i n g ourselves, will p e r m i t us always to deliver a t r u e
and certain j u d g e m e n t u p o n i t ' [ 9 ] . T h e activity o f t h e m i n d - a n d this i s
the f o u r t h p o i n t - will t h e r e f o r e no l o n g e r consist in drawing things together, in setting o u t on a quest for e v e r y t h i n g t h a t m i g h t reveal s o m e sort
o f kinship, a t t r a c t i o n , o r secretly shared n a t u r e w i t h i n t h e m , b u t , o n t h e
c o n t r a r y , in discriminating, t h a t is, in establishing their identities, t h e n t h e
inevitability of t h e c o n n e c t i o n s w i t h all t h e successive degrees of a series.
I n this sense, d i s c r i m i n a t i o n imposes u p o n c o m p a r i s o n t h e p r i m a r y a n d
fundamental i n v e s t i g a t i o n o f difference: p r o v i d i n g oneself b y i n t u i t i o n
w i t h a distinct r e p r e s e n t a t i o n of t h i n g s , a n d a p p r e h e n d i n g clearly t h e
inevitable c o n n e c t i o n b e t w e e n o n e e l e m e n t in a series a n d that w h i c h
i m m e d i a t e l y follows it. Lastly, a final c o n s e q u e n c e , since to k n o w is to
discriminate, h i s t o r y a n d science will b e c o m e separated f r o m o n e a n o t h e r .
O n t h e o n e h a n d t h e r e w i l l b e e r u d i t i o n , t h e perusal o f w r i t t e n w o r k s ,
the interplay o f their a u t h o r s ' o p i n i o n s ; this interplay m a y well, i n s o m e
cases, possess a n indicative v a l u e , n o t s o m u c h because o f t h e a g r e e m e n t
55

THE

ORDER

OF

THINGS

it p r o d u c e s as because of t h e d i s a g r e e m e n t : ' W h e n t h e question at issue is
a difficult o n e , it is m o r e p r o b a b l e t h a t t h e r e w e r e f e w r a t h e r t h a n m a n y
t o discover t h e t r u t h a b o u t it.' O v e r against this h i s t o r y , a n d lacking any
c o m m o n u n i t o f m e a s u r e m e n t w i t h it, are t h e c o n f i d e n t j u d g e m e n t s w c
are able t o m a k e b y m e a n s o f intuitions a n d t h e i r serial c o n n e c t i o n . T h e s e
a n d these a l o n e are w h a t c o n s t i t u t e science, a n d e v e n i f w e h a d ' r e a d all
t h e a r g u m e n t s of P l a t o a n d Aristotle, . . . w h a t we w o u l d h a v e learned
w o u l d n o t be sciences, it appears, b u t h i s t o r y ' [10]. T h i s b e i n g so, the
w r i t t e n w o r d ceases t o b e i n c l u d e d a m o n g t h e signs a n d forms o f t r u t h ;
l a n g u a g e i s n o l o n g e r o n e o f t h e figurations o f t h e w o r l d , o r a signature
s t a m p e d u p o n t h i n g s since t h e b e g i n n i n g o f t i m e . T h e manifestation
a n d sign of t r u t h are to be f o u n d in e v i d e n t a n d distinct p e r c e p t i o n . It is
t h e task o f w o r d s t o translate that t r u t h i f t h e y can; b u t t h e y n o l o n g e r
h a v e t h e r i g h t t o b e considered a m a r k o f it. L a n g u a g e has w i t h d r a w n
f r o m t h e m i d s t o f b e i n g s themselves a n d has e n t e r e d a p e r i o d o f t r a n s parency and neutrality.
T h i s is a g e n e r a l p h e n o m e n o n in s c v e n t c c n t h - c e n t u r y c u l t u r e - a m o r e
general o n e t h a n t h e particular fortunes o f C a r t e s i a n i s m .
W e m u s t , i n fact, distinguish b e t w e e n t h r e e t h i n g s . O n t h e o n e h a n d ,
t h e r e w a s t h e m e c h a n i s m that, for w h a t w a s really a fairly s h o r t p e r i o d
( n o t q u i t e t h e last fifty years of t h e s e v e n t e e n t h c e n t u r y ) , offered a t h e o r e t ical m o d e l to certain fields of k n o w l e d g e s u c h as m e d i c i n e or p h y s i o l o g y .
T h e r e w a s also a n a t t e m p t , r a t h e r diverse i n t h e f o r m s i t t o o k , t o m a t h c maticize e m p i r i c a l k n o w l e d g e ; t h o u g h c o n s t a n t a n d c o n t i n u o u s i n the
case of a s t r o n o m y a n d p a r t of physics, it w a s o n l y sporadic in o t h e r fields s o m e t i m e s actually a t t e m p t e d (as w i t h C o n d o r c e t ) , s o m e t i m e s suggested
as a universal ideal a n d a h o r i z o n for research (as w i t h C o n d i l l a c or D e s t u t t ) , a n d s o m e t i m e s , t o o , rejected e v e n as a possibility (by Buffon, for
e x a m p l e ) . B u t n e i t h e r this e n d e a v o u r n o r t h e a t t e m p t s o f m e c h a n i s m should
be confused w i t h t h e relation t h a t all Classical k n o w l e d g e , in its m o s t
general f o r m , m a i n t a i n s w i t h t h e mathesis, u n d e r s t o o d as a universal
science o f m e a s u r e m e n t a n d o r d e r . U n d e r c o v e r o f t h e e m p t y a n d o b scurely i n c a n t a t o r y phrases ' C a r t e s i a n influence' o r ' N e w t o n i a n m o d e l ' ,
o u r historians o f ideas a r e i n t h e h a b i t o f confusing these t h r e e t h i n g s and
defining Classical r a t i o n a l i s m as t h e t e n d e n c y to m a k e n a t u r e m e c h a n i c a l
a n d calculable. O t h e r s are slightly m o r e p e r c e p t i v e , a n d g o t o a g r e a t deal
of t r o u b l e to discover b e n e a t h this rationalism a p l a y o f ' c o n t r a r y forces':
t h e forces o f n a t u r e a n d life refusing t o let themselves b e r e d u c e d either
t o a l g e b r a o r t o d y n a m i c s , and thus p r e s e r v i n g , i n t h e d e p t h s o f Classicism
56

REPRESENTING

itself, the n a t u r a l resources o f t h e n o n - r a t i o n a l i z a b l e . T h e s e t w o f o r m s
o f analysis are equally i n a d e q u a t e ; for t h e f u n d a m e n t a l e l e m e n t o f t h e
Classical episteme is n e i t h e r t h e success or failure of m e c h a n i s m , n o r t h e
right t o m a t h e m a t i c i z e o r t h e impossibility o f m a t h e m a t i c i z i n g n a t u r e ,
but r a t h e r a link w i t h t h e mathesis w h i c h , u n t i l t h e e n d o f t h e e i g h t e e n t h
century, r e m a i n s c o n s t a n t a n d u n a l t e r e d . T h i s link has t w o

essential

characteristics. T h e first is t h a t relations b e t w e e n beings are i n d e e d to be
conceived i n t h e f o r m o f o r d e r a n d m e a s u r e m e n t , b u t w i t h this f u n d a mental i m b a l a n c e , that it is always possible to r e d u c e p r o b l e m s of m e a s u r e m e n t t o p r o b l e m s o f o r d e r . S o t h a t t h e relation o f all k n o w l e d g e t o t h e
mathesis is p o s i t e d as t h e possibility of establishing an o r d e r e d succession
b e t w e e n t h i n g s , e v e n n o n - m e a s u r a b l e ones. In this sense, analysis w a s
very quickly t o a c q u i r e t h e v a l u e o f a universal m e t h o d ; a n d t h e L e i b nizian project of establishing a m a t h e m a t i c s of qualitative o r d e r s is situated
a t t h e v e r y h e a r t o f Classical t h o u g h t ; its g r a v i t a t i o n a l centre. B u t , o n
the o t h e r h a n d , this relation to t h e mathesis as a g e n e r a l science of o r d e r
does n o t signify that k n o w l e d g e is a b s o r b e d i n t o m a t h e m a t i c s , or t h a t t h e
latter b e c o m e s t h e f o u n d a t i o n for all possible k n o w l e d g e ; o n t h e c o n trary, in c o r r e l a t i o n w i t h t h e quest for a mathesis, we p e r c e i v e t h e a p p e a r ance o f a certain n u m b e r o f e m p i r i c a l fields n o w b e i n g f o r m e d a n d
defined for t h e v e r y first t i m e . In n o n e of these fields, or a l m o s t n o n e , is
i t possible t o find a n y trace o f m e c h a n i s m o r m a t h e m a t i c i z a t i o n ; a n d
yet t h e y all rely for their f o u n d a t i o n u p o n a possible science of o r d e r .
A l t h o u g h t h e y w e r e all d e p e n d e n t u p o n analysis in general, their p a r t i c u l a r
i n s t r u m e n t w a s n o t t h e algebraic method b u t t h e system of signs. So t h e r e
f i r s t a p p e a r e d general g r a m m a r , n a t u r a l h i s t o r y , a n d t h e analysis o f w e a l t h ,
all sciences o f o r d e r i n t h e d o m a i n o f w o r d s , beings, a n d n e e d s ; a n d n o n e
o f these e m p i r i c a l studies, n e w i n t h e Classical p e r i o d a n d c o - e x t e n s i v e
w i t h it in d u r a t i o n (their c h r o n o l o g i c a l frontiers are m a r k e d by L a n c e l o t
and B o p p , R a y a n d C u v i e r , P e t t y a n d R i c a r d o , t h e first g r o u p w r i t i n g
a r o u n d 1660 a n d the second a r o u n d 1800-10), c o u l d h a v e b e e n f o u n d e d
w i t h o u t t h e relation that t h e entire episteme o f W e s t e r n c u l t u r e m a i n t a i n e d
at that t i m e w i t h a universal science of o r d e r .
This relation to Order is as essential to t h e Classical a g e as t h e relation
to Interpretation w a s to t h e Renaissance. A n d j u s t as i n t e r p r e t a t i o n in t h e
sixteenth c e n t u r y , w i t h its

s u p e r i m p o s i t i o n of

a semiology u p o n a

hermeneutics, w a s essentially a k n o w l e d g e based u p o n similitude, so t h e
o r d e r i n g o f t h i n g s b y m e a n s o f signs constitutes all e m p i r i c a l f o r m s o f
knowledge as

knowledge

based

u p o n identity and
57

difference.

The

THE

ORDER

OF

THINGS

s i m u l t a n e o u s l y endless a n d closed, full a n d t a u t o l o g i c a l w o r l d o f r e s e m blance n o w finds itself dissociated a n d , as it w e r e , split d o w n t h e m i d d l e :
o n t h e o n e side, w e shall find t h e signs that h a v e b e c o m e tools o f analysis,
m a r k s o f i d e n t i t y a n d difference, principles w h e r e b y t h i n g s can b e r e d u c e d t o o r d e r , keys for a t a x o n o m y ; a n d , o n t h e o t h e r , t h e empirical
a n d m u r m u r i n g r e s e m b l a n c e o f t h i n g s , t h a t u n r e a c t i n g similitude t h a t
lies b e n e a t h t h o u g h t a n d furnishes t h e infinite r a w m a t e r i a l for divisions
a n d distributions. O n t h e o n e h a n d , t h e general t h e o r y o f signs, divisions,
a n d classifications; o n t h e o t h e r , t h e p r o b l e m o f i m m e d i a t e resemblances,
o f t h e s p o n t a n e o u s m o v e m e n t o f t h e i m a g i n a t i o n , o f n a t u r e ' s repetitions.
A n d b e t w e e n t h e t w o , t h e n e w forms o f k n o w l e d g e t h a t o c c u p y t h e
area o p e n e d u p b y this n e w split.

III

THE

REPRESENTATION

OF THE SIGN

W h a t is a sign in t h e Classical age? F o r w h a t w a s altered in t h e first half
of t h e s e v e n t e e n t h c e n t u r y , a n d for a l o n g t i m e to c o m e - p e r h a p s r i g h t
u p t o o u r o w n d a y - w a s t h e e n t i r e o r g a n i z a t i o n o f signs, t h e c o n d i t i o n s
u n d e r w h i c h t h e y exercise their strange f u n c t i o n ; it is this, a m o n g so
m a n y o t h e r t h i n g s o n e k n o w s o r sees, t h a t causes t h e m t o e m e r g e s u d d e n l y as signs; it is their v e r y b e i n g . On the t h r e s h o l d of t h e Classical age,
t h e sign ceases t o b e a f o r m o f t h e w o r l d ; a n d i t ceases t o b e b o u n d
t o w h a t i t m a r k s b y t h e solid a n d secret b o n d s o f r e s e m b l a n c e o r
affinity.
Classical t h o u g h t defines it a c c o r d i n g to t h r e e v a r i a b l e s [ i i ] . First, t h e
c e r t a i n t y of t h e r e l a t i o n : a sign m a y be so c o n s t a n t that.'one can be sure
of its accuracy (in t h e sense that b r e a t h i n g d e n o t e s life), b u t it m a y also
be simply p r o b a b l e (in t h e sense that pallor p r o b a b l y d e n o t e s p r e g n a n c y ) .
Second, t h e t y p e o f r e l a t i o n : a sign m a y b e l o n g t o t h e w h o l e t h a t i t d e n o t e s (in t h e sense that a h e a l t h y a p p e a r a n c e is p a r t of t h e health it d e n o t e s )
o r b e separate f r o m i t (in t h e sense t h a t t h e figures o f t h e O l d T e s t a m e n t
are distant signs o f t h e I n c a r n a t i o n a n d R e d e m p t i o n ) . T h i r d , t h e o r i g i n
of t h e relation: a sign m a y be n a t u r a l (in t h e sense t h a t a reflection in a
m i r r o r d e n o t e s that w h i c h it reflects) or c o n v e n t i o n a l (in t h e sense that a
w o r d m a y signify a n idea t o a g i v e n g r o u p o f m e n ) . N o n e o f these forms
of relation necessarily implies r e s e m b l a n c e ; e v e n t h e n a t u r a l sign does
n o t r e q u i r e t h a t : a c r y is a s p o n t a n e o u s sign of fear, b u t n o t a n a l o g o u s to
it; or again, as B e r k e l e y p u t s it, visual sensations a r e signs of t o u c h
established i n u s b y G o d , y e t t h e y d o n o t r e s e m b l e i t i n a n y w a y [ i 2 J .
58

REPRESENTING

These t h r e e variables replace r e s e m b l a n c e in defining t h e sign's efficacity
in the domains of empirical k n o w l e d g e .
i. T h e sign, since it is a l w a y s either certain or p r o b a b l e , s h o u l d find
its area o f b e i n g w i t h i n k n o w l e d g e . I n t h e sixteenth c e n t u r y , signs w e r e
t h o u g h t t o h a v e b e e n placed u p o n t h i n g s s o t h a t m e n m i g h t b e able t o
u n c o v e r their secrets, their n a t u r e o r their v i r t u e s ; b u t this d i s c o v e r y w a s
m e r e l y t h e u l t i m a t e p u r p o s e o f signs, t h e justification o f their p r e s e n c e ;
i t w a s a possible w a y o f using t h e m , a n d n o d o u b t t h e best; b u t t h e y d i d
n o t n e e d t o b e k n o w n i n o r d e r t o exist: e v e n i f t h e y r e m a i n e d silent, e v e n
i f n o o n e w e r e t o p e r c e i v e t h e m , t h e y w e r e j u s t a s m u c h there. I t w a s n o t
k n o w l e d g e t h a t g a v e t h e m their signifying function, b u t t h e v e r y l a n guage of things.

F r o m the seventeenth century o n w a r d , the w h o l e

d o m a i n o f t h e sign i s d i v i d e d b e t w e e n t h e certain a n d t h e p r o b a b l e :
that i s t o say, t h e r e can n o l o n g e r b e a n u n k n o w n sign, a m u t e m a r k . T h i s
is n o t because m e n a r e in possession of all t h e possible signs, b u t because
there can be no sign u n t i l t h e r e exists a known possibility of substitution
b e t w e e n t w o known e l e m e n t s . T h e sign does n o t w a i t i n silence for t h e
c o m i n g o f a m a n capable o f r e c o g n i z i n g it: i t c a n b e c o n s t i t u t e d o n l y b y
a n act o f k n o w i n g .
It is h e r e t h a t k n o w l e d g e breaks off its o l d k i n s h i p w i t h divinatio. T h e
latter always p r e s u p p o s e d signs a n t e r i o r to it: so that k n o w l e d g e a l w a y s
resided entirely in t h e o p e n i n g up of a discovered, affirmed, or secretly
t r a n s m i t t e d , sign. Its task w a s t o u n c o v e r a l a n g u a g e w h i c h G o d h a d
previously d i s t r i b u t e d across t h e face of t h e e a r t h ; it is in this sense t h a t it
was t h e d i v i n a t i o n o f a n essential i m p l i c a t i o n , a n d t h a t t h e object o f its
divination w a s divine. F r o m n o w o n , h o w e v e r , i t i s w i t h i n k n o w l e d g e
itself that t h e sign is to p e r f o r m its signifying f u n c t i o n ; it is f r o m k n o w ledge t h a t i t w i l l b o r r o w its c e r t a i n t y o r its p r o b a b i l i t y . A n d t h o u g h
G o d still e m p l o y s signs to speak to us t h r o u g h n a t u r e , he is m a k i n g use
o f o u r k n o w l e d g e , a n d o f t h e relations t h a t a r e set u p b e t w e e n o u r i m pressions, in o r d e r to establish in o u r m i n d s a relation of signification.
Such is t h e r o l e of feeling in M a l e b r a n c h e or of sensation in B e r k e l e y ; in
natural j u d g e m e n t , in feeling, in visual impressions, a n d in t h e p e r c e p t i o n
o f t h e t h i r d d i m e n s i o n , w h a t w e a r e dealing w i t h are h a s t y a n d confused,
b u t pressing, i n e v i t a b l e , a n d o b l i g a t o r y k i n d s o f k n o w l e d g e serving a s
signs for discursive k i n d s o f k n o w l e d g e w h i c h w e h u m a n s , because w e
are n o t p u r e intelligences, n o l o n g e r h a v e t h e t i m e o r t h e p e r m i s s i o n t o
attain t o ourselves a n d b y t h e u n a i d e d s t r e n g t h o f o u r o w n m i n d s . I n
M a l e b r a n c h e a n d B e r k e l e y , t h e sign a r r a n g e d b y G o d i s t h e c u n n i n g a n d
59

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t h o u g h t f u l s u p e r i m p o s i t i o n o f t w o kinds o f k n o w l e d g e . T h e r e i s n o
l o n g e r a n y divinatio i n v o l v e d - no insertion of k n o w l e d g e in t h e e n i g m a t i c , o p e n , a n d sacred area of signs - b u t a b r i e f a n d c o n c e n t r a t e d k i n d
of k n o w l e d g e : the contraction of a long sequence of j u d g e m e n t s into the
r a p i d l y assimilated f o r m o f t h e sign. A n d i t will also b e seen h o w , b y a
reversal o f d i r e c t i o n , k n o w l e d g e , h a v i n g enclosed t h e signs w i t h i n its
o w n space, i s n o w able t o a c c o m m o d a t e p r o b a b i l i t y : b e t w e e n o n e i m pression a n d a n o t h e r t h e relation will b e t h a t o f sign t o signified, i n o t h e r
w o r d s , a r e l a t i o n w h i c h , like t h a t o f succession, will p r o g r e s s f r o m t h e
w e a k e s t p r o b a b i l i t y t o w a r d s t h e greatest c e r t a i n t y .
T h e c o n n e c t i o n o f ideas does n o t i m p l y t h e relation o f cause a n d effect,
b u t o n l y of a m a r k or sign w i t h t h e t h i n g signified. T h e ^ i r c w h i c h I see
is n o t t h e cause of t h e p a i n I suffer u p o n my a p p r o a c h i n g it, b u t t h e
m a r k that f o r e w a r n s m e o f it[i3J.
T h e k n o w l e d g e that d i v i n e d , at random, signs t h a t w e r e absolute a n d o l d e r
t h a n itself has b e e n r e p l a c e d by a n e t w o r k of signs built up step by step
i n a c c o r d a n c e w i t h a k n o w l e d g e o f w h a t i s p r o b a b l e . H u m e has b e c o m e
possible.
2 . T h e s e c o n d v a r i a b l e o f t h e sign: t h e f o r m o f its relation w i t h w h a t i t
signifies. B y m e a n s o f t h e i n t e r p l a y o f c o n v e n i e n c y , e m u l a t i o n , a n d a b o v e
all s y m p a t h y , s i m i l i t u d e w a s able i n t h e sixteenth c e n t u r y t o t r i u m p h o v e r
space a n d t i m e ; for i t w a s w i t h i n t h e p o w e r o f t h e sign t o d r a w t h i n g s
t o g e t h e r a n d u n i t e t h e m . W i t h t h e a d v e n t o f Classical t h o u g h t , o n t h e
o t h e r h a n d , t h e sign b e c o m e s characterized b y its essential dispersion.
T h e circular w o r l d o f c o n v e r g i n g signs i s replaced b y a n infinite p r o gression. W i t h i n this space, the sign can h a v e o n e o f t w o p o s i t i o n s : either
i t c a n b e c l a i m e d , a s a n e l e m e n t , t o b e p a r t o f that w h i c h i t serves t o
d e s i g n a t e ; or else it is really a n d actually separated f r o m w h a t it serves to
designate. T h e t r u t h is, h o w e v e r , that this a l t e r n a t i v e is n o t a radical o n e ,
since t h e sign, i n o r d e r t o function, m u s t b e s i m u l t a n e o u s l y a n insertion
in t h a t w h i c h it signifies a n d also distinct f r o m it. F o r t h e sign to be, in
effect, w h a t it is, it m u s t be p r e s e n t e d as an object of k n o w l e d g e at t h e
s a m e t i m e as t h a t w h i c h it signifies. As C o n d i l l a c p o i n t s o u t , a s o u n d
c o u l d n e v e r b e c o m e t h e v e r b a l sign of s o m e t h i n g for a child unless t h e
child h a d h e a r d i t a t least o n c e a t t h e m o m e n t o f p e r c e i v i n g t h e o b j c c t [ i 4 ] .
B u t if o n e e l e m e n t of a p e r c e p t i o n is to b e c o m e a sign for it, it is n o t
e n o u g h m e r e l y for t h a t e l e m e n t t o b e p a r t o f t h e p e r c e p t i o n ; i t m u s t b e
differentiated qua c l e m e n t a n d be distinguished f r o m t h e total i m p r e s s i o n
60

REPRESENTING

w i t h w h i c h it is confusedly l i n k e d ; c o n s e q u e n t l y , t h a t total i m p r e s s i o n
itself m u s t h a v e b e e n d i v i d e d u p , a n d a t t e n t i o n m u s t h a v e b e e n d i r e c t e d
t o w a r d s o n e o f t h e i n t e r m i n g l e d r e g i o n s c o m p o s i n g it, i n o r d e r t o isolate
o n e o f t h e m . T h e c o n s t i t u t i o n o f t h e sign i s thus inseparable f r o m analysis.
Indeed, it is t h e result of it, since w i t h o u t analysis t h e sign c o u l d n o t b e c o m e a p p a r e n t . B u t it is also t h e i n s t r u m e n t of analysis, since o n c e defined
and isolated it can be applied to further impressions; a n d in relation to t h e m
it plays t h e r o l e of a g r i d , as it w e r e . Because t h e m i n d analyses, t h e sign
appears. Because t h e m i n d has signs at its disposal, analysis n e v e r ceases.
It is understandable w h y , from Condillac to Destutt de Tracy and
G e r a n d o , t h e general t h e o r y o f signs a n d t h e definition o f t h e p o w e r
o f analysis o f t h o u g h t w e r e s o e x a c t l y s u p e r i m p o s e d t o f o r m a single a n d
unbroken theory of knowledge.
W h e n t h e Logique de Port-Royal states t h a t a sign c a n be i n h e r e n t in
w h a t it designates or separate f r o m it, it is d e m o n s t r a t i n g t h a t t h e sign,
in t h e Classical age, is c h a r g e d no l o n g e r w i t h t h e task of k e e p i n g t h e
w o r l d close t o itself a n d i n h e r e n t i n its o w n f o r m s , b u t , o n t h e c o n t r a r y ,
w i t h that o f s p r e a d i n g i t o u t , o f j u x t a p o s i n g i t o v e r a n indefinitely o p e n
surface, a n d o f t a k i n g u p f r o m that p o i n t t h e endless d e p l o y m e n t o f t h e
substitutes in w h i c h we c o n c e i v e of it. A n d it is by this m e a n s t h a t it is
offered s i m u l t a n e o u s l y t o analysis a n d t o c o m b i n a t i o n , a n d can b e o r d e r e d
f r o m b e g i n n i n g t o e n d . T h e sign i n Classical t h o u g h t does n o t erase d i s tances o r abolish t i m e : o n t h e c o n t r a r y , i t enables o n e t o u n f o l d t h e m a n d
to traverse t h e m step by step. It is t h e sign that enables t h i n g s to b e c o m e
distinct, t o p r e s e r v e themselves w i t h i n their o w n identities, t o dissociate
themselves or b i n d themselves t o g e t h e r . W e s t e r n reason is e n t e r i n g t h e
age o f j u d g e m e n t .
3 . T h e r e r e m a i n s a t h i r d variable: t h e o n e t h a t can assume t h e t w o
values o f n a t u r e a n d o f c o n v e n t i o n . I t h a d l o n g b e e n k n o w n - a n d well
before Plato's

Cratylus - t h a t signs c a n be either g i v e n by n a t u r e or

established b y m a n . N o r w a s t h e sixteenth c e n t u r y i g n o r a n t o f this fact,
since i t r e c o g n i z e d h u m a n l a n g u a g e s t o b e instituted signs. B u t t h e
artificial signs o w e d their p o w e r o n l y to their fidelity to n a t u r a l signs.
T h e s e latter, e v e n at a r e m o v e , w e r e t h e f o u n d a t i o n of all others. F r o m
the s e v e n t e e n t h century-, t h e values allotted t o n a t u r e a n d c o n v e n t i o n i n
this field are i n v e r t e d : if n a t u r a l , a sign is no m o r e t h a n an e l e m e n t
selected f r o m t h e w o r l d of things a n d c o n s t i t u t e d as a sign by o u r k n o w ledge. It is t h e r e f o r e strictly limited, rigid, i n c o n v e n i e n t , a n d impossible
for t h e m i n d t o m a s t e r . W h e n , o n t h e o t h e r h a n d , o n e establishes a
61

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c o n v e n t i o n a l sign, it is a l w a y s possible (and i n d e e d necessary) to c h o o s e it
i n s u c h a w a y t h a t i t w i l l b e simple, easy t o r e m e m b e r , applicable t o a n
indefinite n u m b e r o f e l e m e n t s , susceptible o f subdivision w i t h i n itself a n d
o f c o m b i n a t i o n w i t h o t h e r signs; t h e m a n - m a d e sign i s t h e sign a t t h e
p e a k o f its activity. I t i s t h e m a n - m a d e sign t h a t d r a w s t h e d i v i d i n g - l i n e
b e t w e e n m a n a n d a n i m a l ; t h a t transforms i m a g i n a t i o n i n t o v o l u n t a r y
m e m o r y , s p o n t a n e o u s a t t e n t i o n i n t o reflection, a n d instinct i n t o rational
k n o w l e d g e [ 1 5 ] . I t i s also w h a t I t a r d f o u n d l a c k i n g i n t h e ' w i l d m a n o f
A v e y r o n ' [ i 6 ] . N a t u r a l signs are m e r e l y r u d i m e n t a r y sketches for these
c o n v e n t i o n a l signs, t h e v a g u e a n d distant design t h a t c a n b e realized o n l y
b y t h e establishment o f arbitrariness.
B u t this arbitrariness is m e a s u r e d by its f u n c t i o n ; a n d has its rules v e r y
e x a c t l y defined b y t h a t f u n c t i o n . A n a r b i t r a r y s y s t e m o f signs m u s t p e r m i t t h e analysis o f t h i n g s i n t o t h e i r simplest e l e m e n t s ; i t m u s t b e c a p a b l e
o f d e c o m p o s i n g t h e m i n t o their v e r y o r i g i n s ; b u t i t m u s t also d e m o n strate h o w c o m b i n a t i o n s o f t h o s e e l e m e n t s a r e possible, a n d p e r m i t t h e
ideal genesis o f t h e c o m p l e x i t y o f t h i n g s . ' A r b i t r a r y ' stands i n o p p o s i t i o n
t o .'natural' o n l y i f o n e i s a t t e m p t i n g t o designate t h e m a n n e r i n w h i c h
signs h a v e b e e n established. B u t this arbitrariness is also t h e g r i d of analysis
a n d t h e c o m b i n a t i v e space t h r o u g h w h i c h n a t u r e is to posit itself as t h a t
w h i c h it is - at t h e level of p r i m a l impressions a n d in all t h e possible f o r m s
of t h e i r c o m b i n a t i o n . In its perfect state, t h e s y s t e m of signs is t h a t s i m p l e ,
absolutely t r a n s p a r e n t l a n g u a g e w h i c h i s c a p a b l e o f n a m i n g w h a t i s
e l e m e n t a r y ; it is also t h a t c o m p l e x of o p e r a t i o n s w h i c h defines all possible
c o n j u n c t i o n s . T o o u r eyes, this search for origins a n d this calculus o f
c o m b i n a t i o n s a p p e a r i n c o m p a t i b l e , a n d w e are o n l y t o o r e a d y t o i n terpret t h e m as an ambiguity in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century
thought. T h e same is true of the interaction between the system and nature.
I n fact, t h e r e i s n o c o n t r a d i c t i o n a t all for t h o u g h t a t t h a t t i m e . M o r e
precisely, t h e r e exists a single, necessary a r r a n g e m e n t r u n n i n g t h r o u g h t h e
w h o l e of t h e Classical episteme: t h e association of a universal calculus a n d
a search for t h e e l e m e n t a r y w i t h i n a system t h a t is artificial a n d is, for t h a t
v e r y reason, a b l e t o m a k e n a t u r e visible f r o m its p r i m a r y e l e m e n t s r i g h t
t o t h e s i m u l t a n e i t y o f all t h e i r possible c o m b i n a t i o n s . I n t h e Classical age,
to m a k e use of signs is n o t , as it w a s in p r e c e d i n g centuries, to a t t e m p t to
rediscover b e n e a t h t h e m t h e p r i m i t i v e t e x t o f a discourse sustained, a n d
retained, f o r e v e r ; i t i s a n a t t e m p t t o discover t h e a r b i t r a r y l a n g u a g e t h a t
will a u t h o r i z e t h e d e p l o y m e n t o f n a t u r e w i t h i n its space, t h e final t e r m s
of its analysis a n d t h e laws of its c o m p o s i t i o n . It is no l o n g e r t h e task of
62

REPRESENTING

k n o w l e d g e t o d i g o u t t h e ancient W o r d f r o m t h e u n k n o w n places w h e r e
i t m a y b e h i d d e n ; its j o b n o w i s t o fabricate a l a n g u a g e , a n d t o fabricate
it w e l l - so t h a t , as an i n s t r u m e n t of analysis a n d c o m b i n a t i o n , it w i l l
really b e t h e l a n g u a g e o f calculation.
I t i s n o w possible t o define t h e i n s t r u m e n t s laid d o w n for t h e use o f
Classical t h o u g h t b y t h e sign system. I t w a s this s y s t e m t h a t i n t r o d u c e d
i n t o k n o w l e d g e p r o b a b i l i t y , analysis, a n d c o m b i n a t i o n , a n d t h e justified
arbitrariness o f t h e system. I t w a s t h e sign s y s t e m t h a t g a v e rise s i m u l t a n e o u s l y t o t h e search for origins a n d t o calculability; t o t h e c o n s t i t u t i o n
o f tables t h a t w o u l d fix t h e possible c o m p o s i t i o n s , a n d t o t h e restitution
of a genesis on t h e basis of t h e simplest e l e m e n t s ; it w a s t h e sign s y s t e m
that linked all k n o w l e d g e to a l a n g u a g e , a n d s o u g h t to replace all l a n g u a g e s
w i t h a s y s t e m of artificial s y m b o l s a n d o p e r a t i o n s of a logical n a t u r e . At
t h e level o f t h e h i s t o r y o f o p i n i o n s , all this w o u l d a p p e a r , n o d o u b t , a s
a t a n g l e d n e t w o r k o f influences i n w h i c h t h e i n d i v i d u a l p a r t s p l a y e d b y
H o b b e s , B e r k e l e y , Leibniz, C o n d i l l a c , a n d t h e ' I d e o l o g u e s ' w o u l d b e r e vealed. B u t i f w e q u e s t i o n Classical t h o u g h t a t t h e level o f w h a t , a r c h a e o logically, m a d e i t possible, w e p e r c e i v e t h a t t h e dissociation o f t h e sign
a n d r e s e m b l a n c e in t h e early s e v e n t e e n t h c e n t u r y caused these n e w f o r m s p r o b a b i l i t y , analysis, c o m b i n a t i o n , a n d universal l a n g u a g e s y s t e m - to
e m e r g e , n o t a s successive t h e m e s e n g e n d e r i n g o n e a n o t h e r o r d r i v i n g o n e
a n o t h e r o u t , b u t as a single n e t w o r k of necessities. A n d it w a s this n e t w o r k t h a t m a d e possible t h e individuals w e t e r m H o b b e s , B e r k e l e y ,
H u m e , or Condillac.

IV

DUPLICATED

However,

REPRESENTATION

t h e p r o p e r t y o f signs

most fundamental

to

t h e Classical

episteme has n o t y e t b e e n m e n t i o n e d . I n d e e d , t h e v e r y fact t h a t t h e sign
can b e m o r e o r less p r o b a b l e , m o r e o r less distant f r o m w h a t i t signifies,
t h a t i t can b e either n a t u r a l o r a r b i t r a r y , w i t h o u t its n a t u r e o r its v a l u e
as a sign b e i n g affected - all this s h o w s clearly e n o u g h that the r e l a t i o n
o f t h e sign t o its c o n t e n t i s n o t g u a r a n t e e d b y t h e o r d e r o f t h i n g s i n t h e m selves. T h e relation of t h e sign to t h e signified n o w resides in a space in
w h i c h there is no longer any intermediary figure to connect t h e m : w h a t
connects t h e m is a b o n d established, inside k n o w l e d g e , b e t w e e n t h e idea
of one thing a n d t h e idea of another. T h e Logique de Port-Royal states this
a s f o l l o w s : ' T h e sign encloses t w o ideas, o n e o f t h e t h i n g r e p r e s e n t i n g , t h e
o t h e r of t h e t h i n g r e p r e s e n t e d ; a n d its n a t u r e consists in e x c i t i n g t h e first
63

THE

ORDER

OF

THINGS

b y m e a n s o f t h e s e c o n d ' [ 1 7 ] . T h i s d u a l t h e o r y o f t h e sign i s i n u n e q u i v o c a l o p p o s i t i o n t o t h e m o r e c o m p l e x o r g a n i z a t i o n o f t h e Renaissance;
a t t h a t t i m e , t h e t h e o r y o f t h e sign i m p l i e d t h r e e q u i t e distinct e l e m e n t s :
that which was marked, that which did the marking, and that which m a d e
it possible to see in t h e first t h e m a r k of the s e c o n d ; a n d this last e l e m e n t
w a s , of course, r e s e m b l a n c e : t h e sign p r o v i d e d a m a r k exactly in so far
as it w a s ' a l m o s t t h e s a m e t h i n g ' as t h a t w h i c h it designated. It is this
u n i t a r y a n d t r i p l e s y s t e m that disappears a t t h e s a m e t i m e a s ' t h o u g h t b y
r e s e m b l a n c e ' , a n d is r e p l a c e d by a strictly b i n a r y o r g a n i z a t i o n .
B u t t h e r e is o n e c o n d i t i o n that m u s t be fulfilled if t h e sign is indeed
to be this p u r e duality. In its simple state as an idea, or an i m a g e , or a p e r c e p t i o n , associated w i t h o r substituted for a n o t h e r , t h e signifying e l e m e n t
is n o t a sign. It c a n b e c o m e a sign o n l y oh c o n d i t i o n t h a t it manifests, in
a d d i t i o n , t h e r e l a t i o n t h a t links it to w h a t it signifies. It m u s t r e p r e s e n t ;
b u t that r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , in t u r n , m u s t also be r e p r e s e n t e d w i t h i n it. T h i s
is a c o n d i t i o n indispensable to t h e b i n a r y o r g a n i z a t i o n of t h e sign, a n d
o n e that t h e Logique de Port-Royal sets forth e v e n b e f o r e telling us w h a t a
sign is: ' W h e n o n e looks at a certain object o n l y in so far as it represents
a n o t h e r , t h e idea o n e has of it is t h e idea of a sign, a n d that first object is
called a sign'[18]. T h e signifying idea b e c o m e s d o u b l e , since s u p e r i m p o s e d u p o n t h e idea t h a t is replacing a n o t h e r t h e r e is also t h e idea of its
r e p r e s e n t a t i v e p o w e r . T h i s appears t o g i v e u s t h r e e t e r m s : t h e idea s i g n i fied, t h e idea signifying, a n d , w i t h i n this second t e r m , t h e idea of its r o l e
as r e p r e s e n t a t i o n . W h a t we are faced w i t h h e r e is n o t , h o w e v e r , a s u r r e p titious r e t u r n to a t e r n a r y system, b u t r a t h e r an inevitable-'displacement
w i t h i n the t w o - t e r m figure, w h i c h m o v e s b a c k w a r d iri relation t o itself
a n d c o m e s to reside e n t i r e l y w i t h i n t h e signifying e l e m e n t . In fact, t h e
signifying c l e m e n t has n o c o n t e n t , n o function, a n d n o d e t e r m i n a t i o n
o t h e r t h a n w h a t it represents: it is entirely o r d e r e d u p o n a n d t r a n s p a r e n t
to it. B u t this c o n t e n t is indicated o n l y in a r e p r e s e n t a t i o n t h a t posits
itself as such, a n d that w h i c h is signified resides, w i t h o u t r e s i d u u m a n d
w i t h o u t o p a c i t y , w i t h i n t h e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n of t h e sign. It is characteristic
that t h e first e x a m p l e of a sign g i v e n by t h e Logique de Port-Royal is
n o t t h e w o r d , n o r t h e c r y , n o r t h e s y m b o l , b u t t h e spatial a n d g r a p h i c
r e p r e s e n t a t i o n - t h e d r a w i n g as m a p or p i c t u r e . T h i s is because t h e p i c t u r e has n o o t h e r c o n t e n t i n fact than that w h i c h i t represents, a n d y e t
t h a t c o n t e n t is m a d e visible o n l y because it is represented by a r e p r e s e n t a t i o n . T h e b i n a r y a r r a n g e m e n t o f t h e sign, a s i t appears i n t h e s e v e n t e e n t h
c e n t u r y , replaces an o r g a n i z a t i o n w h i c h , in different m o d e s , h a d been
64

REPRESENTING

t e r n a r y ever since t h e t i m e of t h e Stoics, a n d e v e n since t h e first G r e e k
g r a m m a r i a n s ; a n d this n e w b i n a r y a r r a n g e m e n t p r e s u p p o s e s that t h e sign
is a duplicated r e p r e s e n t a t i o n d o u b l e d o v e r u p o n itself. An idea c a n be
t h e sign o f a n o t h e r , n o t o n l y because a b o n d o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n can b e
established b e t w e e n t h e m , b u t also because this r e p r e s e n t a t i o n c a n a l w a y s
b e r e p r e s e n t e d w i t h i n t h e idea that i s r e p r e s e n t i n g . O r again, because
r e p r e s e n t a t i o n in its peculiar essence is a l w a y s p e r p e n d i c u l a r to itself:
it is at the s a m e t i m e indication a n d appearance; a relation to an object a n d
a manifestation of itself. F r o m t h e Classical a g e , t h e sign is t h e representativity of t h e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n in so far as it is representable.
T h i s has v e r y considerable consequences. First, the i m p o r t a n c e of signs
i n Classical t h o u g h t . Before, t h e y w e r e m e a n s o f k n o w i n g a n d t h e keys
t o k n o w l e d g e ; n o w , t h e y are c o - e x t e n s i v e w i t h representation, t h a t is,
w i t h t h o u g h t as a w h o l e ; t h e y reside w i t h i n it b u t t h e y r u n t h r o u g h its
e n t i r e e x t e n t . W h e n e v e r o n e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n i s linked t o a n o t h e r a n d r e p resents that link w i t h i n itself, t h e r e is a sign: t h e abstract idea signifies
t h e c o n c r e t e p e r c e p t i o n f r o m w h i c h i t has b e e n f o r m e d ( C o n d i l l a c ) ; t h e
general idea is no m o r e t h a n a p a r t i c u l a r idea serving as a sign for o t h e r
p a r t i c u l a r ideas ( B e r k e l e y ) ; i m a g i n i n g s are signs o f t h e p e r c e p t i o n s f r o m
w h i c h t h e y arose ( H u m e , C o n d i l l a c ) ; sensations are signs o f o n e a n o t h e r
(Berkeley, C o n d i l l a c ) ; a n d , finally, it is possible t h a t sensations m a y t h e m selves be (as in B e r k e l e y ) signs of w h a t G o d wishes to tell us, w h i c h w o u l d
m a k e t h e m , as it w e r e , signs for a c o m p l e x of signs. Analysis of r e p r e s e n t a t i o n a n d t h e t h e o r y o f signs i n t e r p e n e t r a t e o n e a n o t h e r a b s o l u t e l y ;
and

when the day came,

a t t h e e n d o f t h e e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y , for

I d e o l o g y t o raise t h e q u e s t i o n o f w h e t h e r t h e idea o r t h e sign s h o u l d
b e a c c o r d e d p r i m a c y , w h e n D e s t u t t c o u l d r e p r o a c h G e r a n d o for h a v i n g
created a t h e o r y of signs

before

defining

the

idea[io],

this

that their i m m e d i a t e link w a s a l r e a d y b e c o m i n g confused,
idea and sign w o u l d s o o n cease t o b e perfectly

transparent

meant

and

that

to

one

another.
A second c o n s e q u e n c e : this universal extension of t h e sign w i t h i n t h e
field of r e p r e s e n t a t i o n precludes

e v e n t h e possibility

of a

theory

of

signification. F o r to ask ourselves questions a b o u t w h a t signification is p r e supposes t h a t it is a d e t e r m i n a t e f o r m in o u r consciousness. B u t if p h e n o m e n a are p o s i t e d o n l y in a r e p r e s e n t a t i o n t h a t , in itself a n d because of its
o w n representability, is w h o l l y a sign, t h e n signification c a n n o t c o n s t i t u t e a p r o b l e m . M o r e o v e r , it is n o t e v e n visible. All representations are
i n t e r c o n n e c t e d as signs; all t o g e t h e r , t h e y f o r m , as it w e r e , an i m m e n s e
65

THE

ORDER

OF

THINGS

n e t w o r k ; each o n e posits itself in its t r a n s p a r e n c y as t h e sign of w h a t it
represents; a n d y e t - or r a t h e r , by this v e r y fact - no specific activity of
consciousness c a n e v e r c o n s t i t u t e a signification. No d o u b t it is because
Classical t h o u g h t a b o u t r e p r e s e n t a t i o n excludes a n y analysis o f significat i o n t h a t w e t o d a y , w h o c o n c e i v e o f signs o n l y u p o n t h e basis o f s u c h a n
analysis, h a v e s o m u c h t r o u b l e , despite t h e e v i d e n c e , i n r e c o g n i z i n g t h a t
Classical p h i l o s o p h y , f r o m M a l e b r a n c h e t o I d e o l o g y , w a s t h r o u g h a n d
t h r o u g h a p h i l o s o p h y of t h e sign.
N o m e a n i n g e x t e r i o r o r a n t e r i o r t o t h e sign; n o implicit p r e s e n c e o f a
p r e v i o u s discourse that m u s t b e r e c o n s t i t u t e d i n o r d e r t o reveal t h e a u t o c h t h o n o u s m e a n i n g o f t h i n g s . N o r , o n t h e o t h e r h a n d , a n y act c o n s t i t u t i v e
of signification or a n y genesis i n t e r i o r to consciousness. T h i s is because
there is no intermediary element, no opacity intervening between the
sign a n d its c o n t e n t . Signs, therefore, h a v e n o o t h e r laws t h a n t h o s e t h a t
m a y g o v e r n their c o n t e n t s : a n y analysis o f signs i s a t t h e s a m e t i m e , a n d
w i t h o u t n e e d for further i n q u i r y , t h e d e c i p h e r m e n t o f w h a t t h e y are
t r y i n g to say. Inversely, t h e d i s c o v e r y of w h a t is signified is n o t h i n g m o r e
t h a n a reflection u p o n t h e signs that indicate it. As in t h e sixteenth c e n t u r y ,
'semiology'

and

'hermeneutics'

a r e s u p e r i m p o s e d - b u t in a different

f o r m . I n t h e Classical age t h e y n o l o n g e r m e e t a n d j o i n i n t h e t h i r d
e l e m e n t o f r e s e m b l a n c e ; t h e i r c o n n e c t i o n lies i n t h a t p o w e r p r o p e r t o
r e p r e s e n t a t i o n o f r e p r e s e n t i n g itself. T h e r e w i l l t h e r e f o r e b e n o t h e o r y
o f signs separate a n d differing f r o m a n analysis o f m e a n i n g . Y e t the system
does g r a n t a certain p r i v i l e g e to t h e f o r m e r o v e r t h e latter; since it does n o t
a c c o r d t h a t w h i c h is signified a n a t u r e different f r o m t h a t a c c o r d e d to t h e
sign, m e a n i n g c a n n o t b e a n y t h i n g m o r e t h a n the* totality o f t h e signs
a r r a n g e d in their p r o g r e s s i o n ; it will be g i v e n in t h e c o m p l e t e table of
signs. B u t , o n t h e o t h e r h a n d , t h e c o m p l e t e n e t w o r k o f signs i s linked
t o g e t h e r a n d articulated a c c o r d i n g t o p a t t e r n s p r o p e r t o m e a n i n g . T h e
table o f t h e signs will b e t h e image o f t h e t h i n g s . T h o u g h t h e m e a n i n g
itself is entirely on t h e side of t h e sign, its f u n c t i o n i n g is entirely on t h e
side of t h a t w h i c h is signified. T h i s is w h y t h e analysis of l a n g u a g e , f r o m
L a n c e l o t t o D e s t u t t d e T r a c y , i s c o n d u c t e d o n t h e basis o f a n abstract
t h e o r y o f v e r b a l signs a n d i n t h e f o r m o f a general g r a m m a r : b u t i t
a l w a y s takes t h e m e a n i n g of w o r d s as its g u i d i n g t h r e a d ; it is also w h y
n a t u r a l h i s t o r y manifests itself as an analysis of t h e characters of living
beings, a n d w h y , nevertheless, t h e t a x o n o m i e s used, artificial t h o u g h
t h e y m a y b e , are always i n t e n d e d t o u n i t e w i t h t h e n a t u r a l o r d e r , o r a t
least to dissociate it as little as possible; it is also w h y t h e analysis of w e a l t h
66

REPRESENTING

i s c o n d u c t e d o n t h e basis o f m o n e y a n d e x c h a n g e , b u t value i s a l w a y s
based u p o n n e e d . In t h e Classical age, t h e p u r e science of signs has v a l u e
as t h e direct discourse of t h a t w h i c h is signified.
Finally, a t h i r d c o n s e q u e n c e , w h i c h p r o b a b l y e x t e n d s u p t o o u r o w n
t i m e : t h e b i n a r y t h e o r y o f t h e sign, t h e t h e o r y u p o n w h i c h t h e w h o l e
general science of t h e sign has b e e n f o u n d e d since t h e s e v e n t e e n t h c e n t u r y ,
is l i n k e d a c c o r d i n g to a f u n d a m e n t a l relation w i t h a general t h e o r y of
representation. I f t h e sign i s t h e p u r e a n d simple c o n n e c t i o n b e t w e e n w h a t
signifies a n d w h a t is signified (a c o n n e c t i o n t h a t m a y be a r b i t r a r y or n o t ,
v o l u n t a r y o r i m p o s e d , individual o r collective), t h e n t h e relation can b e
established o n l y w i t h i n t h e general e l e m e n t o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n : t h e signifying e l e m e n t a n d t h e signified e l e m e n t a r e l i n k e d o n l y in so far as
t h e y are (or h a v e b e e n or can b e ) represented, a n d in so far as t h e o n e
actually represents t h e o t h e r . It w a s t h e r e f o r e necessary t h a t t h e Classical
t h e o r y of t h e sign s h o u l d p r o v i d e itself w i t h an ' i d e o l o g y ' to serve as its
f o u n d a t i o n a n d philosophical justification, t h a t is, a general analysis of
all f o r m s o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , f r o m e l e m e n t a r y sensation t o t h e abstract
and c o m p l e x idea. It was also necessary t h a t Saussure, r e d i s c o v e r i n g t h e
project of a general s e m i o l o g y , s h o u l d h a v e g i v e n t h e sign a definition
t h a t c o u l d s e e m ' p s y c h o l o g i s t i c ' (the l i n k i n g of a c o n c e p t a n d an i m a g e ) :
this is because he w a s in fact r e d i s c o v e r i n g t h e Classical c o n d i t i o n for c o n ceiving o f t h e b i n a r y n a t u r e o f t h e sign.

V

THE

IMAGINATION

OF

RESEMBLANCE

S o signs a r e n o w set free f r o m t h a t t e e m i n g w o r l d t h r o u g h o u t w h i c h t h e
Renaissance h a d d i s t r i b u t e d t h e m . T h e y are l o d g e d h e n c e f o r t h w i t h i n t h e
confines of r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , in t h e interstices of ideas, in t h a t n a r r o w space
i n w h i c h t h e y interact w i t h themselves i n a p e r p e t u a l state o f d e c o m position a n d r e c o m p o s i t i o n . As for similitude, it is n o w a spent force,
outside t h e r e a l m of k n o w l e d g e . It is m e r e l y e m p i r i c i s m in its m o s t u n refined f o r m ; like H o b b e s , o n e can no l o n g e r ' r e g a r d it as b e i n g a p a r t
of p h i l o s o p h y ' , unless it has first b e e n erased in its i n e x a c t f o r m of r e s e m b l a n c e a n d t r a n s f o r m e d b y k n o w l e d g e i n t o a relationship o f e q u a l i t y
o r o r d e r . A n d y e t similitude i s still a n indispensable b o r d e r o f k n o w l e d g e .
For n o equality o r relation o f o r d e r can b e established b e t w e e n t w o t h i n g s
unless their r e s e m b l a n c e has at least occasioned their c o m p a r i s o n . H u m e
placed t h e relation o f i d e n t i t y a m o n g those ' p h i l o s o p h i c a l ' relations t h a t
p r e s u p p o s e reflection; w h e r e a s , for h i m , r e s e m b l a n c e b e l o n g e d t o n a t u r a l
67

THE

ORDER

OF

THINGS

relations, t o t h o s e that constrain o u r m i n d s b y m e a n s o f a n inevitable b u t
' c a l m force'.
Let the p h i l o s o p h e r p r i d e h i m s e l f o n his precision a s m u c h a s h e w i l l . . .
I nevertheless d a r e defy h i m to m a k e a single step in his p r o g r e s s w i t h o u t
t h e aid o f r e s e m b l a n c e . T h r o w b u t o n e g l a n c e u p o n t h e m e t a p h y s i c a l
aspect o f t h e sciences, e v e n t h e least abstract o f t h e m , a n d t h e n tell
m e w h e t h e r t h e g e n e r a l i n d u c t i o n s that are d e r i v e d f r o m particular
facts, or r a t h e r t h e kinds themselves, t h e species a n d all abstract n o t i o n s ,
c a n b e f o r m e d o t h e r w i s e t h a n b y m e a n s o f resemblance[2o].
A t t h e b o r d e r o f k n o w l e d g e , similitude i s t h a t b a r e l y s k e t c h e d f o r m , that
r u d i m e n t a r y relation w h i c h k n o w l e d g e m u s t o v e r l a y t o its full e x t e n t ,
b u t w h i c h c o n t i n u e s , indefinitely, t o reside b e l o w k n o w l e d g e i n t h e
m a n n e r of a m u t e and ineffaceable necessity.
A s i n t h e sixteenth c e n t u r y , r e s e m b l a n c e a n d sign r e s p o n d inevitably
t o o n e a n o t h e r , b u t i n a n e w w a y . W h e r e a s similitude o n c e r e q u i r e d a
m a r k in o r d e r for its secret to be u n c o v e r e d , it is n o w t h e undifferentiated,
shifting, unstable base u p o n w h i c h k n o w l e d g e can establish its relations,
its m e a s u r e m e n t s , a n d its identities. T h i s results in a d o u b l e reversal: first,
because it is t h e sign - a n d w i t h it t h e w h o l e of discursive k n o w l e d g e t h a t requires a basis of similitude, a n d , second, because it is no l o n g e r a
q u e s t i o n o f m a k i n g a p r e v i o u s c o n t e n t manifest t o k n o w l e d g e b u t o f
p r o v i d i n g a c o n t e n t t h a t will be able to offer a g r o u n d u p o n w h i c h f o r m s
o f k n o w l e d g e c a n b e applied. W h e r e a s i n t h e s i x t e e n t h c e n t u r y r e s e m b l a n c e w a s t h e f u n d a m e n t a l relation o f b e i n g t o itself, a n d t h e h i n g e o f
t h e w h o l e w o r l d , in t h e Classical age it is the simplest form in w h i c h w h a t
is to be k n o w n , a n d w h a t is furthest f r o m k n o w l e d g e itself, appears. It
i s t h r o u g h r e s e m b l a n c e t h a t representation can b e k n o w n , t h a t is, c o m p a r e d w i t h o t h e r representations t h a t m a y b e similar t o it, analysed i n t o
e l e m e n t s (elements c o m m o n t o i t a n d o t h e r r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s ) , c o m b i n e d
w i t h those representations that m a y present partial identities, and finally
laid o u t i n t o an o r d e r e d table. Similitude in Classical p h i l o s o p h y (that is,
in a p h i l o s o p h y of analysis) plays a r o l e parallel to t h a t w h i c h will be
p l a y e d b y diversity i n critical t h o u g h t and t h e philosophies o f j u d g e m e n t .
I n this l i m i t i n g a n d c o n d i t i o n a l position (that w i t h o u t w h i c h and b e y o n d
w h i c h o n e c a n n o t k n o w ) , r e s e m b l a n c e i s situated o n t h e side o f i m a g i n a t i o n , o r , m o r e exactly, i t can b e manifested o n l y b y v i r t u e o f i m a g i n a t i o n , a n d i m a g i n a t i o n , i n t u r n , can b e exercised o n l y w i t h t h e aid o f
r e s e m b l a n c e . A n d , i n effect, i f w e suppose i n t h e u n i n t e r r u p t e d chain o f
63

REPRESENTING

r e p r e s e n t a t i o n certain impressions, t h e v e r y simplest that can be, w i t h o u t
t h e slightest d e g r e e o f r e s e m b l a n c e b e t w e e n t h e m , t h e n t h e r e w o u l d b e n o
possibility w h a t e v e r of t h e second recalling t h e first, causing it to r e a p p e a r ,
and

thus a u t h o r i z i n g its r e p r e s e n t a t i o n i n t h e i m a g i n a t i o n ; those i m -

pressions w o u l d succeed o n e a n o t h e r in t h e m o s t total differentiation - so
total that i t c o u l d n o t e v e n b e perceived, since n o r e p r e s e n t a t i o n w o u l d
be able to i m m o b i l i z e itself in o n e place, r e a n i m a t e a f o r m e r o n e , a n d
j u x t a p o s e itself to it so as to g i v e rise to a c o m p a r i s o n ; e v e n t h a t t i n y
o v e r l a p of i d e n t i t y necessary for all differentiation w o u l d n o t be p r o v i d e d .
P e r p e t u a l c h a n g e w o u l d pass before u s w i t h o u t guidelines a n d i n p e r p e t u a l m o n o t o n y . I f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n did n o t possess the o b s c u r e p o w e r o f
m a k i n g a past impression present o n c e m o r e , t h e n n o impression w o u l d
ever a p p e a r as either similar to or dissimilar f r o m a p r e v i o u s o n e . T h i s
p o w e r o f recall implies a t least t h e possibility o f causing t w o impressions
to a p p e a r as quasi-likencsscs (as n e i g h b o u r s or c o n t e m p o r a r i e s , existing in
a l m o s t t h e s a m e w a y ) w h e n o n e o f those impressions o n l y i s present,
w h i l e t h e o t h e r has ceased, p e r h a p s a l o n g t i m e a g o , t o exist. W i t h o u t
imagination, there w o u l d be no resemblance between things.
T h e d o u b l e requisite is p a t e n t . T h e r e m u s t b e , in the t h i n g s r e p r e s e n t e d ,
t h e insistent m u r m u r o f r e s e m b l a n c e ; t h e r e m u s t b e , i n t h e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n ,
t h e p e r p e t u a l possibility o f i m a g i n a t i v e recall.

A n d n e i t h e r o f these

requisites can dispense w i t h t h e o t h e r , w h i c h c o m p l e t e s a n d confronts it.
H e n c e t h e t w o directions o f analysis f o l l o w e d t h r o u g h o u t t h e Classical
age, consistently d r a w i n g closer a n d closer t o g e t h e r until finally, in t h e
second half o f t h e e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y , t h e y w e r e able t o express their
c o m m o n t r u t h i n I d e o l o g y . O n t h e o n e h a n d , w e find t h e analysis that
p r o v i d e s a n a c c o u n t o f t h e inversion o f t h e scries o f representations t o f o r m
a n o n - a c t u a l b u t s i m u l t a n e o u s table o f c o m p a r i s o n s : t h e analysis o f i m pressions, o f reminiscence, o f i m a g i n a t i o n , o f m e m o r y , o f all t h a t i n v o l u n t a r y b a c k g r o u n d w h i c h is, a s i t w e r e , t h e m e c h a n i c s o f t h e i m a g e
in t i m e . A n d , on t h e o t h e r h a n d , t h e r e is t h e analysis t h a t gives an a c c o u n t
of t h e r e s e m b l a n c e b e t w e e n t h i n g s - of their r e s e m b l a n c e before their
r e d u c t i o n t o o r d e r , their d e c o m p o s i t i o n i n t o identical a n d different elem e n t s , the t a b u l a r r e d i s t r i b u t i o n o f their u n o r d e r e d similitudes. W h y i s
it, t h e n , t h a t t h i n g s a r e g i v e n in an o v e r l a p p i n g m i x t u r e , in an i n t e r p e n e t r a t i n g j u m b l e in w h i c h their essential o r d e r is confused, y e t still
visible e n o u g h t o s h o w t h r o u g h i n t h e f o r m o f resemblances, v a g u e
similitudes, a n d allusive o p p o r t u n i t i e s for a m e m o r y o n t h e alert? T h e
first scries of p r o b l e m s c o r r e s p o n d s r o u g h l y w i t h theanalyticof imagination,
69

THE

ORDER

OF

THINGS

as a positive p o w e r to transform
into

a simultaneous

space

the

containing

linear
virtual

time

of representation

elements;

the

second

c o r r e s p o n d s r o u g h l y w i t h t h e analysis of nature, i n c l u d i n g t h e lacunae, t h e
disorders t h a t confuse t h e t a b u l a t i o n of beings a n d scatter it i n t o a series
o f representations t h a t v a g u e l y , a n d f r o m

a

distance,

resemble

one

another.
N o w , these t w o o p p o s i n g stages (the first t h e n e g a t i v e o n e o f t h e d i s o r d e r i n n a t u r e a n d i n o u r impressions, t h e o t h e r t h e p o s i t i v e o n e o f t h e
p o w e r t o r e c o n s t i t u t e o r d e r o u t o f those impressions) are u n i t e d i n t h e idea
o f a 'genesis'. A n d this i n t w o possible w a y s . E i t h e r t h e n e g a t i v e stage (that
of d i s o r d e r a n d v a g u e r e s e m b l a n c e ) is a t t r i b u t e d to t h e i m a g i n a t i o n itself,
w h i c h t h e n exercises a d o u b l e function: if it is able to r e s t o r e o r d e r solely
by d u p l i c a t i n g r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , it is able to do so o n l y in so far as it w o u l d
p r e v e n t u s f r o m p e r c e i v i n g directly, a n d i n t h e i r a n a l y t i c t r u t h , t h e
identities a n d differences o f t h i n g s . T h e p o w e r o f i m a g i n a t i o n i s o n l y t h e
inverse, t h e o t h e r side, o f its defect. I t exists w i t h i n m a n , a t t h e s u t u r e o f
b o d y a n d soul. I t i s t h e r e t h a t Descartes, M a l e b r a n c h e , a n d S p i n o z a
analysed it, b o t h a s t h e locus o f e r r o r a n d a s t h e p o w e r o f a t t a i n i n g t o
t r u t h , e v e n m a t h e m a t i c a l t r u t h ; they r e c o g n i z e d i n i t t h e s t i g m a o f
finitude, w h e t h e r as t h e sign of a fall outside t h e area of intelligibility or
a s t h e m a r k o f a l i m i t e d n a t u r e . A l t e r n a t i v e l y , t h e positive stage o f i m a g i n a t i o n c a n b e a t t r i b u t e d t o shifting resemblances a n d t h e v a g u e m u r m u r o f similitudes. I t i s t h e disorder o f n a t u r e d u e t o its o w n h i s t o r y , t o
its catastrophes, o r p e r h a p s m e r e l y t o its j u m b l e d p l u r a l i t y , w h i c h i s n o
l o n g e r capable o f p r o v i d i n g representation w i t h a n y t h i n g , b u t t h i n g s t h a t
resemble one another. So that representation, perpetually b o u n d to contents so v e t y close to o n e a n o t h e r , repeats itself, recalls itself, duplicates
itself q u i t e n a t u r a l l y , causes a l m o s t identical impressions to arise a g a i n a n d
again, a n d e n g e n d e r s i m a g i n a t i o n . It w a s in j u s t this p r o l i f e r a t i o n of a
n a t u r e that is m u l t i p l e , y e t obscurely a n d irrationally r e - c r e a t e d , in t h e
e n i g m a t i c fact of a n a t u r e that p r i o r to all o r d e r resembles itself, t h a t
C o n d i l l a c a n d H u m e s o u g h t for t h e link b e t w e e n r e s e m b l a n c e a n d
i m a g i n a t i o n . T h e i r solutions w e r e strictly c o n t r a d i c t o r y , b u t t h e y w e r e
b o t h a n s w e r s t o t h e s a m e p r o b l e m . I t i s i n a n y case u n d e r s t a n d a b l e t h a t
t h e s e c o n d t y p e o f analysis s h o u l d h a v e s o easily b e e n d e p l o y e d i n t h e
m y t h i c a l f o r m o f t h e f i r s t m a n (Rousseau), o r that o f t h e a w a k e n i n g
consciousness ( C o n d i l l a c ) , o r t h a t o f t h e s t r a n g e r s u d d e n l y t h r u s t i n t o t h e
w o r l d ( H u m e ) : this genesis f u n c t i o n e d e x a c t l y instead o f a n d i n place o f
Genesis

itself.
70

REPRESENTING

O n e further r e m a r k . T h o u g h t h e n o t i o n s o f n a t u r e a n d h u m a n n a t u r e
h a v e a certain i m p o r t a n c e in t h e Classical a g e , this is n o t because t h e
h i d d e n a n d i n e x h a u s t i b l y r i c h s o u r c e o f p o w e r w h i c h w e call n a t u r e h a d
s u d d e n l y b e e n discovered as a field for e m p i r i c a l i n q u i r y ; n o r is it b e cause a t i n y , singular, a n d c o m p l e x s u b r e g i o n called h u m a n n a t u r e h a d
b e e n isolated w i t h i n this vast field o f n a t u r e . I n fact, these t w o c o n c e p t s
function in s u c h a w a y as to g u a r a n t e e t h e k i n s h i p , t h e reciprocal b o n d ,
b e t w e e n i m a g i n a t i o n a n d r e s e m b l a n c e . It is t r u e t h a t i m a g i n a t i o n is
apparently only one of the properties of h u m a n nature, and resemblance
o n e o f t h e effects o f n a t u r e ; b u t i f w e f o l l o w t h e archaeological n e t w o r k
t h a t p r o v i d e s Classical t h o u g h t w i t h its laws, w e see q u i t e clearly t h a t
h u m a n n a t u r e resides i n t h a t n a r r o w o v e r l a p o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n w h i c h
p e r m i t s it to represent itself to itself (all h u m a n n a t u r e is t h e r e : j u s t
e n o u g h outside r e p r e s e n t a t i o n for i t t o present itself again, i n t h e b l a n k
space that separates t h e p r e s e n c e o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n a n d t h e ' r e - ' o f its
r e p e t i t i o n ) ; a n d t h a t n a t u r e i s n o t h i n g b u t t h e i m p a l p a b l e confusion w i t h i n
r e p r e s e n t a t i o n t h a t m a k e s t h e r e s e m b l a n c e t h e r e p e r c e p t i b l e before t h e
o r d e r o f t h e identities i s y e t visible. N a t u r e a n d h u m a n n a t u r e , w i t h i n
t h e g e n e r a l c o n f i g u r a t i o n o f t h e episteme, p e r m i t t h e reconciliation o f
r e s e m b l a n c e a n d i m a g i n a t i o n t h a t p r o v i d e s a f o u n d a t i o n for, a n d m a k e s
possible, all t h e empirical sciences of o r d e r .
I n t h e s i x t e e n t h c e n t u r y , r e s e m b l a n c e w a s linked t o a system o f signs;
a n d i t w a s t h e i n t e r p r e t a t i o n o f those signs that o p e n e d u p t h e field o f
concrete knowledge. F r o m the seventeenth century, resemblance was
pushed out to the boundaries of knowledge, towards the humblest and
basest o f its frontiers. T h e r e , i t links u p w i t h i m a g i n a t i o n , w i t h d o u b t f u l
repetitions, w i t h misty analogies. A n d instead o f o p e n i n g u p t h e w a y t o a
science of i n t e r p r e t a t i o n , it implies a genesis t h a t leads f r o m t h o s e u n refined f o r m s o f t h e S a m e t o t h e g r e a t tables o f k n o w l e d g e d e v e l o p e d
a c c o r d i n g t o t h e forms o f i d e n t i t y , o f difference, a n d o f o r d e r . T h e p r o j e c t
of a science of o r d e r , w i t h a f o u n d a t i o n s u c h as it h a d in t h e s e v e n t e e n t h
c e n t u r y , carried t h e i m p l i c a t i o n t h a t i t h a d t o b e paralleled b y a n a c c o m panying

genesis

of consciousness,

as

indeed

it w a s , effectively a n d

uninterruptedly, from Locke to the 'Ideologues'.

VI

MATHESIS

AND ' T A X I N O M I A '

T h e project of a general science of o r d e r ; a t h e o r y of signs analysing
r e p r e s e n t a t i o n ; t h e a r r a n g e m e n t o f identities a n d differences i n t o o r d e r e d
71

THE ORDER

OF THINGS

tables: these c o n s t i t u t e d a n area o f e m p i r i c i t y i n the Classical a g e that h a d
n o t e x i s t e d until t h e e n d o f the Renaissance a n d that w a s destined t o d i s a p p e a r e a r l y in t h e n i n e t e e n t h c e n t u r y . It is so difficult f o r us to reinstate
n o w , a n d s o t h i c k l y o v e r l a i d b y t h e s y s t e m o f positivities t o w h i c h o u r
o w n k n o w l e d g e b e l o n g s , that i t has f o r l o n g passed u n p e r c e i v e d . I t i s
d i s t o r t e d a n d m a s k e d b y t h e use o f c a t e g o r i e s a n d patterns that are o u r
own.

A n attempt i s apparently b e i n g m a d e t o reconstitute w h a t the

'sciences o f l i f e ' , o f ' n a t u r e ' o r ' m a n ' , w e r e , i n t h e s e v e n t e e n t h a n d e i g h t e e n t h centuries, w h i l e i t i s q u i t e s i m p l y f o r g o t t e n that m a n a n d life a n d
n a t u r e are n o n e o f t h e m d o m a i n s that present t h e m s e l v e s t o the c u r i o s i t y
o f k n o w l e d g e spontaneously and passively.
W h a t m a k e s t h e t o t a l i t y o f the C l a s s i c a l cpisteme p o s s i b l e i s p r i m a r i l y
the relation t o a k n o w l e d g e o f order. W h e n dealing w i t h the ordering o f
s i m p l e natures, o n e has r e c o u r s e t o a mathesis, o f w h i c h the u n i v e r s a l
m e t h o d i s a l g e b r a . W h e n d e a l i n g w i t h t h e o r d e r i n g o f c o m p l e x natures
(representations i n g e n e r a l , a s t h e y are g i v e n i n e x p e r i e n c e ) , o n e has t o
c o n s t i t u t e a taxinomia, a n d to do that o n e has to establish a s y s t e m of signs.
T h e s e signs are t o the o r d e r o f c o m p o s i t e natures w h a t a l g e b r a i s t o t h e
o r d e r o f s i m p l e natures. B u t i n s o far a s e m p i r i c a l representations m u s t b e
a n a l y s a b l e i n t o s i m p l e natures, it is c l e a r that the taxinomia relates w h o l l y
t o the mathesis; o n the o t h e r h a n d , since the p e r c e p t i o n o f p r o o f s i s o n l y
o n e particular case o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n i n g e n e r a l , o n e can e q u a l l y w e l l say
that mathesis is o n l y o n e p a r t i c u l a r case of taxinomia. S i m i l a r l y , the signs
established b y t h o u g h t itself constitute, a s i t w e r e , a n a l g c b r a ^ o f c o m p l e x
representations; a n d a l g e b r a , i n v e r s e l y , i s a m e t h o d o f p r o v i d i n g s i m p l e
natures w i t h signs a n d o f o p e r a t i n g u p o n those sigrA. W e t h e r e f o r e h a v e
the arrangement s h o w n b e l o w :

B u t that is n o t all. Taxinomia also i m p l i e s a certain c o n t i n u u m of t h i n g s
( a n o n - d i s c o n t i n u i t y , a p l e n i t u d e o f b e i n g ) a n d a certain p o w e r o f t h e
i m a g i n a t i o n that renders a p p a r e n t w h a t i s n o t , b u t m a k e s possible, b y
this v e r y fact, t h e r e v e l a t i o n o f that c o n t i n u i t y . T h e p o s s i b i l i t y o f a s c i e n c e
of empirical orders requires, therefore,
72

a n analysis o f k n o w l e d g e - a n

REPRESENTING

analysis t h a t m u s t s h o w h o w t h e h i d d e n (and a s i t w e r e confused) c o n tinuity of being can be reconstituted by means of the temporal connection
p r o v i d e d b y d i s c o n t i n u o u s representations. H e n c e t h e necessity, c o n s t a n t l y
manifested t h r o u g h o u t t h e Classical age, o f q u e s t i o n i n g t h e o r i g i n o f
k n o w l e d g e . In fact, these empirical analyses are n o t in o p p o s i t i o n to t h e
p r o j e c t of a universal mathesis, in t h e sense that scepticism is to r a t i o n a l i s m ; t h e y w e r e a l r e a d y i n c l u d e d in t h e requisites of a k n o w l e d g e that is
n o l o n g e r posited a s e x p e r i e n c e o f t h e S a m e b u t a s t h e establishment o f
O r d e r . T h u s , a t t h e t w o e x t r e m i t i e s o f t h e Classical episteme, w e h a v e a
mathesis as t h e science of calculable o r d e r a n d a genesis as t h e analysis of
t h e c o n s t i t u t i o n o f o r d e r s o n t h e basis o f e m p i r i c a l series. O n t h e o n e h a n d ,
w e h a v e a utilization o f t h e s y m b o l s o f possible o p e r a t i o n s u p o n identities
a n d differences; o n t h e o t h e r , w e h a v e a n analysis o f t h e m a r k s p r o g r e s sively i m p r i n t e d i n t h e m i n d b y t h e resemblances b e t w e e n things a n d t h e
r e t r o s p e c t i v e action of i m a g i n a t i o n . B e t w e e n t h e mathesis a n d t h e genesis
t h e r e e x t e n d s t h e r e g i o n o f signs - o f signs that span t h e w h o l e d o m a i n
o f e m p i r i c a l r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , b u t n e v e r e x t e n d b e y o n d it. H e d g e d i n b y
calculus a n d genesis, w e h a v e t h e area o f t h e table. T h i s k i n d o f k n o w l e d g e
involves t h e a l l o t t i n g of a sign to all that o u r r e p r e s e n t a t i o n can p r e s e n t
us w i t h : p e r c e p t i o n s , t h o u g h t s , desires; these signs m u s t h a v e a v a l u e as
characters, t h a t is, t h e y m u s t articulate the r e p r e s e n t a t i o n as a w h o l e i n t o
distinct s u b r e g i o n s , all separated f r o m o n e a n o t h e r b y assignable c h a r a c t e r istics; in this w a y t h e y a u t h o r i z e t h e establishment of a s i m u l t a n e o u s
system a c c o r d i n g t o w h i c h t h e representations express their p r o x i m i t y
a n d their distance, their adjacency and their separateness - a n d t h e r e f o r e
t h e n e t w o r k , w h i c h , o u t s i d e c h r o n o l o g y , m a k e s p a t e n t their k i n s h i p a n d
reinstates their relations of o r d e r w i t h i n a p e r m a n e n t area. In this m a n n e r
t h e table o f identities and differences m a y b e d r a w n u p .
It is in this area t h e we e n c o u n t e r natural history - t h e science of t h e
characters t h a t articulate t h e c o n t i n u i t y and t h e tangle of n a t u r e . It is also
in this area t h a t we e n c o u n t e r t h e theory of money a n d t h e theory of value
- t h e science o f t h e signs t h a t a u t h o r i z e e x c h a n g e a n d p e r m i t t h e establishm e n t of equivalences b e t w e e n m e n ' s needs or desires. Lastly, it is also
in this r e g i o n t h a t we find general grammar - t h e science of t h e signs by
m e a n s o f w h i c h m e n g r o u p t o g e t h e r their i n d i v i d u a l p e r c e p t i o n s a n d
p a t t e r n t h e c o n t i n u o u s f l o w o f their t h o u g h t s . D e s p i t e their differences,
these t h r e e d o m a i n s existed in t h e Classical a g e o n l y in so far as t h e
f u n d a m e n t a l area o f t h e o r d e r e d table w a s established b e t w e e n t h e calculation o f equalities and t h e genesis o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s .
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THINGS

It is p a t e n t t h a t these t h r e e n o t i o n s - mathesis, taxinomia, genesis - d e s i g n a t e n o t so m u c h separate d o m a i n s as a solid g r i d of kinships t h a t defines
t h e general c o n f i g u r a t i o n of k n o w l e d g e in t h e Classical a g e .

Taxinomia

is n o t in o p p o s i t i o n to mathesis: it resides w i t h i n it a n d is distinguished
f r o m it; for it t o o is a science of o r d e r - a qualitative mathesis. B u t u n d e r s t o o d in t h e strict sense mathesis is a science of equalities, a n d t h e r e f o r e
of a t t r i b u t i o n s a n d j u d g e m e n t s ; it is t h e science of truth.

Taxinomia, on

t h e o t h e r h a n d , treats of identities a n d differences; it is t h e science of
articulations a n d classifications; it is t h e k n o w l e d g e of beings. In t h e s a m e
w a y , genesis is c o n t a i n e d w i t h i n taxinomia, or at least finds in it its p r i m a r y
possibility.

But

taxinomia

establishes

the

table

of visible

differences;

genesis p r e s u p p o s e s a p r o g r e s s i v e series; t h e first treats of signs in their
spatial s i m u l t a n e i t y , as a s y n t a x ; t h e second divides t h e m up i n t o an
a n a l o g o n of t i m e , as a c h r o n o l o g y . In relation to mathesis, taxinomia
functions a s a n o n t o l o g y c o n f r o n t e d b y a n a p o p h a n t i c s ; c o n f r o n t e d b y
genesis, it functions as a s e m i o l o g y c o n f r o n t e d by h i s t o r y . It defines,
t h e n , t h e g e n e r a l l a w o f beings, a n d a t t h e s a m e t i m e t h e c o n d i t i o n s u n d e r
w h i c h i t i s possible t o k n o w t h e m . H e n c e t h e fact t h a t t h e t h e o r y o f signs
in t h e Classical p e r i o d w a s able to s u p p o r t s i m u l t a n e o u s l y b o t h a science
w i t h a dogmatic approach, which purported to be a knowledge of nature
itself, a n d a p h i l o s o p h y of r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , w h i c h , in t h e c o u r s e of t i m e ,
b e c a m e m o r e a n d m o r e n o m i n a l i s t a n d m o r e a n d m o r e sceptical. H e n c e ,
t o o , t h e fact t h a t such an a r r a n g e m e n t has disappeared so c o m p l e t e l y t h a t
later ages h a v e lost e v e n t h e m e m o r y of its existence; this is because after
t h e K a n t i a n critique, a n d all t h a t o c c u r r e d i n W e s t e r n c u l t u r e a t t h e e n d
o f t h e e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y , a n e w t y p e o f division w a s Established: o n t h e
o n e h a n d mathesis w a s r e g r o u p e d s o a s t o c o n s t i t u t e a n a p o p h a n t i c s a n d
a n o n t o l o g y , a n d i t i s i n this f o r m t h a t i t has d o m i n a t e d t h e f o r m a l
disciplines r i g h t u p t o o u r d a y ; o n t h e o t h e r h a n d , h i s t o r y a n d s e m i o l o g y
(the latter a b s o r b e d , m o r e o v e r , b y t h e f o r m e r ) u n i t e d t o f o r m t h o s e
i n t e r p r e t a t i v e disciplines w h o s e p o w e r has e x t e n d e d f r o m S c h l e i e r m a c h e r
to Nietzsche and Freud.
In a n y case, t h e Classical episteme c a n be defined in its m o s t g e n e r a l
a r r a n g e m e n t in t e r m s of t h e articulated system of a mathesis, a taxinomia,
a n d a genetic analysis. T h e sciences a l w a y s c a r r y w i t h i n themselves t h e
project, h o w e v e r r e m o t e it m a y be, of an exhaustive ordering of the w o r l d ;
t h e y a r e a l w a y s directed, t o o , t o w a r d s t h e d i s c o v e r y o f s i m p l e e l e m e n t s
a n d t h e i r p r o g r e s s i v e c o m b i n a t i o n ; a n d a t their c e n t r e t h e y f o r m a table
on w h i c h k n o w l e d g e is displayed in a s y s t e m c o n t e m p o r a r y w i t h itself.
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REPRESENTING

T h e c e n t r e o f k n o w l e d g e , i n t h e s e v e n t e e n t h a n d e i g h t e e n t h centuries,
is t h e table. As for t h e great controversies t h a t o c c u p i e d m e n ' s m i n d s ,
these are a c c o m m o d a t e d q u i t e n a t u r a l l y i n t h e folds o f this o r g a n i z a t i o n .
It is q u i t e possible to w r i t e a h i s t o r y of t h o u g h t in t h e Classical p e r i o d
using these controversies a s s t a r t i n g - p o i n t s o r t h e m e s . B u t o n e w o u l d
t h e n b e w r i t i n g o n l y a h i s t o r y o f o p i n i o n s , t h a t is, o f t h e choices o p e r a t e d
a c c o r d i n g to individuals, e n v i r o n m e n t s , social g r o u p s ; a n d a w h o l e
m e t h o d o f i n q u i r y i s t h e r e b y i m p l i e d . I f o n e wishes t o u n d e r t a k e a n
archaeological analysis of k n o w l e d g e itself, it is n o t these celebrated
controversies t h a t o u g h t t o b e used a s t h e guidelines a n d articulation o f
s u c h a project. O n e m u s t r e c o n s t i t u t e t h e general system o f t h o u g h t w h o s e
n e t w o r k , i n its positivity, r e n d e r s a n interplay o f s i m u l t a n e o u s a n d a p p a r e n t l y c o n t r a d i c t o r y o p i n i o n s possible. It is this n e t w o r k t h a t defines
t h e c o n d i t i o n s t h a t m a k e a c o n t r o v e r s y o r p r o b l e m possible, a n d t h a t
bears t h e historicity o f k n o w l e d g e . I f t h e W e s t e r n w o r l d d i d b a t t l e w i t h
itself i n o r d e r t o k n o w w h e t h e r life was n o t h i n g b u t m o v e m e n t o r w h e t h e r
n a t u r e w a s sufficiently w e l l o r d e r e d t o p r o v e t h e existence o f G o d , i t w a s
n o t because a p r o b l e m h a d b e e n o p e n e d u p ; it w a s because, after dispersing
t h e u n d e f i n e d circle o f signs a n d resemblances, a n d before o r g a n i z i n g
t h e series o f causality a n d history, t h e episteme o f W e s t e r n c u l t u r e h a d
o p e n e d u p a n area t o f o r m a table o v e r w h i c h i t w a n d e r e d endlessly,
f r o m t h e calculable f o r m s o f o r d e r t o t h e analysis o f t h e m o s t c o m p l e x
representations. A n d w e see t h e m a r k s o f this m o v e m e n t o n t h e historical
surface o f t h e t h e m e s , controversies, p r o b l e m s , a n d preferences o f o p i n i o n .
A c q u i r e d l e a r n i n g s p a n n e d f r o m o n e e n d t o t h e o t h e r a 'space o f k n o w ledge' which had suddenly appeared in the seventeenth century and which
w a s n o t to be closed again until a h u n d r e d a n d fifty years later.
W e m u s t n o w u n d e r t a k e t h e analysis o f this t a b u l a t e d space, i n t h o s e
s u b r e g i o n s in w h i c h it is visible in its clearest f o r m , t h a t is, in t h e theories
o f l a n g u a g e , classification, a n d m o n e y .
I t m a y b e o b j e c t e d t h a t t h e m e r e fact o f a t t e m p t i n g t o analyse general
g r a m m a r , n a t u r a l history, a n d e c o n o m i c s s i m u l t a n e o u s l y a n d en bloc - by
relating t h e m to a general t h e o r y of signs a n d r e p r e s e n t a t i o n - presupposes
a q u e s t i o n that c o u l d o r i g i n a t e o n l y in o u r o w n c e n t u r y . It is t r u e t h a t t h e
Classical age w a s n o m o r e able t h a n a n y o t h e r c u l t u r e t o c i r c u m s c r i b e
o r n a m e its o w n general system o f k n o w l e d g e . B u t t h a t s y s t e m w a s i n
fact sufficiently c o n s t r i c t i n g t o cause t h e visible forms o f k n o w l e d g e t o
trace their kinships u p o n it themselves, as t h o u g h m e t h o d s , c o n c e p t s ,
types of analysis, acquired experiences, m i n d s , and finally m e n t h e m s e l v e s ,
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h a d all b e e n displaced at t h e behest of a f u n d a m e n t a l n e t w o r k defining
t h e implicit b u t inevitable u n i t y o f k n o w l e d g e . H i s t o r y has p r o v i d e d u s
w i t h i n n u m e r a b l e e x a m p l e s o f these displacements. T h e c o n n e c t i n g paths
b e t w e e n t h e theories o f k n o w l e d g e ,

o f signs,

and of grammar were

t r o d d e n so m a n y t i m e s : P o r t - R o y a l p r o d u c e d its Grammaire as a c o m p l e m e n t a n d n a t u r a l sequel to its Logique, t h e f o r m e r b e i n g c o n n e c t e d to t h e
latter b y a c o m m o n analysis o f signs; C o n d i l l a c , D e s t u t t d e T r a c y , a n d
G e r a n d o articulated o n e u p o n t h e o t h e r the d e c o m p o s i t i o n o f k n o w l e d g e
i n t o its c o n d i t i o n s o r ' e l e m e n t s ' , a n d t h e reflection u p o n t h o s e signs o f
w h i c h l a n g u a g e forms o n l y t h e m o s t visible a p p l i c a t i o n a n d use. T h e r e
is also a w e l l - t r o d d e n c o n n e c t i o n b e t w e e n t h e analysis of r e p r e s e n t a t i o n
a n d signs a n d t h e analysis o f w e a l t h : Q u e s n a y t h e p h y s i o c r a t w r o t e t h e
article on ' E v i d e n c e ' for t h e Encyclopedic; C o n d i l l a c a n d D e s t u t t i n c l u d e d
i n their t h e o r y o f k n o w l e d g e a n d l a n g u a g e that o f t r a d e a n d e c o n o m i c s ,
w h i c h for t h e m possessed political a n d also m o r a l v a l u e ; i t i s well k n o w n
t h a t T u r g o t w r o t e the article o n ' E t y m o l o g i e ' for t h e Encyclopedic a n d t h e
first systematic parallel b e t w e e n m o n e y a n d w o r d s ; t h a t A d a m S m i t h ,
i n ' a d d i t i o n t o his g r e a t w o r k o n e c o n o m i c s , w r o t e a treatise o n t h e
origin of languages. T h e r e is a connecting path between the theory of
n a t u r a l classifications a n d theories o f l a n g u a g e : A d a n s o n d i d n o t m e r e l y
a t t e m p t t o create, i n t h e b o t a n i c a l field, a n o m e n c l a t u r e t h a t w a s b o t h
artificial a n d c o h e r e n t ; he a i m e d at (and in p a r t carried o u t ) a w h o l e
reorganization of writing in terms of the phonetic data of language;
R o u s s e a u left a m o n g his p o s t h u m o u s w o r k s s o m e r u d i m e n t s o f b o t a n y
a n d a treatise on t h e o r i g i n of l a n g u a g e s .

/

/

S u c h , t r a c e d o u t , as it w e r e , in d o t t e d lines, w a s trie g^eat g r i d of e m p i r i cal k n o w l e d g e : that o f n o n - q u a n t i t a t i v e o r d e r s . A n d p e r h a p s t h e d e ferred b u t insistent u n i t y of a Taxinomia universalis a p p e a r e d in all clarity
in the w o r k of Linnaeus, w h e n he conceived the project of discovering in
all t h e c o n c r e t e d o m a i n s o f n a t u r e o r society t h e s a m e d i s t r i b u t i o n s a n d
t h e s a m e o r d e r [21]. T h e l i m i t o f k n o w l e d g e w o u l d b e t h e perfect t r a n s p a r e n c y o f representations t o t h e signs b y w h i c h t h e y are o r d e r e d .
NOTES
[1]
[2]
[3]
[4]
[5]

Descartes, CEuvres philosophiques (Paris, 1963 edn., 1 . 1 , p. 7 7 ) .
F. Bacon, Novum Organum (1620, book I, xlv and lix).
Descartes, Regulae, XIV, p. 168.
Ibid., X I V , p. 168.
Ibid., X I V , p. 182.
76

CHAPTER

4

Speaking
I

CRITICISM

AND

COMMENTARY

T h e existence o f l a n g u a g e i n t h e Classical a g e i s b o t h p r e - e m i n e n t a n d
unobtrusive.
P r e - e m i n e n t , because w o r d s h a v e b e e n allotted t h e task a n d t h e p o w e r
o f ' r e p r e s e n t i n g t h o u g h t ' . B u t representing i n this case does n o t m e a n
translating, g i v i n g a visible version of, fabricating a material d o u b l e t h a t
will b e able, o n t h e external surface o f t h e b o d y , t o r e p r o d u c e t h o u g h t
in its e x a c t i t u d e . R e p r e s e n t i n g m u s t be u n d e r s t o o d in t h e strict sense:
l a n g u a g e represents t h o u g h t a s t h o u g h t represents itself. T o constitute
l a n g u a g e or g i v e it life f r o m w i t h i n , t h e r e is no essential a n d p r i m i t i v e
act o f signification, b u t o n l y , a t t h e h e a r t o f representation, t h e p o w e r
t h a t it possesses to represent itself, that is, to analyse itself by j u x t a p o s i n g
itself to itself, p a r t by p a r t , u n d e r t h e eye of reflection, a n d to delegate itself in t h e f o r m of a substitute that will be an e x t e n s i o n of it. In t h e Classical a g e , n o t h i n g is g i v e n t h a t is n o t g i v e n to r e p r e s e n t a t i o n ; " b u t , by t h a t
v e r y fact, n o sign ever appears, n o w o r d i s s p o k e n , n * p r o p o s i t i o n i s ever
directed at a n y c o n t e n t e x c e p t by t h e action of a representation that stands
b a c k f r o m itself, that duplicates a n d reflects itself in a n o t h e r r e p r e s e n t a t i o n t h a t is its e q u i v a l e n t . Representations are n o t r o o t e d in a w o r l d t h a t
gives t h e m m e a n i n g ; t h e y o p e n of themselves on to a space that is their
o w n , w h o s e internal n e t w o r k gives rise t o m e a n i n g . A n d l a n g u a g e exists
i n t h e g a p t h a t representation creates for itself. W o r d s d o n o t , t h e n , f o r m
a t h i n film t h a t duplicates t h o u g h t on t h e o u t s i d e ; t h e y recall t h o u g h t ,
t h e y indicate it, b u t i n w a r d s first of all, a m o n g all those representations
t h a t represent o t h e r representations. T h e l a n g u a g e o f t h e Classical age i s
m u c h closer to t h e t h o u g h t it is c h a r g e d w i t h expressing t h a n is generally
s u p p o s e d ; b u t it is n o t parallel to it; it is c a u g h t in t h e g r i d of t h o u g h t ,
w o v e n into t h e v e r y fabric it is u n r o l l i n g . It is n o t an e x t e r i o r effect of
t h o u g h t , b u t t h o u g h t itself.
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SPEAKING

A n d , because of this, it m a k e s itself invisible, or a l m o s t so. In a n y case,
i t has b e c o m e s o t r a n s p a r e n t t o r e p r e s e n t a t i o n t h a t its v e r y existence
ceases t o b e a p r o b l e m . T h e Renaissance c a m e t o a h a l t before t h e b r u t e
fact that l a n g u a g e existed: i n t h e d e n s i t y o f t h e w o r l d , a g r a p h i s m m i n g l i n g
w i t h things or flowing beneath t h e m ; marks m a d e u p o n manuscripts or
t h e pages o f b o o k s . A n d all these insistent m a r k s s u m m o n e d u p a s e c o n d a r y l a n g u a g e - t h a t of c o m m e n t a r y , exegesis,

e r u d i t i o n - in o r d e r to

stir t h e l a n g u a g e t h a t lay d o r m a n t w i t h i n t h e m a n d t o m a k e i t speak a t
last; t h e existence of l a n g u a g e p r e c e d e d , as if by a m u t e s t u b b o r n n e s s ,
w h a t o n e c o u l d read i n i t a n d t h e w o r d s t h a t g a v e i t s o u n d . F r o m t h e
s e v e n t e e n t h c e n t u r y , it is this massive a n d i n t r i g u i n g existence of l a n g u a g e
that is eliminated. It no longer appears hidden in the enigma of the m a r k ;
i t has n o t y e t a p p e a r e d i n t h e t h e o r y o f signification. F r o m a n e x t r e m e
p o i n t o f v i e w , o n e m i g h t say t h a t l a n g u a g e i n t h e Classical era does n o t
exist. B u t t h a t it functions: its w h o l e existence is l o c a t e d in its r e p r e s e n t a t i v e r o l e , is l i m i t e d precisely to t h a t r o l e a n d finally exhausts it. L a n g u a g e
has n o o t h e r locus, n o o t h e r v a l u e , t h a n i n r e p r e s e n t a t i o n ; i n t h e h o l l o w
i t has b e e n a b l e t o f o r m .
In this w a y , Classical l a n g u a g e discovers a certain r e l a t i o n w i t h itself
w h i c h h a d h i t h e r t o b e e n n e i t h e r possible n o r c o n c e i v a b l e . I n r e l a t i o n t o
itself, t h e l a n g u a g e of t h e s i x t e e n t h c e n t u r y w a s in a p o s i t i o n of p e r p e t u a l
c o m m e n t a r y ; b u t this c o m m e n t a r y c a n t a k e place o n l y i f there i s l a n g u a g e - l a n g u a g e t h a t silently pre-exists w i t h i n t h e discourse b y w h i c h
o n e tries t o m a k e t h a t l a n g u a g e speak; t h e r e can b e n o c o m m e n t a r y
w i t h o u t t h e a b s o l u t e p r e c o n d i t i o n o f t h e t e x t ; a n d , inversely, i f t h e w o r l d
i s a n e t w o r k o f m a r k s a n d w o r d s , h o w else i s o n e t o speak o f t h e m b u t
i n t h e f o r m o f c o m m e n t a r y ? F r o m t h e Classical a g e , l a n g u a g e i s d e p l o y e d
w i t h i n r e p r e s e n t a t i o n a n d i n that d u p l i c a t i o n o f itself w h i c h h o l l o w s itself
o u t . H e n c e f o r t h , t h e p r i m a r y T e x t i s effaced, a n d w i t h it, t h e entire, i n exhaustible f o u n d a t i o n o f t h e w o r d s w h o s e m u t e b e i n g w a s inscribed i n
t h i n g s ; all t h a t r e m a i n s is representation, u n f o l d i n g in t h e v e r b a l signs
t h a t manifest it, a n d h e n c e b e c o m i n g discourse. F o r t h e e n i g m a of a speech
w h i c h a s e c o n d l a n g u a g e m u s t i n t e r p r e t is substituted t h e essential d i s cursivity o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n : t h e o p e n possibility, a s y e t n e u t r a l a n d u n differentiating, b u t w h i c h i t will b e t h e task o f discourse t o fulfil a n d t o
d e t e r m i n e . W h e n this discourse b e c o m e s i n t u r n a n object o f l a n g u a g e ,
it is n o t q u e s t i o n e d as if it w e r e saying s o m e t h i n g w i t h o u t actually saying
it, as if it w e r e a l a n g u a g e enclosed u p o n itself; o n e no l o n g e r a t t e m p t s
t o u n c o v e r t h e great e n i g m a t i c s t a t e m e n t t h a t lies h i d d e n b e n e a t h its
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signs; o n e asks h o w i t functions: w h a t representations i t designates, w h a t
e l e m e n t s i t cuts o u t a n d r e m o v e s , h o w i t analyses a n d c o m p o s e s , w h a t
p l a y of substitutions enables it to a c c o m p l i s h its r o l e of r e p r e s e n t a t i o n .
Commentary has y i e l d e d to criticism.
T h i s n e w r e l a t i o n that l a n g u a g e establishes w i t h itself is n e i t h e r a s i m p l e
n o r a unilateral o n e . C r i t i c i s m w o u l d a p p e a r t o c o n t r a s t w i t h c o m m e n t a r y
in t h e s a m e w a y as t h e analysis of a visible f o r m w i t h t h e d i s c o v e r y of a
h i d d e n c o n t e n t . B u t since this f o r m is that of r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , criticism
can analyse l a n g u a g e o n l y i n t e r m s o f t r u t h , precision, a p p r o p r i a t e n e s s ,
o r expressive v a l u e . H e n c e t h e c o m b i n e d r o l e o f criticism a n d a m b i g u i t y t h e f o r m e r n e v e r succeeding in freeing itself f r o m t h e latter. C r i t i c i s m
questions l a n g u a g e as if l a n g u a g e was a p u r e function, a totality of m e c h anisms, a great a u t o n o m o u s play of signs; b u t , at t h e s a m e t i m e , it c a n n o t
fail to q u e s t i o n it as to its t r u t h or falsehood, its t r a n s p a r e n c y or o p a c i t y ,
a n d therefore as to exactly h o w w h a t it says is present in t h e w o r d s by
w h i c h it represents it. It is on t h e basis of this d o u b l e , f u n d a m e n t a l necessity
that t h e o p p o s i t i o n b e t w e e n c o n t e n t a n d f o r m g r a d u a l l y e m e r g e d a n d
finally assumed t h e i m p o r t a n c e w e k n o w i t t o h a v e . B u t n o d o u b t this
o p p o s i t i o n w a s consolidated o n l y at a relatively late d a t e , w h e n , in t h e
n i n e t e e n t h c e n t u r y , t h e critical relation h a d itself been w e a k e n e d . I n t h e
Classical p e r i o d , criticism was applied, w i t h o u t dissociation and, as it
w e r e , en bloc, to t h e representative r o l e of l a n g u a g e . It t h e n assumed four
forms, w h i c h , t h o u g h distinct, w e r e i n t e r d e p e n d e n t a n d articulated u p o n
each o t h e r . It w a s d e p l o y e d first, in t h e reflexive o r d e r , as/a c r i t i q u e of
words: t h e impossibility of c o n s t r u c t i n g a science ^r ^ar'philosophy w i t h
t h e received v o c a b u l a r y ; a d e n u n c i a t i o n in g e n e r a l t c i m s w h i c h confused
w h a t w a s distinct i n r e p r e s e n t a t i o n w i t h t h e abstract t e r m s w h i c h separated w h a t s h o u l d r e m a i n u n i t e d ; t h e n e e d t o b u i l d u p t h e v o c a b u l a r y o f a
perfectly analytic l a n g u a g e . It w a s also expressed in t h e g r a m m a t i c a l o r d e r
as an analysis of t h e representative values of s y n t a x , w o r d o r d e r , a n d sentence c o n s t r u c t i o n . Is a l a n g u a g e in a h i g h e r state of perfection w h e n it
has declensions or a s y s t e m of prepositions? Is it preferable for t h e w o r d
o r d e r t o b e free o r strictly d e t e r m i n e d ? W h a t system o f tenses best e x presses relations of sequence? C r i t i c i s m also e x a m i n e s t h e f o r m s oirhetoric:
t h e analysis of figures, t h a t is, t h e types of discourse, w i t h t h e expressive
v a l u e of each, t h e analysis of tropes, that is, t h e different relations that
w o r d s m a y h a v e w i t h t h e s a m e representative c o n t e n t (designation b y a
p a r t o r t h e w h o l e , t h e essential o r t h e accessory, t h e e v e n t o r t h e c i r c u m stance, t h e t h i n g itself or its a n a l o g u e s ) . Lastly, faced w i t h existing a n d
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a l r e a d y w r i t t e n l a n g u a g e , criticism sets o u t to define its relation w i t h w h a t
i t represents; h e n c e t h e i m p o r t a n c e assumed,

since t h e s e v e n t e e n t h

c e n t u r y , b y critical m e t h o d s i n t h e exegesis o f religious texts; i t w a s n o
l o n g e r a q u e s t i o n , in fact, of r e p e a t i n g w h a t h a d already b e e n said in t h e m ,
b u t o f defining t h r o u g h w h a t figures a n d i m a g e s , b y f o l l o w i n g w h a t o r d e r ,
t o w h a t expressive ends, a n d i n o r d e r t o declare w h a t t r u t h , G o d o r
t h e P r o p h e t s h a d g i v e n a discourse t h e p a r t i c u l a r f o r m in w h i c h it w a s
c o m m u n i c a t e d t o us.
S u c h is t h e diversity of t h e critical d i m e n s i o n t h a t is necessarily e s t a b lished w h e n l a n g u a g e questions itself on t h e basis of its function. Since
t h e Classical a g e , c o m m e n t a r y a n d criticism h a v e b e e n i n p r o f o u n d o p p o sition. B y s p e a k i n g o f l a n g u a g e i n t e r m s o f representations a n d t r u t h ,
criticism j u d g e s i t a n d profanes it. N o w a s l a n g u a g e i n t h e i r r u p t i o n o f
its b e i n g , a n d q u e s t i o n i n g it as to its secret, c o m m e n t a r y halts before t h e
precipice o f t h e original text, a n d assumes t h e impossible a n d endless
task of r e p e a t i n g its o w n b i r t h w i t h i n itself: it sacralizes l a n g u a g e . T h e s e
t w o w a y s b y w h i c h l a n g u a g e establishes a r e l a t i o n w i t h itself w e r e n o w t o
e n t e r i n t o a rivalry f r o m w h i c h w e h a v e n o t y e t e m e r g e d - a n d w h i c h
m a y e v e n be s h a r p e n i n g as t i m e passes. T h i s is because since M a l l a r m e ,
literature, t h e p r i v i l e g e d object o f criticism, has d r a w n closer a n d closer
t o t h e v e r y b e i n g o f l a n g u a g e , a n d requires t h e r e f o r e a s e c o n d a r y l a n g u a g e
w h i c h i s n o l o n g e r i n t h e f o r m o f criticism, b u t o f c o m m e n t a r y . A n d i n
fact e v e r y critical l a n g u a g e since t h e n i n e t e e n t h c e n t u r y has b e c o m e i m b u e d w i t h exegesis, j u s t a s t h e exegeses o f t h e Classical p e r i o d w e r e i m b u e d w i t h critical m e t h o d s . H o w e v e r , u n t i l t h e c o n n e c t i o n b e t w e e n
l a n g u a g e a n d r e p r e s e n t a t i o n is b r o k e n , or at least t r a n s c e n d e d , in o u r
culture, all s e c o n d a r y languages will b e i m p r i s o n e d w i t h i n t h e a l t e r n a t i v e
o f criticism o r c o m m e n t a r y . A n d i n their indecision t h e y w i l l proliferate
ad

infinitum.

II

GENERAL GRAMMAR

O n c e t h e existence of l a n g u a g e has b e e n eliminated, all that r e m a i n s is
its function in r e p r e s e n t a t i o n : its n a t u r e a n d its virtues as discourse. F o r
discourse is m e r e l y r e p r e s e n t a t i o n itself r e p r e s e n t e d by v e r b a l signs. B u t
w h a t , t h e n , is t h e p a r t i c u l a r i t y of these signs, a n d this s t r a n g e p o w e r t h a t
enables t h e m , b e t t e r t h a n a n y others, t o signalize r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , t o analyse
it, a n d to reccombine it? W h a t is t h e peculiar p r o p e r t y possessed by l a n g u a g e
and n o t b y a n y o t h e r system o f signs?
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At first sight, it is possible to define w o r d s a c c o r d i n g to their a r b i t r a r i ness o r their collective character. A t its p r i m a r y r o o t , l a n g u a g e i s m a d e u p ,
as H o b b e s says, of a system of n o t a t i o n s t h a t individuals first chose for
t h e m s e l v e s ; b y m e a n s o f these m a r k s t h e y are able t o recall representations,
link t h e m t o g e t h e r , dissociate t h e m , a n d o p e r a t e u p o n t h e m . I t i s these
n o t a t i o n s t h a t b y c o v e n a n t o r v i o l e n c e w e r e i m p o s e d u p o n t h e collecti v i t y ; b u t t h e m e a n i n g o f t h e w o r d s does n o t p e r t a i n , i n a n y case, t o a n y t h i n g b u t each i n d i v i d u a l ' s r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , a n d e v e n t h o u g h i t m a y b e
a c c e p t e d b y e v e r y o n e i t has n o o t h e r existence t h a n i n t h e t h o u g h t o f
individuals t a k e n separately: ' T h a t t h e n w h i c h w o r d s a r e t h e m a r k s of,'
says L o c k e , ' a r e t h e ideas o f t h e s p e a k e r : n o r c a n a n y o n e a p p l y t h e m a s
m a r k s , i m m e d i a t e l y , t o a n y t h i n g else h u t t h e ideas t h a t h e h i m s e l f
h a t h ' [ i ] . W h a t distinguishes l a n g u a g e f r o m all o t h e r signs a n d enables i t
to p l a y a decisive r o l e in r e p r e s e n t a t i o n is, t h e r e f o r e , n o t so m u c h t h a t it is
i n d i v i d u a l o r collective, n a t u r a l o r a r b i t r a r y , b u t t h a t i t analyses r e p r e s e n t a t i o n a c c o r d i n g to a necessarily successive o r d e r : t h e s o u n d s , in fact, c a n
be articulated only o n e by o n e ; language cannot represent t h o u g h t ,
instantly, in its t o t a l i t y ; it is b o u n d to a r r a n g e it, p a r t by p a r t , in a linear
o r d e r . N o w , s u c h a n o r d e r i s foreign t o r e p r e s e n t a t i o n . I t i s t r u e t h a t
t h o u g h t s succeed o n e a n o t h e r i n t i m e , b u t each o n e forms a u n i t y , w h e t h e r
o n e agrees w i t h Condillac[2] t h a t all t h e e l e m e n t s of a r e p r e s e n t a t i o n are
g i v e n i n a n instant a n d t h a t o n l y reflection i s a b l e t o u n r o l l t h e m o n e b y
o n e , o r w h e t h e r o n e agrees w i t h D e s t u t t d e T r a c y [3] t h a t t h e y succeed
o n e a n o t h e r w i t h a r a p i d i t y so g r e a t t h a t it is n o t practically possible to
o b s e r v e or to retain t h e i r o r d e r . It is these r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s / p r e s s e d in on
o n e a n o t h e r i n this w a y , t h a t m u s t b e s o r t e d o u t i n t o f t n e a r p r o p o s i t i o n s :
t o m y gaze, ' t h e brightness i s w i t h i n t h e r o s e ' ; i n m y discourse, I c a n n o t
a v o i d i t c o m i n g either b e f o r e o r after i t [4]. I f t h e m i n d h a d t h e p o w e r t o
express ideas 'as i t perceives t h e m ' , t h e r e c a n b e n o d o u b t t h a t 'it w o u l d
express t h e m all a t t h e s a m e t i m e ' [ s ] . B u t t h a t i s precisely w h a t i s n o t
possible, for, t h o u g h ' t h o u g h t is a s i m p l e o p e r a t i o n ' , 'its expression is a
successive o p e r a t i o n ' [ 6 ] . I t i s h e r e t h a t t h e p e c u l i a r p r o p e r t y o f l a n g u a g e
resides, t h a t w h i c h distinguishes i t b o t h f r o m r e p r e s e n t a t i o n (of w h i c h ,
in its t u r n , it is nevertheless t h e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n ) a n d f r o m signs (to w h i c h
i t b e l o n g s w i t h o u t a n y o t h e r p a r t i c u l a r p r i v i l e g e ) . I t does n o t stand i n
o p p o s i t i o n t o t h o u g h t a s t h e e x t e r i o r does t o t h e interior, o r expression
to reflection; it does n o t s t a n d in o p p o s i t i o n to all t h e o t h e r signs - g e s tures, m i m e , translation, p a i n t i n g s , e m b l e m s [7] - as t h e a r b i t r a r y to t h e
n a t u r a l or t h e collective to t h e singular. B u t it does stand in relation to all
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that as the successive to t h e c o n t e m p o r a n e o u s . It is to t h o u g h t a n d to signs
w h a t a l g e b r a i s t o g e o m e t r y : i t replaces t h e s i m u l t a n e o u s c o m p a r i s o n o f
p a r t s (or m a g n i t u d e s ) w i t h a n o r d e r w h o s e degrees m u s t b e traversed o n e
after t h e o t h e r . It is in this strict sense t h a t l a n g u a g e is an analysis of
t h o u g h t : n o t a s i m p l e p a t t e r n i n g , b u t a p r o f o u n d establishment o f o r d e r
in space.
I t i s h e r e t h a t w e find t h a t n e w epistemological d o m a i n t h a t t h e Classical
age called ' g e n e r a l g r a m m a r ' . I t w o u l d b e n o n s e n s e t o see this p u r e l y
a n d simply as the application of a logic to the theory of language. B u t
it w o u l d be e q u a l l y nonsensical to a t t e m p t to i n t e r p r e t it as a sort of p r e figuration of a linguistics. General grammar is the study of verbal order in its
relation to the simultaneity that it is its task to represent. Its p r o p e r object is
t h e r e f o r e n e i t h e r t h o u g h t n o r a n y i n d i v i d u a l l a n g u a g e , b u t discourse,
u n d e r s t o o d as a s e q u e n c e of v e r b a l signs. T h i s sequence is artificial in
relation to t h e s i m u l t a n e i t y of representations, a n d in so far as this is so
l a n g u a g e m u s t be in o p p o s i t i o n to t h o u g h t , as w h a t is reflected u p o n is to
w h a t is i m m e d i a t e . A n d y e t t h e sequence is n o t t h e s a m e in all l a n g u a g e s :
s o m e o f t h e m place t h e a c t i o n i n t h e m i d d l e o f t h e sentence; o t h e r s a t t h e
e n d ; s o m e n a m e t h e principal object o f t h e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n first, o t h e r s
t h e accessory c i r c u m s t a n c e s ; as t h e Encyclopedie p o i n t s o u t , w h a t r e n d e r s
foreign l a n g u a g e s o p a q u e to o n e a n o t h e r , a n d so difficult to translate, is
n o t s o m u c h t h e differences b e t w e e n t h e w o r d s a s t h e i n c o m p a t i b i l i t y
o f their s e q u e n c e s [ 8 ] . I n relation t o t h e e v i d e n t , necessary, universal
o r d e r i n t r o d u c e d i n t o r e p r e s e n t a t i o n b y science, a n d b y a l g e b r a i n p a r ticular, l a n g u a g e is s p o n t a n e o u s a n d u n - t h o u g h t - o u t ; it is, as it w e r e , n a t u r a l .
I t i s equally, a c c o r d i n g t o t h e p o i n t o f v i e w f r o m w h i c h o n e l o o k s a t it,
an already analysed r e p r e s e n t a t i o n a n d a reflection in t h e p r i m i t i v e state.
In fact, it is t h e c o n c r e t e link b e t w e e n r e p r e s e n t a t i o n a n d reflection. It is
not so m u c h the instrument of men's intercommunication as the path by
w h i c h , necessarily, r e p r e s e n t a t i o n c o m m u n i c a t e s w i t h reflection. T h i s is
w h y general grammar a s s u m e d so m u c h i m p o r t a n c e for p h i l o s o p h y d u r i n g
the eighteenth century: it was, at one and the same time, the spontaneous
f o r m of science - a k i n d of logic n o t c o n t r o l l e d by t h e m i n d [9] - a n d t h e
f i r s t reflective d e c o m p o s i t i o n o f t h o u g h t :

one of the most primitive

breaks w i t h t h e i m m e d i a t e . It c o n s t i t u t e d , as it w e r e , a p h i l o s o p h y i n herent in the m i n d - metaphysics, A d a m Smith pointed out, was an
essential i n g r e d i e n t in t h e f o r m a t i o n of e v e n t h e least of adjectives [10] a n d o n e t h a t a n y p h i l o s o p h y h a d t o w o r k t h r o u g h i f i t w a s t o rediscover,
a m o n g s o m a n y diverse choices, t h e necessary a n d e v i d e n t o r d e r o f
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representation. L a n g u a g e is t h e original f o r m of all reflection, t h e p r i m a r y
t h e m e of a n y c r i t i q u e . It is this a m b i g u o u s t h i n g , as b r o a d as k n o w l e d g e ,
y e t a l w a y s i n t e r i o r to r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , t h a t general grammar takes as its object.
B u t a certain n u m b e r o f consequences m u s t a t o n c e b e d r a w n h e r e .
1. T h e first is t h a t it is easy to see h o w t h e sciences of l a n g u a g e are
d i v i d e d u p i n t h e Classical p e r i o d : o n t h e o n e h a n d , r h e t o r i c , w h i c h deals
w i t h figures a n d tropes, t h a t is, w i t h t h e m a n n e r in w h i c h l a n g u a g e is
1

spatialized i n v e r b a l signs; o n t h e o t h e r , g r a m m a r , w h i c h deals w i t h
articulation a n d o r d e r , t h a t is, w i t h t h e m a n n e r i n w h i c h t h e analysis o f
r e p r e s e n t a t i o n is a r r a n g e d in a c c o r d a n c e w i t h a sequential series. R h e t o r i c
defines t h e spatiality of r e p r e s e n t a t i o n as it c o m e s i n t o b e i n g w i t h l a n g u a g e ;
g r a m m a r defines i n t h e case o f each i n d i v i d u a l l a n g u a g e t h e o r d e r t h a t
distributes t h a t spatiality in t i m e . T h i s is w h y , as we shall see, g r a m m a r
presupposes languages, e v e n t h e m o s t p r i m i t i v e a n d s p o n t a n e o u s ones, t o
be rhetorical in n a t u r e .
2 . O n t h e o t h e r h a n d , g r a m m a r , a s reflection u p o n l a n g u a g e i n g e n e r a l ,
expresses t h e relation m a i n t a i n e d b y t h e latter w i t h universality. T h i s r e lation can t a k e t w o f o r m s , a c c o r d i n g t o w h e t h e r o n e takes i n t o c o n s i d e r a t i o n t h e possibility of a universal language or t h a t of a universal discourse.
I n t h e Classical p e r i o d , w h a t w a s d e n o t e d b y t h e t e r m universal l a n g u a g e
w a s n o t t h e p r i m i t i v e , p u r e , a n d u n i m p a i r e d speech t h a t w o u l d b e able,
if it w e r e rediscovered b e y o n d the p u n i s h m e n t of oblivion, to restore
t h e u n d e r s t a n d i n g t h a t r e i g n e d before B a b e l . It refers to a t o n g u e t h a t
w o u l d h a v e t h e ability t o p r o v i d e e v e r y representation, a n d e ^ e r y e l e m e n t
of e v e r y r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , w i t h t h e sign by w h i c h it c o u l d be* m a r k e d in a
u n i v o c a l m a n n e r ; i t w o u l d also b e capable o f i n d i c a t i n g iri w h a t m a n n e r
t h e e l e m e n t s i n a r e p r e s e n t a t i o n are c o m p o s e d a n d h o w t h e y are l i n k e d
t o o n e a n o t h e r ; a n d since i t w o u l d possess t h e necessary i n s t r u m e n t s w i t h
w h i c h t o i n d i c a t e all t h e possible relationships b e t w e e n t h e v a r i o u s s e g m e n t s o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , this l a n g u a g e w o u l d also, b y t h a t v e r y fact, b e
able t o a c c o m m o d a t e itself t o all possible o r d e r s . A t o n c e characteristic
a n d c o m b i n a t i v e , t h e universal l a n g u a g e does n o t re-establish t h e o r d e r
of days g o n e b y : it invents signs, a s y n t a x , a n d a g r a m m a r , in w h i c h all
c o n c e i v a b l e o r d e r m u s t find its place. As for universal discourse, t h a t t o o
is by no m e a n s t h e u n i q u e t e x t t h a t preserves in the c i p h e r of its secret
t h e k e y to u n l o c k all k n o w l e d g e ; it is r a t h e r t h e possibility of defining
t h e n a t u r a l a n d necessary p r o g r e s s o f t h e m i n d f r o m t h e simplest r e p r e sentations t o t h e m o s t refined analyses o r t h e m o s t c o m p l e x c o m b i n a t i o n s : this discourse is k n o w l e d g e a r r a n g e d in a c c o r d a n c e w i t h t h e u n i q u e
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o r d e r laid d o w n for i t b y its o r i g i n . I t traverses t h e w h o l e f i e l d o f k n o w l e d g e , t h o u g h as it w e r e in a s u b t e r r a n e a n m a n n e r , in o r d e r to reveal, on
t h e basis o f representation, t h e possibility o f t h a t k n o w l e d g e , t o reveal
its origin, a n d its natural, linear, a n d universal link. T h i s c o m m o n d e n o m i n a t o r , this f o u n d a t i o n u n d e r l y i n g all k n o w l e d g e , this o r i g i n expressed
in a c o n t i n u o u s discourse is I d e o l o g y , a l a n g u a g e that duplicates t h e s p o n taneous t h r e a d o f k n o w l e d g e a l o n g t h e w h o l e o f its l e n g t h :
M a n , b y his n a t u r e , always tends t o w a r d s t h e nearest a n d m o s t pressing
result. H e thinks f i r s t o f his needs, t h e n o f his pleasures. H e occupies
h i m s e l f w i t h agriculture, w i t h m e d i c i n e , w i t h w a r , w i t h practical
politics, t h e n w i t h p o e t r y a n d t h e arts, b e f o r e t u r n i n g his t h o u g h t s t o
p h i l o s o p h y ; a n d w h e n h e turns b a c k u p o n himself a n d begins t o reflect,
he prescribes rules for his j u d g e m e n t , w h i c h is logic, for his discourse,
w h i c h is g r a m m a r , for his desires, w h i c h is ethics. He t h e n believes
h i m s e l f t o h a v e reached t h e s u m m i t o f t h e o r y . . . ;
b u t h e perceives t h a t all these o p e r a t i o n s h a v e ' a c o m m o n s o u r c e ' a n d
t h a t 'this sole c e n t r e of all truths is t h e k n o w l e d g e of his intellectual
faculties'[i i ].
T h e universal characteristic a n d i d e o l o g y stand i n t h e same o p p o s i t i o n
t o o n e a n o t h e r a s d o t h e universality o f l a n g u a g e i n general ( w h i c h
arranges all possible o r d e r s in t h e simultaneity of a single f u n d a m e n t a l
table) a n d t h e universality o f a n exhaustive discourse ( w h i c h reconstitutes
t h e single genesis, c o m m o n t o t h e w h o l e sequence o f all possible b r a n c h e s
o f k n o w l e d g e ) . B u t their a i m a n d their c o m m o n possibility reside i n a
p o w e r t h a t t h e Classical age attributes t o l a n g u a g e : t h a t o f p r o v i d i n g
a d e q u a t e signs for all representations, w h a t e v e r t h e y m a y b e , a n d o f
establishing possible links b e t w e e n t h e m . In so far as l a n g u a g e c a n r e p r e sent all representations it is w i t h g o o d reason t h e e l e m e n t of t h e universal.
T h e r e m u s t exist w i t h i n it at least t h e possibility of a l a n g u a g e t h a t w i l l
g a t h e r i n t o itself, b e t w e e n its w o r d s , t h e totality o f t h e w o r l d , a n d ,
inversely, t h e w o r l d , as t h e totality of w h a t is representable, m u s t be able
t o b e c o m e , i n its totality, a n E n c y c l o p a e d i a . A n d Charles B o n n e t ' s great
d r e a m m e r g e s a t this p o i n t w i t h w h a t l a n g u a g e i s i n its c o n n e c t i o n a n d
kinship w i t h r e p r e s e n t a t i o n :
I delight in envisaging t h e i n n u m e r a b l e m u l t i t u d e of W o r l d s as so
m a n y b o o k s w h i c h , w h e n collected t o g e t h e r , c o m p o s e t h e i m m e n s e
Library of the Universe or the true Universal Encyclopaedia. I c o n ceive that t h e marvellous g r a d a t i o n that exists b e t w e e n these different
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w o r l d s facilitates i n s u p e r i o r intelligences, t o w h o m i t has b e e n g i v e n
t o traverse o r r a t h e r t o r e a d t h e m , t h e acquisition o f t r u t h s o f e v e r y k i n d ,
w h i c h i t encompasses, a n d instils i n their u n d e r s t a n d i n g t h a t o r d e r a n d
t h a t c o n c a t e n a t i o n w h i c h a r e its p r i n c i p a l b e a u t y . B u t these celestial
Encyclopaedists d o n o t all possess t h e E n c y c l o p a e d i a o f t h e U n i v e r s e
t o t h e s a m e d e g r e e ; s o m e possess o n l y a f e w b r a n c h e s o f it, o t h e r s
possess a g r e a t e r n u m b e r , o t h e r s g r a s p e v e n m o r e still; b u t all. h a v e
e t e r n i t y i n w h i c h t o increase a n d perfect their l e a r n i n g a n d d e v e l o p
all their faculties [ 1 2 ] .
A g a i n s t this b a c k g r o u n d o f a n a b s o l u t e E n c y c l o p a e d i a , h u m a n b e i n g s
constitute intermediary forms of a composite and limited universality:
alphabetical encyclopaedias,

w h i c h a c c o m m o d a t e t h e greatest possible

q u a n t i t y o f l e a r n i n g i n t h e a r b i t r a r y o r d e r p r o v i d e d b y letters; pasig r a p h i e s , w h i c h m a k e i t possible t o t r a n s c r i b e all t h e l a n g u a g e s o f t h e
w o r l d b y m e a n s o f a single s y s t e m o f figures[i3]; p o l y v a l e n t lexicons,
w h i c h establish s y n o n y m i e s b e t w e e n a g r e a t e r o r lesser n u m b e r o f l a n g u a g e s ; a n d , finally, rational encyclopaedias, w h i c h c l a i m t o ' e x h i b i t a s
far a s i s possible t h e o r d e r a n d c o n c a t e n a t i o n o f h u m a n l e a r n i n g ' b y
e x a m i n i n g ' t h e i r g e n e a l o g y a n d their f i l i a t i o n , t h e causes t h a t m u s t h a v e
g i v e n rise t o t h e m a n d t h e characteristics t h a t distinguish t h e m ' [ 1 4 ] .
W h a t e v e r t h e partial c h a r a c t e r o f these projects, w h a t e v e r t h e e m p i r i c a l
circumstances o f such u n d e r t a k i n g s , t h e f o u n d a t i o n o f their possibility i n
t h e Classical episteme is t h a t , t h o u g h l a n g u a g e h a d b e e n e n t i r e l y r e d u c e d
to its function w i t h i n r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , 04a t h e o t h e r h a n d , h a d
n o r e l a t i o n w i t h t h e universal e x c e p t t h r o u g h t h e i n t e r m e d i a r y o f l a n g u a g e .
3 . K n o w l e d g e a n d l a n g u a g e are r i g o r o u s l y i n t e r w o v e n . T h e y share, i n
r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , t h e s a m e o r i g i n a n d t h e s a m e functional p r i n c i p l e ; t h e y
s u p p o r t o n e a n o t h e r , c o m p l e m e n t o n e a n o t h e r , a n d criticize o n e a n o t h e r
incessantly. I n t h e i r m o s t g e n e r a l f o r m , b o t h k n o w i n g a n d s p e a k i n g consist
f i r s t o f all i n t h e s i m u l t a n e o u s analysis o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , i n t h e d i s c r i m i n a t i o n o f its e l e m e n t s , i n t h e establishing o f t h e relations t h a t c o m b i n e t h o s e
e l e m e n t s , a n d t h e possible sequences a c c o r d i n g t o w h i c h t h e y can b e u n folded. I t i s i n o n e a n d t h e s a m e m o v e m e n t t h a t t h e m i n d speaks a n d
k n o w s : 'It i s b y t h e s a m e processes t h a t o n e learns t o speak a n d t h a t o n e
discovers either t h e principles o f t h e w o r l d ' s s y s t e m o r t h o s e o f t h e h u m a n
m i n d ' s o p e r a t i o n s , t h a t is, all that i s s u b l i m e i n o u r k n o w l e d g e ' [ 1 5 ] . B u t
l a n g u a g e is k n o w l e d g e o n l y in an unreflecting f o r m ; it i m p o s e s itself on
individuals f r o m t h e o u t s i d e , g u i d i n g t h e m , w i l l y nilly, t o w a r d s n o t i o n s
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t h a t m a y b e c o n c r e t e o r abstract, exact o r w i t h little f o u n d a t i o n . K n o w l e d g e , on t h e o t h e r h a n d , is like a l a n g u a g e w h o s e e v e r y w o r d has b e e n
e x a m i n e d a n d e v e r y relation verified. T o k n o w i s t o speak c o r r e c t l y ,
a n d as t h e steady progress of t h e m i n d dictates; to speak is to k n o w as far
as o n e is able, a n d in a c c o r d a n c e w i t h t h e m o d e l i m p o s e d by those w h o s e
b i r t h o n e shares. T h e sciences are w e l l - m a d e languages, j u s t a s languages
a r e sciences l y i n g fallow. All languages m u s t t h e r e f o r e b e r e n e w e d ; i n
o t h e r w o r d s , explained a n d j u d g e d a c c o r d i n g t o t h a t analytic o r d e r w h i c h
n o n e o f t h e m n o w follows exactly; a n d readjusted i f necessary s o t h a t t h e
c h a i n o f k n o w l e d g e m a y b e m a d e visible i n all its clarity, w i t h o u t a n y
s h a d o w s o r lacunae. I t i s t h u s p a r t o f t h e v e r y n a t u r e o f g r a m m a r t o b e
prescriptive, n o t b y a n y m e a n s because i t i s a n a t t e m p t t o i m p o s e t h e
n o r m s of a beautiful l a n g u a g e o b e d i e n t to t h e rules of taste, b u t because
i t refers t h e radical possibility o f speech t o t h e o r d e r i n g system o f r e p r e sentation. D e s t u t t d e T r a c y o n c e o b s e r v e d t h a t t h e best treatises o n logic,
in t h e e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y , w e r e w r i t t e n by g r a m m a r i a n s : this is because
t h e prescriptions o f g r a m m a r a t t h a t t i m e w e r e o f a n analytic a n d n o t a n
aesthetic o r d e r .
A n d this l i n k b e t w e e n l a n g u a g e a n d k n o w l e d g e o p e n s u p a w h o l e
historical field t h a t h a d n o t existed in p r e v i o u s p e r i o d s . S o m e t h i n g like a
history of k n o w l e d g e b e c o m e s possible; because, if l a n g u a g e is a s p o n taneous science, o b s c u r e to itself a n d unpractised, this also m e a n s , in
r e t u r n , t h a t i t will b e b r o u g h t n e a r e r t o perfection b y k n o w l e d g e , w h i c h
c a n n o t l o d g e itself in t h e w o r d s it needs w i t h o u t l e a v i n g its i m p r i n t
i n t h e m , a n d , a s i t w e r e , t h e e m p t y m o u l d o f its c o n t e n t . L a n g u a g e s ,
t h o u g h imperfect k n o w l e d g e themselves, are t h e faithful m e m o r y o f t h e
progress o f k n o w l e d g e t o w a r d s perfection. T h e y lead i n t o e r r o r , b u t t h e y
r e c o r d w h a t has b e e n learned. In their chaotic o r d e r , t h e y g i v e rise to false
ideas; b u t t r u e ideas leave i n t h e m t h e indelible m a r k o f a n o r d e r t h a t
c h a n c e o n its o w n c o u l d n e v e r h a v e created. W h a t civilizations and peoples
leave us as t h e m o n u m e n t s of their t h o u g h t is n o t so m u c h their texts as
their vocabularies, their syntaxes, t h e s o u n d s o f their languages r a t h e r t h a n
t h e w o r d s t h e y s p o k e ; n o t s o m u c h their discourse a s t h e e l e m e n t t h a t
m a d e it possible, t h e discursivity of their l a n g u a g e .
T h e l a n g u a g e of a p e o p l e gives us its v o c a b u l a r y , a n d its v o c a b u l a r y is
a sufficiently faithful a n d a u t h o r i t a t i v e r e c o r d of all t h e k n o w l e d g e of
t h a t p e o p l e ; s i m p l y by c o m p a r i n g t h e different states of a n a t i o n ' s
v o c a b u l a r y at different times o n e c o u l d f o r m an idea of its p r o g r e s s ,
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E v e r y science has its n a m e , e v e r y n o t i o n w i t h i n a science has its n a m e
t o o , e v e r y t h i n g k n o w n in n a t u r e is designated, as is e v e r y t h i n g i n v e n t e d in t h e arts, as w e l l as p h e n o m e n a , m a n u a l tasks, a n d t o o l s [ 1 6 ] .
H e n c e t h e possibility o f w r i t i n g a history o f f r e e d o m a n d slavery based
u p o n l a n g u a g e s [ i 7 ] , o r e v e n a h i s t o r y o f o p i n i o n s , prejudices, s u p e r stitions, a n d beliefs of all k i n d s , since w h a t is w r i t t e n on these subjects
is a l w a y s of less v a l u e as e v i d e n c e t h a n a r e t h e w o r d s t h e m s e l v e s [ i 8 ] .
H e n c e , t o o , t h e p r o j e c t o f c r e a t i n g a n e n c y c l o p a e d i a ' o f t h e sciences a n d
arts', w h i c h w o u l d n o t f o l l o w t h e c o n n e c t i n g links o f k n o w l e d g e itself
but w o u l d be a c c o m m o d a t e d in the form of the language, within the
space o p e n e d up in w o r d s themselves; for t h a t is w h e r e future ages w o u l d
h a v e t o l o o k t o find w h a t w e h a v e k n o w n o r t h o u g h t , since w o r d s , i n
their r o u g h l y h e w n state, are distributed a l o n g that m i d - w a y line t h a t
m a r k s t h e adjacency o f science t o p e r c e p t i o n a n d o f reflection t o i m a g e s .
It is in t h e m that w h a t we imagine becomes w h a t we k n o w , and, on the
o t h e r h a n d , t h a t w h a t w e k n o w b e c o m e s w h a t w e represent t o ourselves
e v e r y d a y . T h e old relation t o t h e text, w h i c h w a s the Renaissance definit i o n o f e r u d i t i o n , has n o w b e e n t r a n s f o r m e d : i t has b e c o m e , i n t h e Classical
a g e , t h e relation t o t h e p u r e e l e m e n t o f the language.
T h u s w e see g l o w i n g i n t o life t h e l u m i n o u s e l e m e n t i n w h i c h l a n g u a g e
a n d learning, c o r r e c t discourse a n d k n o w l e d g e , universal l a n g u a g e a n d
analysis o f t h o u g h t , t h e h i s t o r y o f m a n k i n d a n d t h e sciences o f l a n g u a g e
freely c o m m u n i c a t e . E v e n w h e n i t was i n t e n d e d for p u b l i c a t i o n , t h e
k n o w l e d g e o f t h e Renaissance w a s a r r a n g e d w i t h i n a n enclosed space.
T h e ' A c a d e m y ' w a s a closed circle w h i c h p r o j e c t e d the' essentially secret
f o r m o f k n o w l e d g e o n t o t h e surface o f social c o n f i g u r a t i o n s . F o r t h e
p r i m a r y task o f t h a t k n o w l e d g e w a s t o d r a w speech f r o m m u t e signs: i t
h a d t o r e c o g n i z e their f o r m s , i n t e r p r e t t h e m , a n d retranscribe t h e m bym e a n s o f o t h e r g r a p h i c signs w h i c h t h e n h a d t o b e d e c i p h e r e d i n their
t u r n ; s o t h a t e v e n t h e discovery o f t h e secret d i d n o t escape this a r r a y o f
obstacles, w h i c h h a d r e n d e r e d it at o n c e so difficult a n d y e t so p r e c i o u s .
I n t h e Classical a g e , k n o w i n g a n d speaking are i n t e r w o v e n i n t h e s a m e
fabric; in t h e case of b o t h k n o w l e d g e a n d l a n g u a g e , it is a question of
p r o v i d i n g r e p r e s e n t a t i o n w i t h t h e signs b y m e a n s o f w h i c h i t can u n f o l d
itself in o b e d i e n c e to a necessary a n d visible o r d e r . E v e n w h e n stated,
k n o w l e d g e in t h e sixteenth c e n t u r y w a s still a secret, albeit a shared o n e .
E v e n w h e n h i d d e n , k n o w l e d g e i n t h e s e v e n t e e n t h a n d e i g h t e e n t h centuries
is discourse w i t h a veil d r a w n o v e r it. T h i s is because it is of t h e v e r y
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n a t u r e o f science t o e n t e r i n t o t h e s y s t e m o f v e r b a l c o m m u n i c a t i o n s [19],
a n d o f t h e v e r y n a t u r e o f l a n g u a g e t o b e k n o w l e d g e f r o m its v e r y first
w o r d . S p e a k i n g , e n l i g h t e n i n g , a n d k n o w i n g a r e , i n t h e strict sense o f
t h e t e r m , of the same order. T h e interest s h o w n by t h e Classical a g e in
science, t h e p u b l i c i t y a c c o r d e d to its controversies, its e x t r e m e l y e x o t e r i c
character, its o p e n i n g u p t o t h e uninitiated, Fontenelle's p o p u l a r i z a t i o n
o f a s t r o n o m y , V o l t a i r e r e a d i n g N e w t o n , all this i s doubtless n o t h i n g
m o r e t h a n a sociological p h e n o m e n o n . I t did n o t p r o v o k e t h e slightest
alteration i n t h e h i s t o r y o f t h o u g h t , o r m o d i f y t h e d e v e l o p m e n t o f k n o w l e d g e o n e j o t . I t explains n o t h i n g , e x c e p t o f c o u r s e o n t h e d o x o g r a p h i c
level w h e r e it s h o u l d be situated; b u t its c o n d i t i o n of possibility is n e v e r theless t h e r e , i n that reciprocal k i n s h i p b e t w e e n k n o w l e d g e a n d l a n g u a g e .
T h e n i n e t e e n t h c e n t u r y w a s t o dissolve t h a t link, a n d t o leave b e h i n d it,
in c o n f r o n t a t i o n , a k n o w l e d g e closed in u p o n itself a n d a p u r e l a n g u a g e
t h a t h a d b e c o m e , in n a t u r e a n d function, e n i g m a t i c - s o m e t h i n g t h a t has
b e e n called, since that t i m e , Literature. B e t w e e n t h e t w o , t h e i n t e r m e d i a r y
languages - descendants of, or outcasts f r o m , b o t h k n o w l e d g e a n d l a n g u a g e - w e r e to proliferate to infinity.
4. Because it h a d b e c o m e analysis a n d o r d e r , l a n g u a g e e n t e r e d i n t o
relations w i t h t i m e u n p r e c e d e n t e d h i t h e r t o . T h e s i x t e e n t h c e n t u r y a c c e p t e d t h a t l a n g u a g e s succeeded o n e a n o t h e r i n h i s t o r y a n d w e r e c a p a b l e
o f e n g e n d e r i n g o n e a n o t h e r . T h e oldest w e r e t h e m o t h e r l a n g u a g e s . T h e
m o s t archaic o f all, since i t w a s t h e t o n g u e o f t h e E t e r n a l w h e n h e a d dressed h i m s e l f t o m e n , w a s H e b r e w , a n d H e b r e w w a s t h o u g h t t o h a v e
g i v e n rise t o Syriac a n d A r a b i c ; t h e n c a m e G r e e k , f r o m w h i c h b o t h C o p t i c
a n d E g y p t i a n w e r e d e r i v e d ; Latin w a s t h e c o m m o n ancestor o f Italian,
Spanish, a n d F r e n c h ; lastly, ' T e u t o n i c ' h a d g i v e n rise t o G e r m a n , E n g l i s h ,
a n d Flemish [20]. I n t h e s e v e n t e e n t h c e n t u r y , t h e relation o f l a n g u a g e t o
t i m e is i n v e r t e d : it is no l o n g e r t i m e that allots l a n g u a g e s their places,
o n e b y o n e , i n w o r l d h i s t o r y ; i t i s languages t h a t u n f o l d representations
a n d w o r d s in a sequence of w h i c h t h e y themselves define t h e l a w s . It is
b y m e a n s o f this internal o r d e r , a n d t h e positions i t allots t o its w o r d s ,
t h a t each l a n g u a g e defines its specificity, a n d n o l o n g e r b y m e a n s o f its
place in a historical series. F o r l a n g u a g e , t i m e is its i n t e r i o r m o d e of a n a lysis, n o t its place o f b i r t h . H e n c e t h e p a u c i t y o f interest s h o w n b y t h e
Classical age i n c h r o n o l o g i c a l filiation, t o t h e p o i n t o f d e n y i n g , c o n t r a r y
to all t h e ' e v i d e n c e ' - o u r e v i d e n c e , t h a t is - t h e k i n s h i p of Italian or
F r e n c h w i t h L a t i n [ 2 i ] . T h e k i n d s o f series t h a t existed i n t h e sixteenth
century,

a n d w e r e t o r e a p p e a r i n t h e n i n e t e e n t h , w e r e replaced b y
89

THE

ORDER

OF

THINGS

t y p o l o g i e s , t y p o l o g i e s o f o r d e r . T h e r e i s t h e g r o u p o f l a n g u a g e s that places
the subject b e i n g dealt w i t h first; n e x t t h e a c t i o n u n d e r t a k e n o r u n d e r g o n e by t h a t subject; a n d last t h e object u p o n w h i c h it is exercised: as
witness, F r e n c h , E n g l i s h , Spanish. O p p o s e d t o these i s t h e g r o u p o f
languages t h a t places ' s o m e t i m e s t h e action, s o m e t i m e s t h e object, s o m e times t h e m o d i f i c a t i o n o r c i r c u m s t a n c e first': for e x a m p l e

Latin,

or

' S l a v o n i a n ' , i n w h i c h t h e function o f w o r d s i s indicated, n o t b y their
positions, b u t b y their inflections. Finally, t h e r e i s t h e t h i r d g r o u p m a d e u p
o f m i x e d l a n g u a g e s (such a s G r e e k o r T e u t o n i c ) , ' w h i c h h a v e s o m e t h i n g
o f b o t h t h e o t h e r g r o u p s , possessing a n article a s well a s cases'[22]. B u t
it m u s t be u n d e r s t o o d t h a t it is n o t t h e presence or absence of inflections
that defines t h e possible o r necessary o r d e r o f t h e w o r d s i n each l a n g u a g e .
It is o r d e r as analysis a n d a sequential a l i g n m e n t of representations t h a t
constitutes t h e p r e l i m i n a r y f o r m a n d prescribes t h e use o f declensions o r
articles. T h o s e l a n g u a g e s t h a t f o l l o w t h e o r d e r ' o f i m a g i n a t i o n a n d interest'
d o n o t d e t e r m i n e a n y c o n s t a n t p o s i t i o n for w o r d s : t h e y are o b l i g e d t o
e m p h a s i z e t h e m b y m e a n s o f inflections

(these are t h e ' t r a n s p o s i t i v e '

l a n g u a g e s ) . If, o n t h e o t h e r h a n d , t h e y f o l l o w t h e u n i f o r m o r d e r o f r e f l e c t i o n , t h e y n e e d o n l y indicate t h e n u m b e r a n d g e n d e r o f substantives
b y m e a n s o f a n article; p o s i t i o n i n t h e analytic o r d e r i n g o f t h e sentence
has a functional v a l u e in itself: these are t h e ' a n a l o g i c a l ' l a n g u a g e s [ 2 3 ] .
L a n g u a g e s a r e related t o a n d distinguished f r o m o n e a n o t h e r a c c o r d i n g
t o a table o f possible t y p e s o f w o r d o r d e r . T h e table s h o w s t h e m all
s i m u l t a n e o u s l y , b u t suggests w h i c h w e r e t h e m o s t a n c i e n t l a n g u a g e s ;
i t m a y b e a d m i t t e d , i n fact, t h a t t h e m o s t s p o n t a n e o u s o r d e r (that o f
i m a g e s a n d passions) m u s t h a v e p r e c e d e d t h e m o w c o n s i d e r e d (that o f
l o g i c ) ; e x t e r n a l d a t i n g i s d e t e r m i n e d b y t h e internal f o r m s o f analysis
a n d o r d e r . T i m e has b e c o m e i n t e r i o r t o l a n g u a g e .
T h e history o f t h e v a r i o u s languages i s n o l o n g e r a n y t h i n g m o r e t h a n
a q u e s t i o n o f e r o s i o n o r accident, i n t r o d u c t i o n , m e e t i n g s , a n d t h e m i n g l i n g
o f v a r i o u s e l e m e n t s ; i t has n o l a w , n o p r o g r e s s , n o necessity p r o p e r t o it.
H o w , for instance, w a s t h e G r e e k l a n g u a g e f o r m e d ?
It was Phoenician merchants, adventurers from Phrygia, from M a c e d o n i a a n d Illyria, Galatians, Scythians, a n d b a n d s o f exiles o r fugitives
w h o l o a d e d t h e first s t r a t u m o f t h e G r e e k l a n g u a g e w i t h s o m a n y k i n d s
o f i n n u m e r a b l e particles a n d s o m a n y dialects [24].
F r e n c h i s m a d e u p o f L a t i n a n d G o t h i c n o u n s , Gallic c o n s t r u c t i o n s ,
Arabic articles a n d n u m e r a l s , w o r d s b o r r o w e d f r o m t h e E n g l i s h a n d t h e
90

SPEAKING

Italians - as j o u r n e y s , w a r s , or t r a d e a g r e e m e n t s d i c t a t e d ^ ] . T h i s is b e cause l a n g u a g e s e v o l v e i n a c c o r d a n c e w i t h t h e effects o f m i g r a t i o n s ,
victories a n d defeats, fashions, a n d c o m m e r c e ; b u t n o t u n d e r t h e i m p u l sion o f a n y historicity possessed b y t h e l a n g u a g e s themselves. T h e y d o n o t
o b e y any internal principle of d e v e l o p m e n t ; they simply unfold representations a n d their e l e m e n t s in a linear sequence. If t h e r e does exist a
t i m e for l a n g u a g e s t h a t is positive, t h e n it m u s t n o t be l o o k e d for o u t s i d e
t h e m , i n t h e s p h e r e o f h i s t o r y , b u t i n t h e o r d e r i n g o f their w o r d s , i n
t h e f o r m left b y discourse.
It is n o w possible to c i r c u m s c r i b e t h e e p i s t e m o l o g i c a l field of general
grammar,

w h i c h appeared

d u r i n g t h e s e c o n d half o f t h e s e v e n t e e n t h

c e n t u r y a n d faded a w a y again d u r i n g t h e last years o f t h e f o l l o w i n g
c e n t u r y . G e n e r a l g r a m m a r is n o t at all t h e s a m e as c o m p a r a t i v e g r a m m a r :
t h e c o m p a r i s o n s it m a k e s b e t w e e n different l a n g u a g e s a r e n o t its object;
t h e y are m e r e l y e m p l o y e d as a m e t h o d . T h i s is because its g e n e r a l i t y does
n o t consist i n t h e d i s c o v e r y o f peculiarly g r a m m a t i c a l laws, c o m m o n t o
all linguistic d o m a i n s , w h i c h c o u l d t h e n b e used t o display t h e s t r u c t u r e
of a n y possible l a n g u a g e in an ideal a n d c o n s t r i c t i n g u n i t y ; if it is i n d e e d
general, t h e n it is so to t h e e x t e n t t h a t it a t t e m p t s to m a k e visible, b e l o w
t h e level of g r a m m a t i c a l rules, b u t at t h e s a m e level as their f o u n d a t i o n ,
t h e r e p r e s e n t a t i v e function

of discourse - w h e t h e r

it

be t h e v e r t i c a l

function, w h i c h designates w h a t i s r e p r e s e n t e d , o r t h e h o r i z o n t a l function,
w h i c h links w h a t i s r e p r e s e n t e d t o t h e s a m e m o d e a s t h o u g h t . Since i t
m a k e s l a n g u a g e visible as a r e p r e s e n t a t i o n t h a t is t h e a r t i c u l a t i o n of
a n o t h e r r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , it is i n d i s p u t a b l y ' g e n e r a l ' ; w h a t it treats of is
t h e i n t e r i o r d u p l i c a t i o n existing w i t h i n r e p r e s e n t a t i o n . B u t since t h a t
articulation c a n b e a c c o m p l i s h e d i n m a n y different w a y s , t h e r e m u s t b e ,
p a r a d o x i c a l l y , v a r i o u s general g r a m m a r s : F r e n c h , English, Latin, G e r m a n ,
etc. [26]. G e n e r a l g r a m m a r does n o t a t t e m p t t o define t h e laws o f all
languages, b u t t o e x a m i n e e a c h p a r t i c u l a r l a n g u a g e , i n t u r n , a s a m o d e o f
t h e articulation o f t h o u g h t u p o n itself. I n e v e r y l a n g u a g e , t a k e n i n isolation, r e p r e s e n t a t i o n p r o v i d e s itself w i t h ' c h a r a c t e r s ' . G e n e r a l g r a m m a r i s
i n t e n d e d t o define t h e s y s t e m o f identities a n d differences t h a t these
s p o n t a n e o u s characters p r e s u p p o s e a n d e m p l o y . I t m u s t establish t h e
taxonomy o f e a c h l a n g u a g e . I n o t h e r w o r d s , t h e basis, i n each o f t h e m , for
t h e possibility o f discourse.
H e n c e t h e t w o directions t h a t i t necessarily takes. Since discourse links
its parts t o g e t h e r in t h e s a m e w a y as r e p r e s e n t a t i o n does its e l e m e n t s ,
eneral g r a m m a r m u s t s t u d y t h e r e p r e s e n t a t i v e function o f w o r d s i n
9i

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ORDER

OF

THINGS

r e l a t i o n to each o t h e r ; w h i c h presupposes in t h e first place an analysis
o f t h e links t h a t c o n n e c t w o r d s t o g e t h e r ( t h e o r y o f t h e p r o p o s i t i o n a n d i n
p a r t i c u l a r o f t h e v e r b ) , t h e n a n analysis o f t h e v a r i o u s types o f w o r d s
a n d o f t h e w a y i n w h i c h t h e y p a t t e r n t h e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n a n d are disting u i s h e d f r o m e a c h o t h e r ( t h e o r y o f a r t i c u l a t i o n ) . H o w e v e r , since discourse
is n o t s i m p l y a r e p r e s e n t a t i v e w h o l e , b u t a d u p l i c a t e d r e p r e s e n t a t i o n t h a t
d e n o t e s a n o t h e r r e p r e s e n t a t i o n - t h e o n e t h a t it is in fact r e p r e s e n t i n g general g r a m m a r m u s t also s t u d y t h e w a y i n w h i c h w o r d s designate
w h a t t h e y say, first o f all i n their p r i m i t i v e v a l u e ( t h e o r y o f origins a n d
o f t h e r o o t ) , t h e n i n their p e r m a n e n t capacity for d i s p l a c e m e n t , e x t e n s i o n ,
and reorganization (theory of rhetoric and of derivation).

III

THE THEORY

OF THE VERB

T h e proposition is to language w h a t representation is to thought, at once
its m o s t general a n d m o s t e l e m e n t a r y f o r m , since as s o o n as it is b r o k e n
d o w n w e n o l o n g e r e n c o u n t e r t h e discourse b u t o n l y its e l e m e n t s , i n t h e
f o r m o f s o m u c h scattered r a w m a t e r i a l . B e l o w t h e p r o p o s i t i o n w e d o
i n d e e d find w o r d s , b u t it is n o t in t h e m t h a t l a n g u a g e is created. It is t r u e
t h a t i n t h e b e g i n n i n g m a n e m i t t e d o n l y s i m p l e cries, b u t these d i d n o t
b e g i n t o b e l a n g u a g e until t h e y c o n t a i n e d - i f o n l y w i t h i n their m o n o syllable - a r e l a t i o n that w a s of t h e o r d e r of a p r o p o s i t i o n . T h e yell of t h e
p r i m i t i v e m a n in a s t r u g g l e b e c o m e s a t r u e w o r d o n l y w h e n it is no
l o n g e r t h e lateral expression of his pain, a n d w h e n it has ^validity as a
j u d g e m e n t o r a s a s t a t e m e n t o f t h e t y p e ' I a m choking^[2v7*]. W h a t c o n stitutes a w o r d as a w o r d a n d raises it a b o v e t h e level of cries a n d noises
i s t h e p r o p o s i t i o n concealed w i t h i n it. I f t h e w i l d m a n o f A v e y r o n d i d
n o t attain t o speech, i t w a s because w o r d s r e m a i n e d for h i m m e r e l y t h e
v o c a l m a r k s o f t h i n g s a n d o f t h e impressions t h a t those t h i n g s m a d e u p o n
his m i n d ; t h e y h a d a c q u i r e d n o p r o p o s i t i o n a l v a l u e . H e c o u l d , i t i s t r u e ,
pronounce the w o r d 'milk' w h e n a b o w l of milk was p u t in front of h i m ;
b u t t h a t w a s m e r e l y ' t h e confused expression o f that a l i m e n t a r y liquid,
o f t h e vessel c o n t a i n i n g it, a n d o f t h e desire p r o d u c e d b y it' [28 ] ; t h e w o r d
n e v e r b e c a m e a sign r e p r e s e n t i n g t h e t h i n g , for a t n o p o i n t d i d h e e v e r
w i s h t o say t h a t t h e m i l k w a s h o t , o r r e a d y , o r e x p e c t e d . I t i s i n fact t h e
p r o p o s i t i o n t h a t detaches t h e v o c a l sign f r o m its i m m e d i a t e expressive
values a n d establishes its s u p r e m e linguistic possibility. F o r Classical
t h o u g h t , l a n g u a g e begins n o t w i t h expression, b u t w i t h discourse. W h e n
o n e says ' n o ' , o n e is n o t translating o n e ' s refusal i n t o a m e r e c r y ; o n e is
92

SPEAKING

c o n t r a c t i n g i n t o t h e f o r m o f a single w o r d 'an entire p r o p o s i t i o n : . . . I
d o n o t feel t h a t , o r I d o n o t believe t h a t ' [ 2 9 ] .
' L e t u s g o directly t o t h e p r o p o s i t i o n , t h e essential object o f g r a m m a r ' [ 3 0 ] . In t h e p r o p o s i t i o n , all t h e functions of l a n g u a g e are led b a c k
to t h e t h r e e e l e m e n t s that a l o n e axe indispensable to t h e f o r m a t i o n of a
p r o p o s i t i o n : t h e subject, t h e p r e d i c a t e , a n d t h e link b e t w e e n t h e m . E v e n
t h e n , t h e subject a n d p r e d i c a t e are o f the s a m e n a t u r e , since t h e p r o position affirms that t h e o n e is identical to or akin to t h e o t h e r ; it is t h e r e fore possible for t h e m , u n d e r certain c o n d i t i o n s , t o e x c h a n g e functions.
T h e o n l y difference, t h o u g h it is a decisive o n e , is that manifested by t h e
irreducibility o f t h e v e r b : a s H o b b e s [ 3 1 ] says:
I n e v e r y p r o p o s i t i o n t h r e e things a r e t o b e considered, viz. t h e t w o
n a m e s , w h i c h are t h e subject a n d t h e predicate, a n d their copulation; b o t h
w h i c h n a m e s raise i n o u r m i n d t h e t h o u g h t o f o n e a n d t h e s a m e t h i n g ;
b u t t h e c o p u l a t i o n m a k e s u s t h i n k o f t h e cause for w h i c h those n a m e s
w e r e imposed on that thing.
T h e v e r b is t h e indispensable c o n d i t i o n for all discourse; a n d w h e r e v e r it
does n o t exist, at least by i m p l i c a t i o n , it is n o t possible to say t h a t t h e r e is
l a n g u a g e . All n o m i n a l p r o p o s i t i o n s conceal t h e invisible presence of a v e r b ,
a n d A d a m S m i t h [ 3 2 ] t h i n k s t h a t , i n its p r i m i t i v e f o r m , l a n g u a g e w a s c o m p o s e d o n l y of i m p e r s o n a l v e r b s (such as 'it is r a i n i n g ' or 'it is t h u n d e r i n g ' ) ,
a n d t h a t all t h e o t h e r parts o f discourse b e c a m e d e t a c h e d f r o m this o r i g i n a l
verbal c o r e a s s o m a n y d e r i v e d a n d s e c o n d a r y details. T h e t h r e s h o l d
o f l a n g u a g e lies a t t h e p o i n t w h e r e t h e v e r b first appears. T h i s v e r b m u s t
therefore be treated as a c o m p o s i t e e n t i t y , at t h e s a m e t i m e a w o r d a m o n g
o t h e r w o r d s , subjected t o t h e s a m e rules o f case a n d a g r e e m e n t a s o t h e r
w o r d s , a n d y e t set a p a r t f r o m all o t h e r w o r d s , in a r e g i o n w h i c h is n o t that
o f t h e s p o k e n , b u t r a t h e r t h a t f r o m w h i c h o n e speaks. I t i s o n t h e fringe o f
discourse, at t h e c o n n e c t i o n b e t w e e n w h a t is said a n d - w h a t is saying itself,
exactly a t that p o i n t w h e r e signs are i n t h e process o f b e c o m i n g l a n g u a g e .
I t i s this function t h a t w e m u s t n o w e x a m i n e - b y s t r i p p i n g t h e v e r b
o f all that has c o n s t a n t l y o v e r l a i d a n d o b s c u r e d it. W e m u s t n o t s t o p , a s
Aristotle did, at t h e fact t h a t t h e v e r b signifies tenses (there a r e m a n y
o t h e r w o r d s , a d v e r b s , adjectives, n o u n s , t h a t can c a r r y t e m p o r a l significations). N o r m u s t we s t o p , as Scaliger did, at t h e fact that it expiesses
actions or passions, w h e r e a s n o u n s d e n o t e t h i n g s - a n d p e r m a n e n t t h i n g s
(for t h e r e i s precisely t h e v e r y n o u n ' a c t i o n ' t o b e c o n s i d e r e d ) . N o r m u s t
w e a t t a c h i m p o r t a n c e , a s B u x t o r f did, t o t h e different persons o f t h e v e r b ,
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for these c a n also b e designated b y certain p r o n o u n s . W h a t w e m u s t d o
before all else is to reveal, in all clarity, t h e essential function of t h e v e r b :
t h e v e r b affirms, it indicates ' t h a t t h e discourse in w h i c h this w o r d is
e m p l o y e d i s t h e discourse o f a m a n w h o does n o t m e r e l y c o n c e i v e o f
n o u n s , b u t j u d g e s t h e m ' [ 3 3 ] . A p r o p o s i t i o n e x i s t s - a n d discourse t o o w h e n w e affirm t h e existence o f a n a t t r i b u t i v e link b e t w e e n t w o t h i n g s ,
w h e n w e say t h a t this i s t h a t [ 3 4 ] . T h e e n t i r e species o f t h e v e r b m a y b e
r e d u c e d to t h e single v e r b t h a t signifies to be. All t h e o t h e r s secretly m a k e
use o f this u n i q u e function, b u t t h e y h a v e h i d d e n i t b e n e a t h a layer o f
d e t e r m i n a t i o n s : attributes h a v e b e e n a d d e d t o it, a n d instead o f saying
' I a m s i n g i n g ' , w e say ' I s i n g ' [ 3 5 ] ; indications o f t i m e h a v e b e e n a d d e d ,
a n d instead o f saying ' b e f o r e n o w I a m s i n g i n g ' , w e say ' I s a n g ' ; lastly,
certain l a n g u a g e s h a v e i n t e g r a t e d t h e subject itself i n t o their verbs, a n d
t h u s we find t h e R o m a n s saying, n o t ego vivit, b u t vivo. All of this is
m e r e l y accretion a n d s e d i m e n t a t i o n a r o u n d a n d o v e r a v e r y slight y e t
essential v e r b a l function, ' t h e r e is o n l y t h e v e r b to be . . . t h a t has r e m a i n e d i n this state o f s i m p l i c i t y ' [ 3 6 ] . T h e e n t i r e essence o f l a n g u a g e i s
c o n c e n t r a t e d i n t h a t singular w o r d . W i t h o u t it, e v e r y t h i n g w o u l d h a v e
r e m a i n e d silent, a n d t h o u g h m e n , like certain animals, w o u l d h a v e b e e n
able t o m a k e use o f their voices w e l l e n o u g h , y e t n o t o n e o f those cries
h u r l e d t h r o u g h t h e j u n g l e w o u l d e v e r h a v e p r o v e d t o b e t h e f i r s t link i n
t h e g r e a t chain o f l a n g u a g e .
In t h e Classical p e r i o d , l a n g u a g e in its r a w state - t h a t mass of signs
impressed u p o n t h e w o r l d i n o r d e r t o exercise o u r p o w e r s o f i n t e r r o g a t i o n - v a n i s h e d f r o m sight, b u t l a n g u a g e itself entenecLihto n e w relations w i t h b e i n g , ones m o r e difficult to g r a s p , since h i s ' b y m e a n s of a
w o r d t h a t l a n g u a g e expresses b e i n g a n d is u n i t e d to it; it affirms b e i n g
f r o m w i t h i n itself; a n d y e t i t c o u l d n o t exist a s l a n g u a g e i f t h a t w o r d , o n
its o w n , w e r e n o t , i n a d v a n c e , sustaining all possibility o f discourse. W i t h o u t a w a y o f designating b e i n g , t h e r e w o u l d b e n o l a n g u a g e a t all; b u t
w i t h o u t l a n g u a g e , t h e r e w o u l d b e n o v e r b t o be, w h i c h i s o n l y o n e p a r t
o f l a n g u a g e . T h i s simple w o r d i s t h e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n o f b e i n g i n l a n g u a g e ;
b u t it is e q u a l l y t h e r e p r e s e n t a t i v e b e i n g of l a n g u a g e - t h a t w h i c h , by
e n a b l i n g l a n g u a g e t o affirm w h a t i t says, r e n d e r s i t susceptible o f t r u t h o r
e r r o r . In this respect it is different f r o m all t h e signs t h a t m a y or m a y n o t
b e consistent w i t h , faithful t o , o r w e l l a d a p t e d t o , w h a t t h e y designate,
b u t t h a t a r e n e v e r t r u e or false. L a n g u a g e is, w h o l l y a n d entirely, discourse; a n d it is so by v i r t u e of this singular p o w e r of a w o r d to leap
across t h e s y s t e m o f signs t o w a r d s t h e b e i n g o f t h a t w h i c h i s signified.
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B u t f r o m w h e r e does this p o w e r derive? A n d w h a t i s this m e a n i n g ,
w h i c h , b y o v e r f l o w i n g t h e w o r d s c o n t a i n i n g it, forms t h e basis o f t h e
p r o p o s i t i o n ? T h e g r a m m a r i a n s of Port-Royal said t h a t t h e m e a n i n g of t h e
v e r b to be w a s affirmation - w h i c h i n d i c a t e d w e l l e n o u g h in w h a t r e g i o n
of l a n g u a g e its absolute p r i v i l e g e lay, b u t n o t at all in w h a t it consisted.
W e m u s t n o t i m a g i n e t h a t t h e v e r b t o h e c o n t a i n s t h e idea o f affirmation,
for t h e w o r d affirmation itself, a n d also t h e w o r d yes, c o n t a i n it equally
w e l l [ 3 7 ] ; w h a t t h e v e r b to be p r o v i d e s is r a t h e r t h e affirmation of t h e idea.
B u t is t h e affirmation of an idea also t h e expression of its existence? T h i s
i s i n fact w h a t B a u z e e t h i n k s , a n d h e also takes i t t o b e o n e reason w h y
variations o f t i m e h a v e b e e n c o n c e n t r a t e d i n t o t h e f o r m o f t h e v e r b : for
t h e essence of t h i n g s does n o t c h a n g e , it is o n l y t h e i r existence that
appears a n d disappears, it is o n l y their existence t h a t has a past a n d a
future [3 8]. To w h i c h C o n d i l l a c can o b s e r v e in r e p l y t h a t if existence can
b e w i t h d r a w n f r o m t h i n g s , this m u s t m e a n t h a t i t i s n o m o r e t h a n a n
a t t r i b u t e , a n d t h a t t h e v e r b can affirm d e a t h as w e l l as existence. T h e o n l y
t h i n g t h a t t h e v e r b affirms i s t h e coexistence o f t w o r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s : for
e x a m p l e , those o f a tree a n d greenness, o r o f m a n a n d existence o r d e a t h ;
this i s w h y t h e tenses o f v e r b s d o n o t indicate t h e t i m e w h e n t h i n g s
existed in t h e absolute, b u t a relative system of a n t e r i o r i t y or s i m u l t a n e i t y
b e t w e e n different t h i n g s [3 9 ] . C o e x i s t e n c e is n o t , in fact, an a t t r i b u t e of
t h e t h i n g itself; it is no m o r e t h a n a f o r m of t h e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n : to say that
t h e greenness a n d t h e tree coexist is to say t h a t t h e y are linked t o g e t h e r
in all, or m o s t of, t h e impressions I receive.
So that t h e essential function of t h e v e r b to be is to relate all l a n g u a g e
t o t h e representation t h a t i t designates. T h e b e i n g t o w a r d s w h i c h i t spills
o v e r its signs i s n e i t h e r m o r e n o r less t h a n t h e b e i n g o f t h o u g h t . C o m paring language to a picture, one late-eighteenth-century grammarian
defines n o u n s as f o r m s , adjectives as c o l o u r s , a n d t h e v e r b as t h e canvas
itself, u p o n w h i c h t h e c o l o u r s are visible. A n invisible canvas, e n t i r e l y
overlaid b y t h e brightness a n d design o f t h e w o r d s , b u t o n e t h a t p r o v i d e s
l a n g u a g e w i t h t h e site o n w h i c h t o display its p a i n t i n g . W h a t t h e v e r b
designates, t h e n , is t h e representative character of l a n g u a g e , t h e fact t h a t
i t has its place i n t h o u g h t , a n d t h a t t h e o n l y w o r d c a p a b l e o f crossing t h e
frontier o f signs a n d p r o v i d i n g t h e m w i t h a f o u n d a t i o n i n t r u t h n e v e r
attains t o a n y t h i n g o t h e r t h a n r e p r e s e n t a t i o n itself. S o t h a t t h e function o f
t h e v e r b i s f o u n d t o b e identified w i t h t h e m o d e o f existence o f l a n g u a g e ,
w h i c h it traverses t h r o u g h o u t its l e n g t h : to speak is at t h e s a m e t i m e to
represent b y m e a n s o f signs a n d t o g i v e signs a synthetic f o r m g o v e r n e d
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by t h e v e r b . As D e s t u t t says, the v e r b is a t t r i b u t i o n , t h e sustaining p o w e r ,
a n d t h e f o r m o f all attributes:
T h e v e r b to be is f o u n d in all p r o p o s i t i o n s , because we c a n n o t say
t h a t a t h i n g is in such a n d such a w a y w i t h o u t at t h e same t i m e s a y i n g
t h a t it is . . . B u t this w o r d is w h i c h is in all p r o p o s i t i o n s is a l w a y s a
p a r t of t h e a t t r i b u t e [predicate] in those p r o p o s i t i o n s , it is a l w a y s t h e
b e g i n n i n g a n d t h e basis o f the a t t r i b u t e , i t i s t h e general a n d c o m m o n
a t t r i b u t e [40].
I t will b e seen h o w t h e function o f t h e v e r b , o n c e i t h a d r e a c h e d this
p o i n t o f generality, h a d n o o t h e r course b u t t o b e c o m e dissociated, a s s o o n
a s t h e u n i t a r y d o m a i n o f general g r a m m a r itself disappeared. W h e n t h e
dimension of the purely grammatical was opened up, the proposition was
t o b e c o m e n o m o r e t h a n a syntactical unit. T h e v e r b was m e r e l y t o figure
i n i t a l o n g w i t h all t h e o t h e r w o r d s , w i t h its o w n s y s t e m o f a g r e e m e n t ,
inflections, a n d cases. A n d a t t h e o t h e r e x t r e m e , t h e p o w e r o f m a n i festation o f l a n g u a g e w a s t o r e a p p e a r i n a n a u t o n o m o u s q u e s t i o n , m o r e
archaic t h a n g r a m m a r . A n d t h r o u g h o u t t h e n i n e t e e n t h c e n t u r y , l a n g u a g e
w a s to be e x a m i n e d in its e n i g m a t i c n a t u r e as verb: in t h a t r e g i o n w h e r e
i t i s nearest t o b e i n g , m o s t capable o f n a m i n g it, o f t r a n s m i t t i n g o r g i v i n g
effulgence t o its f u n d a m e n t a l m e a n i n g , o f r e n d e r i n g i t absolutely m a n i fest. F r o m H e g e l to M a l l a r m e , this a s t o n i s h m e n t in t h e face of t h e relations
of being and language was to counterbalance the reintroduction of the
v e r b i n t o t h e h o m o g e n e o u s o r d e r o f g r a m m a t i c a l functions.^

IV

ARTICULATION

T h e v e r b to be, a m i x t u r e of a t t r i b u t i o n a n d affirmation, t h e j u n c t i o n of
discourse w i t h t h e p r i m a r y a n d radical possibility o f speech, defines t h e
first constant of t h e p r o p o s i t i o n , a n d also t h e m o s t f u n d a m e n t a l . Beside it,
on either side, a r e e l e m e n t s : parts of discourse or ' o r a t i o n ' . T h e s e sites a r e
still n e u t r a l , a n d d e t e r m i n e d solely by t h e slender, a l m o s t i m p e r c e p t i b l e ,
y e t central figure designating b e i n g ; t h e y function, on either side of this
j u d i c a t o r ' as t h e t h i n g to be j u d g e d - t h e judicandum - a n d t h e t h i n g
j u d g e d - t h e judicatum [41]. H o w can this p u r e design of t h e p r o p o s i t i o n
b e t r a n s f o r m e d i n t o distinct sentences? H o w can discourse express t h e
w h o l e c o n t e n t of a representation?
Because it is m a d e up of w o r d s t h a t name, p a r t by p a r t , w h a t is g i v e n to
representation.
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T h e w o r d designates, t h a t is, in its v e r y n a t u r e it is a n o u n or n a m e . A
p r o p e r n o u n , since it is directed a l w a y s t o w a r d s a particular r e p r e s e n t a t i o n ,
a n d t o w a r d s n o o t h e r . So, i n c o n t r a s t t o t h e u n i f o r m i t y o f t h e v e r b ,
w h i c h i s n e v e r m o r e t h a n t h e universal expression o f a t t r i b u t i o n , n o u n s
proliferate i n endless differentiation. T h e r e o u g h t t o b e a s m a n y o f t h e m
a s t h e r e are things t o n a m e . B u t each n a m e w o u l d t h e n b e s o s t r o n g l y
a t t a c h e d t o t h e single r e p r e s e n t a t i o n i t designated t h a t o n e c o u l d n e v e r
f o r m u l a t e e v e n t h e slightest a t t r i b u t i o n ; a n d l a n g u a g e w o u l d fall b a c k to a
l o w e r level:
I f w e h a d n o o t h e r substantives b u t p r o p e r n o u n s , i t w o u l d b e necessary
t o create a n infinite m u l t i p l i c i t y o f t h e m . T h e s e w o r d s , w h o s e g r e a t
n u m b e r would overburden our memories, would produce no order in
t h e objects o f o u r learning, n o r , c o n s e q u e n t l y , i n o u r ideas, a n d all
o u r discourse w o u l d b e i n t h e greatest state o f confusion [42].
N o u n s c a n n o t function in a sentence and p e r m i t a t t r i b u t i o n unless o n e
o f t h e t w o (the a t t r i b u t e a t least) designates s o m e e l e m e n t c o m m o n t o
several representations. T h e generality of t h e n o u n is as necessary to t h e
parts of discourse as is t h e designation of b e i n g to t h e f o r m of t h e p r o position.
T h i s generality m a y b e a c q u i r e d i n t w o w a y s . E i t h e r b y a h o r i z o n t a l
articulation, g r o u p i n g t o g e t h e r individuals t h a t h a v e certain identities in
c o m m o n a n d separating those t h a t a r e different; such a n articulation t h e n
f o r m s a sequential generalization of g r o u p s g r o w i n g g r a d u a l l y larger a n d
larger (and less a n d less n u m e r o u s ) ; it m a y also s u b d i v i d e t h e m a l m o s t to
infinity b y m e a n s o f fresh distinctions, and thus r e t u r n t o t h e p r o p e r n o u n
f r o m w h i c h i t b e g a n [43]; t h e entire o r d e r o f t h e resulting c o o r d i n a t i o n s
and s u b o r d i n a t i o n s is c o v e r e d by a g r i d of l a n g u a g e , a n d each o n e of these
p o i n t s will b e f o u n d u p o n i t t o g e t h e r w i t h its n a m e : f r o m t h e i n d i v i d u a l
to t h e species, t h e n f r o m the species to t h e g e n u s a n d on to t h e class,
l a n g u a g e is articulated precisely u p o n t h e d i m e n s i o n of increasing g e n e r a l i ties; this t a x o n o m i c function is manifested in l a n g u a g e by t h e substantives:
we say an a n i m a l , a q u a d r u p e d , a d o g , a spaniel [44]. Or else by a vertical
articulation, l i n k e d to t h e first, for each is indispensable to t h e o t h e r ; this
s e c o n d articulation distinguishes t h e things t h a t subsist by themselves f r o m
those - modifications, features, accidents, or characteristics - that o n e can
n e v e r m e e t i n a n i n d e p e n d e n t state: d e e p d o w n , substances; o n t h e surface,
qualities; this division - this m e t a p h y s i c , as A d a m S m i t h called it - is
manifested i n discourse b y t h e presence o f adjectives, w h i c h designate
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e v e r y t h i n g i n r e p r e s e n t a t i o n that c a n n o t subsist b y itself. T h e p r i m a r y
a r t i c u l a t i o n of l a n g u a g e (if we leave aside t h e v e r b to be, w h i c h is as m u c h
a c o n d i t i o n of discourse as it is a p a r t of it) is t h u s a l i g n e d a l o n g t w o
o r t h o g o n a l axes: o n e p r o c e e d i n g f r o m t h e i n d i v i d u a l u n i t t o t h e g e n e r a l ;
t h e o t h e r p r o c e e d i n g f r o m t h e substance t o t h e q u a l i t y . A t t h e i r p o i n t o f
intersection stands t h e c o m m o n n o u n ; a t o n e e x t r e m i t y t h e p r o p e r n o u n ,
a t t h e o t h e r t h e adjective.
B u t these t w o types o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n c a n d i s t i n g u i s h w o r d s f r o m o n e
a n o t h e r o n l y t o precisely t h a t d e g r e e t o w h i c h r e p r e s e n t a t i o n i s analysed
a c c o r d i n g t o this s a m e m o d e l . A s t h e a u t h o r s o f Port-Royal p u t it: w o r d s
' t h a t signify t h i n g s are called substantival n o u n s , s u c h as earth, sun. T h o s e
that signify m a n n e r s , w h i l e a t t h e s a m e t i m e i n d i c a t i n g t h e subject w i t h
w h i c h t h e m a n n e r s a g r e e , a r e called adjectival n o u n s , s u c h as good, just,
round'[4$]. H o w e v e r , t h e r e does exist a certain a m o u n t of p l a y b e t w e e n
t h e articulation o f l a n g u a g e a n d t h a t o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n . W h e n w e speak
o f ' w h i t e n e s s ' , w e are c e r t a i n l y d e s i g n a t i n g a q u a l i t y , b u t w e are design a t i n g i t b y m e a n s o f a s u b s t a n t i v e ; w h e n w e speak o f ' h u m a n s ' w e are
e m p l o y i n g a n adjective t o designate individuals t h a t subsist b y themselves.
This d i s p l a c e m e n t i s n o t a n i n d i c a t i o n t h a t l a n g u a g e o b e y s o t h e r laws
t h a n those o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , b u t , o n t h e c o n t r a r y , t h a t i t has relations,
w i t h itself a n d i n its o w n density, t h a t are identical w i t h t h o s e o f r e p r e sentation. F o r is it n o t , in fact, a d u p l i c a t e d k i n d of r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , a n d
thus able t o c o m b i n e w i t h t h e e l e m e n t s o f its r e p r e s e n t a t i o n a n o t h e r
r e p r e s e n t a t i o n distinct f r o m t h e first, e v e n t h o u g h t h e o n l y f u n c t i o n a n d
m e a n i n g of t h e s e c o n d r e p r e s e n t a t i o n is t h e

representation

t h e first? If

discourse seizes u p o n t h e adjective d e s i g n a t i n g a modification a n d gives it
w i t h i n t h e s e n t e n c e t h e v a l u e o f t h e v e r y substance o f t h e p r o p o s i t i o n , t h e n
t h a t adjective b e c o m e s s u b s t a n t i v a l ; t h e n o u n , o n t h e o t h e r h a n d , w h i c h
b e h a v e s w i t h i n t h e sentence like a n accident, b e c o m e s adjectival, e v e n
t h o u g h it is d e s i g n a t i n g substances, as h i t h e r t o .
Because substance is t h a t w h i c h subsists of itself, t h e t e r m substantive
has b e e n g i v e n to all t h o s e w o r d s t h a t subsist by t h e m s e l v e s in d i s course, e v e n t h o u g h t h e y m a y signify accidents. A n d , o n t h e o t h e r
h a n d , t h e t e r m adjective has b e e n g i v e n t o t h o s e w o r d s t h a t signify
substances w h e n , i n their m a n n e r o f signifying, t h e y m u s t b e j o i n e d i n
discourse t o o t h e r n o u n s [46].
T h e relations b e t w e e n t h e e l e m e n t s o f t h e p r o p o s i t i o n a r e identical w i t h
t h o s e o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n ; b u t this i d e n t i t y i s n o t carefully a r r a n g e d p o i n t
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by p o i n t , so t h a t e v e r y substance is designated by a substantive a n d e v e r y
accident b y a n adjective. T h e i d e n t i t y h e r e i s t o t a l a n d a m a t t e r o f n a t u r e :
t h e p r o p o s i t i o n is a r e p r e s e n t a t i o n ; it is articulated a c c o r d i n g to t h e s a m e
m o d e s a s r e p r e s e n t a t i o n ; b u t i t possesses t h e p o w e r t o articulate t h e r e p r e sentation i t t r a n s f o r m s i n t o discourse i n m o r e t h a n o n e w a y . I t is, i n
itself, a r e p r e s e n t a t i o n p r o v i d i n g t h e articulation for a n o t h e r , w i t h a possibility o f d i s p l a c e m e n t t h a t constitutes a t t h e s a m e t i m e t h e f r e e d o m o f
discourse a n d t h e differences b e t w e e n l a n g u a g e s .
S u c h is t h e first s t r a t u m of articulation - t h e m o s t superficial or in a n y
case t h e m o s t a p p a r e n t . O n c e this has b e e n established, e v e r y t h i n g c a n
b e c o m e discourse; b u t in t h e f o r m of a still r a t h e r undifferentiated l a n g u a g e : w e still h a v e n o t h i n g b u t t h e m o n o t o n y o f t h e v e r b t o b e a n d its
a t t r i b u t i v e function t o link o u r n o u n s t o g e t h e r . N o w , t h e e l e m e n t s o f
representation a r e articulated a c c o r d i n g t o a w h o l e n e t w o r k o f c o m p l e x
relations (succession, s u b o r d i n a t i o n , c o n s e q u e n c e ) that m u s t b e b r o u g h t
o v e r i n t o l a n g u a g e i f i t i s t o b e c o m e t r u l y r e p r e s e n t a t i v e . H e n c e all t h e
w o r d s , syllables, e v e n letters, w h i c h , circulating a m o n g t h e n o u n s a n d
the v e r b s , are g i v e n t h e task of d e s i g n a t i n g those ideas t h a t in Port-Royal
w e r e t e r m e d ' a c c e s s o r y ' [ 4 7 ] ; t h e r e m u s t b e prepositions a n d c o n j u n c t i o n s ;
there m u s t b e syntactical signs i n d i c a t i n g t h e relations o f i d e n t i t y o r a g r e e m e n t , a n d t h o s e o f d e p e n d e n c e o r case [48]: m a r k s o f p l u r a l i t y a n d
g e n d e r , declension e n d i n g s ; a n d , finally, t h e r e m u s t b e w o r d s relating
c o m m o n n o u n s t o t h e individuals t h e y designate - t h e articles o r d e m o n s tratives t h a t L e m e r c i e r called 'concretizers' or ' d i s a b s t r a c t o r s ' [ 4 o ] . S u c h a
scattering o f w o r d s constitutes a n articulation inferior t o t h e u n i t y o f t h e
n a m e ( w h e t h e r substantival o r adjectival) a s r e q u i r e d b y t h e n a k e d f o r m
o f t h e p r o p o s i t i o n : n o n e o f t h e m possesses i n its o w n r i g h t , a n d i n a n
isolated state, a fixed a n d d e t e r m i n a t e r e p r e s e n t a t i v e c o n t e n t ; t h e y c a n n o t
c o v e r an idea - e v e n an accessory o n e - u n t i l t h e y h a v e b e e n linked
t o g e t h e r w i t h o t h e r w o r d s ; w h e r e a s n o u n s a n d v e r b s are 'absolute s i g n i f i c a n t s ' , these w o r d s , o n t h e o t h e r h a n d , h a v e n o p o w e r o f signification
except in a relative m o d e . It is t r u e t h a t t h e y a r e addressed to r e p r e sentation; t h e y exist o n l y in so far as t h e latter, in t h e process of analysing
itself, m a k e s t h e i n t e r i o r n e t w o r k o f these relationships visible; b u t t h e y
themselves h a v e v a l u e o n l y t h r o u g h t h e g r a m m a t i c a l w h o l e o f w h i c h t h e y
are a p a r t . T h e y establish a n e w articulation in l a n g u a g e , o n e of a c o m posite n a t u r e , a t o n c e representative a n d g r a m m a t i c a l , t h o u g h w i t h o u t
either o f these t w o o r d e r s b e i n g able t o f i t e x a c t l y o v e r t h e o t h e r .
At this stage, t h e n , t h e sentence is p e o p l e d w i t h syntactical e l e m e n t s c u t
99

THE

ORDER

OF

THINGS

o u t a c c o r d i n g t o m u c h m o r e delicate patterns t h a n t h e b r o a d figures o f
t h e p r o p o s i t i o n . T h i s n e w a n d m o r e c o m p l i c a t e d p a t t e r n i n g presents
g e n e r a l g r a m m a r w i t h a necessary- c h o i c e : either to p u r s u e its analysis at
a l o w e r level t h a n n o m i n a l u n i t y , a n d t o b r i n g i n t o p r o m i n e n c e , before
signification, t h e insignificant e l e m e n t s of w h i c h it is c o n s t r u c t e d , or to
r e d u c e that n o m i n a l u n i t y b y m e a n s o f a regressive process, t o r e c o g n i z e
its existence w i t h i n m o r e restricted units, a n d to find its efficacity as
r e p r e s e n t a t i o n b e l o w t h e level o f w h o l e w o r d s , in particles, i n syllables,
a n d even in single letters themselves. T h e s e possibilities are p r e s e n t e d i n d e e d , t h e y are prescribed - as soon as t h e t h e o r y of languages takes as
its object discourse a n d t h e analysis of its r e p r e s e n t a t i v e values. T h e y
define t h e point of heresy t h a t splits all e i g h t e e n t h - c e n t u r y g r a m m a r .
Shall we suppose, H a r r i s asks, that all "signification is, like t h e b o d y ,
divisible i n t o an infinity of o t h e r significations, themselves divisible to
infinity? T h a t w o u l d b e a n a b s u r d i t y ; w e m u s t therefore necessarily a d m i t
that t h e r e are significant sounds o f w h i c h n o p a r t can possess signification
of itself [50]. Signification disappears as soon as t h e representative values of
w o r d s are dissociated or s u s p e n d e d : instead, t h e r e a p p e a r , in their i n d e p e n d e n c e , r a w materials t h a t are n o t articulated u p o n t h o u g h t and w h o s e
links c a n n o t be r e d u c e d to those of discourse. T h e r e is a ' m e c h a n i c s '
p r o p e r to a g r e e m e n t s , to cases, to inflections, to syllables, a n d to s o u n d s ,
a n d n o representative v a l u e can p r o v i d e u s w i t h a n a c c o u n t o f that
mechanics. L a n g u a g e m u s t be treated like a m e c h a n i c a l c o n s t r u c t i o n susceptible o f g r a d u a l i m p r o v e m e n t ^ 1 ] : i n its simplest f o r m , t h e sentence i s
c o m p o s e d o n l y of a subject, a v e r b , a n d a p r e d i c a t e ; a n d e v e r y a d d i t i o n
of m e a n i n g requires a fresh a n d entire p r o p o s i t i o n ; in the same w a y , t h e
m o s t r u d i m e n t a r y m a c h i n e s p r e s u p p o s e principles o f m o v e m e n t t h a t
differ for each of their o r g a n s . B u t as t h e y are perfected, so t h e y s u b o r d i n a t e all their o r g a n s t o o n e a n d t h e s a m e p r i n c i p l e , o f w h i c h t h e
o r g a n s are t h e n o n l y t h e intermediaries, t h e m e a n s o f t r a n s f o r m a t i o n , t h e
p o i n t s of a p p l i c a t i o n ; similarly, as languages perfect themselves, t h e y
t r a n s m i t t h e sense of a p r o p o s i t i o n by m e a n s of g r a m m a t i c a l o r g a n s that
d o n o t i n themselves possess a n y representative v a l u e , b u t p e r f o r m t h e
tasks o f m a k i n g i t m o r e specific, o f linking its elem en ts t o g e t h e r , o f i n d i c a t i n g its actual d e t e r m i n a t i o n s . In a single c o n t i n u o u s sentence it is
possible t o indicate relations o f t i m e , o f c o n s e q u e n c e , o f possession, a n d o f
localization, all o f w h i c h certainly e n t e r i n t o t h e s u b j e c t - v e r b - p r e d i c a t e
series, b u t c a n n o t b e p i n n e d d o w n b y s o b r o a d a distinction. H e n c e t h e
i m p o r t a n c e a c c o r d e d since Bauzee[s2] t o t h e theories o f t h e c o m p l e m e n t ,
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o f s u b o r d i n a t i o n . H e n c e , t o o , t h e g r o w i n g role o f s y n t a x ; a t t h e t i m e o f
P o r t - R o y a l , s y n t a x w a s identified w i t h t h e c o n s t r u c t i o n a n d o r d e r i n g o f
w o r d s , a n d t h u s w i t h t h e interior d e v e l o p m e n t o f t h e p r o p o s i t i o n [ 5 3 ] ;
w i t h Sicard it b e c a m e i n d e p e n d e n t : it is s y n t a x ' t h a t d e t e r m i n e s t h e p r o p e r
f o r m o f each w o r d ' [ 5 4 ] . T h e s e w e r e t h e p r e l i m i n a r y sketches for t h e
g r a m m a t i c a l a u t o n o m y t o b e defined later, a t the v e r y e n d o f the c e n t u r y ,
by Sylvestre de Saci, w h e n he b e c a m e t h e first - t o g e t h e r w i t h Sicard - to
distinguish b e t w e e n t h e logical analysis o f t h e p r o p o s i t i o n a n d t h e g r a m matical analysis o f t h e s e n t e n c e [ 5 5 ] .
It is u n d e r s t a n d a b l e w h y analyses of this k i n d s h o u l d h a v e r e m a i n e d in
suspense as l o n g as discourse r e m a i n e d t h e object of g r a m m a r ; as s o o n as a
s t r a t u m o f a r t i c u l a t i o n was reached w h e r e r e p r e s e n t a t i v e values c r u m b l e d
a w a y , t h e r e w a s a m o v e m e n t f r o m t h e o t h e r side o f g r a m m a r , w h e r e
g r a m m a r n o l o n g e r h a d a n y p o w e r , i n t o the d o m a i n o f usage a n d h i s t o r y
- s y n t a x , in t h e e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y , w a s t h o u g h t of as t h e locus of t h e
a r b i t r a r y i n w h i c h t h e habits o f each p e o p l e w e r e d e p l o y e d a c c o r d i n g t o
w h i m [56].
I n a n y case, s u c h analyses c o u l d n o t , i n t h e e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y , b e a n y t h i n g m o r e t h a n abstract possibilities; n o t prefigurations o f w h a t w a s t o b e
p h i l o l o g y , b u t t h e n o n - p r i v i l e g e d b r a n c h o f a choice. O p p o s i t e , a n d w i t h
t h e s a m e p o i n t of heresy as its s t a r t i n g - p o i n t , we see d e v e l o p i n g a reflection, w h i c h , for u s a n d t h e science o f l a n g u a g e w e h a v e c o n s t r u c t e d since
t h e n i n e t e e n t h c e n t u r y , i s v o i d o f all v a l u e , b u t w h i c h a t t h a t t i m e e n a b l e d
all analysis of v e r b a l signs to be retained w i t h i n discourse itself. A n d
w h i c h , b y m e a n s o f this exact o v e r l a y i n g , c a m e t o b e i n c l u d e d i n t h e
positive figures of k n o w l e d g e . T h e r e w a s a search for t h e o b s c u r e n o m i n a l
function t h a t w a s t h o u g h t t o b e invested a n d concealed i n those w o r d s ,
in t h o s e syllables, in those inflections, in those letters t h a t t h e o v e r generalized analysis of t h e p r o p o s i t i o n was a l l o w i n g to pass t h r o u g h its
net. Because, after all, as t h e a u t h o r s of Port-Royal p o i n t e d o u t , all c o n n e c t i v e particles m u s t h a v e a certain c o n t e n t , since t h e y represent t h e
m a n n e r i n w h i c h objects a r e linked t o g e t h e r , a n d i n w h i c h t h e y are c o n n e c t e d i n o u r representations [ 5 7 ] . M a y o n e n o t suppose that t h e y h a v e
been n a m e s like all t h e others? B u t that instead of s u b s t i t u t i n g themselves
for objects t h e y h a v e t a k e n t h e place o f those gestures b y w h i c h m e n
indicated t h e m o r s i m u l a t e d their c o n n e c t i o n s a n d their s u c c e s s i o n ^ ] ? I t
i s these w o r d s t h a t h a v e either g r a d u a l l y lost their o w n particular m e a n i n g
( w h i c h w a s n o t a l w a y s visible, in a n y case, since it w a s l i n k e d to t h e g e s tures, t h e b o d y , a n d t h e situation o f the speaker) o r i n c o r p o r a t e d themselves
101

THE

ORDER

into

other

OF

THINGS

words,

in w h i c h they

found

a

stable s u p p o r t ,

and to

w h i c h t h e y g a v e i n r e t u r n a w h o l e s y s t e m o f modifications [59]. S o t h a t
all w o r d s , o f w h a t e v e r k i n d , are d o r m a n t n a m e s : v e r b s h a v e j o i n e d
adjectival n a m e s t o t h e v e r b t o b e ; c o n j u n c t i o n s a n d p r e p o s i t i o n s are t h e
n a m e s o f gestures n o w frozen i n t o i m m o b i l i t y ; declensions a n d c o n j u g a tions are n o m o r e t h a n n a m e s that h a v e b e e n a b s o r b e d . W o r d s , n o w , can
o p e n u p a n d restore their f r e e d o m o f f l i g h t t o all t h e n a m e s that h a v e
b e e n l o d g e d w i t h i n t h e m . As Le Bel said, stating it as a f u n d a m e n t a l
p r i n c i p l e o f analysis, ' t h e r e i s n o g r o u p o f w h i c h t h e p a r t s h a v e n o t
existed separately before b e i n g g r o u p e d together'[60]; this e n a b l e d h i m
t o r e d u c e all w o r d s t o syllabic elements i n w h i c h t h e old f o r g o t t e n n a m e s
at last m a d e t h e i r r e a p p e a r a n c e - t h e o n l y vocables t h a t possessed t h e
possibility of existing side by side w i t h t h e v e r b to b e : Romulus, for
e x a m p l e [ 6 i ] , c o m e s f r o m Roma a n d moliri (to b u i l d ) ; a n d Roma c o m e s
f r o m ro, w h i c h d e n o t e d s t r e n g t h (robur) a n d ma, w h i c h d e n o t e d m a g n i t u d e (magnus). In t h e s a m e w a y , T h i e b a u l t discovers t h r e e latent significations in ahandonner: a, w h i c h 'presents t h e idea of t h e t e n d e n c y or
destination o f o n e t h i n g t o w a r d s a n o t h e r ' ; ban, w h i c h 'gives t h e idea o f
t h e totality o f t h e social b o d y ' , a n d do, w h i c h indicates ' t h e act w h e r e b y
o n e relinquishes something'[62].
A n d i f o n e i s forced t o descend b e l o w t h e level o f i n d i v i d u a l syllables t o
t h e v e r y letters o f t h e w o r d s , o n e c a n still f i n d t h e values o f a r u d i m e n t a r y f o r m o f n o m i n a t i o n . A task t o w h i c h , t o his g r e a t e r - t h o u g h
e v e n m o r e perishable - g l o r y , C o u r t d e G e b e l i n really applied himself:
' t h e labial c o n t a c t , t h e easiest t o b r i n g i n t o p l a y , t h e gentlest, t h e m o s t
gracious, served t o designate t h e f i r s t beings m a n c o m e s t o k n o w , t h o s e
w h o s u r r o u n d h i m a n d t o w h o m h e o w e s e v e r y t h i n g ' (papa, m a m a ) . O n
t h e o t h e r h a n d , ' t h e t e e t h are as firm as t h e lips are m o b i l e a n d flexible;
t h e i n t o n a t i o n s t h a t p r o c e e d f r o m t h e m are s t r o n g , s o n o r o u s , n o i s y . . .'
It is by m e a n s of dental c o n t a c t t h a t o n e expresses t h e ideas t h a t lie b e h i n d
such v e r b s as tonner (to t h u n d e r ) , retentir (to r e s o u n d ) , etonner (to astonish);
it is by this m e a n s t o o t h a t o n e d e n o t e s tambours ( d r u m s ) , timbales ( t i m p a n i ) , a n d trompettes ( t r u m p e t s ) . V o w e l s , t o o , in isolation, are able to
u n f o l d t h e secret o f t h e a g e - o l d n a m e s t h a t usage has b u r i e d w i t h i n t h e m :
A for possession (avoir, to h a v e ) , E for existence, I for puissance ( p o w e r ) ,
O

for

etonnement

(astonishment,

eyes

opened wide),

U

for humidite

( h u m i d i t y ) a n d therefore for humeur ( m o o d ) [63]. A n d p e r h a p s , in t h e
v e r y oldest s t r a t u m o f o u r h i s t o r y , c o n s o n a n t s a n d v o w e l s , differentiated
o n l y a s t w o still v a g u e g r o u p s , f o r m e d a s i t w e r e t h e t w o sole n a m e s u p o n
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SPEAKING

w h i c h h u m a n speech i s u l t i m a t e l y articulated: t h e s i n g i n g v o w e l s s p e a k i n g
o u r passions; t h e r o u g h c o n s o n a n t s o u r n e e d s [ 6 4 ] . It is still possible to
distinguish t h e r o c k y t o n g u e s o f t h e N o r t h - a forest o f g u t t u r a l s , o f
h u n g e r a n d c o l d - f r o m t h e S o u t h e r n t o n g u e s t h a t a r e all v o w e l s , b o r n
o f early m o r n i n g e n c o u n t e r s b e t w e e n s h e p h e r d s w h e n ' t h e first fires o f
l o v e w e r e b u r s t i n g f r o m t h e p u r e crystal o f t h e s p r i n g s ' .
T h r o u g h o u t its density, e v e n d o w n t o t h e m o s t archaic o f those s o u n d s
t h a t first rescued it f r o m its state as p u r e c r y , l a n g u a g e preserves its r e p r e sentative f u n c t i o n ; i n each o n e o f its articulations, f r o m t h e d e p t h s o f
t i m e , it has a l w a y s named. It is n o t h i n g in itself b u t an i m m e n s e rustling
o f d e n o m i n a t i o n s t h a t are o v e r l y i n g o n e a n o t h e r , c o n t r a c t i n g i n t o o n e
a n o t h e r , h i d i n g o n e a n o t h e r , a n d y e t p r e s e r v i n g themselves i n existence
i n o r d e r t o p e r m i t t h e analysis o r t h e c o m p o s i t i o n o f t h e m o s t c o m p l e x
representations. W i t h i n sentences, i n t h a t v e r y d e p t h w h e r e signification
seems t o b e r e l y i n g u p o n t h e m u t e s u p p o r t o f insignificant syllables, t h e r e
is a l w a y s a d o r m a n t n o m i n a t i o n , a f o r m t h a t holds i m p r i s o n e d w i t h i n its
v o c a l walls t h e reflection o f a n invisible a n d y e t indelible r e p r e s e n t a t i o n .
F o r n i n e t e e n t h - c e n t u r y p h i l o l o g y , s u c h analyses r e m a i n e d , in t h e literal
sense o f t h e w o r d , ' a d e a d letter'. B u t n o t s o for a w h o l e w a y o f e x p e r i e n c i n g l a n g u a g e - at first esoteric a n d m y s t i c at t h e t i m e of S a i n t - M a r c ,
R e v e r o n i , F a b r e d ' O l i v e t , O e g g e r , t h e n literary w h e n t h e e n i g m a o f t h e
w o r d r e - e m e r g e d i n all its density o f b e i n g , w i t h M a l l a r m e , Roussel,
Leiris, o r P o n g e . T h e idea that, w h e n w e d e s t r o y w o r d s , w h a t i s left i s
n e i t h e r m e r e noise n o r a r b i t r a r y , p u r e e l e m e n t s , b u t o t h e r w o r d s , w h i c h ,
w h e n p u l v e r i z e d in t u r n , will set free still o t h e r w o r d s - this idea is at
o n c e t h e n e g a t i v e o f all t h e m o d e r n science o f languages a n d t h e m y t h i n
w h i c h w e n o w transcribe t h e m o s t o b s c u r e a n d t h e m o s t real p o w e r s o f
l a n g u a g e . It is p r o b a b l y because it is a r b i t r a r y , a n d because o n e can define
t h e c o n d i t i o n u p o n w h i c h i t attains its p o w e r o f signification, t h a t l a n g u a g e can b e c o m e t h e object of a science. B u t it is because it has n e v e r
ceased to speak w i t h i n itself, because it is p e n e t r a t e d as far as we can r e a c h
w i t h i n i t b y inexhaustible values, t h a t w e c a n speak w i t h i n i t i n t h a t e n d less m u r m u r i n w h i c h literature i s b o r n . B u t i n t h e Classical p e r i o d t h e
relation w a s n o t a t all t h e s a m e ; t h e t w o figures fitted o v e r e a c h o t h e r
exactly: in order that language could be entirely comprised within the
g e n e r a l f o r m o f t h e p r o p o s i t i o n , e a c h w o r d , d o w n t o t h e least o f its
molecules, h a d t o b e a m e t i c u l o u s f o r m o f n o m i n a t i o n .

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A n d y e t , t h e t h e o r y o f 'generalized n o m i n a t i o n ' reveals a t t h e e x t r e m i t y
of l a n g u a g e a certain relation to t h i n g s t h a t is of an entirely different
n a t u r e f r o m that of t h e p r o p o s i t i o n a l f o r m . If, f u n d a m e n t a l l y , t h e function
of l a n g u a g e is to n a m e , that is, to raise up a r e p r e s e n t a t i o n or p o i n t it o u t ,
as t h o u g h w i t h a finger, t h e n it is indication a n d n o t j u d g e m e n t . It is
l i n k e d to t h i n g s by a m a r k , a n o t a t i o n , an associated figure, a g e s t u r e of
d e s i g n a t i o n : n o t h i n g that c o u l d b e r e d u c e d t o a relation o f p r e d i c a t i o n .
T h e principle o f p r i m a l n o m i n a t i o n , o f t h e o r i g i n o f w o r d s , i s balanced b y
t h e f o r m a l p r i m a c y o f j u d g e m e n t . A s t h o u g h , o n either side o f l a n g u a g e ,
u n f o l d e d in all its articulations, t h e r e lay its b e i n g , in its v e r b a l r o l e as
a t t r i b u t i o n , a n d its o r i g i n , in its r o l e as p r i m a r y designation. T h e latter
p e r m i t s t h e substitution of a sign for that w h i c h is indicated, t h e f o r m e r
m a k e s possible t h e l i n k i n g o f o n e c o n t e n t t o a n o t h e r . A n d t h u s w e
e n c o u n t e r o n c e again, in their o p p o s i t i o n y e t also in their affinity, t h e t w o
functions o f c o n n e c t i o n a n d substitution t h a t h a v e b e e n allotted t o t h e
sign i n general w i t h its p o w e r o f analysing r e p r e s e n t a t i o n .
T o b r i n g t h e o r i g i n o f l a n g u a g e b a c k i n t o t h e light o f d a y m e a n s also
t o rediscover t h e p r i m i t i v e m o m e n t i n w h i c h i t w a s p u r e designation.
A n d o n e o u g h t , b y this m e a n s , t o p r o v i d e a t t h e s a m e t i m e a n e x p l a n a t i o n
for its arbitrariness (since t h a t w h i c h designates c a n be as different f r o m
t h a t w h i c h it indicates as a g e s t u r e f r o m t h e object t o w a r d s w h i c h it is
d i r e c t e d ) , a n d for its p r o f o u n d relation w i t h t h a t w h i c h it n a m e s (since
a particular syllable or w o r d has a l w a y s b e e n chosen to designate a p a r t i cular t h i n g ) . T h e first o f these r e q u i r e m e n t s i s f u l f i l l e d b y t h e analysis o f
t h e l a n g u a g e o f action, t h e second b y the s t u d y o f r o o t s . B u t these t w o
t h i n g s are n o t i n o p p o s i t i o n t o o n e a n o t h e r i n t h e s a m e w a y as, i n t h e
Cratylus, are e x p l a n a t i o n in t e r m s of ' n a t u r e ' a n d e x p l a n a t i o n in t e r m s of
' l a w ' ; o n t h e c o n t r a r y , t h e y are absolutely indispensable t o o n e a n o t h e r ,
since t h e f i r s t gives a n a c c o u n t o f t h e substitution o f t h e sign for t h e t h i n g
designated a n d t h e second justifies t h e p e r m a n e n t p o w e r o f designation
possessed b y t h a t sign.
T h e l a n g u a g e o f action i s s p o k e n b y the b o d y ; a n d y e t , i t i s n o t s o m e t h i n g g i v e n f r o m t h e v e r y f i r s t . All t h a t n a t u r e p e r m i t s i s t h a t m a n , i n t h e
v a r i o u s situations i n w h i c h h e f i n d s himself, s h o u l d b e able t o m a k e
gestures; his face is a g i t a t e d by m o v e m e n t s ; he emits inarticulate cries - in
o t h e r w o r d s , cries t h a t are ' c o i n e d n e i t h e r b y t h e t o n g u e n o r b y t h e
lips'[65]. All this is n o t yet either l a n g u a g e or even sign, b u t t h e effect a n d
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c o n s e q u e n c e o f o u r a n i m a l i t y . T h i s manifest agitation nevertheless has t h e
v i r t u e o f b e i n g universal, since i t d e p e n d s solely u p o n t h e c o n f o r m a t i o n o f
o u r o r g a n s . H e n c e t h e possibility for m a n to o b s e r v e t h a t it is identical in
h i m s e l f a n d his c o m p a n i o n s . H e i s t h e r e f o r e able t o associate t h e c r y h e
hears f r o m a n o t h e r ' s m o u t h , t h e g r i m a c e h e sees u p o n t h a t o t h e r ' s face,
w i t h t h e s a m e representations t h a t h a v e , o n several occasions, a c c o m p a n i e d his o w n cries a n d m o v e m e n t s . He is able to accept this mimesis as
t h e m a r k a n d substitute o f the o t h e r ' s t h o u g h t . A s a sign. C o m p r e h e n s i o n
is b e g i n n i n g . He can also, in r e t u r n , e m p l o y this mimesis t h a t has b e c o m e
a sign in o r d e r to excite in his c o m p a n i o n s t h e idea t h a t he h i m s e l f is
e x p e r i e n c i n g , t h e sensations, t h e needs, t h e difficulties that are o r d i n a r i l y
associated w i t h certain gestures a n d certain s o u n d s : a c r y expressly directed
in a n o t h e r ' s presence a n d t o w a r d s an object, a p u r e interjection [66]. W i t h
this c o n c e r t e d use of t h e sign ( w h i c h is already expression), s o m e t h i n g like
a l a n g u a g e is in t h e process of b e i n g b o r n .
It is e v i d e n t , f r o m these analyses c o m m o n to C o n d i l l a c a n d D e s t u t t ,
that t h e l a n g u a g e o f action does indeed link l a n g u a g e t o n a t u r e b y m e a n s
of a genesis - b u t in o r d e r to detach it f r o m n a t u r e r a t h e r t h a n to g i v e it
r o o t s there, t o emphasize its indelible difference f r o m t h e cry a n d t o p r o v i d e a basis for t h a t w h i c h constitutes its artifice. As l o n g as it is a simple
extension o f t h e b o d y , action has n o p o w e r t o speak: i t i s n o t l a n g u a g e .
I t b e c o m e s l a n g u a g e , b u t o n l y a t t h e e n d o f definite a n d c o m p l e x o p e r a t i o n s : t h e n o t a t i o n o f a n a n a l o g y o f relations (the o t h e r ' s c r y i s t o w h a t h e
is e x p e r i e n c i n g - t h a t w h i c h is u n k n o w n - w h a t my c r y is to my a p p e t i t e
o r m y fear); inversion o f t i m e a n d v o l u n t a r y use o f t h e sign before t h e
r e p r e s e n t a t i o n it designates (before e x p e r i e n c i n g a sensation of h u n g e r
s t r o n g e n o u g h to m a k e me c r y o u t , I e m i t t h e cry t h a t is associated w i t h
i t ) ; lastly, t h e p u r p o s e o f a r o u s i n g i n t h e o t h e r t h e representation c o r r e s p o n d i n g t o t h e c r y o r gesture (but w i t h this particularity, that, b y e m i t t i n g a cry, I d o n o t a r o u s e , and d o n o t i n t e n d t o arouse, t h e sensation o f
h u n g e r , b u t t h e representation o f t h e relation b e t w e e n this sign a n d m y
o w n desire to eat). L a n g u a g e is possible o n l y u p o n t h e basis of this
e n t a n g l e m e n t . I t rests n o t u p o n a n a t u r a l m o v e m e n t o f c o m p r e h e n s i o n o r
expression, b u t u p o n t h e reversible a n d analysable relations o f signs a n d
representations. L a n g u a g e does n o t c o m e i n t o b e i n g w h e n r e p r e s e n t a t i o n i s
exteriorized, b u t o n l y w h e n , in a c o n c e r t e d fashion, it detaches a sign f r o m
itself a n d causes itself to be represented by t h a t sign. It is n o t , therefore,
because he functions as a s p e a k i n g subject, or f r o m w i t h i n a l a n g u a g e already
m a d e , t h a t m a n discovers, all a r o u n d h i m , signs t h a t m i g h t b e t a k e n a s s o
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many mute words to be deciphered and rendered audible again; it is because
representation provides itself with signs that words can come into being,
and with them a whole language that is no more than the ulterior organization of vocal signs. Despite its name, the 'language of action' calls into existence the irreducible network of signs that separates language from action.
A n d in this way it bases its artifice in nature. For the elements of which
this language of action is composed (sounds, gestures, grimaces) are suggested successively by nature, and yet they have no identity of content for the most part - with what they designate, but above all relations of
simultaneity or succession. T h e cry does not resemble fear, nor the outstretched hand the sensation of hunger. Once they have become concerted, these signs will remain without 'fantasy and without caprice'[67],
since they have been established once and for all by nature; but they will
not express the nature of what they designate, for they are in no way its
image. A n d from this starting-point men will be able to establish a language of convention: they now have at their disposal enough signs as
marks for things to enable them to invent further signs that will analyse
and combine the primary ones. In his Discours sur I'origine de l'incgalitc[68],
Rousseau made the point that no language can have an agreement between
men as its basis, since such an agreement presupposes that some established, recognized, and practised language already exists; we would therefore have to imagine it as having been received by men, not built by
them. In fact, the language of action c o n f i r m s this necessity and renders
this hypothesis futile. Man receives from nature the material to make
signs, and those signs serve h i m first of all as a means of-teaching agreement with other men as to the choice of those that shall be retained, the
values that they shall be recognized as possessing, and the rules for
employing them; after that, they serve him as a means of forming new
signs on the model of the primary ones. T h e first form of agreement consists in selecting the vocal signs (which are easier to recognize from a
distance and the only ones that can be used when it is dark), the second in
composing, in order to designate representations still left without signs,
sounds close to those indicating neighbouring representations. It is in this
way that language, properly speaking, is constituted, by a series of
analogies that are a lateral extension of the language of action or at least of
its vocal element: language resembles this vocal element, and 'it is this
resemblance that facilitates the understanding of it. We term it analogy
. . . Y o u observe that analogy, which gives us law, does not permit us
to choose signs at random or arbitrarily.' [69]
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T h e genesis o f l a n g u a g e i n t h e l a n g u a g e o f action e n t i r e l y avoids t h e
alternatives o f n a t u r a l i m i t a t i o n a n d a r b i t r a r y c o n v e n t i o n . I n t h a t w h i c h
is n a t u r a l - in t h e signs t h a t arise s p o n t a n e o u s l y t h r o u g h t h e m e d i u m of
o u r bodies - t h e r e i s n o r e s e m b l a n c e ; a n d w h e r e t h e r e i s e m p l o y m e n t o f
resemblances it is after a v o l u n t a r y a g r e e m e n t has b e e n r e a c h e d b e t w e e n
m e n . N a t u r e j u x t a p o s e s t h e differences a n d b i n d s t h e m t o g e t h e r b y force;
reflection discovers t h e r e s e m b l a n c e s , a n d analyses a n d d e v e l o p s t h e m . T h e
first phase m a k e s artifice possible, b u t w i t h m a t e r i a l i m p o s e d u p o n all
m e n i n identical fashion; t h e second excludes a r b i t r a r y c h o i c e b u t o p e n s
u p channels for analysis that will n o t b e e x a c t l y s u p e r i m p o s a b l e i n t h e
case o f all m e n a n d all peoples. T h e l a w o f n a t u r e i s c o n s t i t u t e d b y t h e
difference b e t w e e n w o r d s a n d t h i n g s - t h e vertical division b e t w e e n l a n g u a g e a n d t h a t lying b e n e a t h i t w h i c h i t i s t h e task o f l a n g u a g e t o d e s i g n a t e ; t h e r u l e prescribed b y c o n v e n t i o n s i s t h e r e s e m b l a n c e t h a t exists
b e t w e e n w o r d s , t h e g r e a t h o r i z o n t a l n e t w o r k that f o r m s w o r d s f r o m
o t h e r w o r d s a n d p r o p a g a t e s t h e m ad infinitum.
It n o w becomes comprehensible w h y the theory of roots in no w a y
c o n t r a d i c t s t h e analysis o f t h e l a n g u a g e o f action, b u t i s t o b e f o u n d
w i t h i n it. R o o t s are those r u d i m e n t a r y w o r d s t h a t are t o b e f o u n d , a l w a y s
identical, in a g r e a t n u m b e r of l a n g u a g e s - p e r h a p s in all; t h e y h a v e b e e n
i m p o s e d u p o n l a n g u a g e b y n a t u r e i n t h e f o r m o f i n v o l u n t a r y cries s p o n taneously employed by the language of action. It was there that m e n
s o u g h t t h e m o u t i n o r d e r t o g i v e t h e m a place i n their c o n v e n t i o n a l
l a n g u a g e s . A n d if all p e o p l e s , in all climates, chose these s a m e e l e m e n t a r y
sounds from a m o n g the r a w material of the language of action, that is
because t h e y discerned in t h e m , t h o u g h in a s e c o n d a r y a n d reflective
m a n n e r , a r e s e m b l a n c e w i t h t h e object t h e y designated, o r t h e possibility
o f a p p l y i n g i t t o a n a n a l o g o u s object. T h e r e s e m b l a n c e o f t h e r o o t t o
w h a t it n a m e s assumes its v a l u e as a v e r b a l sign o n l y t h r o u g h t h e a g e n c y of
the convention that b r o u g h t m e n together and regulated their language
of a c t i o n so as to create a l a n g u a g e . In this w a y , f r o m w i t h i n r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , signs are u n i t e d w i t h t h e v e r y n a t u r e o f w h a t t h e y designate, a n d
t h e p r i m i t i v e t r e a s u r y of vocables is i m p o s e d , in identical fashion, on all
languages.
R o o t s m a y b e f o r m e d i n several w a y s . B y o n o m a t o p o e i a , o f c o u r s e ,
w h i c h is n o t a s p o n t a n e o u s expression, b u t t h e deliberate a r t i c u l a t i o n of a
sign that is also a r e s e m b l a n c e : ' t o m a k e t h e s a m e s o u n d w i t h o n e ' s v o i c e
a s t h e object t h a t o n e wishes t o n a m e ' [ 7 0 ] . B y e m p l o y i n g a r e s e m b l a n c e
e x p e r i e n c e d i n o n e ' s sensations: ' t h e i m p r e s s i o n m a d e b y t h e c o l o u r r e d ,
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w h i c h i s v i v i d , r a p i d , h a r s h t o t h e e y e , will b e v e r y well r e n d e r e d b y t h e
sound R, w h i c h makes an analogous impression u p o n the e a r ' [ 7 1 ] . By
i m p o s i n g m o v e m e n t s u p o n t h e o r g a n s o f t h e v o i c e a n a l o g o u s t o those
o n e wishes t o signify: 'so t h a t t h e s o u n d resulting f r o m t h e f o r m a n d
n a t u r a l m o v e m e n t o f t h e o r g a n w h e n placed i n this state b e c o m e s t h e
n a m e o f t h e o b j e c t ' ; t h e t h r o a t rasps t o designate t h e r u b b i n g o f o n e b o d y
against a n o t h e r , it h o l l o w s itself inside to indicate a c o n c a v e surface [ 7 2 ] .
Finally, b y e m p l o y i n g t h e sounds a n o r g a n n a t u r a l l y p r o d u c e s t o d e s i g n a t e t h a t o r g a n : t h e glottal stop d e t e r m i n e d t h e n a m e o f t h e t h r o a t i n
w h i c h it o c c u r s , a n d t h e dentals (d a n d r) are used to designate t h e
t e e t h [ 7 3 ] . U s i n g these c o n v e n t i o n a l articulations o f r e s e m b l a n c e , e v e r y
l a n g u a g e is able to p r o v i d e itself w i t h its p a c k of p r i m i t i v e r o o t s . T h e p a c k
is a small o n e , since t h e r o o t s are a l m o s t all m o n o s y l l a b i c a n d exist o n l y in
v e r y small n u m b e r s - t w o h u n d r e d for H e b r e w , a c c o r d i n g t o B e r g i e r ' s
estimate [ 7 4 ] ; a n d e v e n smaller w h e n o n e r e m e m b e r s t h a t (because o f t h e
relations o f r e s e m b l a n c e t h a t t h e y establish) t h e y are c o m m o n t o a l m o s t
all of o u r l a n g u a g e s : de Brosses t h i n k s that all of t h e m t o g e t h e r , f r o m all
t h e dialects o f E u r o p e a n d t h e O r i e n t , w o u l d n o t fill ' a single sheet o f
w r i t i n g p a p e r ' . B u t i t i s o n t h e basis o f t h e m t h a t each l a n g u a g e d e v e l o p s
its o w n p a r t i c u l a r i t y : ' t h e i r d e v e l o p m e n t is p r o d i g i o u s . Just as o n e e l m
seed p r o d u c e s a g r e a t tree, w h i c h b y g r o w i n g n e w shoots f r o m each r o o t
p r o d u c e s i n t h e e n d a n entire f o r e s t ' [ 7 5 ] .
L a n g u a g e can n o w reveal its g e n e a l o g y , t h e g e n e a l o g y t h a t d e Brosses
a t t e m p t e d to display in a d i m e n s i o n of c o n t i n u o u s filiation t h a t he called
t h e ' U n i v e r s a l A r c h a e o l o g i s t ' [ 7 6 ] . A t t h e t o p o f this spacji, o n e w o u l d
w r i t e t h e r o o t s - v e r y few i n n u m b e r - e m p l o y e d i n a l l E u r o p e a n a n d
O r i e n t a l l a n g u a g e s ; b e l o w each r o o t o n e c o u l d place t h e m o r e c o m p l i c a t e d
w o r d s d e r i v e d f r o m it, b u t t a k i n g care to place first those t h a t are nearest
to t h e r o o t s , a n d to follow t h e m in a sequence sufficiently t i g h t for there
to be as small a distance as possible b e t w e e n e a c h w o r d in t h e series. In
this w a y o n e w o u l d b e able t o c o n s t i t u t e a n u m b e r o f perfect a n d e x h a u s t i v e series, of absolutely c o n t i n u o u s chains in w h i c h t h e breaks, if
t h e r e w e r e a n y , w o u l d indicate t h e place of a w o r d , a dialect, or a lang u a g e n o l o n g e r i n existence [ 7 7 ] . O n c e this vast, seamless expanse h a d
b e e n c o n s t i t u t e d , o n e w o u l d h a v e a t w o - d i m e n s i o n a l space that o n e c o u l d
cross either o n abscissae o r o n o r d i n a t e s : vertically, o n e w o u l d h a v e t h e
c o m p l e t e filiation o f each r o o t ; h o r i z o n t a l l y , o n e w o u l d h a v e t h e w o r d s
e m p l o y e d i n a n y g i v e n l a n g u a g e ; t h e further a w a y o n e m o v e d f r o m t h e
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w o u l d the l a n g u a g e s d e f i n e d b y a n y transversal line b e c o m e , b u t , a t the
s a m e t i m e , t h e m o r e s u b t l e a n d efficacious w o u l d the w o r d s b e a s instrum e n t s f o r the analysis o f representations. A n d thus s u p e r i m p o s e d , the
historical space a n d t h e g r i d o f t h o u g h t w o u l d b e e x a c t l y c o i n c i d e n t a l .
T h i s quest for the r o o t s o f l a n g u a g e m a y w e l l a p p e a r t o b e a r e t u r n t o
t h e historical h y p o t h e s i s a n d t o t h e t h e o r y o f m o t h e r - l a n g u a g e s that
C l a s s i c i s m s e e m e d , for a t i m e , to h a v e s u s p e n d e d . In r e a l i t y , an analysis
of its r o o t s d o e s n o t r e p l a c e l a n g u a g e in a h i s t o r y that is, as it w e r e , t h e
environment into w h i c h it was born and in w h i c h it developed. Rather,
it m a k e s h i s t o r y a j o u r n e y , a c c o m p l i s h e d in s u c c e s s i v e stages, across t h e
s i m u l t a n e o u s p a t t e r n i n g o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n a n d w o r d s . I n the C l a s s i c a l
period, language is not a fragment of history authorizing at any g i v e n
m o m e n t a definite m o d e o f t h o u g h t a n d r e f l e c t i o n ; i t i s a n area o f analysis
u p o n w h i c h t i m e a n d h u m a n k n o w l e d g e p u r s u e their j o u r n e y . A n d t h e
fact that l a n g u a g e d o e s n o t b e c o m e - o r b e c o m e o n c e a g a i n - t h r o u g h
t h e a g e n c y o f t h e r o o t t h e o r y a historical e n t i t y i s p r o v e d q u i t e easily b y
t h e w a y i n w h i c h e t y m o l o g i e s w e r e s o u g h t for i n the e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y .
T h e g u i d i n g t h r e a d used for s u c h i n v e s t i g a t i o n s w a s n o t the m a t e r i a l
t r a n s f o r m a t i o n s u n d e r g o n e b y t h e w o r d , b u t the c o n s t a n c y o f its s i g n i f i c a tions.
T h i s search h a d t w o aspects: d e f i n i t i o n o f the r o o t , a n d i s o l a t i o n o f t h e
inflectional e n d i n g s a n d p r e f i x e s . T o d e f i n e the r o o t w a s t o d i s c o v e r a n
e t y m o l o g y . I t w a s a n art w i t h c o d i f i e d rules [ 7 8 ] ; o n e h a d t o strip t h e
w o r d o f all the s u b s e q u e n t traces that m i g h t h a v e b e e n left u p o n i t b y
c o m b i n a t i o n s a n d inflections; a r r i v e a t a m o n o s y l l a b i c e l e m e n t ; f o l l o w
that e l e m e n t t h r o u g h t h e entire past o f t h e l a n g u a g e , t h r o u g h all t h e
a n c i e n t 'charts a n d g l o s s a r i e s ' ; t h e n f o l l o w i t b a c k i n t o o t h e r a n d m o r e
p r i m i t i v e l a n g u a g e s . A n d i t m u s t also b e a c c e p t e d that a t a n y p o i n t a l o n g
this b a c k w a r d j o u r n e y the m o n o s y l l a b l e m a y c h a n g e : all the v o w e l s m a y
r e p l a c e o n e a n o t h e r i n t h e h i s t o r y o f a r o o t , for the v o w e l s are t h e v o i c e
itself, w h i c h k n o w s n o d i s c o n t i n u i t y o r r u p t u r e ; the c o n s o n a n t s , o n t h e
o t h e r h a n d , are m o d i f i e d a c c o r d i n g t o certain p r i v i l e g e d c h a n n e l s : g u t turals, l i n g u a l s , palatals, dentals, labials, a n d nasals all m a k e u p families o f
h o m o p h o n o u s c o n s o n a n t s w i t h i n w h i c h c h a n g e s o f p r o n u n c i a t i o n are
m a d e for p r e f e r e n c e , t h o u g h w i t h o u t a n y o b l i g a t i o n [ 7 9 ] . T h e o n l y i n d e l i b l e c o n s t a n t g u a r a n t e e i n g t h e c o n t i n u i t y o f the r o o t t h r o u g h o u t its
h i s t o r y i s the u n i t y o f m e a n i n g : the r e p r e s e n t a t i v e area that persists i n definitely. T h i s is because 'nothing perhaps can limit inductions and
e v e r y t h i n g c a n s e r v e as a basis for t h e m , f r o m total r e s e m b l a n c e to t h e
109

THE

ORDER

OF

THINGS

v e r y slightest o f r e s e m b l a n c e s ' : t h e m e a n i n g o f w o r d s i s ' t h e surest s o u r c e
o f e n l i g h t e n m e n t w e can consult'[80].

VI

DERIVATION

H o w i s i t t h a t w o r d s , w h i c h i n their p r i m a r y essence are n a m e s a n d
designations, a n d w h i c h a r e articulated j u s t as r e p r e s e n t a t i o n itself is
analysed, c a n m o v e irresistibly a w a y f r o m their o r i g i n a l signification a n d
a c q u i r e either a b r o a d e r o r m o r e limited adjacent m e a n i n g ? H o w can
t h e y c h a n g e n o t o n l y their forms b u t their field o f application? H o w can
t h e y a c q u i r e n e w s o u n d s , a n d also n e w c o n t e n t s , t o s u c h a n e x t e n t that
v a r i o u s l a n g u a g e s , e q u i p p e d i n t h e first place w i t h a n u m b e r o f p r o b a b l y
identical r o o t s , h a v e f o r m e d different s o u n d s , t o say n o t h i n g o f w o r d s
w h o s e m e a n i n g s are lost t o us?
T h e m o d i f i c a t i o n s o f f o r m o b e y n o rule, a r e m o r e o r less endless, a n d
n e v e r stable. All their causes are e x t e r n a l : ease of p r o n u n c i a t i o n , fashions,
habits, c l i m a t e - c o l d w e a t h e r e n c o u r a g e s ' u n v o i c e d labials', h o t w e a t h e r
' g u t t u r a l a s p i r a t e s ' [ 8 1 ] . T h e alterations o f m e a n i n g , o n t h e o t h e r h a n d since t h e y are so l i m i t e d as to justify an e t y m o l o g i c a l science, w h i c h , if
n o t a b s o l u t e l y exact, is at least ' p r o b a b l e ' [ 8 2 ] - do o b e y fixed principles.
T h e s e principles, w h i c h f o m e n t t h e internal h i s t o r y o f l a n g u a g e s , are all
o f a spatial o r d e r . S o m e c o n c e r n t h e visible r e s e m b l a n c e o r adjacency
b e t w e e n t h i n g s ; o t h e r s c o n c e r n t h e area i n w h i c h l a n g u a g e a n d t h e f o r m
it uses to p r e s e r v e itself coexist. Figures a n d w r i t i n g .
W e k n o w o f t w o b r o a d types o f w r i t i n g : t h a t w h i c h retraces t h e m e a n i n g o f w o r d s , a n d t h a t w h i c h analyses a n d reconstitutes their s o u n d s .
B e t w e e n these t w o t h e r e is a strict d i v i d i n g - l i n e , w h e t h e r o n e accepts t h a t
t h e s e c o n d t o o k o v e r f r o m t h e first a m o n g certain peoples a s t h e result o f
a v e r i t a b l e ' s t r o k e of g e n i u s ' [ 8 3 ] , or w h e t h e r o n e accepts - so different are
t h e y f r o m o n e a n o t h e r - t h a t t h e y b o t h a p p e a r e d m o r e o r less s i m u l t a n e o u s l y , t h e first a m o n g g r a p h i c a l l y o r i e n t e d p e o p l e s , t h e second a m o n g
s o n g - o r i e n t e d peoples [84]. T o represent t h e m e a n i n g o f w o r d s g r a p h i c a l l y
i s o r i g i n a l l y t o m a k e a n e x a c t d r a w i n g o f t h e t h i n g t o b e designated. I n
fact, it is scarcely w r i t i n g at all - at t h e v e r y m o s t a pictorial r e p r o d u c t i o n
w i t h t h e aid o f w h i c h o n e c a n scarcely t r a n s c r i b e a n y t h i n g m o r e t h a n t h e
most concrete f o r m of narrative. According to W a r b u r t o n , the Mexicans
scarcely k n e w o f a n y o t h e r m e t h o d [ 8 5 ] . T r u e w r i t i n g b e g a n w h e n t h e
a t t e m p t w a s m a d e t o represent, n o l o n g e r t h e t h i n g itself, b u t o n e o f
its c o n s t i t u e n t e l e m e n t s , o r o n e o f t h e c i r c u m s t a n c e s t h a t h a b i t u a l l y a t t e n d
110

SPEAKING

it, o r again s o m e o t h e r t h i n g t h a t i t resembles. T h e s e t h r e e m e t h o d s p r o d u c e d t h r e e t e c h n i q u e s : t h e curiological w r i t i n g o f t h e E g y p t i a n s - t h e
crudest of t h e t h r e e - w h i c h e m p l o y s ' t h e principal c i r c u m s t a n c e of a s u b j e c t in lieu of t h e w h o l e ' (a b o w for a battle, a l a d d e r for a siege); t h e n
t h e ' t r o p a l ' h i e r o g l y p h i c s - s o m e w h a t m o r e perfected - w h i c h e m p l o y
s o m e n o t a b l e c i r c u m s t a n c e (since G o d i s a l l - p o w e r f u l h e k n o w s e v e r y t h i n g a n d sees all t h a t m e n d o : h e i s therefore represented b y a n e y e ) ;
finally, s y m b o l i c w r i t i n g , w h i c h m a k e s use o f m o r e o r less concealed
resemblances (the rising sun is expressed by t h e h e a d of a crocodile w h o s e
r o u n d eyes a r e j u s t level w i t h t h e surface o f t h e w a t e r ) [86]. W e can
r e c o g n i z e h e r e t h e t h r e e g r e a t figures o f r h e t o r i c : s y n e c d o c h e , m e t o n y m y ,
catachresis. A n d it is by f o l l o w i n g t h e n e r v u r e laid d o w n by these figures
t h a t those languages paralleled w i t h a s y m b o l i c f o r m o f w r i t i n g will b e
able t o e v o l v e . T h e y b e c o m e e n d o w e d , little b y little, w i t h p o e t i c p o w e r s ;
their p r i m a r y n o m i n a t i o n s b e c o m e t h e s t a r t i n g - p o i n t s for l o n g m e t a p h o r s ;
these m e t a p h o r s b e c o m e progressively m o r e c o m p l i c a t e d , a n d are s o o n
so far f r o m their points of o r i g i n t h a t it is difficult to recall t h e m . T h i s is
h o w superstitions arise w h e r e b y p e o p l e believe that t h e sun is a c r o c o d i l e ,
or t h a t G o d is a great e y e k e e p i n g w a t c h on t h e w o r l d ; it is also h o w
esoteric f o r m s o f k n o w l e d g e arise a m o n g those (the priests) w h o pass o n
t h e m e t a p h o r s to their successors f r o m g e n e r a t i o n to g e n e r a t i o n ; a n d it is
h o w allegorical discourse (so frequent in t h e m o s t a n c i e n t literatures)
c o m e s i n t o b e i n g , as w e l l as t h e illusion t h a t k n o w l e d g e consists in
u n d e r s t a n d i n g resemblances.
B u t t h e history of a l a n g u a g e e n d o w e d w i t h a figurative w r i t i n g s o o n
c o m e s to a halt. F o r it is h a r d l y possible to achieve m u c h progress in such
a l a n g u a g e . Its signs do n o t m u l t i p l y w i t h t h e m e t i c u l o u s analysis of
representations b u t w i t h t h e m o s t distant analogies; so that it is t h e
i m a g i n a t i o n of t h e peoples using t h e m that is e n c o u r a g e d r a t h e r t h a n their
p o w e r s o f reflection, their c r e d u l i t y r a t h e r t h a n science. M o r e o v e r , k n o w ledge necessitates t w o k i n d s of a p p r e n t i c e s h i p : first in w o r d s (as w i t h all
languages), t h e n w i t h w r i t t e n signs t h a t h a v e n o b e a r i n g u p o n t h e p r o n u n c i a t i o n of t h e w o r d s ; a h u m a n life-span is n o t t o o l o n g for this d o u b l e
e d u c a t i o n ; a n d i f o n e has had, i n a d d i t i o n , t h e leisure t o m a k e s o m e
discovery, o n e has no signs at o n e ' s disposal to h a n d it o n . Inversely, since
it bears no intrinsic relation to t h e w o r d it represents, a t r a n s m i t t e d sign
always r e m a i n s d u b i o u s : f r o m o n e a g e t o t h e n e x t o n e can n e v e r b e sure
that t h e s a m e s o u n d resides in t h e s a m e figure. I n n o v a t i o n s are t h e r e f o r e
impossible, a n d traditions c o m p r o m i s e d . W i t h t h e result t h a t t h e o n l y
in

THE

ORDER

OF

THINGS

c o n c e r n of t h e learned is to m a i n t a i n 'a superstitious respect' for t h e l e a r n i n g h a n d e d d o w n b y their ancestors a n d for t h e institutions p r e s e r v i n g
t h a t h e r i t a g e : ' t h e y feel that a n y c h a n g e i n m a n n e r s will b r i n g c h a n g e i n
t h e l a n g u a g e , a n d that a n y c h a n g e i n t h e l a n g u a g e will c o n f o u n d a n d
a n n u l all their k n o w l e d g e ' [ 8 7 ] . W h e n a p e o p l e possesses n o t h i n g b u t a
figurative f o r m of w r i t i n g , its politics m u s t e x c l u d e h i s t o r y , or at least all
history o t h e r t h a n p u r e a n d simple c o n s e r v a t i o n . It is h e r e , a c c o r d i n g
t o V o l n e y [ 8 8 ] , i n this relation o f space t o l a n g u a g e , t h a t t h e essential
difference b e t w e e n East a n d W e s t is situated. As t h o u g h t h e spatial
a r r a n g e m e n t o f t h e l a n g u a g e prescribed t h e l a w o f t i m e ; a s t h o u g h their
particular l a n g u a g e d i d n o t c o m e t o m e n via h i s t o r y , b u t t h a t , inversely,
their o n l y m e a n s of access to h i s t o r y was via t h e i r s y s t e m of signs. It is in
this n e x u s o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , w o r d s , a n d space (the w o r d s r e p r e s e n t i n g t h e
space o f t h e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , a n d i n t u r n r e p r e s e n t i n g themselves i n t i m e )
that t h e destiny of peoples is silently f o r m e d .
W i t h alphabetic w r i t i n g , i n fact, t h e h i s t o r y o f m e n i s e n t i r e l y c h a n g e d .
T h e y transcribe i n space, n o t their ideas b u t s o u n d s , a n d f r o m t h o s e
s o u n d s t h e y e x t r a c t t h e c o m m o n elements i n o r d e r t o f o r m a small
n u m b e r o f u n i q u e signs w h o s e c o m b i n a t i o n will enable t h e m t o f o r m all
possible syllables a n d w o r d s . W h e r e a s s y m b o l i c w r i t i n g , i n a t t e m p t i n g t o
spatialize representations themselves, o b e y s t h e confused l a w o f similit u d e s , a n d causes l a n g u a g e t o slip o u t o f the f o r m s o f reflective t h o u g h t ,
alphabetical w r i t i n g , b y a b a n d o n i n g t h e a t t e m p t t o d r a w t h e r e p r e sentation, transposes i n t o its analysis of s o u n d s the rules that, a r e valid for
reason itself. So t h a t it does n o t m a t t e r that letters do no t represent ideas,
(

since t h e y c a n b e c o m b i n e d t o g e t h e r i n t h e s a m e w a y a s ideas, a n d ideas
can be l i n k e d t o g e t h e r a n d disjoined j u s t like t h e letters of t h e a l p h a b e t [89].
The

disruption of the

exact parallelism

between

representation

and

g r a p h i c signs m a k e s i t possible t o b r i n g l a n g u a g e , e v e n w r i t t e n l a n g u a g e ,
as a t o t a l i t y , i n t o the general d o m a i n of analysis, t h u s a l l o w i n g t h e p r o gress o f w r i t i n g a n d t h a t o f t h o u g h t t o p r o v i d e each o t h e r w i t h m u t u a l
s u p p o r t [90]. T h e s a m e g r a p h i c signs can b r e a k d o w n all n e w w o r d s , a n d
h a n d on e a c h n e w d i s c o v e r y , as s o o n as it is m a d e , w i t h o u t fear of its
b e i n g f o r g o t t e n ; t h e s a m e a l p h a b e t c a n b e used t o transcribe different
l a n g u a g e s , a n d t h u s t o c o n v e y t h e ideas o f o n e p e o p l e t o a n o t h e r . Since
it is v e r y easy to learn this a l p h a b e t , because of its v e r y small n u m b e r of
e l e m e n t s , e v e r y o n e i s able t o d e v o t e t o reflection a n d t o t h e analysis o f
ideas t h e t i m e t h a t t h e h i e r o g l y p h i c peoples w a s t e d i n l e a r n i n g h o w t o
w r i t e . A n d so it is w i t h i n l a n g u a g e itself, e x a c t l y in t h a t fold of w o r d s
112

SPEAKING

w h e r e analysis a n d space m e e t , that t h e first b u t endless possibility o f
p r o g r e s s arises. In its r o o t , progress, as defined in t h e e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y ,
is n o t a m o v e m e n t w i t h i n h i s t o r y , b u t t h e result of a f u n d a m e n t a l relation
b e t w e e n space a n d l a n g u a g e :
T h e a r b i t r a r y signs o f l a n g u a g e a n d w r i t i n g p r o v i d e m e n w i t h t h e
m e a n s o f e n s u r i n g t h e possession o f their ideas a n d o f c o m m u n i c a t i n g
t h e m to others in the m a n n e r of an inheritance, constantly a u g m e n t e d
w i t h t h e n e w discoveries o f each a g e ; a n d t h e h u m a n race, c o n s i d e r e d
f r o m its o r i g i n , appears to t h e eyes of t h e p h i l o s o p h e r as an i m m e n s e
w h o l e t h a t itself possesses, like e v e r y i n d i v i d u a l , its c h i l d h o o d a n d its
progress [ 9 1 ] .
L a n g u a g e gives t h e p e r p e t u a l d i s r u p t i o n o f t i m e t h e c o n t i n u i t y o f space,
a n d it is to t h e d e g r e e t h a t it analyses, articulates, a n d patterns r e p r e sentation that i t has t h e p o w e r t o link o u r k n o w l e d g e o f t h i n g s t o g e t h e r
across t h e d i m e n s i o n o f t i m e . W i t h t h e a d v e n t o f l a n g u a g e , t h e c h a o t i c
m o n o t o n y o f space i s f r a g m e n t e d , w h i l e a t t h e s a m e t i m e t h e diversity o f
t e m p o r a l successions is unified.
T h e r e r e m a i n s o n e last p r o b l e m , h o w e v e r . F o r t h o u g h w r i t i n g i s i n deed t h e buttress a n d e v e r - w a t c h f u l g u a r d i a n o f these p r o g r e s s i v e l y m o r e
refined analyses, it is n e i t h e r their p r i n c i p l e n o r e v e n their initial m o v e m e n t . This latter is a slipping m o v e m e n t c o m m o n to a t t e n t i o n , to signs,
a n d t o w o r d s . I n a n y r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , t h e m i n d can attach itself, a n d attach
a v e r b a l sign, to o n e e l e m e n t of t h a t r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , to a c i r c u m s t a n c e
a t t e n d i n g it, to s o m e o t h e r , absent, t h i n g t h a t is similar to it a n d is recalled
t o m e m o r y o n a c c o u n t o f i t [92]. T h e r e i s n o d o u b t t h a t this i s h o w l a n g u a g e d e v e l o p e d a n d g r a d u a l l y drifted a w a y f r o m p r i m a r y designations.
O r i g i n a l l y , e v e r y t h i n g h a d a n a m e - a p r o p e r or peculiar n a m e . T h e n t h e
n a m e b e c a m e a t t a c h e d t o a single e l e m e n t o f t h e t h i n g , a n d b e c a m e
applicable to all t h e o t h e r i n d i v i d u a l t h i n g s t h a t also c o n t a i n e d t h a t clem e n t : it is no l o n g e r a p a r t i c u l a r o a k t h a t is called tree, b u t a n y t h i n g t h a t
includes at least a t r u n k a n d b r a n c h e s . T h e n a m e also b e c a m e a t t a c h e d to a
c o n s p i c u o u s c i r c u m s t a n c e : night c a m e t o designate, n o t t h e e n d o f this
particular d a y , b u t t h e p e r i o d o f darkness separating all sunsets f r o m all
d a w n s . Finally, it a t t a c h e d itself to analogies: e v e r y t h i n g w a s called a leaf
that w a s as t h i n a n d flexible as t h e leaf of a t r e e [ 9 3 ] . T h e p r o g r e s s i v e
analysis and m o r e a d v a n c e d a r t i c u l a t i o n o f l a n g u a g e , w h i c h enable u s t o
give a single n a m e t o several t h i n g s , w e r e d e v e l o p e d a l o n g t h e lines o f
these t h r e e f u n d a m e n t a l f i g u r e s s o w e l l k n o w n t o r h e t o r i c : s y n e c d o c h e ,
"3

THE

ORDER

OF

THINGS

m e t o n y m y , a n d catachresis (or m e t a p h o r , i f t h e a n a l o g y i s less i m m e diately p e r c e p t i b l e ) . F o r these t h i n g s a r e n o t t h e effect o f a r e f i n e m e n t o f
style; o n t h e c o n t r a r y , t h e y r e v e a l t h e m o b i l i t y peculiar t o all l a n g u a g e
w h e n e v e r i t i s s p o n t a n e o u s : ' L a H a l l e p r o d u c e s m o r e figures o f speech i n
o n e m a r k e t d a y t h a n o u r a c a d e m i c assemblies d o i n a w e e k ' [ 9 4 ] . I t i s v e r y
p r o b a b l e t h a t this m o b i l i t y w a s e v e n g r e a t e r i n t h e b e g i n n i n g s o f l a n g u a g e
t h a n it is n o w : t o d a y , t h e analysis is so detailed, t h e g r i d so fine, t h e r e l a tions o f c o o r d i n a t i o n a n d s u b o r d i n a t i o n are s o f i r m l y established, t h a t
w o r d s scarcely h a v e a n y o p p o r t u n i t y t o m o v e f r o m t h e i r places. B u t a t
t h e b e g i n n i n g o f h u m a n h i s t o r y , w h e n w o r d s w e r e few, w h e n r e p r e sentations w e r e still c o n f u s e d a n d n o t w e l l analysed, w h e n t h e passions
b o t h m o d i f i e d t h e m a n d p r o v i d e d t h e m w i t h a basis, w o r d s h a d g r e a t e r
m o b i l i t y . O n e m i g h t e v e n s a y t h a t w o r d s w e r e figurative b e f o r e b e i n g
p r o p e r : i n o t h e r w o r d s , t h a t t h e y h a d scarcely attained t h e i r status a s
p a r t i c u l a r n a m e s b e f o r e t h e y w e r e b e i n g scattered o v e r r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s b y
t h e f o r c e o f s p o n t a n e o u s r h e t o r i c . A s R o u s s e a u says, w e p r o b a b l y talked
a b o u t giants b e f o r e d e s i g n a t i n g m e n [ 9 5 ] . B o a t s w e r e o r i g i n a l l y d e s i g n a t e d b y t h e i r sails, a n d t h e s o u l , t h e ' p s y c h e ' , w a s initially g i v e n t h e
figurative f o r m of the m o t h [96].
S o t h a t a t t h e base o f s p o k e n l a n g u a g e , a s w i t h w r i t i n g , w h a t w e disc o v e r i s t h e r h e t o r i c a l d i m e n s i o n o f w o r d s : t h a t f r e e d o m o f t h e sign t o
alight, a c c o r d i n g t o t h e analysis o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , u p o n s o m e internal
e l e m e n t , u p o n s o m e adjacent p o i n t , u p o n s o m e a n a l o g o u s figure. A n d i f
l a n g u a g e s possess t h e d i v e r s i t y w e o b s e r v e i n t h e m ; i f f r o m , t h e s t a r t i n g p o i n t o f their p r i m i t i v e d e s i g n a t i o n s , w h i c h w e r e d o u b t l e s s c o m m o n t o
t h e m all o w i n g t o t h e u n i v e r s a l i t y o f h u m a n n a t u r e , t h e y h a v e n o t ceased
t o d e v e l o p a c c o r d i n g t o t h e dictates o f differing f o r m s ; i f t h e y h a v e all
h a d t h e i r o w n h i s t o r y , fashions, c u s t o m s , a n d p e r i o d s o f o b l i v i o n ; this i s
because w o r d s h a v e t h e i r locus, n o t in time, b u t in a space in w h i c h t h e y
a r e a b l e t o find t h e i r o r i g i n a l site, c h a n g e t h e i r positions, t u r n b a c k u p o n
t h e m s e l v e s , a n d s l o w l y u n f o l d a w h o l e d e v e l o p i n g c u r v e : a topological
space. A n d i n this w a y o n e r e t u r n s o n c e m o r e t o w h a t h a d served a s a
s t a r t i n g - p o i n t for reflection u p o n l a n g u a g e . L a n g u a g e w a s o f all signs t h e
o n e h a v i n g t h e p r o p e r t y o f b e i n g s e q u e n t i a l : n o t because i t w a s itself p a r t
o f a c h r o n o l o g y , b u t b e c a u s e i t d r e w o u t i n t o sequential s o u n d s t h e
s i m u l t a n e i t y o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n . B u t this succession, w h i c h analyses disc o n t i n u o u s e l e m e n t s a n d b r i n g s t h e m i n t o v i e w o n e after t h e o t h e r ,
traverses t h e space offered b y r e p r e s e n t a t i o n t o t h e m i n d ' s e y e . S o t h a t
l a n g u a g e m e r e l y a r r a n g e s i n t o a linear o r d e r t h e scattered f r a g m e n t s
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represented. T h e p r o p o s i t i o n unfolds a n d m a k e s a u d i b l e t h e f i g u r e t h a t
r h e t o r i c m a k e s visible. W i t h o u t this t r o p o l o g i c a l space, l a n g u a g e w o u l d
n o t b e f o r m e d o f all t h o s e c o m m o n n a m e s t h a t m a k e i t possible t o e s t a b lish a p r e d i c a t i v e r e l a t i o n . A n d w i t h o u t this analysis o f t h e w o r d s , t h e
figures w o u l d h a v e r e m a i n e d m u t e a n d m o m e n t a r y ; a n d since t h e y w o u l d
h a v e b e e n p e r c e i v e d o n l y i n t h e incandescence o f t h e instant, t h e y w o u l d
h a v e fallen f o r t h w i t h i n t o a darkness in w h i c h t h e r e is n o t e v e n a n y
time.
F r o m t h e t h e o r y o f t h e p r o p o s i t i o n t o t h a t o f d e r i v a t i o n , all Classical
reflection

upon

l a n g u a g e - all

t h a t w a s called ' g e n e r a l g r a m m a r ' - is

m e r e l y a detailed c o m m e n t a r y u p o n t h e simple p h r a s e : ' l a n g u a g e analyses'.
I t w a s u p o n this p o i n t , i n t h e s e v e n t e e n t h c e n t u r y , t h a t t h e w h o l e W e s t e r n
e x p e r i e n c e o f l a n g u a g e f o u n d e r e d - t h e e x p e r i e n c e t h a t h a d a l w a y s led
m e n to believe, u n t i l t h e n , t h a t language spoke.

VII

THE Q U A D R I L A T E R A L OF L A N G U A G E

A f e w c o n c l u d i n g r e m a r k s . T h e four theories - o f t h e p r o p o s i t i o n , o f
articulation, of d e s i g n a t i o n , a n d of d e r i v a t i o n - f o r m , as it w e r e , t h e s e g m e n t s of a quadrilateral. T h e y c o n f r o n t each o t h e r in pairs a n d reinforce
each o t h e r i n pairs. A r t i c u l a t i o n gives c o n t e n t t o t h e p u r e a n d still e m p t y
verbal form of the proposition; it fills that form, yet is in opposition to
it, as a n o m i n a t i o n t h a t differentiates t h i n g s is in o p p o s i t i o n to t h e p r e dication t h a t links t h e m t o g e t h e r . T h e t h e o r y o f d e s i g n a t i o n reveals t h e
p o i n t o f a t t a c h m e n t o f all t h e n o m i n a l f o r m s c u t o u t b y a r t i c u l a t i o n ; b u t
t h e y are in o p p o s i t i o n to articulation, j u s t as t h e instantaneous, gestural,
p e r p e n d i c u l a r d e s i g n a t i o n is in o p p o s i t i o n to p a t t e r n s based on g e n e r a l i ties. T h e t h e o r y o f d e r i v a t i o n indicates t h e c o n t i n u o u s m o v e m e n t o f
w o r d s f r o m t h e i r source o f o r i g i n , b u t t h e slipping t h a t occurs o n t h e
surface of r e p r e s e n t a t i o n is in o p p o s i t i o n to t h e single stable b o n d t h a t
links o n e r o o t t o o n e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n . Finally, d e r i v a t i o n leads b a c k t o t h e
p r o p o s i t i o n , since w i t h o u t i t all d e s i g n a t i o n w o u l d r e m a i n folded i n o n
itself a n d c o u l d n e v e r a c q u i r e t h e g e n e r a l i t y t h a t a l o n e can a u t h o r i z e a
p r e d i c a t i n g l i n k ; y e t d e r i v a t i o n is created by m e a n s of a spatial figure,
w h e r e a s t h e p r o p o s i t i o n unfolds in o b e d i e n c e to a sequential a n d linear
order.
It s h o u l d be n o t e d t h a t t h e r e also exist d i a g o n a l relations, as it w e r e ,
b e t w e e n t h e o p p o s i n g c o r n e r s o f this r e c t a n g l e . First o f all, b e t w e e n
articulation a n d d e r i v a t i o n : if t h e existence of an articulated l a n g u a g e is
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possible, w i t h w o r d s i n j u x t a p o s i t i o n , i n t e r l o c k i n g , o r a r r a n g i n g t h e m selves in relation to o n e a n o t h e r , t h e n it is so o n l y in so far as t h e w o r d s
of that l a n g u a g e - starting f r o m their original values and f r o m t h e s i m p l e
act of designation t h a t w a s their basis - h a v e n e v e r ceased to m o v e further
a n d further a w a y , by a process of d e r i v a t i o n , thus a c q u i r i n g a variable
e x t e n s i o n ; h e n c e a n axis t h a t cuts across t h e w h o l e quadrilateral o f l a n g u a g e ; a n d it is a l o n g this line that t h e state of a l a n g u a g e is m a r k e d off:
its articulative capacities are d e t e r m i n e d by t h e distance it has m o v e d
a l o n g t h e line of d e r i v a t i o n ; such a r e a d i n g defines b o t h its historical
p o s t u r e a n d its p o w e r o f d i s c r i m i n a t i o n . T h e o t h e r d i a g o n a l r u n s f r o m t h e
p r o p o s i t i o n b a c k t o t h e o r i g i n , that is, f r o m t h e affirmation a t t h e h e a r t
o f e v e r y act o f j u d g e m e n t t o t h e designation i m p l i e d b y a n y act o f
n o m i n a t i o n ; i t i s a l o n g this axis t h a t t h e relation o f w o r d s t o w h a t t h e y
represent is established: h e r e it b e c o m e s a p p a r e n t that w o r d s n e v e r speak
anything other than the being of representation, but that they always
n a m e s o m e t h i n g r e p r e s e n t e d . T h e first d i a g o n a l m a r k s t h e progress o f a
l a n g u a g e f r o m t h e p o i n t o f v i e w o f its specification; t h e s e c o n d t h e e n d less i n t e r l e a v i n g of l a n g u a g e a n d r e p r e s e n t a t i o n - t h e d u p l i c a t i n g process
w h i c h is t h e reason w h y t h e v e r b a l sign is always r e p r e s e n t i n g a r e p r e sentation. On this latter line, t h e w o r d functions as a substitute ( w i t h its
p o w e r t o r e p r e s e n t ) ; o n t h e f o r m e r , a s a n e l e m e n t ( w i t h its p o w e r t o
make combinations and break t h e m d o w n ) .
A t t h e p o i n t w h e r e these t w o diagonals intersect, a t t h e c e n t r e o f t h e
q u a n d r i l a t e r a l , w h e r e t h e d u p l i c a t i n g process of representation, is revealed
a s analysis, w h e r e t h e substitute has t h e p o w e r o f d i s t r i b u t i o n a n d w h e r e ,
in c o n s e q u e n c e , t h e r e resides t h e possibility a n d t h e pVrYciple of a general
t a x o n o m y of r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , there is t h e name. To n a m e is at t h e s a m e t i m e
to g i v e t h e v e r b a l r e p r e s e n t a t i o n of a r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , a n d to place it in a
general table. T h e entire Classical t h e o r y of l a n g u a g e is o r g a n i z e d a r o u n d
this central a n d p r i v i l e g e d e n t i t y . All t h e v a r i o u s functions o f l a n g u a g e
intersect w i t h i n it, since it is by n o m i n a t i o n t h a t representations a r e
e n a b l e d to e n t e r as figures i n t o a p r o p o s i t i o n . It is therefore also t h r o u g h
n o m i n a t i o n that discourse i s articulated u p o n k n o w l e d g e . O n l y t h e j u d g e m e n t , o f course, c a n b e t r u e o r false. B u t i f all n a m e s w e r e exact, i f t h e
analysis u p o n w h i c h t h e y are based h a d been perfectly t h o u g h t o u t , i f t h e
l a n g u a g e i n q u e s t i o n h a d b e e n ' w e l l m a d e ' , t h e r e w o u l d b e n o difficulty
in p r o n o u n c i n g t r u e j u d g e m e n t s , a n d e r r o r , s h o u l d it o c c u r , w o u l d be as
easy to u n c o v e r a n d as e v i d e n t as in a calculation in algebra. B u t t h e
i m p e r f e c t i o n of analysis, and all t h e slight shifts caused by d e r i v a t i o n , h a v e
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caused n a m e s t o b e a t t a c h e d t o analyses, abstractions, a n d c o m b i n a t i o n s
t h a t are in fact illegitimate. T h e r e w o u l d be no d i s a d v a n t a g e in this (any
m o r e t h a n i n g i v i n g n a m e s t o fabulous m o n s t e r s ) i f w o r d s did n o t posit
themselves a s b e i n g representations o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s : w i t h t h e result t h a t
w e c a n n o t t h i n k o f a w o r d - h o w e v e r abstract, general, a n d e m p t y i t m a y
be - w i t h o u t affirming t h e possibility of w h a t it represents. T h i s is w h y ,
i n t h e m i d d l e o f t h e quadrilateral o f l a n g u a g e , t h e n a m e appears b o t h a s
t h e p o i n t u p o n w h i c h all t h e structures o f a l a n g u a g e c o n v e r g e (for t h e
n a m e is its m o s t secret, m o s t closely g u a r d e d figure, t h e p u r e i n t e r n a l
result of all its c o n v e n t i o n s , rules, a n d h i s t o r y ) , a n d as t h e p o i n t f r o m
w h i c h all l a n g u a g e in general can e n t e r i n t o a relation w i t h t h e t r u t h
a c c o r d i n g t o w h i c h i t will b e j u d g e d .
T h i s i s t h e n e x u s o f t h e e n t i r e Classical experience o f l a n g u a g e : t h e
reversible character of g r a m m a t i c a l analysis, w h i c h is at o n e and t h e s a m e
t i m e science a n d prescription, a s t u d y of w o r d s a n d a rule for c o n s t r u c t i n g
t h e m , e m p l o y i n g t h e m , a n d r e m o u l d i n g t h e m i n t o t h e i r representative
function; t h e f u n d a m e n t a l n o m i n a l i s m o f p h i l o s o p h y f r o m H o b b e s t o
I d e o l o g y , a n o m i n a l i s m t h a t is inseparable f r o m a critique of l a n g u a g e a n d
f r o m all t h a t mistrust w i t h r e g a r d t o general a n d abstract w o r d s t h a t w e
f i n d i n M a l e b r a n c h e , B e r k e l e y , C o n d i l l a c , a n d H u m e ; t h e great Utopia o f
a perfectly t r a n s p a r e n t l a n g u a g e in w h i c h t h i n g s themselves c o u l d be
n a m e d w i t h o u t a n y p e n u m b r a o f confusion, cither b y a totally a r b i t r a r y
b u t precisely t h o u g h t - o u t system (artificial l a n g u a g e ) , or by a l a n g u a g e so
n a t u r a l t h a t it w o u l d translate t h o u g h t like a face expressing a passion (it
w a s this l a n g u a g e o f i m m e d i a t e sign that Rousseau d r e a m e d o f i n t h e f i r s t
of his Dialogues). O n e m i g h t say that it is t h e N a m e t h a t organizes all
Classical discourse; to speak or to w r i t e is n o t to say t h i n g s or to express
oneself, it is n o t a m a t t e r of p l a y i n g w i t h l a n g u a g e , it is to m a k e o n e ' s
w a y t o w a r d s t h e s o v e r e i g n act o f n o m i n a t i o n , t o m o v e , t h r o u g h l a n g u a g e , t o w a r d s t h e place w h e r e t h i n g s a n d w o r d s are c o n j o i n e d i n their
c o m m o n essence, a n d w h i c h m a k e s i t possible t o g i v e t h e m a n a m e . B u t
o n c e that n a m e has b e e n s p o k e n , all t h e l a n g u a g e that has led u p t o it, o r
that has b e e n crossed in o r d e r to r e a c h it, is r e a b s o r b e d i n t o it a n d disappears. So t h a t Classical discourse, in its p r o f o u n d essence, t e n d s a l w a y s
t o w a r d s this b o u n d a r y ; b u t , i n s u r v i v i n g it, pushes t h e b o u n d a r y further
a w a y . I t c o n t i n u e s o n its w a y i n t h e p e r p e t u a l l y m a i n t a i n e d suspension o f
t h e N a m e . T h i s is w h y , in its v e r y possibility, it is l i n k e d w i t h r h e t o r i c ,
that is, w i t h all t h e space that s u r r o u n d s t h e n a m e , causes it to oscillate
a r o u n d w h a t i t represents, a n d reveals t h e elements, o r t h e adjacency, o r
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t h e analogies o f w h a t i t n a m e s . T h e figures t h r o u g h w h i c h discourse
passes act as a d e t e r r e n t to t h e n a m e , w h i c h t h e n arrives at t h e last m o m e n t
t o fulfil a n d abolish t h e m . T h e n a m e i s t h e end o f discourse. A n d possibly
all Classical literature resides in this space, in this striving to reach a n a m e
that r e m a i n s a l w a y s f o r m i d a b l e because it exhausts, a n d t h e r e b y kills, t h e
possibility of speech. It is this striving m o v e m e n t t h a t carried t h e e x p e r i e n c e o f l a n g u a g e o n w a r d s f r o m t h e restrained confession o f L a
Princesse de Cleves to t h e i m m e d i a t e v i o l e n c e of Juliette. In t h e latter,
n o m i n a t i o n is at last p o s i t e d in its starkest n u d i t y , a n d t h e rhetorical
figures, w h i c h u n t i l t h e n h a d b e e n h o l d i n g i t i n suspense, collapse a n d
b e c o m e t h e endless figures of desire - a n d t h e s a m e n a m e s , c o n s t a n d y
r e p e a t e d , e x h a u s t themselves in t h e i r effort to cross those figures, w i t h o u t
ever b e i n g able t o reach t h e i r e n d .
All Classical literature resides i n t h e m o v e m e n t t h a t p r o c e e d s f r o m t h e
figure o f t h e n a m e t o t h e n a m e itself, passing f r o m t h e task o f n a m i n g t h e
s a m e t h i n g y e t again b y m e a n s o f n e w figures ( w h i c h i s preciosity) t o t h a t
o f f i n d i n g w o r d s that will a t last n a m e accurately that w h i c h has n e v e r
b e e n n a m e d before o r t h a t w h i c h has r e m a i n e d d o r m a n t i n t h e e n v e l o p i n g
folds o f w o r d s t o o far r e m o v e d f r o m it: o f this latter k i n d are t h o s e
secrets o f t h e soul, those impressions b o r n a t t h e frontier o f t h i n g s a n d t h e
b o d y for w h i c h t h e l a n g u a g e of t h e Cinquieme Reverie m a d e itself s p o n t a n e o u s l y t r a n s p a r e n t . Later, R o m a n t i c i s m w a s t o believe that i t h a d
b r o k e n w i t h t h e p r e v i o u s a g e because i t h a d learned t o n a m e t h i n g s b y
their n a m e . I n fact all Classicism t e n d e d t o w a r d s this e n d : H u g o w a s t h e
fulfilment o f V o i t u r e ' s p r o m i s e . B u t , b y this v e r y fact, t h e n a m e ceases t o
b e t h e r e w a r d o f l a n g u a g e ; i t b e c o m e s instead its

enigmatic

material.

T h e o n l y m o m e n t - a n intolerable o n e , for l o n g b u r i e d i n s e c r e c y - a t
w h i c h t h e n a m e w a s a t t h e s a m e t i m e t h e fulfilment a n d t h e substance o f
l a n g u a g e , its p r o m i s e a n d its r a w material, w a s w h e n , w i t h Sade, i t w a s
traversed t h r o u g h o u t its w h o l e expanse b y desire, o f w h i c h i t w a s a t o n c e
t h e place o f o c c u r r e n c e , t h e satisfaction, a n d t h e p e r p e t u a l r e c u r r e n c e .
H e n c e t h e fact t h a t Sade's w o r k s p l a y t h e r o l e o f a n incessant p r i m o r d i a l
m u r m u r i n o u r c u l t u r e . W i t h this v i o l e n c e o f t h e n a m e b e i n g u t t e r e d a t
last for its o w n sake, l a n g u a g e e m e r g e s in all its b r u t e b e i n g as a t h i n g ;
t h e o t h e r 'parts o f o r a t i o n ' assume i n t u r n their a u t o n o m y , escaping f r o m
t h e s o v e r e i g n t y o f t h e n a m e , a n d ceasing t o f o r m a r o u n d i t a n accessory
circle o f o r n a m e n t s . A n d since t h e r e i s n o l o n g e r a n y particular b e a u t y
i n ' r e t a i n i n g ' l a n g u a g e a r o u n d t h e frontiers o f t h e n a m e , i n m a k i n g i t
s h o w w h a t it does n o t say, t h e result will be a n o n - d i s c u r s i v e discourse
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w h o s e r o l e will b e t o manifest l a n g u a g e i n its b r u t e b e i n g . This p r o p e r
b e i n g o f l a n g u a g e i s w h a t t h e n i n e t e e n t h c e n t u r y w a s t o call t h e W o r d
(le Verbe), as o p p o s e d to t h e Classical ' v e r b ' , w h o s e function is to p i n
l a n g u a g e , discreetly b u t c o n t i n u o u s l y , t o t h e b e i n g o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n . A n d
t h e discourse t h a t contains this b e i n g a n d frees it for its o w n sake is
literature.
A r o u n d t h e p r i v i l e g e d p o s i t i o n o c c u p i e d b y t h e n a m e i n t h e Classical
p e r i o d , t h e theoretical s e g m e n t s ( p r o p o s i t i o n , articulation, designation,
a n d d e r i v a t i o n ) c o n s t i t u t e t h e frontiers o f w h a t t h e e x p e r i e n c e o f l a n g u a g e
w a s a t t h a t t i m e . O u r s t e p - b y - s t e p analysis o f these s e g m e n t s w a s n o t
u n d e r t a k e n i n o r d e r t o p r o v i d e a history o f g r a m m a t i c a l c o n c e p t i o n s i n
t h e s e v e n t e e n t h a n d e i g h t e e n t h centuries, o r t o establish t h e general o u t line o f w h a t m e n m i g h t h a v e t h o u g h t a b o u t l a n g u a g e a t t h a t t i m e . T h e
intention was to determine in w h a t conditions language could become the
object o f a p e r i o d ' s k n o w l e d g e , a n d b e t w e e n w h a t limits this e p i s t e m o logical d o m a i n d e v e l o p e d . N o t t o calculate t h e c o m m o n d e n o m i n a t o r o f
m e n ' s o p i n i o n s , b u t t o define w h a t m a d e i t possible for o p i n i o n s a b o u t
l a n g u a g e - w h a t e v e r t h e o p i n i o n s m a y h a v e b e e n - to exist at all. T h i s is
w h y o u r r e c t a n g l e defines a p e r i p h e r y r a t h e r t h a n p r o v i d e s a n i n t e r i o r
figure, a n d i t s h o w s h o w l a n g u a g e i n t e r t w i n e s w i t h w h a t i s e x t e r i o r a n d
indispensable t o it. W e h a v e seen t h a t l a n g u a g e existed o n l y b y v i r t u e o f
t h e p r o p o s i t i o n : w i t h o u t at least t h e i m p l i c i t presence of t h e v e r b to be, a n d
o f t h e p r e d i c a t i v e relation for w h i c h i t p r o v i d e s a u t h o r i t y , i t w o u l d n o t b e
l a n g u a g e t h a t w e w e r e d e a l i n g w i t h a t all, b u t a collection o f signs like
a n y o t h e r s . T h e p r o p o s i t i o n a l f o r m posits a s a c o n d i t i o n o f l a n g u a g e t h e
affirmation of a relation of i d e n t i t y or difference: we c a n speak o n l y in so
far as this relation is possible. B u t t h e o t h e r t h r e e theoretical s e g m e n t s
enclose a q u i t e different r e q u i r e m e n t : if it is to be possible to d e r i v e w o r d s
f r o m their first source, if an original k i n s h i p is to be a l r e a d y in existence
b e t w e e n a r o o t a n d its signification, if t h e r e is to be an articulated p a t t e r n ing o f representations, t h e r e m u s t b e a m u r m u r o f analogies rising f r o m
things, perceptible e v e n i n t h e m o s t i m m e d i a t e e x p e r i e n c e ; t h e r e m u s t b e
resemblances t h a t posit themselves f r o m t h e v e r y start. I f e v e r y t h i n g w e r e
absolute diversity, t h o u g h t w o u l d b e d o o m e d t o singularity, a n d like
Condillac's statue before i t b e g a n t o r e m e m b e r a n d m a k e c o m p a r i s o n s , i t
w o u l d b e d o o m e d also t o absolute dispersion a n d absolute m o n o t o n y .
N e i t h e r m e m o r y n o r i m a g i n a t i o n , n o r , t h e r e f o r e , reflection, w o u l d b e
possible. A n d i t w o u l d b e impossible t o c o m p a r e t h i n g s w i t h each o t h e r ,
to define their identical characteristics, a n d to establish a c o m m o n n a m e
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OF

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for t h e m . T h e r e w o u l d be no l a n g u a g e . If l a n g u a g e exists, it is because
b e l o w t h e level of identities a n d differences t h e r e is t h e f o u n d a t i o n p r o v i d e d b y continuities, resemblances, repetitions, a n d n a t u r a l criss-crossings.
R e s e m b l a n c e , e x c l u d e d f r o m k n o w l e d g e since t h e early s e v e n t e e n t h c e n t u r y , still constitutes t h e o u t e r e d g e o f l a n g u a g e : t h e r i n g s u r r o u n d i n g t h e
d o m a i n o f t h a t w h i c h can b e analysed, r e d u c e d t o o r d e r , a n d k n o w n .
Discourse dissipates the m u r m u r , b u t w i t h o u t it it c o u l d n o t speak.
I t i s n o w possible t o g r a s p h o w solid a n d t i g h t l y k n i t t h e u n i t y o f
l a n g u a g e is in t h e Classical experience. It is this u n i t y that, t h r o u g h t h e
play o f a n articulated designation, enables r e s e m b l a n c e t o e n t e r t h e p r o positional relation, t h a t is, a s y s t e m of identities a n d differences as based
u p o n t h e v e r b to be a n d manifested by t h e n e t w o r k of names. T h e f u n d a m e n t a l task of Classical 'discourse' is to ascribe a name to things, and in that
name to name their being. F o r t w o centuries, W e s t e r n discourse w a s t h e
locus o f o n t o l o g y . W h e n i t n a m e d t h e b e i n g o f all r e p r e s e n t a t i o n i n
general, i t w a s p h i l o s o p h y : t h e o r y o f k n o w l e d g e a n d analysis o f ideas.
W h e n i t ascribed t o each t h i n g represented t h e n a m e t h a t w a s fitted t o
it, a n d laid o u t t h e grid of a w e l l - m a d e l a n g u a g e across t h e w h o l e field of
r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , t h e n it w a s science - n o m e n c l a t u r e a n d t a x o n o m y .

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CHAPTER

5

Classifying
I

W H A T THE HISTORIANS

SAY

Histories of ideas or of t h e sciences - by w h i c h is m e a n t h e r e an a v e r a g e
cross-section of t h e m - credit t h e s e v e n t e e n t h c e n t u r y , a n d especially t h e
eighteenth, w i t h a n e w curiosity: t h e curiosity that caused t h e m , i f n o t t o
discover t h e sciences of life, at least to g i v e t h e m a h i t h e r t o unsuspected
scope a n d precision. A certain n u m b e r of causes a n d several essential
manifestations a r e traditionally a t t r i b u t e d t o this p h e n o m e n o n .
O n t h e side o f origins o r m o t i v e s , w e place t h e n e w privileges a c c o r d e d
t o o b s e r v a t i o n : t h e p o w e r s a t t r i b u t e d t o i t since B a c o n a n d t h e technical
improvements introduced in it by the invention of the microscope.
Alongside these is set t h e t h e n recently attained prestige of t h e physical
sciences, w h i c h p r o v i d e d a m o d e l of r a t i o n a l i t y ; since it h a d p r o v e d p o s sible, b y m e a n s o f e x p e r i m e n t a t i o n a n d t h e o r y , t o analyse t h e l a w s o f
m o v e m e n t o r those g o v e r n i n g t h e reflection o f light b e a m s , w a s i t n o t
n o r m a l t o seek, b y m e a n s o f e x p e r i m e n t s , o b s e r v a t i o n s , o r calculations,
the laws t h a t m i g h t g o v e r n t h e m o r e c o m p l e x b u t adjacent r e a l m o f
living beings? Cartesian m e c h a n i s m , w h i c h s u b s e q u e n t l y p r o v e d a n
obstacle, w a s used at first, t h e historians tell us, as a sort of i n s t r u m e n t of
transference, a n d led, r a t h e r in spite of itself, f r o m m e c h a n i c a l rationality
t o the discovery o f that o t h e r rationality w h i c h i s t h a t o f t h e living b e i n g .
Still on t h e side of causes, a n d in a s o m e w h a t pell-mell fashion, t h e historians of ideas place a v a r i e t y of n e w interests: t h e e c o n o m i c a t t i t u d e
towards a g r i c u l t u r e - t h e Physiocrats' beliefs w e r e e v i d e n c e of this, b u t
s o t o o w e r e t h e f i r s t efforts t o create a n a g r o n o m y ; t h e n , h a l f - w a y
between h u s b a n d r y a n d t h e o r y , a curiosity w i t h r e g a r d to e x o t i c plants
and animals, w h i c h a t t e m p t s w e r e m a d e t o acclimatize, a n d o f w h i c h t h e
great v o y a g e s o f i n q u i r y o r e x p l o r a t i o n - t h a t o f T o u r n e f o r t t o t h e
Middle East, for e x a m p l e , or that of A d a n s o n to Senegal - b r o u g h t b a c k
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OF

THINGS

d e s c r i p t i o n s , e n g r a v i n g s , a n d s p e c i m e n s ; a n d t h e n , a b o v e all, t h e e t h i c a l
valorization

o f nature,

together

w i t h the

whole

o f that

movement,

a m b i g u o u s i n its p r i n c i p l e , b y m e a n s o f w h i c h - w h e t h e r o n e w a s a n
aristocrat or a b o u r g e o i s - o n e ' i n v e s t e d ' m o n e y a n d f e e l i n g i n t o a l a n d
that earlier p e r i o d s h a d f o r s o l o n g left f a l l o w . R o u s s e a u , a t t h e h e a r t o f
t h e e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y , w a s a student o f b o t a n y .
I n their list o f m a n i f e s t a t i o n s , t h e historians t h e n i n c l u d e the v a r i e d
f o r m s that w e r e t a k e n b y these n e w sciences o f life, a n d t h e 'spirit', a s
t h e y p u t it, t h a t d i r e c t e d t h e m . A p p a r e n t l y , u n d e r the i n f l u e n c e o f D e s cartes, t h e y w e r e m e c h a n i s t i c t o b e g i n w i t h , a n d c o n t i n u e d t o b e s o t o
the e n d o f t h e s e v e n t e e n t h c e n t u r y ; t h e n t h e first efforts o f a n infant
c h e m i s t r y m a d e its i m p r i n t u p o n t h e m , b u t t h r o u g h o u t t h e e i g h t e e n t h
c e n t u r y t h e vitalist t h e m e s a r e t h o u g h t t o h a v e attained o r r e t u r n e d t o
their p r i v i l e g e d status, f i n a l l y c o a l e s c i n g to f o r m a u n i t a r y d o c t r i n e - that
' v i t a l i s m ' w h i c h i n s l i g h t l y differing f o r m s w a s p r o f e s s e d b y B o r d e u a n d
Barthez in Montpellier, by B l u m e n b a c h in G e r m a n y , and by Diderot
t h e n B i c h a t i n Paris. U n d e r these different t h e o r e t i c a l r e g i m e n s , q u e s t i o n s
w e r e a s k e d that w e r e a l m o s t a l w a y s t h e s a m e b u t w e r e g i v e n e a c h t i m e
a different s o l u t i o n : t h e p o s s i b i l i t y o f c l a s s i f y i n g l i v i n g b e i n g s - s o m e ,
l i k e L i n n a e u s , h o l d i n g that all o f n a t u r e c a n b e a c c o m m o d a t e d w i t h i n
a t a x o n o m y , others, h k e Buffon, h o l d i n g that it is t o o rich and various
t o b e fitted w i t h i n s o r i g i d a f r a m e w o r k ; t h e g e n e r a t i v e p r o c e s s , w i t h
the m o r e mechanistically m i n d e d in favour of preformation, and others
b e l i e v i n g i n t h e specific d e v e l o p m e n t o f g e r m s ; analysis o f f u n c t i o n s
( c i r c u l a t i o n after H a r v e y , sensation, m o t i v i t y , a n d , t o w a r d s the e n d o f
the century, respiration).
A f t e r e x a m i n i n g these p r o b l e m s a n d the discussions t h e y g i v e rise t o ,
i t i s s i m p l e e n o u g h for t h e historians t o r e c o n s t r u c t t h e g r e a t c o n t r o v e r s i e s
that are said t o h a v e d i v i d e d m e n ' s o p i n i o n s a n d passions, a s w e l l a s t h e i r
r e a s o n i n g . B y these m e a n s t h e y b e l i e v e that t h e y c a n d i s c o v e r the traces
o f a m a j o r c o n f l i c t b e t w e e n a t h e o l o g y that sees the p r o v i d e n c e o f G o d
a n d t h e s i m p l i c i t y , m y s t e r y , a n d f o r e s i g h t o f his w a y s r e s i d i n g b e n e a t h
e a c h f o r m a n d in all its m o v e m e n t s , a n d a science that is a l r e a d y a t t e m p t i n g t o d e f i n e t h e a u t o n o m y o f n a t u r e . T h e y also r e c o g n i z e the c o n t r a d i c t i o n b e t w e e n a science still t o o a t t a c h e d t o t h e o l d p r e - e m i n e n c e o f
a s t r o n o m y , m e c h a n i c s , a n d o p t i c s , a n d a n o t h e r science t h a t a l r e a d y suspects all t h e i r r e d u c i b l e a n d specific c o n t e n t s t h e r e m a y b e i n the r e a l m s
o f life. L a s t l y , t h e historians see t h e e m e r g e n c e , a s t h o u g h b e f o r e their
v e r y eyes, o f a n opposition b e t w e e n those w h o believe i n the i m m o b i l i t y
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of n a t u r e - in t h e m a n n e r of T o u r n e f o r t , a n d a b o v e all Linnaeus - a n d
those w h o , w i t h B o n n e t , B e n o i t d e Maillet, a n d D i d e r o t , already h a v e
a p r e s e n t i m e n t of life's creative p o w e r s , of its inexhaustible p o w e r of
t r a n s f o r m a t i o n , o f its plasticity, a n d o f t h a t m o v e m e n t b y m e a n s o f w h i c h
it envelops all its p r o d u c t i o n s , ourselves i n c l u d e d , in a t i m e of w h i c h no
o n e i s m a s t e r . L o n g before D a r w i n a n d l o n g before L a m a r c k , t h e g r e a t
d e b a t e o n e v o l u t i o n w o u l d a p p e a r t o h a v e been o p e n e d b y t h e Telliamed,
t h e Palingenesie a n d t h e Rive de d'Alembert. M e c h a n i s m a n d t h e o l o g y ,
s u p p o r t i n g o n e a n o t h e r o r ceaselessly conflicting w i t h o n e a n o t h e r ,
t e n d e d to k e e p t h e Classical age as close as possible to its o r i g i n - on t h e
side o f Descartes a n d M a l e b r a n c h e ; w h e r e a s , o p p o s i t e t h e m , irreligion
a n d a w h o l e confused i n t u i t i o n of life, conflicting in t u r n (as in B o n n e t )
or acting as accomplices (as w i t h D i d e r o t ) , a r e said to be d r a w i n g it
t o w a r d s its i m m i n e n t future - t o w a r d s t h e n i n e t e e n t h c e n t u r y , w h i c h is
supposed t o h a v e p r o v i d e d t h e still o b s c u r e a n d fettered e n d e a v o u r s o f
the e i g h t e e n t h w i t h their positive a n d rational fulfilment in a science of
life w h i c h did n o t n e e d to sacrifice rationality in o r d e r to preserve in t h e
v e r y quick o f its consciousness t h e specificity o f living things, a n d t h a t
s o m e w h a t s u b t e r r a n e a n w a r m t h w h i c h circulates b e t w e e n t h e m - t h e
object o f o u r k n o w l e d g e - a n d us, w h o are h e r e t o k n o w t h e m .
I t w o u l d b e pointless t o g o back o v e r t h e p r e s u p p o s i t i o n s i n h e r e n t i n
such a m e t h o d . Let it suffice h e r e to p o i n t o u t its consequences: t h e difficulty o f a p p r e h e n d i n g t h e n e t w o r k t h a t i s able t o link t o g e t h e r such
diverse investigations as a t t e m p t s to establish a t a x o n o m y a n d m i c r o scopic o b s e r v a t i o n s ; t h e necessity of r e c o r d i n g as o b s e r v e d facts t h e c o n f l i c t s b e t w e e n those w h o w e r e fixists a n d those w h o w e r e n o t , o r b e t w e e n
t h e experimentalists a n d t h e partisans o f t h e system; t h e o b l i g a t i o n t o
d i v i d e k n o w l e d g e i n t o t w o i n t e r w o v e n fabrics w h e n i n fact t h e y w e r e
alien t o o n e a n o t h e r - t h e first b e i n g defined b y w h a t w a s k n o w n a l r e a d y
and f r o m e l s e w h e r e (the Aristotelian o r scholastic i n h e r i t a n c e , t h e w e i g h t
o f Cartesianism, t h e prestige o f N e w t o n ) , t h e second b y w h a t still
r e m a i n e d t o b e k n o w n (evolution, t h e specificity o f life, t h e n o t i o n o f
o r g a n i s m ) ; a n d a b o v e all t h e application o f categories t h a t are strictly
anachronistic i n relation t o this k n o w l e d g e . O b v i o u s l y , t h e m o s t i m p o r tant of all these refers to life. Historians w a n t to w r i t e histories of b i o l o g y
i n t h e e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y ; b u t t h e y d o n o t realize t h a t b i o l o g y d i d n o t
exist t h e n , a n d t h a t t h e p a t t e r n o f k n o w l e d g e t h a t has b e e n familiar t o
us for a h u n d r e d a n d fifty years is n o t valid for a p r e v i o u s p e r i o d . A n d
that, if b i o l o g y w a s u n k n o w n , t h e r e w a s a v e r y simple reason for it: t h a t
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life itself d i d n o t exist. All that existed was l i v i n g beings, w h i c h w e r e
v i e w e d t h r o u g h a g r i d of k n o w l e d g e c o n s t i t u t e d by natural history.

II

NATURAL HISTORY

H o w w a s t h e Classical age able t o define this r e a l m o f ' n a t u r a l h i s t o r y ' ,
t h e p r o o f s a n d e v e n t h e u n i t y o f w h i c h n o w a p p e a r t o u s s o distant, a n d
as t h o u g h already b l u r r e d ? W h a t is this field in w h i c h n a t u r e a p p e a r e d
sufficiently close to itself for t h e i n d i v i d u a l b e i n g s it c o n t a i n e d to be
classified, a n d y e t s o far r e m o v e d f r o m itself t h a t t h e y h a d t o b e s o b y t h e
m e d i u m o f analysis a n d reflection?
O n e has t h e i m p r e s s i o n - a n d it is often expressed - t h a t t h e h i s t o r y of
n a t u r e m u s t h a v e a p p e a r e d a s Cartesian m e c h a n i s m e b b e d . W h e n i t h a d
at last b e c o m e clear that it w a s impossible to fit t h e entire w o r l d i n t o t h e
laws o f rectilinear m o v e m e n t , w h e n t h e c o m p l e x i t y o f t h e v e g e t a b l e and
a n i m a l k i n g d o m s h a d sufficiently resisted t h e simple f o r m s o f e x t e n d e d
substance, t h e n it b e c a m e necessary for n a t u r e to manifest itself in all its
s t r a n g e richness; a n d t h e m e t i c u l o u s o b s e r v a t i o n o f living beings w a s thus
b o r n u p o n the e m p t y strand from w h i c h Cartesianism had just w i t h d r a w n . U n f o r t u n a t e l y , t h i n g s do n o t h a p p e n as s i m p l y as that. It is q u i t e
possible - t h o u g h it w o u l d be a m a t t e r r e q u i r i n g careful scrutiny - that
o n e science can arise o u t o f a n o t h e r ; b u t n o science can b e g e n e r a t e d b y
t h e absence o f a n o t h e r , o r f r o m a n o t h e r ' s failure, o r e v e n f r o m s o m e
obstacle a n o t h e r has e n c o u n t e r e d . In fact, t h e possibility of n a t u r a l history,
with Ray, Jonston, Christophorus Knauth, is contemporaneous with
C a r t e s i a n i s m itself, a n d n o t w i t h its failure. Mechanism f r o m Descartes
to d'Alembert and natural history from Tournefort to D a u b e n t o n were
a u t h o r i z e d by t h e s a m e episteme.
F o r n a t u r a l h i s t o r y t o a p p e a r , i t w a s n o t necessary for n a t u r e t o b e c o m e
denser a n d m o r e o b s c u r e , t o m u l t i p l y its m e c h a n i s m s t o t h e p o i n t o f
a c q u i r i n g t h e o p a q u e w e i g h t o f a h i s t o r y t h a t c a n o n l y b e retraced and
described, w i t h o u t a n y possibility o f m e a s u r i n g it, calculating it, o r
e x p l a i n i n g it; it w a s necessary - a n d this is e n t i r e l y t h e o p p o s i t e - for
H i s t o r y t o b e c o m e N a t u r a l . I n t h e sixteenth c e n t u r y , a n d r i g h t u p t o the
m i d d l e o f t h e s e v e n t e e n t h , all that existed w a s histories: B e l o n h a d w r i t t e n
a History of the nature of birds; D u r e t , an Admirable history of plants; A l d r o v a n d i , a History of serpents and dragons. In 1657, J o n s t o n published a Natural
history of quadrupeds.

T h i s d a t e of b i r t h is n o t ,

of course,

absolutely

definitive[1]; it is there o n l y to s y m b o l i z e a l a n d m a r k , a n d to indicate,
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f r o m afar, t h e a p p a r e n t e n i g m a of an e v e n t . T h i s e v e n t is the s u d d e n
separation, i n t h e r e a l m o f Historia, o f t w o o r d e r s o f k n o w l e d g e h e n c e f o r w a r d t o b e considered different. U n t i l t h e t i m e o f A l d r o v a n d i , H i s t o r y
w a s the inextricable a n d c o m p l e t e l y u n i t a r y fabric of all t h a t w a s visible
o f things a n d o f the signs that h a d b e e n discovered o r l o d g e d i n t h e m :
to w r i t e the history of a plant or an a n i m a l w a s as m u c h a m a t t e r of desc r i b i n g its elements or o r g a n s as of describing the resemblances t h a t c o u l d
be f o u n d in it, the virtues that it w a s t h o u g h t to possess, t h e legends a n d
stories w i t h w h i c h it h a d been i n v o l v e d , its place in h e r a l d r y , the m e d i c a m e n t s that w e r e c o n c o c t e d f r o m its substance, the foods it p r o v i d e d , w h a t
t h e ancients r e c o r d e d o f it, a n d w h a t travellers m i g h t h a v e said o f it. T h e
h i s t o r y of a living b e i n g w a s t h a t b e i n g itself, w i t h i n t h e w h o l e s e m a n t i c
n e t w o r k that c o n n e c t e d i t t o the w o r l d . T h e division, s o evident t o us,
b e t w e e n w h a t w e see, w h a t others h a v e o b s e r v e d a n d h a n d e d d o w n , a n d
w h a t others i m a g i n e o r naively believe, the great tripartition, a p p a r e n t l y
so simple a n d so i m m e d i a t e , i n t o Observation, Document, a n d Fable, did
n o t exist. A n d this w a s n o t because science w a s hesitating b e t w e e n a
rational v o c a t i o n a n d the vast w e i g h t o f naive tradition, b u t for the m u c h
m o r e precise a n d m u c h m o r e constraining reason t h a t signs w e r e t h e n
p a r t o f things themselves, w h e r e a s i n t h e s e v e n t e e n t h c e n t u r y t h e y
b e c o m e m o d e s o f representation.
W h e n J o n s t o n w r o t e his Natural history of quadrupeds, did he k n o w a n y
m o r e a b o u t t h e m t h a n A l d r o v a n d i did, a half-century earlier? N o t a g r e a t
deal m o r e , the historians assure us. B u t t h a t is n o t the question. O r , if
w e m u s t pose i t i n these t e r m s , t h e n w e m u s t r e p l y t h a t J o n s t o n k n e w
a g r e a t deal less t h a n A l d r o v a n d i . T h e latter, in the case of each a n i m a l
he e x a m i n e d , offered the reader, a n d on t h e s a m e level, a description of
its a n a t o m y a n d of the m e t h o d s of c a p t u r i n g it; its allegorical uses a n d
m o d e of g e n e r a t i o n ; its habitat a n d l e g e n d a r y m a n s i o n s ; its food a n d t h e
best w a y s of c o o k i n g its flesh. J o n s t o n subdivides his c h a p t e r on t h e horse
u n d e r t w e l v e h e a d i n g s : n a m e , a n a t o m i c a l parts, habitat, ages, g e n e r a t i o n ,
voice, m o v e m e n t s , s y m p a t h y a n d a n t i p a t h y , uses, m e d i c i n a l uses[2]. N o n e
of this w a s o m i t t e d by A l d r o v a n d i , a n d he gives us a g r e a t deal m o r e
besides. T h e essential difference lies in w h a t is missing in J o n s t o n . T h e
w h o l e of a n i m a l semantics has disappeared, like a dead a n d useless l i m b .
T h e w o r d s t h a t h a d been i n t e r w o v e n i n the v e r y b e i n g o f t h e beast h a v e
been unravelled a n d r e m o v e d : a n d t h e living b e i n g , in its a n a t o m y , its
f o r m , its habits, its b i r t h a n d death, appears as t h o u g h stripped n a k e d .
N a t u r a l history finds its locus in the g a p t h a t is n o w o p e n e d up b e t w e e n
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things a n d w o r d s - a silent g a p , p u r e of all v e r b a l s e d i m e n t a t i o n , a n d y e t
articulated a c c o r d i n g t o t h e elements o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , those s a m e
elements t h a t can n o w w i t h o u t let o r h i n d r a n c e b e n a m e d . T h i n g s t o u c h
against t h e b a n k s o f discourse because t h e y a p p e a r i n t h e h o l l o w space o f
representation. I t i s n o t therefore a t t h e m o m e n t w h e n o n e gives u p calculation t h a t o n e finally begins t o o b s e r v e . W e m u s t n o t see t h e c o n s t i t u tion o f n a t u r a l h i s t o r y , w i t h the empirical c l i m a t e i n w h i c h i t d e v e l o p s ,
as an e x p e r i m e n t forcing e n t r y , willy-nilly, i n t o a k n o w l e d g e t h a t was
keeping watch on the truth of nature elsewhere; natural history - and
this is w h y it a p p e a r e d at precisely this m o m e n t - is t h e space o p e n e d up
in r e p r e s e n t a t i o n by an analysis w h i c h is a n t i c i p a t i n g t h e possibility of
n a m i n g ; it is t h e possibility o£ seeing w h a t o n e will be able to say,but w h a t
o n e c o u l d n o t say subsequently, or see at a distance, if things a n d w o r d s ,
distinct f r o m o n e a n o t h e r , did n o t , f r o m t h e v e r y first, c o m m u n i c a t e i n
a representation. T h e descriptive o r d e r p r o p o s e d for n a t u r a l h i s t o r y by
L i n n a e u s , l o n g after J o n s t o n , is v e r y characteristic. A c c o r d i n g to this
o r d e r , e v e r y c h a p t e r dealing w i t h a g i v e n a n i m a l s h o u l d f o l l o w t h e
f o l l o w i n g p l a n : n a m e , t h e o r y , k i n d , species, attributes, use, and, t o c o n c l u d e , Litteraria. All t h e l a n g u a g e deposited u p o n t h i n g s by t i m e is
p u s h e d b a c k i n t o t h e v e r y last c a t e g o r y , like a sort of s u p p l e m e n t in
w h i c h discourse is a l l o w e d to r e c o u n t itself a n d r e c o r d discoveries, t r a ditions, beliefs, a n d poetical figures. Before this l a n g u a g e of l a n g u a g e , it
is t h e t h i n g itself t h a t appears, in its o w n characters, b u t w i t h i n t h e reality
t h a t has b e e n p a t t e r n e d f r o m t h e v e r y outset b y t h e n a m e . T h e c o n s t i t u tion of a n a t u r a l science in t h e classical age is n o t t h e e S e ^ , either direct
or indirect, of t h e transference of a r a t i o n a l i t y formed elsewhere (for
g e o m e t r i c a l or m e c h a n i c a l p u r p o s e s ) . It is a separate f o r m a t i o n , o n e t h a t
has its o w n a r c h a e o l o g y , even t h o u g h it is linked ( t h o u g h in a correlative
a n d s i m u l t a n e o u s m o d e ) t o t h e general t h e o r y o f signs a n d t o t h e project
for a universal mathesis.
T h u s t h e old w o r d ' h i s t o r y ' changes its v a l u e , a n d p e r h a p s rediscovers
o n e of its archaic significations. In a n y case, t h o u g h it is t r u e t h a t t h e
historian, for t h e Greeks, w a s i n d e e d t h e i n d i v i d u a l w h o sees a n d w h o
r e c o u n t s f r o m t h e s t a r t i n g - p o i n t of his sight, it has n o t a l w a y s been so in
o u r c u l t u r e . I n d e e d , it w a s at a relatively late date, on t h e t h r e s h o l d of
t h e Classical age, t h a t he a s s u m e d - or r e s u m e d - this role. U n t i l t h e m i d s e v e n t e e n t h c e n t u r y , t h e historian's task w a s t o establish t h e g r e a t c o m pilation o f d o c u m e n t s a n d signs - o f e v e r y t h i n g , t h r o u g h o u t t h e w o r l d ,
t h a t m i g h t f o r m a m a r k , as it w e r e . It was t h e historian's responsibility to
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restore t o l a n g u a g e all t h e w o r d s t h a t h a d b e e n b u r i e d . His existence w a s
defined n o t s o m u c h b y w h a t h e s a w a s b y w h a t h e retold, b y a s e c o n d a r y
speech w h i c h p r o n o u n c e d afresh s o m a n y w o r d s that h a d been muffled.
T h e Classical a g e gives history a q u i t e different m e a n i n g : t h a t of u n d e r t a k i n g a m e t i c u l o u s e x a m i n a t i o n of things themselves for t h e first t i m e ,
a n d t h e n o f transcribing w h a t i t has g a t h e r e d i n s m o o t h , neutralized, a n d
faithful w o r d s . It is u n d e r s t a n d a b l e t h a t t h e first f o r m of history c o n s t i t u t e d i n this p e r i o d o f 'purification' s h o u l d h a v e b e e n t h e h i s t o r y o f
n a t u r e . F o r its c o n s t r u c t i o n requires o n l y w o r d s applied, w i t h o u t i n t e r m e d i a r y , t o t h i n g s themselves. T h e d o c u m e n t s o f this n e w h i s t o r y are
n o t o t h e r w o r d s , texts o r records, b u t u n e n c u m b e r e d spaces i n w h i c h
things are j u x t a p o s e d : h e r b a r i u m s , collections, g a r d e n s ; t h e locus o f this
history is a n o n - t e m p o r a l r e c t a n g l e in w h i c h , stripped of all c o m m e n t a r y ,
of all e n v e l o p i n g l a n g u a g e , creatures p r e s e n t themselves o n e beside
a n o t h e r , their surfaces visible, g r o u p e d a c c o r d i n g t o their c o m m o n
features, a n d t h u s a l r e a d y virtually analysed, a n d bearers o f n o t h i n g b u t
their o w n i n d i v i d u a l n a m e s . It is often said t h a t t h e establishment of
botanical g a r d e n s a n d zoological collections expressed a n e w curiosity
a b o u t exotic plants a n d animals. In fact, these h a d already claimed m e n ' s
interest for a l o n g w h i l e . W h a t h a d c h a n g e d w a s t h e space i n w h i c h i t
was possible t o see t h e m a n d f r o m w h i c h i t w a s possible t o describe t h e m .
To t h e Renaissance, t h e strangeness of animals w a s a spectacle: it w a s
featured in fairs, in t o u r n a m e n t s , in fictitious or real c o m b a t s , in r e c o n stitutions of legends in w h i c h t h e bestiary displayed its ageless fables. T h e
natural history r o o m a n d t h e g a r d e n , as created in t h e Classical p e r i o d ,
replace t h e circular procession o f t h e ' s h o w ' w i t h t h e a r r a n g e m e n t o f
things i n a ' t a b l e ' . W h a t c a m e surreptitiously i n t o b e i n g b e t w e e n t h e a g e
o f t h e t h e a t r e a n d t h a t o f t h e c a t a l o g u e w a s n o t t h e desire for k n o w l e d g e ,
b u t a n e w w a y o f c o n n e c t i n g t h i n g s b o t h t o t h e eye a n d t o discourse. A
n e w w a y of m a k i n g history.
W e also k n o w w h a t m e t h o d o l o g i c a l i m p o r t a n c e these ' n a t u r a l ' allocations assumed, at t h e e n d of t h e e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y , in t h e classification
of w o r d s , languages, r o o t s , d o c u m e n t s , r e c o r d s - in s h o r t , in t h e c o n stitution o f a w h o l e e n v i r o n m e n t o f h i s t o r y (in t h e n o w familiar sense o f
the w o r d ) i n w h i c h t h e n i n e t e e n t h c e n t u r y w a s t o rediscover, after this
p u r e tabulation o f things, t h e r e n e w e d possibility o f t a l k i n g a b o u t w o r d s .
A n d o f t a l k i n g a b o u t t h e m , n o t i n t h e style o f c o m m e n t a r y , b u t i n a
m o d e that w a s to be considered as positive, as objective, as t h a t of n a t u r a l
history.
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T h e ever m o r e c o m p l e t e preservation o f w h a t w a s w r i t t e n , t h e e s t a b l i s h m e n t o f archives, t h e n o f f i l i n g systems for t h e m , t h e r e o r g a n i z a t i o n
o f libraries, t h e d r a w i n g u p o f catalogues, indexes, a n d inventories, all
these t h i n g s represent, at t h e e n d of t h e Classical age, n o t so m u c h a n e w
sensitivity to t i m e , to its past, to t h e density of h i s t o r y , as a w a y of i n t r o d u c i n g into t h e l a n g u a g e already i m p r i n t e d o n things, a n d i n t o t h e traces
it has left, an o r d e r of t h e s a m e t y p e as that w h i c h was b e i n g established
b e t w e e n living creatures. A n d it is in this classified t i m e , in this squared
a n d spatialized d e v e l o p m e n t , t h a t the historians o f t h e n i n e t e e n t h c e n t u r y
w e r e to u n d e r t a k e t h e creation of a history t h a t c o u l d at last be ' t r u e ' - in
o t h e r w o r d s , liberated f r o m Classical rationality, f r o m its o r d e r i n g a n d
t h e o d i c y : a h i s t o r y restored to t h e i r r u p t i y e v i o l e n c e of t i m e .

Ill

STRUCTURE

T h u s a r r a n g e d a n d u n d e r s t o o d , n a t u r a l history has as a c o n d i t i o n of its
possibility t h e c o m m o n affinity o f things a n d l a n g u a g e w i t h r e p r e s e n t a t i o n ; b u t it exists as a task o n l y in so far as things a n d l a n g u a g e h a p p e n to
be separate. It m u s t therefore r e d u c e this distance b e t w e e n t h e m so as to
b r i n g l a n g u a g e as close as possible to t h e o b s e r v i n g gaze, a n d t h e t h i n g s
o b s e r v e d as close as possible to w o r d s . N a t u r a l history is n o t h i n g m o r e
t h a n t h e n o m i n a t i o n o f the visible. H e n c e its a p p a r e n t simplicity, a n d that
air of n a i v e t e it has f r o m a distance, so simple does it a p p e a r a n d so
o b v i o u s l y i m p o s e d b y t h i n g s themselves. O n e has t h e impression that
w i t h T o u r n e f o r t , w i t h Linnaeus o r Buffon, s o m e o n e h a s a t last t a k e n o n
t h e task o f stating s o m e t h i n g t h a t h a d been visible f r o m t h e b e g i n n i n g o f
t i m e , b u t h a d r e m a i n e d m u t e before a sort o f invincible distraction o f
m e n ' s eyes. In fact, it w a s n o t an a g e - o l d inattentiveness b e i n g s u d d e n l y
dissipated, b u t a n e w field of visibility b e i n g c o n s t i t u t e d in all its density.
N a t u r a l h i s t o r y did n o t b e c o m e possible because m e n l o o k e d h a r d e r
a n d m o r e closely. O n e m i g h t say, strictly speaking, that t h e Classical age
used its i n g e n u i t y , if n o t to see as little as possible, at least to restrict
deliberately t h e area of its experience. O b s e r v a t i o n , f r o m t h e seventeenth
c e n t u r y o n w a r d , is a perceptible k n o w l e d g e furnished w i t h a series of
systematically n e g a t i v e c o n d i t i o n s . H e a r s a y is e x c l u d e d , t h a t goes w i t h o u t
s a y i n g ; b u t so a r e taste a n d smell, because their lack of c e r t a i n t y a n d their
variability r e n d e r impossible a n y analysis i n t o distinct elements that
c o u l d b e universally acceptable. T h e sense o f t o u c h i s v e r y n a r r o w l y
l i m i t e d to t h e designation of a f e w fairly e v i d e n t distinctions (such as that
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b e t w e e n s m o o t h a n d r o u g h ) ; w h i c h leaves sight w i t h a n almost exclusive
privilege, b e i n g t h e sense b y w h i c h w e p e r c e i v e e x t e n t a n d establish
proof, and, in c o n s e q u e n c e , t h e m e a n s to an analysis partes extra partes
acceptable t o e v e r y o n e : t h e blind m a n i n t h e e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y can p e r fectly w e l l be a g e o m e t r i c i a n , b u t he c a n n o t be a naturalist [3]. A n d , e v e n
t h e n , e v e r y t h i n g that presents itself to o u r gaze is n o t utilizable: c o l o u r s
especially can scarcely serve as a f o u n d a t i o n for useful c o m p a r i s o n s . T h e
area of visibility in w h i c h o b s e r v a t i o n is able to assume its p o w e r s is thus
o n l y w h a t is left after these exclusions: a visibility freed f r o m all o t h e r
sensory b u r d e n s a n d restricted, m o r e o v e r , t o black and w h i t e . This area,
m u c h m o r e t h a n t h e receptivity a n d a t t e n t i o n a t last b e i n g g r a n t e d t o
t h i n g s themselves, defines n a t u r a l history's c o n d i t i o n o f possibility, a n d
the a p p e a r a n c e of its screened objects: lines, surfaces, f o r m s , reliefs.
I t m a y p e r h a p s b e c l a i m e d that t h e use o f t h e m i c r o s c o p e c o m p e n s a t e s
for these restrictions; a n d that t h o u g h sensory e x p e r i e n c e w a s b e i n g
restricted in t h e d i r e c t i o n of its m o r e d o u b t f u l frontiers, it was n e v e r t h e less b e i n g e x t e n d e d t o w a r d s t h e n e w objects of a technically c o n t r o l l e d
f o r m o f o b s e r v a t i o n . I n fact, i t w a s t h e s a m e c o m p l e x o f n e g a t i v e c o n ditions that l i m i t e d t h e r e a l m o f experience a n d m a d e t h e use o f optical
i n s t r u m e n t s possible. T o a t t e m p t t o i m p r o v e o n e ' s p o w e r o f o b s e r v a t i o n
b y l o o k i n g t h r o u g h a lens, o n e m u s t r e n o u n c e the a t t e m p t t o a c h i e v e
k n o w l e d g e b y m e a n s o f t h e o t h e r senses o r f r o m hearsay. A c h a n g e o f
scale i n t h e visual s p h e r e m u s t h a v e m o r e v a l u e t h a n t h e correlations
b e t w e e n t h e v a r i o u s kinds o f e v i d e n c e that m a y b e p r o v i d e d b y o n e ' s
impressions, o n e ' s r e a d i n g , o r learned c o m p i l a t i o n s . T h o u g h indefinite
c o n f i n e m e n t o f t h e visible w i t h i n its o w n e x t e n t i s m a d e m o r e easily
perceptible to t h e eye by a m i c r o s c o p e , it is nevertheless n o t freed f r o m
it. A n d t h e best p r o o f o f this i s p r o b a b l y that optical i n s t r u m e n t s w e r e
used a b o v e all as a m e a n s of r e s o l v i n g p r o b l e m s of g e n e r a t i o n . In o t h e r
words, as a means of discovering h o w the forms, arrangements, and
characteristic p r o p o r t i o n s o f individual adults, a n d o f their species, c o u l d
b e h a n d e d o n d o w n t h e centuries w h i l e p r e s e r v i n g their strictly defined
identity. T h e m i c t o s c o p e w a s called u p o n n o t t o g o b e y o n d t h e frontiers
o f t h e f u n d a m e n t a l d o m a i n o f visibility, b u t t o resolve o n e o f t h e p r o b l e m s
i t p o s e d : t h e m a i n t e n a n c e o f specific visible f o r m s f r o m g e n e r a t i o n t o
g e n e r a t i o n . T h e use o f t h e m i c r o s c o p e w a s based u p o n a n o n - i n s t r u m e n t a l relation b e t w e e n t h i n g s a n d t h e h u m a n eye - a relation that defines
natural h i s t o r y . It w a s Linnaeus, after all, w h o said t h a t Naturalia-zs
o p p o s e d to

Coelestia

a n d Elementa - w e r e i n t e n d e d to be t r a n s m i t t e d
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directly t o t h e senses [4]. A n d T o u r n e f o r t t h o u g h t that, i n o r d e r t o gain
a k n o w l e d g e o f plants, ' r a t h e r t h a n scrutinize e a c h o f their variations w i t h
a religious s c r u p l e ' , it w a s b e t t e r to analyse t h e m 'as t h e y fall b e n e a t h t h e
gaze'fs]T o o b s e r v e , t h e n , i s t o b e c o n t e n t w i t h s e e i n g - w i t h seeing a f e w
t h i n g s systematically. W i t h seeing w h a t , i n t h e r a t h e r confused w e a l t h o f
r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , c a n be analysed, r e c o g n i z e d by all, a n d t h u s g i v e n a n a m e
t h a t e v e r y o n e will b e able t o u n d e r s t a n d : ' A l l o b s c u r e similitudes,' said
Linnaeus, 'are introduced only to the shame of art'[6]. Displayed in t h e m selves, e m p t i e d of all resemblances, cleansed e v e n of t h e i r c o l o u r s , visual
representations will n o w a t last b e able t o p r o v i d e n a t u r a l h i s t o r y w i t h
w h a t constitutes its p r o p e r object, w i t h precisely w h a t i t will c o n v e y i n
t h e w e l l - m a d e l a n g u a g e it intends to c o n s t r u c t . T h i s object is t h e e x t e n s i o n
o f w h i c h all n a t u r a l beings are c o n s t i t u t e d - a n e x t e n s i o n t h a t m a y b e
affected b y four variables. A n d b y f o u r variables o n l y : t h e f o r m o f t h e
e l e m e n t s , t h e q u a n t i t y o f those e l e m e n t s , t h e m a n n e r i n w h i c h t h e y are
distributed i n space i n relation t o each o t h e r , a n d t h e relative m a g n i t u d e
o f ' e a c h e l e m e n t . As L i n n a e u s said, in a passage of capital i m p o r t a n c e ,
'every note should be a product of n u m b e r , of form, of proportion, of
situation' [ 7 ] . F o r e x a m p l e , w h e n o n e studies t h e r e p r o d u c t i v e o r g a n s o f
a p l a n t , it is sufficient, b u t indispensable, to e n u m e r a t e t h e s t a m e n s a n d
pistil (or to r e c o r d t h e i r absence, a c c o r d i n g to t h e case), to define t h e
f o r m t h e y assume, a c c o r d i n g t o w h a t g e o m e t r i c a l figure t h e y a r e d i s t r i b u t e d in t h e flower (circle, h e x a g o n , t r i a n g l e ) , a n d w h a t their size is
i n relation t o t h e o t h e r o r g a n s . T h e s e f o u r variables, w h i c h c a n b e applied
in t h e s a m e w a y to t h e five parts of the p l a n t - roots* stem* leaves, flowers,
fruits - specify t h e e x t e n s i o n available to r e p r e s e n t a t i o n w e l l e n o u g h for
us to articulate it i n t o a description acceptable to e v e r y o n e : c o n f r o n t e d
w i t h t h e s a m e i n d i v i d u a l e n t i t y , e v e r y o n e will b e able t o g i v e t h e s a m e
d e s c r i p t i o n ; a n d , inversely, g i v e n s u c h a description e v e r y o n e will be
able t o r e c o g n i z e t h e i n d i v i d u a l entities t h a t c o r r e s p o n d t o it. I n this
f u n d a m e n t a l articulation o f the visible, t h e first c o n f r o n t a t i o n o f l a n g u a g e
a n d t h i n g s can n o w be established in a m a n n e r that excludes all u n c e r tainty.
E a c h visibly distinct p a r t of a p l a n t or an a n i m a l is t h u s describable in
so far as f o u r series of values are applicable to it. T h e s e f o u r values affecting, a n d d e t e r m i n i n g , a n y g i v e n e l e m e n t o r o r g a n are w h a t botanists
t e r m its structure. ' B y t h e s t r u c t u r e o f a plant's parts w e m e a n t h e c o m position a n d a r r a n g e m e n t o f t h e pieces t h a t m a k e u p its b o d y . ' [ 8 ] S t r u c 134

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t u r e also m a k e s possible t h e description o f w h a t o n e sees, a n d this i n t w o
w a y s w h i c h are n e i t h e r c o n t r a d i c t o r y n o r m u t u a l l y exclusive. N u m b e r
a n d m a g n i t u d e can a l w a y s b e assigned b y m e a n s o f a c o u n t o r a m e a s u r e ;
t h e y can t h e r e f o r e b e expressed i n q u a n t i t a t i v e t e r m s . F o r m s a n d a r r a n g e m e n t s , o n t h e o t h e r h a n d , m u s t b e described b y o t h e r m e t h o d s : either b y
identification w i t h g e o m e t r i c a l figures, o r b y analogies t h a t m u s t all b e
' o f t h e u t m o s t c l a r i t y ' [ 9 ] . I n this w a y i t b e c o m e s possible t o describe
certain fairly c o m p l e x f o r m s o n t h e basis o f their v e r y visible r e s e m b l a n c e
t o t h e h u m a n b o d y , w h i c h serves a s a sort o f r e s e r v o i r for m o d e l s o f
visibility, a n d acts as a s p o n t a n e o u s link b e t w e e n w h a t o n e can see a n d
w h a t o n e can s a y [ i o ] .
B y l i m i t i n g a n d filtering t h e visible, s t r u c t u r e enables i t t o b e t r a n scribed i n t o l a n g u a g e . I t p e r m i t s t h e visibility o f t h e a n i m a l o r p l a n t t o
pass o v e r in its e n t i r e t y i n t o t h e discourse t h a t receives it. A n d u l t i m a t e l y ,
p e r h a p s , i t m a y m a n a g e t o r e c o n s t i t u t e itself i n visible f o r m b y m e a n s o f
w o r d s , a s w i t h t h e b o t a n i c a l calligrams d r e a m e d o f b y L i n n a e u s [11]. H i s
w i s h w a s that t h e o r d e r o f t h e description, its division i n t o p a r a g r a p h s ,
a n d e v e n its t y p o g r a p h i c a l m o d u l e s , s h o u l d r e p r o d u c e t h e f o r m o f t h e
p l a n t itself. T h a t t h e p r i n t e d t e x t , in its variables of f o r m , a r r a n g e m e n t ,
a n d q u a n t i t y , s h o u l d h a v e a v e g e t a b l e s t r u c t u r e . 'It is beautiful to f o l l o w
n a t u r e : t o pass f r o m t h e R o o t t o the Stems, t o t h e Petioles, t o the Leaves,
t o t h e P e d u n c l e s , t o t h e F l o w e r s . ' T h e description w o u l d h a v e t o b e
d i v i d e d i n t o t h e s a m e n u m b e r o f p a r a g r a p h s a s t h e r e are p a r t s i n t h e p l a n t ,
e v e r y t h i n g c o n c e r n i n g its p r i n c i p a l p a r t s b e i n g p r i n t e d i n large t y p e , a n d
the analysis o f t h e 'parts o f p a r t s ' b e i n g c o n v e y e d i n small t y p e . O n e w o u l d
then a d d w h a t o n e k n e w o f t h e p l a n t f r o m o t h e r sources i n t h e s a m e w a y
a s a n artist c o m p l e t e s his sketch b y i n t r o d u c i n g t h e i n t e r p l a y o f light a n d
shade: ' t h e A d u m b r a t i o n w o u l d exactly c o n t a i n t h e w h o l e h i s t o r y o f t h e
plant, such as its n a m e s , its s t r u c t u r e , its e x t e r n a l assemblage, its n a t u r e ,
its use.' T h e p l a n t i s t h u s e n g r a v e d i n t h e m a t e r i a l o f t h e l a n g u a g e i n t o
w h i c h i t has b e e n transposed, a n d r e c o m p o s e s its p u r e f o r m before t h e
reader's v e r y eyes. T h e b o o k b e c o m e s t h e h e r b a r i u m o f l i v i n g s t r u c t u r e s .
A n d let no o n e r e p l y that this is m e r e l y t h e reverie of a systematizer a n d
does n o t represent t h e w h o l e o f n a t u r a l h i s t o r y . Buffon w a s a c o n s t a n t
adversary o f Linnaeus, y e t t h e s a m e s t r u c t u r e exists i n his w o r k a n d plays
the same r o l e : ' T h e m e t h o d o f e x a m i n a t i o n will b e directed t o w a r d s
f o r m , m a g n i t u d e , t h e different parts, t h e i r n u m b e r , their p o s i t i o n , a n d
the v e r y substance o f t h e t h i n g ' [ 1 2 ] . Buffon a n d L i n n a e u s e m p l o y t h e
same g r i d ; their gaze occupies t h e s a m e surface o f c o n t a c t u p o n t h i n g s ;
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t h e r e a r e t h e s a m e black squares left t o a c c o m m o d a t e t h e invisible; t h e
same o p e n a n d distinct spaces t o a c c o m m o d a t e w o r d s .
B y m e a n s o f s t r u c t u r e , w h a t representation p r o v i d e s i n a confused a n d
simultaneous f o r m is analysed a n d t h e r e b y r e n d e r e d suitable to t h e linear
u n w i n d i n g of l a n g u a g e . In effect, description is to t h e object o n e l o o k s at
w h a t t h e p r o p o s i t i o n is to t h e representation it expresses: its a r r a n g e m e n t
in a series, elements succeeding e l e m e n t s . B u t it will be r e m e m b e r e d
t h a t l a n g u a g e in its empirical f o r m i m p l i e d a t h e o r y of t h e p r o p o s i t i o n
a n d a t h e o r y of articulation. In itself, t h e p r o p o s i t i o n r e m a i n e d e m p t y ;
a n d t h e ability o f articulation t o g i v e f o r m t o a u t h e n t i c discourse w a s
c o n d i t i o n a l u p o n its b e i n g linked t o g e t h e r b y t h e p a t e n t o r secret
function of t h e v e r b to be. N a t u r a l history is a science, t h a t is, a l a n g u a g e ,
b u t a securely based a n d w e l l - c o n s t r u c t e d o n e : its p r o p o s i t i o n a l u n f o l d i n g
is indisputably an a r t i c u l a t i o n ; t h e a r r a n g e m e n t of its elements i n t o a
linear series p a t t e r n s r e p r e s e n t a t i o n a c c o r d i n g to an e v i d e n t a n d universal
m o d e . "Whereas o n e a n d t h e same representation can g i v e rise to a c o n siderable n u m b e r o f p r o p o s i t i o n s , since t h e n a m e s t h a t e m b o d y i t a r t i c u l a t e i t a c c o r d i n g t o different m o d e s , o n e a n d t h e s a m e a n i m a l , o r o n e a n d
t h e s a m e plant, will be described in t h e same w a y , in so far as their s t r u c t u r e g o v e r n s their passage f r o m r e p r e s e n t a t i o n i n t o l a n g u a g e . T h e t h e o r y
of structure, w h i c h r u n s r i g h t t h r o u g h n a t u r a l h i s t o r y in t h e Classical age,
s u p e r i m p o s e s t h e roles p l a y e d in l a n g u a g e by t h e proposition a n d articulation in such a w a y that t h e y p e r f o r m o n e a n d t h e same function.
A n d it is by this m e a n s t h a t s t r u c t u r e links t h e possibility of a n a t u r a l
history to t h e mathesis. In fact, it reduces t h e w h o l e area o p t h e visible to
a system of variables all of w h o s e values can be designated, if n o t by a
q u a n t i t y , at least by a perfectly clear a n d a l w a y s finite description. It is
t h e r e f o r e possible t o establish t h e s y s t e m o f identities a n d t h e o r d e r o f
differences existing b e t w e e n n a t u r a l entities. A d a n s o n w a s o f t h e o p i n i o n
t h a t o n e day it w o u l d be possible to treat b o t a n y as a r i g o r o u s l y m a t h e matical science, a n d t h a t i t w o u l d p r o v e permissible t o p o s e botanical
p r o b l e m s i n t h e s a m e w a y a s o n e does algebraic o r g e o m e t r i c a l o n e s : 'find
t h e m o s t o b v i o u s p o i n t t h a t establishes t h e line o f separation o r discussion
b e t w e e n t h e scabious family a n d t h e h o n e y s u c k l e f a m i l y ' ; o r again, find
a k n o w n g e n u s of plants ( w h e t h e r n a t u r a l or artificial is u n i m p o r t a n t )
t h a t stands exactly h a l f - w a y b e t w e e n D o g ' s - b a n e a n d B o r a g e [ i 3 ] . B y
v i r t u e o f s t r u c t u r e , t h e g r e a t proliferation o f beings o c c u p y i n g t h e surface
of t h e g l o b e is able to e n t e r b o t h i n t o t h e sequence of a descriptive l a n g u a g e a n d i n t o t h e field of a mathesis that w o u l d also be a general science
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of o r d e r . A n d this constituent relation, c o m p l e x as it is, is established
w i t h i n t h e a p p a r e n t simplicity of a description of the visible.
All this is of great i m p o r t a n c e for t h e definition of n a t u r a l h i s t o r y in
t e r m s of its object. T h e latter is p r o v i d e d by surfaces a n d lines, n o t by
functions or invisible tissues. T h e p l a n t a n d t h e a n i m a l a r e seen n o t so
m u c h i n their o r g a n i c u n i t y a s b y t h e visible p a t t e r n i n g o f their o r g a n s .
T h e y are p a w s a n d hoofs, f l o w e r s a n d fruits, before b e i n g r e s p i r a t o r y
systems or internal liquids. N a t u r a l history traverses an area of visible,
s i m u l t a n e o u s , c o n c o m i t a n t variables, w i t h o u t a n y internal relation o f
subordination or organization. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries a n a t o m y lost t h e leading role t h a t it h a d p l a y e d d u r i n g t h e R e n a i s sance a n d t h a t it w a s to r e s u m e in C u v i e r ' s d a y ; it w a s n o t t h a t curiosity
h a d d i m i n i s h e d i n t h e m e a n t i m e , o r that k n o w l e d g e h a d regressed, b u t
r a t h e r that t h e f u n d a m e n t a l a r r a n g e m e n t o f t h e visible a n d t h e expressible
n o l o n g e r passed t h r o u g h t h e thickness o f t h e b o d y . H e n c e t h e e p i s t e m o logical p r e c e d e n c e e n j o y e d b y b o t a n y : t h e area c o m m o n t o w o r d s a n d
things constituted a m u c h m o r e a c c o m m o d a t i n g , a m u c h less ' b l a c k ' g r i d
for plants t h a n for a n i m a l s ; in so far as t h e r e are a g r e a t m a n y c o n s t i t u e n t
o r g a n s visible in a p l a n t t h a t are n o t so in animals, t a x o n o m i c k n o w l e d g e
based u p o n i m m e d i a t e l y perceptible variables w a s richer a n d m o r e c o h e r e n t i n t h e b o t a n i c a l o r d e r t h a n i n t h e zoological. W e m u s t t h e r e f o r e
reverse w h a t is usually said on this subject: it is n o t because t h e r e w a s a
g r e a t interest i n b o t a n y d u r i n g t h e s e v e n t e e n t h and e i g h t e e n t h centuries
t h a t s o m u c h investigation w a s u n d e r t a k e n i n t o m e t h o d s o f classification.
B u t because i t was possible t o k n o w a n d t o say o n l y w i t h i n a t a x o n o m i c
area o f visibility, t h e k n o w l e d g e o f plants w a s b o u n d t o p r o v e m o r e
extensive t h a n that o f animals.
A t t h e institutional level, t h e inevitable correlatives o f this p a t t e r n i n g
w e r e botanical g a r d e n s a n d n a t u r a l history collections. A n d their i m p o r t ance, for Classical c u l t u r e , does n o t lie essentially in w h a t t h e y m a k e it
possible t o see, b u t i n w h a t t h e y h i d e a n d i n w h a t , b y this process o f
obliteration, t h e y a l l o w t o e m e r g e : t h e y screen off a n a t o m y a n d function,
t h e y conceal t h e o r g a n i s m , i n o r d e r t o raise u p before t h e eyes o f those
w h o a w a i t t h e t r u t h t h e visible relief o f f o r m s , w i t h their e l e m e n t s , their
m o d e o f d i s t r i b u t i o n , a n d their m e a s u r e m e n t s . T h e y a r e b o o k s furnished
w i t h structures, t h e space i n w h i c h characteristics c o m b i n e , a n d i n w h i c h
classifications a r e physically displayed. O n e d a y , t o w a r d s t h e e n d o f t h e
e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y , C u v i e r was t o t o p p l e t h e glass j a r s o f t h e M u s e u m ,
smash t h e m o p e n a n d dissect all t h e forms of a n i m a l visibility t h a t t h e
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Classical age h a d p r e s e r v e d i n t h e m . T h i s iconoclastic g e s t u r e , w h i c h
L a m a r c k c o u l d n e v e r b r i n g h i m s e l f t o m a k e , does n o t reveal a n e w
curiosity directed t o w a r d s a secret t h a t n o o n e h a d t h e interest o r c o u r a g e
t o u n c o v e r , o r t h e possibility o f u n c o v e r i n g , before. I t i s r a t h e r , a n d m u c h
m o r e seriously, a m u t a t i o n i n t h e n a t u r a l d i m e n s i o n o f W e s t e r n c u l t u r e :
t h e e n d of history in t h e sense in w h i c h it was u n d e r s t o o d by T o u r n e f o r t ,
Linnaeus, Buffon, a n d A d a n s o n - a n d in t h e sense in w h i c h it w a s u n d e r s t o o d by Boissier de Sauvages also, w h e n he o p p o s e d historical k n o w l e d g e
of t h e visible to philosophical k n o w l e d g e of t h e invisible, of w h a t is
h i d d e n a n d o f c a u s e s [ i 4 ] . A n d i t w a s also t o b e t h e b e g i n n i n g o f w h a t ,
b y substituting a n a t o m y for classification, o r g a n i s m for s t r u c t u r e , internal
s u b o r d i n a t i o n for visible character, t h e series for t a b u l a t i o n , w a s to m a k e
possible t h e p r e c i p i t a t i o n i n t o t h e o l d f l a t w o r l d o f animals a n d plants,
e n g r a v e d i n black o n w h i t e , a w h o l e p r o f o u n d mass o f t i m e t o w h i c h
m e n w e r e t o g i v e t h e r e n e w e d n a m e o f history.

IV

CHARACTER

S t r u c t u r e is t h a t designation of t h e visible w h i c h , by m e a n s of a k i n d
o f pre-linguistic sifting, enables i t t o b e transcribed i n t o l a n g u a g e . B u t t h e
description t h u s o b t a i n e d is n o t h i n g m o r e t h a n a sort of p r o p e r n o u n : it
leaves each b e i n g its strict individuality a n d expresses n e i t h e r t h e table to
w h i c h it b e l o n g s , n o r t h e area s u r r o u n d i n g it, n o r t h e site it occupies. It
i s designation p u r e a n d simple. A n d for n a t u r a l h i s t o r y t o b e c o m e l a n g u a g e , t h e description m u s t b e c o m e a ' c o m m o n n o u n ' . I t has heen seen
h o w , in spontaneous language, the primary designations which conc e r n e d o n l y individual representations, after h a v i n g o r i g i n a t e d i n t h e l a n g u a g e o f action a n d t h e resultant p r i m i t i v e r o o t s , h a d little b y little,
t h r o u g h t h e m o m e n t u m o f d e r i v a t i o n , a c q u i r e d m o r e general values. B u t
n a t u r a l history is a w e l l - c o n s t r u c t e d l a n g u a g e : it should n o t accept t h e
constraint i m p o s e d b y d e r i v a t i o n a n d its f o r m s ; i t should n o t l e n d credit
t o a n y e t y m o l o g y f i s ] . I t should unite i n o n e a n d t h e s a m e o p e r a t i o n w h a t
e v e r y d a y l a n g u a g e keeps separate: n o t o n l y m u s t it designate all natural
entities v e r y precisely, b u t i t m u s t also situate t h e m w i t h i n t h e s y s t e m o f
identities a n d differences that unites t h e m t o a n d distinguishes t h e m f r o m
all t h e others. N a t u r a l h i s t o r y m u s t p r o v i d e , s i m u l t a n e o u s l y , a certain
designation a n d a c o n t r o l l e d derivation. A n d j u s t as t h e t h e o r y of s t r u c t u r e s u p e r i m p o s e d articulation a n d t h e p r o p o s i t i o n s o t h a t t h e y b e c a m e
o n e a n d t h e s a m e , s o t h e t h e o r y o f character m u s t identify t h e values
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t h a t designate a n d t h e area i n w h i c h t h e y are derived. T o u r n e f o r t
says:
T o k n o w plants i s t o k n o w w i t h precision t h e n a m e s t h a t h a v e b e e n
g i v e n to t h e m in relation to t h e s t r u c t u r e of s o m e of their p a r t s . . .
T h e idea o f t h e character that essentially distinguishes plants f r o m o n e
a n o t h e r o u g h t invariably t o b e o n e w i t h t h e n a m e o f each p l a n t [ i 6 ] .
Establishing c h a r a c t e r is at t h e s a m e t i m e easy a n d difficult. Easy,
because n a t u r a l history does n o t h a v e to establish a system of n a m e s based
u p o n representations t h a t a r e difficult t o analyse, b u t o n l y t o d e r i v e i t
f r o m a l a n g u a g e that has a l r e a d y b e e n u n f o l d e d in t h e process of d e s c r i p t i o n . T h e process o f n a m i n g w i l l b e based, n o t u p o n w h a t o n e sees, b u t
u p o n elements t h a t h a v e a l r e a d y b e e n i n t r o d u c e d i n t o discourse b y s t r u c t u r e . It is a m a t t e r of c o n s t r u c t i n g a s e c o n d a r y l a n g u a g e based u p o n t h a t
p r i m a r y , b u t certain a n d universal, l a n g u a g e . B u t a m a j o r difficulty appears
i m m e d i a t e l y . In o r d e r to establish t h e identities a n d differences existing
b e t w e e n all n a t u r a l entities, it w o u l d be necessary to t a k e i n t o a c c o u n t
e v e r y feature t h a t m i g h t h a v e b e e n listed in a g i v e n description. S u c h an
endless task w o u l d p u s h t h e a d v e n t o f n a t u r a l history b a c k i n t o a n i n a c cessible n e v e r - n e v e r land, unless t h e r e existed techniques that w o u l d
a v o i d this difficulty a n d limit t h e l a b o u r o f m a k i n g s o m a n y c o m p a r i s o n s .
It is possible, a priori, to state t h a t these techniques a r e of t w o types. E i t h e r
that o f m a k i n g total c o m p a r i s o n s , b u t o n l y w i t h i n empirically c o n stituted g r o u p s i n w h i c h t h e n u m b e r o f resemblances i s manifestly s o h i g h
that t h e e n u m e r a t i o n o f t h e differences will n o t take l o n g t o c o m p l e t e ;
a n d in this w a y , step by step, t h e establishment of all identities a n d d i s tinctions can b e g u a r a n t e e d . O r t h a t o f selecting a f i n i t e a n d relatively
limited g r o u p o f characteristics, w h o s e variations a n d constants m a y b e
studied in a n y individual e n t i t y t h a t presents itself. T h i s last p r o c e d u r e
was t e r m e d t h e S y s t e m , t h e f i r s t t h e M e t h o d . T h e y are usually contrasted,
in t h e s a m e w a y as Linnaeus is c o n t r a s t e d w i t h Buffon, A d a n s o n , or
A n t o i n e - L a u r e n t de Jussieu - or as a rigid a n d simple c o n c e p t i o n of
n a t u r e i s c o n t r a s t e d w i t h t h e detailed a n d i m m e d i a t e p e r c e p t i o n o f its
relations, or as t h e idea of a motionless n a t u r e is c o n t r a s t e d w i t h t h a t of
a t e e m i n g c o n t i n u i t y o f beings all c o m m u n i c a t i n g w i t h o n e a n o t h e r ,
mingling w i t h one another, and perhaps being transformed into one
a n o t h e r . . . . A n d y e t t h e essential does n o t lie in this conflict b e t w e e n
the great intuitions o f n a t u r e . I t lies r a t h e r i n t h e n e t w o r k o f necessity
w h i c h a t this p o i n t r e n d e r e d t h e c h o i c e b e t w e e n t w o w a y s o f c o n s t i t u t i n g
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n a t u r a l h i s t o r y as a l a n g u a g e b o t h possible a n d indispensable. T h e rest is
m e r e l y a logical a n d inevitable c o n s e q u e n c e .
F r o m t h e e l e m e n t s that t h e System j u x t a p o s e s in g r e a t detail by m e a n s
of description, it selects a particular few. T h e s e define t h e p r i v i l e g e d a n d ,
in fact, exclusive s t r u c t u r e in relation to w h i c h identities or differences
a s a w h o l e are t o b e e x a m i n e d . A n y difference n o t related t o o n e o f these
e l e m e n t s will be c o n s i d e r e d irrelevant. If, like Linnaeus, o n e selects as t h e
characteristic e l e m e n t s 'all t h e different parts related to f r u c t i f i c a t i o n ' [ 1 7 ] ,
t h e n a difference o f leaf o r s t e m o r r o o t o r petiole m u s t b e systematically
i g n o r e d . Similarly, a n y i d e n t i t y n o t o c c u r r i n g i n o n e o f these selected
e l e m e n t s will h a v e n o v a l u e i n t h e definition o f t h e c h a r a c t e r . O n t h e
o t h e r h a n d , w h e n these e l e m e n t s a r e similar i n t w o individuals t h e y
receive a c o m m o n d e n o m i n a t i o n . T h e s t r u c t u r e selected t o b e t h e locus
of p e r t i n e n t identities a n d differences is w h a t is t e r m e d t h e character.
A c c o r d i n g t o L i n n a e u s , t h e character s h o u l d b e c o m p o s e d o f ' t h e m o s t
careful description o f t h e fructification o f t h e f i r s t species. All t h e o t h e r
species o f t h e g e n u s are c o m p a r e d w i t h t h e f i r s t , all d i s c o r d a n t notes b e i n g
e l i m i n a t e d ; finally, after this process, t h e c h a r a c t e r e m e r g e s ' [ 1 8 ] .
T h e s y s t e m is a r b i t r a r y in its basis, since it deliberately i g n o r e s all
differences a n d all identities n o t related t o t h e selected s t r u c t u r e . B u t t h e r e
i s n o l a w t h a t says that i t will n o t b e possible t o a r r i v e o n e d a y , t h r o u g h
a use of this t e c h n i q u e , at t h e d i s c o v e r y of a n a t u r a l s y s t e m - o n e in w h i c h
all t h e differences i n t h e character w o u l d c o r r e s p o n d t o differences o f t h e
s a m e v a l u e in t h e plant's general s t r u c t u r e ; a n d in w h i c h , inversely, all
t h e individuals or all t h e species g r o u p e d t o g e t h e r u n d e r a c o m m o n
c h a r a c t e r w o u l d i n fact h a v e t h e s a m e relation o f r e s e m b l a n c e i n all a n d
each o f their p a r t s . B u t o n e c a n n o t f i n d t h e w a y t o this n a t u r a l s y s t e m
unless o n e has first established w i t h c e r t a i n t y an artificial system, at least
i n certain o f t h e v e g e t a b l e o r a n i m a l d o m a i n s . T h i s i s w h y L i n n a e u s does
n o t seek to establish a n a t u r a l s y s t e m i m m e d i a t e l y , ' b e f o r e a c o m p l e t e
k n o w l e d g e has b e e n a t t a i n e d of e v e r y t h i n g t h a t is r e l e v a n t ' [ 1 9 ] to his
s y s t e m . I t i s t r u e t h a t t h e n a t u r a l m e t h o d constitutes ' t h e f i r s t a n d last
w i s h o f b o t a n i s t s ' , a n d t h a t all its ' f r a g m e n t s s h o u l d b e searched for w i t h
t h e greatest c a r e ' [ 2 0 ] , as Linnaeus h i m s e l f searches for t h e m in his Classes
Plantarum; b u t until this n a t u r a l m e t h o d appears in its certain a n d finished
f o r m , 'artificial systems are absolutely n e c e s s a r y ' [ 2 1 ] .
M o r e o v e r , t h e s y s t e m is relative: it is able to function a c c o r d i n g to
a desired d e g r e e of precision. If t h e selected c h a r a c t e r is c o m p o s e d of a
l a r g e s t r u c t u r e , h a v i n g a large n u m b e r of variables, t h e n as s o o n as o n e
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passes f r o m o n e i n d i v i d u a l to a n o t h e r , e v e n if it is i m m e d i a t e l y adjacent,
t h e differences will a p p e a r at o n c e : t h e c h a r a c t e r in this case is v e r y close
to p u r e d e s c r i p t i o n [ 2 2 ] . If, on t h e o t h e r h a n d , t h e selected s t r u c t u r e is
l i m i t e d i n e x t e n t , a n d its variables few, t h e n t h e differences will b e r a r e
a n d t h e individuals g r o u p e d i n c o m p a c t masses. T h e c h a r a c t e r i s c h o s e n
a c c o r d i n g t o t h e d e g r e e o f detail r e q u i r e d i n t h e classification. I n o r d e r t o
establish g e n e r a , T o u r n e f o r t chose t h e c o m b i n a t i o n o f f l o w e r a n d fruit
a s his c h a r a c t e r . N o t , a s w i t h C e s a l p i n o , because these w e r e t h e m o s t
useful p a r t s o f t h e p l a n t , b u t because t h e y p e r m i t t e d a

numerically

satisfying c o m b i n a b i l i t y : t h e e l e m e n t s t h a t w o u l d b e t a k e n f r o m t h e
o t h e r t h r e e parts (roots, stems, a n d leaves) w e r e , i n effect, either t o o
n u m e r o u s i f t r e a t e d t o g e t h e r o r t o o few i f t a k e n separately [23]. L i n n a e u s
calculated t h a t t h e t h i r t y - e i g h t o r g a n s o f r e p r o d u c t i o n , e a c h c o m p r i s i n g
t h e four variables o f n u m b e r , f o r m , situation, a n d p r o p o r t i o n , w o u l d
p r o d u c e 5 , 7 7 6 c o n f i g u r a t i o n s , o r sufficient t o define t h e g e n e r a [ 2 4 ] . I f
o n e wishes t o o b t a i n g r o u p s m o r e n u m e r o u s t h a n g e n e r a , t h e n o n e m u s t
m a k e use o f m o r e l i m i t e d characters ('factitious characters a g r e e d u p o n
b e t w e e n b o t a n i s t s ' ) , as, for e x a m p l e , t h e s t a m e n s a l o n e , o r t h e pistil
alone. I n this w a y o n e w o u l d b e able t o distinguish classes o r o r d e r s [ 2 5 ] .
I n this w a y , a g r i d c a n b e laid o u t o v e r t h e entire v e g e t a b l e o r a n i m a l
k i n g d o m . E a c h g r o u p c a n b e g i v e n a n a m e . W i t h t h e result t h a t a n y
species, w i t h o u t h a v i n g t o b e described, can b e d e s i g n a t e d w i t h t h e
greatest a c c u r a c y b y m e a n s o f t h e n a m e s o f t h e different g r o u p s i n w h i c h
i t i s i n c l u d e d . Its c o m p l e t e n a m e will cross t h e e n t i r e n e t w o r k o f c h a r acters t h a t o n e has established, r i g h t u p t o t h e largest classifications o f all.
B u t for c o n v e n i e n c e , a s L i n n a e u s p o i n t s o u t , p a r t o f this n a m e s h o u l d
r e m a i n 'silent' (one does n o t n a m e t h e class a n d o r d e r ) , w h i l e t h e o t h e r
p a r t s h o u l d b e ' s o u n d e d ' (one m u s t n a m e t h e g e n u s , t h e species, a n d t h e
v a r i e t y [26]. T h e p l a n t t h u s r e c o g n i z e d in its essential c h a r a c t e r a n d d e s i g n a t e d u p o n t h a t basis will express a t t h e s a m e t i m e t h a t w h i c h a c c u r a t e l y
designates it a n d t h e relation l i n k i n g it to t h o s e plants t h a t r e s e m b l e it a n d
b e l o n g t o t h e s a m e g e n u s (and t h u s t o t h e s a m e family a n d t h e s a m e
o r d e r ) . I t will h a v e b e e n g i v e n a t t h e s a m e t i m e its p r o p e r n a m e a n d t h e
w h o l e series o f c o m m o n n a m e s (manifest o r h i d d e n ) i n w h i c h i t resides.
T h e g e n e r i c n a m e is, a s i t w e r e , t h e official c u r r e n c y o f o u r b o t a n i c a l
r e p u b l i c ' [ 2 7 ] . N a t u r a l h i s t o r y will h a v e a c c o m p l i s h e d its f u n d a m e n t a l
task, w h i c h i s t h a t o f ' a r r a n g e m e n t a n d d e s i g n a t i o n ' [ 2 8 ] .
T h e Method is a n o t h e r t e c h n i q u e for r e s o l v i n g t h e s a m e p r o b l e m .
Instead of selecting, f r o m t h e totality described, t h e e l e m e n t s - w h e t h e r
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f e w or n u m e r o u s - t h a t a r e to be used as characters, t h e m e t h o d consists
i n d e d u c i n g t h e m stage b y stage. D e d u c t i o n i s t o b e t a k e n h e r e i n t h e
sense of s u b t r a c t i o n . O n e b e g i n s - as A d a n s o n did in his e x a m i n a t i o n of
t h e plants of Senegal [29] - w i t h a species either arbitrarily chosen or
e n c o u n t e r e d b y c h a n c e . O n e describes i t i n its e n t i r e t y , l e a v i n g o u t n o n e
o f its p a r t s a n d d e t e r m i n i n g all t h e values t h a t t h e variables h a v e d e r i v e d
f r o m it. T h i s process is r e p e a t e d w i t h t h e n e x t species, also g i v e n by t h e
a r b i t r a r y n a t u r e of r e p r e s e n t a t i o n ; t h e description s h o u l d be as total as
i n t h e first instance, b u t w i t h t h e o n e difference t h a t n o t h i n g t h a t has b e e n
m e n t i o n e d i n t h e first d e s c r i p t i o n s h o u l d b e r e p e a t e d i n t h e second. O n l y
t h e differences a r e listed. A n d similarly w i t h t h e t h i r d species i n relation
t o t h e first t w o , a n d s o o n indefinitely. S o t h a t , a t t h e v e r y e n d , all t h e
different features o f all t h e plants h a v e been listed o n c e , b u t n e v e r m o r e
t h a n o n c e . A n d b y a r r a n g i n g t h e later a n d progressively m o r e sparse d e s criptions a r o u n d t h e earlier o n e s , w e shall b e able t o perceive, t h r o u g h t h e
o r i g i n a l chaos, t h e e m e r g e n c e o f t h e general table o f relations. T h e c h a r acter t h a t distinguishes e a c h species or each g e n u s is t h e o n l y feature
p i c k e d o u t f r o m t h e b a c k g r o u n d o f tacit identities. I n d e e d , such a t e c h n i q u e w o u l d p r o b a b l y b e t h e m o s t reliable, o n l y t h e n u m b e r o f existing
species is so g r e a t t h a t it w o u l d be impossible to deal w i t h t h e m all.
N e v e r t h e l e s s , t h e e x a m i n a t i o n o f such species a s w e d o m e e t w i t h reveals
t h e existence o f g r e a t 'families', o f v e r y b r o a d g r o u p s i n w h i c h t h e species
a n d t h e g e n e r a h a v e a c o n s i d e r a b l e n u m b e r o f identities. S o considerable,
indeed, t h a t t h e y signalize t h e m s e l v e s b y a v e r y large n u m b e r o f c h a r acteristics, e v e n t o t h e least a n a l y t i c e y e ; t h e r e s e m b l a n c e b e j w e e n all t h e
species of R a n u n c u l u s , or b e t w e e n all t h e species of Aeonite, is i m m e d i ately a p p a r e n t t o t h e senses. A t this p o i n t , i n o r d e r t o p r e v e n t t h e task
b e c o m i n g infinite, o n e i s o b l i g e d t o reverse t h e process. O n e a d m i t s t h e
existence o f t h e g r e a t families t h a t are manifestly r e c o g n i z a b l e , a n d w h o s e
general features h a v e b e e n defined, as it w e r e blindfold, by t h e first
descriptions o f t h e m . T h e s e a r e t h e c o m m o n features t h a t w e n o w e s t a b lish in a positive w a y ; t h e n , w h e n e v e r we m e e t w i t h a g e n u s or species
t h a t is manifestly c o n t a i n e d by t h e m , it w i l l suffice to indicate w h a t
difference distinguishes it f r o m t h e o t h e r s t h a t serve it as a sort of n a t u r a l
e n t o u r a g e . A k n o w l e d g e o f each species can b e a c q u i r e d easily u p o n t h e
basis o f this general c h a r a c t e r i z a t i o n : ' W e shall d i v i d e each o f t h e t h r e e
k i n g d o m s i n t o several families w h i c h w i l l g r o u p t o g e t h e r all those b e i n g s
t h a t a r e strikingly related, a n d w e shall r e v i e w all t h e general a n d p a r ticular characters o f t h e b e i n g s c o n t a i n e d w i t h i n those families'; i n this w a y
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CLASSIFYING

we shall be assured of r e l a t i n g all these beings to t h e i r n a t u r a l families;
a n d t h u s , b e g i n n i n g w i t h t h e ferret a n d t h e wolf, t h e d o g a n d t h e bear,
w e shall c o m e t o k n o w sufficient a b o u t t h e lion, t h e tiger, a n d t h e
h y e n a , w h i c h are animals o f t h e s a m e family [30].
I t i s i m m e d i a t e l y a p p a r e n t i n w h a t w a y t h e m e t h o d a n d the s y s t e m are
o p p o s e d . T h e r e can b e o n l y o n e m e t h o d ; b u t o n e c a n i n v e n t a n d a p p l y
a c o n s i d e r a b l e n u m b e r o f s y s t e m s : A d a n s o n a l o n e set o u t s i x t y - f i v e [ 3 1 ] .
T h e s y s t e m i s a r b i t r a r y t h r o u g h o u t its d e v e l o p m e n t , b u t o n c e t h e s y s t e m
of variables - t h e c h a r a c t e r - has b e e n defined at t h e outset, it is no l o n g e r
possible t o m o d i f y it, t o a d d o r s u b t r a c t e v e n o n e e l e m e n t . T h e m e t h o d
i s i m p o s e d f r o m w i t h o u t , b y t h e total resemblances t h a t relate t h i n g s
t o g e t h e r ; i t i m m e d i a t e l y transcribes p e r c e p t i o n i n t o discourse; i t r e m a i n s ,
in its p o i n t of d e p a r t u r e , v e r y close to d e s c r i p t i o n ; b u t it is a l w a y s possible
to a p p l y to t h e general c h a r a c t e r it has defined e m p i r i c a l l y such m o d i f i c a tions as m a y be i m p o s e d : a feature o n e h a d t h o u g h t essential to a w h o l e
g r o u p o f p l a n t s o r animals m a y v e r y w e l l p r o v e t o b e n o m o r e t h a n a
p a r t i c u l a r i t y o f a f e w o f t h e m , i f o n e discovers o t h e r s that, w i t h o u t
possessing t h a t feature, b e l o n g q u i t e o b v i o u s l y t o t h e s a m e family; t h e
m e t h o d m u s t a l w a y s b e r e a d y t o rectify itself. A s A d a n s o n says, t h e
s y s t e m is like ' t h e trial a n d e r r o r m e t h o d in m a t h e m a t i c s ' : it is t h e result
o f a decision, b u t i t m u s t b e absolutely c o h e r e n t ; t h e m e t h o d , o n t h e
o t h e r h a n d , is
a g i v e n a r r a n g e m e n t o f objects o r facts g r o u p e d t o g e t h e r a c c o r d i n g t o
certain g i v e n c o n v e n t i o n s o r r e s e m b l a n c e s , w h i c h o n e expresses b y a
general n o t i o n applicable t o all

t h o s e objects,

without,

however,

r e g a r d i n g t h a t f u n d a m e n t a l n o t i o n o r p r i n c i p l e a s absolute o r invariable,
or as so g e n e r a l t h a t it c a n n o t suffer a n y e x c e p t i o n . . . T h e m e t h o d
differs f r o m t h e s y s t e m o n l y i n t h e idea t h a t t h e a u t h o r attaches t o his
principles, r e g a r d i n g t h e m as variables in t h e m e t h o d a n d as absolutes
in t h e s y s t e m [ 3 2 ] .
M o r e o v e r , t h e s y s t e m can r e c o g n i z e o n l y relations o f c o o r d i n a t i o n
b e t w e e n a n i m a l or v e g e t a b l e s t r u c t u r e s . Since t h e c h a r a c t e r is selected,
n o t o n a c c o u n t o f its functional i m p o r t a n c e b u t o n a c c o u n t o f its c o m binative efScacity, t h e r e i s n o p r o o f t h a t i n t h e internal h i e r a r c h y o f a n y
individual p l a n t s u c h a n d s u c h a f o r m o f pistil o r a r r a n g e m e n t o f s t a m e n s
necessarily entails such a n d such a s t r u c t u r e : if t h e g e r m of t h e A d o x a is
placed b e t w e e n t h e c a l y x a n d t h e corolla, or if, in the a r u m , t h e s t a m e n s
143

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are a r r a n g e d b e t w e e n t h e pistils, these are n o t h i n g m o r e o r less t h a n
'singular s t r u c t u r e s ' [ 3 3 ] ; their slight i m p o r t a n c e is a p r o d u c t of t h e i r
r a r i t y a l o n e , w h e r e a s t h e e q u a l division o f c a l y x a n d corolla derives its
v a l u e o n l y f r o m its f r e q u e n c y [ 3 4 ] . T h e m e t h o d , o n t h e o t h e r h a n d ,
because i t p r o c e e d s f r o m identities a n d differences o f t h e m o s t general k i n d
to those t h a t are less so, is capable of b r i n g i n g o u t vertical relations of
s u b o r d i n a t i o n . It enables us, in fact, to see w h i c h characters are i m p o r t a n t
e n o u g h n e v e r t o b e n e g a t e d w i t h i n a g i v e n family. I n r e l a t i o n t o t h e
s y s t e m , t h e reversal i s v e r y i m p o r t a n t : t h e m o s t essential characters m a k e
it possible to distinguish t h e largest a n d m o s t visibly distinct families,
w h e r e a s , for T o u r n e f o r t o r L i n n a e u s , t h e essential c h a r a c t e r defined t h e
g e n u s ; a n d it w a s sufficient for t h e naturalists' ' a g r e e m e n t ' to select a
factitious c h a r a c t e r t h a t w o u l d distinguish b e t w e e n classes o r o r d e r s . I n
t h e m e t h o d , general o r g a n i z a t i o n a n d its internal d e p e n d e n c i e s are m o r e
i m p o r t a n t t h a n t h e lateral a p p l i c a t i o n of a c o n s t a n t a p p a r a t u s of variables.
D e s p i t e these differences, b o t h s y s t e m a n d m e t h o d rest u p o n t h e s a m e
epistemological base. It can be defined briefly by saying that, in Classical
t e r m s , a k n o w l e d g e o f e m p i r i c a l individuals can b e a c q u i r e d o n l y f r o m
t h e c o n t i n u o u s , o r d e r e d , a n d universal t a b u l a t i o n of all possible differences. I n t h e s i x t e e n t h c e n t u r y , t h e i d e n t i t y o f plants o r animals w a s
assured b y t h e positive m a r k (sometimes h i d d e n , often visible) w h i c h t h e y
all b o r e : w h a t distinguished t h e v a r i o u s species of birds, for instance, w a s
n o t t h e differences t h a t existed between t h e m b u t t h e fact t h a t this o n e
h u n t e d its f o o d a t n i g h t , that a n o t h e r lived o n t h e w a t e r , t h a t y e t a n o t h e r
fed o n l i v i n g

fleshes].

E v e r y b e i n g b o r e a m a r k , and..the* species was

measured by the extent of a c o m m o n emblem.

So

that

each species

identified itself by itself, expressed its i n d i v i d u a l i t y i n d e p e n d e n t l y of all
t h e o t h e r s : it w o u l d h a v e b e e n perfectly possible for all those o t h e r s n o t
t o exist, since t h e criteria o f definition w o u l d n o t t h e r e b y h a v e been
m o d i f i e d for t h o s e t h a t r e m a i n e d visible. B u t , f r o m t h e s e v e n t e e n t h c e n t u r y , t h e r e can n o l o n g e r b e a n y signs e x c e p t i n t h e analysis o f r e p r e s e n t a tions a c c o r d i n g to identities a n d differences. T h a t is, all designation m u s t
be a c c o m p l i s h e d by m e a n s of a certain relation to all o t h e r possible
designations. T o k n o w w h a t p r o p e r l y appertains t o o n e i n d i v i d u a l i s t o
h a v e before o n e t h e classification - or t h e possibility of classifying - all
o t h e r s . I d e n t i t y a n d w h a t m a r k s i t are defined b y t h e differences that
r e m a i n . An a n i m a l or a p l a n t is n o t w h a t is indicated - or b e t r a y e d - by
t h e s t i g m a that is to be f o u n d i m p r i n t e d u p o n it; it is w h a t t h e o t h e r s are
n o t ; it exists in itself o n l y in so far as it is b o u n d e d by w h a t is distinguish144

CLASSIFYING

able f r o m it. M e t h o d a n d system are s i m p l y t w o w a y s o f defining i d e n tities b y m e a n s o f t h e general g r i d o f differences. L a t e r o n , b e g i n n i n g
w i t h C u v i e r , t h e i d e n t i t y o f species w a s t o b e d e t e r m i n e d i n t h e s a m e w a y
by a set of differences, b u t t h e differences w e r e in this case to e m e r g e
f r o m t h e b a c k g r o u n d o f t h e great o r g a n i c unities possessing their o w n
internal systems o f d e p e n d e n c i e s (skeleton, respiration, c i r c u l a t i o n ) ; t h e
invertebrates w e r e t o b e defined, n o t o n l y b y their lack o f v e r t e b r a e , b u t
also by a certain m o d e of respiration, by t h e existence of a t y p e of circulat i o n , a n d by a w h o l e o r g a n i c cohesiveness o u t l i n i n g a p o s i t i v e u n i t y . T h e
internal laws of t h e o r g a n i s m w e r e to replace differential characters as
t h e object of t h e n a t u r a l sciences. Classification, as a f u n d a m e n t a l a n d
constituent p r o b l e m o f n a t u r a l history, t o o k u p its p o s i t i o n historically,
and in a necessary fashion, b e t w e e n a t h e o r y of t h e mark a n d a t h e o r y of
the

V

organism.

CONTINUITY

AND

CATASTROPHE

A t t h e heart o f this w e l l - c o n s t r u c t e d l a n g u a g e that n a t u r a l h i s t o r y has
b e c o m e , o n e p r o b l e m r e m a i n s . It is possible after all t h a t t h e t r a n s f o r m a tion o f s t r u c t u r e i n t o character m a y n e v e r b e possible, a n d t h a t t h e
c o m m o n n o u n m a y n e v e r b e able t o e m e r g e f r o m t h e p r o p e r n o u n .
W h o can g u a r a n t e e t h a t t h e descriptions, o n c e m a d e , are n o t g o i n g t o
display e l e m e n t s that v a r y s o m u c h f r o m o n e i n d i v i d u a l t o t h e n e x t , o r
f r o m o n e species t o t h e n e x t , t h a t a n y a t t e m p t t o use t h e m a s t h e basis
for a c o m m o n n o u n w o u l d b e d o o m e d i n a d v a n c e ? W h o can b e certain
that each s t r u c t u r e is n o t strictly isolated f r o m e v e r y o t h e r s t r u c t u r e , a n d
that it will n o t function as an i n d i v i d u a l m a r k ? In o r d e r t h a t t h e simplest
character can b e c o m e a p p a r e n t , it is essential t h a t at least o n e e l e m e n t in
the s t r u c t u r e e x a m i n e d first s h o u l d be r e p e a t e d in a n o t h e r . F o r t h e general
o r d e r o f differences t h a t m a k e s i t possible t o establish t h e a r r a n g e m e n t o f
species implies a certain n u m b e r of similarities. T h e p r o b l e m h e r e is isom o r p h i c w i t h t h e o n e w e h a v e a l r e a d y m e t i n relation t o l a n g u a g e [ 3 6 ] :
for a c o m m o n n o u n t o b e possible, t h e r e h a d t o b e a n i m m e d i a t e r e s e m blance b e t w e e n t h i n g s that p e r m i t t e d t h e signifying e l e m e n t s t o m o v e
a l o n g t h e representations, t o slide across t h e surface o f t h e m , t o cling t o
their similarities a n d t h u s , finally, to f o r m collective designations. B u t in
o r d e r t o o u t l i n e this rhetorical space i n w h i c h n o u n s g r a d u a l l y t o o k o n
their general v a l u e , t h e r e w a s n o n e e d t o d e t e r m i n e t h e status o f t h a t
resemblance, or w h e t h e r it w a s f o u n d e d u p o n t r u t h ; it w a s sufficient for
145

THE

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THINGS

it to strike t h e i m a g i n a t i o n w i t h sufficient force. In n a t u r a l h i s t o r y ,
h o w e v e r , w h i c h is a w e l l - c o n s t r u c t e d l a n g u a g e , these analogies of t h e
i m a g i n a t i o n c a n n o t h a v e t h e v a l u e o f g u a r a n t e e s ; a n d since n a t u r a l h i s t o r y
i s t h r e a t e n e d , like all l a n g u a g e , b y t h e radical d o u b t that H u m e b r o u g h t
to b e a r u p o n t h e necessity for r e p e t i t i o n in e x p e r i e n c e , it m u s t find a w a y
o f a v o i d i n g that t h r e a t . T h e r e m u s t b e c o n t i n u i t y i n n a t u r e .
T h i s r e q u i r e m e n t that n a t u r e s h o u l d b e c o n t i n u o u s does n o t t a k e e x a c t l y
t h e s a m e f o r m in t h e systems as it does in t h e m e t h o d s . F o r t h e s y s t e m atician, c o n t i n u i t y consists o n l y o f t h e u n b r o k e n j u x t a p o s i t i o n o f t h e
different r e g i o n s that can b e clearly distinguished b y m e a n s o f c h a r acters; all t h a t is r e q u i r e d is an u n i n t e r r u p t e d g r a d a t i o n of t h e values that
t h e s t r u c t u r e selected as a c h a r a c t e r can a s s u m e in t h e species as a w h o l e ;
s t a r t i n g f r o m this p r i n c i p l e , it will b e c o m e a p p a r e n t t h a t all these values
are o c c u p i e d b y real beings, e v e n t h o u g h t h e y m a y n o t y e t b e k n o w n .
' T h e s y s t e m indicates t h e plants, e v e n t h o s e i t has n o t m e n t i o n e d ; w h i c h
i s s o m e t h i n g t h a t t h e e n u m e r a t i o n o f a c a t a l o g u e can n e v e r d o ' [ 3 7 ] . A n d
t h e categories will n o t s i m p l y b e a r b i t r a r y c o n v e n t i o n s laid o u t o v e r this
continuity of juxtaposition; they will correspond

(if t h e y h a v e b e e n

p r o p e r l y established) to areas that h a v e a distinct existence on this uninterrupted surface of n a t u r e ; t h e y will be areas t h a t are larger t h a n individuals
b u t j u s t a s real. I n this w a y , a c c o r d i n g t o L i n n a e u s , t h e r e p r o d u c t i v e
s y s t e m m a d e i t possible t o establish t h e existence o f i n d i s p u t a b l y w e l l f o u n d e d g e n e r a : ' K n o w t h a t i t i s n o t t h e c h a r a c t e r t h a t constitutes t h e
g e n u s , b u t t h e g e n u s t h a t constitutes t h e c h a r a c t e r , t h a t t h e c h a r a c t e r
derives f r o m t h e g e n u s , n o t t h e g e n u s f r o m t h e c h a r a c t e r ' [ 3 8 ] . I n t h e
m e t h o d s , o n t h e o t h e r h a n d , since r e s e m b l a n c e s

in

their

massive a n d

clearly e v i d e n t f o r m - a r e p o s i t e d t o start w i t h , t h e c o n t i n u i t y o f n a t u r e
w i l l n o t b e this p u r e l y n e g a t i v e p o s t u l a t e (no b l a n k spaces b e t w e e n distinct categories), b u t a positive r e q u i r e m e n t : all n a t u r e f o r m s o n e great
fabric i n w h i c h beings r e s e m b l e o n e a n o t h e r f r o m o n e t o t h e n e x t , i n
w h i c h adjacent individuals are infinitely similar t o each o t h e r ; s o t h a t a n y
d i v i d i n g - l i n e t h a t indicates, n o t t h e m i n u t e difference o f t h e i n d i v i d u a l , b u t
b r o a d e r categories, is a l w a y s u n r e a l . T h e r e is a c o n t i n u i t y p r o d u c e d
by fusion in w h i c h all g e n e r a l i t y is n o m i n a l . O u r g e n e r a l ideas, says
Buffon,

a r e relative t o a c o n t i n u o u s scale o f objects o f w h i c h w e can clearly
p e r c e i v e o n l y t h e m i d d l e r u n g s a n d w h o s e e x t r e m i t i e s increasingly
f l e e f r o m a n d escape o u r c o n s i d e r a t i o n s . . . T h e m o r e w e increase the
146

CLASSIFYING

n u m b e r o f divisions i n t h e p r o d u c t i o n s o f n a t u r e , t h e closer w e shall
a p p r o a c h t o t h e t r u e , since n o t h i n g really exists i n n a t u r e e x c e p t i n d i viduals, a n d since g e n e r a , o r d e r s , a n d classes exist o n l y i n o u r i m a g i n a tion^].
A n d B o n n e t , m e a n i n g m u c h t h e s a m e t h i n g , said:
T h e r e are no leaps in n a t u r e : e v e r y t h i n g in it is g r a d u a t e d , s h a d e d . If
t h e r e w e r e a n e m p t y space b e t w e e n a n y t w o b e i n g s , w h a t reason w o u l d
t h e r e b e for p r o c e e d i n g f r o m t h e o n e t o t h e o t h e r ? T h e r e i s thus n o
b e i n g a b o v e a n d b e l o w w h i c h t h e r e are n o t o t h e r beings t h a t are
u n i t e d t o i t b y s o m e characters a n d separated f r o m i t b y o t h e r s .
It is t h e r e f o r e a l w a y s possible to discover ' i n t e r m e d i a t e p r o d u c t i o n s ' , s u c h
a s t h e p o l y p b e t w e e n t h e a n i m a l a n d t h e v e g e t a b l e , t h e f l y i n g squirrel
between the bird and the quadruped, the m o n k e y between the q u a d r u p e d
a n d m a n . C o n s e q u e n t l y , o u r divisions i n t o species a n d classes ' a r e p u r e l y
n o m i n a l ' ; t h e y r e p r e s e n t n o m o r e t h a n ' m e a n s relative t o o u r needs a n d
t o t h e limitations o f o u r k n o w l e d g e ' [ 4 0 ] .
In t h e e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y , t h e c o n t i n u i t y of n a t u r e is a r e q u i r e m e n t of
all n a t u r a l h i s t o r y , t h a t is, of a n y effort to establish an o r d e r in n a t u r e a n d
t o discover g e n e r a l categories w i t h i n it, w h e t h e r t h e y b e real a n d p r e scribed b y o b v i o u s distinctions o r a m a t t e r o f c o n v e n i e n c e a n d q u i t e
simply a pattern produced by o u r imagination. O n l y continuity can
g u a r a n t e e that n a t u r e repeats itself a n d t h a t s t r u c t u r e c a n , i n c o n s e q u e n c e ,
b e c o m e character. B u t this r e q u i r e m e n t i m m e d i a t e l y b e c o m e s a d o u b l e
o n e . F o r i f i t w e r e g i v e n t o e x p e r i e n c e , i n its u n i n t e r r u p t e d m o m e n t u m ,
t o traverse e x a c t l y , step b y step, t h e great c o n t i n u i t y c o m p r i s i n g i n d i viduals, varieties, species, g e n e r a , a n d classes, t h e r e w o u l d b e n o n e e d t o
c o n s t i t u t e a science; descriptive designations w o u l d attain to g e n e r a l i t y
q u i t e freely, a n d t h e l a n g u a g e o f t h i n g s w o u l d b e c o n s t i t u t e d a s scientific
discourse b y its o w n s p o n t a n e o u s m o m e n t u m . T h e identities o f n a t u r e
w o u l d b e p r e s e n t e d t o t h e i m a g i n a t i o n a s t h o u g h spelled o u t letter b y
letter, a n d t h e s p o n t a n e o u s shift o f w o r d s w i t h i n t h e i r r h e t o r i c a l space
w o u l d r e p r o d u c e , w i t h perfect e x a c t i t u d e , t h e i d e n t i t y o f b e i n g s w i t h
their increasing g e n e r a l i t y . N a t u r a l h i s t o r y w o u l d b e c o m e useless, o r
rather it w o u l d already have been written by man's everyday language;
general g r a m m a r w o u l d a t t h e s a m e t i m e b e t h e universal taxonomy o f
beings. B u t i f a n a t u r a l h i s t o r y perfectly distinct f r o m t h e analysis o f
w o r d s is indispensable, t h a t is because e x p e r i e n c e does n o t reveal t h e
H7

THE

ORDER

OF

THINGS

c o n t i n u i t y of n a t u r e as such, b u t gives it to us b o t h b r o k e n up - since
t h e r e a r e a g r e a t m a n y gaps in t h e series of values effectively o c c u p i e d by
t h e variables (there are possible creatures w h o s e place i n t h e g r i d o n e can
note w i t h o u t ever having had the opportunity to observe them) - and
b l u r r e d , since t h e real, g e o g r a p h i c a n d terrestrial space i n w h i c h w e find
ourselves c o n f r o n t s u s w i t h creatures t h a t are i n t e r w o v e n w i t h o n e
a n o t h e r , in an o r d e r w h i c h , in relation to t h e g r e a t n e t w o r k of taxonomies,
i s n o t h i n g m o r e t h a n c h a n c e , disorder, o r t u r b u l e n c e . Linnaeus p o i n t e d
o u t t h a t , b y associating t h e h y d r a ( w h i c h i s a n a n i m a l ) a n d t h e c o n f e r v a
( w h i c h is an a l g a ) , or t h e s p o n g e a n d t h e coral, in t h e s a m e localities,
n a t u r e i s n o t , a s t h e o r d e r o f o u r classifications w o u l d h a v e it, l i n k i n g
t o g e t h e r ' t h e m o s t perfect plants w i t h t h e animals t e r m e d v e r y i m p e r f e c t ,
b u t c o m b i n i n g i m p e r f e c t animals w i t h i m p e r f e c t plants'[4i]. A n d A d a n s o n r e m a r k e d t h a t n a t u r e is
a confused m i n g l i n g o f beings t h a t s e e m t o h a v e b e e n b r o u g h t t o g e t h e r
b y c h a n c e : h e r e , g o l d i s m i x e d w i t h a n o t h e r m e t a l , w i t h stone, w i t h
e a r t h ; t h e r e , t h e v i o l e t g r o w s side b y side w i t h a n o a k . A m o n g these
plants, t o o , w a n d e r t h e q u a d r u p e d , t h e reptile, a n d t h e insect; the fishes
are confused, o n e m i g h t say, w i t h t h e a q u e o u s e l e m e n t i n w h i c h t h e y
s w i m , a n d w i t h t h e plants that g r o w in t h e d e p t h s of t h e w a t e r s . . .
T h i s m i x t u r e is i n d e e d so g e n e r a l a n d so m u l t i f a r i o u s t h a t it appears to
be o n e of n a t u r e ' s laws [42].
N o w , this g r e a t m i x t u r e is t h e result of a c h r o n o l o g i c a l series of events.
A n d these events h a v e their p o i n t o f o r i g i n a n d their p r i m a r y locus o f
application, n o t i n t h e l i v i n g species themselves, b u t i n t h e s p a c e i n w h i c h
those species reside. T h e y are p r o d u c e d i n t h e relation o f t h e E a r t h t o t h e
S u n , i n climatic c o n d i t i o n s , i n t h e m o v e m e n t s o f t h e earth's crust; w h a t
t h e y affect first are t h e oceans a n d t h e c o n t i n e n t s , t h e surface of t h e g l o b e ;
living b e i n g s are affected o n l y indirectly a n d in a s e c o n d a r y w a y : t h e y are
a t t r a c t e d o r d r i v e n a w a y b y h e a t ; v o l c a n o e s d e s t r o y t h e m ; t h e y disappear
w i t h t h e l a n d t h a t c r u m b l e s a w a y b e n e a t h t h e m . It is possible, as Buffon,
for e x a m p l e , s u p p o s e d [43], t h a t t h e e a r t h w a s o r i g i n a l l y incandescent,
before g r a d u a l l y g r o w i n g c o l d e r ; t h e animals, a c c u s t o m e d t o l i v i n g i n
v e r y h i g h t e m p e r a t u r e s , t h e n r e g r o u p e d themselves i n t h e o n l y r e g i o n
t h a t still r e m a i n s t o r r i d , w h e r e a s t h e t e m p e r a t e o r c o l d lands w e r e p e o p l e d
b y species t h a t h a d n o t h a d t h e o p p o r t u n i t y t o a p p e a r u n t i l t h a t t i m e .
W i t h t h e r e v o l u t i o n s i n t h e h i s t o r y o f t h e e a r t h , t h e t a x o n o m i c area (in
w h i c h adjacencies are of t h e o r d e r ofcharacter a n d n o t ofmodus vivendi) w a s
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d i v i d e d u p i n t o a c o n c r e t e a n d g e o g r a p h i c a l area that j u m b l e d i t all u p .
M o r e o v e r , i t w a s p r o b a b l y b r o k e n u p i n t o f r a g m e n t s , a n d m a n y species,
adjacent t o t h o s e w e k n o w o r i n t e r m e d i a r y b e t w e e n t a x o n o m i c squares
familiar t o us, m u s t h a v e disappeared, l e a v i n g n o t h i n g b e h i n d t h e m b u t
traces difficult to d e c i p h e r . In a n y case, this historical series of events is an
a d d i t i o n t o t h e expanse o f b e i n g s : i t does n o t p r o p e r l y a p p e r t a i n t o it;
its d e v e l o p m e n t lies i n t h e real d i m e n s i o n o f t h e w o r l d , n o t t h e a n a l y t i c
o n e of classifications; w h a t it calls i n t o q u e s t i o n is t h e w o r l d as a locus for
b e i n g s , n o t t h e beings themselves i n s o far a s t h e y h a v e t h e p r o p e r t y o f
b e i n g alive. T h e r e is a historicity, s y m b o l i z e d by t h e biblical a c c o u n t s ,
w h i c h affects o u r a s t r o n o m i c s y s t e m directly a n d t h e t a x o n o m i c g r i d o f
species i n d i r e c t l y ; a n d a p a r t f r o m Genesis a n d t h e F l o o d , it is v e r y possible
that
o u r g l o b e u n d e r w e n t o t h e r r e v o l u t i o n s that h a v e n o t b e e n r e v e a l e d t o
u s . I t i s c o n n e c t e d t o t h e w h o l e a s t r o n o m i c s y s t e m , a n d t h e links t h a t
j o i n this g l o b e t o t h e o t h e r celestial b o d i e s , i n p a r t i c u l a r t o t h e S u n a n d
the comets, could have been the source of m a n y revolutions that have
left n o traces p e r c e p t i b l e t o us, b u t o f w h i c h t h e inhabitants o f n e i g h b o u r i n g w o r l d s m a y p e r h a p s h a v e s o m e k n o w l e d g e [44].
To be able to exist as a science, n a t u r a l h i s t o r y m u s t , t h e n , p r e s u p p o s e
t w o groupings. O n e of t h e m is constituted by the continuous n e t w o r k
o f b e i n g s ; this c o n t i n u i t y m a y take v a r i o u s spatial f o r m s ; C h a r l e s B o n n e t
t h i n k s of it s o m e t i m e s as a g r e a t linear scale of w h i c h o n e e x t r e m i t y is
very simple, the other v e r y complicated, w i t h a n a r r o w intermediary
r e g i o n - t h e o n l y o n e t h a t is visible to us - in t h e c e n t r e ; s o m e t i m e s as a
central t r u n k f r o m w h i c h t h e r e is a b r a n c h f o r k i n g o u t on o n e side (that
of t h e shellfish, w i t h t h e crabs a n d crayfish as s u p p l e m e n t a r y r a m i f i c a tions) a n d t h e series o f insects o n t h e o t h e r , b r a n c h i n g o u t t o i n c l u d e t h e
frogs [ 4 5 ] ; Buffon defines this s a m e c o n t i n u i t y 'as a w i d e w o v e n strip, or
r a t h e r a b u n d l e w h i c h e v e r y so often puts o u t side b r a n c h e s t h a t j o i n it
up w i t h t h e b u n d l e s of a n o t h e r o r d e r ' [ 4 6 ] ; Pallas sees it as a p o l y h e d r i c
figure [47]; H e r m a n n wished to constitute a three-dimensional m o d e l
c o m p o s e d o f t h r e a d s all starting f r o m a c o m m o n p o i n t o f o r i g i n , s e p a r a ting from one another, 'spreading out t h r o u g h a very great n u m b e r of
lateral b r a n c h e s ' , t h e n c o m i n g t o g e t h e r a g a i n [ 4 8 ] . T h e series o f e v e n t s ,
h o w e v e r , i s q u i t e distinct f r o m these spatial c o n f i g u r a t i o n s , e a c h o f w h i c h
describes t h e t a x o n o m i c c o n t i n u i t y i n its o w n w a y ; t h e series o f events i s
d i s c o n t i n u o u s , a n d different in each of its episodes; b u t , as a w h o l e , it can
14°

THB

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THINGS

be d r a w n o n l y as a s i m p l e line, w h i c h is that of t i m e itself (and w h i c h c a n
be c o n c e i v e d as straight, b r o k e n , or circular). In its c o n c r e t e f o r m , a n d in
t h e d e p t h t h a t i s p r o p e r t o it, n a t u r e resides w h o l l y b e t w e e n t h e fabric o f
t h e taxinomia a n d t h e line of r e v o l u t i o n s . T h e t a b u l a t i o n s t h a t it f o r m s in
t h e eyes o f m e n , a n d t h a t i t i s the task o f t h e discourse o f science t o t r a verse, a r e t h e f r a g m e n t s o f t h e g r e a t surface o f l i v i n g species t h a t a r e
a p p a r e n t a c c o r d i n g t o t h e w a y i t has b e e n p a t t e r n e d , b u r s t o p e n , a n d
frozen, b e t w e e n t w o t e m p o r a l r e v o l u t i o n s .
It will be seen h o w superficial it is to o p p o s e , as t w o different o p i n i o n s
c o n f r o n t i n g o n e a n o t h e r in t h e i r f u n d a m e n t a l o p t i o n s , a 'fixism' t h a t is
c o n t e n t to classify t h e b e i n g s of n a t u r e in a p e r m a n e n t t a b u l a t i o n , a n d a
sort o f ' e v o l u t i o n i s m ' t h a t i s s u p p o s e d t o believe i n a n i m m e m o r i a l h i s t o r y o f n a t u r e a n d i n a d e e p - r o o t e d , o n w a r d u r g e o f all b e i n g s t h r o u g h o u t
its c o n t i n u i t y . T h e solidity, w i t h o u t g a p s , o f a n e t w o r k o f species a n d
genera, a n d t h e series o f events t h a t h a v e b l u r r e d t h a t n e t w o r k , b o t h
b e l o n g , a t t h e s a m e level, t o t h e e p i s t e m o l o g i c a l f o u n d a t i o n t h a t m a d e a
b o d y o f k n o w l e d g e like n a t u r a l h i s t o r y possible i n t h e Classical a g e . T h e y
a r e n o t t w o w a y s o f p e r c e i v i n g n a t u r e , radically o p p o s e d because d e e p l y
r o o t e d i n p h i l o s o p h i c a l choices o l d e r a n d m o r e f u n d a m e n t a l t h a n a n y
science; t h e y are t w o s i m u l t a n e o u s r e q u i r e m e n t s i n t h e a r c h a e o l o g i c a l
n e t w o r k t h a t defines t h e k n o w l e d g e o f n a t u r e i n t h e Classical a g e . B u t
these t w o r e q u i r e m e n t s are c o m p l e m e n t a r y , a n d t h e r e f o r e i r r e d u c i b l e .
T h e t e m p o r a l series c a n n o t b e i n t e g r a t e d i n t o t h e g r a d a t i o n o f b e i n g s .
T h e eras o f n a t u r e d o n o t prescribe t h e internal time o f beings a n d their
c o n t i n u i t y ; t h e y dictate t h e intemperate i n t e r r u p t i o n s t h a t have c o n s t a n t l y
dispersed t h e m , d e s t r o y e d t h e m , m i n g l e d t h e m , separated t h e m , a n d
i n t e r w o v e n t h e m . T h e r e i s n o t a n d c a n n o t b e e v e n t h e suspicion o f a n
e v o l u t i o n i s m or a t r a n s f o r m i s m in Classical t h o u g h t ; for t i m e is n e v e r
c o n c e i v e d as a p r i n c i p l e of d e v e l o p m e n t for l i v i n g beings in their internal
o r g a n i z a t i o n ; it is p e r c e i v e d o n l y as t h e possible b e a r e r of a r e v o l u t i o n in
t h e e x t e r n a l space i n w h i c h t h e y live.

VI

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FOSSILS

It will be o b j e c t e d that, l o n g before L a m a r c k , t h e r e a l r e a d y existed a
w h o l e b o d y o f t h o u g h t o f t h e e v o l u t i o n i s t t y p e . T h a t its i m p o r t a n c e w a s
considerable in the middle of the eighteenth century, and up to the sudden
halt m a r k e d by the w o r k of Cuvier. T h a t Bonnet, Maupertuis, Diderot,
R o b i n e t , a n d B e n o i t d e Maillet all v e r y clearly articulated t h e idea t h a t
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living f o r m s m a y pass f r o m o n e i n t o a n o t h e r , t h a t t h e p r e s e n t species are
n o d o u b t t h e result o f f o r m e r t r a n s f o r m a t i o n s , a n d t h a t t h e w h o l e o f t h e
living w o r l d is p e r h a p s in m o t i o n t o w a r d s a future p o i n t , so t h a t o n e
c a n n o t g u a r a n t e e o f a n y living f o r m t h a t i t has b e e n definitively a c q u i r e d
a n d is n o w stabilized forever. In fact, such analyses are i n c o m p a t i b l e w i t h
w h a t w e u n d e r s t a n d t o d a y b y e v o l u t i o n a r y t h o u g h t . T h e y are c o n c e r n e d ,
i n fact, w i t h l i n k i n g t h e table o f identities a n d differences t o t h e series o f
successive events. A n d i n o r d e r t o c o n c e i v e o f t h e u n i t y o f that table a n d
that series t h e y h a v e o n l y t w o m e a n s a t t h e i r disposal.
T h e first consists i n i n t e g r a t i n g t h e series o f successions w i t h t h e c o n t i n u i t y o f t h e beings a n d their d i s t r i b u t i o n o v e r t h e table. All t h e creatures
t h a t t a x o n o m y has a r r a n g e d i n a n u n i n t e r r u p t e d s i m u l t a n e i t y a r e t h e n
subjected t o t i m e . N o t i n t h e sense t h a t t h e t e m p o r a l series w o u l d g i v e
rise to a m u l t i p l i c i t y of species t h a t a h o r i z o n t a l l y o r i e n t e d e y e c o u l d t h e n
a r r a n g e a c c o r d i n g to t h e r e q u i r e m e n t s of a classifying g r i d , b u t in t h e
sense that all t h e p o i n t s of t h e t a x o n o m y a r e affected by a t e m p o r a l i n d e x ,
w i t h t h e result t h a t ' e v o l u t i o n ' i s n o t h i n g m o r e t h a n t h e i n t e r d e p e n d e n t
a n d general d i s p l a c e m e n t o f t h e w h o l e scale f r o m t h e first o f its e l e m e n t s
to t h e last. T h i s system is that of C h a r l e s B o n n e t . He implies in t h e first
place that t h e chain o f b e i n g , s t r e t c h i n g u p t h r o u g h a n i n n u m e r a b l e series
o f links t o w a r d s t h e perfection o f G o d , does n o t a t p r e s e n t attain t o i t
[ 4 9 ] ; that t h e distance b e t w e e n G o d a n d t h e least defective o f his creatures
is still infinite; a n d t h a t across this, p e r h a p s u n b r i d g e a b l e , distance t h e
w h o l e u n i n t e r r u p t e d fabric of beings is ceaselessly a d v a n c i n g t o w a r d s a
greater perfection. H e implies further t h a t this ' e v o l u t i o n ' keeps intact t h e
relation t h a t exists b e t w e e n t h e different species: i f o n e o f t h e m , i n t h e
process o f perfecting itself, s h o u l d attain t h e d e g r e e o f c o m p l e x i t y p o s sessed b e f o r e h a n d b y t h e species o n e step h i g h e r , this does n o t m e a n that
t h e latter has t h e r e b y b e e n o v e r t a k e n , because, carried o n w a r d b y t h e
same m o m e n t u m , i t c a n n o t a v o i d perfecting itself t o a n e q u i v a l e n t
degree:

T h e r e will b e a c o n t i n u a l a n d m o r e o r less s l o w p r o g r e s s o f all t h e
species t o w a r d s a s u p e r i o r perfection, w i t h t h e result t h a t all t h e degrees
o f t h e scale will b e c o n t i n u a l l y variable w i t h i n a d e t e r m i n e d a n d c o n stant relation . . . M a n , o n c e t r a n s p o r t e d to an a b o d e m o r e suited to
t h e e m i n e n c e o f his faculties, will leave t o t h e m o n k e y a n d t h e e l e p h a n t
t h a t f o r e m o s t place t h a t h e o c c u p i e d before a m o n g t h e animals o f o u r
p l a n e t . . . T h e r e will be N e w t o n s a m o n g t h e m o n k e y s a n d V a u b a n s
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a m o n g t h e b e a v e r s . T h e oysters a n d t h e p o l y p s will stand i n t h e s a m e
relation t o t h e species a t t h e t o p o f t h e scale a s t h e birds a n d t h e q u a d rupeds d o n o w t o man[5o].
T h i s ' e v o l u t i o n i s m ' i s n o t a w a y o f c o n c e i v i n g o f t h e e m e r g e n c e o f beings
as a process of o n e g i v i n g rise to a n o t h e r ; in reality, it is a w a y of g e n e r a l izing t h e p r i n c i p l e o f c o n t i n u i t y a n d t h e l a w t h a t requires that all beings
f o r m an u n i n t e r r u p t e d e x p a n s e . It adds, in a Leibnizian s t y l e [ 5 i ] , t h e
c o n t i n u i t y o f t i m e t o t h e c o n t i n u i t y o f space, a n d t h e infiniteness o f t h e
p r o g r e s s of beings t o w a r d s perfection to their infinite m u l t i p l i c i t y . It is
n o t a matter of progressive hierarchization, b u t of the constant and total
force e x e r t e d b y a n a l r e a d y established h i e r a r c h y . I n t h e e n d this p r e supposes that t i m e , far f r o m b e i n g a p r i n c i p l e of taxinomia, is m e r e l y o n e
of its factors, a n d t h a t it is pre-established, like all t h e o t h e r values a s s u m e d
by all t h e o t h e r variables. B o n n e t m u s t , t h e r e f o r e , be a p r e f o r m a t i o n i s t a n d a s far r e m o v e d a s possible f r o m w h a t w e u n d e r s t a n d , since t h e n i n e t e e n t h c e n t u r y , b y ' e v o l u t i o n i s m ' ; h e m u s t s u p p o s e t h a t t h e upheavals
o r catastrophes o f t h e g l o b e w e r e a r r a n g e d i n a d v a n c e a s s o m a n y o p p o r tunities for t h e infinite c h a i n of b e i n g to c o n t i n u e its p r o g r e s s in t h e
d i r e c t i o n o f infinite a m e l i o r a t i o n : ' T h e s e e v o l u t i o n s w e r e foreseen a n d
inscribed i n t h e g e r m s o f a n i m a l s u p o n t h e v e r y first d a y o f c r e a t i o n . F o r
these e v o l u t i o n s a r e l i n k e d w i t h r e v o l u t i o n s i n t h e w h o l e solar s y s t e m
t h a t w e r e a r r a n g e d b y G o d i n a d v a n c e . ' T h e u n i v e r s e i n its e n t i r e t y has
b e e n a larva; n o w it is a chrysalis; o n e d a y it w i l l , no d o u b t , b e c o m e a
butterfly [52]. A n d e v e r y species will b e c a u g h t u p i n t h e / f e m e w a y i n
t h a t g r e a t m u t a t i o n . S u c h a system, it is clear, is n o t an* e v o l u t i o n i s m
b e g i n n i n g to o v e r t h r o w t h e old d o g m a of fixism; it is a taxinomia that
includes t i m e in a d d i t i o n - a generalized classification.
T h e o t h e r f o r m o f ' e v o l u t i o n i s m ' consists o f g i v i n g t i m e a c o m p l e t e l y
o p p o s i t e r o l e t o p l a y . I t i s used n o l o n g e r t o m o v e t h e classifying table
as a w h o l e a l o n g t h e finite or infinite line l e a d i n g to p e r f e c t i o n , b u t to
reveal, o n e after t h e o t h e r , t h e squares that, w h e n v i e w e d t o g e t h e r , will
f o r m t h e c o n t i n u o u s n e t w o r k o f t h e species. I t causes t h e variables o f the
l i v i n g w o r l d to a s s u m e all possible values successively: it is t h e i m m e d i a c y
of a c h a r a c t e r i z a t i o n t h a t is a c c o m p l i s h e d little by little a n d , as it w e r e ,
e l e m e n t after e l e m e n t . T h e partial identities o r resemblances that m a k e a
taxinomia possible w o u l d t h e n b e t h e m a r k s , r e v e a l e d i n t h e p r e s e n t , o f
o n e a n d t h e s a m e l i v i n g b e i n g , persisting t h r o u g h all t h e u p h e a v a l s o f
n a t u r e a n d t h e r e b y filling all t h e v a c a n t possibilities offered b y t h e
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t a x o n o m i c table. I f birds h a v e w i n g s i n t h e w a y that f i s h e s h a v e f i n s ,
B e n o i t de Maillet p o i n t s o u t , it is because t h e y w e r e o n c e , at t h e t i m e
w h e n the o r i g i n a l w a t e r s o f t h e e a r t h w e r e e b b i n g , d e h y d r a t e d giltheads
or d o l p h i n s that passed o v e r , o n c e for all, i n t o an aerial h o m e .
T h e seed o f these f i s h e s , carried i n t o s w a m p s , m a y p e r h a p s h a v e p r o d u c e d t h e f i r s t t r a n s m i g r a t i o n o f t h e species f r o m its m a r i n e t o its t e r restrial h o m e . E v e n t h o u g h a h u n d r e d millions m a y h a v e perished
w i t h o u t h a v i n g b e e n able t o g r o w a c c u s t o m e d t o it, i t w a s sufficient
for t w o o f t h e m t o a r r i v e a t t h a t p o i n t t o g i v e rise t o t h e species[53].
C h a n g e s in t h e c o n d i t i o n s of life of living beings s e e m h e r e , as in certain
forms o f e v o l u t i o n i s m , t o b e t h e necessary cause o f t h e a p p e a r a n c e o f
n e w species. B u t t h e m o d e i n w h i c h t h e air, t h e w a t e r , t h e c l i m a t e , o r
the e a r t h acts u p o n animals is n o t that of an e n v i r o n m e n t u p o n a function
and u p o n t h e o r g a n s i n w h i c h t h a t function takes place; h e r e , t h e e x t e r i o r
elements i n t e r v e n e o n l y in so far as t h e y occasion t h e e m e r g e n c e of a
character. A n d t h a t e m e r g e n c e , t h o u g h i t m a y b e c h r o n o l o g i c a l l y d e t e r m i n e d by such a n d such a global e v e n t , is r e n d e r e d possible a priori by
t h e general table of variables t h a t defines all t h e possible f o r m s of t h e
living w o r l d . T h e q u a s i - e v o l u t i o n i s m o f t h e e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y seems
to presage e q u a l l y well t h e s p o n t a n e o u s v a r i a t i o n of character, as it w a s
later t o b e f o u n d i n D a r w i n , and t h e positive action o f t h e e n v i r o n m e n t ,
as it was to be described by L a m a r c k . B u t this is an illusion of h i n d s i g h t :
for this f o r m o f t h o u g h t , i n fact, t h e sequence o f t i m e c a n n e v e r b e a n y thing b u t t h e line a l o n g w h i c h all t h e possible values o f t h e pre-established
variables succeed o n e a n o t h e r . C o n s e q u e n t l y , a p r i n c i p l e of m o d i f i c a t i o n
m u s t be defined w i t h i n t h e living b e i n g , e n a b l i n g it to t a k e on a n e w
character w h e n a n a t u r a l r e v o l u t i o n occurs.
W e are p r e s e n t e d , t h e n , w i t h a n o t h e r c h o i c e : either t o p r e s u p p o s e a
s p o n t a n e o u s a p t i t u d e in l i v i n g beings to c h a n g e their f o r m s (or at least
to a c q u i r e - w i t h succeeding g e n e r a t i o n s - a slightly different c h a r a c t e r
f r o m that originally g i v e n , s o t h a t i t will c h a n g e g r a d u a l l y f r o m o n e t o
the n e x t a n d finally b e c o m e u n r e c o g n i z a b l e ) , o r t o a t t r i b u t e t o t h e m
s o m e o b s c u r e u r g e t o w a r d s a t e r m i n a l species t h a t will possess t h e c h a r acters of all those that h a v e p r e c e d e d it, b u t in a h i g h e r d e g r e e of c o m plexity a n d p e r f e c t i o n .
T h e first s y s t e m is t h a t of errors to infinity - as it is to be in M a u p e r t u i s .
A c c o r d i n g to this s y s t e m , t h e table of species that it is possible for n a t u r a l
history to establish has been built up piecemeal by t h e balance, c o n s t a n t l y
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p r e s e n t in n a t u r e , b e t w e e n a m e m o r y t h a t g u a r a n t e e s its c o n t i n u i t y ( m a i n t e n a n c e o f t h e species i n t i m e a n d their r e s e m b l a n c e t o o n e a n o t h e r ) a n d
a t e n d e n c y t o w a r d s d e v i a t i o n that s i m u l t a n e o u s l y g u a r a n t e e s t h e existence
o f h i s t o r y , differences, a n d dispersion. M a u p e r t u i s supposes that t h e p a r ticles o f m a t t e r are e n d o w e d w i t h activity a n d m e m o r y . W h e n a t t r a c t e d
t o o n e a n o t h e r , t h e least active f o r m m i n e r a l substances; t h e m o s t active
f o r m t h e m o r e c o m p l e x bodies o f animals. T h e s e f o r m s , w h i c h are t h e
result o f a t t r a c t i o n a n d c h a n c e , disappear i f t h e y are u n a b l e t o s u r v i v e .
T h o s e that d o r e m a i n i n existence g i v e rise t o n e w individuals i n w h i c h
t h e characters o f t h e p a r e n t c o u p l e are p r e s e r v e d b y m e m o r y . A n d this
process c o n t i n u e s until a d e v i a t i o n of t h e particles - a c h a n c e h a p p e n i n g b r i n g s i n t o b e i n g a n e w species, w h i c h t h e s t u b b o r n force o f m e m o r y
m a i n t a i n s i n existence i n t u r n : ' B y d i n t o f r e p e a t e d d e v i a t i o n s , t h e infinite
diversity o f t h e a n i m a l s c a m e t o p a s s ' [ 5 4 ] . T h u s , p r o g r e s s i n g f r o m o n e t o
t h e n e x t , living b e i n g s a c q u i r e d by successive variations all t h e characters
w e n o w r e c o g n i z e i n t h e m , a n d , w h e n o n e considers t h e m i n t h e d i m e n sion o f t i m e , t h e c o h e r e n t , solid expanse t h e y f o r m i s m e r e l y t h e f r a g m e n t a r y result o f a m u c h m o r e t i g h t l y k n i t , m u c h finer, c o n t i n u i t y : a
c o n t i n u i t y t h a t has b e e n w o v e n f r o m a n incalculable n u m b e r o f t i n y ,
f o r g o t t e n , o r miscarried differences. T h e visible species t h a t n o w p r e s e n t
t h e m s e l v e s for o u r analysis h a v e b e e n separated o u t f r o m t h e ceaseless
b a c k g r o u n d o f m o n s t r o s i t i e s that a p p e a r , g l i m m e r , sink i n t o t h e abyss,
a n d occasionally s u r v i v e . A n d this is t h e f u n d a m e n t a l p o i n t : n a t u r e has
a h i s t o r y o n l y in so far as it is susceptible of c o n t i n u i t y . It is because it
takes on all possible characters in t u r n (each v a l u e of all t h e variables)
that it is p r e s e n t e d in t h e f o r m of a succession.
T h e s a m e can b e said for t h e inverse s y s t e m o f t h e p r o t o t y p e a n d the
t e r m i n a l species. In this case it is necessary to s u p p o s e , w i t h J - B . R o b i n e t ,
t h a t c o n t i n u i t y is assured, n o t by m e m o r y , b u t by a p r o j e c t - t h e p r o j e c t
o f a c o m p l e x b e i n g t o w a r d s w h i c h n a t u r e m a k e s its w a y f r o m t h e s t a r t i n g p o i n t o f s i m p l e elements w h i c h i t g r a d u a l l y c o m b i n e s a n d a r r a n g e s :
'First o f all, t h e e l e m e n t s c o m b i n e . A small n u m b e r o f s i m p l e principles
serves as a basis for all b o d i e s ' ; these a r e t h e ones t h a t g o v e r n exclusively
the organization of minerals; then 'the magnificence of nature' continues
t o increase w i t h o u t a b r e a k ' u p t o t h e level o f t h e beings t h a t m o v e u p o n
t h e surface o f t h e g l o b e ' ; ' t h e v a r i a t i o n o f t h e o r g a n s i n n u m b e r , i n size,
in r e f i n e m e n t , in internal t e x t u r e , a n d in e x t e r n a l f o r m , p r o d u c e s species
w h i c h a r e d i v i d e d a n d s u b d i v i d e d t o infinity b y n e w a r r a n g e m e n t s ' [ 5 5 ] .
A n d s o o n , u n t i l w e reach t h e m o s t c o m p l e x a r r a n g e m e n t w e k n o w of.
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S o t h a t t h e entire c o n t i n u i t y o f n a t u r e resides b e t w e e n a n absolutely
archaic p r o t o t y p e , b u r i e d deeper t h a n a n y h i s t o r y , a n d t h e e x t r e m e
c o m p l i c a t i o n of this m o d e l as it is n o w possible to o b s e r v e it, at least on
this e a r t h l y g l o b e , i n t h e p e r s o n o f t h e h u m a n b e i n g [ 5 6 ] . B e t w e e n these
t w o e x t r e m e s t h e r e lie all t h e possible degrees o f c o m p l e x i t y a n d c o m b i n a t i o n - like a n i m m e n s e series o f e x p e r i m e n t s , o f w h i c h s o m e h a v e
persisted i n t h e f o r m o f c o n t i n u i n g species a n d s o m e h a v e s u n k i n t o
o b l i v i o n . M o n s t e r s a r e n o t o f a different ' n a t u r e ' f r o m t h e species t h e m selves:
We should believe t h a t t h e m o s t a p p a r e n t l y bizarre f o r m s . . . b e l o n g
necessarily a n d essentially t o t h e universal p l a n o f b e i n g ; t h a t t h e y are
metamorphoses of the p r o t o t y p e just as natural as the others, even
t h o u g h t h e y present us w i t h different p h e n o m e n a ; t h a t t h e y serve as
m e a n s o f passing t o adjacent f o r m s ; t h a t t h e y p r e p a r e a n d b r i n g a b o u t
t h e c o m b i n a t i o n s t h a t f o l l o w t h e m , j u s t a s t h e y themselves w e r e
b r o u g h t a b o u t b y those t h a t p r e c e d e d t h e m ; t h a t far f r o m d i s t u r b i n g
t h e o r d e r o f things, t h e y c o n t r i b u t e t o it. I t i s o n l y , p e r h a p s , b y d i n t
o f p r o d u c i n g m o n s t r o u s beings t h a t n a t u r e succeeds i n p r o d u c i n g
beings o f g r e a t e r r e g u l a r i t y a n d w i t h a m o r e s y m m e t r i c a l s t r u c t u r e [ 5 7 ] .
In R o b i n e t , as in M a u p e r t u i s , succession a n d h i s t o r y are for n a t u r e m e r e l y
m e a n s of traversing t h e infinite fabric of variations of w h i c h it is capable.
It is n o t , t h e n , t h a t t i m e or d u r a t i o n ensures t h e c o n t i n u i t y a n d specification o f living beings t h r o u g h o u t t h e diversity o f successive e n v i r o n m e n t s ,
b u t t h a t against t h e c o n t i n u o u s b a c k g r o u n d o f all t h e possible variations
t i m e traces o u t a n itinerary u p o n w h i c h climates a n d g e o g r a p h y p i c k o u t
o n l y certain p r i v i l e g e d regions destined to s u r v i v e . C o n t i n u i t y is n o t t h e
visible w a k e of a f u n d a m e n t a l history in w h i c h o n e s a m e l i v i n g p r i n c i p l e
struggles w i t h a variable e n v i r o n m e n t . F o r c o n t i n u i t y precedes t i m e . It
is its c o n d i t i o n . A n d h i s t o r y can p l a y no m o r e t h a n a n e g a t i v e r o l e in
relation to it: it either picks o u t an e n t i t y a n d allows it to survive, or
ignores it a n d allows it to disappear.
T h i s has t w o consequences. First, t h e necessity o f i n t r o d u c i n g m o n s t e r s
into t h e s c h e m e - f o r m i n g t h e b a c k g r o u n d noise, as it w e r e , t h e endless
m u r m u r of n a t u r e . I n d e e d , if it is necessary for t i m e , w h i c h is limited,
t o r u n t h r o u g h - o r p e r h a p s t o h a v e already r u n t h r o u g h - t h e w h o l e
c o n t i n u i t y o f n a t u r e , o n e i s forced t o a d m i t t h a t a considerable n u m b e r o f
possible variations h a v e b e e n e n c o u n t e r e d a n d t h e n erased; j u s t as t h e
geological c a t a s t r o p h e w a s necessary t o enable u s t o w o r k b a c k f r o m t h e
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t a x o n o m i c table t o t h e c o n t i n u u m , t h r o u g h a b l u r r e d , chaotic, and f r a g m e n t e d e x p e r i e n c e , so t h e proliferation of m o n s t e r s w i t h o u t a future is
necessary t o e n a b l e u s t o w o r k d o w n again f r o m t h e c o n t i n u u m , t h r o u g h
a t e m p o r a l series, t o t h e table. I n o t h e r w o r d s , w h a t m u s t b e c o n s t r u e d ,
as we m o v e in o n e direction, as a d r a m a of the earth and waters must
be construed, in the other direction, as an obvious aberration of forms.
T h e m o n s t e r ensures i n t i m e , a n d for o u r theoretical k n o w l e d g e , a
c o n t i n u i t y that, for o u r e v e r y d a y e x p e r i e n c e , f l o o d s , v o l c a n o e s , a n d
s u b s i d i n g c o n t i n e n t s confuse in space. T h e o t h e r c o n s e q u e n c e is t h a t t h e
signs o f c o n t i n u i t y t h r o u g h o u t s u c h a h i s t o r y can n o l o n g e r b e o f a n y
o r d e r o t h e r t h a n t h a t o f r e s e m b l a n c e . Since this history i s n o t defined b y
a n y relation o f o r g a n i s m t o e n v i r o n m e n t [ 5 8 ] , t h e living forms will b e
subjected i n i t t o all possible m e t a m o r p h o s e s a n d leave b e h i n d t h e m n o
trace o f t h e p a t h t h e y h a v e f o l l o w e d o t h e r t h a n t h e reference p o i n t s
r e p r e s e n t e d b y similitudes. H o w , for e x a m p l e , a r e w e t o r e c o g n i z e t h a t
n a t u r e , starting f r o m a p r i m i t i v e p r o t o t y p e , has n e v e r ceased t o w o r k
t o w a r d s t h e p r o v i s i o n a l l y t e r m i n a l f o r m t h a t i s m a n ? B y t h e fact that i t
has . a b a n d o n e d o n t h e w a y t h o u s a n d s o f f o r m s that p r o v i d e u s w i t h
a p i c t u r e o f t h e r u d i m e n t a r y m o d e l . H o w m a n y fossils are t h e r e , for
m a n ' s ear, or skull, or sexual parts, like so m a n y plaster statues, fashioned
o n e d a y a n d d r o p p e d t h e n e x t i n f a v o u r o f a m o r e perfected f o r m ?
T h e species t h a t resembles t h e h u m a n h e a r t , a n d for t h a t reason is
n a m e d A n t h r o p o c a r d i t e . . . i s w o r t h y o f p a r t i c u l a r a t t e n t i o n . Its s u b stance is flint inside. T h e f o r m of a h e a r t is i m i t a t e d as perfectly as p o s sible. O n e can distinguish i n i t t h e s t u m p o f t h e v e n a c a v a , t o g e t h e r
w i t h a p o r t i o n o f its t w o cross-sections. O n e can also see t h e s t u m p o f
t h e g r e a t a r t e r y e m e r g i n g f r o m t h e left v e n t r i c l e , t o g e t h e r w i t h its
l o w e r or d e s c e n d i n g b r a n c h [59].
T h e fossil, w i t h its m i x e d a n i m a l a n d m i n e r a l n a t u r e , i s t h e p r i v i l e g e d
locus o f a r e s e m b l a n c e r e q u i r e d b y t h e h i s t o r i a n o f t h e c o n t i n u u m ,
w h e r e a s t h e space o f t h e taxinomia d e c o m p o s e d i t w i t h r i g o u r .
T h e m o n s t e r a n d t h e fossil b o t h p l a y a v e r y precise r o l e i n this c o n f i g u r a t i o n . O n t h e basis o f t h e p o w e r o f t h e c o n t i n u u m held b y n a t u r e ,
t h e m o n s t e r ensures t h e e m e r g e n c e of difference. T h i s difference is still
w i t h o u t l a w a n d w i t h o u t a n y well-defined s t r u c t u r e ; t h e m o n s t e r i s t h e
r o o t - s t o c k of specification, b u t it is o n l y a sub-species itself in t h e s t u b b o r n l y s l o w s t r e a m o f h i s t o r y . T h e fossil i s w h a t p e r m i t s resemblances t o
subsist t h r o u g h o u t all t h e deviations traversed by n a t u r e ; it functions as
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a distant a n d a p p r o x i m a t i v e f o r m of i d e n t i t y ; it m a r k s a quasi-character
in t h e shift of t i m e . A n d this is because t h e m o n s t e r a n d t h e fossil a r e
m e r e l y t h e b a c k w a r d p r o j e c t i o n o f those differences a n d those identities
that p r o v i d e taxinomia first w i t h s t r u c t u r e , t h e n w i t h character. B e t w e e n
table a n d c o n t i n u u m t h e y f o r m a shady, m o b i l e , w a v e r i n g r e g i o n i n
w h i c h w h a t analysis is to define as identity is still o n l y m u t e a n a l o g y ; a n d
w h a t it will define as assignable a n d c o n s t a n t difference is still o n l y free
a n d r a n d o m v a r i a t i o n . B u t , in t r u t h , it is so impossible for natural history
to c o n c e i v e of the history of nature, t h e epistemological a r r a n g e m e n t
delineated b y t h e table a n d t h e c o n t i n u u m i s s o f u n d a m e n t a l , t h a t b e c o m ing can o c c u p y n o t h i n g b u t a n i n t e r m e d i a r y place m e a s u r e d o u t for i t
solely b y t h e r e q u i r e m e n t s o f t h e w h o l e . T h i s i s w h y i t occurs o n l y i n
o r d e r to b r i n g a b o u t t h e necessary passage f r o m o n e to t h e o t h e r - either
as a totality of destructive events alien to l i v i n g beings a n d o c c u r r i n g
o n l y f r o m o u t s i d e t h e m , or as a m o v e m e n t ceaselessly b e i n g o u t l i n e d ,
t h e n halted as s o o n as sketched, a n d perceptible o n l y on t h e fringes of t h e
table, i n its u n c o n s i d e r e d m a r g i n s . T h u s , against t h e b a c k g r o u n d o f t h e
c o n t i n u u m , t h e m o n s t e r p r o v i d e s a n a c c o u n t , a s t h o u g h i n caricature, o f
the genesis of differences, a n d t h e fossil recalls, in t h e u n c e r t a i n t y of its
resemblances, t h e first b u d d i n g s o f identity.

VII

THE D I S C O U R S E OF N A T U R E

T h e t h e o r y o f n a t u r a l h i s t o r y c a n n o t b e dissociated f r o m that o f l a n g u a g e .
A n d y e t it is n o t a q u e s t i o n of a transference of m e t h o d , f r o m o n e to t h e
o t h e r ; n o r o f a c o m m u n i c a t i o n o f c o n c e p t s ; n o r o f t h e prestige o f a m o d e l
w h i c h , because it has 'succeeded' in o n e field, has b e e n tried o u t in t h e
o n e n e x t to it. N o r is it a q u e s t i o n of a m o r e general rationality i m p o s i n g
identical f o r m s u p o n g r a m m a t i c a l t h i n k i n g a n d u p o n taxinomia. R a t h e r ,
it concerns a f u n d a m e n t a l a r r a n g e m e n t of k n o w l e d g e , w h i c h o r d e r s t h e
k n o w l e d g e o f beings s o a s t o m a k e i t possible t o represent t h e m i n
a system o f n a m e s . T h e r e w e r e doubtless, i n this r e g i o n w e n o w t e r m life,
m a n y inquiries o t h e r t h a n a t t e m p t s a t classification, m a n y k i n d s o f
analysis o t h e r t h a n that of identities a n d differences. B u t t h e y all rested
u p o n a sort of historical a priori, w h i c h a u t h o r i z e d t h e m in their dispersion
and in their singular a n d d i v e r g e n t projects, a n d r e n d e r e d equally possible
all t h e differences of o p i n i o n of w h i c h t h e y w e r e t h e source. T h i s a priori
does n o t consist of a set of c o n s t a n t p r o b l e m s u n i n t e r r u p t e d l y presented
to m e n ' s curiosity by c o n c r e t e p h e n o m e n a as so m a n y e n i g m a s ; n o r is it
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m a d e u p o f a certain state o f a c q u i r e d k n o w l e d g e laid d o w n i n t h e course
o f t h e p r e c e d i n g ages a n d p r o v i d i n g a g r o u n d for t h e m o r e o r less i r r e g u lar, m o r e or less r a p i d , progress of r a t i o n a l i t y ; it is doubtless n o t e v e n
d e t e r m i n e d b y w h a t i s called t h e m e n t a l i t y o r t h e ' f r a m e w o r k o f t h o u g h t '
o f a n y g i v e n p e r i o d , i f w e are t o u n d e r s t a n d b y t h a t t h e historical o u t l i n e
o f t h e speculative interests, beliefs, o r b r o a d theoretical o p t i o n s o f t h e
t i m e . T h i s a priori is w h a t , in a g i v e n p e r i o d , delimits in t h e totality
o f e x p e r i e n c e a field o f k n o w l e d g e , defines t h e m o d e o f b e i n g o f t h e
objects that a p p e a r i n t h a t field, p r o v i d e s m a n ' s e v e r y d a y p e r c e p t i o n w i t h
theoretical p o w e r s , a n d defines t h e c o n d i t i o n s i n w h i c h h e can sustain
a discourse a b o u t things t h a t is r e c o g n i z e d to be t r u e . In t h e e i g h t e e n t h
c e n t u r y , t h e historical a priori that p r o v i d e d t h e basis for i n q u i r y i n t o or
c o n t r o v e r s y a b o u t t h e existence o f g e n e r a , t h e stability o f species, a n d t h e
transmission o f characters f r o m g e n e r a t i o n t o g e n e r a t i o n , w a s t h e existence of a n a t u r a l h i s t o r y : t h e o r g a n i z a t i o n of a certain visible existence as
a d o m a i n o f k n o w l e d g e , t h e definition o f t h e four variables o f description,
t h e c o n s t i t u t i o n o f a n area o f adjacencies i n w h i c h a n y individual b e i n g
w h a t e v e r can find its place. N a t u r a l h i s t o r y in t h e Classical age is n o t
m e r e l y t h e d i s c o v e r y of a n e w object of curiosity; it covers a series of
c o m p l e x o p e r a t i o n s t h a t i n t r o d u c e t h e possibility o f a c o n s t a n t o r d e r i n t o
a totality of representations. It constitutes a w h o l e d o m a i n of e m p i r i c i t y
as at t h e s a m e t i m e describable a n d orderable. W h a t m a k e s it a k i n to
theories o f l a n g u a g e also distinguishes i t f r o m w h a t w e h a v e u n d e r s t o o d ,
since t h e n i n e t e e n t h c e n t u r y , by b i o l o g y , a n d causes it to p l a y a certain
critical r o l e in Classical t h o u g h t .
N a t u r a l h i s t o r y is c o n t e m p o r a n e o u s w i t h l a n g u a g e : it is on t h e same
level as t h e s p o n t a n e o u s p l a y that analyses representations in t h e m e m o r y ,
d e t e r m i n e s their c o m m o n elements, establishes signs u p o n t h e basis o f
those e l e m e n t s , a n d f i n a l l y i m p o s e s n a m e s . Classification a n d speech h a v e
their place o f o r i g i n i n t h e same space t h a t r e p r e s e n t a t i o n o p e n s u p w i t h i n
itself because it is consecrated to t i m e , to m e m o r y , to reflection, to c o n t i n u i t y . B u t n a t u r a l h i s t o r y c a n n o t a n d s h o u l d n o t exist as a l a n g u a g e
i n d e p e n d e n t of all o t h e r languages unless it is a w e l l - c o n s t r u c t e d l a n g u a g e
- a n d a universally valid o n e . In s p o n t a n e o u s a n d ' b a d l y c o n s t r u c t e d '
l a n g u a g e , t h e four elements (proposition, articulation, d e s i g n a t i o n , d e r i v a t i o n ) leave interstices o p e n b e t w e e n t h e m : individual experiences,
needs or passions, habits, prejudices, a m o r e or less a w a k e n e d c o n c e n t r a t i o n , h a v e established h u n d r e d s of different l a n g u a g e s - l a n g u a g e s that
differ f r o m o n e a n o t h e r n o t o n l y i n t h e f o r m o f their w o r d s , b u t a b o v e all
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i n t h e w a y i n w h i c h those w o r d s p a t t e r n representation. N a t u r a l h i s t o r y
can be a w e l l - c o n s t r u c t e d l a n g u a g e o n l y if t h e a m o u n t of p l a y in it is
enclosed: if its descriptive e x a c t i t u d e m a k e s e v e r y p r o p o s i t i o n i n t o an
invariable p a t t e r n of reality (if o n e can a l w a y s attribute to t h e r e p r e s e n t a tion w h a t is articulated in it) a n d if t h e designation of each b e i n g indicates
clearly t h e place it occupies in t h e general arrangement of t h e w h o l e . In
l a n g u a g e , t h e function o f t h e v e r b i s universal a n d v o i d ; i t m e r e l y p r e scribes t h e m o s t general f o r m of t h e p r o p o s i t i o n ; a n d it is w i t h i n t h e latter
that t h e n a m e s b r i n g their system o f articulation i n t o p l a y ; n a t u r a l
history r e g r o u p s these t w o functions i n t o t h e u n i t y o f t h e structure, w h i c h
articulates t o g e t h e r all t h e variables t h a t can be a t t r i b u t e d to a b e i n g .
A n d w h e r e a s in l a n g u a g e t h e designation, in its individual f u n c t i o n i n g , is
e x p o s e d t o t h e h a z a r d o f derivations, w h i c h e n d o w t h e c o m m o n n a m e s
w i t h their scope a n d extension, t h e character, as established by n a t u r a l
history, m a k e s i t possible b o t h t o indicate t h e i n d i v i d u a l a n d t o situate
it in a space of generalities that fit inside o n e a n o t h e r . So t h a t a b o v e t h e
o r d i n a r y , e v e r y d a y w o r d s (and b y m e a n s o f t h e m , since i t i s o f c o u r s e
necessary to use t h e m for t h e initial descriptions) t h e r e is raised t h e edifice
of a l a n g u a g e in t h e second d e g r e e in w h i c h t h e exact N a m e s of t h i n g s
finally r u l e :
T h e m e t h o d , t h e soul of science, designates at first sight any b o d y in
n a t u r e in such a w a y t h a t t h e b o d y in question expresses t h e n a m e
t h a t is p r o p e r to it, a n d that this n a m e recalls all t h e k n o w l e d g e t h a t
m a y , i n t h e course o f t i m e , h a v e been a c q u i r e d a b o u t t h e b o d y t h u s
n a m e d : so that in t h e m i d s t of e x t r e m e confusion there is revealed
t h e s o v e r e i g n o r d e r o f n a t u r e [60].
B u t this essential n o m i n a t i o n - this transition f r o m t h e visible s t r u c t u r e
to t h e t a x o n o m i c character - leads back to a costly r e q u i r e m e n t . In o r d e r
to fulfil a n d enclose t h e figure t h a t p r o c e e d s f r o m t h e m o n o t o n o u s
function of t h e v e r b to be to d e r i v a t i o n a n d traversal of rhetorical space,
spontaneous language had no need of anything b u t the play of imaginat i o n : t h a t is, of i m m e d i a t e resemblances. F o r taxonomy to be possible, on
the o t h e r h a n d , n a t u r e m u s t be t r u l y c o n t i n u o u s , a n d in all its p l e n i t u d e .
W h e r e l a n g u a g e r e q u i r e d t h e similarity o f impressions, classification
requires t h e p r i n c i p l e of t h e smallest possible difference b e t w e e n t h i n g s .
N o w , this c o n t i n u u m , w h i c h appears t h e r e f o r e a t t h e v e r y basis o f
n o m i n a t i o n , in t h e o p e n i n g left b e t w e e n description a n d a r r a n g e m e n t , is
presupposed well before l a n g u a g e , as its c o n d i t i o n . A n d n o t o n l y because
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it can p r o v i d e t h e basis for a w e l l - c o n s t r u c t e d l a n g u a g e , b u t because it
a c c o u n t s for all l a n g u a g e in general. It is w i t h o u t d o u b t t h e c o n t i n u i t y
o f n a t u r e t h a t gives m e m o r y t h e o p p o r t u n i t y o f exercising itself, a s
w h e n a r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , t h r o u g h s o m e confused a n d ill-perceived identity,
recalls a n o t h e r a n d m a k e s i t possible t o a p p l y t o b o t h t h e a r b i t r a r y sign
of a c o m m o n n a m e . W h a t w a s p r e s e n t e d in t h e i m a g i n a t i o n as a b l i n d
similitude w a s m e r e l y t h e b l u r r e d a n d unreflected trace o f t h e g r e a t
u n i n t e r r u p t e d fabric o f identities a n d differences. I m a g i n a t i o n ( w h i c h , b y
m a k i n g c o m p a r i s o n possible, justifies l a n g u a g e ) f o r m e d , w i t h o u t its
t h e n b e i n g k n o w n , t h e a m b i g u o u s locus i n w h i c h t h e shattered b u t
insistent c o n t i n u i t y o f n a t u r e was u n i t e d w i t h t h e e m p t y b u t a t t e n t i v e
c o n t i n u i t y o f consciousness. I t w o u l d n o t h a v e b e e n possible t o speak,
t h e r e w o u l d h a v e b e e n n o place for e v e n t h e m e r e s t n a m e , i f n a t u r e , i n
t h e v e r y d e p t h o f things, before all r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , h a d n o t been c o n t i n u o u s . T o establish t h e g r e a t , unflawed table o f t h e species, g e n e r a , a n d
classes, n a t u r a l h i s t o r y h a d t o e m p l o y , criticize, a n d finally reconstitute
a t n e w expense a l a n g u a g e w h o s e c o n d i t i o n o f possibility resided p r e cisely i n t h a t c o n t i n u u m . T h i n g s a n d w o r d s a r e v e r y strictly i n t e r w o v e n :
nature is posited only t h r o u g h the grid of denominations, and - t h o u g h
w i t h o u t such n a m e s i t w o u l d r e m a i n m u t e a n d invisible - i t g l i m m e r s
far off b e y o n d t h e m , c o n t i n u o u s l y p r e s e n t on t h e far side of this grid,
w h i c h nevertheless presents i t t o o u r k n o w l e d g e a n d r e n d e r s i t visible
only w h e n wholly spanned by language.
T h i s , n o d o u b t , i s w h y n a t u r a l h i s t o r y , i n t h e Classical p e r i o d , c a n n o t
b e established a s b i o l o g y . U p t o t h e e n d o f t h e e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y , i n
fact, life does n o t exist: o n l y living beings. T h e s e beings f o r m o n e class,
or r a t h e r several classes, in t h e series of all t h e t h i n g s in t h e w o r l d ; a n d
if it is possible to speak of life it is o n l y as of o n e c h a r a c t e r - in t h e t a x o n o m i c sense of t h a t w o r d - in t h e universal d i s t r i b u t i o n of beings. It is
usual to d i v i d e t h e t h i n g s in n a t u r e i n t o t h r e e classes: m i n e r a l s , w h i c h are
r e c o g n i z e d a s c a p a b l e o f g r o w t h , b u t n o t o f m o v e m e n t o r feeling;
vegetables, w h i c h are c a p a b l e o f g r o w t h a n d susceptible t o sensation; and
a n i m a l s , w h i c h a r e capable of s p o n t a n e o u s m o v e m e n t [61]. As for life
a n d t h e t h r e s h o l d i t establishes, these can b e m a d e t o slide f r o m o n e end
o f t h e scale t o t h e o t h e r , a c c o r d i n g t o t h e criteria o n e a d o p t s . If, w i t h
M a u p e r t u i s , o n e defines life b y t h e m o b i l i t y a n d relations o f affinity that
d r a w elements towards one another and keep t h e m together, then one
m u s t c o n c e i v e of life as residing in t h e simplest particles of m a t t e r . B u t
o n e m u s t situate i t m u c h h i g h e r i n t h e series i f o n e defines i t b y m e a n s o f
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a c r o w d e d a n d c o m p l e x c h a r a c t e r , as L i n n a e u s d i d w h e n he set up as his
criteria b i r t h ( b y seed o r b u d ) , n u t r i t i o n (by intussusception), a g e i n g ,
e x t e r i o r m o v e m e n t , internal p r o p u l s i o n o f fluids, diseases, d e a t h , a n d
presence o f vessels, g l a n d s , e p i d e r m s , a n d utricles [62]. Life docs n o t c o n stitute a n o b v i o u s t h r e s h o l d b e y o n d w h i c h entirely n e w f o r m s o f k n o w l e d g e are r e q u i r e d . It is a c a t e g o r y of classification, relative, like all t h e
o t h e r categories, t o t h e criteria o n e a d o p t s . A n d also, like t h e m , subject
to certain imprecisions as s o o n as t h e q u e s t i o n of d e c i d i n g its frontiers
arises. J u s t a s t h e z o o p h y t e stands o n t h e a m b i g u o u s frontier b e t w e e n
animals a n d plants, so t h e fossils, as well as t h e metals, reside in t h a t
u n c e r t a i n frontier r e g i o n w h e r e o n e does n o t k n o w w h e t h e r o n e o u g h t
t o speak o f life o r n o t . B u t t h e d i v i d i n g - l i n e b e t w e e n t h e living a n d t h e
n o n - l i v i n g is n e v e r a decisive p r o b l e m [63]. As L i n n a e u s says, t h e naturalist
- w h o m he calls Historicns naturalis - 'distinguishes

the

p a r t s of n a t u r a l

bodies w i t h his eyes, describes t h e m a p p r o p r i a t e l y a c c o r d i n g t o their
n u m b e r , f o r m , position, a n d p r o p o r t i o n , a n d h e n a m e s t h e m ' [ 6 4 ] . T h e
naturalist i s t h e m a n c o n c e r n e d w i t h t h e s t r u c t u r e o f t h e visible w o r l d
a n d its d e n o m i n a t i o n a c c o r d i n g t o characters. N o t w i t h life.
W e m u s t t h e r e f o r e n o t c o n n e c t n a t u r a l h i s t o r y , a s i t w a s manifested
d u r i n g t h e Classical p e r i o d , w i t h a p h i l o s o p h y of life, albeit an o b s c u r e
a n d still faltering o n e . In reality, it is i n t e r w o v e n w i t h a t h e o r y of w o r d s .
N a t u r a l h i s t o r y is situated b o t h b e f o r e a n d after l a n g u a g e ; it d e c o m p o s e s
the l a n g u a g e o f e v e r y d a y life, b u t i n o r d e r t o r e c o m p o s e i t a n d d i s c o v e r
w h a t has m a d e i t possible t h r o u g h t h e b l i n d resemblances o f i m a g i n a t i o n ;
it criticizes l a n g u a g e , b u t in o r d e r to reveal its f o u n d a t i o n . If n a t u r a l
history r e w o r k s l a n g u a g e a n d a t t e m p t s to perfect it, this is because it also
delves d o w n i n t o t h e o r i g i n o f l a n g u a g e . I t leaps o v e r t h e e v e r y d a y
v o c a b u l a r y t h a t p r o v i d e s i t w i t h its i m m e d i a t e g r o u n d , a n d b e y o n d t h a t
g r o u n d it searches for that w h i c h c o u l d h a v e c o n s t i t u t e d its raison d'etre;
but, inversely, it resides in its e n t i r e t y in t h e area of l a n g u a g e , since it is
essentially a c o n c e r t e d use of n a m e s a n d since its u l t i m a t e a i m is to g i v e
t h i n g s their t r u e d e n o m i n a t i o n . B e t w e e n l a n g u a g e a n d t h e t h e o r y o f
n a t u r e t h e r e exists t h e r e f o r e a relation that is of a critical t y p e ; to k n o w
n a t u r e is, in fact, to b u i l d u p o n t h e basis of l a n g u a g e a t r u e l a n g u a g e , o n e
that will reveal t h e c o n d i t i o n s in w h i c h all l a n g u a g e is possible a n d t h e
limits w i t h i n w h i c h i t can h a v e a d o m a i n o f v a l i d i t y . T h e critical q u e s t i o n
did exist i n t h e e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y , b u t l i n k e d t o t h e f o r m o f a d e t e r m i n a t e k n o w l e d g e . F o r this reason i t c o u l d n o t a c q u i r e e i t h e r a u t o n o m y
or t h e v a l u e of radical q u e s t i o n i n g : it p r o w l e d endlessly t h r o u g h a r e g i o n
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w h e r e w h a t m a t t e r e d w a s r e s e m b l a n c e , the s t r e n g t h o f the

imagina-

t i o n , n a t u r e a n d h u m a n n a t u r e , a n d the v a l u e o f g e n e r a l a n d abstract ideas
- i n short, t h e relations b e t w e e n t h e p e r c e p t i o n o f s i m i l i t u d e

and

the

validity of the concept. In the Classical a g e - L o c k e and Linnaeus, B u f f o n
a n d H u m e a r e o u r e v i d e n c e o f this - t h e critical q u e s t i o n c o n c e r n e d the
basis f o r r e s e m b l a n c e a n d t h e e x i s t e n c e o f the g e n u s .
I n t h e late e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y , a n e w c o n f i g u r a t i o n w a s t o a p p e a r that
w o u l d d e f i n i t i v e l y b l u r t h e o l d space o f natural h i s t o r y f o r m o d e r n e y e s .
O n the o n e h a n d , w e see c r i t i c i s m d i s p l a c i n g i t s e l f a n d d e t a c h i n g i t s e l f
f r o m t h e g r o u n d w h e r e i t h a d first arisen. W h e r e a s H u m e m a d e the
p r o b l e m o f c a u s a l i t y o n e case i n the g e n e r a l i n t e r r o g a t i o n o f r e s e m blances [65], K a n t , b y i s o l a t i n g c a u s a l i t y , reverses t h e q u e s t i o n ; w h e r e a s
b e f o r e i t w a s a q u e s t i o n o f establishing relations o f i d e n t i t y o r difference
against

the

continuous

background

of similitudes,

Kant

brings

into

p r o m i n e n c e t h e i n v e r s e p r o b l e m o f t h e synthesis o f t h e d i v e r s e . T h i s
s i m u l t a n e o u s l y transfers t h e critical q u e s t i o n f r o m the c o n c e p t t o the
j u d g e m e n t , f r o m the e x i s t e n c e o f t h e g e n u s ( o b t a i n e d b y the analysis o f
representations)

to

the possibility

of linking

representations

together,

f r o m the r i g h t t o n a m e t o t h e basis for a t t r i b u t i o n , f r o m n o m i n a l a r t i c u l a t i o n to the p r o p o s i t i o n

itself, a n d to t h e v e r b to be that establishes it.

W h e r e u p o n i t b e c o m e s a b s o l u t e l y g e n e r a l i z e d . Instead o f h a v i n g v a l i d i t y
s o l e l y w h e n a p p l i e d t o t h e relations o f n a t u r e a n d h u m a n n a t u r e ,

it

q u e s t i o n s t h e v e r y p o s s i b i l i t y o f all k n o w l e d g e .
O n the o t h e r h a n d , h o w e v e r , a n d d u r i n g t h e s a m e p e r i o d , life assumes
its a u t o n o m y i n r e l a t i o n t o the c o n c e p t s o f classification. It^escapes f r o m
that critical r e l a t i o n w h i c h , i n the e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y w a s c o n s t i t u t i v e o f
the k n o w l e d g e o f n a t u r e .

I t escapes - w h i c h m e a n s t w o

things:

life

b e c o m e s o n e o b j e c t o f k n o w l e d g e a m o n g o t h e r s , and i s a n s w e r a b l e , i n
this respect, to all c r i t i c i s m in g e n e r a l ; b u t it also resists this critical j u r i s d i c t i o n , w h i c h i t takes o v e r o n its o w n a c c o u n t a n d b r i n g s t o bear, i n its
o w n n a m e , o n all possible k n o w l e d g e . S o t h a t t h r o u g h o u t the n i n e t e e n t h c e n t u r y , f r o m K a n t t o D i l t h e y a n d t o B e r g s o n , critical f o r m s o f
t h o u g h t and p h i l o s o p h i e s o f life f i n d t h e m s e l v e s i n a p o s i t i o n o f r e c i p r o c a l
b o r r o w i n g and contestation.

CHAPTER

6

Exchanging
I

THE

ANALYSIS

OF

WEALTH

T h e r e is no life in t h e Classical p e r i o d , n o r a n y science of life; n o r any
p h i l o l o g y either. B u t t h e r e i s n a t u r a l h i s t o r y , a n d general g r a m m a r . I n
t h e s a m e w a y , t h e r e i s n o political e c o n o m y , because, i n t h e o r d e r o f
k n o w l e d g e , p r o d u c t i o n does n o t exist. O n t h e o t h e r h a n d , t h e r e does
exist in t h e s e v e n t e e n t h a n d e i g h t e e n t h centuries a n o t i o n t h a t is still
familiar to us t o d a y , t h o u g h it has lost its essential precision for us. B u t
' n o t i o n ' is n o t really t h e w o r d we should a p p l y to it, since it does n o t o c c u r
w i t h i n a n i n t e r p l a y o f e c o n o m i c concepts t h a t i t m i g h t displace t o s o m e
slight e x t e n t by t a k i n g o v e r a little of their m e a n i n g or eating i n t o their
s p h e r e of application. It is m o r e a question of a general d o m a i n : a v e r y
c o h e r e n t a n d v e r y well-stratified layer t h a t comprises a n d contains, like
s o m a n y partial objects, t h e n o t i o n s o f v a l u e , price, t r a d e , circulation,
i n c o m e , interest. T h i s d o m a i n , t h e g r o u n d a n d object o f ' e c o n o m y ' i n
t h e Classical age, is t h a t of wealth. It is useless to
apply
it questions
d e r i v i n g f r o m a different t y p e of e c o n o m i c s - o n e o r g a n i z e d a r o u n d p r o d u c t i o n or w o r k , for e x a m p l e ; useless also to analyse its v a r i o u s concepts
(even, a n d a b o v e all, if their n a m e s h a v e b e e n p e r p e t u a t e d in succeeding
ages w i t h s o m e w h a t a n a l o g o u s m e a n i n g s ) , w i t h o u t t a k i n g i n t o a c c o u n t
t h e s y s t e m f r o m w h i c h t h e y d r a w their positivity. O n e m i g h t a s well
t r y t o analyse t h e L i n n a e a n g e n u s outside t h e d o m a i n o f n a t u r a l h i s t o r y ,
o r Bauzee's t h e o r y o f tenses w i t h o u t t a k i n g i n t o a c c o u n t t h e fact that
general g r a m m a r w a s its historical c o n d i t i o n of possibility.
W e m u s t therefore a v o i d a r e t r o s p e c t i v e r e a d i n g o f these t h i n g s that
w o u l d m e r e l y e n d o w t h e Classical analysis o f w e a l t h w i t h t h e ulterior
u n i t y of a political e c o n o m y in t h e t e n t a t i v e process of c o n s t i t u t i n g itself.
Y e t i t i s i n this w a y t h a t historians o f ideas d o g o a b o u t their r e c o n s t r u c tions o f t h e e n i g m a t i c b i r t h o f this k n o w l e d g e , w h i c h , a c c o r d i n g t o t h e m ,
166

EXCHANGING

s p r a n g u p i n W e s t e r n t h o u g h t , fully a r m e d a n d already full o f d a n g e r , a t
t h e t i m e o f R i c a r d o a n d J - B . Say. T h e y p r e s u p p o s e t h a t a scientific
e c o n o m i c s h a d for l o n g b e e n r e n d e r e d impossible b y a p u r e l y m o r a l
p r o b l e m a t i c s o f profit a n d i n c o m e ( t h e o r y o f t h e fair price, justification
o r c o n d e m n a t i o n o f interest), t h e n b y a systematic confusion b e t w e e n
m o n e y a n d w e a l t h , v a l u e a n d m a r k e t p r i c e : a n d o f this assimilation t h e y
take m e r c a n t i l i s m t o b e o n e o f t h e principle causes a n d t h e m o s t striking
manifestation. B u t t h e n t h e e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y i s supposed t o h a v e p r o v i d e d t h e essential distinctions a n d o u t l i n e d s o m e o f t h e great p r o b l e m s
that positivist e c o n o m i c s s u b s e q u e n t l y treated w i t h tools b e t t e r a d a p t e d
t o t h e task: m o n e y i s supposed t o h a v e revealed i n this w a y its c o n v e n tional - t h o u g h n o t a r b i t r a r y - character (as a c o n s e q u e n c e of t h e l o n g
discussion b e t w e e n bullionists a n d anti-bullionists: a m o n g t h e first w o u l d
h a v e t o b e i n c l u d e d C h i l d , P e t t y , L o c k e , C a n t i l l o n , Galiani; a m o n g t h e
latter, B a r b o n , Boisguillebert, a n d , a b o v e all, L a w ; t h e n , to a lesser
d e g r e e , after t h e disaster o f 1 7 2 0 , M o n t e s q u i e u a n d M e l o n ) ; a b e g i n n i n g
is t h o u g h t to have been m a d e , t o o - in the w o r k of Cantillon - on the
task o f d i s e n t a n g l i n g t h e t h e o r y o f intrinsic v a l u e f r o m t h a t o f m a r k e t
v a l u e ; a n d t h e g r e a t ' p a r a d o x o f value* w a s dealt w i t h , b y o p p o s i n g t h e
useless dearness o f t h e d i a m o n d t o t h e cheapness o f t h e w a t e r w i t h o u t
w h i c h we c a n n o t live (it is possible, in fact, to find this p r o b l e m r i g o r ously f o r m u l a t e d in G a l i a n i ) ; a start is s u p p o s e d to h a v e b e e n m a d e , t h u s
prefiguring the w o r k of Jevons and M e n g e r , at connecting value to a
general t h e o r y o f utility ( w h i c h w e find sketched o u t i n Galiani, i n
Graslin, a n d i n T u r g o t ) ; a n u n d e r s t a n d i n g o f t h e i m p o r t a n c e o f h i g h
prices to t h e d e v e l o p m e n t of t r a d e w a s s u p p o s e d l y r e a c h e d (this is t h e
' B e c h e r p r i n c i p l e ' , t a k e n u p i n F r a n c e b y Boisguillebert a n d Q u e s n a y ) ;
lastly - a n d h e r e we m e e t t h e Physiocrats - a start w a s m a d e on t h e
analysis o f t h e m e c h a n i c s o f p r o d u c t i o n . A n d thus, i n f r a g m e n t s h e r e a n d
there, political e c o n o m y i s t h o u g h t t o h a v e b e e n silently b r i n g i n g i n t o
position its essential t h e m e s , until t h e m o m e n t w h e n , t a k i n g u p t h e
analysis of p r o d u c t i o n again in a n o t h e r d i r e c t i o n , A d a m S m i t h is s u p p o s e d
t o h a v e b r o u g h t t o light t h e process o f t h e increasing division o f l a b o u r ,
R i c a r d o t h e role p l a y e d b y capital, a n d J - B . Say s o m e o f t h e f u n d a m e n t a l
laws o f t h e m a r k e t e c o n o m y . F r o m this m o m e n t o n , political e c o n o m y
is s u p p o s e d to h a v e b e g u n to exist w i t h its o w n p r o p e r object a n d its
o w n inner coherence.
I n fact, t h e c o n c e p t s o f m o n e y , price, v a l u e , circulation, a n d m a r k e t
w e r e n o t r e g a r d e d , i n t h e s e v e n t e e n t h and e i g h t e e n t h centuries, i n t e r m s
167

THE

ORDER

OF THINGS

of a s h a d o w y future, b u t as p a r t of a r i g o r o u s a n d general epistemological
a r r a n g e m e n t . It is this a r r a n g e m e n t that sustains t h e 'analysis of w e a l t h '
in its overall necessity. T h e analysis of w e a l t h is to political e c o n o m y w h a t
general g r a m m a r is to p h i l o l o g y a n d w h a t n a t u r a l history is to b i o l o g y .
A n d j u s t as it is n o t possible to u n d e r s t a n d t h e t h e o r y of v e r b a n d n o u n ,
t h e analysis o f t h e l a n g u a g e o f action, a n d t h a t o f roots a n d their d e v e l o p m e n t , w i t h o u t referring, t h r o u g h t h e s t u d y o f general g r a m m a r ,
t o t h e archaeological n e t w o r k that m a k e s those t h i n g s possible and necessary; j u s t a s o n e c a n n o t u n d e r s t a n d , w i t h o u t e x p l o r i n g t h e d o m a i n o f
n a t u r a l history, w h a t Classical description, characterization, a n d t a x o n o m y
were, any m o r e than the opposition between system and m e t h o d , or
'fixism' a n d ' e v o l u t i o n ' ; so, i n t h e same w a y , i t w o u l d n o t b e possible
t o discover t h e link o f necessity that connects t h e analysis o f m o n e y ,
prices, v a l u e , and t r a d e if o n e did n o t first clarify this d o m a i n of w e a l t h
w h i c h is t h e locus of their s i m u l t a n e i t y .
It is t r u e that t h e analysis of w e a l t h is n o t c o n s t i t u t e d a c c o r d i n g to t h e
s a m e curves o r i n o b e d i e n c e t o t h e s a m e r h y t h m a s general g r a m m a r o r
n a t u r a l history. T h i s is because reflection u p o n m o n e y , t r a d e , a n d e x c h a n g e is linked to a practice a n d to institutions. A n d t h o u g h practice
a n d p u r e speculation m a y b e placed i n o p p o s i t i o n t o o n e a n o t h e r , t h e y
nevertheless rest u p o n o n e a n d t h e same f u n d a m e n t a l g r o u n d o f k n o w ledge. A m o n e y r e f o r m , a b a n k i n g c u s t o m , a t r a d e practice can all be
rationalized, can all d e v e l o p , m a i n t a i n themselves or disappear a c c o r d i n g
t o a p p r o p r i a t e f o r m s ; t h e y a r e all based u p o n a certain g r o u n d o f k n o w l e d g e : an obscure k n o w l e d g e that does n o t manifest itself fonAts o w n sake
in a discourse, b u t w h o s e necessities a r e exactly t h e same as for abstract
theories or speculations w i t h o u t a p p a r e n t relation to reality. In a n y g i v e n
c u l t u r e a n d at a n y g i v e n m o m e n t , t h e r e is a l w a y s o n l y o n e episteme t h a t d e fines t h e c o n d i t i o n s of possibility of all k n o w l e d g e , w h e t h e r expressed in a
t h e o r y or silently invested in a practice. T h e m o n e t a r y r e f o r m prescribed
b y t h e States G e n e r a l o f 1 5 7 5 , mercantilist measures, o r L a w ' s e x p e r i m e n t
a n d its liquidation, all h a v e t h e s a m e archaeological basis as t h e theories
of D a v a n z a t t i , B o u t e r o u e , P e t t y , or C a n t i l l o n . A n d it is these f u n d a m e n t a l
necessities o f k n o w l e d g e that w e m u s t give voice t o .

II

MONEY

AND

PRICES

In t h e sixteenth c e n t u r y , e c o n o m i c t h o u g h t is restricted, or a l m o s t so,
t o t h e p r o b l e m o f prices a n d that o f t h e best m o n e t a r y substance. T h e
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EXCHANGING

q u e s t i o n o f prices c o n c e r n s the absolute o r relative c h a r a c t e r o f t h e i n creasing clearness of c o m m o d i t i e s a n d t h e effect t h a t successive devaluations
o r t h e influx o f A m e r i c a n metals m a y h a v e h a d u p o n prices. T h e p r o b l e m
o f m o n e t a r y substance i s t h a t o f t h e n a t u r e o f t h e standard, o f t h e price
relation b e t w e e n t h e v a r i o u s metals e m p l o y e d , a n d o f t h e d i s t o r t i o n
b e t w e e n t h e w e i g h t s o f coins a n d their n o m i n a l values. B u t these t w o
scries of p r o b l e m s w e r e linked, since the m e t a l a p p e a r e d o n l y as a sign,
and as a sign for m e a s u r i n g w e a l t h , in so far as it w a s itself w e a l t h . It
possessed the p o w e r to signify because it w a s itself a real m a r k . A n d j u s t
as w o r d s h a d t h e s a m e reality as w h a t t h e y said, j u s t as t h e m a r k s of l i v i n g
beings w e r e inscribed u p o n their bodies i n t h e m a n n e r o f visible a n d
positive m a r k s , similarly, the signs t h a t i n d i c a t e d w e a l t h a n d m e a s u r e d
i t w e r e b o u n d t o c a r r y t h e real m a r k i n themselves. I n o r d e r t o r e p r e s e n t
prices, t h e y themselves h a d t o b e precious. T h e y h a d t o b e rare, useful,
desirable. M o r e o v e r , all these qualities h a d t o b e stable i f t h e m a r k t h e y
i m p r i n t e d u p o n things w a s t o b e a n a u t h e n t i c a n d universally legible
signature. H e n c e t h e correlation b e t w e e n t h e p r o b l e m o f prices a n d t h e
n a t u r e o f m o n e y , w h i c h constitutes t h e p r i v i l e g e d object o f all reflection
upon wealth from Copernicus to Bodin and Davanzatti.
T h e t w o functions o f m o n e y , a s a c o m m o n m e a s u r e b e t w e e n c o m m o d ities a n d as a substitute in t h e m e c h a n i s m of e x c h a n g e , are based u p o n its
material reality. A m e a s u r e is stable, r e c o g n i z e d as valid by e v e r y o n e a n d
in all places, if it has as a s t a n d a r d an assignable reality t h a t can be c o m p a r e d to t h e diversity of t h i n g s t h a t o n e wishes to m e a s u r e : as is t h e case,
C o p e r n i c u s p o i n t s o u t , w i t h t h e f a t h o m a n d t h e bushel, w h o s e m a t e r i a l
l e n g t h a n d v o l u m e serve a s u n i t s [ i ] . I n c o n s e q u e n c e , m o n e y does n o t
t r u l y m e a s u r e unless its u n i t is a reality t h a t really exists, to w h i c h a n y
c o m m o d i t y w h a t e v e r m a y b e referred. I n this sense, t h e sixteenth c e n t u r y
r e t u r n s t o t h e t h e o r y accepted d u r i n g a t least p a r t o f t h e M i d d l e A g e s ,
w h i c h g a v e e i t h e r t h e p r i n c e o r p o p u l a r c o n s e n t t h e r i g h t t o f i x t h e valor
impositus o f m o n e y , t o m o d i f y its rate, t o w i t h d r a w a n y c a t e g o r y o f coins
o r a n y particular m e t a l . T h e v a l u e o f m o n e y m u s t b e d e t e r m i n e d b y t h e
q u a n t i t y o f m e t a l i t c o n t a i n s ; t h a t is, i t r e t u r n s t o w h a t i t w a s before, w h e n
princes h a d n o t y e t s t a m p e d their effigy o r seal u p o n pieces o f m e t a l ;
a t t h a t t i m e ' n e i t h e r c o p p e r , n o r g o l d , n o r silver w e r e m i n t e d , b u t o n l y
v a l u e d a c c o r d i n g t o their w e i g h t ' [ 2 ] ; a r b i t r a r y signs w e r e n o t a c c o r d e d
t h e v a l u e of real m a r k s ; m o n e y w a s a fair m e a s u r e because it signified
n o t h i n g m o r e t h a n its p o w e r t o standardize w e a l t h o n t h e basis o f its o w n
m a t e r i a l reality as w e a l t h .
169

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OF THINGS

It is u p o n this epistemological foundation t h a t r e f o r m s w e r e effected
i n t h e sixteenth c e n t u r y , a n d t h a t the controversies o f t h e a g e assumed their
p a r t i c u l a r d i m e n s i o n s . T h e r e was a n a t t e m p t t o b r i n g m o n e t a r y signs
back t o their e x a c t i t u d e a s m e a s u r e s : t h e n o m i n a l values s t a m p e d o n t h e
coins h a d to be in c o n f o r m i t y w i t h t h e q u a n t i t y of m e t a l chosen as a
s t a n d a r d a n d i n c o r p o r a t e d i n t o each c o i n ; m o n e y w o u l d t h e n signify
n o t h i n g m o r e t h a n its m e a s u r i n g v a l u e . I n this sense, t h e a n o n y m o u s
a u t h o r of t h e Compendious insists t h a t all t h e m o n e y actually c u r r e n t s h o u l d
cease to be so after a certain d a t e , since t h e ' f o r c i n g u p ' o f its n o m i n a l value
has l o n g since vitiated its functions of m e a s u r e m e n t ; all c o i n a g e already
m i n t e d s h o u l d t h e n b e accepted o n l y i n a c c o r d a n c e w i t h the a m o u n t o f
m e t a l it is estimated to c o n t a i n ; as for n e w m o n e y , that will h a v e its o w n
w e i g h t a s its n o m i n a l v a l u e , s o that h e n c e f o r w a r d o n l y t h e n e w a n d t h e
o l d m o n e y will b e c u r r e n t , each i n a c c o r d a n c e w i t h o n e a n d t h e same
value, w e i g h t a n d d e n o m i n a t i o n , s o that all m o n e y will b e re-established
at its f o r m e r rate a n d r e g a i n its f o r m e r g o o d n e s s [3]. It is n o t k n o w n
w h e t h e r t h e Compendious, w h i c h w a s n o t published before 1 5 8 1 , b u t was
certainly in existence a n d circulating in m a n u s c r i p t for t h i r t y years b e f o r e h a n d , inspired E n g l a n d ' s m o n e t a r y p o l i c y u n d e r Elizabeth. O n e t h i n g
is certain: t h a t after a series o f ' f o r c i n g s u p ' (devaluations) b e t w e e n 1 5 4 4
and 1559, the proclamation of M a r c h 1561 ' b r o u g h t d o w n ' the nominal
value o f m o n e y a n d m a d e i t equal o n c e m o r e t o t h e q u a n t i t y o f m e t a l
each coin c o n t a i n e d . Similarly, in France, t h e States General of 1 5 7 5
asked for a n d o b t a i n e d t h e suppression of a c c o u n t i n g ^jinits ( w h i c h
i n t r o d u c e d a t h i r d definition of m o n e y , a p u r e l y * arithmetical o n e , in
a d d i t i o n t o t h e definition b y w e i g h t a n d t h a t b y n o m i n a l v a l u e : this
s u p p l e m e n t a r y relation concealed t h e sense o f m o n e t a r y o p e r a t i o n s f r o m
those w h o did n o t u n d e r s t a n d i t ) ; t h e edict o f S e p t e m b e r 1 5 7 7 established
t h e g o l d ecu as b o t h a real coin a n d an a c c o u n t i n g u n i t , decreed t h e
s u b o r d i n a t i o n of all o t h e r metals to g o l d - in particular, silver, w h i c h r e tained its legality as t e n d e r b u t lost its legal i m m u t a b i l i t y . T h e c o i n a g e
w a s t h u s restandardized o n t h e basis o f its metallic w e i g h t . T h e sign t h e
coins b o r e - t h e valor impositus - w a s m e r e l y t h e exact a n d t r a n s p a r e n t
m a r k o f t h e m e a s u r e t h e y constituted.
B u t at t h e s a m e t i m e as this r e s t a n d a r d i z a t i o n w a s b e i n g d e m a n d e d ,
a n d occasionally a c c o m p l i s h e d , a certain n u m b e r o f p h e n o m e n a c a m e
t o light w h i c h a r e peculiar t o t h e m o n e y - s i g n a n d p e r h a p s definitively
c o m p r o m i s e d its role as a m e a s u r e . First, t h e fact that c o i n a g e circulates
all t h e q u i c k e r for b e i n g less g o o d , w h e r e a s coins w i t h a h i g h p e r c e n t a g e
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EXCHANGING

o f m e t a l are h o a r d e d a n d d o n o t take p a r t i n t r a d e : this i s w h a t w a s called
G r e s h a m ' s l a w [4], a n d b o t h C o p e r n i c u s [5] a n d t h e a u t h o r o f t h e Compendious^] w e r e already a w a r e of it. Second, a n d a b o v e all, t h e r e w a s t h e
relation b e t w e e n t h e m o n e t a r y facts a n d t h e m o v e m e n t o f prices: i t w a s
this that revealed m o n e y as a c o m m o d i t y like a n y o t h e r - n o t an a b s o l u t e
s t a n d a r d for all equivalences, b u t a c o m m o d i t y w h o s e capacity for e x c h a n g e , a n d c o n s e q u e n t l y w h o s e v a l u e as a substitute in e x c h a n g e , a r e
m o d i f i e d a c c o r d i n g t o its a b u n d a n c e o r r a r i t y : m o n e y t o o has its p r i c e .
Malcstroit[7] h a d p o i n t e d o u t that, despite appearances, there h a d b e e n
n o increase i n prices d u r i n g t h e sixteenth c e n t u r y : since c o m m o d i t i e s a r e
a l w a y s w h a t t h e y are, a n d since m o n e y , in its p a r t i c u l a r n a t u r e , is a c o n stant standard, t h e increased dearness o f c o m m o d i t i e s can b e d u e o n l y
t o t h e a u g m e n t a t i o n o f t h e n o m i n a l values b o r n e b y a n u n c h a n g i n g
metallic mass: b u t , for t h e s a m e q u a n t i t y o f w h e a t , o n e still gives t h e s a m e
w e i g h t i n silver o r g o l d . S o t h a t ' n o t h i n g has b e c o m e d e a r e r ' : since t h e
g o l d e n ecu w a s w o r t h t w e n t y sols toumois in a c c o u n t i n g m o n e y u n d e r
P h i l i p p e V I , a n d since it is n o w w o r t h fifty, it is inevitable t h a t an ell of
velvet, w h i c h f o r m e r l y cost four livres, s h o u l d n o w b e w o r t h t e n . ' T h e
increasing dearness o f things does n o t c o m e f r o m h a v i n g t o deliver m o r e
b u t f r o m receiving a lesser q u a n t i t y of g o l d or fine silver t h a n o n e w a s
a c c u s t o m e d to before.' B u t o n c e this identification has been established
b e t w e e n t h e role o f m o n e y and the mass o f metal i t causes t o circulate,
it b e c o m e s clearly a p p a r e n t t h a t it is subjected to t h e s a m e v a r i a t i o n s
a s all o t h e r m e r c h a n d i s e . A n d t h o u g h M a l e s t r o i t implicitly a d m i t t e d t h a t
t h e q u a n t i t y a n d m a r k e t a b l e v a l u e o f metals r e m a i n e d stable, B o d i n ,
o n l y a v e r y f e w years later [8], observes t h a t t h e r e has been an increase
i n t h e stock o f m e t a l i m p o r t e d f r o m t h e N e w W o r l d , a n d i n c o n s e q u e n c e
a real increase in t h e price of c o m m o d i t i e s , since princes, n o w possessing
ingots i n larger q u a n t i t y o r r e c e i v i n g m o r e f r o m p r i v a t e persons, h a v e
b e e n m i n t i n g m o r e a n d b e t t e r - q u a l i t y c o i n s ; for t h e s a m e a m o u n t o f a
c o m m o d i t y o n e is t h e r e f o r e g i v i n g a larger q u a n t i t y of m e t a l . T h e rise
in prices therefore has a 'principal cause, a n d t h a t a l m o s t t h e o n l y o n e
that n o o n e has t o u c h e d u p o n h i t h e r t o ' : ' t h e a b u n d a n c e o f g o l d a n d
silver', ' t h e a b u n d a n c e o f that w h i c h gives t h i n g s estimation a n d p r i c e ' .
T h e s t a n d a r d o f equivalences i s itself i n v o l v e d i n t h e system o f e x changes, a n d t h e b u y i n g p o w e r o f m o n e y signifies n o t h i n g b u t t h e
m a r k e t a b l e v a l u e o f t h e m e t a l . T h e m a r k t h a t distinguishes m o n e y ,
d e t e r m i n e s it, renders it certain a n d acceptable to all, is thus reversible,
a n d m a y be c o n s t r u e d in either d i r e c t i o n : it refers to a q u a n t i t y of m e t a l
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THINGS

that is a constant m e a s u r e ( w h i c h is t h e c o n s t r u c t i o n M a l e s t r o i t p u t s u p o n
i t ) ; b u t it also refers to certain c o m m o d i t i e s , variable in q u a n t i t y a n d p r i c e ,
called metals ( w h i c h i s B o d i n ' s r e a d i n g o f t h e m a t t e r ) . W e are, t h e n ,
p r e s e n t e d w i t h a n a r r a n g e m e n t a n a l o g o u s t o t h a t w h i c h characterizes t h e
general o r g a n i z a t i o n of signs in t h e sixteenth c e n t u r y : signs, it will be
r e m e m b e r e d , w e r e c o n s t i t u t e d b y resemblances w h i c h , i n t u r n , n e c e s sitated further signs i n o r d e r t o b e r e c o g n i z e d . H e r e , t h e m o n e t a r y sign
c a n n o t define its e x c h a n g e v a l u e , a n d c a n be established as a m a r k o n l y
on a metallic mass w h i c h in t u r n defines its v a l u e in t h e scale of o t h e r
c o m m o d i t i e s . I f o n e a d m i t s t h a t e x c h a n g e , i n t h e s y s t e m o f needs, c o r responds to similitude in the system of acquired k n o w l e d g e , then o n e
sees t h a t k n o w l e d g e o f n a t u r e , a n d reflection o r practices c o n c e r n i n g
m o n e y , w e r e c o n t r o l l e d d u r i n g t h e Renaissance b y o n e a n d t h e s a m e
c o n f i g u r a t i o n of t h e episteme.
A n d j u s t a s t h e relation o f the m i c r o c o s m t o t h e m a c r o c o s m w a s indispensable in o r d e r to arrest t h e indefinite oscillation b e t w e e n r e s e m blance a n d sign, so it w a s necessary to lay d o w n a certain relation b e t w e e n
m ; t a l a n d m e r c h a n d i s e w h i c h , w h e n i t c a m e t o it, m a d e i t possible t o f i x
t h e total m a r k e t a b l e v a l u e o f the precious m e t a l s , a n d c o n s e q u e n t l y t o
standardize t h e p r i c e of all c o m m o d i t i e s in a certain a n d definitive fashion.
T h i s relation is t h e o n e that w a s established by P r o v i d e n c e w h e n it b u r i e d
g o l d a n d silver m i n e s u n d e r the e a r t h , a n d caused t h e m t o g r o w , j u s t a s
plants g r o w a n d animals m u l t i p l y o n t h e surface o f t h e e a r t h . B e t w e e n
all t h e t h i n g s t h a t m a n m a y n e e d o r desire, a n d t h e g l i t t e r i n g , h i d d e n
veins w h e r e those metals g r o w in darkness, t h e r e is an absolute c o r r e s p o n d e n c e . As D a v a n z a t t i says:
N a t u r e m a d e all terrestrial t h i n g s g o o d ; t h e s u m o f these, b y v i r t u e
o f t h e a g r e e m e n t c o n c l u d e d b y m e n , i s w o r t h all t h e g o l d that i s w o r k e d ;
all m e n therefore desire e v e r y t h i n g in o r d e r to a c q u i r e all t h i n g s . . .
I n o r d e r t o ascertain each d a y t h e r u l e a n d m a t h e m a t i c a l p r o p o r t i o n s
that exist b e t w e e n t h i n g s a n d b e t w e e n t h e m a n d g o l d , w e s h o u l d h a v e
t o b e able t o c o n t e m p l a t e , f r o m the h e i g h t o f h e a v e n o r s o m e v e r y tall
o b s e r v a t o r y , all t h e t h i n g s t h a t exist o r are d o n e o n e a r t h , o r r a t h e r
their i m a g e s r e p r o d u c e d a n d reflected in t h e s k y as in a faithful m i r r o r .
W e w o u l d t h e n a b a n d o n all o u r calculations a n d w e w o u l d say: t h e r e
is upon earth so m u c h gold, so m a n y things, so m a n y men, so many
n e e d s ; a n d to the d e g r e e that each t h i n g satisfies needs, its v a l u e shall
be so m a n y things, or so m u c h gold[9].
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T h i s celestial a n d e x h a u s t i v e calculation can b e a c c o m p l i s h e d b y n o n e
o t h e r t h a n G o d : i t c o r r e s p o n d s t o t h a t o t h e r calculation that b r i n g s each
a n d e v e r y e l e m e n t o f t h e m i c r o c o s m i n t o relation w i t h a c o r r e s p o n d i n g
e l e m e n t in t h e m a c r o c o s m - w i t h this o n e difference, t h a t t h e latter unites
t h e terrestrial t o t h e celestial, g o i n g f r o m t h i n g s , f r o m animals, o r f r o m
m a n , u p t o t h e stars; w h e r e a s t h e f o r m e r links t h e earth t o its caves a n d
m i n e s ; i t m a k e s those things t h a t are b r o u g h t into b e i n g b y t h e h a n d s
o f m e n c o r r e s p o n d w i t h t h e treasures b u r i e d i n t h e e a r t h since t h e c r e a t i o n
o f t h e w o r l d . T h e m a r k s o f similitude, because t h e y are a g u i d e t o k n o w l e d g e , are addressed t o t h e perfection o f h e a v e n ; t h e signs o f e x c h a n g e ,
because t h e y satisfy desire, are sustained by t h e d a r k , d a n g e r o u s , a n d
accursed glitter of m e t a l . An e q u i v o c a l glitter, for it r e p r o d u c e s in t h e
d e p t h s o f t h e e a r t h that o t h e r glitter that sings a t t h e far e n d o f t h e n i g h t :
it resides t h e r e like an i n v e r t e d p r o m i s e of happiness, a n d , because m e t a l
resembles t h e stars, t h e k n o w l e d g e of all these perilous treasures is at t h e
s a m e t i m e k n o w l e d g e o f t h e w o r l d . A n d thus reflection u p o n w e a l t h has
its p i v o t in t h e b r o a d e s t speculation u p o n t h e c o s m o s , j u s t as, inversely,
p r o f o u n d k n o w l e d g e o f t h e o r d e r o f t h e w o r l d m u s t lead t o t h e secret
o f metals a n d t h e possession o f w e a l t h . I t b e c o m e s a p p a r e n t h o w t i g h t l y
k n i t is t h e n e t w o r k of necessities that, in t h e sixteenth c e n t u r y , links
t o g e t h e r all t h e elements o f k n o w l e d g e : h o w t h e c o s m o l o g y o f signs p r o vides a d u p l i c a t i o n , a n d finally a f o u n d a t i o n , for reflection u p o n prices
a n d m o n e y ; h o w i t also authorizes theoretical a n d practical speculation
u p o n metals; h o w i t p r o v i d e s a c o m m u n i c a t i n g link b e t w e e n t h e p r o m i s e s
o f desire a n d those o f k n o w l e d g e , i n t h e s a m e w a y a s t h e metals a n d t h e
stars c o m m u n i c a t e w i t h o n e a n o t h e r a n d are d r a w n t o g e t h e r b y secret
affinities. O n t h e confines o f k n o w l e d g e , i n that r e g i o n w h e r e i t b e c o m e s
all p o w e r f u l a n d quasi-divine, t h r e e great functions m e e t - those of t h e
Basileus, of t h e Philosophos, a n d of t h e Metallkos. B u t j u s t as this k n o w ledge is g i v e n o n l y in f r a g m e n t s a n d in t h e a t t e n t i v e lightning-flash of
t h e divinatio, so, in t h e case of t h e singular a n d partial relations of things
w i t h metal, o f desire w i t h prices, d i v i n e k n o w l e d g e , o r that w h i c h o n e
m i g h t acquire f r o m ' s o m e v e r y tall o b s e r v a t o r y ' , i s n o t g i v e n t o m a n .
E x c e p t for b r i e f instants, a n d a s t h o u g h a t r a n d o m , t o those m i n d s t h a t
k n o w h o w t o w a t c h for i t - i n o t h e r w o r d s , t o m e r c h a n t s . W h a t t h e
soothsayers w e r e to t h e undefined interplay of resemblances a n d signs,
t h e merchants a r e to t h e interplay, also forever o p e n , of e x c h a n g e a n d
money.

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F r o m h e r e b e l o w , w e h a v e difficulty i n p e r c e i v i n g t h e few things t h a t
s u r r o u n d us, a n d w e g i v e a price t o t h e m a c c o r d i n g t o w h e t h e r w e
p e r c e i v e t h e m t o b e m o r e o r less i n d e m a n d i n each place a n d a t each
t i m e . T h e m e r c h a n t s are p r o m p t l y a n d v e r y well advised o f these
t h i n g s , a n d that i s w h y t h e y h a v e a n a d m i r a b l e k n o w l e d g e o f t h e p r i c e
of things [10].

Ill

MERCANTILISM

I n o r d e r t h a t t h e d o m a i n o f w e a l t h c o u l d b e c o n s t i t u t e d a s a n object o f
reflection in Classical t h o u g h t , t h e c o n f i g u r a t i o n established in t h e sixt e e n t h c e n t u r y h a d t o b e dissolved. F o r t h e Renaissance ' e c o n o m i s t s ' , a n d
r i g h t u p t o D a v a n z a t t i himself, t h e ability o f m o n e y t o m e a s u r e c o m m o d i t i e s , as w e l l as its e x c h a n g e a b i l i t y , rested u p o n its intrinsic v a l u e :
t h e y w e r e w e l l a w a r e t h a t t h e precious metals h a d little usefulness o t h e r
t h a n as c o i n a g e ; b u t if t h e y h a d b e e n chosen as standards, if t h e y h a d
b e e n e m p l o y e d as a m e a n s of e x c h a n g e , if, in c o n s e q u e n c e , t h e y fetched a
h i g h p r i c e , t h a t w a s because t h e y possessed, b o t h i n t h e n a t u r a l scale o f
things a n d i n themselves, a n absolute a n d f u n d a m e n t a l price, h i g h e r t h a n
any other, to w h i c h the value of any and every c o m m o d i t y could be
r e f e r r e d [ n ] . Fine m e t a l w a s , o f itself, a m a r k o f w e a l t h ; its b u r i e d
brightness w a s sufficient indication t h a t it w a s at t h e s a m e t i m e a h i d d e n
p r e s e n c e a n d a visible s i g n a t u r e of all t h e w e a l t h of t h e w o r l d . It is for this
reason t h a t it h a d a price; for this reason t o o t h a t it was a measure of all
prices; a n d for this reason, finally, t h a t o n e c o u l d exchange it for a n y t h i n g
else t h a t h a d a p r i c e . It w a s precious a b o v e all o t h e r things. In t h e s e v e n t e e n t h c e n t u r y , these t h r e e p r o p e r t i e s a r e still a t t r i b u t e d t o m o n e y , b u t
t h e y a r e all t h r e e m a d e t o rest, n o t o n t h e first (possession o f price), b u t
o n t h e last (substitution for t h a t w h i c h possesses p r i c e ) . W h e r e a s t h e
Renaissance based t h e t w o functions of c o i n a g e (measure a n d substitution)
on t h e d o u b l e n a t u r e of its intrinsic character (the fact that it w a s p r e c i o u s ) ,
t h e s e v e n t e e n t h c e n t u r y t u r n s t h e analysis upside d o w n : it is t h e e x c h a n g i n g function t h a t serves as a f o u n d a t i o n for t h e o t h e r t w o characters
(its ability to m e a s u r e a n d its capacity to receive a price t h u s a p p e a r i n g as
qualities d e r i v i n g f r o m t h a t function).
T h i s reversal is t h e w o r k of a c o m p l e x of reflections a n d practices
t h a t o c c u r r e d t h r o u g h o u t t h e s e v e n t e e n t h c e n t u r y ( f r o m Scipion d e
G r a m m o n t t o Nicolas B a r b o n ) a n d t h a t are g r o u p e d t o g e t h e r u n d e r t h e
s o m e w h a t a p p r o x i m a t e t e r m ' m e r c a n t i l i s m ' . It is usual to characterize this
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r a t h e r hastily as an a b s o l u t e ' m o n e t a r i s m ' , t h a t is, a systematic (or s t u b b o r n ) confusion b e t w e e n w e a l t h a n d c o i n a g e . In fact, it is n o t an i d e n t i t y m o r e or less confused - t h a t ' m e r c a n t i l i s m ' established b e t w e e n these t w o
t h i n g s , b u t a c o n s i d e r e d articulation t h a t m a k e s m o n e y t h e i n s t r u m e n t o f
t h e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n a n d analysis o f w e a l t h , a n d m a k e s w e a l t h , c o n v e r s e l y ,
i n t o t h e c o n t e n t r e p r e s e n t e d b y m o n e y . J u s t a s t h e old circular c o n f i g u r a t i o n o f similitudes a n d m a r k s h a d u n r a v e l l e d itself s o t h a t i t c o u l d b e
r e d e p l o y e d t o f o r m t h e t w o c o r r e l a t i v e fabrics o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n a n d signs,
s o t h e circle o f 'preciousness' i s b r o k e n w i t h t h e c o m i n g o f m e r c a n t i l i s m ,
a n d w e a l t h b e c o m e s w h a t e v e r is t h e object of needs a n d desires; it is
split i n t o e l e m e n t s t h a t can b e substituted for o n e a n o t h e r b y t h e i n t e r p l a y o f t h e c o i n a g e t h a t signifies t h e m ; a n d t h e reciprocal relations o f
m o n e y a n d w e a l t h a r e established i n t h e f o r m o f circulation a n d e x c h a n g e .
I f i t w a s possible t o believe t h a t m e r c a n t i l i s m confused w e a l t h a n d m o n e y ,
this i s p r o b a b l y because m o n e y for t h e mercantilists h a d t h e p o w e r o f
r e p r e s e n t i n g all possible w e a l t h , because it w a s t h e universal i n s t r u m e n t
for t h e analysis a n d r e p r e s e n t a t i o n o f w e a l t h , because i t c o v e r e d t h e e n t i r e
e x t e n t of its d o m a i n l e a v i n g no r e s i d u u m . All w e a l t h is coinable; a n d it is
by this m e a n s t h a t it enters i n t o circulation - in t h e s a m e w a y t h a t a n y
n a t u r a l b e i n g w a s characterizable, a n d c o u l d t h e r e b y find its place in a
taxonomy; t h a t a n y i n d i v i d u a l w a s nameable a n d c o u l d find its p l a c e in an
articulated language; t h a t a n y r e p r e s e n t a t i o n w a s signifiable a n d c o u l d find
its place, in o r d e r to be knotim, in a system of identities and differences.
B u t this m u s t b e e x a m i n e d m o r e closely. A m o n g all t h e t h i n g s t h a t
exist i n t h e w o r l d , w h i c h ones will m e r c a n t i l i s m b e able t o include i n t h e
t e r m ' w e a l t h ' ? All t h o s e that, b e i n g r e p r e s e n t a b l e , a r e also objects o f
desire - t h a t is, m o r e o v e r , t h o s e t h a t are m a r k e d by 'necessity, or utility,
o r pleasure, o r r a r i t y ' [ 1 2 ] . N o w , can o n e say t h a t t h e metals used i n t h e
m a n u f a c t u r e o f c o i n a g e ( w e are n o t c o n c e r n e d h e r e w i t h c o p p e r c o i n a g e ,
w h i c h is used as small c h a n g e o n l y in certain c o u n t r i e s , b u t w i t h coins
that are used i n foreign t r a d e ) are p a r t o f w e a l t h ? G o l d a n d silver h a v e
v e r y little u t i l i t y - ' a s far a s their use i n t h e h o u s e g o e s ' ; a n d , h o w e v e r
r a r e t h e y m a y b e , their a b u n d a n c e still exceeds w h a t i s r e q u i r e d b y t h e i r
utility. I f t h e y are s o u g h t after, i f m e n find t h a t t h e y n e v e r h a v e e n o u g h
of t h e m , if they dig mines and m a k e w a r on one another in order to get
h o l d o f t h e m , i t i s because t h e process o f m i n t i n g t h e m i n t o g o l d a n d
silver c o i n a g e has g i v e n t h e m a utility a n d a r a r i t y t h a t t h o s e metals do
n o t possess o f t h e m s e l v e s . ' M o n e y does n o t d r a w its v a l u e f r o m t h e m a t e r i a l
of w h i c h it is c o m p o s e d , b u t r a t h e r f r o m its f o r m , w h i c h is t h e i m a g e
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THINGS

or m a r k of t h e P r i n c e ' [ 1 3 ] . G o l d is p r e c i o u s because it is m o n e y - n o t t h e
c o n v e r s e . T h e r e l a t i o n s o strictly laid d o w n i n t h e s i x t e e n t h c e n t u r y i s
f o r t h w i t h r e v e r s e d : m o n e y (and e v e n t h e m e t a l o f w h i c h i t i s m a d e )
receives its v a l u e f r o m its p u r e function as sign. T h i s entails t w o c o n s e q u e n c e s . First, t h e v a l u e o f t h i n g s will n o l o n g e r p r o c e e d f r o m t h e m e t a l
itself; it establishes itself by itself, w i t h o u t reference to t h e c o i n a g e , a c c o r d i n g t o t h e criteria o f utility, pleasure, o r r a r i t y . T h i n g s t a k e o n v a l u e ,
t h e n , i n relation t o o n e a n o t h e r ; t h e m e t a l m e r e l y enables this v a l u e t o b e
r e p r e s e n t e d , as a n a m e represents an i m a g e or an idea, y e t does n o t c o n stitute it: ' G o l d i s m e r e l y t h e sign a n d t h e i n s t r u m e n t c o m m o n l y used
t o c o n v e y t h e v a l u e o f t h i n g s i n p r a c t i c e ; b u t t h e t r u e e s t i m a t i o n o f that
v a l u e has its s o u r c e i n h u m a n j u d g e m e n t a n d i n t h a t faculty t e r m e d t h e
e s t i m a t i v e ' [ 1 4 ] . W e a l t h is w e a l t h because we e s t i m a t e it, j u s t as o u r ideas
are w h a t t h e y a r e because w e represent t h e m . M o n e t a r y o r v e r b a l signs
are a d d i t i o n a l to this.
B u t w h y h a v e g o l d a n d silver, w h i c h are scarcely w e a l t h a t all i n t h e m selves, received o r t a k e n o n this signifying p o w e r ? N o d o u b t o n e c o u l d
v e r y w e l l e m p l o y s o m e o t h e r c o m m o d i t y t o this effect ' h o w e v e r vile a n d
base it m i g h t b e ' [ 1 5 ] . C o p p e r , w h i c h in m a n y c o u n t r i e s is still a c h e a p
c o m m o d i t y , b e c o m e s p r e c i o u s in o t h e r s o n l y w h e n it is t u r n e d i n t o
c o i n a g e [ i 6 ] . B u t in a g e n e r a l fashion we use g o l d a n d silver because t h e y
c o n t a i n h i d d e n w i t h i n themselves 'a peculiar p e r f e c t i o n ' . A perfection
t h a t i s n o t o f t h e o r d e r o f price, b u t i s d e p e n d e n t u p o n their endless
capacity for r e p r e s e n t a t i o n . T h e y are h a r d , i m p e r i s h a b l e , u n c o r r o d a b l c ;
t h e y c a n b e d i v i d e d i n t o m i n u t e pieces; t h e y c a n c o n c e n t r a t e a g r e a t
w e i g h t i n t o a little v o l u m e ; t h e y can be easily t r a n s p o r t e d ; t h e y arc easily
pierced. All these factors m a k e g o l d a n d silver i n t o a p r i v i l e g e d i n s t r u m e n t
for t h e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n o f all o t h e r k i n d s o f w e a l t h , a n d for strict c o m parisons b e t w e e n t h e m b y m e a n s o f analysis. I t i s i n this w a y t h a t t h e
relation o f m o n e y t o w e a l t h has c o m e t o b e defined. I t i s a n a r b i t r a r y
relation because it is n o t t h e intrinsic v a l u e of t h e m e t a l t h a t gives t h i n g s
their prices; a n y object, e v e n o n e t h a t has n o price, can serve a s m o n e y ;
b u t it m u s t , nevertheless, possess peculiar p r o p e r t i e s of r e p r e s e n t a t i o n a n d
capacities for analysis t h a t will p e r m i t it to establish relations of equality
a n d difference b e t w e e n different kinds of w e a l t h . It is a p p a r e n t , t h e n ,
t h a t t h e use of g o l d a n d silver for this p u r p o s e has a justifiable basis. As
B o u t e r o u e says, m o n e y 'is a p o r t i o n o f m a t t e r t o w h i c h p u b l i c a u t h o r i t y
has g i v e n a certain v a l u e a n d w e i g h t so that it m a y serve as a price a n d
m a k e t h e i n e q u a l i t y o f all t h i n g s e q u a l i n t r a d e ' [ i 7 ] . ' M e r c a n t i l i s m ' freed
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m o n e y f r o m t h e p o s t u l a t e o f t h e intrinsic v a l u e o f m e t a l - t h e folly o f
t h o s e w h o 'say t h a t m o n e y is a c o m m o d i t y like o t h e r t h i n g s ' [ i 8 ] - a n d
at t h e s a m e t i m e established b e t w e e n it a n d w e a l t h a strict relation of
r e p r e s e n t a t i o n a n d analysis. M o n e y , says B a r b o n , i s t h a t b y w h i c h m e n
' e s t i m a t e t h e v a l u e o f all o t h e r t h i n g s ; h a v i n g r e g a r d m o r e t o t h e s t a m p
a n d c u r r e n c y o f t h e m o n e y t h a n t o t h e q u a n t i t y o f fine silver i n each
piece'[19].
T h e usual a t t i t u d e t o w a r d s w h a t i t has b e e n a g r e e d t o call ' m e r c a n t i l i s m '
is d o u b l y unjust: either it is d e n o u n c e d for c o m p r i s i n g a n o t i o n it c o n tinually criticized (the intrinsic v a l u e of p r e c i o u s m e t a l as t h e p r i n c i p l e
of w e a l t h ) , or it is revealed as a series of i m m e d i a t e c o n t r a d i c t i o n s : it is
accused of d e f i n i n g m o n e y in its p u r e function as a sign w h i l e insisting
u p o n its a c c u m u l a t i o n as a c o m m o d i t y ; of r e c o g n i z i n g t h e i m p o r t a n c e of
q u a n t i t a t i v e fluctuations in specie, w h i l e m i s u n d e r s t a n d i n g their a c t i o n
u p o n prices; o f b e i n g p r o t e c t i o n i s t w h i l e basing its m e c h a n i s m for t h e
increase o f w e a l t h u p o n e x c h a n g e . I n fact, these c o n t r a d i c t i o n s o r hesitations exist o n l y if o n e confronts m e r c a n t i l i s m w i t h a d i l e m m a t h a t c o u l d
h a v e n o m e a n i n g for it: t h a t o f m o n e y a s c o m m o d i t y o r a s sign. F o r
Classical t h o u g h t in its f o r m a t i v e phase, m o n e y is t h a t w h i c h p e r m i t s
w e a l t h t o b e r e p r e s e n t e d . W i t h o u t s u c h signs, w e a l t h w o u l d r e m a i n i m m o b i l e , useless, a n d as it w e r e silent; in this sense, g o l d a n d silver are t h e
creators o f all t h a t m a n c a n c o v e t . B u t i n o r d e r t o p l a y this role a s r e p resentation, m o n e y m u s t offer p r o p e r t i e s

(physical a n d n o t e c o n o m i c

ones) that r e n d e r it a d e q u a t e to its task, a n d in c o n s e q u e n c e p r e c i o u s .
It is in its q u a l i t y as a universal sign t h a t it b e c o m e s a r a r e a n d u n e q u a l l y
distributed c o m m o d i t y : ' T h e r a t e a n d v a l u e i m p o s e d u p o n all m o n e y i s
its t r u e intrinsic g o o d n e s s ' [ 2 0 ] . J u s t as in t h e o r d e r of representations t h e
signs that replace a n d analyse t h e m m u s t also b e representations t h e m selves, s o m o n e y c a n n o t signify w e a l t h w i t h o u t itself b e i n g w e a l t h . B u t
it b e c o m e s w e a l t h because it is a sign; w h e r e a s a r e p r e s e n t a t i o n m u s t first
be r e p r e s e n t e d in o r d e r s u b s e q u e n t l y to b e c o m e a sign.
H e n c e t h e a p p a r e n t c o n t r a d i c t i o n s b e t w e e n t h e principles o f a c c u m u l a t i o n a n d t h e rules o f circulation. A t a n y g i v e n m o m e n t o f t i m e , t h e
n u m b e r o f coins i n existence i s d e t e r m i n e d ; C o l b e r t e v e n t h o u g h t , d e spite t h e e x p l o i t a t i o n o f m i n e s , despite t h e i m p o r t s o f m e t a l f r o m A m e r i c a ,
that ' t h e q u a n t i t y o f m o n e y c i r c u l a t i n g i n E u r o p e i s c o n s t a n t ' . N o w i t i s
this m o n e y t h a t i s n e e d e d t o r e p r e s e n t w e a l t h , i n o t h e r w o r d s t o attract
it, t o m a k e i t a p p e a r b y b r i n g i n g i t i n f r o m a b r o a d o r m a n u f a c t u r i n g
it at h o m e ; it is this m o n e y , t o o , t h a t is n e e d e d in o r d e r to m a k e w e a l t h
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pass f r o m h a n d to h a n d in t h e process of e x c h a n g e . It is necessary, t h e r e fore, t o i m p o r t m e t a l b y t a k i n g i t f r o m n e i g h b o u r i n g states: ' T r a d e a l o n e ,
a n d all t h a t d e p e n d s on it, is capable of p r o d u c i n g this g r e a t e f f e c t ' [ 2 1 ] .
T h e legislature m u s t t h e r e f o r e take care t o d o t w o t h i n g s :
F o r b i d t h e transfer o f m e t a l a b r o a d , o r its utilization for o t h e r ends
t h a n that o f c o i n a g e , a n d i m p o s e c u s t o m s duties such t h a t t h e y e n a b l e
t h e b a l a n c e o f t r a d e t o b e always p o s i t i v e ; e n c o u r a g e t h e i m p o r t a t i o n o f
r a w materials, p r e v e n t as far as possible t h a t of m a n u f a c t u r e d g o o d s ,
e x p o r t m a n u f a c t u r e d p r o d u c t s r a t h e r t h a n t h e c o m m o d i t i e s themselves
w h o s e disappearance leads to f a m i n e a n d causes t h e rise of prices [22].
N o w , t h e m e t a l a c c u m u l a t e d i s n o t i n t e n d e d t o sleep a n d g r o w fat; i t i s
a t t r a c t e d i n t o a state o n l y s o that i t m a y b e c o n s u m e d b y t h e process o f
e x c h a n g e . As B e c h e r said, e v e r y t h i n g t h a t is e x p e n s e for o n e of t h e p a r t ners i s i n c o m e for t h e o t h e r [ 2 3 ] ; a n d T h o m a s M u n identified r e a d y m o n e y
w i t h w e a l t h [24]. T h i s i s because m o n e y b e c o m e s real w e a l t h o n l y t o
exactly t h e s a m e d e g r e e to w h i c h it fulfils its r e p r e s e n t a t i v e f u n c t i o n :
w h e n i t replaces c o m m o d i t i e s , w h e n i t enables t h e m t o b e m o v e d o r t o
w a i t , w h e n i t p r o v i d e s r a w materials w i t h t h e o p p o r t u n i t y o f b e c o m i n g
c o n s u m a b l e , w h e n i t r e m u n e r a t e s w o r k . T h e r e i s t h e r e f o r e n o reason t o
fear t h a t t h e a c c u m u l a t i o n of m o n e y in a state will cause prices to rise
i n it; a n d t h e p r i n c i p l e established b y B o d i n t h a t t h e g r e a t dearness p r e v a l e n t i n t h e s i x t e e n t h c e n t u r y w a s caused b y t h e influx o f g o l d f r o m
A m e r i c a is n o t v a l i d ; t h o u g h it is t r u e that an increase in specie causes
prices to rise at first, it also stimulates t r a d e a n d m a n u f a c t u r i n g ; t h e
q u a n t i t y o f w e a l t h g r o w s a n d t h e n u m b e r o f e l e m e n t s a m o n g w h i c h the
c o i n a g e i s t o b e d i v i d e d increases b y t h e s a m e a m o u n t . Rising prices are
n o t t o b e feared: o n the c o n t r a r y , n o w t h a t t h e n u m b e r o f p r e c i o u s objects
has increased, n o w t h a t t h e m i d d l e classes, a s Scipion d e G r a m m o n t p u t s
it, can w e a r 'satin a n d v e l v e t ' , t h e v a l u e o f t h i n g s , e v e n o f t h e rarest
t h i n g s , c o u l d fall o n l y i n relation t o t h e totality o f t h e o t h e r s ; similarly,
each piece o f m e t a l loses s o m e o f its v a l u e w i t h r e g a r d t o t h e o t h e r s a s t h e
mass o f c o i n a g e i n circulation increases [ 2 5 ] .
T h e relations b e t w e e n w e a l t h a n d m o n e y , t h e n , a r e based o n circulation
a n d e x c h a n g e , a n d n o l o n g e r o n t h e 'preciousness' o f m e t a l . W h e n g o o d s
c a n circulate

(and this t h a n k s t o m o n e y ) , t h e y m u l t i p l y , a n d w e a l t h

increases; w h e n c o i n a g e b e c o m e s m o r e plentiful, as a result of a g o o d
circulation a n d a f a v o u r a b l e balance, o n e can attract fresh m e r c h a n d i s e and
increase b o t h a g r i c u l t u r e a n d m a n u f a c t u r i n g . A s H o r n e c k p u t s it, g o l d
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a n d silver 'are t h e p u r e s t p a r t o f o u r b l o o d , t h e m a r r o w o f o u r s t r e n g t h ' ,
' t h e m o s t indispensable i n s t r u m e n t s o f h u m a n activity a n d o f o u r existence'[26]. We meet once m o r e w i t h the old m e t a p h o r of a coinage that
i s t o society w h a t b l o o d i s t o t h e b o d y [ 2 7 ] . B u t for D a v a n z a t t i , specie
h a d n o o t h e r r o l e t h a n t h a t o f i r r i g a t i n g t h e v a r i o u s parts o f t h e n a t i o n .
N o w that m o n e y a n d w e a l t h are b o t h i n c l u d e d w i t h i n t h e area o f e x c h a n g e a n d circulation, m e r c a n t i l i s m can adjust its analysis in t e r m s of t h e
m o d e l recently provided by Harvey. According to Hobbes[28], the
v e n o u s c i r c u l a t i o n o f m o n e y i s t h a t o f duties a n d taxes, w h i c h l e v y a
certain mass o f b u l l i o n u p o n all m e r c h a n d i s e t r a n s p o r t e d , b o u g h t , o r
sold; t h e b u l l i o n levied is c o n v e y e d to t h e h e a r t of M a n - L e v i a t h a n - in
o t h e r w o r d s , i n t o t h e coffers of t h e state. It is t h e r e t h a t t h e m e t a l is ' m a d e
v i t a l ' : t h e state can, in effect, m e l t it d o w n or send it b a c k i n t o circulation.
B u t at all events it is t h e state's a u t h o r i t y a l o n e t h a t c a n g i v e it c u r r e n c y ;
a n d r e d i s t r i b u t e d a m o n g p r i v a t e persons (in t h e f o r m o f pensions, salaries,
o r r e n u m e r a t i o n for provisions b o u g h t b y t h e state), i t will s t i m u l a t e , i n
its second, arterial circuit, e x c h a n g e s o f w e a l t h , m a n u f a c t u r e s , a n d a g r i c u l t u r e . T h u s circulation b e c o m e s o n e o f t h e f u n d a m e n t a l categories o f
analysis. B u t t h e transference o f this physiological m e t a p h o r w a s m a d e
possible o n l y b y the m o r e p r o f o u n d o p e n i n g u p o f a space c o m m o n t o b o t h
m o n e y a n d signs, t o b o t h w e a l t h a n d representations. T h e m e t a p h o r o f
t h e city a n d t h e b o d y , s o assiduously p u t t o w o r k i n o u r W e s t e r n c u l t u r e ,
d e r i v e d its i m a g i n a r y p o w e r s o n l y f r o m t h e m u c h d e e p e r f o u n d a t i o n o f
archaeological necessities.
T h r o u g h t h e mercantilist e x p e r i e n c e , t h e d o m a i n o f w e a l t h w a s c o n stituted i n t h e s a m e m o d e a s t h a t o f representations. W e h a v e seen t h a t
these latter h a d t h e p o w e r t o represent themselves w i t h themselves a s
the basis of t h a t r e p r e s e n t a t i o n : to o p e n w i t h i n themselves a space in
w h i c h t h e y c o u l d analyse themselves, a n d t o f o r m substitutes for t h e m selves o u t o f t h e i r o w n e l e m e n t s , t h u s m a k i n g i t possible t o establish
b o t h a system of signs a n d a table of identities a n d differences. Similarly,
w e a l t h has t h e p o w e r t o b e e x c h a n g e d ; t o analyse itself i n t o e l e m e n t s t h a t
a u t h o r i z e relations o f equality o r i n e q u a l i t y ; t o signify itself b y m e a n s o f
t h o s e c o m p l e t e l y c o m p a r a b l e e l e m e n t s o f w e a l t h called precious metals.
A n d j u s t a s t h e entire w o r l d o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n covers itself w i t h r e p resentations w h i c h , a t o n e r e m o v e , r e p r e s e n t it, i n a n u n i n t e r r u p t e d
sequence, s o all t h e k i n d s o f w e a l t h i n t h e w o r l d are related o n e t o a n o t h e r
in so far as t h e y are all p a r t of a s y s t e m of e x c h a n g e . F r o m o n e r e p r e s e n t a tion to a n o t h e r , t h e r e is no a u t o n o m o u s act of signification, b u t a s i m p l e
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a n d endless possibility o f e x c h a n g e . W h a t e v e r its e c o n o m i c d e t e r m i n a t i o n s
a n d consequences, m e r c a n t i l i s m , w h e n q u e s t i o n e d a t t h e level o f t h e
episteme, appears as t h e s l o w , l o n g effort to b r i n g reflection u p o n prices
a n d m o n e y i n t o a l i g n m e n t w i t h t h e analysis o f representations. I t w a s
responsible for t h e e m e r g e n c e o f a d o m a i n o f ' w e a l t h ' c o n n e c t e d t o t h a t
w h i c h , a t a b o u t t h e same t i m e , w a s o p e n e d u p t o natural history, a n d l i k e wise t o t h a t w h i c h u n f o l d e d before general g r a m m a r . B u t w h e r e a s i n
these last t w o cases t h e m u t a t i o n c a m e a b o u t a b r u p t l y ( a certain m o d e o f
b e i n g e m e r g i n g s u d d e n l y for l a n g u a g e in t h e Grammaire de Port-Royal,
a certain m o d e of b e i n g for individuals in n a t u r e manifesting itself a l m o s t
simultaneously w i t h J o n s t o n a n d T o u r n e f o r t ) , t h e m o d e o f b e i n g for
m o n e y a n d w e a l t h , o n t h e o t h e r h a n d , because i t w a s linked t o a n entire
praxis, to a w h o l e institutional c o m p l e x , h a d a m u c h h i g h e r d e g r e e of
historic viscosity. N e i t h e r n a t u r a l beings n o r l a n g u a g e n e e d e d t h e
e q u i v a l e n t o f t h e l o n g mercantilist process i n o r d e r t o e n t e r t h e d o m a i n
of representation, subject themselves to its laws, a n d receive f r o m it their
signs a n d their principles of o r d e r .

IV

THE PLEDGE

AND

THE PRICE

T h e Classical t h e o r y o f m o n e y a n d prices was elaborated d u r i n g a w e l l k n o w n series o f historical experiences. First o f all, t h e r e w a s t h e g r e a t
crisis of m o n e t a r y signs t h a t b e g a n in E u r o p e fairly early in t h e s e v e n t e e n t h
c e n t u r y . Possibly w e o u g h t t o c o n s t r u e C o l b e r t ' s s t a t e m e n t , that t h e
q u a n t i t y o f b u l l i o n i s stable i n E u r o p e a n d t h a t i m p o r t s f r o m A m e r i c a
can be i g n o r e d , as a first, t h o u g h still m a r g i n a l a n d allusive, sign of a w a r e ness as to w h a t w a s h a p p e n i n g . At t h e end of t h e c e n t u r y , at all events,
t h e s h o r t a g e o f c o i n b e c a m e a n acute a n d direct e x p e r i e n c e : recession o f
trade, l o w e r i n g of prices, difficulties in p a y i n g debts, rents, a n d duties, a
fall in t h e value of land. H e n c e t h e g r e a t series of d e v a l u a t i o n s that t o o k
place in F r a n c e d u r i n g t h e first fifteen years of t h e e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y in
o r d e r t o increase t h e q u a n t i t y o f specie; t h e eleven ' d i m i n u t i o n s ' (revaluations) t h a t w e r e spaced o u t at r e g u l a r intervals b e t w e e n i D e c e m b e r
1713 and 1 September 1 7 1 5 , and were intended - t h o u g h the attempt
failed - to d r a w h o a r d e d b u l l i o n back i n t o circulation; a w h o l e series of
measures that d i m i n i s h e d t h e rate o f i n v e s t m e n t i n c o m e a n d r e d u c e d
n o m i n a l capital; t h e a p p e a r a n c e o f p a p e r m o n e y i n 1 7 0 1 , s o o n t o b e
replaced b y g o v e r n m e n t b o n d s . A m o n g its m a n y o t h e r consequences,
L a w ' s e x p e r i m e n t m a d e possible t h e r e a p p e a r a n c e o f m e t a l m o n e y , price
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increases, t h e r e v a l u a t i o n o f land, a n d t h e revival o f t r a d e . T h e edicts
o f J a n u a r y a n d M a y 1 7 2 6 established a c o i n a g e t h a t w a s t o r e m a i n stable
t h r o u g h o u t t h e e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y : t h e y d e c r e e d t h e m i n t i n g of a louis-d'or
w o r t h t w e n t y - f o u r livres toumois - a v a l u e it r e t a i n e d r i g h t up to t h e
Revolution.
It is usual to c o n s t r u e these experiences, their theoretical c o n t e x t , a n d
t h e discussions t o w h i c h t h e y h a v e g i v e n rise, a s t h e c o n f r o n t a t i o n o f t h e
m o n e y - a s - s i g n faction w i t h t h e u p h o l d e r s o f m o n e y - a s - c o m m o d i t y . I n t h e
f i r s t g r o u p w e f i n d L a w , o f course, t o g e t h e r w i t h T e r r a s s o n [ 2 9 ] , D u t o t [30],
M o n t e s q u i e u [ 3 i ] , and the Chevalier de Jaucourt[32]; on the opposing
side

we

find

Paris-Duverney[33],

the

Chancelier

d'Aguesseau[34],

C o n d i l l a c , a n d D e s t u t t ; b e t w e e n t h e t w o factions, o n t h e h a l f - w a y line
a s i t w e r e , o n e w o u l d h a v e t o place M e l o n [ 3 5 ] a n d G r a s l i n [ 3 6 ] . A n d i t
w o u l d c e r t a i n l y b e interesting t o w o r k o u t a detailed a c c o u n t o f these
o p i n i o n s a n d discover h o w t h e y w e r e d i s t r i b u t e d a m o n g t h e v a r i o u s
social g r o u p s . B u t i f w e investigate t h e k n o w l e d g e t h a t m a d e all t h o s e
v a r i o u s o p i n i o n s s i m u l t a n e o u s l y possible, w e p e r c e i v e t h a t t h e o p p o s i t i o n
b e t w e e n t h e m is superficial; a n d that, t h o u g h it is logically necessary, it
is so on t h e basis of a single a r r a n g e m e n t t h a t s i m p l y creates, at a g i v e n
p o i n t , t h e alternatives o f a n indispensable c h o i c e .
T h i s single a r r a n g e m e n t is that w h i c h defines m o n e y as a p l e d g e . It is
a definition we find in L o c k e a n d , slightly earlier, in V a u g h a n [ 3 7 ] ; t h e n
i n M e l o n - ' g o l d a n d silver are, b y general a g r e e m e n t , t h e p l e d g e , t h e
equivalent, o r t h e c o m m o n m e a s u r e o f all that w h i c h serves for m e n ' s
u s e ' [ 3 8 ] ; i n D u t o t - ' w e a l t h o f credit o r o p i n i o n i s o n l y r e p r e s e n t a t i v e ,
a s a r e g o l d , silver, b r o n z e , a n d c o p p e r ' [ 3 9 ] ; i n F o r t b o n n a i s - ' t h e i m p o r t a n t p o i n t ' i n c o n v e n t i o n a l w e a l t h lies 'in t h e confidence o f t h e o w n e r s
o f m o n e y a n d c o m m o d i t i e s that t h e y c a n e x c h a n g e t h e m w h e n t h e y will
. . . o n t h e f o o t i n g established b y c u s t o m ' [ 4 0 ] . T o say t h a t m o n e y i s a
p l e d g e is to say that it is no m o r e t h a n a t o k e n a c c e p t e d by c o m m o n
c o n s e n t - h e n c e , a p u r e fiction; b u t it is also to say t h a t it has e x a c t l y t h e
s a m e v a l u e as t h a t for w h i c h it has b e e n g i v e n , since it c a n in t u r n be e x c h a n g e d for t h a t s a m e q u a n t i t y o f m e r c h a n d i s e o r t h e e q u i v a l e n t . C o i n a g e
can a l w a y s b r i n g b a c k i n t o t h e h a n d s o f its o w n e r t h a t w h i c h has j u s t
b e e n e x c h a n g e d for it, j u s t as, in r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , a sign m u s t be able to
recall to t h o u g h t that w h i c h it represents. M o n e y is a m a t e r i a l m e m o r y , a
self-duplicating r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , a deferred e x c h a n g e . As Le T r o s n e says,
t r a d e that m a k e s use of m o n e y is an i m p r o v e m e n t in so far as it is ' a n
imperfect t r a d e ' [ 4 1 ] , an act that lacks, for a t i m e , t h a t w h i c h r e c o m p e n s e s
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THINGS

it, a d e m i - o p e r a t i o n t h a t p r o m i s e s a n d expects t h e c o n v e r s e e x c h a n g e
w h e r e b y t h e p l e d g e will b e r e c o n v e r t e d i n t o its effective c o n t e n t .
B u t h o w c a n t h e m o n e t a r y p l e d g e p r o v i d e this assurance? H o w c a n
i t escape f r o m t h e d i l e m m a o f t h e valueless sign a s o p p o s e d t o t h e c o m m o d i t y a n a l o g o u s to all o t h e r c o m m o d i t i e s ? It is h e r e , for t h e Classical
analysis o f m o n e y , t h a t t h e p o i n t o f h e r e s y occurs - t h e c h o i c e t h a t divides
t h e followers of L a w f r o m his o p p o n e n t s . It is c o n c e i v a b l e , in fact, t h a t
t h e o p e r a t i o n t h a t pledges t h e m o n e y i s g u a r a n t e e d b y t h e m a r k e t a b l e
value of the material from which it is m a d e ; or, on the other hand, by
a n o t h e r q u a n t i t y o f m e r c h a n d i s e , e x t e r i o r t o it, b u t l i n k e d t o i t b y c o l lective c o n s e n t o r t h e w i l l o f t h e p r i n c e . I t i s this second s o l u t i o n t h a t L a w
chose, o n a c c o u n t o f t h e r a r i t y o f p r e c i o u s m e t a l a n d t h e f l u c t u a t i o n s i n
its m a r k e t v a l u e .

H e t h o u g h t t h a t o n e c o u l d circulate p a p e r m o n e y

b a c k e d b y l a n d e d p r o p e r t y : i n w h i c h case i t w a s s i m p l y a m a t t e r o f issuing
' b a n k n o t e s m o r t g a g e d against lands a n d d u e t o b e r e d e e m e d b y a n n u a l
p a y m e n t s . . . , these n o t e s w i l l be e x c h a n g e d , like m i n t e d c o i n , for t h e
value printed on them'[42]. As we k n o w , L a w was obliged to renounce
this t e c h n i q u e i n his F r e n c h e x p e r i m e n t a n d s u b s e q u e n t l y p r o v i d e d s u r e t y
for his m o n e y b y m e a n s o f a t r a d i n g c o m p a n y . T h e failure o f his e n t e r prise i n n o w a y affected t h e v a l i d i t y o f t h e m o n e y - p l e d g e t h e o r y t h a t h a d
m a d e i t possible, b u t t h a t h a d also m a d e possible all reflection o f a n y k i n d
o n m o n e y , e v e n t h a t o p p o s e d t o L a w ' s c o n c e p t i o n s . A n d w h e n a stable
metallic m o n e y w a s established i n 1726, t h e p l e d g e w a s r e q u i r e d t o b e
p r o v i d e d b y t h e actual substance o f t h e coins. W h a t e n s u r e d t h e e x c h a n g e ability o f m o n e y , i t w a s d e c i d e d , w a s t h e m a r k e t v a l u e o f t h e m e t a l t o
b e f o u n d i n it; a n d T u r g o t w a s t o criticize L a w for h a v i n g believed t h a t
m o n e y is o n l y a sign of w e a l t h , a sign w h o s e credit is based u p o n t h e
m a r k o f t h e p r i n c e . T h a t m a r k i s o n each c o i n o n l y i n o r d e r t o certify
its w e i g h t a n d title . . . I t i s t h e r e f o r e a s m e r c h a n d i s e t h a t m o n e y is,
n o t t h e sign, b u t t h e c o m m o n m e a s u r e of all o t h e r m e r c h a n d i s e . . .
G o l d derives its p r i c e f r o m its r a r i t y , a n d far f r o m its b e i n g an evil that
it should be employed at the same time as b o t h merchandise and
m e a s u r e , these t w o uses m a i n t a i n its price [43].
L a w , t o g e t h e r w i t h his partisans, does n o t s t a n d i n o p p o s i t i o n t o his age
a s t h e brilliant - o r i m p r u d e n t - p r e c u r s o r o f fiduciary c u r r e n c y . H e d e fines m o n e y , as his o p p o n e n t s did, as a p l e d g e . B u t he t h o u g h t t h a t it
w o u l d b e b e t t e r g u a r a n t e e d ( m o r e a b u n d a n t a s w e l l a s m o r e stable) i f i t
w e r e based u p o n s o m e m e r c h a n d i s e e x t e r i o r t o m o n e t a r y specie itself;
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E X C H A N G I N G

w h e r e a s his o p p o n e n t s t h o u g h t t h a t i t w o u l d b e b e t t e r g u a r a n t e e d ( m o r e
secure a n d less subject to speculation) if based u p o n t h e metallic substance
c o n s t i t u t i n g t h e m a t e r i a l reality o f m o n e y . T h e conflict b e t w e e n L a w
a n d his critics concerns o n l y the distance b e t w e e n t h e p l e d g e a n d w h a t it
is p l e d g i n g . In t h e o n e case, m o n e y , relieved of all m a r k e t a b l e v a l u e ,
b u t g u a r a n t e e d b y a v a l u e e x t e r i o r t o it, i s t h a t ' b y m e a n s o f w h i c h ' o n e
e x c h a n g e s m e r c h a n d i s e [44]; in t h e o t h e r case, since m o n e y has a p r i c e
in itself, it is at t h e s a m e t i m e t h a t ' b y m e a n s of w h i c h ' a n d t h a t 'for w h i c h '
o n e e x c h a n g e s w e a l t h . B u t in b o t h cases it is m o n e y t h a t m a k e s it possible
to fix t h e price of things, t h a n k s to a certain relation of proportion w i t h
various f o r m s o f w e a l t h a n d a certain p o w e r t o m a k e t h e m circulate.
As a p l e d g e , m o n e y designates a certain w e a l t h (actual or n o t ) : it
establishes its price. B u t t h e relation b e t w e e n m o n e y a n d c o m m o d i t i e s ,
a n d thus t h e p r i c e system, is m o d i f i e d as s o o n as t h e q u a n t i t y of m o n e y
o r t h e q u a n t i t y o f c o m m o d i t i e s a t a n y m o m e n t o f t i m e i s also m o d i f i e d .
If m o n e y is in s h o r t s u p p l y w i t h relation to g o o d s , t h e n it will h a v e a
h i g h value, a n d prices will be l o w ; if it increases in q u a n t i t y to t h e p o i n t
o f b e c o m i n g a b u n d a n t i n relation t o w e a l t h , t h e n i t w i l l h a v e a l o w
v a l u e , a n d prices will b e h i g h . T h e p o w e r o f m o n e y t o represent a n d
analyse varies w i t h t h e q u a n t i t y o f specie o n t h e o n e h a n d a n d w i t h t h e
q u a n t i t y o f w e a l t h o n t h e o t h e r : i t w o u l d b e constant o n l y i f b o t h q u a n t i ties w e r e stable, o r v a r i e d t o g e t h e r i n t h e s a m e p r o p o r t i o n .
T h e 'quantitative law' was not 'invented' by Locke. B o d i n and D a v a n zatti already k n e w , in t h e sixteenth c e n t u r y , t h a t an increase in t h e mass
o f m e t a l i n circulation caused t h e price o f c o m m o d i t i e s t o rise; b u t this
m e c h a n i s m s e e m e d t o t h e m t o b e linked t o a n intrinsic d e v a l o r i z a t i o n
of t h e m e t a l itself. In t h e late s e v e n t e e n t h c e n t u r y , this s a m e m e c h a n i s m
was defined o n t h e basis o f t h e r e p r e s e n t a t i v e function o f m o n e y , ' t h e
quantity of m o n e y being in proportion to the whole of trade'. M o r e
m e t a l - a n d i m m e d i a t e l y a n y c o m m o d i t y existing i n t h e w o r l d will h a v e
slightly m o r e representative elements a t its disposal; m o r e m e r c h a n d i s e and each metallic u n i t will b e slightly m o r e h e a v i l y m o r t g a g e d . O n e n e e d
o n l y take a n y g i v e n c o m m o d i t y as a stable reference p o i n t a n d this
p h e n o m e n o n of fluctuation is clearly revealed. As L o c k e says:
T h a t s u p p o s i n g w h e a t a s t a n d i n g m e a s u r e , t h a t is, t h a t t h e r e is c o n s t a n t l y
t h e same q u a n t i t y o f i t i n p r o p o r t i o n t o its v e n t , w e shall find m o n e y
to r u n t h e s a m e v a r i e t y of changes in its v a l u e , as all o t h e r c o m m o d i t i e s
do . . . T h e reason w h e r e o f is this, that t h e r e b e i n g ten times as m u c h
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silver n o w i n t h e w o r l d , (the d i s c o v e r y o f t h e W e s t - I n d i e s h a v i n g
m a d e t h e p l e n t y ) as t h e r e w a s t h e n , it is T^O less w o r t h n o w t h a n it w a s
at t h a t t i m e ; t h a t is, it will e x c h a n g e for 1% less of a n y c o m m o d i t y n o w ,
w h i c h bears t h e s a m e p r o p o r t i o n to its v e n t as it d i d 200 years since [ 4 5 ] .
T h e d r o p i n t h e v a l u e o f p r e c i o u s m e t a l i n v o k e d h e r e does n o t c o n c e r n
a certain precious q u a l i t y w h i c h it is t h o u g h t of as possessing in itself,
b u t its general p o w e r o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n . M o n e y a n d w e a l t h are t o b e
t h o u g h t o f a s t w i n masses, w h i c h necessarily c o r r e s p o n d w i t h o n e
another:
As
to
as
its

t h e total of t h e o n e is to the total of t h e o t h e r , so p a r t of t h e o n e is
p a r t o f the o t h e r . . . I f t h e r e w e r e o n l y o n e c o m m o d i t y , divisible
g o l d is, t h e n h a l f o f t h a t c o m m o d i t y w o u l d c o r r e s p o n d t o h a l f o f
total on t h e o t h e r side [46].

S u p p o s i n g t h a t t h e r e w e r e o n l y o n e f o r m o f g o o d s i n t h e w o r l d , all t h e
g o l d o n e a r t h w o u l d b e t h e r e t o represent it; a n d , inversely, i f m e n
possessed o n l y o n e coin b e t w e e n t h e m , t h e n all t h e w e a l t h p r o d u c e d b y
n a t u r e o r b y their o w n h a n d s w o u l d h a v e t o share i n its subdivisions.
G i v e n these l i m i t i n g circumstances, if t h e r e is an influx of m o n e y - w h i l e
c o m m o d i t i e s r e m a i n u n c h a n g e d in q u a n t i t y - ' t h e value of each division
o f t h e c u r r e n t specie will d i m i n i s h b y t h e s a m e a m o u n t ' ; o n the o t h e r
hand,
i f i n d u s t r y , t h e arts a n d t h e sciences i n t r o d u c e n e w objects i n t o t h e
circle o f e x c h a n g e . . . it will b e necessary t o a p p l y a, portion o f t h e
signs r e p r e s e n t i n g values to t h e n e w value of those new p r o d u c t i o n s ;
since this p o r t i o n will be taken f r o m t h e w h o l e mass of signs, it will
d i m i n i s h t h e relative q u a n t i t y of t h a t mass a n d increase its representative
value by t h e s a m e a m o u n t in o r d e r to c o v e r t h e increase in values, its
function b e i n g t o represent t h e m all, i n t h e p r o p o r t i o n s a p p r o p r i a t e
to t h e m [47].
T h e r e can therefore b e n o fair p r i c e : n o t h i n g i n a n y g i v e n c o m m o d i t y
indicates b y a n y intrinsic character t h e q u a n t i t y o f m o n e y t h a t s h o u l d b e
p a i d for it. C h e a p n e s s is n e i t h e r m o r e n o r less exact t h a n dearness. T h o u g h
t h e r e d o exist rules o f c o n v e n t i o n t h a t m a k e i t possible t o fix t h e q u a n t i t y
o f m o n e y b y m e a n s o f w h i c h i t i s desirable t o represent w e a l t h . I n t h e
last resort, e v e r y t h i n g e x c h a n g e a b l e s h o u l d h a v e its e q u i v a l e n t - 'its
d e s i g n a t i o n ' - in specie; a state of affairs t h a t w o u l d entail no d r a w b a c k s
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i f t h e m o n e y used w e r e o f p a p e r ( w h i c h w o u l d b e p r i n t e d o r d e s t r o y e d ,
a s L a w p r o p o s e d , i n a c c o r d a n c e w i t h t h e needs o f e x c h a n g e ) , b u t t h a t
w o u l d b e t r o u b l e s o m e , o r even impossible, i f t h e m o n e y w e r e metallic.
N o w , a s i t circulates, o n e a n d t h e same m o n e t a r y u n i t acquires t h e p o w e r
to represent several t h i n g s ; w h e n it changes h a n d s it is s o m e t i m e s p a y m e n t
t o a n e n t r e p r e n e u r for s o m e object, s o m e t i m e s p a y m e n t t o a w o r k e r o f
his w a g e , s o m e t i m e s p a y m e n t t o a m e r c h a n t for s o m e c o m m o d i t y , s o m e times p a y m e n t to a f a r m e r for his p r o d u c e , s o m e t i m e s p a y m e n t to a
l a n d o w n e r of his r e n t . A single piece of m e t a l can, in t h e course of t i m e a n d
a c c o r d i n g to t h e individuals that receive it, represent several e q u i v a l e n t
things (an object, w o r k , a m e a s u r e of w h e a t , a p o r t i o n of i n c o m e ) - j u s t
as a c o m m o n n o u n has t h e p o w e r to represent several things, or a t a x o n o m i c character has t h e p o w e r t o represent several individuals, several
species, several g e n e r a , etc. B u t w h e r e a s t h e character can c o v e r a larger
generality o n l y b y b e c o m i n g simpler, m o n e y can represent m o r e kinds
of w e a l t h o n l y by circulating faster. T h e e x t e n s i o n of a character is
defined by t h e n u m b e r of species it includes (therefore by t h e area it
occupies in t h e t a b l e ) ; speed of circulation is defined by t h e n u m b e r of
hands t h r o u g h w h i c h m o n e y passes d u r i n g t h e t i m e i t takes t o r e t u r n
to its s t a r t i n g - p o i n t (this is w h y p a y m e n t to a g r i c u l t u r e for t h e p r o d u c t s
of its harvest is taken as a first s o u r c e , because t h e r e o n e has absolutely
reliable a n n u a l cycles to deal w i t h ) . It will be seen, therefore, t h a t t h e
speed o f m o n e t a r y m o v e m e n t d u r i n g a set t i m e c o r r e s p o n d s t o t h e t a x o n o m i c extension of a character w i t h i n t h e s i m u l t a n e o u s space of t h e table.
T h i s speed is limited in t w o directions: an infinitely r a p i d speed w o u l d
i m p l y a n i m m e d i a t e e x c h a n g e i n w h i c h m o n e y w o u l d h a v e n o role t o
play, a n d a n infinitely s l o w speed w o u l d m e a n t h a t e v e r y e l e m e n t o f
w e a l t h possesses its p e r m a n e n t m o n e t a r y d o u b l e . B e t w e e n these t w o
e x t r e m e s t h e r e are variable speeds t o w h i c h t h e quantities o f m o n e y t h a t
m a k e t h e m possible c o r r e s p o n d . N o w , t h e cycles o f circulation are
d e t e r m i n e d by t h e y e a r l y o c c u r r e n c e of t h e harvests: it is possible, t h e r e fore, g i v e n t h e harvests a n d t a k i n g i n t o a c c o u n t t h e n u m b e r o f individuals
m a k i n g up t h e p o p u l a t i o n of a state, to define t h e necessary a n d sufficient
q u a n t i t y of m o n e y t h e r e m u s t be if it is to pass t h r o u g h e v e r y o n e ' s h a n d s
a n d to represent at least t h e m e a n s of subsistence to t h e m all. It is t h u s
u n d e r s t a n d a b l e h o w , i n t h e e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y , analyses o f t h e circulation
o f m o n e y based u p o n agricultural r e v e n u e w e r e linked t o t h e p r o b l e m o f
p o p u l a t i o n g r o w t h a n d t o calculation o f t h e o p t i m u m q u a n t i t y o f c o i n a g e .
A triple q u e s t i o n t h a t is posited in a n o r m a t i v e f o r m : for t h e p r o b l e m is
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n o t t o discover b y w h a t m e c h a n i s m s m o n e y circulates o r fails t o circulate,
h o w it is e x p e n d e d or a c c u m u l a t e d (such questions are possible o n l y in
a n e c o n o m y t h a t poses p r o b l e m s o f p r o d u c t i o n o r capital), b u t w h a t the
necessary q u a n t i t y of m o n e y is in a g i v e n c o u n t r y t h a t will p r o v i d e a
sufficiently r a p i d circulation a n d pass t h r o u g h a sufficiently large n u m b e r
o f h a n d s . T h u s prices will n o t b e intrinsically 'fair', b u t e x a c t l y r e g u l a t e d :
t h e divisions o f t h e m o n e t a r y mass will analyse w e a l t h a c c o r d i n g t o a n
a r t i c u l a t i o n that will b e n e i t h e r t o o loosely n o r t o o t i g h t l y k n i t . T h e ' t a b l e '
will b e w e l l m a d e .
T h i s o p t i m u m p r o p o r t i o n i s n o t t h e s a m e w h e t h e r w e consider a
c o u n t r y i n isolation o r t h e m o v e m e n t o f its foreign t r a d e . I f w e suppose
a state capable o f l i v i n g o n itself, t h e q u a n t i t y o f m o n e y i t w o u l d b e
necessary t o p u t i n t o circulation w o u l d d e p e n d u p o n several variables:
the quantity of merchandise entering the exchange system; the portion
o f t h a t m e r c h a n d i s e w h i c h , b e i n g n e i t h e r d i s t r i b u t e d n o r p a i d for b y
b a r t e r , m u s t a t s o m e m o m e n t d u r i n g its j o u r n e y b e r e p r e s e n t e d b y m o n e y ;
t h e q u a n t i t y o f m e t a l for w h i c h signed p a p e r m a y b e substituted; and,
finally, t h e r h y t h m a c c o r d i n g t o w h i c h p a y m e n t s m u s t b e m a d e : i t i s
n o t a m a t t e r of indifference, as C a n t i l l o n p o i n t s o u t [ 4 8 ] , w h e t h e r w o r k e r s
are p a i d b y t h e w e e k o r t h e d a y , o r w h e t h e r r e n t s fall d u e a t t h e e n d o f
e v e r y y e a r r a t h e r t h a n , as is c u s t o m a r y , at t h e e n d of e v e r y q u a r t e r . Since
t h e values o f these four variables are d e t e r m i n a b l e for a n y g i v e n c o u n t r y ,
t h e o p t i m u m q u a n t i t y o f c o i n a g e for t h a t c o u n t r y can b e likewise d e t e r m i n e d . I n o r d e r t o m a k e a calculation o f this k i n d , C a n t i l l o n begins w i t h
w h a t i s p r o d u c e d b y t h e land, f r o m w h i c h all w e a l t h i s directly o r i n d i r e c t l y d e r i v e d . T h i s p r o d u c t is d i v i d e d i n t o t h r e e revenues in t h e h a n d s
o f t h e f a r m e r : t h e r e v e n u e p a i d t o t h e l a n d o w n e r ; t h a t w h i c h i s used for
t h e m a i n t e n a n c e o f t h e f a r m e r h i m s e l f a n d that o f his m e n and horses;
and, lastly, ' a t h i r d w h i c h s h o u l d r e m a i n i n o r d e r t o m a k e his enterprise
p r o f i t a b l e ' [ 4 9 ] . N o w , o n l y t h e first o f these a n d r o u g h l y h a l f o f t h e t h i r d
h a v e t o b e p a i d i n specie; t h e rest c a n b e p a i d i n t h e f o r m o f direct
e x c h a n g e s o f g o o d s . T a k i n g i n t o a c c o u n t t h e fact that o n e - h a l f o f t h e
p o p u l a t i o n lives i n t o w n s a n d m u s t t h e r e f o r e e x p e n d m o r e o n u p k e e p
t h a n do peasants, it is a p p a r e n t t h a t t h e m o n e t a r y mass in circulation
s h o u l d be a l m o s t equal to t w o - t h i r d s of p r o d u c t i o n - if, that is, all p a y m e n t s w e r e m a d e o n c e a y e a r ; b u t , i n fact, g r o u n d r e n t falls d u e e v e r y
q u a r t e r ; it is t h e r e f o r e sufficient if t h e q u a n t i t y of c o i n a g e is e q u i v a l e n t
t o o n e - s i x t h o f p r o d u c t i o n . M o r e o v e r , m a n y o t h e r p a y m e n t s are m a d e
daily o r w e e k l y ; t h e q u a n t i t y o f c o i n r e q u i r e d i s t h e r e f o r e o f t h e o r d e r o f
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EXCHANGING

a ninth part of production - in other words, one-third of the landowners'
revenue from ground rent[50].
B u t this calculation i s exact o n l y o n c o n d i t i o n t h a t o u r i m a g i n a r y
n a t i o n is w h o l l y isolated. N o w , t h e m a j o r i t y of states m a i n t a i n a t r a d e
w i t h o n e a n o t h e r i n w h i c h t h e o n l y m e a n s o f p a y m e n t are barter, m e t a l
estimated a c c o r d i n g t o its w e i g h t (and n o t i n t h e f o r m o f coins w i t h t h e i r
n o m i n a l v a l u e ) , a n d , on occasion, b a n k e r s ' drafts. In this case also it is
possible to calculate t h e relative q u a n t i t y of m o n e y t h a t it is desirable to
p u t i n t o c i r c u l a t i o n : h o w e v e r , this estimate s h o u l d n o t b e a r r i v e d a t w i t h
reference t o t h e p r o d u c t i o n o f t h e l a n d b u t r a t h e r w i t h reference t o a
certain relation o f w a g e s a n d prices w i t h t h o s e i n force i n foreign c o u n tries. In fact, in a c o u n t r y w h e r e prices are relatively l o w (because t h e
q u a n t i t y of m o n e y in circulation is small), foreign m o n e y is a t t r a c t e d
b y t h e g r e a t e r b u y i n g p o w e r i t acquires t h e r e : t h e q u a n t i t y o f m e t a l
increases. T h e state, as we say, b e c o m e s ' r i c h a n d p o w e r f u l ' ; it is able to
m a i n t a i n a fleet and an a r m y , achieve c o n q u e s t s , a n d e n r i c h itself further.
T h e q u a n t i t y o f c o i n a g e i n circulation causes prices t o rise, w h i l e a t t h e
same t i m e affording p r i v a t e persons t h e resources t o b u y a b r o a d , w h e r e
prices are l o w e r : little by little, t h e m e t a l disappears, a n d t h e state b e c o m e s
p o o r o n c e again. Such is t h e cycle t h a t C a n t i l l o n described a n d f o r m u l a t e d
i n t o a general p r i n c i p l e : ' T h e excessive a b u n d a n c e o f m o n e y , w h i c h m a k e s
the p o w e r o f states w h i l e i t lasts, thrusts t h e m i m p e r c e p t i b l y a n d n a t u r a l l y
back into indigence'[51].
I t w o u l d , n o d o u b t , b e impossible t o a v o i d these f l u c t u a t i o n s d i d t h e r e
n o t exist in t h e o r d e r of t h i n g s a c o n t r a r y t e n d e n c y , w h i c h ceaselessly
aggravates t h e p o v e r t y o f nations that are a l r e a d y p o o r a n d , o n t h e o t h e r
h a n d , increases t h e p r o s p e r i t y o f states that a r e rich. F o r p o p u l a t i o n t e n d s
t o m o v e i n t h e c o n t r a r y d i r e c t i o n t o m o n e y . T h e latter m o v e s o u t f r o m
the p r o s p e r o u s states i n t o t h e r e g i o n s w h e r e prices are l o w ; w h e r e a s m e n
are attracted t o w a r d s h i g h w a g e s , t h e r e f o r e t o w a r d s c o u n t r i e s t h a t h a v e
a n a b u n d a n t c o i n a g e a t their disposal. T h e p o o r e r c o u n t r i e s thus h a v e a
t e n d e n c y t o b e c o m e d e p o p u l a t e d ; their a g r i c u l t u r e a n d industries d e t e r iorate a n d p o v e r t y increases. I n r i c h c o u n t r i e s , i n contrast, t h e influx o f
l a b o u r m a k e s possible t h e e x p l o i t a t i o n o f n e w w e a l t h , t h e sale o f w h i c h
p r o p o r t i o n a t e l y increases t h e a m o u n t o f m e t a l i n circulation [ 5 2 ] . G o v e r n m e n t a l p o l i c y s h o u l d therefore a t t e m p t t o c o m e t o t e r m s w i t h these
t w o contrary m o v e m e n t s on the part of population and currency. T h e
n u m b e r o f inhabitants m u s t g r o w , g r a d u a l l y b u t u n i n t e r r u p t e d l y , s o t h a t
m a n u f a c t u r i n g industries w i l l a l w a y s h a v e a n a b u n d a n c e o f w o r k e r s t o d r a w
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o n ; t h e n w a g e s will n o t increase at a g r e a t e r rate t h a n w e a l t h , n o r prices
w i t h t h e m ; a n d t h e balance o f t r a d e will b e able t o r e m a i n f a v o u r a b l e :
o n e recognizes in all this t h e f o u n d a t i o n of t h e p o p u l a t i o n i s t theses [ 5 3 ] .
B u t , on t h e o t h e r h a n d , it is also necessary t h a t t h e q u a n t i t y of specie
s h o u l d b e slightly b u t c o n s t a n t l y o n t h e rise: t h e o n l y m e a n s o f m a k i n g
sure t h a t t h e p r o d u c t s o f t h e land o r o f i n d u s t r y will b e w e l l r e m u n e r a t e d ,
t h a t w a g e s will b e sufficient, a n d t h a t t h e p o p u l a t i o n will n o t b e p o v e r t y
stricken in t h e m i d s t of t h e w e a l t h it is c r e a t i n g : h e n c e all t h e m e a s u r e s
i n t e n d e d to e n c o u r a g e f o r e i g n t r a d e a n d m a i n t a i n a positive balance.
W h a t ensures t h e e q u i l i b r i u m o f t h e e c o n o m y , therefore, a n d p r e v e n t s
p r o f o u n d fluctuations b e t w e e n w e a l t h a n d p o v e r t y , is n o t a certain a n d
definitively a c q u i r e d e c o n o m i c c o n s t i t u t i o n , b u t t h e b a l a n c e d i n t e r a c t i o n a t o n c e n a t u r a l a n d deliberately m a i n t a i n e d - o f t w o tendencies. T h e r e i s
p r o s p e r i t y w i t h i n a state, n o t w h e n c o i n is plentiful a n d prices are h i g h ,
b u t w h e n t h e c o i n a g e has r e a c h e d t h a t stage o f a u g m e n t a t i o n - w h i c h
m u s t be m a d e to c o n t i n u e indefinitely - that m a k e s it possible to m a i n t a i n
w a g e s w i t h o u t increasing prices a n y f u r t h e r : this b e i n g so, t h e p o p u l a t i o n
g r o w s at a steady rate, its w o r k c o n s t a n t l y p r o d u c e s m o r e , a n d , since
each c o n s e c u t i v e increase in t h e c o i n a g e is d i v i d e d up (in a c c o r d a n c e w i t h
t h e l a w o f r e p r e s e n t a t i v i t y ) b e t w e e n small quantities o f w e a l t h , prices
will n o t increase in r e l a t i o n to those in force a b r o a d . It is o n l y b e t w e e n
an increase in t h e q u a n t i t y of g o l d a n d a rise in prices t h a t an increasing
q u a n t i t y o f g o l d a n d silver e n c o u r a g e s i n d u s t r y . A n a t i o n w h o s e c o i n a g e
i s i n process o f d i m i n u t i o n is, a t a n y g i v e n m o m e n t o f c o m p a r i s o n ,
w e a k e r a n d p o o r e r t h a n a n o t h e r n a t i o n w h i c h has n o grea&cr possessions
b u t w h o s e c o i n a g e i s i n process o f g r o w t h . T h i s i s t h e e x p l a n a t i o n o f t h e
Spanish disaster: its m i n i n g possessions h a d , in fact, increased t h e n a t i o n ' s
c o i n a g e - a n d , c o n s e q u e n t l y , prices - to a massive d e g r e e , w i t h o u t g i v i n g
i n d u s t r y , a g r i c u l t u r e , a n d p o p u l a t i o n t h e t i m e , b e t w e e n cause a n d effect,
t o d e v e l o p p r o p o r t i o n a t e l y : i t w a s inevitable t h a t A m e r i c a n g o l d s h o u l d
spread t h r o u g h o u t E u r o p e , b u y c o m m o d i t i e s t h e r e , cause m a n u f a c t u r i n g
t o d e v e l o p , a n d e n r i c h its farms, w h i l e l e a v i n g Spain m o r e p o v e r t y
stricken t h a n i t h a d e v e r b e e n . E n g l a n d , o n t h e o t h e r h a n d , t h o u g h i t
a t t r a c t e d b u l l i o n t o o , d i d s o a l w a y s for t h e profit o f l a b o u r a n d n o t m e r e l y
t o p r o v i d e its i n h a b i t a n t s w i t h l u x u r y , that is, i n o r d e r t o increase the
number

o f its

workers

a n d t h e q u a n t i t y o f its p r o d u c t s b e f o r e a n y

increase in prices o c c u r r e d [54.].
S u c h analyses a r e i m p o r t a n t because t h e y i n t r o d u c e t h e n o t i o n o f p r o gress i n t o t h e o r d e r o f h u m a n activity. B u t t h e y are still m o r e i m p o r t a n t
188

EXCHANGING

i n t h a t t h e y p r o v i d e t h e i n t e r p l a y o f signs a n d representations w i t h a
t e m p o r a l i n d e x t h a t gives progress a definition of its c o n d i t i o n of possibility. A n i n d e x n o t t o b e f o u n d i n a n y o t h e r area o f t h e t h e o r y o f o r d e r .
M o n e y , as c o n c e i v e d by Classical t h o u g h t , c a n n o t , in fact, r e p r e s e n t
wealth w i t h o u t that p o w e r being modified, from within, b y t i m e w h e t h e r a s p o n t a n e o u s cycle a u g m e n t s , after h a v i n g first d i m i n i s h e d , its
capacity for r e p r e s e n t i n g w e a l t h , o r w h e t h e r g o v e r n m e n t a l p o l i c y , b y
dint of c o n c e r t e d efforts, keeps its representativity c o n s t a n t . In t h e o r d e r
of n a t u r a l h i s t o r y , t h e characters (the g r o u p s of identities selected to r e p resent a n d distinguish a n u m b e r of species or a n u m b e r of g e n e r a ) resided
w i t h i n t h e c o n t i n u o u s area o f n a t u r e , w h i c h t h e y d i v i d e d i n t o a t a x o n o m i c
table; t i m e i n t e r v e n e d o n l y f r o m w i t h o u t , i n o r d e r t o upset t h e c o n t i n u i t y
o f t h e v e r y smallest differences a n d t o scatter t h e m i n a c c o r d a n c e w i t h t h e
f r a g m e n t e d localities o f g e o g r a p h y . H e r e , o n t h e c o n t r a r y , t i m e b e l o n g s
t o t h e inner l a w o f t h e representations a n d i s p a r t o f it; i t follows a n d
modifies w i t h o u t i n t e r r u p t i o n t h e p o w e r possessed b y w e a l t h t o represent
itself a n d so analyse itself by m e a n s of a m o n e t a r y s y s t e m . W h e r e n a t u r a l
history revealed squares of identities separated by differences, t h e analysis
of w e a l t h reveals 'differentials' - tendencies t o w a r d s increase a n d t o w a r d s
diminution.
I t w a s inevitable t h a t this function o f t i m e w i t h i n w e a l t h s h o u l d b e c o m e a p p a r e n t as s o o n as m o n e y w a s defined (as it w a s at t h e e n d of t h e
seventeenth c e n t u r y ) as a p l e d g e a n d assimilated i n t o credit: it t h e n b e c a m e necessary t h a t t h e d u r a t i o n o f t h e credit, t h e r a p i d i t y w i t h w h i c h
r e p a y m e n t fell d u e , t h e n u m b e r of h a n d s t h r o u g h w h i c h it passed in a
g i v e n t i m e , s h o u l d b e c o m e characteristic variables of its representative
p o w e r . B u t all this w a s m e r e l y t h e c o n s e q u e n c e o f a f o r m o f reflection
that placed t h e m o n e t a r y sign, w i t h relation to w e a l t h , in a p o s t u r e of
representation in t h e full sense of t h e t e r m . It is, therefore, t h e s a m e a r c h a e o logical n e t w o r k t h a t s u p p o r t s t h e t h e o r y of money-as-representation in t h e
analysis of w e a l t h and t h e t h e o r y of character-as-representation in n a t u r a l
history. T h e character designates n a t u r a l beings b y situating t h e m i n
their s u r r o u n d i n g s ; m o n e t a r y price designates w e a l t h , b u t i n t h e m o v e m e n t
o f its g r o w t h o r d i m i n u t i o n .

THE

CREATION

OF

VALUE

The theory of m o n e y and trade responds to the question: h o w , in the
m o v e m e n t o f e x c h a n g e , can prices characterize things - h o w can m o n e y
189

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OF

THINGS

establish a system o f signs a n d designation b e t w e e n kinds o f w e a l t h ? T h e
t h e o r y of v a l u e r e s p o n d s to a q u e s t i o n t h a t intersects this first o n e , a
question t h a t p r o b e s , as it w e r e vertically a n d in d e p t h , t h e h o r i z o n t a l
area i n w h i c h e x c h a n g e i s c o n t i n u o u s l y t a k i n g p l a c e : w h y are t h e r e t h i n g s
t h a t m e n seek t o e x c h a n g e ; w h y are s o m e o f t h e m w o r t h m o r e t h a n
o t h e r s , w h y d o s o m e o f t h e m , t h a t h a v e n o utility, h a v e a h i g h v a l u e ,
w h e r e a s o t h e r s , t h a t are indispensable, h a v e no value at all? It is t h u s no
l o n g e r a question o f k n o w i n g i n a c c o r d a n c e w i t h w h a t m e c h a n i s m k i n d s
o f w e a l t h can represent each o t h e r (and represent themselves b y m e a n s o f
t h a t universally representative w e a l t h c o n s t i t u t e d b y precious m e t a l ) , b u t
w h y objects o f desire a n d n e e d h a v e t o b e represented, h o w o n e posits
t h e v a l u e o f a t h i n g , a n d w h y o n e can affirm t h a t i t i s w o r t h this o r
that.
T o b e w o r t h , for Classical t h o u g h t , i s first o f all t o b e w o r t h s o m e t h i n g ,
t o b e substitutable for t h a t t h i n g i n a process o f e x c h a n g e . M o n e y w a s
i n v e n t e d , prices w e r e fixed a n d can m o d i f y themselves, o n l y in so far as
t h a t process of e x c h a n g e exists. N o w , e x c h a n g e is o n l y a p p a r e n t l y a
simple process. In fact, e x c h a n g e by b a r t e r is possible o n l y if each of t h e
t w o parties c o n c e r n e d recognizes a value in w h a t t h e o t h e r possesses. In
o n e sense, therefore, these e x c h a n g e a b l e t h i n g s , t o g e t h e r w i t h their p a r ticular values, s h o u l d exist in a d v a n c e in t h e h a n d s of each p a r t y so that
t h e d o u b l e cession a n d d o u b l e acquisition can finally t a k e place. B u t ,
f r o m a n o t h e r p o i n t o f v i e w , w h a t each p e r s o n eats a n d d r i n k s , w h a t h e
needs i n o r d e r t o live, has n o v a l u e a s l o n g a s h e does n o t relinquish
it; a n d w h a t he does n o t n e e d is equally d e v o i d of value as long as he does
n o t e m p l o y i t t o a c q u i r e s o m e t h i n g h e does n e e d . I n o t h e r w o r d s , i n
o r d e r t h a t o n e t h i n g can represent a n o t h e r i n a n e x c h a n g e , t h e y m u s t b o t h
exist a s bearers o f v a l u e ; a n d y e t v a l u e exists o n l y w i t h i n t h e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n (actual o r possible), t h a t is, w i t h i n t h e e x c h a n g e o r t h e e x c h a n g e ability. H e n c e t w o s i m u l t a n e o u s l y possible w a y s o f c o n s t r u i n g t h e m a t t e r :
t h e o n e analyses v a l u e i n t h e act o f e x c h a n g e itself, a t t h e p o i n t w h e r e t h e
g i v e n a n d t h e received intersect; t h e o t h e r analyses it as a n t e r i o r to t h e
exchange and as a p r i m a r y condition w i t h o u t w h i c h that exchange could
n o t t a k e place. T h e first o f these t w o r e a d i n g s c o r r e s p o n d s t o a n analysis
t h a t places a n d encloses t h e w h o l e essence o f l a n g u a g e w i t h i n t h e p r o p o sition; t h e second c o r r e s p o n d s to an analysis t h a t reveals this s a m e essence
o f l a n g u a g e a s residing i n t h e r e g i o n o f p r i m i t i v e designations (language
of action or r o o t s ) ; in t h e first case, l a n g u a g e does, in fact, find its field of
possibility in a p r e d i c a t i o n p r o v i d e d by t h e v e r b - t h a t is, by t h e e l e m e n t
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o f l a n g u a g e t h a t i s set a p a r t f r o m all o t h e r w o r d s , y e t relates t h e m t o o n e
a n o t h e r ; t h e v e r b , w h i c h r e n d e r s all t h e w o r d s o f l a n g u a g e possible o n
t h e basis o f their p r o p o s i t i o n a l c o n n e c t i o n , c o r r e s p o n d s t o t h e e x c h a n g e ,
w h i c h , as an act a n t e d a t i n g t h e o t h e r s , p r o v i d e s a basis for t h e v a l u e of t h e
t h i n g s e x c h a n g e d a n d for t h e p r i c e for w h i c h t h e y a r e r e l i n q u i s h e d ; i n
t h e o t h e r f o r m of analysis, l a n g u a g e is r o o t e d o u t s i d e itself a n d , as it
w e r e , i n t h e n a t u r e o r t h e analogies o f t h i n g s ; t h e r o o t , t h e first c r y t h a t
g a v e rise t o w o r d s e v e n before l a n g u a g e itself w a s b o r n , c o r r e s p o n d s t o
t h e i m m e d i a t e f o r m a t i o n o f v a l u e p r i o r t o e x c h a n g e a n d t h e reciprocal
measurements of need.
F o r g r a m m a r , h o w e v e r , these t w o f o r m s o f analysis - based o n t h e
p r o p o s i t i o n or based on r o o t s - a r e perfectly distinct, because g r a m m a r is
d e a l i n g w i t h l a n g u a g e , t h a t is, w i t h a s y s t e m o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n r e q u i r e d
b o t h t o designate a n d t o j u d g e , o r again, related t o b o t h a n object a n d a
t r u t h . I n t h e e c o n o m i c sphere this distinction does n o t exist, since, for
desire, t h e r e l a t i o n to its object a n d t h e affirmation that it is desirable a r e
o n e a n d t h e s a m e t h i n g ; t o designate i t i s a l r e a d y t o posit t h e c o n n e c t i o n .
S o t h a t , w h e r e a s g r a m m a r h a d t w o separate a n d reciprocally adjusted
theoretical s e g m e n t s at its disposal, f o r m i n g first of all an analysis of t h e
p r o p o s i t i o n (or t h e j u d g e m e n t ) , t h e n a n analysis o f designation (the
g e s t u r e o r t h e r o o t ) , t h e e c o n o m y k n o w s o n l y a single theoretical s e g m e n t , b u t o n e t h a t i s s i m u l t a n e o u s l y susceptible o f t w o readings m a d e i n
c o n t r a r y directions. T h e o n e analyses v a l u e i n t e r m s o f t h e e x c h a n g e
of objects of n e e d - of useful objects; t h e o t h e r in t e r m s of t h e f o r m a t i o n
a n d o r i g i n of objects w h o s e e x c h a n g e will later define their v a l u e - in
t e r m s o f n a t u r e ' s p r o l i x i t y . B e t w e e n these t w o possible readings w e
r e c o g n i z e a p o i n t of heresy t h a t is by n o w familiar: it separates w h a t is
t e r m e d t h e ' p s y c h o l o g i c a l t h e o r y ' o f C o n d i l l a c , Galiani, a n d Graslin,
f r o m t h a t o f t h e Physiocrats, w i t h Q u e s n a y a n d his school. T h e d o c t r i n e s
o f t h e Physiocrats m a y n o t really possess t h e i m p o r t a n c e a t t r i b u t e d t o
t h e m b y e c o n o m i s t s o f t h e early n i n e t e e n t h c e n t u r y , w h e n t h e latter
w e r e s e e k i n g i n t h e m t h e f o u n d a t i o n s t o n e o f political e c o n o m y ; b u t i t
w o u l d be e q u a l l y v a i n to a t t r i b u t e t h e s a m e r o l e - as t h e marginalists
in fact did - to t h e ' p s y c h o l o g i c a l s c h o o l ' . T h e r e a r e no differences b e t w e e n these t w o m o d e s o f analysis o t h e r t h a n t h e p o i n t o f o r i g i n a n d t h e
d i r e c t i o n c h o s e n to traverse a n e t w o r k of necessity t h a t r e m a i n s identical
in b o t h .
I n o r d e r t h a t t h e r e m a y b e values a n d w e a l t h , say t h e Physiocrats, a n
e x c h a n g e m u s t be possible: t h a t is, o n e s h o u l d h a v e at o n e ' s disposal a
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THINGS

superfluity that t h e o t h e r p a r t y n e e d s . T h e fruit I a m h u n g r y for, w h i c h
I p i c k a n d eat, is a commodity p r e s e n t e d to me by n a t u r e ; t h e r e c a n be
n o wealth unless t h e fruits o n m y t r e e are sufficiently n u m e r o u s t o exceed
m y a p p e t i t e . E v e n t h e n , s o m e o n e else m u s t b e h u n g r y a n d r e q u i r e those
fruit o f m e . ' T h e air w e b r e a t h e , ' says Q u e s n a y , ' t h e w a t e r w e d r a w f r o m
t h e s t r e a m , a n d all t h e o t h e r s u p e r a b u n d a n t g o o d s o r f o r m s o f w e a l t h
c o m m o n t o all m e n , are n o t m a r k e t a b l e : t h e y a r e c o m m o d i t i e s , n o t
w e a l t h ' [ 5 5 ] . B e f o r e e x c h a n g e , t h e r e i s n o t h i n g b u t that r a r e o r a b u n d a n t
reality p r o v i d e d b y n a t u r e ; d e m a n d o n t h e o n e h a n d a n d r e l i n q u i s h m e n t
o n t h e o t h e r are a l o n e c a p a b l e o f p r o d u c i n g v a l u e . N o w , t h e p u r p o s e o f
e x c h a n g e is precisely t h a t of d i s t r i b u t i n g w h a t e v e r is in excess in such a
m a n n e r t h a t i t w i l l b e passed o n t o t h o s e w h o n e e d it. I t i s therefore
' w e a l t h ' o n l y p r o v i s i o n a l l y , d u r i n g t h e t i m e w h e n , possessed b y s o m e
a n d n e e d e d b y o t h e r s , i t begins a n d c o m p l e t e s t h e trajectory t h a t will
c o n v e y it to t h e c o n s u m e r s a n d t h u s restore it to its o r i g i n a l n a t u r e as a
c o m m o d i t y . ' T h e a i m o f e x c h a n g e , ' says M e r c i e r d e L a R i v i e r e , 'is e n j o y m e n t , c o n s u m p t i o n . T r a d e , t h e n , can b e s u m m a r i z e d a s t h e e x c h a n g e
o f e v e r y d a y t h i n g s i n o r d e r t o achieve their d i s t r i b u t i o n i n t o t h e h a n d s
o f t h e i r c o n s u m e r s ' [ 5 6 ] . N o w , this c o n s t i t u t i o n o f v a l u e b y m e a n s o f
trade[57] cannot be achieved w i t h o u t a subtraction of goods: trade, in
fact, t r a n s p o r t s g o o d s , a n d entails c a r t a g e , storage, processing, a n d selling
c o s t s [ 5 8 ] : in s h o r t , it costs a certain c o n s u m p t i o n o£ goods for t h e goods
t h e m s e l v e s t o b e c o n v e r t e d i n t o wealth. T h e o n l y sort o f t r a d e that w o u l d
cost n o t h i n g w o u l d b e s i m p l e b a r t e r , since i n t h a t case t h e g o o d s are
w e a l t h a n d h a v e v a l u e o n l y for t h e b r i e f instant d u r i n g w h i c h / h e e x c h a n g e
i s m a d e : 'If t h e e x c h a n g e c o u l d b e m a d e i m m e d i a t e l y a n d w i t h o u t cost,
it could be only the m o r e advantageous to the t w o exchangers: it is
t h e r e f o r e a g r i e v o u s m i s t a k e to t a k e for t r a d e itself t h o s e i n t e r m e d i a r y
o p e r a t i o n s t h a t serve a s t h e m e a n s o f t r a d e ' [ 5 9 ] . T h e Physiocrats a l l o w
themselves t o posit o n l y t h e m a t e r i a l reality o f g o o d s , w h i c h m e a n s that
t h e f o r m a t i o n of v a l u e in e x c h a n g e b e c o m e s a process costly in itself
a n d m u s t b e d e b i t e d against existing g o o d s . T h e creation o f v a l u e i s
t h e r e f o r e n o t a m e a n s of satisfying a g r e a t e r n u m b e r of n e e d s ; it is t h e
sacrifice o f a certain q u a n t i t y o f g o o d s i n o r d e r t o e x c h a n g e o t h e r s .
Values t h u s f o r m t h e n e g a t i v e o f g o o d s .
B u t h o w i s i t t h a t v a l u e can b e f o r m e d i n this w a y ? W h a t i s t h e o r i g i n
o f this excess t h a t m a k e s i t possible for g o o d s t o b e t r a n s f o r m e d i n t o
w e a l t h w i t h o u t b e i n g effaced a n d finally d i s a p p e a r i n g a l t o g e t h e r as a
result o f successive e x c h a n g e s a n d c o n t i n u a l circulation? H o w i s i t that
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t h e cost o f this c o n t i n u o u s creation o f v a l u e does n o t e x h a u s t t h e g o o d s
t h a t m e n h a v e a t their disposal?
Is it that t r a d e is able to fmd this necessary s u p p l e m e n t in itself? C e r t a i n l y
n o t , since its a i m is to e x c h a n g e v a l u e for v a l u e in a c c o r d a n c e w i t h t h e
greatest possible equality. 'In o r d e r t o receive m u c h , o n e m u s t g i v e m u c h ;
a n d i n o r d e r t o g i v e m u c h , o n e m u s t receive m u c h . T h a t i s t h e w h o l e a r t
o f t r a d e . T r a d e , b y its v e r y n a t u r e , e x c h a n g e s t o g e t h e r o n l y t h i n g s o f
e q u a l v a l u e ' [ 6 0 ] . It is t r u e that a c o m m o d i t y taken to a distant m a r k e t
can b e e x c h a n g e d for a p r i c e h i g h e r t h a n t h a t w h i c h i t w o u l d c o m m a n d
in its place of o r i g i n ; b u t this increase c o r r e s p o n d s to t h e real e x p e n s e of
t r a n s p o r t i n g it; a n d t h e o n l y reason i t does n o t lose a n y t h i n g because o f
this fact is that t h e s t a t i o n a r y m e r c h a n d i s e for w h i c h it is e x c h a n g e d loses
t h o s e freightage charges o u t o f its o w n p r i c e . O n e m a y h a u l o n e ' s m e r chandise f r o m o n e e n d o f t h e w o r l d t o t h e o t h e r , b u t t h e cost o f its
e x c h a n g e is a l w a y s levied on t h e g o o d s e x c h a n g e d . It is n o t t r a d e t h a t
has p r o d u c e d t h e superfluity o f g o o d s : the excess m u s t a l r e a d y h a v e existed
in o r d e r for t r a d e to be possible.
N o r i s i n d u s t r y capable o f c o m p e n s a t i n g for t h e cost o f t h e c r e a t i o n o f
v a l u e . I n fact, m a n u f a c t u r e d p r o d u c t s m a y b e sold i n a c c o r d a n c e w i t h
t w o different systems. I f prices a r e free, c o m p e t i t i o n tends t o l o w e r t h e m
t o t h e p o i n t w h e r e , a p a r t f r o m t h e cost o f t h e r a w materials, t h e y c o v e r
no m o r e than the w o r k of the w o r k e r w h o m a d e the product; according
t o C a n t i l l o n ' s definition, this w a g e c o r r e s p o n d s t o t h e w o r k e r ' s subsistence d u r i n g t h e t i m e h e takes t o d o t h e w o r k ; a n d doubtless o n e s h o u l d
also a d d t h e subsistence a n d profits o f t h e e n t r e p r e n e u r ; b u t i n a n y case,
t h e increase i n v a l u e d u e t o t h e m a n u f a c t u r i n g process represents t h e c o n sumption of those w h o m it remunerates; so that in order to p r o d u c e
w e a l t h i t has b e e n necessary t o sacrifice s o m e g o o d s : ' T h e artisan d e s t r o y s
a s m u c h i n subsistence a s h e p r o d u c e s b y his w o r k ' [ 6 1 ] . W h e n prices are
c o n t r o l l e d by a m o n o p o l y , t h e selling price of objects can rise c o n s i d e r a b l y .
B u t this does n o t m e a n t h a t t h e l a b o u r o f t h e w o r k e r s will b e b e t t e r
r e m u n e r a t e d : t h e c o m p e t i t i o n existing b e t w e e n t h e m tends t o m a i n t a i n
their w a g e s at t h e level that is j u s t indispensable for their subsistence[62];
as for t h e profits of t h e e n t r e p r e n e u r s , it is t r u e that m o n o p o l i s t i c prices
increase t h e m t o t h e d e g r e e that t h e v a l u e o f t h e objects p u t o n t h e m a r k e t
is increased; b u t this increase is m e r e l y t h e p r o p o r t i o n a l d r o p in t h e
e x c h a n g e v a l u e o f o t h e r m e r c h a n d i s e : ' A l l these e n t r e p r e n e u r s m a k e
fortunes o n l y because o t h e r s i n c u r e x p e n s e s ' [ 6 3 ] . I n d u s t r y appears t o i n crease values; in fact, it d e d u c t s t h e cost of o n e or several subsistences f r o m
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t h e e x c h a n g e itself. V a l u e i s created, o r increased, n o t b y p r o d u c t i o n , b u t
b y c o n s u m p t i o n - w h e t h e r i t b e t h a t o f t h e w o r k e r i n o r d e r t o subsist,
t h a t o f t h e e n t r e p r e n e u r t a k i n g his profit, o r t h a t o f t h e n o n - w o r k e r
w h o b u y s . ' T h e increase i n m a r k e t v a l u e w h i c h i s d u e t o t h e sterile class
i s t h e effect o f t h e w o r k e r ' s e x p e n d i t u r e , n o t o f his w o r k . F o r t h e idle
m a n w h o e x p e n d s w i t h o u t w o r k i n g p r o d u c e s t h e s a m e effect i n

this

respect' [64]. V a l u e arises o n l y w h e r e g o o d s h a v e d i s a p p e a r e d ; a n d w o r k
functions as an e x p e n d i t u r e : it t u r n s t h e subsistence w h i c h it has itself
consumed into a price.
T h i s i s e v e n t r u e o f agricultural w o r k . T h e status o f t h e w o r k e r w h o
p l o u g h s i s i n n o w a y different f r o m t h a t o f t h e w o r k e r w h o w e a v e s o r
carts; he is o n l y o n e o f ' t h e tools of w o r k or c u l t i v a t i o n ' [ 6 5 ] - a t o o l t h a t
requires a subsistence, a n d d e d u c t s it f r o m w h a t t h e land p r o d u c e s . As
i n all t h e o t h e r cases, t h e r e m u n e r a t i o n o f agricultural l a b o u r tends t o
r e g u l a t e itself so as to p r o v i d e that subsistence exactly. Y e t a g r i c u l t u r a l
l a b o u r does possess o n e privilege, n o t a n e c o n o m i c o n e , i n t h e s y s t e m o f
e x c h a n g e s , b u t a physical o n e , i n t h e s p h e r e o f t h e p r o d u c t i o n o f g o o d s :
t h e l a n d , w h e n w o r k e d , p r o v i d e s a possible q u a n t i t y o f subsistence m u c h
g r e a t e r t h a n t h a t actually n e e d e d b y t h e l a b o u r e r w h o w o r k s it. A s r e m u n e r a t e d w o r k , therefore, t h e a g r i c u l t u r a l w o r k e r ' s l a b o u r is j u s t as
n e g a t i v e a n d wasteful a s t h a t o f factory w o r k e r s ; b u t , a s 'physical c o m m e r c e ' w i t h n a t u r e [66], i t i s t h e s o u r c e o f a n i m m e n s e fecundity. A n d
t h o u g h it is t r u e t h a t this lavishness is r e m u n e r a t e d in a d v a n c e by t h e
costs o f p l o u g h i n g , s o w i n g , a n d a n i m a l fodder, e v e r y o n e k n o w s that
w h e r e y o u s o w a g r a i n o f w h e a t y o u reap a n ear; a n d that h e j d s and f l o c k s
g r o w fatter e v e r y d a y e v e n w h i l e t h e y rest, w h i c h c a n n o t b e said o f a
bale o f silk o r w o o l i n s t o r a g e ' [ 6 7 ] . A g r i c u l t u r e i s t h e o n l y s p h e r e i n w h i c h
t h e increase i n v a l u e d u e t o p r o d u c t i o n i s n o t e q u i v a l e n t t o t h e m a i n t e n a n c e of t h e p r o d u c e r . T h i s is because t h e r e is really an invisible p r o d u c e r w h o does n o t r e q u i r e a n y r e m u n e r a t i o n ; i t i s w i t h h i m t h a t t h e
f a r m e r is, w i t h o u t k n o w i n g it, i n p a r t n e r s h i p ; a n d w h i l e t h e l a b o u r e r
c o n s u m e s a n a m o u n t equal t o his w o r k , that s a m e w o r k , b y v i r t u e o f t h e
l a b o u r e r ' s C o - A u t h o r , p r o d u c e s all t h e g o o d s f r o m w h i c h t h e c r e a t i o n
of values will be d e d u c t e d : ' A g r i c u l t u r e is a m a n u f a c t u r e of d i v i n e i n s t i t u t i o n i n w h i c h t h e m a n u f a c t u r e r has a s his p a r t n e r t h e A u t h o r o f
n a t u r e , t h e P r o d u c e r o f all g o o d s a n d all w e a l t h ' [ 6 8 ] .
It is u n d e r s t a n d a b l e , therefore, w h y t h e P h y s i o c r a t s a c c o r d e d such
theoretical a n d practical i m p o r t a n c e t o g r o u n d r e n t - a n d n o t t o a g r i c u l tural l a b o u r . T h i s is because the latter is r e m u n e r a t e d by c o n s u m p t i o n ,
194

EXCHANGING

w h e r e a s g r o u n d r e n t represents, o r o u g h t t o represent, t h e n e t p r o d u c t :
t h e q u a n t i t y o f g o o d s p r o v i d e d b y n a t u r e o v e r a n d a b o v e t h e subsistence
it yields to t h e w o r k e r a n d t h e r e m u n e r a t i o n it d e m a n d s for itself in o r d e r
t o g o o n p r o d u c i n g . I t i s this r e n t t h a t p e r m i t s t h e t r a n s f o r m a t i o n o f g o o d s
i n t o values or i n t o w e a l t h . It p r o v i d e s t h e r e m u n e r a t i o n for all o t h e r k i n d s
o f w o r k a n d all t h e c o n s u m p t i o n c o r r e s p o n d i n g t o t h e m . H e n c e t w o
m a j o r c o n c e r n s : to h a v e a large q u a n t i t y of specie at o n e ' s disposal, so
t h a t l a b o u r , t r a d e , a n d i n d u s t r y can b e a d e q u a t e l y supplied w i t h it; a n d
t o see t o i t t h a t absolute p r o t e c t i o n i s g i v e n t o t h a t p a r t o f t h e w o r k i n g
capital t h a t m u s t r e t u r n t o t h e land i n o r d e r t o a l l o w i t t o g o o n p r o d u c i n g .
T h e Physiocrats' e c o n o m i c a n d political p r o g r a m m e m u s t therefore i n c l u d e : a n increase i n agricultural prices, b u t n o t i n t h e w a g e s o f those w h o
w o r k t h e l a n d ; t h e l e v y i n g o f all taxes o n g r o u n d r e n t itself; t h e a b o l i t i o n
of m o n o p o l i s t i c prices a n d all t r a d e preferences (so t h a t i n d u s t r y a n d
t r a d e , r e g u l a t e d b y c o m p e t i t i o n , will b e forced t o m a i n t a i n fair p r i c e s ) ;
a vast r e i n v e s t m e n t of m o n e y in t h e land for t h e advances necessary for
future p r o d u c t i o n .
T h e w h o l e s y s t e m o f e x c h a n g e s , t h e w h o l e costly creation o f values,
is referred b a c k to t h e u n b a l a n c e d , radical, a n d p r i m i t i v e e x c h a n g e
established b e t w e e n t h e advances m a d e b y t h e l a n d o w n e r a n d t h e g e n e r osity of n a t u r e . T h i s e x c h a n g e a l o n e is absolutely profitable, a n d it is
f r o m w i t h i n this n e t p r o f i t that d e d u c t i o n s o f g o o d s can b e m a d e t o c o v e r
t h e costs necessitated b y each e x c h a n g e , a n d t h u s b y t h e a p p e a r a n c e o f
each n e w e l e m e n t o f w e a l t h . I t w o u l d b e u n t r u e t o say t h a t n a t u r e s p o n t a n e o u s l y p r o d u c e s v a l u e s ; b u t it is t h e inexhaustible source of t h e g o o d s
t h a t e x c h a n g e transforms i n t o values, t h o u g h n o t w i t h o u t e x p e n d i t u r e
a n d c o n s u m p t i o n . Q u e s n a y a n d his disciples analyse w e a l t h on t h e basis
of w h a t is g i v e n in e x c h a n g e - that is, on t h e basis of t h e superfluity t h a t
exists w i t h o u t a n y v a l u e , b u t t h a t b e c o m e s v a l u e b y t a k i n g p a r t i n a
circuit o f substitutions, i n w h i c h i t m u s t r e m u n e r a t e each o f its m o v e m e n t s ,
each of its t r a n s f o r m a t i o n s , w i t h w a g e s , f o o d , a n d subsistence, in short,
w i t h a p a r t of t h a t surplus of w h i c h it is itself a p a r t . T h e Physiocrats
b e g i n their analysis w i t h t h e t h i n g itself w h i c h is designated in v a l u e ,
b u t w h i c h exists p r i o r t o t h e system o f w e a l t h . T h e same i s t r u e o f g r a m m a r i a n s w h e n t h e y analyse w o r d s o n t h e basis o f their r o o t s , o f t h e i m m e d i a t e relation t h a t unites a s o u n d a n d a t h i n g , a n d of t h e successive
abstractions by m e a n s of w h i c h t h a t r o o t b e c o m e s a n a m e in a l a n g u a g e .

195

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ORDER

VI

UTILITY

OF

THINGS

T h e analysis o f C o n d i l l a c , Galiani, Graslin, a n d D e s t u t t c o r r e s p o n d s t o
t h e g r a m m a t i c a l t h e o r y of t h e p r o p o s i t i o n . It selects as its p o i n t of d e p a r ture, n o t w h a t is given in an exchange, but w h a t is received: the same
t h i n g , i n fact, b u t seen f r o m t h e p o i n t o f v i e w o f t h e p e r s o n w h o n e e d s
it, w h o w a n t s it, a n d w h o agrees t o g i v e u p w h a t h e possesses i n o r d e r t o
o b t a i n this o t h e r t h i n g w h i c h in his e s t i m a t i o n is m o r e useful a n d to
w h i c h h e attaches g r e a t e r v a l u e . T h e Physiocrats a n d their o p p o n e n t s are
in fact t r a v e r s i n g t h e s a m e theoretical s e g m e n t , b u t in o p p o s i t e directions:
t h e f o r m e r a r e asking themselves on w h a t c o n d i t i o n - a n d at w h a t cost an article can b e c o m e a v a l u e in a s y s t e m of e x c h a n g e s ; t h e latter, on w h a t
c o n d i t i o n a j u d g e m e n t of appraisal can be t r a n s f o r m e d i n t o a p r i c e in
t h a t s a m e system of e x c h a n g e s . It is u n d e r s t a n d a b l e , t h e n , w h y t h e analyses
o f t h e Physiocrats a n d those o f t h e utilitarians are often s o close, a n d s o m e times c o m p l e m e n t a r y ; w h y C a n t i l l o n c o u l d b e c l a i m e d b y t h e f o r m e r
- for his t h e o r y o f t h e t h r e e f u n d a m e n t a l r e v e n u e s a n d t h e i m p o r t a n c e h e
gives to land - as w e l l as by t h e latter - for his analysis of circulation a n d
t h e r o l e h e gives t o m o n e y [ 6 9 ] ; w h y T u r g o t w a s able t o b e faithful t o
P h y s i o c r a t d o c t r i n e in Reflexions sur la formation

et

la

distribution

des

richesses, a n d y e t v e r y close to Galiani in Valeur et monnaie.
Let us i m a g i n e t h e m o s t r u d i m e n t a r y of all e x c h a n g e situations: a m a n
w h o has n o t h i n g b u t c o r n o r w h e a t c o n f r o n t e d w i t h a n o t h e r w h o has
n o t h i n g b u t w i n e o r w o o d . A s yet, t h e r e i s n o fixed price, n o e q u i v a l e n c e ,
n o c o m m o n m e a s u r e . Y e t i f these m e n h a v e g o n e t o t h e t r o u b l e t o collect
t h e w o o d , t o s o w a n d h a r v e s t the c o r n o r t h e w h e a t , i t i s b e c a u s e t h e y
h a v e passed a certain j u d g e m e n t o n these t h i n g s ; w i t h o u t h a v i n g t o c o m p a r e i t w i t h a n y t h i n g else, t h e y j u d g e d t h a t this w h e a t o r that w o o d w a s
able t o satisfy o n e o f their n e e d s - t h a t i t w o u l d b e useful t o t h e m : ' T o
say t h a t a t h i n g has v a l u e is to say t h a t it is, or t h a t we e s t e e m it, g o o d for
s o m e use. T h e v a l u e o f t h i n g s i s t h u s f o u n d e d o n their utility, o r , w h a t
a m o u n t s t o t h e s a m e t h i n g , o n t h e use w e can m a k e o f t h e m ' [ 7 0 ] . T h i s
j u d g e m e n t is the foundation of w h a t T u r g o t terms the 'estimative value'
of t h i n g s [ 7 1 ] . A v a l u e t h a t is absolute, since it c o n c e r n s each c o m m o d i t y
i n d i v i d u a l l y a n d w i t h o u t its b e i n g c o m p a r e d w i t h a n y o t h e r ; y e t i t i s
also relative a n d c h a n g i n g , since it is m o d i f i e d in a c c o r d a n c e w i t h m e n ' s
a p p e t i t e , desires, a n d n e e d .
H o w e v e r , t h e e x c h a n g e achieved u p o n t h e basis o f these p r i m a r y
utilities is n o t their simple r e d u c t i o n to a c o m m o n d e n o m i n a t o r . It is
196

EXCHANGING

in itself a c r e a t o r of utility, since it presents for t h e appraisal of o n e p a r t y
w h a t until t h e n h a d possessed o n l y slight utility for t h e o t h e r . A t this
p o i n t , three possibilities exist. I t m a y b e t h a t t h e 'surplus o f e a c h ' , a s
C o n d i l l a c [ 7 2 ] p u t s i t - t h a t w h i c h h e has n o t utilized o r does n o t e x p e c t
to utilize i m m e d i a t e l y - c o r r e s p o n d s in q u a l i t y a n d in q u a n t i t y to t h e
needs o f t h e o t h e r : t h e w h o l e surplus o f t h e w h e a t - o w n e r i s revealed, i n
t h e e x c h a n g e situation, as b e i n g useful to t h e w i n e - o w n e r , a n d vice versa;
in this case, w h a t w a s useless b e c o m e s totally useful, t h r o u g h a c r e a t i o n
o f s i m u l t a n e o u s a n d equal values o n each side; w h a t w a s e s t i m a t e d a s
null b y t h e o n e b e c o m e s p o s i t i v e i n t h e e s t i m a t i o n o f t h e o t h e r ; a n d since
t h e situation is s y m m e t r i c a l , t h e e s t i m a t i v e values thus created a r e a u t o matically e q u i v a l e n t ; utility a n d price c o r r e s p o n d exactly, w i t h n o resid u u m ; t h e appraisal adjusting itself a u t o m a t i c a l l y t o t h e estimate. O r i t
m a y b e that t h e surplus o f t h e o n e p a r t y i s n o t sufficient for t h e needs o f
t h e o t h e r , a n d t h a t t h e latter will refrain f r o m g i v i n g all t h a t he possesses;
h e will k e e p s o m e p a r t o f i t i n o r d e r t o o b t a i n f r o m a t h i r d p a r t y t h e
a d d i t i o n a l q u a n t i t y indispensable to his n e e d ; this d e d u c t e d p o r t i o n w h i c h t h e second p a r t y will t r y t o r e d u c e t o a m i n i m u m , since h e needs
all t h e first's surplus - gives rise to p r i c e : it is no l o n g e r an excess of w h e a t
that is b e i n g e x c h a n g e d for an excess of w i n e , b u t , as t h e result of an
altercation, s o m a n y h o g s h e a d s o f w i n e for s o m a n y bushels o f w h e a t .
Shall w e say, t h e n , t h a t t h e p a r t y w h o gives t h e m o s t i s losing s o m e o f
t h e v a l u e o f w h a t h e possessed i n this e x c h a n g e ? N o t a t all, for t h e surplus
is of no use to h i m , or at all events, since he has a g r e e d to e x c h a n g e it,
h e m u s t b e a c c o r d i n g a g r e a t e r v a l u e t o w h a t h e receives t h a n t o w h a t h e
relinquishes. Or it m a y be, a n d this is t h e t h i r d h y p o t h e s i s , t h a t t h e r e is
n o t h i n g absolutely superfluous t o either p a r t y , since e a c h o f t h e m k n o w s
that h e can use, s o o n e r o r later, t h e totality o f w h a t h e possesses: t h e state
o f need i s t h e r e f o r e general, a n d e v e r y i t e m o f g o o d s o w n e d b e c o m e s
w e a l t h . I n this case, t h e t w o parties m a y v e r y w e l l e x c h a n g e n o t h i n g a t
all; b u t e q u a l l y , each o n e o f t h e m m a y calculate that a p o r t i o n o f t h e
o t h e r ' s c o m m o d i t y w o u l d b e m o r e useful t o h i m t h a n a p o r t i o n o f his
o w n . T h e y b o t h establish - b u t each for himself, a n d t h e r e f o r e in a c c o r d ance

w i t h differing

calculations - a

minimum

inequality:

so

many

measures o f t h e c o r n I d o n o t h a v e , o n e o f t h e m says, will b e w o r t h a
little m o r e t o m e t h a n s o m a n y measures o f m y w o o d ; such a n d such a
q u a n t i t y o f w o o d , says t h e o t h e r , will b e m o r e v a l u a b l e t o m e t h a n such
a n d such a q u a n t i t y of c o r n . T h e s e t w o e s t i m a t i v e inequalities define
for each p a r t y t h e relative v a l u e h e gives t o w h a t h e possesses a n d t o w h a t
197

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ORDER

OF

THINGS

t h e first, in t h e o t h e r . T h e 'utilitarians' base their attribution of a certain
value to t h i n g s u p o n t h e articulation of e x c h a n g e s ; t h e Physiocrats explain
t h e p r o g r e s s i v e patterning of values by t h e existence of w e a l t h . B u t in b o t h
i n t e r p r e t a t i o n s t h e t h e o r y of v a l u e , like t h a t of structure in n a t u r a l h i s t o r y ,
links t h e m o m e n t of attribution a n d t h a t ofarticulation.
P e r h a p s i t w o u l d h a v e b e e n s i m p l e r t o say t h a t t h e Physiocrats r e p resented t h e l a n d o w n e r s a n d t h e 'utilitarians' t h e m e r c h a n t s a n d e n t r e p r e n e u r s . T h a t t h e latter, i n c o n s e q u e n c e , believed t h a t t h e v a l u e o f w h a t
t h e land p r o d u c e d w a s increased w h e n i t was t r a n s f o r m e d o r t r a n s p o r t e d ;
t h a t t h e y w e r e p r e o c c u p i e d , b y force o f c i r c u m s t a n c e , w i t h a m a r k e t
e c o n o m y i n w h i c h needs a n d desires created t h e laws. A n d t h a t t h e P h y s i o crats, o n t h e o t h e r h a n d , believed o n l y i n agricultural p r o d u c t i o n , a n d
c l a i m e d that its r e m u n e r a t i o n s h o u l d b e h i g h e r ; that, b e i n g l a n d o w n e r s ,
t h e y a t t r i b u t e d a n a t u r a l basis to g r o u n d rent, a n d that, since t h e y w e r e
c l a i m i n g political p o w e r , t h e y w a n t e d t o b e t h e o n l y ones subject t o
t a x a t i o n , a n d t h u s i n exclusive e n j o y m e n t o f t h e rights t a x a t i o n c o n f e r r e d .
A n d t h e r e i s n o d o u b t t h a t t h e b r o a d e c o n o m i c choices o f b o t h sides can
b e p e r c e i v e d b e y o n d their c o h e r e n c e o f interests. B u t t h o u g h m e m b e r ship of a social g r o u p can a l w a y s explain w h y such a n d such a p e r s o n chose
one system of t h o u g h t rather than another, the condition enabling that
s y s t e m t o b e t h o u g h t n e v e r resides i n t h e existence o f t h e g r o u p . W e
m u s t b e careful t o distinguish h e r e b e t w e e n t w o forms a n d t w o levels o f
investigation. T h e first w o u l d b e a s t u d y o f o p i n i o n s i n o r d e r t o discover
w h o in the eighteenth century was a Physiocrat and w h o an Antiphysiocrat; w h a t interests w e r e a t stake; w h a t w e r e t h e p o i n t s a n d a r g u m e n t s
o f t h e p o l e m i c ; h o w t h e s t r u g g l e for p o w e r d e v e l o p e d . T h e o t h e r , w h i c h
takes n o a c c o u n t o f t h e persons i n v o l v e d , o r their h i s t o r y , consists i n
defining t h e c o n d i t i o n s o n t h e basis o f w h i c h i t w a s possible t o c o n c e i v e
o f b o t h ' p h y s i o c r a t i c ' a n d 'utilitarian' k n o w l e d g e i n i n t e r l o c k i n g a n d
s i m u l t a n e o u s f o r m s . T h e first analysis w o u l d b e t h e p r o v i n c e o f a d o x o l o g y . A r c h a e o l o g y can r e c o g n i z e a n d practise o n l y t h e second.

VII

GENERAL

TABLE

T h e g e n e r a l o r g a n i z a t i o n o f t h e e m p i r i c a l spheres can n o w b e sketched
o u t as a w h o l e , (see p. 2 0 1 ) .
T h e first t h i n g we o b s e r v e is that analysis of wealth o b e y s t h e same c o n f i g u r a t i o n as natural history a n d general grammar. T h e t h e o r y of v a l u e
m a k e s i t possible, i n fact, t o explain ( w h e t h e r b y d e a r t h a n d n e e d o r b y
200

Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

G G : General grammar
NH: Natural history
AW: Analysis ol wealth

Nineteenth Century

THE

ORDER

OF THINGS

t h e s u p e r a b u n d a n c e o f n a t u r e ) h o w certain objects can b e i n t r o d u c e d i n t o
t h e s y s t e m o f e x c h a n g e s , h o w , b y m e a n s o f t h e p r i m i t i v e process o f barter,
o n e t h i n g can b e posited a s t h e e q u i v a l e n t o f a n o t h e r , h o w t h e estimate
o f t h e first can b e related t o t h e estimate o f t h e second i n a c c o r d a n c e w i t h
a relation of e q u a l i t y (A a n d B h a v e t h e s a m e value) or o n e of a n a l o g y
(the v a l u e o f A , possessed b y m y c o u n t e r p a r t , i s t o m y n e e d w h a t t h e
value o f B , w h i c h I possess, i s t o h i m ) . V a l u e c o r r e s p o n d s , t h e n , t o t h e
a t t r i b u t i v e function w h i c h , (or general grammar, is p e r f o r m e d by t h e v e r b ,
a n d w h i c h , g i v i n g rise t o t h e p r o p o s i t i o n , constitutes t h e initial threshold
b e y o n d w h i c h t h e r e i s l a n g u a g e . B u t w h e n appreciative value b e c o m e s
estimative v a l u e , t h a t is, w h e n it is defined a n d limited w i t h i n the system
c o n s t i t u t e d by all possible e x c h a n g e s , t h e n each v a l u e finds itself positioned
a n d p a t t e r n e d b y all t h e o t h e r s : w h e n this h a p p e n s , value assumes t h e
a r t i c u l a t o r y r o l e r e c o g n i z e d by general grammar in all t h e n o n - v e r b a l
e l e m e n t s of t h e p r o p o s i t i o n (that is, in n o u n s , a n d in all w o r d s that,
w h e t h e r visibly or in secret, c o n t a i n a n o m i n a l function). In t h e system of
e x c h a n g e s , i n t h e interplay t h a t p e r m i t s each p o r t i o n o f w e a l t h t o signify
t h e o t h e r s or to be signified by t h e m , value is at t h e s a m e t i m e verb a n d
noun, p o w e r to c o n n e c t a n d principle of analysis, a t t r i b u t i o n , a n d p a t t e r n .
Value, t h e n , occupies exactly t h e s a m e position in t h e analysis of w e a l t h as
structure does in n a t u r a l h i s t o r y ; like s t r u c t u r e , it unites in o n e a n d t h e same
o p e r a t i o n t h e function t h a t p e r m i t s t h e a t t r i b u t i o n o f o n e sign t o a n o t h e r
sign, o f o n e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n t o a n o t h e r , a n d t h e function t h a t p e r m i t s t h e
articulation o f t h e elements that c o m p o s e t h e totality o f representations
or t h e signs t h a t d e c o m p o s e t h e m .
*
F o r its p a r t , t h e t h e o r y o f m o n e y a n d t r a d e expiai^s h o w a n y g i v e n
f o r m o f m a t t e r can take o n a signifying function b y b e i n g related t o a n
object a n d s e r v i n g as a p e r m a n e n t sign for it; it also explains (by t h e
i n t e r a c t i o n o f t r a d e a n d t h e increase a n d d i m i n u t i o n o f t h e q u a n t i t y o f
specie) h o w this relation o f sign t o t h e t h i n g signified c a n b e m o d i f i e d
w i t h o u t ever disappearing, h o w t h e s a m e m o n e t a r y e l e m e n t can signify
m o r e or less w e a l t h , h o w it can shift, dilate, a n d shrink in relation to t h e
values i t has t h e task o f r e p r e s e n t i n g . T h e t h e o r y o f m o n e t a r y prices
c o r r e s p o n d s , t h e r e f o r e , to w h a t in general grammar appears in t h e f o r m of
an analysis of r o o t s a n d of t h e l a n g u a g e of action (the function of designation) a n d t o w h a t appears i n t h e f o r m o f t r o p e s a n d shifts o f m e a n i n g
(the function o£ derivation). M o n e y , like w o r d s , has t h e role of d e s i g n a t i n g ,
y e t n e v e r ceases t o f l u c t u a t e a r o u n d t h a t vertical axis: variations o f price
are t o t h e initial establishment o f t h e relation b e t w e e n m e t a l a n d w e a l t h
202

EXCHANGING

w h a t rhetorical displacements are t o t h e original value o f verbal signs
M o r e o v e r , b y e n s u r i n g , o n t h e basis o f its o w n possibilities, t h e designation o f w e a l t h , t h e establishment o f prices, t h e modification o f n o m i n a l
values, a n d t h e i m p o v e r i s h m e n t a n d e n r i c h m e n t o f nations, m o n e y f u n c tions in relation to w e a l t h in the same w a y as character does in relation to
natural b e i n g s : it m a k e s it possible b o t h to i m p o s e a particular m a r k
u p o n it a n d to indicate a place for it - no d o u b t a provisional o n e - in
t h e area actually defined b y t h e totality o f things a n d o f t h e signs a t o n e ' s
disposal. T h e t h e o r y o f m o n e y a n d prices occupies t h e same position i n
t h e analysis of w e a l t h as t h e t h e o r y of character does in n a t u r a l history.
L i k e t h e latter, it unites i n t o o n e a n d t h e s a m e function t h e possibility
o f g i v i n g things a sign, o f representing o n e t h i n g b y a n o t h e r , a n d t h e
possibility of causing a sign to shift in relation to w h a t it designates.
T h e four functions t h a t define t h e verbal sign in its particular p r o p e r t i e s ,
a n d distinguish it f r o m all o t h e r signs t h a t r e p r e s e n t a t i o n can p r o v i d e for
itself, a r e t h u s to be f o u n d in t h e theoretical signalization of n a t u r a l h i s t o r y
a n d i n t h e practical utilization o f m o n e t a r y signs. T h e o r d e r o f w e a l t h a n d
t h e o r d e r of n a t u r a l beings a r e established a n d revealed in so far as t h e r e
a r e established b e t w e e n objects o f n e e d , a n d b e t w e e n visible individuals,
systems o f signs w h i c h m a k e possible t h e designation o f representations
o n e b y a n o t h e r , t h e d e r i v a t i o n o f signifying representations i n relation t o
those signified, t h e articulation of w h a t is represented, a n d t h e a t t r i b u t i o n
of certain representations to certain others. In this sense, it can be said
t h a t , for Classical t h o u g h t , systems o f n a t u r a l h i s t o r y a n d theories o f
m o n e y o r t r a d e h a v e t h e same c o n d i t i o n s o f possibility a s l a n g u a g e itself.
T h i s m e a n s t w o t h i n g s : first, t h a t o r d e r i n n a t u r e a n d o r d e r i n t h e d o m a i n
o f w e a l t h h a v e t h e s a m e m o d e o f b e i n g , for t h e Classical e x p e r i e n c e , a s
t h e o r d e r o f representations a s manifested b y w o r d s ; second, t h a t w o r d s
f o r m a s y s t e m of signs sufficiently privileged, w h e n it is a question of
r e v e a l i n g t h e o r d e r of things, for n a t u r a l h i s t o r y - if it is well o r g a n i z e d a n d m o n e y - if it is well r e g u l a t e d - to function in t h e s a m e w a y as l a n g u a g e . W h a t algebra i s t o mathesis, signs, a n d w o r d s i n particular, are t o
taxinomia: a c o n s t i t u t i o n a n d e v i d e n t manifestation of t h e o r d e r of things.
T h e r e does exist, h o w e v e r , a m a j o r difference t h a t p r e v e n t s classification f r o m b e i n g t h e s p o n t a n e o u s l a n g u a g e o f n a t u r e a n d prices f r o m b e i n g
t h e n a t u r a l discourse o f w e a l t h . O r r a t h e r t h e r e exist t w o differences: o n e
m a k e s i t possible t o distinguish t h e d o m a i n s o f v e r b a l signs f r o m t h a t
o f w e a l t h o r t h a t o f n a t u r a l b e i n g s ; t h e o t h e r m a k e s i t possible t o distinguish t h e t h e o r y o f n a t u r a l history f r o m t h a t o f value o r prices.
203

THE ORDER OF THINGS

T h e f o u r m o m e n t s t h a t define t h e essential functions o f l a n g u a g e
( a t t r i b u t i o n , articulation, d e s i g n a t i o n , d e r i v a t i o n ) a r e solidly l i n k e d t o
o n e a n o t h e r , since t h e y r e q u i r e o n e a n o t h e r a s s o o n as, w i t h t h e a d v e n t
o f t h e v e r b , o n e has crossed t h e t h r e s h o l d b e y o n d w h i c h l a n g u a g e exists.
B u t in t h e real genesis of actual l a n g u a g e s , t h e process does n o t take place
either i n t h e s a m e d i r e c t i o n o r w i t h t h e s a m e r i g o u r : o n t h e basis o f
p r i m i t i v e designations, m e n ' s i m a g i n a t i o n s ( a c c o r d i n g t o t h e climates
t h e y live in, t h e c o n d i t i o n s o f their existence, t h e i r feelings a n d t h e i r
passions, their experiences) g i v e rise to d e r i v a t i o n s w h i c h differ f r o m
p e o p l e t o p e o p l e , a n d w h i c h doubtless explain, i n a d d i t j o n t o t h e diversity
o f l a n g u a g e s , t h e relative instability o f each o f t h e m . A t a n y g i v e n m o m e n t
o f this d e r i v a t i o n , a n d w i t h i n a n y particular l a n g u a g e , m e n h a v e a t their
disposal a t o t a l i t y o f w o r d s , o f n a m e s w h i c h a r e articulated o n e u p o n
a n o t h e r a n d p r o v i d e t h e p a t t e r n o f their r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s ; b u t this analysis
is so imperfect, it allows so m a n y imprecisions a n d o v e r l a p p i n g s to p e r sist, that m e n e m p l o y v a r i o u s w o r d s a n d f o r m u l a t e different p r o p o s i t i o n s
w i t h t h e s a m e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s : their reflection i s n o t w h o l l y p r o t e c t e d
against e r r o r . B e t w e e n d e s i g n a t i o n a n d d e r i v a t i o n , shifts o f t h e i m a g i n a t i o n m u l t i p l y ; b e t w e e n articulation a n d a t t r i b u t i o n , e r r o r s o f reflection
proliferate. T h i s i s w h y , o n t h e p e r h a p s endlessly p o s t p o n e d h o r i z o n o f
l a n g u a g e , t h e r e is p r o j e c t e d t h e idea of a universal l a n g u a g e in w h i c h t h e
r e p r e s e n t a t i v e v a l u e o f w o r d s w o u l d b e sufficiently clearly fixed, sufficiently securely based, sufficiently clearly r e c o g n i z e d for reflection to be
able t o c o m e t o a decision w i t h t o t a l clarity a b o u t a n y p r o p o s i t i o n
w h a t e v e r - b y m e a n s o f this l a n g u a g e 'peasants c o u l d b e t t e r j u d g e

of

t h e t r u t h o f t h i n g s t h a n p h i l o s o p h e r s n o w d o ' [ 7 8 ] ; a perfectly distinct
l a n g u a g e w o u l d m a k e possible a n entirely clear discourse: this l a n g u a g e
w o u l d be an Ars combinatoria in itself. It is also w h y t h e practice of a n y
real l a n g u a g e s h o u l d b e reinforced b y a n E n c y c l o p a e d i a w h i c h defines t h e
p r o g r e s s o f w o r d s , prescribes t h e m o s t n a t u r a l r o u t e s for t h e m t o t a k e ,
traces o u t t h e l e g i t i m a t e shifts o f k n o w l e d g e , a n d codifies t h e r e l a t i o n ships of a d j a c e n c y a n d r e s e m b l a n c e . T h e D i c t i o n a r y is c r e a t e d as a m e a n s
o f c o n t r o l l i n g t h e p l a y o f d e r i v a t i o n s o n t h e basis o f t h e p r i m a r y d e s i g n a tion of w o r d s , just as the Universal Language is created in order to
c o n t r o l t h e e r r o r s of reflection - w h e n it is f o r m u l a t i n g a j u d g e m e n t on t h e basis of a well-established a r t i c u l a t i o n . T h e Ars combinatoria a n d
the Encyclopaedia

together

c o m p e n s a t e for

the

i m p e r f e c t i o n o f real

languages.
N a t u r a l h i s t o r y , since it m u s t of necessity be a science, a n d t h e circulation
204

EXCHANGING

of w e a l t h , since it is an institution created by m e n a n d also c o n t r o l l e d
b y t h e m , a r e b o u n d t o escape t h e perils i n h e r e n t i n s p o n t a n e o u s l a n g u a g e s .
T h e r e i s n o e r r o r possible b e t w e e n articulation a n d a t t r i b u t i o n i n t h e
o r d e r of n a t u r a l h i s t o r y , since t h e s t r u c t u r e is g i v e n in its i m m e d i a t e
visibility; n o i m a g i n a r y shifts either, n o false resemblances, n o i n c o n g r u o u s j u x t a p o s i t i o n s p l a c i n g a c o r r e c t l y designated n a t u r a l b e i n g in a space
n o t its o w n , since character i s established either b y t h e c o h e r e n c e o f t h e
s y s t e m o r b y t h e exactness o f t h e m e t h o d . I n n a t u r a l history, s t r u c t u r e
a n d c h a r a c t e r ensure t h e theoretical closing o f w h a t r e m a i n s o p e n i n
l a n g u a g e a n d gives rise o n its frontiers t o t h e projects o f essentially u n c o m p l e t e d arts. Similarly, v a l u e , w h i c h a u t o m a t i c a l l y changes f r o m b e i n g
estimative t o b e i n g appreciative, a n d m o n e y , w h i c h b y g r o w t h o r d i m i n u t i o n of its q u a n t i t y causes y e t a l w a y s limits fluctuations of prices, e n s u r e
i n t h e sphere o f w e a l t h t h e c o n g r u i t y o f a t t r i b u t i o n a n d articulation, a n d
t h a t o f designation a n d d e r i v a t i o n . V a l u e a n d prices ensure t h e v i r t u a l
closing o f those s e g m e n t s t h a t r e m a i n o p e n i n l a n g u a g e . S t r u c t u r e enables
n a t u r a l h i s t o r y to find itself i m m e d i a t e l y in t h e e l e m e n t of a c o m b i n a t i o n ,
a n d c h a r a c t e r allows i t t o establish a n exact a n d definitive poetics w i t h
r e g a r d t o beings a n d their resemblances. V a l u e c o m b i n e s t h e f o r m s o f
w e a l t h o n e w i t h a n o t h e r , m o n e y p e r m i t s their real e x c h a n g e . W h e r e t h e
d i s o r d e r e d o r d e r o f l a n g u a g e implies t h e c o n t i n u o u s r e l a t i o n t o a n a r t a n d
its endless tasks, t h e o r d e r s of n a t u r e a n d w e a l t h are expressed in t h e m e r e
existence o f s t r u c t u r e a n d character, value a n d m o n e y .
It should be n o t e d , h o w e v e r , that t h e n a t u r a l o r d e r is f o r m u l a t e d in a
t h e o r y t h a t has value as t h e correct i n t e r p r e t a t i o n of a real series or t a b l e :
m o r e o v e r , t h e s t r u c t u r e o f beings i s b o t h t h e i m m e d i a t e f o r m o f t h e
visible a n d its a r t i c u l a t i o n ; similarly, character designates a n d localizes in
o n e a n d t h e s a m e m o v e m e n t . O n t h e o t h e r h a n d , estimative v a l u e b e c o m e s appreciative o n l y b y m e a n s o f a t r a n s f o r m a t i o n ; a n d t h e initial
relation between metal and merchandise becomes only gradually a price
subject to variations. In t h e first case, t h e r e is an exact s u p e r i m p o s i t i o n
o f a t t r i b u t i o n a n d articulation, designation a n d d e r i v a t i o n ; i n t h e second,
a transition l i n k e d t o t h e n a t u r e o f things a n d t o h u m a n activity. W i t h
l a n g u a g e , t h e s y s t e m of signs is passively accepted in its i m p e r f e c t i o n , a n d
o n l y an art can rectify it: t h e t h e o r y of l a n g u a g e is i m m e d i a t e l y p r e scriptive. N a t u r a l h i s t o r y establishes of itself a system of signs for d e n o t i n g
beings, a n d t h a t is w h y it is a t h e o r y . W e a l t h is a system of signs t h a t are
created, m u l t i p l i e d , a n d m o d i f i e d b y m e n ; t h e t h e o r y o f w e a l t h i s linked
t h r o u g h o u t t o politics.
205

THE

ORDER

OF THINGS

H o w e v e r , t h e o t h e r t w o sides o f t h e f u n d a m e n t a l quadrilateral r e m a i n
o p e n . H o w can designation ( a single, precise act) m a k e possible a n a r t i c u lation o f n a t u r e , w e a l t h , a n d representations? H o w , generally s p e a k i n g ,
can t h e t w o o p p o s i t e s e g m e n t s (those o f j u d g e m e n t a n d signification for
l a n g u a g e , o f s t r u c t u r e a n d character for n a t u r a l h i s t o r y , o f v a l u e a n d prices
for t h e t h e o r y o f w e a l t h ) relate t o each o t h e r i n such a w a y a s t o m a k e
possible a l a n g u a g e , a s y s t e m of n a t u r e , a n d t h e u n i n t e r r u p t e d flow of
w e a l t h ? It is h e r e t h a t it b e c o m e s really necessary to suppose t h a t r e p resentations r e s e m b l e o n e a n o t h e r a n d suggest o n e a n o t h e r i n t h e i m a g i n a t i o n ; t h a t n a t u r a l beings a r e i n relations o f adjacency a n d r e s e m b l a n c e t o
o n e a n o t h e r ; a n d t h a t m e n ' s needs c o r r e s p o n d t o o n e a n o t h e r a n d are
capable o f satisfaction. T h e i n t e r c o n n e c t i o n o f representations, t h e u n b r o k e n expanse o f b e i n g s , a n d t h e proliferation o f n a t u r e are still r e q u i r e d if t h e r e is to be l a n g u a g e , if t h e r e is to be a n a t u r a l h i s t o r y , a n d if
i t i s t o b e possible for t h e r e t o b e w e a l t h a n d use o f w e a l t h . T h e c o n t i n u u m
o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n a n d b e i n g , a n o n t o l o g y defined n e g a t i v e l y a s a n absence
of n o t h i n g n e s s , a general representability of b e i n g , a n d b e i n g as expressed
in t h e , p r e s e n c e of r e p r e s e n t a t i o n - all this is i n c l u d e d in t h e total c o n figuration of t h e Classical epistcme. O n e can see in this p r i n c i p l e of c o n tinuity the metaphysically strong m o m e n t of seventeenth- and eighteenthc e n t u r y t h o u g h t (that w h i c h enables t h e f o r m o f t h e p r o p o s i t i o n t o h a v e
a n effective m e a n i n g , s t r u c t u r e t o b e o r d e r e d a s character, a n d t h e v a l u e
o f t h i n g s t o b e calculated a s prices); w h e r e a s t h e relations b e t w e e n a r t i c u lation a n d a t t r i b u t i o n , d e s i g n a t i o n a n d d e r i v a t i o n (that w h i c h p r o v i d e s
a f o u n d a t i o n for j u d g e m e n t o n t h e o n e h a n d a n d for m e a n / h g o n t h e
o t h e r , s t r u c t u r e a n d character, value a n d prices) d e f i n e t h e scientifically
s t r o n g m o m e n t o f t h a t t h o u g h t (that w h i c h m a k e s possible g r a m m a r ,
n a t u r a l h i s t o r y , a n d t h e science o f w e a l t h ) . T h e o r d e r i n g o f e m p i r i c i t y
is thus l i n k e d to t h e o n t o l o g y t h a t characterizes Classical t h o u g h t ; i n d e e d ,
f r o m t h e v e r y outset, this t h o u g h t exists w i t h i n a n o n t o l o g y r e n d e r e d
t r a n s p a r e n t by t h e fact t h a t b e i n g is offered to r e p r e s e n t a t i o n w i t h o u t
i n t e r r u p t i o n ; a n d w i t h i n a r e p r e s e n t a t i o n i l l u m i n a t e d by t h e fact t h a t it
releases t h e c o n t i n u i t y o f b e i n g .
It is n o w possible, f r o m a distance, to characterize t h e m u t a t i o n t h a t
o c c u r r e d i n t h e e n t i r e W e s t e r n episteme t o w a r d s t h e e n d o f t h e e i g h t e e n t h
c e n t u r y b y saying t h a t a scientifically s t r o n g m o m e n t w a s c r e a t e d i n j u s t
t h a t area w h e r e t h e Classical episteme w a s m e t a p h y s i c a l l y s t r o n g ; a n d
t h a t , o n t h e o t h e r h a n d , a philosophical space e m e r g e d i n t h a t v e r y area
w h e r e Classicism h a d m o s t f i r m l y established its epistemological g r i p .
206

EXCHANGING

I n fact, t h e analysis o f p r o d u c t i o n , a s t h e n e w p r o j e c t o f t h e n e w 'political
e c o n o m y ' , has as its essential r o l e t h e analysis of t h e r e l a t i o n b e t w e e n v a l u e
a n d prices; t h e concepts o f o r g a n i s m s a n d o r g a n i c s t r u c t u r e , t h e m e t h o d s
of c o m p a r a t i v e a n a t o m y - in s h o r t , all t h e t h e m e s of t h e n e w ' b i o l o g y ' e x p l a i n h o w structures o b s e r v a b l e i n individuals can h a v e v a l i d i t y a s
g e n e r a l characters for g e n e r a , families, s u b - k i n g d o m s ; a n d lastly, i n o r d e r
to unify t h e f o r m a l a r r a n g e m e n t s of a l a n g u a g e (its ability to establish
propositions) and the meaning belonging to words, 'philology' w o u l d no
l o n g e r s t u d y t h e representative functions o f discourse, b u t a t o t a l i t y o f
m o r p h o l o g i c a l constants subject to a h i s t o r y . P h i l o l o g y , b i o l o g y , a n d
political e c o n o m y w e r e established, n o t i n t h e places f o r m e r l y o c c u p i e d
by general grammar, natural history, a n d t h e analysis of wealth, b u t in an
area w h e r e t h o s e f o r m s o f k n o w l e d g e d i d n o t exist, i n t h e space t h e y left
b l a n k , i n t h e d e e p gaps t h a t separated their b r o a d theoretical s e g m e n t s
a n d t h a t w e r e filled w i t h t h e m u r m u r o f t h e o n t o l o g i c a l c o n t i n u u m . T h e
object o f k n o w l e d g e i n t h e n i n e t e e n t h c e n t u r y i s f o r m e d i n t h e v e r y place
w h e r e t h e Classical p l e n i t u d e of b e i n g has fallen silent.
Inversely, a n e w philosophical space w a s t o e m e r g e i n t h e place w h e r e
t h e objects o f Classical k n o w l e d g e dissolved. T h e m o m e n t o f a t t r i b u t i o n
(as a f o r m of j u d g e m e n t ) a n d t h a t of articulation (as a g e n e r a l p a t t e r n i n g
o f beings) separated, a n d t h u s c r e a t e d t h e p r o b l e m o f t h e relations b e t w e e n a f o r m a l a p o p h a n t i c s a n d a f o r m a l o n t o l o g y ; t h e m o m e n t of
p r i m i t i v e d e s i g n a t i o n a n d that o f d e r i v a t i o n t h r o u g h t i m e also separated,
o p e n i n g up a space in w h i c h t h e r e arose t h e q u e s t i o n of t h e relations
b e t w e e n o r i g i n a l m e a n i n g a n d history. T h u s t h e t w o g r e a t f o r m s o f
m o d e r n p h i l o s o p h i c reflection w e r e established. T h e first questions t h e
relations b e t w e e n logic a n d o n t o l o g y ; i t p r o c e e d s b y t h e paths o f f o r m a lization a n d e n c o u n t e r s , i n a n e w f o r m , t h e p r o b l e m o f mathesis. T h e
s e c o n d questions t h e relations o f signification a n d t i m e ; i t u n d e r t a k e s a n
u n v e i l i n g w h i c h i s n o t a n d p r o b a b l y n e v e r can b e c o m p l e t e d , a n d i t
b r i n g s b a c k i n t o p r o m i n e n c e t h e t h e m e s a n d m e t h o d s o f interpretation.
P r o b a b l y t h e m o s t f u n d a m e n t a l q u e s t i o n t h a t can p r e s e n t itself t o p h i l o s o p h y , t h e n , concerns t h e relation b e t w e e n these t w o f o r m s o f reflection.
I t i s certainly n o t w i t h i n t h e p r o v i n c e o f a r c h a e o l o g y t o say w h e t h e r this
relation i s possible, o r h o w i t c o u l d b e p r o v i d e d w i t h a f o u n d a t i o n ; b u t
a r c h a e o l o g y can designate t h e r e g i o n in w h i c h t h a t relation seeks to exist,
i n w h a t area o f t h e episteme m o d e r n p h i l o s o p h y a t t e m p t s t o f i n d its
u n i t y , i n w h a t p o i n t o f k n o w l e d g e i t discovers its b r o a d e s t d o m a i n : i n
such a place t h e f o r m a l (in a p o p h a n t i c s a n d o n t o l o g y ) w o u l d m e e t t h e
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significative as illuminated in i n t e r p r e t a t i o n . T h e essential p r o b l e m of C l a s sical t h o u g h t lay in t h e relations b e t w e e n name a n d order: h o w to discover a
nomenclature t h a t w o u l d be a taxonomy, or again, h o w to establish a s y s t e m
o f signs t h a t w o u l d b e transparent t o t h e c o n t i n u i t y o f b e i n g . W h a t m o d e r n
t h o u g h t is to t h r o w f u n d a m e n t a l l y i n t o q u e s t i o n is t h e relation of m e a n i n g
w i t h the form of truth and the form of being: in the firmament of o u r
reflection t h e r e reigns a discourse - a p e r h a p s inaccessible discourse w h i c h w o u l d a t t h e s a m e t i m e b e a n o n t o l o g y a n d a semantics. S t r u c t u r a l ism is n o t a n e w m e t h o d ; it is t h e a w a k e n e d a n d t r o u b l e d consciousness
of modern thought.

VIII

DESIRE

AND

REPRESENTATION

T h e m e n o f t h e s e v e n t e e n t h a n d e i g h t e e n t h centuries d o n o t t h i n k o f
w e a l t h , n a t u r e , o r languages i n t e r m s that had been b e q u e a t h e d t o t h e m
b y p r e c e d i n g ages o r i n f o r m s t h a t presaged w h a t w a s s o o n t o b e disc o v e r e d ; t h e y t h i n k o f t h e m i n t e r m s o f a general a r r a n g e m e n t t h a t n o t
o n l y prescribes their concepts a n d m e t h o d s , b u t also, m o r e f u n d a m e n t a l l y ,
defines a certain m o d e of b e i n g for l a n g u a g e , n a t u r a l individuals, a n d t h e
objects o f n e e d a n d desire; this m o d e o f b e i n g i s t h a t o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n .
As a result, a w h o l e c o m m o n g r o u n d appears u p o n w h i c h t h e history of
t h e sciences figures as a surface effect. T h i s does n o t m e a n that it can n o w
be left to o n e side; b u t t h a t a reflection u p o n t h e h i s t o r y of a particular
b r a n c h o f k n o w l e d g e can n o l o n g e r c o n t e n t itself w i t h f o l l o w i n g t h e
d e v e l o p m e n t of t h a t b o d y of k n o w l e d g e in a t e m p o r a l sequence; such a
b o d y of k n o w l e d g e is n o t , in fact, a p h e n o m e n o n of h e r e d i t y a n d t r a d i t i o n ; a n d o n e does n o t e x p l a i n h o w i t c a m e a b o u t s i m p l y b y describing
t h e state o f k n o w l e d g e t h a t p r e c e d e d i t a n d w h a t i t has p r o v i d e d b y w a y
o f - a s w e say - ' o r i g i n a l c o n t r i b u t i o n s ' . T h e h i s t o r y o f k n o w l e d g e can
b e w r i t t e n o n l y o n t h e basis o f w h a t w a s c o n t e m p o r a n e o u s w i t h it, a n d
certainly n o t i n t e r m s o f reciprocal influence, b u t i n t e r m s o f c o n d i t i o n s
a n d a prioris established in t i m e . It is in this sense t h a t a r c h a e o l o g y can g i v e
an a c c o u n t of t h e existence of a general g r a m m a r , a n a t u r a l h i s t o r y , a n d an
analysis of w e a l t h , a n d t h u s o p e n up a free, u n d i v i d e d area in w h i c h t h e
h i s t o r y o f t h e sciences, t h e h i s t o r y o f ideas, a n d t h e h i s t o r y o f o p i n i o n s
can, if t h e y w i s h , frolic at ease.
T h o u g h t h e analyses o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , l a n g u a g e , n a t u r a l o r d e r s ,
a n d w e a l t h are perfectly c o h e r e n t a n d h o m o g e n e o u s w i t h r e g a r d t o
o n e a n o t h e r , t h e r e exists, nevertheless, a p r o f o u n d d i s e q u i l i b r i u m . F o r
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EXCHANGING

r e p r e s e n t a t i o n g o v e r n s t h e m o d e o f b e i n g o f l a n g u a g e , individuals, n a t u r e ,
a n d n e e d itself. T h e analysis of representation therefore has a d e t e r m i n i n g
v a l u e for all t h e empirical d o m a i n s . T h e w h o l e Classical s y s t e m o f o r d e r ,
t h e w h o l e o f that great taxinomia t h a t m a k e s i t possible t o k n o w things
b y m e a n s o f t h e s y s t e m o f their identities, i s u n f o l d e d w i t h i n t h e space
t h a t is o p e n e d up inside representation w h e n representation represents
itself, t h a t area w h e r e b e i n g a n d t h e S a m e reside. L a n g u a g e is s i m p l y t h e
representation of w o r d s ; nature is simply the representation of beings;
n e e d i s s i m p l y t h e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n o f needs. T h e e n d o f Classical t h o u g h t a n d o f t h e episteme t h a t m a d e general g r a m m a r , n a t u r a l h i s t o r y , a n d t h e
science o f w e a l t h possible - will coincide w i t h t h e decline o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , o r r a t h e r w i t h t h e e m a n c i p a t i o n o f l a n g u a g e , o f t h e living b e i n g , a n d
o f n e e d , w i t h r e g a r d t o r e p r e s e n t a t i o n . T h e o b s c u r e b u t s t u b b o r n spirit o f
a p e o p l e w h o talk, t h e v i o l e n c e a n d t h e endless effort of life, t h e h i d d e n
e n e r g y o f needs, w e r e all t o escape f r o m t h e m o d e o f b e i n g o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n . A n d r e p r e s e n t a t i o n itself w a s t o b e paralleled, limited, c i r c u m s c r i b e d ,
m o c k e d p e r h a p s , b u t i n a n y case regulated f r o m t h e o u t s i d e , b y t h e e n o r m o u s thrust of a f r e e d o m , a desire, or a will, posited as t h e m e t a p h y s i c a l
c o n v e r s e of consciousness. S o m e t h i n g like a will or a force w a s to arise in
t h e m o d e r n e x p e r i e n c e - c o n s t i t u t i n g it p e r h a p s , b u t in a n y case i n d i c a t i n g
t h a t t h e Classical age w a s n o w o v e r , a n d w i t h i t t h e r e i g n o f representative
discourse, t h e d y n a s t y of a representation signifying itself a n d g i v i n g
v o i c e i n t h e sequence o f its w o r d s t o t h e o r d e r that lay d o r m a n t w i t h i n
things.
T h i s reversal i s c o n t e m p o r a n e o u s w i t h Sade. O r r a t h e r , t h a t i n e x h a u s t ible b o d y o f w o r k manifests t h e precarious balance b e t w e e n t h e l a w
w i t h o u t l a w o f desire a n d t h e m e t i c u l o u s o r d e r i n g o f discursive r e p r e s e n t a t i o n . H e r e , t h e o r d e r of discourse finds its L i m i t a n d its L a w ; b u t it is
still s t r o n g e n o u g h t o r e m a i n coexistensive w i t h t h e v e r y t h i n g t h a t
g o v e r n s it. H e r e , w i t h o u t d o u b t , i s t h e principle o f t h a t ' l i b e r t i n a g e ' w h i c h
w a s t h e last i n t h e W e s t e r n w o r l d (after i t t h e a g e o f sexuality b e g i n s ) :
t h e libertine is he w h o , w h i l e y i e l d i n g to all t h e fantasies of desire a n d to
each of its furies, can, b u t also m u s t , i l l u m i n e their slightest m o v e m e n t
w i t h a lucid a n d deliberately elucidated r e p r e s e n t a t i o n . T h e r e is a strict
o r d e r g o v e r n i n g t h e life o f t h e libertine: e v e r y r e p r e s e n t a t i o n m u s t b e
i m m e d i a t e l y e n d o w e d w i t h life i n t h e living b o d y o f desire, e v e r y desire
m u s t be expressed in t h e p u r e light of a representative discourse. H e n c e
t h a t rigid sequence o f ' s c e n e s ' (the scene, in Sade, is profligacy subjected to
t h e o r d e r o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n ) a n d , w i t h i n t h e scenes, t h e m e t i c u l o u s balance
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b e t w e e n t h e c o n j u g a t i o n o f bodies a n d t h e c o n c a t e n a t i o n o f reasons.
Possibly Justine a n d Juliette a r e in t h e s a m e position on t h e t h r e s h o l d of
m o d e r n c u l t u r e as t b a t o c c u p i e d by Don Quixote b e t w e e n t h e Renaissance
a n d Classicism. C e r v a n t e s ' s h e r o , c o n s t r u i n g t h e relations o f w o r l d a n d
l a n g u a g e a s p e o p l e h a d d o n e i n t h e sixteenth c e n t u r y , d e c o d i n g inns i n t o
castles a n d f a r m girls i n t o ladies w i t h n o o t h e r k e y t h a n t h e p l a y o f r e semblance, was imprisoning himself w i t h o u t k n o w i n g it in the m o d e of
p u r e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n ; b u t since this r e p r e s e n t a t i o n h a d n o o t h e r l a w b u t
similitude, i t c o u l d n o t fail t o b e c o m e visible i n t h e a b s u r d f o r m o f m a d ness. N o w , i n t h e second p a r t o f t h e n o v e l , D o n Q u i x o t e received his
t r u t h a n d his l a w f r o m t h a t r e p r e s e n t e d w o r l d ; h e h a d n o t h i n g m o r e t o
e x p e c t f r o m t h e b o o k i n w h i c h h e w a s b o r n , w h i c h h e h a d n o t read b u t
w h o s e course h e w a s b o u n d t o follow, b u t a fate h e n c e f o r t h i m p o s e d u p o n
h i m b y o t h e r s . H e h a d o n l y t o a l l o w h i m s e l f t o live i n a castle i n w h i c h h e
himself, h a v i n g p e n e t r a t e d b y m e a n s o f his m a d n e s s i n t o t h e w o r l d o f
p u r e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , finally b e c a m e a m e r e character in t h e artifice of a
r e p r e s e n t a t i o n . Sade's characters c o r r e s p o n d t o h i m a t t h e o t h e r e n d o f t h e
Classical age, a t t h e m o m e n t o f its decline. I t i s n o l o n g e r t h e i r o n i c
t r i u m p h of r e p r e s e n t a t i o n o v e r r e s e m b l a n c e ; it is t h e o b s c u r e a n d r e p e a t e d
v i o l e n c e o f desire b a t t e r i n g a t t h e limits o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n . Justine w o u l d
c o r r e s p o n d to t h e second p a r t of Don Quixote: she is t h e u n a t t a i n a b l e
object o f t h e desire o f w h i c h she i s t h e p u r e o r i g i n , j u s t a s D o n Q u i x o t e
is, despite himself, t h e object of t h e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n w h i c h he also is in
t h e d e p t h o f his b e i n g . I n J u s t i n e , desire a n d r e p r e s e n t a t i o n c o m m u n i c a t e
o n l y t h r o u g h t h e presence o f A n o t h e r w h o represents t h e h e r o i n e t o
h i m s e l f as an object of desire, w h i l e she herself k n o w s n o t h i n g of desire
o t h e r t h a n its d i a p h a n o u s , distant, e x t e r i o r , a n d icy f o r m as r e p r e s e n t a t i o n . S u c h is h e r m i s f o r t u n e : h e r i n n o c e n c e acts as a p e r p e t u a l c h a p e r o n e
b e t w e e n desire a n d its r e p r e s e n t a t i o n . Juliette, o n t h e o t h e r h a n d , i s n o
m o r e t h a n t h e subject of all possible desires; b u t those desires are carried
o v e r , w i t h o u t a n y r e s i d u u m , i n t o t h e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n that p r o v i d e s t h e m
w i t h a reasonable f o u n d a t i o n in discourse a n d transforms t h e m s p o n t a n eously i n t o scenes. So t h a t t h e g r e a t n a r r a t i v e of Juliette's life reveals,
t h r o u g h o u t t h e desire, violence, savagery, a n d d e a t h , the g l i t t e r i n g table
of r e p r e s e n t a t i o n . B u t this table is so thin, so t r a n s p a r e n t to all t h e figures
o f desire t h a t u n t i r i n g l y a c c u m u l a t e w i t h i n i t a n d m u l t i p l y t h e r e s i m p l y
by t h e force of their c o m b i n a t i o n , t h a t it is j u s t as l a c k i n g in reason as t h a t
o f D o n Q u i x o t e , w h e n h e believed h i m s e l f t o b e p r o g r e s s i n g , f r o m similit u d e t o similitude, a l o n g t h e c o m m i n g l e d paths o f t h e w o r l d a n d b o o k s ,
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b u t w a s i n fact g e t t i n g m o r e a n d m o r e e n t a n g l e d i n t h e l a b y r i n t h o f his
o w n r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s . Juliette thins o u t this inspissation o f t h e r e p r e s e n t e d
s o that, w i t h o u t the slightest b l e m i s h , the slightest r e t i c e n c e , the slightest
v e i l , all t h e possibilities o f desire m a y rise t o t h e surface.
W i t h that, this s t o r y closes t h e C l a s s i c a l a g e u p o n itself, j u s t a s Don
Quixote h a d o p e n e d it. A n d t h o u g h it is t r u e t h a t this is the last l a n g u a g e
still c o n t e m p o r a n e o u s w i t h R o u s s e a u a n d R a c i n e , t h o u g h i t i s t h e last
d i s c o u r s e that u n d e r t a k e s t o ' r e p r e s e n t ' , t o name, w e are w e l l e n o u g h a w a r e
that i t s i m u l t a n e o u s l y r e d u c e s this c e r e m o n y t o t h e u t m o s t p r e c i s i o n (it
calls t h i n g s b y their strict n a m e , thus e l i m i n a t i n g t h e s p a c e o c c u p i e d b y
rhetoric) and extends it to infinity (by n a m i n g e v e r y t h i n g , i n c l u d i n g the
slightest o f possibilities, f o r t h e y are all t r a v e r s e d i n a c c o r d a n c e w i t h t h e
U n i v e r s a l C h a r a c t e r i s t i c o f D e s i r e ) . S a d e attains the e n d o f C l a s s i c a l d i s c o u r s e a n d t h o u g h t . H e h o l d s s w a y p r e c i s e l y u p o n t h e i r frontier. A f t e r
h i m , v i o l e n c e , life a n d d e a t h , desire, a n d s e x u a l i t y w i l l e x t e n d , b e l o w t h e
l e v e l o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , a n i m m e n s e e x p a n s e o f s h a d e w h i c h w e are n o w
a t t e m p t i n g t o r e c o v e r , a s far a s w e c a n , i n o u r d i s c o u r s e , i n o u r f r e e d o m ,
i n o u r t h o u g h t . B u t o u r t h o u g h t i s s o brief, o u r f r e e d o m s o e n s l a v e d , o u r
d i s c o u r s e s o r e p e t i t i v e , that w e m u s t face t h e fact t h a t that e x p a n s e o f
s h a d e b e l o w is r e a l l y a b o t t o m l e s s sea. T h e p r o s p e r i t i e s of Juliette are still
m o r e s o l i t a r y - a n d endless.

PART 2

CHAPTER

7

The Limits of Representation
I

T H E A G E OF

HISTORY

T h e last years o f t h e e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y are b r o k e n b y a d i s c o n t i n u i t y
similar t o t h a t w h i c h d e s t r o y e d Renaissance t h o u g h t a t t h e b e g i n n i n g o f
t h e s e v e n t e e n t h ; t h e n , t h e g r e a t circular f o r m s i n w h i c h similitude w a s
enclosed w e r e dislocated a n d o p e n e d s o that t h e table o f identities c o u l d
b e u n f o l d e d ; a n d t h a t table i s n o w a b o u t t o b e d e s t r o y e d i n t u r n , w h i l e
k n o w l e d g e takes up residence in a n e w space - a d i s c o n t i n u i t y as e n i g m a t i c in its principle, in its o r i g i n a l r u p t u r e , as t h a t w h i c h separates t h e
Paracelsian circles f r o m t h e Cartesian o r d e r . W h e r e d i d this u n e x p e c t e d
m o b i l i t y o f epistemological a r r a n g e m e n t s u d d e n l y c o m e f r o m , o r t h e drift
of positivities in relation to o n e a n o t h e r , o r , d e e p e r still, t h e alteration in
their m o d e o f b e i n g ? H o w i s i t t h a t t h o u g h t detaches itself f r o m t h e
squares it i n h a b i t e d before - general g r a m m a r , n a t u r a l h i s t o r y , w e a l t h a n d allows w h a t less t h a n t w e n t y years before h a d b e e n posited a n d
affirmed i n t h e l u m i n o u s space o f u n d e r s t a n d i n g t o t o p p l e d o w n i n t o
e r r o r , into t h e r e a l m o f fantasy, i n t o n o n - k n o w l e d g e ? W h a t event, w h a t
l a w d o t h e y o b e y , these m u t a t i o n s that s u d d e n l y decide t h a t things a r e n o
l o n g e r perceived, describes, expressed, characterized, classified, a n d k n o w n
in t h e s a m e w a y , a n d that it is no l o n g e r w e a l t h , living beings, a n d disc o u r s e t h a t are presented t o k n o w l e d g e i n t h e interstices o f w o r d s o r
t h r o u g h their t r a n s p a r e n c y , b u t beings radically different f r o m t h e m ? F o r
a n a r c h a e o l o g y o f k n o w l e d g e , this p r o f o u n d b r e a c h i n t h e e x p a n s e o f
continuities, t h o u g h i t m u s t b e analysed, a n d m i n u t e l y so, c a n n o t b e
'explained* or e v e n s u m m e d up in a single w o r d . It is a radical e v e n t t h a t
is d i s t r i b u t e d across t h e entire visible surface of k n o w l e d g e , a n d w h o s e
signs, shocks, a n d effects it is possible to f o l l o w step by step. O n l y t h o u g h t
r e - a p p r e h e n d i n g itself a t t h e r o o t o f its o w n history c o u l d p r o v i d e a
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OF THINGS

f o u n d a t i o n , entirely free o f doubt, for w h a t t h e solitary t r u t h o f this
e v e n t w a s in itself.
A r c h a e o l o g y , h o w e v e r , m u s t e x a m i n e each e v e n t i n t e r m s o f its o w n
evident arrangement; it will recount h o w the configurations proper to
each positivity w e r e m o d i f i e d (in t h e case of g r a m m a r , for e x a m p l e , it
will analyse t h e eclipse o f t h e m a j o r r o l e h i t h e r t o a c c o r d e d t o t h e n a m e ,
a n d t h e n e w i m p o r t a n c e o f systems o f inflection; o r , a n o t h e r e x a m p l e , t h e
s u b o r d i n a t i o n of character to function in living b e i n g s ) ; it will analyse t h e
alteration o f the empirical entities w h i c h inhabit t h e positivities (the s u b stitution o f languages for discourse, o f p r o d u c t i o n for w e a l t h ) ; i t w i l l
s t u d y the d i s p l a c e m e n t of t h e positivities each in relation to t h e others (for
e x a m p l e , t h e n e w relation b e t w e e n b i o l o g y , t h e sciences o f l a n g u a g e , a n d
e c o n o m i c s ) ; lastly, a n d a b o v e all, i t w i l l s h o w t h a t t h e general area o f
k n o w l e d g e i s n o l o n g e r t h a t o f identities a n d differences, that o f n o n q u a n t i t a t i v e o r d e r s , t h a t of a universal characterization, of a general taxinomia, of a n o n - m e a s u r a b l e mathesis, b u t an area m a d e up of o r g a n i c
structures, that is, o f internal relations b e t w e e n elements w h o s e totality
p e r f o r m s a function; it will s h o w that these o r g a n i c structures are d i s c o n t i n u o u s , t h a t t h e y d o n o t , therefore, f o r m a table o f u n b r o k e n s i m u l taneities, b u t t h a t certain o f t h e m are o n t h e s a m e level w h e r e a s o t h e r s
f o r m series or linear sequences. So t h a t we see e m e r g i n g , as t h e o r g a n i z i n g
principles of this space of empiricities, Analogy a n d Succession: t h e l i n k
b e t w e e n o n e o r g a n i c s t r u c t u r e a n d a n o t h e r can n o l o n g e r , i n fact, b e t h e
i d e n t i t y o f o n e o r several e l e m e n t s , b u t m u s t b e t h e i d e n t i t y o f t h e relation
b e t w e e n t h e elements (a relation in w h i c h visibility no l o n g e r plays a role)
a n d o f t h e functions t h e y p e r f o r m ; m o r e o v e r , i f these o r g a n i c structures
h a p p e n t o b e adjacent t o o n e a n o t h e r , o n a c c o u n t o f a p a r t i c u l a r l y h i g h
density of analogies, it is n o t because t h e y o c c u p y p r o x i m a t e places
w i t h i n an area of classification; it is because t h e y h a v e b o t h b e e n f o r m e d at
t h e s a m e t i m e , a n d t h e o n e i m m e d i a t e l y after t h e o t h e r i n t h e e m e r g e n c e
o f t h e successions. W h e r e a s i n Classical t h o u g h t t h e sequence o f c h r o n o logies m e r e l y scanned t h e p r i o r a n d m o r e f u n d a m e n t a l space of a table
w h i c h p r e s e n t e d all possibilities i n a d v a n c e , f r o m n o w o n , t h e c o n t e m p o r a n e o u s a n d s i m u l t a n e o u s l y o b s e r v a b l e resemblances i n space will b e
s i m p l y t h e fixed f o r m s o f a succession w h i c h p r o c e e d s f r o m a n a l o g y t o
a n a l o g y . T h e Classical o r d e r distributed across a p e r m a n e n t space t h e n o n q u a n t i t a t i v e identities a n d differences t h a t separated a n d u n i t e d t h i n g s : it
was this o r d e r t h a t h e l d s o v e r e i g n s w a y - t h o u g h in each case in a c c o r d ance w i t h slightly differing f o r m s a n d laws - o v e r m e n ' s discourse, t h e
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table o f n a t u r a l b e i n g s , a n d t h e e x c h a n g e o f w e a l t h . F r o m t h e n i n e t e e n t h
c e n t u r y , H i s t o r y w a s to d e p l o y , in a t e m p o r a l series, t h e analogies t h a t
c o n n e c t distinct o r g a n i c structures t o o n e a n o t h e r . T h i s s a m e H i s t o r y will
also, progressively, i m p o s e its laws o n t h e analysis o f p r o d u c t i o n , t h e
analysis o f o r g a n i c a l l y s t r u c t u r e d beings, a n d , lastly, o n t h e analysis o f
linguistic g r o u p s . H i s t o r y gives place to analogical o r g a n i c structures, j u s t
as O r d e r o p e n e d t h e w a y to successive identities a n d differences.
O b v i o u s l y , H i s t o r y in this sense is n o t to be u n d e r s t o o d as t h e c o m pilation of factual successions or sequences as t h e y m a y h a v e o c c u r r e d ; it
i s t h e f u n d a m e n t a l m o d e o f b e i n g o f empiricities, u p o n t h e basis o f w h i c h
t h e y are affirmed, posited, a r r a n g e d , a n d distributed i n t h e space o f k n o w l e d g e for t h e use of such disciplines or sciences as m a y arise. J u s t as O r d e r
i n Classical t h o u g h t w a s n o t t h e visible h a r m o n y o f things, o r their
o b s e r v e d a r r a n g e m e n t , r e g u l a r i t y , o r s y m m e t r y , b u t t h e particular space
o f their b e i n g , t h a t w h i c h , p r i o r t o all effective k n o w l e d g e , established
t h e m i n t h e field o f k n o w l e d g e , s o H i s t o r y , f r o m t h e n i n e t e e n t h c e n t u r y ,
defines t h e b i r t h p l a c e o f t h e empirical, t h a t f r o m w h i c h , p r i o r t o all
established c h r o n o l o g y , it derives its o w n b e i n g . It is no d o u b t because of
this t h a t H i s t o r y b e c o m e s s o s o o n divided, i n a c c o r d a n c e w i t h a n a m b i g u i t y t h a t it is p r o b a b l y impossible to c o n t r o l , i n t o an empirical science of
events a n d t h a t radical m o d e o f b e i n g t h a t prescribes their destiny t o all
e m p i r i c a l b e i n g s , t o t h o s e particular beings t h a t w e are. H i s t o r y , a s w e
k n o w , i s c e r t a i n l y t h e m o s t erudite, t h e m o s t a w a r e , t h e m o s t conscious,
a n d possibly t h e m o s t cluttered area o f o u r m e m o r y ; b u t i t i s equally t h e
d e p t h s f r o m w h i c h all beings e m e r g e i n t o their precarious, g l i t t e r i n g
existence. Since it is t h e m o d e of b e i n g of all t h a t is g i v e n us in e x p e r i e n c e ,
H i s t o r y has b e c o m e t h e u n a v o i d a b l e e l e m e n t i n o u r t h o u g h t : i n this
respect, it is p r o b a b l y n o t so v e r y different f r o m Classical O r d e r . Classical
O r d e r , t o o , c o u l d be established as a f r a m e w o r k for a c q u i r e d k n o w l e d g e ,
b u t i t w a s m o r e f u n d a m e n t a l l y t h e space i n w h i c h e v e r y b e i n g a p p r o a c h e d
m a n ' s consciousness; a n d t h e Classical m e t a p h y s i c resided precisely in t h a t
g a p b e t w e e n o r d e r a n d O r d e r , b e t w e e n classifications a n d I d e n t i t y , b e t w e e n n a t u r a l b e i n g s a n d N a t u r e ; i n short, b e t w e e n m e n ' s p e r c e p t i o n (or
i m a g i n a t i o n ) a n d t h e u n d e r s t a n d i n g a n d will o f G o d . I n t h e n i n e t e e n t h
c e n t u r y , p h i l o s o p h y w a s t o reside i n t h e g a p b e t w e e n h i s t o r y a n d H i s t o r y ,
b e t w e e n events a n d t h e O r i g i n , b e t w e e n e v o l u t i o n a n d t h e first r e n d i n g
o p e n o f t h e s o u r c e , b e t w e e n o b l i v i o n a n d t h e R e t u r n . I t will b e M e t a physics, t h e r e f o r e , o n l y in so far as it is M e m o r y , a n d it w i l l necessarily
lead t h o u g h t b a c k t o t h e q u e s t i o n o f k n o w i n g w h a t i t m e a n s for t h o u g h t
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t o h a v e a history. T h i s q u e s t i o n w a s t o bear d o w n u p o n p h i l o s o p h y ,
heavily a n d tirelessly, f r o m H e g e l t o N i e t z s c h e a n d b e y o n d . B u t w e m u s t
n o t see this as t h e e n d of an a u t o n o m o u s philosophical reflection t h a t
c a m e t o o early, a n d w a s t o o p r o u d t o lean, exclusively, u p o n w h a t w a s
said before it a n d by o t h e r s ; let us n o t use this as a p r e t e x t for d i s p a r a g i n g
a t h o u g h t powerless to stand on its o w n feet, a n d a l w a y s forced to find
s u p p o r t b y w i n d i n g itself a r o u n d a p r e v i o u s l y established b o d y o f t h o u g h t .
It is e n o u g h to r e c o g n i z e h e r e a p h i l o s o p h y d e p r i v e d of a certain m e t a physics because it has b e e n separated off f r o m t h e space of o r d e r , y e t
d o o m e d to T i m e , to its flux a n d its r e t u r n s , because it is t r a p p e d in t h e
m o d e of being of History.
B u t w e m u s t r e t u r n i n a little m o r e detail t o w h a t h a p p e n e d a t t h e e n d
o f t h e e i g h t e e n t h a n d t h e b e g i n n i n g o f t h e n i n e t e e n t h c e n t u r y : t o that t o o
sketchily o u t l i n e d m u t a t i o n o f O r d e r i n t o H i s t o r y , a n d t o t h e f u n d a m e n t a l
modification of those positivities w h i c h , for n e a r l y a c e n t u r y a n d a half,
h a d g i v e n place t o s o m a n y adjacent k i n d s o f k n o w l e d g e - analysis o f
representations, general g r a m m a r , n a t u r a l h i s t o r y , reflections o n w e a l t h a n d
t r a d e . H o w w e r e these w a y s of o r d e r i n g e m p i r i c i t y - discourse, t h e table,
exchange - eclipsed? In w h a t n e w space, a n d in a c c o r d a n c e w i t h w h a t
forms, h a v e w o r d s , beings, a n d objects o f n e e d t a k e n their places a n d
a r r a n g e d themselves i n relation t o o n e a n o t h e r ? W h a t n e w m o d e o f b e i n g
m u s t t h e y h a v e received i n o r d e r t o m a k e all these changes possible, a n d
t o enable t o a p p e a r , after scarcely m o r e t h a n a f e w years, those n o w
familiar f o r m s o f k n o w l e d g e that w e h a v e called, since t h e n i n e t e e n t h
c e n t u r y , philology, biology, a n d economics? We t e n d to i m a g i n e t h a t if these
n e w d o m a i n s w e r e defined d u r i n g t h e last c e n t u r y , it was s i m p l y t h a t a
slight increase i n t h e objectivity o f k n o w l e d g e , i n t h e precision o f o b s e r v a tion, i n t h e r i g o u r o f o u r r e a s o n i n g , i n t h e o r g a n i z a t i o n o f scientific
research a n d i n f o r m a t i o n - t h a t all this, w i t h t h e aid of a f e w f o r t u n a t e
discoveries, themselves h e l p e d by a little g o o d l u c k or genius, enabled us
to e m e r g e f r o m a p r e h i s t o r i c a g e in w h i c h k n o w l e d g e w a s still s t a m m e r i n g
o u t t h e Grammaire de Port-Royal, t h e classifications of L i n n a e u s , a n d t h e
theories o f t r a d e o r a g r i c u l t u r e . B u t t h o u g h w e m a y indeed talk o f p r e history from the point of v i e w of the rationality of learning, from the
p o i n t o f v i e w o f positivities w e can speak, q u i t e s i m p l y , o f h i s t o r y . A n d
it t o o k a f u n d a m e n t a l e v e n t - certainly o n e of t h e m o s t radical t h a t e v e r
o c c u r r e d i n W e s t e r n c u l t u r e - t o b r i n g a b o u t t h e dissolution o f t h e
positivity o f Classical k n o w l e d g e , a n d t o c o n s t i t u t e a n o t h e r positivity
f r o m w h i c h , even n o w , w e h a v e doubtless n o t entirely e m e r g e d .
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T h i s e v e n t , p r o b a b l y because we are still c a u g h t inside it, is largely
b e y o n d o u r c o m p r e h e n s i o n . Its scope, t h e d e p t h o f t h e strata i t has
affected, all t h e positivities it has succeeded in d i s i n t e g r a t i n g a n d r e c o m p o s i n g , t h e s o v e r e i g n p o w e r t h a t has enabled it, in o n l y a few y e a r s , to
traverse t h e e n t i r e space o f o u r c u l t u r e , all this c o u l d b e appraised a n d
m e a s u r e d o n l y after a quasi-infinite investigation c o n c e r n e d w i t h n o t h i n g
m o r e n o r less t h a n t h e v e r y b e i n g o f o u r m o d e r n i t y . T h e c o n s t i t u t i o n o f
s o m a n y positive sciences, t h e a p p e a r a n c e o f literature, t h e folding b a c k
o f p h i l o s o p h y u p o n its o w n d e v e l o p m e n t , t h e e m e r g e n c e o f h i s t o r y a s
b o t h k n o w l e d g e and the m o d e of being of empiricity, are only so m a n y
signs o f a d e e p e r r u p t u r e . Signs scattered t h r o u g h t h e space o f k n o w l e d g e ,
since t h e y a l l o w themselves t o b e p e r c e i v e d i n t h e f o r m a t i o n , h e r e o f
p h i l o l o g y , t h e r e o f e c o n o m i c s , t h e r e again o f b i o l o g y . T h e y are c h r o n o logically scattered t o o : t r u e , t h e p h e n o m e n o n as a w h o l e can be situated
b e t w e e n easily assignable dates (the o u t e r limits are t h e years 1 7 7 5 a n d
1 8 2 5 ) ; b u t i n e a c h o f t h e d o m a i n s studied w e can p e r c e i v e t w o successive
phases, w h i c h a r e articulated o n e u p o n t h e o t h e r m o r e o r less a r o u n d t h e
years 1 7 9 5 - 1 8 0 0 . I n t h e first o f these phases, t h e f u n d a m e n t a l m o d e o f
b e i n g o f t h e positivities d o e s n o t c h a n g e ; m e n ' s riches, t h e species o f
n a t u r e , a n d t h e w o r d s w i t h w h i c h languages are p e o p l e d , still r e m a i n w h a t
t h e y w e r e in t h e Classical a g e : d o u b l e representations - representations
w h o s e r o l e i s t o designate representations, t o analyse t h e m , t o c o m p o s e
and decompose t h e m in order to bring into being within them, together
w i t h t h e s y s t e m o f their identities a n d differences, t h e g e n e r a l p r i n c i p l e o f
an o r d e r . It is o n l y in t h e second phase t h a t w o r d s , classes, a n d w e a l t h
will a c q u i r e a m o d e o f b e i n g n o l o n g e r c o m p a t i b l e w i t h t h a t o f r e p r e sentation. O n t h e o t h e r h a n d , w h a t i s m o d i f i e d v e r y early o n , b e g i n n i n g
w i t h t h e analyses o f A d a m S m i t h , A - L . d e Jussieu, o r V i c q d ' A z y r , a t
the time of Jones or Anquetil-Duperron, is the configuration of positivities: t h e w a y i n w h i c h , w i t h i n each o n e , t h e r e p r e s e n t a t i v e e l e m e n t s f u n c t i o n i n relation t o o n e a n o t h e r , i n w h i c h t h e y p e r f o r m their d o u b l e r o l e
a s d e s i g n a t i o n a n d articulation, i n w h i c h t h e y succeed, ,by m e a n s o f t h e
i n t e r p l a y of c o m p a r i s o n s , in establishing an o r d e r . It is this first phase t h a t
will be investigated in t h e present c h a p t e r .

II

THE MEASURE OF L A B O U R

It is often asserted that A d a m S m i t h f o u n d e d m o d e r n political e c o n o m y o n e m i g h t say e c o n o m i c s tout court - by i n t r o d u c i n g t h e c o n c e p t of l a b o u r
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i n t o a d o m a i n o f reflection n o t p r e v i o u s l y a w a r e o f it: all t h e o l d analyses
o f m o n e y , t r a d e , a n d e x c h a n g e w e r e r e l e g a t e d a t a single b l o w t o a
prehistoric a g e o f k n o w l e d g e - w i t h t h e o n e possible e x c e p t i o n o f t h e
P h y s i o c r a t i c d o c t r i n e , w h i c h i s a c c o r d e d t h e m e r i t o f h a v i n g a t least
a t t e m p t e d t h e analysis o f a g r i c u l t u r a l p r o d u c t i o n . I t i s t r u e t h a t f r o m t h e
v e r y outset A d a m S m i t h relates t h e n o t i o n o f w e a l t h t o t h a t o f l a b o u r :
T h e a n n u a l l a b o u r o f e v e r y n a t i o n i s t h e fund w h i c h o r i g i n a l l y supplies
it w i t h all t h e necessaries a n d c o n v e n i e n c e s of life w h i c h it a n n u a l l y c o n s u m e s , a n d w h i c h consist a l w a y s either i n t h e i m m e d i a t e p r o d u c e o f t h a t
l a b o u r , o r i n w h a t i s p u r c h a s e d w i t h t h a t p r o d u c e f r o m o t h e r nations [ i ] ;
it is also t r u e that S m i t h relates t h e ' v a l u e in u s e ' of t h i n g s to m e n ' s n e e d s ,
a n d t h e i r ' v a l u e i n e x c h a n g e ' t o t h e q u a n t i t y o f l a b o u r applied t o its
production:
T h e v a l u e o f a n y c o m m o d i t y , t h e r e f o r e , t o t h e p e r s o n w h o possesses it,
a n d w h o m e a n s n o t t o use o r c o n s u m e i t himself, b u t t o e x c h a n g e i t
for o t h e r c o m m o d i t i e s , i s e q u a l t o t h e q u a n t i t y o f l a b o u r w h i c h i t
enables h i m t o p u r c h a s e o r c o m m a n d [ 2 ] .
I n fact, t h e difference b e t w e e n S m i t h ' s analyses a n d t h o s e o f T u r g o t o r
C a n t i l l o n is less t h a n is s u p p o s e d ; o r , r a t h e r , it does n o t lie w h e r e it is
g e n e r a l l y believed t o lie. F r o m t h e t i m e o f C a n t i l l o n , a n d e v e n before
h i m , t h e distinction b e t w e e n v a l u e i n use a n d v a l u e i n e x c h a n g e w a s
b e i n g clearly m a d e ; a n d again, f r o m C a n t i l l o n , q u a n t i t y o f l a b o u r w a s
b e i n g used a s a m e a s u r e m e n t o f t h e latter. B u t t h e q u a n t i t y o f l a b o u r
inscribed i n t h e p r i c e o f t h i n g s w a s n o m o r e t h a n a relative a n d r e d u c i b l e
t o o l o f m e a s u r e m e n t . A m a n ' s l a b o u r w a s i n fact e q u a l t o t h e v a l u e o f t h e
q u a n t i t y o f n o u r i s h m e n t necessary t o m a i n t a i n h i m a n d his family for a s
l o n g as a g i v e n task l a s t e d [ 3 J . So t h a t in t h e last resort, n e e d - f o r f o o d ,
c l o t h i n g , h o u s i n g - defined t h e a b s o l u t e m e a s u r e o f m a r k e t price. All
t h r o u g h t h e Classical a g e , i t w a s necessity that w a s t h e m e a s u r e o f e q u i valences, a n d v a l u e in use t h a t served as a b s o l u t e reference for e x c h a n g e
values; t h e g a u g e o f prices w a s food, w h i c h resulted i n t h e generally
r e c o g n i z e d p r i v i l e g e a c c o r d e d i n this respect t o a g r i c u l t u r a l p r o d u c t i o n ,
w h e a t a n d land.
A d a m S m i t h d i d n o t , therefore, i n v e n t l a b o u r a s a n e c o n o m i c c o n c e p t ,
since i t can b e f o u n d i n C a n t i l l o n , Q u e s n a y , a n d C o n d i l l a c ; h e does n o t
e v e n g i v e it a n e w r o l e to p l a y , since he t o o uses it as a m e a s u r e of e x c h a n g e v a l u e : ' L a b o u r , therefore, i s t h e real m e a s u r e o f t h e e x c h a n g e a b l e
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OF

R E P R E S E N T A T I O N

v a l u e o f all c o m m o d i t i e s ' [ 4 . ] . B u t h e does displace i t : h e m a i n t a i n s its
function as a m e a n s of analysing e x c h a n g e a b l e w e a l t h ; b u t that analysis
i s n o l o n g e r s i m p l y a w a y o f expressing e x c h a n g e i n t e r m s o f n e e d (and
t r a d e i n t e r m s o f p r i m i t i v e b a r t e r ) ; i t reveals a n i r r e d u c i b l e , absolute u n i t
o f m e a s u r e m e n t . A t t h e s a m e t i m e , w e a l t h n o l o n g e r establishes t h e
i n t e r n a l o r d e r o f its e q u i v a l e n c e b y a c o m p a r i s o n o f t h e objects t o b e
e x c h a n g e d , o r b y a n appraisal o f t h e p o w e r peculiar t o e a c h r e p r e s e n t
a n object o f n e e d (and, i n t h e last resort, t h e m o s t f u n d a m e n t a l o f all,
f o o d ) ; i t i s b r o k e n d o w n a c c o r d i n g t o t h e units o f l a b o u r t h a t h a v e i n
reality p r o d u c e d it. W e a l t h is always a f u n c t i o n i n g representative e l e m e n t :
b u t , in t h e e n d , w h a t it represents is no l o n g e r t h e object of desire; it is
labour.
B u t t w o objections i m m e d i a t e l y present t h e m s e l v e s : h o w can l a b o u r b e
a fixed m e a s u r e of t h e n a t u r a l p r i c e of t h i n g s w h e n it has itself a price a n d a variable price? H o w can l a b o u r b e a n a b s o l u t e u n i t w h e n i t c h a n g e s
its f o r m , a n d w h e n industrial p r o g r e s s i s c o n s t a n t l y m a k i n g i t m o r e p r o d u c t i v e b y i n t r o d u c i n g m o r e a n d m o r e divisions i n t o it? N o w , i t i s
precisely t h r o u g h these objections, a n d t h r o u g h their s p o k e s m a n , a s i t
w e r e , that it is possible to reveal t h e irreducibility of l a b o u r a n d its
p r i m a r y character. T h e r e are, in fact, c o u n t r i e s in t h e w o r l d , a n d , in a
p a r t i c u l a r c o u n t r y , t i m e s , i n w h i c h l a b o u r i s d e a r : w o r k e r s are few, w a g e s
are h i g h ; e l s e w h e r e , or at o t h e r t i m e s , m a n p o w e r is plentiful, it is b a d l y
r e m u n e r a t e d , a n d l a b o u r is c h e a p . B u t w h a t is m o d i f i e d in these a l t e r n a t i n g states is t h e q u a n t i t y of f o o d t h a t can be p r o c u r e d w i t h a d a y ' s
w o r k ; i f c o m m o d i t i e s are i n s h o r t s u p p l y a n d t h e r e are m a n y c o n s u m e r s ,
each u n i t o f l a b o u r will b e r e m u n e r a t e d w i t h o n l y a small q u a n t i t y o f
subsistence; b u t if, o n t h e o t h e r h a n d , c o m m o d i t i e s are i n g o o d s u p p l y ,
it will be w e l l p a i d . T h e s e are m e r e l y t h e consequences of a m a r k e t
s i t u a t i o n ; t h e l a b o u r itself, t h e h o u r s spent at it, t h e toil a n d t r o u b l e , are
i n e v e r y case t h e s a m e ; a n d the g r e a t e r t h e n u m b e r o f units r e q u i r e d , t h e
m o r e costly t h e p r o d u c t s will b e . ' E q u a l quantities o f l a b o u r , a t all times
a n d places, m a y b e said t o b e o f e q u a l v a l u e t o t h e l a b o u r e r ' [ 5 ] .
A n d yet o n e c o u l d say t h a t this u n i t is n o t a fixed o n e , since to p r o d u c e
t h e self-same object will r e q u i r e m o r e o r less l a b o u r a c c o r d i n g t o t h e
perfection o f t h e m a n u f a c t u r i n g process (that is, a c c o r d i n g t o t h e d e g r e e
o f t h e division o f l a b o u r ) . B u t i t i s n o t really t h e l a b o u r itself t h a t has
c h a n g e d ; i t i s t h e relation o f t h e l a b o u r t o t h e p r o d u c t i o n o f w h i c h i t i s
capable. L a b o u r , in t h e sense of a d a y ' s w o r k , toil a n d t r o u b l e , is a fixed
n u m e r a t o r : o n l y t h e d e n o m i n a t o r (the n u m b e r o f objects p r o d u c e d ) i s
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capable o f v a r i a t i o n s . A single w o r k e r w h o h a d t o p e r f o r m o n his o w n
t h e e i g h t e e n distinct o p e r a t i o n s r e q u i r e d i n t h e m a n u f a c t u r e o f a p i n
w o u l d certainly n o t p r o d u c e m o r e t h a n t w e n t y pins i n t h e c o u r s e o f a
w h o l e d a y . B u t ten w o r k e r s w h o each h a d t o p e r f o r m o n l y o n e o r t w o
of those operations could produce between t h e m m o r e than forty-eight
t h o u s a n d pins in a d a y ; t h u s e a c h of those w o r k e r s , p r o d u c i n g a t e n t h p a r t
o f t h e t o t a l p r o d u c t , can b e c o n s i d e r e d a s m a k i n g four t h o u s a n d e i g h t
h u n d r e d pins d u r i n g his w o r k i n g d a y [6]. T h e p r o d u c t i v e p o w e r o f l a b o u r
has b e e n m u l t i p l i e d ; w i t h i n a single u n i t (a w a g e - e a r n e r ' s d a y ) , t h e objects
m a n u f a c t u r e d h a v e b e e n increased i n n u m b e r ; t h e i r e x c h a n g e v a l u e
will t h e r e f o r e fall, t h a t is, each of t h o s e objects will be able to b u y o n l y
a p r o p o r t i o n a t e l y smaller a m o u n t o f w o r k i n t u r n . L a b o u r has n o t
d i m i n i s h e d in relation to t h e t h i n g s ; it is t h e t h i n g s that h a v e , as it w e r e ,
s h r u n k i n relation t o t h e u n i t o f l a b o u r .
I t i s t r u e t h a t w e e x c h a n g e because w e h a v e n e e d s ; w i t h o u t t h e m , t r a d e
w o u l d n o t exist, n o r l a b o u r either, n o r , a b o v e all, t h e division t h a t
r e n d e r s it m o r e p r o d u c t i v e . Inversely, it is needs, w h e n t h e y are satisfied,
t h a t limit l a b o u r a n d its i m p r o v e m e n t : ' A s i t i s t h e p o w e r o f e x c h a n g e
t h a t gives occasion t o t h e division o f l a b o u r , s o t h e e x t e n t o f this division
must always be limited to the extent of that p o w e r , or in other w o r d s , by
the extent of the m a r k e t ' [ 7 ] . Needs, and the exchange of products that
can a n s w e r t o t h e m , are still t h e p r i n c i p l e o f t h e e c o n o m y : t h e y are its
p r i m e m o t i v e a n d c i r c u m s c r i b e it; l a b o u r a n d t h e division t h a t o r g a n i z e s
i t a r e m e r e l y its effects. B u t w i t h i n e x c h a n g e , i n t h e o r d e r o f equivalences,
1

t h e m e a s u r e that establishes equalities a n d differences is of* a different
n a t u r e f r o m n e e d . It is n o t linked solely to i n d i v i d u a l cteshres,* m o d i f i e d by
t h e m , or variable like t h e m . It is an a b s o l u t e m e a s u r e , if o n e takes t h a t
t o m e a n t h a t i t i s n o t d e p e n d e n t u p o n m e n ' s hearts, o r u p o n t h e i r a p p e t i t e s ;
it is i m p o s e d u p o n t h e m f r o m o u t s i d e : it is t h e i r t i m e a n d t h e i r toil. In
relation t o t h a t o f his predecessors, A d a m S m i t h ' s analysis represents a n
essential h i a t u s : it distinguishes b e t w e e n t h e reason for e x c h a n g e a n d t h e
measurement of that w h i c h is exchangeable, between the nature of w h a t
i s e x c h a n g e d a n d t h e units t h a t e n a b l e i t t o b e b r o k e n d o w n . P e o p l e
e x c h a n g e because t h e y h a v e needs, a n d t h e y e x c h a n g e precisely t h e
objects t h a t t h e y n e e d ; b u t t h e o r d e r o f e x c h a n g e s , their h i e r a r c h y a n d t h e
differences expressed i n t h a t h i e r a r c h y , are established b y t h e units o f
labour

that

have

b e e n invested i n t h e objects i n q u e s t i o n . A s m e n

e x p e r i e n c e t h i n g s - at t h e level of w h a t will s o o n be called p s y c h o l o g y w h a t t h e y a r e e x c h a n g i n g i s w h a t i s 'indispensable, c o m m o d i o u s o r
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pleasurable' to t h e m , b u t for t h e e c o n o m i s t , w h a t is actually circulating
in t h e f o r m of things is l a b o u r - n o t objects of n e e d r e p r e s e n t i n g o n e
a n o t h e r , b u t t i m e a n d toil, t r a n s f o r m e d , concealed, f o r g o t t e n .
T h i s hiatus is of g r e a t i m p o r t a n c e . It is t r u e t h a t A d a m S m i t h is still,
like his predecessors, analysing t h e field of p o s i t i v i t y t h a t t h e e i g h t e e n t h
c e n t u r y t e r m e d ' w e a l t h ' ; a n d b y t h a t t e r m h e t o o m e a n s objects o f n e e d a n d t h u s t h e objects of a certain f o r m of r e p r e s e n t a t i o n - r e p r e s e n t i n g
themselves i n t h e m o v e m e n t s a n d m e t h o d s o f e x c h a n g e . B u t w i t h i n this
duplication, a n d in o r d e r to r e g u l a t e its laws - t h e units a n d measures of
e x c h a n g e - he formulates a principle of o r d e r t h a t is irreducible to t h e
analysis of r e p r e s e n t a t i o n : he u n e a r t h s l a b o u r , t h a t is, toil a n d t i m e , t h e
w o r k i n g - d a y t h a t a t o n c e p a t t e r n s a n d uses u p m a n ' s life. T h e equivalence
o f t h e objects o f desire i s n o l o n g e r established b y t h e i n t e r m e d i a r y o f
o t h e r objects a n d o t h e r desires, b u t by a transition to t h a t w h i c h is r a d i c ally h e t e r o g e n e o u s to t h e m ; if t h e r e is an o r d e r r e g u l a t i n g t h e f o r m s of
w e a l t h , if this can b u y t h a t , if g o l d is w o r t h t w i c e as m u c h as silver, it
is n o t because m e n h a v e c o m p a r a b l e desires; it is n o t because t h e y e x perience t h e s a m e h u n g e r in their bodies, or because their hearts a r e all
s w a y e d by t h e s a m e passions; it is because t h e y are all subject to t i m e , to
toil, to weariness, a n d , in t h e last resort, to d e a t h itself. M e n e x c h a n g e
because t h e y e x p e r i e n c e needs a n d desires; b u t t h e y a r e able to e x c h a n g e
a n d to order these e x c h a n g e s because t h e y are subjected to t i m e a n d to t h e
g r e a t e x t e r i o r necessity. As for t h e fecundity of l a b o u r , it is n o t so m u c h
d u e to personal ability or to calculations of self-interest; it is based u p o n
c o n d i t i o n s t h a t are also e x t e r i o r to its r e p r e s e n t a t i o n : industrial progress,
g r o w i n g division o f tasks, a c c u m u l a t i o n o f capital, division o f p r o d u c t i v e
labour and non-productive labour. It is thus apparent h o w , with A d a m
S m i t h , reflection u p o n w e a l t h begins to o v e r f l o w t h e space assigned to it
in t h e Classical a g e ; t h e n , it w a s l o d g e d w i t h i n ' i d e o l o g y ' - inside t h e
analysis of r e p r e s e n t a t i o n ; f r o m n o w o n , it is referred, d i a g o n a l l y as it
w e r e , t o t w o d o m a i n s w h i c h b o t h escape t h e f o r m s a n d laws o f the d e c o m position of ideas: on t h e o n e h a n d , it is already p o i n t i n g in t h e d i r e c t i o n
of an a n t h r o p o l o g y t h a t will call i n t o question m a n ' s v e r y essence (his
finitude, his relation w i t h t i m e , t h e i m m i n e n c e o f d e a t h ) a n d the object i n
w h i c h h e invests his days o f t i m e a n d toil w i t h o u t b e i n g able t o r e c o g n i z e
in it t h e object of his i m m e d i a t e n e e d ; on t h e o t h e r , it indicates t h e still
unfulfilled possibility of a political e c o n o m y w h o s e object w o u l d no
l o n g e r b e t h e e x c h a n g e o f w e a l t h (and t h e i n t e r p l a y o f representations
w h i c h is its basis), b u t its real p r o d u c t i o n : f o r m s of l a b o u r a n d capital. It is
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u n d e r s t a n d a b l e h o w , b e t w e e n these n e w l y f o r m e d positivities - a n a n t h r o p o l o g y dealing w i t h a m a n r e n d e r e d alien t o h i m s e l f a n d a n e c o n o m i c s
dealing w i t h m e c h a n i s m s e x t e r i o r t o h u m a n consciousness - I d e o l o g y , o r
t h e Analysis o f representations, was s o o n t o find itself r e d u c e d t o b e i n g n o
m o r e t h a n a p s y c h o l o g y , w h e r e a s o p p o s i t e , in o p p o s i t i o n , a n d soon to
d o m i n a t e i d e o l o g y f r o m its full h e i g h t , t h e r e w a s t o e m e r g e t h e d i m e n s i o n
o f a possible h i s t o r y . F r o m S m i t h o n w a r d , t h e t i m e o f e c o n o m i c s w a s n o
l o n g e r t o b e t h e cyclical t i m e o f a l t e r n a t i n g i m p o v e r i s h m e n t a n d w e a l t h ;
n o r t h e linear increase a c h i e v e d b y astute policies, c o n s t a n t l y i n t r o d u c i n g
slight increases in t h e a m o u n t of circulating specie so that t h e y accelerated
p r o d u c t i o n at a faster rate t h a n t h e y raised prices; it w a s to be t h e interior
t i m e o f a n o r g a n i c s t r u c t u r e w h i c h g r o w s i n a c c o r d a n c e w i t h its o w n
necessity a n d develops in a c c o r d a n c e w i t h a u t o c h t h o n o u s laws - t h e t i m e
o f capital a n d p r o d u c t i o n .

Ill

THE O R G A N I C STRUCTURE

OF BEINGS

I n t h e d o m a i n o f n a t u r a l h i s t o r y , t h e modifications observable b e t w e e n
t h e years 1 7 7 5 a n d 1 7 9 5 are o f t h e s a m e t y p e . T h e principle o f classifications is n o t called in q u e s t i o n : their a i m is still to d e t e r m i n e t h e 'character'
t h a t g r o u p s individuals a n d species i n t o m o r e general units, t h a t distinguishes those units o n e f r o m a n o t h e r , a n d t h a t enables t h e m t o fit t o g e t h e r
to f o r m a table in w h i c h all individuals a n d all g r o u p s , k n o w n or u n k n o w n , will h a v e their a p p r o p r i a t e place. T h e s e characters are d r a w n
f r o m t h e total r e p r e s e n t a t i o n o f t h e individuals c o n c e r n e d ; d i e y are t h e
analysis o f that r e p r e s e n t a t i o n a n d m a k e i t possible, b v r e p r e s e n t i n g those
representations, to constitute an o r d e r ; t h e general principles of taxinomia
- t h e same principles t h a t h a d d e t e r m i n e d t h e systems of T o u r n e f o r t a n d
Linnaeus a n d t h e m e t h o d o f A d a n s o n - preserve t h e same k i n d o f validity
for A - L . d e Jussieu, V i c q d ' A z y r , L a m a r c k , a n d C a n d o l l e . Y e t t h e t e c h n i q u e that m a k e s it possible to establish t h e character, the relation b e t w e e n
visible structure a n d criteria o f identity, are m o d i f i e d i n j u s t t h e same w a y
a s A d a m S m i t h m o d i f i e d t h e relations o f n e e d o r price. T h r o u g h o u t t h e
e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y , classifiers h a d b e e n establishing character b y c o m p a r i n g visible structures, t h a t is, b y c o r r e l a t i n g elements t h a t w e r e h o m o g e n e o u s (since each e l e m e n t , a c c o r d i n g to t h e o r d e r i n g principle selected,
could be used to represent all the o t h e r s ) : t h e o n l y difference lay in t h e
fact that for t h e systematicians t h e representative elements w e r e fixed f r o m
t h e outset, w h e r e a s for t h e m e t h o d i s t s t h e y w e r e t h e g r a d u a l result of a
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progressive c o n f r o n t a t i o n . B u t , t h e transition f r o m described structure t o
classifying character t o o k place w h o l l y a t t h e level o f t h e representative
functions exercised b y t h e visible w i t h r e g a r d t o itself. F r o m Jussieu,
L a m a r c k , a n d V i c q d ' A z y r o n w a r d , character, o r r a t h e r t h e t r a n s f o r m a t i o n of s t r u c t u r e i n t o character, w a s to be based u p o n a p r i n c i p l e alien to
t h e d o m a i n o f t h e visible - a n internal principle n o t reducible t o t h e r e ciprocal i n t e r a c t i o n o f representations. T h i s p r i n c i p l e ( w h i c h c o r r e s p o n d s
to l a b o u r in t h e e c o n o m i c sphere) is organic structure. A n d as a basis for
t a x o n o m i e s , o r g a n i c s t r u c t u r e appears in f o u r different w a y s .
I. First, in t h e f o r m of a h i e r a r c h y of characters. If o n e does n o t , in
fact, a r r a n g e t h e species side by side in all their vast diversity, b u t , in
o r d e r t o l i m i t t h e field o f investigation f o r t h w i t h , i f o n e accepts t h e
b r o a d g r o u p i n g s e v i d e n t at a first glance - such as t h e G r a m i n e a e , t h e
C o m p o s i t a e , t h e Cruciferae, a n d t h e L e g u m i n o s a e for p l a n t s ; o r w o r m s ,
fishes, birds, a n d q u a d r u p e d s , for animals - it b e c o m e s a p p a r e n t t h a t
certain characters are absolutely c o n s t a n t a n d o c c u r in all t h e g e n e r a a n d
all t h e species it is possible to distinguish: for e x a m p l e , t h e insertion of t h e
stamens, their p o s i t i o n i n relation t o t h e pistil, t h e insertion o f t h e corolla
w h e n i t bears t h e stamens, t h e n u m b e r o f lobes s u r r o u n d i n g t h e e m b r y o i n
t h e seed. O t h e r characters are v e r y frequent t h r o u g h o u t a family, b u t d o
n o t attain t h e s a m e d e g r e e o f c o n s t a n c y ; this i s because t h e y are f o r m e d b y
less essential o r g a n s ( n u m b e r of petals, presence or absence of t h e corolla,
respective position o f t h e calyx o r t h e pistil); these are t h e ' s e c o n d a r y
s u b - u n i f o r m ' characters. Finally, t h e 'tertiary s e m i - u n i f o r m ' characters
are s o m e t i m e s constant a n d s o m e t i m e s variable (unifoliate o r polyfoliate
calyx, n u m b e r o f cells i n t h e fruit, position o f f l o w e r s a n d leaves, n a t u r e
of t h e s t e m ) : w i t h these s e m i - u n i f o r m characters it is n o t possible to
define families or o r d e r s - n o t because t h e y a r e n o t capable, if applied to all
t h e species, o f f o r m i n g general entities, b u t because t h e y d o n o t c o n c e r n
w h a t is essential in a g r o u p of living beings. E a c h great n a t u r a l family has
requisites that define it, a n d t h e characters t h a t m a k e it r e c o g n i z a b l e are
t h e nearest t o these f u n d a m e n t a l c o n d i t i o n s : thus, r e p r o d u c t i o n b e i n g t h e
m a j o r function o f t h e p l a n t , t h e e m b r y o will b e its m o s t i m p o r t a n t p a r t ,
a n d i t b e c o m e s possible t o divide t h e v e g e t a b l e k i n g d o m i n t o t h r e e
classes: a c o t y l e d o n s , m o n o c o t y l e d o n s , a n d d i c o t y l e d o n s . A g a i n s t t h e b a c k g r o u n d o f these essential a n d ' p r i m a r y ' c h a r a c t e r s , t h e o t h e r s can a p p e a r a n d
i n t r o d u c e m o r e detailed distinctions. It will be seen t h a t character is no
l o n g e r d r a w n directly f r o m t h e visible s t r u c t u r e , a n d w i t h o u t a n y
criterion o t h e r t h a n its presence or absence; it is based u p o n t h e existence
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o f functions essential t o t h e living b e i n g , a n d u p o n relations o f i m p o r t a n c e
that are n o l o n g e r m e r e l y a m a t t e r o f description.
2. C h a r a c t e r s are linked, therefore, to functions. In o n e sense, t h e r e has
b e e n a r e t u r n t o t h e o l d t h e o r y o f signatures o r m a r k s , w h i c h supposed
t h a t each b e i n g b o r e t h e sign o f w h a t w a s m o s t essential i n i t u p o n t h e
m o s t visible p o i n t o f its surface. B u t h e r e t h e relations o f i m p o r t a n c e are
relations of functional s u b o r d i n a t i o n . If t h e n u m b e r of c o t y l e d o n s is
decisive in t h e classification of plants, t h a t is because t h e y p l a y a particular
r o l e in t h e r e p r o d u c t i v e function, a n d because t h e y are for that v e r y
reason linked t o t h e plant's entire internal o r g a n i c s t r u c t u r e ; t h e y indicate
a function that g o v e r n s t h e individual's entire a r r a n g e m e n t [8]. In t h e s a m e
w a y , V i c q d ' A z y r s h o w e d t h a t in t h e case of animals it is t h e a l i m e n t a r y
functions that a r e w i t h o u t d o u b t t h e m o s t i m p o r t a n t ; it is for this reason
t h a t ' t h e r e exist c o n s t a n t relations b e t w e e n t h e s t r u c t u r e o f t h e c a r n i v o r e s '
teeth a n d t h a t o f their muscles, toes, claws, t o n g u e s , s t o m a c h s , a n d i n t e s t i n e s ' ^ ] . C h a r a c t e r is n o t , t h e n , established by a relation of t h e visible
to itself; it is n o t h i n g in itself b u t t h e visible p o i n t of a c o m p l e x a n d
hierarchized o r g a n i c s t r u c t u r e in w h i c h function plays an essential g o v e r n i n g a n d d e t e r m i n i n g role. It is n o t because a character occurs frequently
in t h e structures o b s e r v e d t h a t it is i m p o r t a n t ; it is because it is f u n c t i o n ally i m p o r t a n t t h a t it is often e n c o u n t e r e d . As C u v i e r w a s to p o i n t o u t ,
s u m m i n g u p t h e w o r k o f t h e c e n t u r y ' s last g r e a t m e t h o d i s t s , t h e h i g h e r
w e m o v e t o w a r d s t h e m o r e generalized classes,
the m o r e the properties that remain c o m m o n are c o n s t a n t , and as the
m o s t constant relations are those that p e r t a i n t o t h e q i p i t i m p o r t a n t
parts, s o t h e characters o f t h e h i g h e r divisions will b e f o u n d t o b e
d r a w n f r o m t h e m o s t i m p o r t a n t parts . . . I t i s i n this w a y t h a t t h e
m e t h o d will b e n a t u r a l , since i t takes i n t o a c c o u n t t h e i m p o r t a n c e o f
t h e o r g a n s [10].
3. G i v e n these c o n d i t i o n s , it is u n d e r s t a n d a b l e h o w t h e n o t i o n of life
c o u l d b e c o m e indispensable t o the o r d e r i n g o f n a t u r a l beings. I t b e c a m e
so for t w o reasons: first, it w a s essential to be able to a p p r e h e n d in t h e
depths o f t h e b o d y t h e relations that link superficial o r g a n s t o those w h o s e
existence a n d h i d d e n f o r m s p e r f o r m t h e essential functions; t h u s S t o r r
p r o p o s e s classifying m a m m a l s a c c o r d i n g t o t h e f o r m a t i o n o f their h o o f s ;
t h e reason b e i n g t h a t this i s linked t o m e t h o d s o f l o c o m o t i o n a n d t o t h e
a n i m a l ' s possibilities o f m o v e m e n t ; n o w , these m e t h o d s o f l o c o m o t i o n
can b e correlated i n t u r n w i t h t h e f o r m o f a l i m e n t a t i o n a n d t h e different
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o r g a n s o f t h e digestive s y s t e m [ n j . F u r t h e r m o r e , t h e m o s t i m p o r t a n t
characters m a y also b e t h e m o s t h i d d e n ; i t h a d a l r e a d y p r o v e d possible t o
o b s e r v e in t h e v e g e t a b l e k i n g d o m t h a t it is n o t flowers a n d fruits - t h e
m o s t easily visible p a r t s of t h e p l a n t - that are t h e significant e l e m e n t s , b u t
t h e e m b r y o n i c o r g a n i z a t i o n a n d such o r g a n s a s t h e c o t y l e d o n . T h i s p h e n o m e n o n i s e v e n m o r e f r e q u e n t i n animals. S t o r r t h o u g h t that t h e b r o a d e r
classifications o u g h t t o b e defined a c c o r d i n g t o t h e f o r m s o f circulation; a n d
L a m a r c k , t h o u g h h e h i m s e l f did n o t practise dissection, rejects a n y p r i n c i p l e
o f classification for t h e l o w e r animals based solely u p o n visible f o r m :
C o n s i d e r a t i o n o f t h e articulations o f t h e bodies and l i m b s o f t h e c r u s taceans has led all naturalists to r e g a r d t h e m as t r u e insects, a n d I m y s e l f
l o n g f o l l o w e d t h e general o p i n i o n in this r e g a r d . B u t since it is r e c o g n i z e d t h a t o r g a n i c s t r u c t u r e is of all considerations t h e m o s t essential as
a g u i d e in a m e t h o d i c a l a n d n a t u r a l d i s t r i b u t i o n of animals, as w e l l as
i n d e t e r m i n i n g t h e t r u e relations b e t w e e n t h e m , i t follows t h a t t h e
crustaceans, w h i c h b r e a t h e solely b y m e a n s o f gills i n t h e s a m e w a y a s
molluscs, a n d like t h e m h a v e a m u s c u l a r h e a r t , o u g h t t o b e placed
i m m e d i a t e l y after t h e m , before the arachnids a n d t h e insects, w h i c h d o
n o t h a v e a like o r g a n i c s t r u c t u r e [ 1 2 ] .
T o classify, therefore, will n o l o n g e r m e a n t o refer t h e visible b a c k t o
itself, w h i l e a l l o t t i n g o n e o f its e l e m e n t s the task o f r e p r e s e n t i n g t h e o t h e r s ;
it w i l l m e a n , in a m o v e m e n t that m a k e s analysis p i v o t on its axis, to relate
t h e visible to t h e invisible, to its d e e p e r cause, as it w e r e , t h e n to rise
u p w a r d s o n c e m o r e f r o m that h i d d e n a r c h i t e c t u r e t o w a r d s t h e m o r e
o b v i o u s signs displayed on t h e surfaces of b o d i e s . As Pinel said, in his
w o r k as a naturalist, ' t o restrict oneself to t h e e x t e r i o r characters assigned
b y n o m e n c l a t u r e s , i s this n o t t o i g n o r e t h e m o s t fertile s o u r c e o f i n f o r m a t i o n , a n d to refuse to o p e n , as it w e r e , the great b o o k of n a t u r e w h i c h is
precisely w h a t o n e has set o u t t o k n o w ? ' [ 1 3 ] H e n c e f o r t h , c h a r a c t e r r e s u m e s its f o r m e r role as a visible sign d i r e c t i n g us t o w a r d s a b u r i e d d e p t h ;
b u t w h a t it indicates is n o t a secret text, a muffled w o r d , or a r e s e m b l a n c e
t o o p r e c i o u s to be revealed; it is t h e c o h e r e n t totality of an o r g a n i c
s t r u c t u r e t h a t w e a v e s b a c k i n t o t h e u n i q u e fabric o f its s o v e r e i g n t y b o t h
t h e visible a n d t h e invisible.
4 . T h e parallelism b e t w e e n classification a n d n o m e n c l a t u r e i s t h u s , b y
this v e r y fact, dissolved. As l o n g as classification consisted of a p a t t e r n of
progressively smaller areas fitted i n t o a visible space, it w a s q u i t e c o n ceivable that t h e delimitation a n d d e n o m i n a t i o n o f t h e resultant g r o u p s
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THB ORDER OF THINGS
c o u l d b e a c c o m p l i s h e d simultaneously. T h e p r o b l e m o f t h e n a m e a n d t h e
p r o b l e m o f t h e g e n u s w e r e i s o m o r p h i c . B u t n o w that character can
classify o n l y b y m e a n s o f p r i o r reference t o t h e o r g a n i c s t r u c t u r e o f
individuals, 'distinction' can n o l o n g e r b e achieved i n a c c o r d a n c e w i t h t h e
s a m e criteria, o r b y m e a n s o f t h e s a m e o p e r a t i o n s , a s ' d e n o m i n a t i o n ' . I n
o r d e r t o discover t h e f u n d a m e n t a l g r o u p s i n t o w h i c h n a t u r a l beings can
be d i v i d e d , it has b e c o m e necessary to e x p l o r e in d e p t h t h e space t h a t lies
b e t w e e n their superficial o r g a n s a n d their m o s t concealed ones, a n d b e t w e e n these latter a n d t h e b r o a d functions t h a t t h e y p e r f o r m . A n y g o o d
n o m e n c l a t u r e , o n t h e o t h e r h a n d , will c o n t i n u e t o b e d e p l o y e d i n t h e
h o r i z o n t a l d i m e n s i o n o f t h e table: starting f r o m t h e visible characters o f
t h e individual, o n e m u s t find o n e ' s w a y t o that precise square i n w h i c h i s
to be f o u n d t h e n a m e of its genus a n d its species. T h e r e is a f u n d a m e n t a l
d i s t o r t i o n b e t w e e n t h e space o f o r g a n i c s t r u c t u r e a n d t h a t o f n o m e n c l a t u r e : o r r a t h e r , instead o f b e i n g exactly s u p e r i m p o s e d , t h e y are n o w
p e r p e n d i c u l a r t o o n e a n o t h e r ; a n d a t t h e p o i n t w h e r e t h e y m e e t w e find
t h e manifest character, w h i c h indicates a function in t h e vertical plane a n d
m a k e s it possible to discover a n a m e in t h e h o r i z o n t a l o n e . T h i s distinction, w h i c h w i t h i n a f e w years will r e n d e r n a t u r a l history a n d t h e p r e e m i n e n c e o f taxinomia obsolescent, w e o w e t o t h e genius o f L a m a r c k : i n
t h e P r e l i m i n a r y D i s c o u r s e to La Flore frangaise he set o u t t h e t w o tasks of
b o t a n y a s t w o radically distinct entities: ' d e t e r m i n a t i o n ' , w h i c h applies t h e
rules of analysis a n d m a k e s it possible to discover the n a m e of an individual
by t h e simple use of a b i n a r y m e t h o d (either such a n d such a character is
present in t h e i n d i v i d u a l b e i n g e x a m i n e d , in w h i c h case o n e m u s t l o o k for
its location i n t h e r i g h t - h a n d p a r t o f t h e t a b l e ; o r I t i s n o t present, i n
w h i c h case o n e m u s t l o o k i n t h e left-hand p a r t ; a n d s o o n until t h e n a m e
has finally b e e n d e t e r m i n e d ) ; a n d t h e d i s c o v e r y o f t h e real relations o f
resemblance, w h i c h presupposes a n e x a m i n a t i o n o f t h e entire o r g a n i c
s t r u c t u r e o f s p e c i e s [ i 4 ] . N a m e s a n d g e n e r a , designation a n d classification,
l a n g u a g e a n d n a t u r e , cease t o b e a u t o m a t i c a l l y i n t e r l o c k e d . T h e o r d e r o f
w o r d s a n d t h e o r d e r o f beings n o l o n g e r intersect e x c e p t a l o n g a n a r t i ficially defined line. T h e i r o l d affinity, w h i c h h a d been t h e f o u n d a t i o n of
n a t u r a l h i s t o r y i n t h e Classical age, a n d w h i c h h a d led s t r u c t u r e t o c h a r acter, r e p r e s e n t a t i o n t o d e n o m i n a t i o n , a n d t h e visible i n d i v i d u a l t o t h e
abstract genus, all w i t h o n e a n d t h e s a m e m o v e m e n t , i s b e g i n n i n g t o
dissolve. T h e r e is talk of t h i n g s t h a t t a k e place in a n o t h e r space t h a n that
o f w o r d s . B y m a k i n g such a distinction, a n d b y m a k i n g i t s o early o n ,
L a m a r c k b r o u g h t t h e era of natural history to a close a n d p r o v i d e d a
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m u c h clearer, a m u c h m o r e certain a n d radical g l i m p s e o f t h e era o f
b i o l o g y t h a n h e did t w e n t y years later b y t a k i n g u p o n c e m o r e t h e a l r e a d y
w e l l - k n o w n t h e m e o f t h e single series o f species a n d their p r o g r e s s i v e
transformation.
T h e c o n c e p t o f o r g a n i c s t r u c t u r e already existed i n e i g h t e e n t h - c e n t u r y
n a t u r a l history - j u s t as, in the sphere of the analysis of w e a l t h , the n o t i o n
of l a b o u r w a s n o t i n v e n t e d at t h e e n d of t h e Classical a g e ; b u t it w a s a
c o n c e p t t h a t served a t that t i m e t o define a certain m o d e o f c o m p o s i t i o n
o f c o m p l e x individuals, o n t h e basis o f m o r e e l e m e n t a r y materials;
Linnaeus, for e x a m p l e , distinguished b e t w e e n j u x t a p o s i t i o n ' , w h i c h causes
g r o w t h i n minerals, a n d 'intussusception', w h i c h enables t h e v e g e t a b l e
k i n g d o m t o d e v e l o p b y feeding i t s e l f [ i 5 ] . B o n n e t contrasted the ' a g g r e g a t i o n ' o f ' u n r e f i n e d solids' w i t h t h e ' c o m p o s i t i o n o f o r g a n i c solids',
w h i c h ' w e a v e s t o g e t h e r a n a l m o s t infinite n u m b e r o f parts, s o m e f l u i d ,
o t h e r s solid'[16]. N o w , this c o n c e p t o f o r g a n i c s t r u c t u r e h a d n e v e r been
used before t h e e n d of t h e c e n t u r y as a f o u n d a t i o n for o r d e r i n g n a t u r e ,
as a m e a n s of defining its space or d e l i m i t i n g its f o r m s . It is t h r o u g h the
w o r k s o f Jussieu, V i c q d ' A z y r , a n d L a m a r c k t h a t i t begins t o function for
the first t i m e as a m e t h o d of c h a r a c t e r i z a t i o n : it subordinates characters
o n e t o a n o t h e r ; i t links t h e m t o functions; i t arranges t h e m i n a c c o r d a n c e
w i t h an a r c h i t e c t u r e that is internal as well as external, a n d no less i n visible t h a n visible; it distributes t h e m t h r o u g h o u t a space that is o t h e r
t h a n t h a t o f n a m e s , discourse, a n d l a n g u a g e . I t i s thus n o l o n g e r c o n t e n t
t o designate o n e c a t e g o r y o f beings a m o n g o t h e r categories; i t n o l o n g e r
m e r e l y indicates a d i v i d i n g - l i n e r u n n i n g t h r o u g h the t a x o n o m i c space; it
defines for certain beings t h e internal l a w t h a t enables a particular o n e of
their structures to take on the v a l u e of a character. O r g a n i c s t r u c t u r e
intervenes b e t w e e n t h e articulating structures a n d t h e d e s i g n a t i n g c h a r acters - creating b e t w e e n t h e m a p r o f o u n d , interior, a n d essential space.
T h i s i m p o r t a n t m u t a t i o n further exerts its influence u p o n t h e e l e m e n t
of n a t u r a l h i s t o r y ; it modifies t h e m e t h o d s a n d t h e techniques of a taxinomia; b u t it does n o t refute its f u n d a m e n t a l c o n d i t i o n s of possibility; it
has n o t yet t o u c h e d t h e m o d e o f b e i n g o f a n a t u r a l o r d e r . I t does, h o w ever, entail o n e m a j o r c o n s e q u e n c e : t h e radicalization o f the d i v i d i n g - l i n e
b e t w e e n o r g a n i c a n d i n o r g a n i c . I n t h e table o f beings u n f o l d e d b y n a t u r a l
history, t h e t e r m s o r g a n i z e d a n d n o n - o r g a n i z e d defined m e r e l y t w o c a t e gories; these t w o categories o v e r l a p p e d , b u t did n o t necessarily coincide
w i t h , the antithesis o f living a n d n o n - l i v i n g . F r o m t h e m o m e n t w h e n
o r g a n i c s t r u c t u r e b e c o m e s a basic c o n c e p t of n a t u r a l characterization, a n d
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THE ORDER OF THINGS

m a k e s possible t h e transition f r o m visible s t r u c t u r e t o d e s i g n a t i o n , i t m u s t
o f course cease t o b e n o m o r e t h a n a c h a r a c t e r itself; i t s u r r o u n d s t h e
t a x o n o m i c space i n w h i c h i t lay b e f o r e , a n d i n t u r n p r o v i d e s t h e g r o u n d
for a possible classification. T h i s b e i n g so, t h e o p p o s i t i o n b e t w e e n o r g a n i c
a n d i n o r g a n i c b e c o m e s f u n d a m e n t a l . It is, in fact, f r o m t h e p e r i o d 1 7 7 5 - 9 5
o n w a r d that t h e o l d a r t i c u l a t i o n o f t h e t h r e e o r four k i n g d o m s disappears;
t h e o p p o s i t i o n o f t h e t w o k i n g d o m s - o r g a n i c a n d i n o r g a n i c - does n o t
replace t h a t a r t i c u l a t i o n e x a c t l y ; b u t r a t h e r , b y i m p o s i n g a n o t h e r division,
a t a n o t h e r level a n d i n a n o t h e r space, i t m a k e s t h e o l d articulation i m possible. Pallas a n d L a m a r c k [ i 7 ]

f o r m u l a t e this g r e a t d i c h o t o m y - a

d i c h o t o m y w i t h w h i c h the opposition of the living and the non-living
coincides. ' T h e r e a r e o n l y t w o k i n g d o m s i n n a t u r e , ' w r o t e V i c q d ' A z y r i n
1 7 8 6 , ' o n e enjoys life a n d t h e o t h e r i s d e p r i v e d o f i t ' [ i 8 ] . T h e o r g a n i c
b e c o m e s t h e l i v i n g a n d t h e living i s t h a t w h i c h p r o d u c e s , g r o w s , a n d
reproduces; the inorganic is the non-living, that w h i c h neither develops
n o r r e p r o d u c e s ; it lies at t h e frontiers of life, t h e inert, t h e unfruitful d e a t h . A n d a l t h o u g h it is i n t e r m i n g l e d w i t h life, it is so as t h a t e l e m e n t
w i t h i n it t h a t destroys a n d kills it. ' T h e r e exist in all living b e i n g s t w o
p o w e r f u l forces, w h i c h are v e r y distinct a n d a l w a y s i n o p p o s i t i o n t o each
o t h e r , s o m u c h s o t h a t each p e r p e t u a l l y d e s t r o y s t h e effects t h a t t h e o t h e r
succeeds i n p r o d u c i n g ' [ 1 9 ] . I t can b e seen h o w , b y f r a g m e n t i n g i n d e p t h
t h e g r e a t table o f n a t u r a l h i s t o r y , s o m e t h i n g r e s e m b l i n g a b i o l o g y w a s t o
b e c o m e possible; a n d also h o w , i n t h e analyses o f B i c h a t , t h e f u n d a m e n t a l
o p p o s i t i o n o f life a n d d e a t h w a s able t o e m e r g e . W h a t w a s t o t a k e place
w a s n o t t h e m o r e o r less precarious t r i u m p h o f a vitalism o v e r a m e c h a n i s m ; vitalism a n d its a t t e m p t t o define t h e specificity o f l i f e a r e m e r e l y t h e
surface effects of those archaeological e v e n t s .

IV

WORD

INFLECTION

T h e exact c o u n t e r p a r t o f these events i s t o b e f o u n d i n t h e area o f lang u a g e analysis. T h o u g h it is t r u e t h a t t h e y t a k e a m o r e discreet f o r m a n d
o b e y a s l o w e r c h r o n o l o g y t h a n in t h e field of n a t u r a l h i s t o r y . T h e r e is an
easily d i s c o v e r a b l e reason for this; it is t h a t , t h r o u g h o u t t h e Classical age,
l a n g u a g e w a s p o s i t e d a n d reflected u p o n as discourse, t h a t is, as t h e s p o n t a n e o u s analysis o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n . O f all t h e f o r m s o f n o n - q u a n t i t a t i v e
o r d e r i t w a s t h e m o s t i m m e d i a t e , t h e least deliberate, t h e m o s t p r o f o u n d l y
l i n k e d t o t h e m o v e m e n t o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n itself. A n d t o t h a t e x t e n t i t w a s
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sentation t h a n w e r e t h e m o r e intellectual o r d e r s - disinterested o r i n terested - based u p o n t h e classification o f beings o r t h e e x c h a n g e o f
w e a l t h . T e c h n i c a l modifications such as t h o s e t h a t affected t h e m e a s u r e m e n t o f e x c h a n g e values, o r the m e t h o d s o f a r r i v i n g a t 'characters', w e r e
sufficient t o c h a n g e c o n s i d e r a b l y t h e analysis o f w e a l t h o r n a t u r a l h i s t o r y .
I n o r d e r that t h e science o f l a n g u a g e c o u l d u n d e r g o m u t a t i o n s a s i m p o r t a n t as these, e v e n p r o f o u n d e r events w e r e necessary, events capable of
c h a n g i n g t h e v e r y b e i n g o f representations i n W e s t e r n c u l t u r e . J u s t as, i n
t h e s e v e n t e e n t h a n d e i g h t e e n t h centuries, t h e t h e o r y o f t h e n a m e h a d its
place as near as possible to r e p r e s e n t a t i o n a n d thus g o v e r n e d , to a certain
d e g r e e , t h e analysis of structures a n d character in living beings, a n d that
o f price a n d v a l u e i n t h e sphere o f w e a l t h , s o i n t h e s a m e w a y , a t t h e e n d
o f t h e Classical age, i t w a s this t h e o r y d i a t subsisted longest, b r e a k i n g u p
o n l y late i n t h e d a y , a t t h e m o m e n t w h e n r e p r e s e n t a t i o n itself w a s m o d i fied at the deepest level of its archaeological o r g a n i z a t i o n .
U n t i l t h e b e g i n n i n g o f t h e n i n e t e e n t h c e n t u r y , analyses o f l a n g u a g e
s h o w little c h a n g e . W o r d s are still investigated o n t h e basis o f their r e p r e sentative values, a s v i r t u a l e l e m e n t s o f discourse w h i c h prescribes o n e a n d
t h e s a m e m o d e o f b e i n g for t h e m all. A n d yet, these representative c o n tents are n o l o n g e r analysed o n l y i n t h e d i m e n s i o n t h a t b r i n g s r e p r e sentation near to an absolute o r i g i n , w h e t h e r m y t h i c a l or n o t . In general
grammar, in its p u r e s t f o r m , all t h e w o r d s of a l a n g u a g e w e r e bearers of a
m o r e or less h i d d e n , m o r e or less d e r i v e d , signification w h o s e original
raison d'etre lay in an initial d e s i g n a t i o n . E v e r y l a n g u a g e , h o w e v e r c o m p l e x , w a s situated i n t h e o p e n i n g that h a d b e e n created, o n c e a n d for all,
by archaic cries.

Lateral resemblances w i t h o t h e r l a n g u a g e s - similar

sounds applied to a n a l o g o u s significations - w e r e n o t e d a n d listed o n l y in
o r d e r t o c o n f i r m t h e vertical relation o f each t o these d e e p l y b u r i e d ,
silted o v e r , a l m o s t m u t e values. I n t h e last q u a r t e r o f t h e e i g h t e e n t h
c e n t u r y , t h e h o r i z o n t a l c o m p a r i s o n o f l a n g u a g e s acquires a n o t h e r f u n c t i o n : i t n o l o n g e r m a k e s i t possible t o k n o w w h a t e a c h l a n g u a g e m a y still
preserve o f its ancestral m e m o r y , w h a t m a r k s f r o m b e f o r e B a b e l h a v e
been p r e s e r v e d i n t h e s o u n d s o f its w o r d s ; b u t i t s h o u l d m a k e i t possible
to measure the extent to w h i c h languages resemble o n e another, the
density o f their similitudes, t h e limits w i t h i n w h i c h t h e y are t r a n s p a r e n t t o
one another. H e n c e those great confrontations between various languages
that we see a p p e a r i n g at t h e e n d of the c e n t u r y - in s o m e cases b r o u g h t
a b o u t b y t h e pressure o f political m o t i v e s , a s w i t h t h e a t t e m p t s m a d e i n
Russia[20] t o establish a n abstract o f all t h e l a n g u a g e s o f t h e E m p i r e ; i n

THE

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1 7 8 7 t h e r e a p p e a r e d i n P e t e r s b u r g t h e first v o l u m e o f t h e Glossarium
comparativum totius orbis; it h a d to i n c l u d e references to 2 7 9 l a n g u a g e s :
1 7 1 i n Asia, 5 5 i n E u r o p e , 3 0 i n Africa, 2 3 i n A m e r i c a [ 2 i ] . T h e c o m parisons are still m a d e exclusively o n t h e basis o f a n d i n t e r m s o f r e p r e sentative c o n t e n t s : a single k e r n e l of signification - w h i c h is used as an
invariable - is related to t h e w o r d s by m e a n s of w h i c h t h e v a r i o u s l a n guages are able to designate it ( A d e l u n g [ 2 2 ] gives 500 different versions of
Pater in different l a n g u a g e s a n d dialects); or o n e r o o t is selected as a c o n stant e l e m e n t r u n n i n g t h r o u g h a v a r i e t y o f slightly differing f o r m s , a n d
t h e full a r r a y of m e a n i n g s t h a t it c a n t a k e on is p r o g r e s s i v e l y d e t e r m i n e d
(these are t h e first a t t e m p t s at L e x i c o g r a p h y , s u c h as t h a t of B u t h e t de
L a S a r t h e ) . All these analyses always refer b a c k t o t w o principles, w h i c h
w e r e a l r e a d y t h o s e of general grammar: t h a t of an original a n d c o m m o n
l a n g u a g e w h i c h s u p p o s e d l y p r o v i d e d t h e initial b a t c h o f r o o t s ; a n d that
of a series of historical events, foreign to l a n g u a g e , w h i c h , f r o m o u t s i d e ,
b e n d it, w e a r i t a w a y , refine it, m a k e i t m o r e f l e x i b l e , b y m u l t i p l y i n g o r
c o m b i n i n g its f o r m s (invasions, m i g r a t i o n s , a d v a n c e s in l e a r n i n g , political
f r e e d o m o r slavery, e t c . ) .
N o w , the confrontation of languages at the end of the eighteenth
c e n t u r y b r i n g s t o light a f o r m i n t e r m e d i a r y b e t w e e n t h e articulation o f
c o n t e n t s a n d t h e v a l u e o f r o o t s : n a m e l y , inflection. I t i s t r u e t h a t g r a m m a r i a n s h a d l o n g b e e n familiar w i t h inflectional p h e n o m e n a (just as, in
n a t u r a l h i s t o r y , t h e c o n c e p t o f o r g a n i c s t r u c t u r e w a s familiar before Pallas
o r L a m a r c k ; a n d , i n e c o n o m i c s , t h e c o n c e p t o f l a b o u r w a s k n o w n before
A d a m S m i t h ) ; b u t inflections h a d b e e n analysed o n l y for' their r e p r e sentative v a l u e - w h e t h e r t h e y w e r e c o n s i d e r e d as accessory r e p r e s e n t a tions, or w e r e seen as a w a y of l i n k i n g representations t o g e t h e r (rather like
another kind of w o r d order). But when one compares, as Coeurdoux[23]
a n d W i l l i a m J o n e s [24]

d i d , t h e different f o r m s of t h e v e r b to be in

Sanskrit a n d L a t i n o r G r e e k , o n e discovers a relation o f c o n s t a n c y t h e
reverse of t h e o n e usually a d m i t t e d : it is t h e r o o t t h a t is m o d i f i e d , a n d t h e
inflections t h a t a r e a n a l o g o u s . T h e Sanskrit series asmi, asi, asti, smas, stha,
santi c o r r e s p o n d s exactly, b u t b y inflectional a n a l o g y , w i t h t h e Latin
series sum, es, est, sumus, estis, sunt. It is t r u e t h a t C o e u r d o u x a n d A n q u e t i l D u p e r r o n r e m a i n e d at t h e level of analysis as practised in general grammar,
w h e n t h e f o r m e r s a w this parallelism a s e v i d e n c e o f t h e r e m a i n s o f a n
o r i g i n a l c o m m o n l a n g u a g e , a n d t h e latter s a w i t a s t h e result o f the
historic m i x t u r e t h a t m a y h a v e o c c u r r e d b e t w e e n H i n d u s a n d M e d i terranean peoples at the time of the Bactrian k i n g d o m . B u t w h a t was at
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stake i n this c o m p a r i s o n o f conjugations w a s n o l o n g e r t h e link b e t w e e n
original syllable a n d p r i m a r y m e a n i n g ; it w a s already a m o r e c o m p l e x
relation b e t w e e n t h e modifications o f t h e radical a n d t h e functions o f
g r a m m a r ; i t w a s b e i n g discovered t h a t i n t w o different languages t h e r e
w a s a c o n s t a n t relation b e t w e e n a d e t e r m i n a t e series of formal m o d i f i c a tions a n d a n equally d e t e r m i n a t e series o f g r a m m a t i c a l functions, s y n tactical values, o r modifications o f m e a n i n g .
For this v e r y reason, general grammar begins to c h a n g e its c o n f i g u r a t i o n :
its v a r i o u s theoretical s e g m e n t s are no l o n g e r linked t o g e t h e r in exactly t h e
s a m e w a y ; a n d t h e n e t w o r k t h a t j o i n s t h e m already suggests a s l i g h d y
different r o u t e . A t the t i m e o f B a u z e e o r C o n d i l l a c , t h e relation b e t w e e n
r o o t s , w i t h their g r e a t lability o f f o r m , a n d t h e m e a n i n g p a t t e r n e d o u t o f
representations, o r again, the link b e t w e e n t h e p o w e r t o designate a n d
t h e p o w e r t o articulate, w a s assured b y t h e s o v e r e i g n t y o f t h e N a m e . N o w
a n e w e l e m e n t intervenes: o n t h e o n e h a n d , o n t h e side o f m e a n i n g o r
r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , it indicates o n l y an accessory a n d necessarily s e c o n d a r y
v a l u e (it is a q u e s t i o n of t h e role p l a y e d by t h e individual or t h i n g d e s i g n a t e d as either subject or c o m p l e m e n t ; it is a q u e s t i o n of t h e t i m e of t h e
a c t i o n ) ; b u t o n t h e o t h e r h a n d , o n t h e side o f f o r m , i t constitutes t h e solid,
constant, a l m o s t unalterable totality w h o s e s o v e r e i g n l a w is so far i m p o s e d
u p o n t h e representative roots as to m o d i f y e v e n those r o o t s themselves.
M o r e o v e r , this e l e m e n t , s e c o n d a r y in its significative v a l u e , p r i m a r y in its
f o r m a l consistence, is n o t itself an isolated syllable, like a sort of c o n s t a n t
r o o t ; it is a system of modifications of w h i c h t h e v a r i o u s s e g m e n t s a r e
i n t e r d e p e n d e n t : the letter s does n o t signify t h e s e c o n d p e r s o n in t h e w a y
t h a t the letter e, a c c o r d i n g to C o u r t de Gebelin, signified b r e a t h i n g , life,
a n d existence; it is t h e totality of t h e modifications m, s, t t h a t gives t h e
v e r b a l r o o t t h e values o f t h e first, second, a n d t h i r d p e r s o n .
U n t i l t h e e n d o f t h e e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y , this n e w analysis has its place
in t h e search for the representative values of l a n g u a g e . It is still a q u e s t i o n
o f discourse. B u t already, t h r o u g h t h e inflectional system, t h e d i m e n s i o n
o f t h e p u r e l y g r a m m a t i c a l i s a p p e a r i n g : l a n g u a g e n o l o n g e r consists o n l y
o f representations a n d o f sounds t h a t i n t u r n represent t h e representations
a n d are o r d e r e d a m o n g t h e m a s t h e links o f t h o u g h t r e q u i r e ; i t consists
also o f f o r m a l e l e m e n t s , g r o u p e d i n t o a system, w h i c h i m p o s e u p o n t h e
s o u n d s , syllables, a n d r o o t s a n o r g a n i z a t i o n t h a t i s n o t t h a t o f r e p r e sentation. T h u s a n e l e m e n t has been i n t r o d u c e d i n t o t h e analysis o f l a n g u a g e that is n o t r e d u c i b l e to it (as l a b o u r w a s i n t r o d u c e d i n t o t h e analysis
o f e x c h a n g e , o r o r g a n i c s t r u c t u r e i n t o t h a t o f characters). A s a p r i m a r y
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c o n s e q u e n c e o f this, o n e m a y n o t e the a p p e a r a n c e a t the e n d o f t h e
e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y of a p h o n e t i c s that is no l o n g e r an investigation of
p r i m a r y expressive values, b u t a n analysis o f sounds, o f their relations, a n d
o f their possible t r a n s f o r m a t i o n o n e i n t o a n o t h e r ; i n 1 7 8 1 , w e find
H e l w a g defining t h e vocalic t r i a n g l e [ 2 5 ] . O n e c a n n o t e also t h e b e g i n nings of a c o m p a r a t i v e g r a m m a r : t h e object selected for c o m p a r i s o n in
the various languages is no longer the couple formed by a g r o u p of
letters a n d a m e a n i n g , b u t g r o u p s of modifications of a g r a m m a t i c a l
n a t u r e (conjugations, declensions, suffixes, a n d prefixes). L a n g u a g e s a r e
n o l o n g e r c o n t r a s t e d i n a c c o r d a n c e w i t h w h a t their w o r d s designate, b u t
i n a c c o r d a n c e w i t h t h e m e a n s w h e r e b y those w o r d s are linked t o g e t h e r ;
f r o m n o w o n t h e y will c o m m u n i c a t e , n o t via t h e i n t e r m e d i a r y o f t h a t
a n o n y m o u s a n d general t h o u g h t t h e y exist t o represent, b u t directly f r o m
o n e to t h e o t h e r , t h a n k s to these delicate i n s t r u m e n t s , so fragile in a p p e a r ance y e t so c o n s t a n t a n d so irreducible, by w h i c h w o r d s are a r r a n g e d in
relation t o each o t h e r . A s M o n b o d d o said:
T h e art of a l a n g u a g e is less a r b i t r a r y a n d m o r e d e t e r m i n e d by rule t h a n
either t h e s o u n d or sense of the w o r d s , it is o n e of t h e principal t h i n g s
b y w h i c h t h e c o n n e c t i o n o f languages w i t h o n e a n o t h e r i s t o b e d i s c o v e r e d . A n d , therefore, w h e n w e find that t w o l a n g u a g e s practise t h e
three great arts o f l a n g u a g e , d e r i v a t i o n , c o m p o s i t i o n , and f l e x i o n , i n t h e
same w a y , w e m a y c o n c l u d e that t h e o n e l a n g u a g e i s t h e original o f
t h e o t h e r , o r that t h e y are b o t h dialects o f t h e s a m e l a n g u a g e [26].
As l o n g as l a n g u a g e w a s defined as discourse, it c o u l d have no o t h e r
history t h a n t h a t of its r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s : if ideas, things, k n o w l e d g e , or
feelings h a p p e n e d to c h a n g e , t h e n a n d o n l y t h e n d i d a g i v e n l a n g u a g e
u n d e r g o m o d i f i c a t i o n , a n d in exactly t h e s a m e p r o p o r t i o n as t h e changes
i n q u e s t i o n . B u t f r o m n o w o n t h e r e i s a n interior ' m e c h a n i s m ' i n l a n g u a g e s
w h i c h d e t e r m i n e s n o t o n l y each one's i n d i v i d u a l i t y b u t also its r e s e m blances to t h e o t h e r s : it is this m e c h a n i s m , t h e b e a r e r of i d e n t i t y a n d
difference, t h e sign o f adjacency, t h e m a r k o f k i n s h i p , t h a t i s n o w t o
b e c o m e t h e basis for h i s t o r y . By its m e a n s , historicity will be able to
i n t r o d u c e itself i n t o t h e density o f t h e s p o k e n w o r d itself.

V

IDEOLOGY

AND

CRITICISM

T h e r e t o o k place therefore, t o w a r d s t h e last years o f t h e e i g h t e e n t h
c e n t u r y , in general grammar, in natural history, a n d in t h e analysis of wealth,
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an e v e n t t h a t is of t h e s a m e t y p e in all these spheres. T h e signs w h o s e
representations w e r e affected, t h e analysis of identities a n d differences t h a t
it was possible to establish at t h a t rime, t h e c o n t i n u o u s , y e t articulated,
table t h a t w a s set u p i n t h e t e e m i n g profusion o f similitudes, t h e clearly
defined o r d e r a m o n g t h e empirical multiplicities, n o n e o f these can h e n c e f o r t h b e based solely u p o n t h e duplication o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n i n relation t o
itself. F r o m this e v e n t o n w a r d , w h a t gives v a l u e t o t h e objects o f desire
is n o t solely t h e o t h e r objects that desire can represent to itself, b u t an
e l e m e n t t h a t c a n n o t b e r e d u c e d t o t h a t r e p r e s e n t a t i o n : labour; w h a t m a k e s
it possible to characterize a n a t u r a l b e i n g is no l o n g e r t h e elements that
w e can analyse i n t h e representations w e m a k e for ourselves o f i t a n d
o t h e r beings, it is a certain relation w i t h i n this b e i n g , w h i c h we call its
organic structure; w h a t m a k e s it possible to define a l a n g u a g e is n o t t h e
w a y in w h i c h it represents representations, b u t a certain internal a r c h i t e c t u r e , a certain m a n n e r of m o d i f y i n g t h e w o r d s themselves in a c c o r d a n c e
w i t h t h e g r a m m a t i c a l position t h e y take u p i n relation t o o n e a n o t h e r ;
in o t h e r w o r d s , its inflectional system. In all these cases, t h e relation of
r e p r e s e n t a t i o n to itself, a n d t h e relations of o r d e r it b e c o m e s possible to
d e t e r m i n e a p a r t f r o m all q u a n t i t a t i v e forms o f m e a s u r e m e n t , n o w pass
t h r o u g h c o n d i t i o n s e x t e r i o r t o t h e actuality o f t h e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n itself.
In o r d e r to link t h e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n of a m e a n i n g w i t h t h a t of a w o r d , it is
necessary t o refer t o , a n d t o h a v e recourse t o , the p u r e l y g r a m m a t i c a l
l a w s o f a l a n g u a g e w h i c h , a p a r t f r o m all p o w e r o f r e p r e s e n t i n g r e p r e sentations, is subjected to t h e r i g o r o u s system of its p h o n e t i c modifications
a n d its s y n t h e t i c s u b o r d i n a t i o n s ; in t h e Classical age, languages h a d a
g r a m m a r because t h e y h a d t h e p o w e r t o represent; n o w t h e y represent
on t h e basis of that g r a m m a r , w h i c h is for t h e m a sort of historical
reverse side, an interior a n d necessary v o l u m e w h o s e representative values
a r e n o m o r e t h a n t h e glittering, visible exterior. I n o r d e r t o link t o g e t h e r ,
in a defined character, a partial s t r u c t u r e and t h e visible totality of a living
b e i n g , it is n o w necessary to refer to the p u r e l y biological laws, w h i c h ,
a p a r t f r o m all descriptive signs and as it w e r e set back f r o m t h e m , o r g a n i z e
t h e relations b e t w e e n functions a n d o r g a n s ; living beings n o l o n g e r define
their resemblances, their affinities, a n d their families on t h e basis of their
displayed descriptability; t h e y possess characters w h i c h l a n g u a g e can scan
a n d define because t h e y h a v e a structure t h a t is, in a w a y , t h e d a r k ,
c o n c a v e , i n n e r side of their visibility: it is on t h e clear a n d discursive
surface of this secret b u t s o v e r e i g n mass that characters e m e r g e , a sort of
storehouse e x t e r i o r t o t h e p e r i p h e r y o f o r g a n i s m s n o w b o u n d i n u p o n
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themselves. Finally, w h e n it is a m a t t e r of l i n k i n g t h e r e p r e s e n t a t i o n of
s o m e object o f n e e d t o all t h e o t h e r s t h a t can c o n f r o n t i t i n t h e act o f
e x c h a n g e , it is necessary to h a v e r e c o u r s e to t h e f o r m a n d q u a n t i t y of a
piece o f w o r k , w h i c h d e t e r m i n e its v a l u e ; w h a t creates a h i e r a r c h y a m o n g
things i n t h e c o n t i n u o u s circulation o f t h e m a r k e t i s n o t o t h e r objects o r
o t h e r n e e d s ; it is t h e activity that has p r o d u c e d t h e m a n d has silently
l o d g e d itself w i t h i n t h e m ; it is t h e days and h o u r s r e q u i r e d for their
m a n u f a c t u r e , e x t r a c t i o n , o r t r a n s p o r t a t i o n t h a t c o n s t i t u t e their p r o p e r
w e i g h t , their m a r k e t a b l e solidity, their internal l a w , a n d t h u s w h a t o n e
can call their real p r i c e ; it is on t h e basis of this essential nucleus t h a t
e x c h a n g e s can b e a c c o m p l i s h e d a n d t h a t m a r k e t prices, after h a v i n g
fluctuated, can find their p o i n t of rest.
T h i s s o m e w h a t e n i g m a t i c e v e n t , this e v e n t rising u p f r o m b e l o w w h i c h
o c c u r r e d t o w a r d s t h e e n d o f t h e e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y i n these t h r e e d o m a i n s ,
subjecting t h e m a t o n e b l o w t o o n e a n d t h e s a m e break, can n o w b e
located w i t h i n t h e u n i t y t h a t f o r m s a f o u n d a t i o n for its diverse f o r m s .
Q u i t e o b v i o u s l y , i t w o u l d b e superficial t o seek this u n i t y i n s o m e p r o g r e s s
m a d e i n rationality, o r i n t h e d i s c o v e r y o f a n e w cultural t h e m e . T h e
c o m p l e x p h e n o m e n a o f b i o l o g y , o f t h e history o f languages, o r o f i n d u s trial p r o d u c t i o n , w e r e n o t , i n t h e last years o f t h e e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y ,
i n t r o d u c e d i n t o f o r m s o f rational analysis t o w h i c h until t h e n t h e y h a d
r e m a i n e d entirely f o r e i g n ; n o r w a s t h e r e a s u d d e n interest - p r o v o k e d by
t h e 'influence' of a b u d d i n g ' r o m a n t i c i s m ' - in t h e c o m p l e x f o r m s of life,
h i s t o r y , a n d society; t h e r e w a s n o d e t a c h m e n t , u n d e r t h e pressure o f its
p r o b l e m s , f r o m a r a t i o n a l i s m subjected t o t h e m o d e l o f m e c h a n i c s , t o t h e
rules o f analysis a n d t h e laws o f u n d e r s t a n d i n g . O r r a t h e r , all this d i d i n
fact h a p p e n , b u t as a surface m o v e m e n t : a m o d i f i c a t i o n a n d shifting of
cultural interests, a r e d i s t r i b u t i o n of o p i n i o n s a n d j u d g e m e n t s , t h e a p p e a r ance o f n e w f o r m s i n scientific discourse, w r i n k l e s traced for t h e first t i m e
u p o n t h e e n l i g h t e n e d face of k n o w l e d g e . In a m o r e f u n d a m e n t a l fashion,
a n d at t h e level w h e r e a c q u i r e d k n o w l e d g e is r o o t e d in its positivity, t h e
e v e n t c o n c e r n s , n o t t h e objects a i m e d at, analysed, a n d e x p l a i n e d i n
k n o w l e d g e , n o t e v e n t h e m a n n e r o f k n o w i n g t h e m o r rationalizing t h e m ,
b u t t h e relation o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n t o that w h i c h i s posited i n it. W h a t c a m e
i n t o b e i n g w i t h A d a m S m i t h , w i t h t h e first philologists, w i t h Jussieu, V i c q
d ' A z y r , or L a m a r c k , is a m i n u s c u l e b u t absolutely essential d i s p l a c e m e n t ,
w h i c h t o p p l e d t h e w h o l e o f W e s t e r n t h o u g h t : r e p r e s e n t a t i o n has lost t h e
p o w e r t o p r o v i d e a f o u n d a t i o n - w i t h its o w n b e i n g , its o w n d e p l o y m e n t
a n d its p o w e r of d o u b l i n g o v e r on itself - for t h e links t h a t can j o i n its
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v a r i o u s elements t o g e t h e r . N o c o m p o s i t i o n , n o d e c o m p o s i t i o n , n o analysis
i n t o identities a n d differences can n o w justify t h e c o n n e c t i o n o f r e p r e sentations o n e to a n o t h e r ; o r d e r , t h e table in w h i c h it is spatialized, t h e
adjacencies it defines, t h e successions it authorizes as so m a n y possible
r o u t e s b e t w e e n t h e p o i n t s on its surface - n o n e of these is a n y l o n g e r in a
position to l i n k representations or t h e elements of a particular r e p r e sentation t o g e t h e r . T h e c o n d i t i o n o f these links resides h e n c e f o r t h outside
r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , b e y o n d its i m m e d i a t e visibility, in a sort of b e h i n d - t h e scenes w o r l d e v e n d e e p e r a n d m o r e dense t h a n r e p r e s e n t a t i o n itself. I n
o r d e r t o find a w a y b a c k t o t h e p o i n t w h e r e t h e visible f o r m s o f beings
a r e j o i n e d - t h e structure o f living beings, t h e v a l u e o f w e a l t h , t h e s y n t a x
o f w o r d s - w e m u s t direct o u r search t o w a r d s that peak, t h a t necessary
b u t always inaccessible p o i n t , w h i c h drives d o w n , b e y o n d o u r gaze, t o w a r d s t h e v e r y h e a r t o f t h i n g s . W i t h d r a w n i n t o their o w n essence, t a k i n g
u p their place a t last w i t h i n t h e force t h a t animates t h e m , w i t h i n t h e
o r g a n i c s t r u c t u r e t h a t m a i n t a i n s t h e m , w i t h i n t h e genesis t h a t has n e v e r
ceased t o p r o d u c e t h e m , things, i n their f u n d a m e n t a l t r u t h , h a v e n o w
escaped f r o m t h e space o f t h e table; instead o f b e i n g n o m o r e t h a n t h e
c o n s t a n c y t h a t distributes their representations always in a c c o r d a n c e w i t h
t h e s a m e f o r m s , t h e y t u r n i n u p o n themselves, posit their o w n v o l u m e s ,
a n d define for themselves an internal space w h i c h , to o u r r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , is
on t h e exterior. It is f r o m t h e s t a r t i n g - p o i n t of t h e a r c h i t e c t u r e t h e y
conceal, o f t h e cohesion t h a t m a i n t a i n s its s o v e r e i g n a n d secret s w a y
o v e r each o n e o f their parts, i t i s f r o m t h e d e p t h s o f t h e force that b r o u g h t
t h e m into b e i n g a n d that r e m a i n s in t h e m , as t h o u g h motionless y e t still
q u i v e r i n g , t h a t t h i n g s - in fragments, outlines, pieces, shards - offer t h e m selves, t h o u g h v e r y partially, t o r e p r e s e n t a t i o n . A n d f r o m their inaccessible
store, representation can d r a w o u t , piece b y piece, o n l y t e n u o u s e l e m e n t s
whose unity, whose point of connection, always remains hidden in that
b e y o n d . T h e space of o r d e r , w h i c h served as a common place for r e p r e sentation a n d for things, for empirical visibility a n d for t h e essential rules,
w h i c h u n i t e d t h e regularities o f n a t u r e a n d t h e resemblances o f i m a g i n a t i o n i n t h e g r i d o f identities a n d differences, w h i c h displayed t h e e m p i r i c a l
sequence of representations in a s i m u l t a n e o u s table, a n d m a d e it possible to
scan step by step, in a c c o r d a n c e w i t h a logical sequence, t h e totality of
n a t u r e ' s e l e m e n t s thus r e n d e r e d c o n t e m p o r a n e o u s w i t h o n e a n o t h e r - this
space o f o r d e r i s f r o m n o w o n s h a t t e r e d : t h e r e w i l l b e t h i n g s , w i t h their
o w n o r g a n i c structures, their h i d d e n veins, t h e space that articulates t h e m ,
t h e t i m e t h a t p r o d u c e s t h e m ; a n d t h e n representation, a p u r e l y t e m p o r a l
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succession, in w h i c h those t h i n g s address themselves (always partially) to a
subjectivity, a consciousness, a singular effort of c o g n i t i o n , to t h e ' p s y c h o logical' i n d i v i d u a l w h o f r o m t h e d e p t h o f his o w n h i s t o r y , o r o n t h e
basis o f t h e t r a d i t i o n h a n d e d o n t o h i m , i s t r y i n g t o k n o w . R e p r e s e n t a t i o n is in t h e process of losing its p o w e r to define t h e m o d e of b e i n g
c o m m o n t o t h i n g s a n d t o k n o w l e d g e . T h e v e r y b e i n g o f that w h i c h i s
r e p r e s e n t e d is n o w g o i n g to fall outside r e p r e s e n t a t i o n itself.
Y e t t h a t p r o p o s i t i o n is i m p r u d e n t . At a n y rate, it anticipates an a r r a n g e m e n t o f t h e field o f k n o w l e d g e that i s n o t y e t definitively established b y
t h e e n d o f t h e e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y . I t m u s t n o t b e f o r g o t t e n that, t h o u g h
S m i t h , Jussieu, a n d W . J o n e s m a d e use o f t h e n o t i o n s o f l a b o u r , o r g a n i c
s t r u c t u r e , and g r a m m a t i c a l system, their a i m i n d o i n g s o w a s n o t t o b r e a k
o u t of t h e tabular space laid o u t by Classical t h o u g h t , or to find a w a y
a r o u n d t h e visibility o f things a n d t o escape f r o m t h e p l a y o f r e p r e sentation r e p r e s e n t i n g itself; it was s i m p l y to establish w i t h i n it a f o r m of
c o n n e c t i o n t h a t w o u l d b e a t t h e same t i m e analysable, constant, a n d well
f o u n d e d . It w a s still a m a t t e r of d i s c o v e r i n g t h e general o r d e r of identities
a n d differences. T h e g r e a t d e t o u r , t h e g r e a t quest, b e y o n d r e p r e s e n t a t i o n ,
for t h e v e r y b e i n g o f w h a t i s r e p r e s e n t e d has n o t y e t been m a d e ; o n l y t h e
place f r o m w h i c h t h a t quest will b e c o m e possible has so far b e e n e s t a b lished. B u t this place still figures a m o n g t h e i n t e r i o r a r r a n g e m e n t s o f
representations. A n d t h e r e i s n o d o u b t t h a t t h e r e exists, c o r r e s p o n d i n g t o
this a m b i g u o u s epistemological c o n f i g u r a t i o n , a p h i l o s o p h i c duality
w h i c h indicates its i m m i n e n t dissolution.
T h e coexistence o f I d e o l o g y a n d critical p h i l o s o p h v a t t h e e n d o f t h e
e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y - of D e s t u t t de T r a c y a n d K a n t - divides, into t w o
forms o f t h o u g h t , e x t e r i o r t o o n e a n o t h e r , yet s i m u l t a n e o u s , w h a t scientific f o r m s of reflection, on t h e o t h e r h a n d , h o l d t o g e t h e r in a u n i t y
d o o m e d t o i m m i n e n t dissociation. I n D e s t u t t o r G e r a n d o , I d e o l o g y posits
itself b o t h as t h e o n l y rational a n d scientific f o r m that p h i l o s o p h y can
assume a n d as t h e sole p h i l o s o p h i c f o u n d a t i o n t h a t can be p r o p o s e d for
t h e sciences in general a n d for each particular sphere of k n o w l e d g e . B e i n g
a science of ideas, I d e o l o g y s h o u l d be a k i n d of k n o w l e d g e of t h e s a m e
t y p e a s those that take a s their object t h e beings o f n a t u r e , t h e w o r d s o f
l a n g u a g e , or t h e laws of society. B u t precisely in so far as its object is
ideas, t h e m a n n e r i n w h i c h t h e y are expressed i n w o r d s a n d linked t o g e t h e r in r e a s o n i n g , it has validity as t h e G r a m m a r and t h e L o g i c of all
possible science. I d e o l o g y does n o t q u e s t i o n t h e f o u n d a t i o n , t h e limits, o r
t h e r o o t of r e p r e s e n t a t i o n ; it scans t h e d o m a i n of representations in
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g e n e r a l ; it d e t e r m i n e s t h e necessary sequences t h a t a p p e a r t h e r e ; it defines
t h e links t h a t p r o v i d e its c o n n e c t i o n s ; it expresses t h e laws of c o m p o s i t i o n
a n d d e c o m p o s i t i o n t h a t m a y rule it. It situates all k n o w l e d g e in t h e space
o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s , a n d b y s c a n n i n g that space i t f o r m u l a t e s t h e k n o w l e d g e
of the laws t h a t p r o v i d e its o r g a n i z a t i o n . It is in a sense t h e k n o w l e d g e of
all k n o w l e d g e . B u t this d u p l i c a t i o n u p o n w h i c h it is based does n o t cause
i t t o e m e r g e f r o m t h e field o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n ; t h e a i m o f that d u p l i c a t i o n
is to s u p e r i m p o s e all k n o w l e d g e u p o n a r e p r e s e n t a t i o n f r o m w h o s e
i m m e d i a c y o n e n e v e r escapes:
H a v e y o u e v e r u n d e r s t o o d a t all precisely w h a t t h i n k i n g is, w h a t y o u
e x p e r i e n c e w h e n y o u t h i n k , a n y t h i n g at all? . . . Y o u say to yourself:
/ think that, w h e n y o u h a v e an o p i n i o n , w h e n y o u f o r m a j u d g e m e n t .
In fact, to pass a j u d g e m e n t , t r u e or false, is an act of t h o u g h t ; this act
consists in feeling t h a t t h e r e is a c o n n e c t i o n , a relation . . . To think, as
y o u see, is always to feel, a n d is n o t h i n g o t h e r t h a n to feel [ 2 7 ] .
W e s h o u l d n o t e , h o w e v e r , t h a t , i n defining t h e t h o u g h t o f a relation b y
t h e sensation o f t h a t relation, o r , i n briefer t e r m s , t h o u g h t i n general b y
sensation, D e s t u t t i s i n d e e d c o v e r i n g , w i t h o u t e m e r g i n g f r o m it, t h e w h o l e
d o m a i n o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n ; b u t h e reaches t h e frontier w h e r e sensation a s
the primary, completely simple form of representation, as the m i n i m u m
c o n t e n t o f w h a t can b e g i v e n t o t h o u g h t , t o p p l e s o v e r i n t o the d o m a i n o f
t h e physiological c o n d i t i o n s t h a t can p r o v i d e a n awareness o f it. T h a t
w h i c h , w h e n read i n o n e sense, appears a s t h e m o s t t e n u o u s g e n e r a l i t y o f
t h o u g h t , appears, w h e n deciphered in another direction, as the c o m p l e x
result o f a z o o l o g i c a l s i n g u l a r i t y : ' W e h a v e o n l y a n i n c o m p l e t e k n o w l e d g e o f a n a n i m a l i f w e d o n o t k n o w its intellectual faculties. I d e o l o g y i s
a p a r t of z o o l o g y , a n d it is a b o v e all in m a n t h a t this p a r t is i m p o r t a n t
a n d m e r i t s d e l v i n g i n t o ' [ 2 8 ] . Analysis o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , a t t h e m o m e n t
w h e n i t attains its greatest d e g r e e o f e x t e n s i o n , brushes w i t h its v e r y
o u t e r m o s t e d g e a d o m a i n t h a t is m o r e or less - or r a t h e r , that will be
m o r e or less, for it does n o t exist as y e t - t h a t of a n a t u r a l science of m a n .
Different a s t h e y are i n f o r m , style, a n d a i m , t h e K a n t i a n q u e s t i o n a n d
the question of the 'Ideologues' have the same point of application: the
relation o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s t o each o t h e r . B u t K a n t does n o t seek this
relation - w h a t gives it its f o u n d a t i o n a n d j u s t i f i c a t i o n - o n t h e level of
r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , e v e n a t t e n u a t e d in its c o n t e n t so far as to be n o t h i n g m o r e ,
o n t h e confines o f passivity a n d consciousness, t h a n m e r e sensation; h e
questions it as to w h a t r e n d e r s it possible in general. Instead of basing t h e
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c o n n e c t i o n b e t w e e n representations on a f o u n d a t i o n arrived at by a sort
o f internal h o l l o w i n g - o u t process, w h i c h g r a d u a l l y whittles i t a w a y until
t h e r e is n o t h i n g left b u t t h e p u r e impression, he establishes it on t h e c o n ditions t h a t define its universally valid f o r m . By directing his i n q u i r y in
this direction, K a n t avoids r e p r e s e n t a t i o n itself a n d w h a t is g i v e n w i t h i n
it, i n o r d e r t o address h i m s e l f t o t h a t o n t h e basis o f w h i c h all r e p r e sentation, w h a t e v e r its f o r m , m a y b e posited. I t i s therefore n o t r e p r e sentations themselves t h a t , i n a c c o r d a n c e w i t h their o w n laws, c o u l d b e
d e p l o y e d a n d , i n o n e a n d t h e same m o v e m e n t , d e c o m p o s e d (by analysis)
a n d r e c o m p o s e d (by synthesis): o n l y j u d g e m e n t s d e r i v e d f r o m e x p e r i e n c e
o r empirical o b s e r v a t i o n s can b e based u p o n t h e c o n t e n t s o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n . A n y o t h e r c o n n e c t i o n , if it is to be universal, m u s t h a v e its f o u n d a t i o n b e y o n d all e x p e r i e n c e , in t h e a priori t h a t r e n d e r s it possible. N o t t h a t
it is a q u e s t i o n of a n o t h e r w o r l d , b u t of t h e c o n d i t i o n s in a c c o r d a n c e w i t h
w h i c h a n y r e p r e s e n t a t i o n o f t h e w o r l d i n general can exist.
T h e r e is thus a definite c o r r e s p o n d e n c e b e t w e e n the K a n t i a n critique
a n d w h a t i n t h e s a m e p e r i o d w a s posited a s t h e first a l m o s t c o m p l e t e f o r m
o f ideological analysis. B u t I d e o l o g y , b y e x t e n d i n g its reflection o v e r
t h e w h o l e field o f k n o w l e d g e - f r o m p r i m a r y impressions t o political
e c o n o m y , b y w a y o f logic, a r i t h m e t i c , t h e sciences o f n a t u r e , a n d g r a m m a r
- tried t o r e s u m e i n t h e f o r m o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n precisely w h a t w a s b e i n g
f o r m e d a n d r e - f o r m e d o u t s i d e representation. T h i s r e s u m p t i o n could b e
a c c o m p l i s h e d o n l y in t h e q u a s i - m y t h i c a l f o r m of a s i m u l t a n e o u s l y sing u l a r a n d universal genesis: an isolated, e m p t y , a n d abstract consciousness
m u s t , b e g i n n i n g w i t h t h e m o s t t e n u o u s f o r m o f representation, build u p
little by little t h e g r e a t table of all t h a t is r e p r e s e n t a b l e . fn this sense,
I d e o l o g y is t h e last of t h e Classical philosophies - r a t h e r as Juliette is t h e
last of t h e Classical narratives. Sade's scenes a n d r e a s o n i n g r e c a p t u r e all
t h e fresh v i o l e n c e of desire in t h e d e p l o y m e n t of a representation t h a t is
transparent a n d w i t h o u t f l a w ; t h e analyses o f I d e o l o g y r e c a p t u r e i n their
n a r r a t i v e o f a b i r t h all t h e f o r m s o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , e v e n t h e m o s t c o m p l e x
ones. C o n f r o n t i n g I d e o l o g y , t h e K a n t i a n c r i t i q u e , o n t h e o t h e r h a n d ,
m a r k s t h e t h r e s h o l d o f o u r m o d e r n i t y ; i t questions r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , n o t i n
a c c o r d a n c e w i t h t h e endless m o v e m e n t t h a t p r o c e e d s f r o m t h e s i m p l e
e l e m e n t to all its possible c o m b i n a t i o n s , b u t on t h e basis of its rightful
limits. T h u s it sanctions for t h e first t i m e that e v e n t in E u r o p e a n c u l t u r e
w h i c h coincides w i t h t h e e n d o f t h e e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y : t h e w i t h d r a w a l
o f k n o w l e d g e a n d t h o u g h t o u t s i d e t h e space o f representation. T h a t space
is b r o u g h t i n t o q u e s t i o n in its f o u n d a t i o n , its o r i g i n , a n d its limits: a n d
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b y this v e r y fact, t h e u n l i m i t e d field o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , w h i c h C l a s s i c a l
t h o u g h t h a d established, w h i c h I d e o l o g y h a d a t t e m p t e d t o scan i n a c c o r d a n c e w i t h a s t e p - b y - s t e p , d i s c u r s i v e , scientific m e t h o d , n o w a p p e a r s a s a
m e t a p h y s i c s . B u t a s a m e t a p h y s i c s t h a t h a d n e v e r s t e p p e d o u t s i d e itself,
that h a d p o s i t e d i t s e l f i n a n u n i n f o r m e d d o g m a t i s m , a n d that h a d n e v e r
b r o u g h t o u t i n t o t h e l i g h t t h e q u e s t i o n o f its r i g h t . I n this sense, C r i t i c i s m
b r i n g s o u t t h e m e t a p h y s i c a l d i m e n s i o n that e i g h t e e n t h - c e n t u r y p h i l o s o p h y h a d a t t e m p t e d t o r e d u c e s o l e l y b y m e a n s o f t h e analysis o f r e p r e sentation. B u t i t o p e n s u p a t t h e s a m e t i m e t h e p o s s i b i l i t y o f a n o t h e r
metaphysics; o n e w h o s e purpose w i l l be to question, apart f r o m representation, all t h a t i s t h e s o u r c e a n d o r i g i n o f r e p r e s e n t a t i o n ; i t m a k e s
p o s s i b l e t h o s e p h i l o s o p h i e s o f L i f e , o f t h e W i l l , a n d o f t h e W o r d , that
t h e n i n e t e e n t h c e n t u r y i s t o d e p l o y i n the w a k e o f c r i t i c i s m .

VI

OBJECTIVE

SYNTHESES

F r o m this, t h e r e s p r i n g s a n a l m o s t infinite series o f c o n s e q u e n c e s - o f u n l i m i t e d c o n s e q u e n c e s , a t least, since o u r t h o u g h t t o d a y still b e l o n g s t o t h e
s a m e d y n a s t y . I n t h e f i r s t r a n k , w e m u s t u n d o u b t e d l y p l a c e the s i m u l taneous e m e r g e n c e of a transcendental t h e m e and n e w empirical fields
- o r , i f n o t n e w , a t least d i s t r i b u t e d a n d f o u n d e d i n a n e w w a y . W e h a v e
seen h o w , i n t h e s e v e n t e e n t h c e n t u r y , t h e a p p e a r a n c e o f the mathesis a s a
g e n e r a l science o f o r d e r n o t o n l y p l a y e d a f o u n d i n g r o l e i n t h e m a t h e m a t i c a l disciplines b u t w a s c o r r e l a t i v e i n t h e f o r m a t i o n o f v a r i o u s p u r e l y
empirical domains, such as general g r a m m a r , natural history, and the
analysis o f w e a l t h ; these latter w e r e n o t c o n s t r u c t e d i n a c c o r d a n c e w i t h a
' m o d e l ' supposedly prescribed for t h e m by the mathematicization or
mechanization o f nature; t h e y w e r e constituted and arranged against the
b a c k g r o u n d o f a g e n e r a l p o s s i b i l i t y : that w h i c h m a d e i t p o s s i b l e t o
establish a n o r d e r e d t a b l e o f identities a n d differences b e t w e e n r e p r e sentations. I t w a s t h e d i s s o l u t i o n o f this h o m o g e n e o u s f i e l d o f o r d e r a b l e
r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s , i n t h e last y e a r s o f t h e e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y , that b r o u g h t
a b o u t the c o r r e l a t i v e a p p e a r a n c e o f t w o n e w f o r m s o f t h o u g h t . T h e f i r s t
q u e s t i o n s the c o n d i t i o n s o f a r e l a t i o n b e t w e e n representations f r o m t h e
p o i n t o f v i e w o f w h a t i n g e n e r a l m a k e s t h e m p o s s i b l e : i t thus u n c o v e r s a
t r a n s c e n d e n t a l f i e l d i n w h i c h t h e subject, w h i c h i s n e v e r g i v e n t o e x p e r i e n c e (since i t i s n o t e m p i r i c a l ) , b u t w h i c h i s finite (since there i s n o
i n t e l l e c t u a l i n t u i t i o n ) , d e t e r m i n e s in its r e l a t i o n to an o b j e c t = x all t h e
formal conditions of experience in general;
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of the

THE ORDER OF THINGS
transcendental subject that isolates t h e foundation of a possible synthesis
b e t w e e n representations. O p p o s i t e this o p e n i n g t o t h e transcendental, a n d
s y m m e t r i c a l t o it, a n o t h e r f o r m o f t h o u g h t questions t h e c o n d i t i o n s o f a
relation b e t w e e n representations f r o m t h e p o i n t o f v i e w o f t h e b e i n g
itself t h a t is r e p r e s e n t e d : w h a t is indicated, on t h e h o r i z o n of all actual
representations, as t h e f o u n d a t i o n of their u n i t y , is f o u n d to be those n e v e r
objectifiable objects, those n e v e r entirely representable representations,
those s i m u l t a n e o u s l y e v i d e n t a n d invisible visibilities, those realities t h a t
are r e m o v e d f r o m reality t o t h e d e g r e e t o w h i c h t h e y are t h e f o u n d a t i o n
o f w h a t i s g i v e n t o u s a n d reaches us: t h e force o f l a b o u r , t h e e n e r g y o f
life, t h e p o w e r of speech. It is on t h e basis of these f o r m s , w h i c h p r o w l
a r o u n d t h e o u t e r b o u n d a r i e s o f o u r experience, t h a t t h e v a l u e o f things,
t h e o r g a n i c s t r u c t u r e o f living beings, t h e g r a m m a t i c a l s t r u c t u r e a n d h i s torical affinities o f l a n g u a g e s , attain o u r representations a n d u r g e u s o n t o
t h e p e r h a p s infinite task of k n o w i n g . In this cr.se, t h e c o n d i t i o n s of possibility o f experience are b e i n g s o u g h t i n t h e c o n d i t i o n s o f possibility o f t h e
object a n d its existence, w h e r e a s in transcendental reflection t h e c o n ditions o f possibility o f t h e objects o f experience a r e identified w i t h t h e
c o n d i t i o n s o f possibility o f e x p e r i e n c e itself. T h e n e w positivity o f t h e
sciences of life, l a n g u a g e , a n d e c o n o m i c s is in c o r r e s p o n d e n c e w i t h t h e
founding of a transcendental p h i l o s o p h y .
L a b o u r , life, a n d l a n g u a g e a p p e a r as so m a n y ' t r a n s c e n d e n t a l s ' w h i c h
m a k e possible t h e objective k n o w l e d g e o f living beings, o f t h e laws o f
p r o d u c t i o n , a n d o f t h e f o r m s o f l a n g u a g e . I n their b e i n g , t h e y are o u t s i d e
k n o w l e d g e , b u t b y t h a t v e r y fact t h e y are c o n d i t i o n s o f k n o w l e d g e ; t h e y
c o r r e s p o n d t o K a n t ' s d i s c o v e r y o f a transcendental field a n d y e t t h e y
differ f r o m it in t w o essential p o i n t s : t h e y are situated w i t h t h e object,
a n d , in a w a y , b e y o n d it; like t h e Idea in t h e transcendental Dialectic, t h e y
totalize p h e n o m e n a a n d express t h e a priori c o h e r e n c e of e m p i r i c a l m u l t i plicities; b u t t h e y p r o v i d e t h e m w i t h a f o u n d a t i o n i n t h e f o r m o f a b e i n g
w h o s e e n i g m a t i c reality constitutes, p r i o r t o all k n o w l e d g e , t h e o r d e r a n d
t h e c o n n e c t i o n o f w h a t i t has t o k n o w ; m o r e o v e r , t h e y c o n c e r n t h e
d o m a i n of a posteriori t r u t h s a n d t h e principles of their synthesis - a n d n o t
t h e a priori synthesis of all possible e x p e r i e n c e . T h e first difference (the
fact t h a t t h e transcendentals a r e situated w i t h t h e object) explains t h e
o r i g i n o f those m e t a p h y s i c a l doctrines that, despite their p o s t - K a n t i a n
c h r o n o l o g y , a p p e a r as 'pre-critical': t h e y d o , in fact, a v o i d a n y analysis of
the c o n d i t i o n s o f k n o w l e d g e a s t h e y m a y b e revealed a t t h e level o f
transcendental subjectivity; b u t these m e t a p h y s i c s d e v e l o p o n t h e basis o f
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transcendental objectives (the W o r d o f G o d , W i l l , Life) w h i c h a r e
possible o n l y in so far as t h e d o m a i n of r e p r e s e n t a t i o n has b e e n p r e v i o u s l y
l i m i t e d ; t h e y t h e r e f o r e h a v e t h e s a m e archaeological subsoil a s C r i t i c i s m
itself. T h e s e c o n d difference (the fact t h a t these transcendentals c o n c e r n
a posteriori syntheses) explains t h e a p p e a r a n c e of a ' p o s i t i v i s m ' : t h e r e is a
w h o l e layer o f p h e n o m e n a g i v e n t o e x p e r i e n c e w h o s e r a t i o n a l i t y a n d
i n t e r c o n n e c t i o n rest u p o n a n objective f o u n d a t i o n w h i c h i t i s n o t possible
t o b r i n g t o l i g h t ; i t i s possible t o k n o w p h e n o m e n a , b u t n o t substances;
l a w s , b u t n o t essences; regularities, b u t n o t t h e b e i n g s t h a t o b e y t h e m .
T h u s , o n t h e basis o f criticism - o r r a t h e r o n t h e basis o f this d i s p l a c e m e n t
o f b e i n g i n relation t o r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , o f w h i c h K a n t i a n d o c t r i n e i s t h e
first philosophical s t a t e m e n t - a f u n d a m e n t a l c o r r e l a t i o n is established: on
t h e o n e h a n d t h e r e a r e m e t a p h y s i c s o f t h e object, o r , m o r e exactly, m e t a physics o f t h a t n e v e r objectifiable d e p t h f r o m w h i c h objects rise u p
t o w a r d s o u r superficial k n o w l e d g e ; a n d , o n t h e o t h e r h a n d , t h e r e a r e
philosophies t h a t set themselves n o o t h e r task t h a n t h e o b s e r v a t i o n o f
precisely t h a t w h i c h i s g i v e n t o positive k n o w l e d g e . I t w i l l b e seen h o w
t h e t w o t e r m s o f this o p p o s i t i o n l e n d o n e a n o t h e r s u p p o r t a n d reinforce
o n e a n o t h e r ; i t i s i n t h e treasury o f positive b r a n c h e s o f k n o w l e d g e (and
a b o v e all o f those t h a t b i o l o g y , e c o n o m i c s , o r p h i l o l o g y are able t o
release) t h a t t h e m e t a p h y s i c s o f t h e ' d e p t h s ' o r o f t h e o b j e c t i v e ' t r a n scendentals' w i l l find their p o i n t of attack; a n d , inversely, it is in t h e
division b e t w e e n t h e u n k n o w a b l e d e p t h s a n d t h e r a t i o n a l i t y o f t h e k n o w able t h a t t h e positivisms will find their justification. T h e criticismp o s i t i v i s m - m c t a p h y s i c s t r i a n g l e o f t h e object w a s c o n s t i t u t i v e o f E u r o p e a n
t h o u g h t from the beginning of the nineteenth century to Bergson.
S u c h a s t r u c t u r e is linked, in its archaeological possibility, to t h e e m e r g e n c e o f those empirical fields o f w h i c h m e r e internal analysis o f r e p r e sentation c a n n o w n o l o n g e r p r o v i d e a n a c c o u n t . I t i s t h u s correlative
w i t h a certain n u m b e r o f a r r a n g e m e n t s p r o p e r t o t h e m o d e r n episteme.
T o b e g i n w i t h , a t h e m e c o m e s t o light w h i c h u n t i l this p o i n t h a d
r e m a i n e d u n f o r m u l a t e d , n o t t o say n o n - e x i s t e n t . I t m a y s e e m s t r a n g e t h a t
n o a t t e m p t w a s m a d e d u r i n g t h e Classical era t o m a t h e m a t i c i z e t h e
sciences o f o b s e r v a t i o n , o r g r a m m a t i c a l l e a r n i n g , o r t h e e c o n o m i c e x perience. A s t h o u g h t h e Galilean m a t h e m a t i c i z a t i o n o f n a t u r e a n d t h e
f o u n d i n g o f m e c h a n i c s w e r e e n o u g h o n their o w n t o a c c o m p l i s h t h e p r o j e c t of a mathesis. T h e r e is n o t h i n g p a r a d o x i c a l in t h i s : t h e analysis of
representations in a c c o r d a n c e w i t h their identities a n d differences, their
o r d e r i n g i n t o p e r m a n e n t tables, a u t o m a t i c a l l y situated t h e sciences o f t h e
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qualitative i n t h e f i e l d o f a universal mathesis. A t t h e e n d o f t h e e i g h t e e n t h
c e n t u r y , a n e w a n d f u n d a m e n t a l division arises: n o w t h a t t h e link b e t w e e n
representations i s n o l o n g e r established i n t h e v e r y m o v e m e n t t h a t d e c o m poses t h e m , t h e analytic disciplines a r e f o u n d t o b e epistemologically d i s tinct f r o m t h o s e t h a t are b o u n d t o m a k e use o f synthesis. T h e result i s t h a t
on t h e o n e h a n d we h a v e a field of a priori sciences, p u r e f o r m a l sciences,
d e d u c t i v e sciences based o n logic a n d m a t h e m a t i c s , a n d o n t h e o t h e r h a n d
we see t h e separate f o r m a t i o n of a d o m a i n of a posteriori sciences, e m p i r i cal sciences, w h i c h e m p l o y t h e d e d u c t i v e f o r m s o n l y i n f r a g m e n t s a n d i n
strictly localized r e g i o n s . N o w , this division has as its c o n s e q u e n c e an
e p i s t e m o l o g i c a l c o n c e r n t o discover a t s o m e o t h e r level t h e u n i t y t h a t has
b e e n lost w i t h t h e dissociation o f t h e mathesis a n d t h e universal science o f
o r d e r . H e n c e a certain n u m b e r o f efforts t h a t characterize m o d e r n reflect i o n o n t h e sciences: t h e classification o f t h e d o m a i n s o f k n o w l e d g e o n t h e
basis o f m a t h e m a t i c s , a n d t h e h i e r a r c h y established t o p r o v i d e a p r o gression t o w a r d s t h e m o r e c o m p l e x a n d t h e less exact; reflection o n
e m p i r i c a l m e t h o d s o f i n d u c t i o n , a n d t h e effort m a d e t o p r o v i d e t h e m
w i t h b o t h a p h i l o s o p h i c a l f o u n d a t i o n a n d a f o r m a l justification; t h e
e n d e a v o u r t o p u r i f y , formalize, a n d possibly m a t h e m a t i c i z e t h e d o m a i n s
o f e c o n o m i c s , b i o l o g y , a n d f i n a l l y linguistics itself. I n c o u n t e r p o i n t t o
these a t t e m p t s to r e c o n s t i t u t e a unified e p i s t e m o l o g i c a l field, we find at
regular intervals t h e affirmation o f a n impossibility: this w a s t h o u g h t t o
b e d u e either t o t h e i r r e d u c i b l e specificity o f life ( w h i c h t h e r e i s a n a t t e m p t
t o isolate especially i n t h e early n i n e t e e n t h c e n t u r y ) o r t o t h e p a r t i c u l a r
c h a r a c t e r o f t h e h u m a n sciences, w h i c h w e r e s u p p o s e d l y resistant t o all
m e t h o d o l o g i c a l r e d u c t i o n (the a t t e m p t t o define a n d m e a s u r e this r e sistance o c c u r r e d m o s t l y i n t h e s e c o n d h a l f o f t h e n i n e t e e n t h c e n t u r y ) . I n
this d o u b l e affirmation - a l t e r n a t i n g or s i m u l t a n e o u s - of b e i n g able a n d
n o t b e i n g able t o formalize t h e empirical, p e r h a p s w e s h o u l d r e c o g n i z e
the ground-plan of that profound event which, towards the end of the
e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y , d e t a c h e d t h e possibility o f synthesis f r o m t h e space o f
representations. It is this e v e n t t h a t places f o r m a l i z a t i o n , or m a t h e m a t i c i z a tion, a t t h e v e r y h e a r t o f a n y m o d e r n scientific p r o j e c t ; i t i s this e v e n t , t o o ,
t h a t explains w h y all hasty m a t h e m a t i c i z a t i o n o r n a i v e f o r m a l i z a t i o n o f
t h e empirical seems like 'pre-critical' d o g m a t i s m a n d a r e t u r n to t h e
platitudes o f I d e o l o g y .
W e s h o u l d also e v o k e a s e c o n d characteristic o f t h e m o d e r n episteme.
D u r i n g t h e Classical age, t h e c o n s t a n t , f u n d a m e n t a l relation o f k n o w l e d g e ,
e v e n e m p i r i c a l k n o w l e d g e , to a universal mathesis justified t h e p r o j e c t

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- c o n s t a n t l y r e s u m e d in v a r i o u s f o r m s - of a finally unified corpus of l e a r n i n g ; this p r o j e c t a s s u m e d i n t u r n , t h o u g h w i t h o u t its f o u n d a t i o n u n d e r g o i n g a n y m o d i f i c a t i o n , t h e aspect o f a general science o f m o v e m e n t , t h a t
of a universal characteristic, t h a t of a l a n g u a g e reflected u p o n a n d r e c o n stituted in all its analytic values a n d all its syntactical possibilities, a n d ,
finally, t h a t o f a n alphabetical o r analytical E n c y c l o p a e d i a o f k n o w l e d g e ;
i t i s o f little i m p o r t a n c e t h a t these e n d e a v o u r s d i d n o t r e a c h fulfilment o r
t h a t t h e y d i d n o t entirely a c c o m p l i s h t h e p u r p o s e t h a t h a d b r o u g h t t h e m
i n t o b e i n g : t h e y all expressed, o n t h e visible surface o f events o r texts, t h e
p r o f o u n d u n i t y t h a t t h e Classical a g e h a d established b y p o s i t i n g t h e
analysis o f identities a n d differences, a n d t h e universal possibility o f t a b u lated o r d e r , a s t h e archaeological basis o f k n o w l e d g e . S o t h a t Descartes,
Leibniz, D i d e r o t , a n d d ' A l e m b e r t , e v e n i n w h a t m a y b e t e r m e d their
failure, in their unfinished or deflected a c h i e v e m e n t s , r e m a i n e d as close as
possible t o w h a t c o n s t i t u t e d Classical t h o u g h t . A t t h e b e g i n n i n g o f t h e
n i n e t e e n t h c e n t u r y , t h e u n i t y o f t h e mathesis w a s fractured. D o u b l y
f r a c t u r e d : first, a l o n g t h e line d i v i d i n g t h e p u r e f o r m s o f analysis f r o m t h e
l a w s of synthesis, second, a l o n g t h e line t h a t separates, w h e n it is a m a t t e r
o f establishing syntheses, transcendental subjectivity a n d t h e m o d e o f
b e i n g o f objects. T h e s e t w o f o r m s o f fracture g i v e rise t o t w o series o f
e n d e a v o u r s w h i c h a certain striving t o w a r d s universality w o u l d s e e m t o
c a t e g o r i z e a s echoes o f t h e Cartesian o r Leibnizian u n d e r t a k i n g s . B u t , i f w e
l o o k m o r e closely, t h e unification o f t h e field o f k n o w l e d g e does n o t a n d
c a n n o t h a v e t h e s a m e f o r m s , t h e s a m e claims, o r t h e s a m e f o u n d a t i o n s i n
t h e n i n e t e e n t h c e n t u r y a s i n t h e Classical p e r i o d . A t t h e t i m e o f Descartes
o r Leibniz, t h e reciprocal t r a n s p a r e n c y o f k n o w l e d g e a n d p h i l o s o p h y w a s
total, t o t h e p o i n t t h a t t h e universalization o f k n o w l e d g e i n a philosophical
s y s t e m o f t h o u g h t d i d n o t r e q u i r e a specific m o d e o f reflection. F r o m
K a n t o n w a r d , t h e p r o b l e m i s q u i t e different; k n o w l e d g e can n o l o n g e r b e
d e p l o y e d against t h e b a c k g r o u n d o f a unified a n d u n i f y i n g mathesis. O n
t h e o n e h a n d , t h e r e arises t h e p r o b l e m o f t h e relations b e t w e e n t h e f o r m a l
field a n d t h e t r a n s c e n d e n t a l field (and at this level all t h e e m p i r i c a l c o n tents o f k n o w l e d g e are placed b e t w e e n parentheses a n d r e m a i n s u s p e n d e d
f r o m all v a l i d i t y ) ; a n d , o n t h e o t h e r h a n d , t h e r e arises t h e p r o b l e m o f t h e
relations b e t w e e n t h e d o m a i n o f e m p i r i c i t y a n d t h e transcendental f o u n d a t i o n o f k n o w l e d g e (in w h i c h case t h e p u r e o r d e r o f t h e f o r m a l i s set a p a r t
a s n o n - p e r t i n e n t t o a n y a c c o u n t o f t h a t r e g i o n i n w h i c h all e x p e r i e n c e ,
e v e n that o f t h e p u r e f o r m s o f t h o u g h t , has its f o u n d a t i o n ) . B u t i n b o t h
these cases t h e p h i l o s o p h i c a l t h o u g h t c o n c e r n e d w i t h universality is on a

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different level f r o m that of t h e field of real k n o w l e d g e ; it is c o n s t i t u t e d
either as p u r e reflection c a p a b l e of providing a foundation, or as a r e s u m p t i o n capable o f revealing. T h e first o f these f o r m s o f p h i l o s o p h y m a n i fested itself initially in Fichte's u n d e r t a k i n g to d e d u c e genetically t h e
totality o f t h e transcendental d o m a i n f r o m t h e p u r e , universal, a n d e m p t y
l a w s of t h o u g h t ; diis o p e n e d up a field of i n q u i r y in w h i c h an a t t e m p t is
m a d e either t o r e d u c e all t r a n s c e n d e n t a l reflection t o t h e analysis o f
formalisms, or to discover, in transcendental subjectivity, a basis for t h e
possibility o f all f o r m a l i s m . T h e second p h i l o s o p h i c a l p a t h a p p e a r e d first
o f all w i t h H e g e l i a n p h e n o m e n o l o g y , w h e n t h e totality o f t h e e m p i r i c a l
d o m a i n w a s t a k e n b a c k i n t o t h e interior o f a consciousness r e v e a l i n g itself
to itself as spirit, in o t h e r w o r d s , as an e m p i r i c a l a n d a transcendental field
simultaneously.
I t i s t h u s a p p a r e n t h o w t h e p h e n o m e n o l o g i c a l task t h a t Husserl w a s
later to set h i m s e l f is linked, in its p r o f o u n d e s t possibilities a n d i m p o s s i bilities, to t h e destiny of W e s t e r n p h i l o s o p h y as it w a s established in t h e
n i n e t e e n t h c e n t u r y . It is t r y i n g , in effect, to a n c h o r t h e r i g h t s a n d l i m i t a tions of a f o r m a l logic in a reflection of t h e t r a n s c e n d e n t a l t y p e , a n d also
t o link transcendental subjectivity t o t h e implicit h o r i z o n o f e m p i r i c a l
c o n t e n t s , w h i c h i t a l o n e c o n t a i n s t h e possibility o f c o n s t i t u t i n g , m a i n t a i n i n g , a n d o p e n i n g u p b y m e a n s o f infinite explicitations. B u t p e r h a p s i t
does n o t escape t h e d a n g e r t h a t , e v e n before p h e n o m e n o l o g y , t h r e a t e n s
e v e r y dialectical u n d e r t a k i n g a n d causes i t t o t o p p l e o v e r , w i l l y - n i l l y ,
i n t o an a n t h r o p o l o g y . It is p r o b a b l y impossible to g i v e e m p i r i c a l c o n t e n t s
transcendental v a l u e , o r t o displace t h e m i n t h e d i r e c t i o n o f a-constituent
subjectivity, w i t h o u t g i v i n g rise, at least silently, to an a n t h r o p o l o g y t h a t is, t o a m o d e o f t h o u g h t i n w h i c h t h e rightful limitations o f a c q u i r e d
k n o w l e d g e (and c o n s e q u e n t l y o f all e m p i r i c a l k n o w l e d g e ) are a t t h e s a m e
t i m e t h e c o n c r e t e f o r m s o f existence, precisely a s t h e y a r e g i v e n i n t h a t
same empirical k n o w l e d g e .
T h e m o s t distant consequences - a n d t h e m o s t difficult ones for us to
e v a d e - of t h e f u n d a m e n t a l e v e n t t h a t o c c u r r e d in t h e W e s t e r n episteme
towards the end of the eighteenth century m a y be s u m m e d up as follows:
n e g a t i v e l y , t h e d o m a i n o f t h e p u r e f o r m s o f k n o w l e d g e b e c o m e s isolated,
a t t a i n i n g b o t h a u t o n o m y a n d s o v e r e i g n t y i n relation t o all e m p i r i c a l
k n o w l e d g e , c a u s i n g t h e endless b i r t h a n d r e b i r t h o f a p r o j e c t t o formalize
t h e c o n c r e t e a n d t o c o n s t i t u t e , i n spite o f e v e r y t h i n g , p u r e sciences;
positively, t h e e m p i r i c a l d o m a i n s b e c o m e l i n k e d w i t h reflections o n s u b j e c t i v i t y , t h e h u m a n b e i n g , a n d finitude, a s s u m i n g t h e v a l u e a n d function
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CHAPTER

8

Labour, Life, Language
I

THE NEW EMPIRICITIES

W e h a v e n o w a d v a n c e d a l o n g w a y b e y o n d t h e historical e v e n t w e w e r e
c o n c e r n e d w i t h situating - a l o n g w a y b e y o n d t h e c h r o n o l o g i c a l edges o f
t h e rift t h a t divides i n d e p t h t h e episteme o f t h e W e s t e r n w o r l d , a n d isolates
for us t h e b e g i n n i n g of a certain modem m a n n e r of k n o w i n g empiricities.
T h i s i s because t h e t h o u g h t t h a t i s c o n t e m p o r a n e o u s w i t h us, a n d w i t h
w h i c h , w i l l y - n i l l y , w e t h i n k , i s still largely d o m i n a t e d b y t h e impossibility,
b r o u g h t t o light t o w a r d s t h e e n d o f t h e e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y , o f basing
syntheses in t h e space of r e p r e s e n t a t i o n , a n d by t h e correlative o b l i g a t i o n s i m u l t a n e o u s b u t i m m e d i a t e l y d i v i d e d against itself - t o o p e n u p t h e
transcendental f i e l d o f subjectivity, a n d t o c o n s t i t u t e inversely, b e y o n d
t h e object, w h a t a r e for u s t h e 'quasi-transcendentals' o f Life, L a b o u r , a n d
L a n g u a g e . I n o r d e r t o b r i n g a b o u t t h e e m e r g e n c e o f this o b l i g a t i o n a n d
this impossibility in all t h e harshness of their historical i r r u p t i o n , it w a s
necessary t o let analysis r u n r i g h t t h r o u g h t h e t h o u g h t t h a t f i n d s its source
in such a c h a s m ; it w a s necessary t h a t v e r b a l f o r m u l a t i o n s h o u l d w a s t e no
t i m e i n t r a v e r s i n g t h e d e s t i n y o r slope o f m o d e r n t h o u g h t i n o r d e r t o
r e a c h a t last t h e p o i n t w h e r e i t c o u l d t u r n b a c k : this clarity o f o u r d a y ,
still pale b u t p e r h a p s decisive, t h a t enables us, if n o t to a v o i d entirely, at
least t o d o m i n a t e b y f r a g m e n t s , a n d t o m a s t e r t o s o m e e x t e n t w h a t , f r o m
t h a t t h o u g h t f o r m e d o n t h e t h r e s h o l d o f t h e m o d e r n age, still reaches us,
invests us, a n d serves as a c o n t i n u o u s g r o u n d for o u r discourse. A n d y e t t h e
o t h e r h a l f o f t h e e v e n t - p r o b a b l y t h e m o r e i m p o r t a n t , for i t c o n c e r n s i n
their v e r y b e i n g , i n their r o o t s , t h e positivities b y w h i c h o u r empirical
f o r m s of k n o w l e d g e are sustained - has r e m a i n e d in suspense; a n d it is this
o t h e r h a l f t h a t w e m u s t n o w analyse.
In a first p h a s e - w h i c h extends c h r o n o l o g i c a l l y f r o m 1775 to 1795,
a n d w h o s e c o n f i g u r a t i o n w e can indicate b y m e a n s o f t h e w o r k s o f S m i t h ,
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Jussieu, a n d W i l k i n s - t h e c o n c e p t s o f l a b o u r , o r g a n i s m , a n d g r a m m a t i c a l
s y s t e m h a d b e e n i n t r o d u c e d - or r e i n t r o d u c e d w i t h a p a r t i c u l a r status i n t o t h e analysis o f representations a n d i n t o t h e t a b u l a t e d space i n w h i c h
t h a t analysis h a d h i t h e r t o b e e n d e p l o y e d . N o d o u b t their function w a s
still o n l y to p r o v i d e a u t h o r i t y for this analysis, to a l l o w t h e establishment
of identities a n d differences, a n d to p r o v i d e t h e t o o l - a sort of qualitative
y a r d s t i c k - for t h e o r d e r i n g o f n a t u r e . B u t n e i t h e r l a b o u r , n o r t h e g r a m matical system, n o r o r g a n i c s t r u c t u r e c o u l d b e defined, o r established, b y
t h e simple process w h e r e b y r e p r e s e n t a t i o n w a s d e c o m p o s e d , analysed,
a n d r e c o m p o s e d , t h u s r e p r e s e n t i n g itself to itself in a p u r e d u p l i c a t i o n ;
t h e space of analysis c o u l d n o t fail, therefore, to lose its a u t o n o m y . H e n c e forth, t h e table, ceasing t o b e t h e g r o u n d o f all possible o r d e r s , t h e m a t r i x
o f all relations, t h e f o r m i n a c c o r d a n c e w i t h w h i c h all beings a r e distrib u t e d i n their singular individuality, f o r m s n o m o r e t h a n a t h i n surface
film for k n o w l e d g e ; t h e adjacencies it expresses, t h e e l e m e n t a r y identities
it circumscribes a n d w h o s e r e p e t i t i o n it s h o w s , t h e resemblances it dissolves by displaying t h e m , t h e constants it m a k e s it possible to scan - these
are n o t h i n g m o r e t h a n t h e effects o f certain syntheses, o r structures, o r
systems, w h i c h reside far b e y o n d all t h e divisions t h a t c a n b e o r d e r e d o n
t h e basis o f t h e visible. T h e visible o r d e r , w i t h its p e r m a n e n t g r i d o f distinctions, is n o w o n l y a superficial glitter a b o v e an abyss.
T h e space o f W e s t e r n k n o w l e d g e i s n o w a b o u t t o t o p p l e : t h e taxinomia,
w h o s e great, universal e x p a n s e e x t e n d e d i n c o r r e l a t i o n w i t h t h e possibility
of a mathesis, a n d w h i c h c o n s t i t u t e d t h e d o w n - b e a t of k n o w l e d g e - at
o n c e its p r i m a r y possibility a n d t h e e n d of its perfection - is n o w a b o u t to
o r d e r itself in a c c o r d a n c e w i t h an o b s c u r e verticality: a verticality t h a t is
t o define t h e l a w o f resemblances, prescribe all adjacencies a n d d i s c o n t i n uities, p r o v i d e t h e f o u n d a t i o n for p e r c e p t i b l e a r r a n g e m e n t s , a n d displace
all t h e great h o r i z o n t a l d e p l o y m e n t s o f t h e taxinomia t o w a r d s t h e s o m e w h a t accessory r e g i o n o f consequences. T h u s , E u r o p e a n c u l t u r e i s i n v e n t i n g for itself a d e p t h in w h i c h w h a t m a t t e r s is no l o n g e r identities,
distinctive characters, p e r m a n e n t tables w i t h all their possible paths a n d
routes, b u t g r e a t h i d d e n forces d e v e l o p e d o n t h e basis o f their p r i m i t i v e
and inaccessible n u c l e u s , o r i g i n , causality, a n d h i s t o r y . F r o m n o w o n
things will b e r e p r e s e n t e d o n l y f r o m t h e d e p t h s o f this density w i t h d r a w n
into itself, p e r h a p s b l u r r e d a n d d a r k e n e d b y its o b s c u r i t y , b u t b o u n d
t i g h t l y t o themselves, assembled o r d i v i d e d , inescapably g r o u p e d b y
t h e v i g o u r t h a t i s h i d d e n d o w n b e l o w , i n t h o s e d e p t h s . Visible f o r m s ,
their c o n n e c t i o n s , t h e b l a n k spaces t h a t isolate t h e m a n d s u r r o u n d their
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outlines - all these will n o w be p r e s e n t e d to o u r gaze o n l y in an a l r e a d y
c o m p o s e d state, a l r e a d y articulated in t h a t n e t h e r darkness t h a t is f o m e n t ing t h e m with time.
T h e n - a n d this is t h e s e c o n d p h a s e of t h e e v e n t - k n o w l e d g e in its
positivity c h a n g e s its n a t u r e a n d its f o r m . It w o u l d be false - a n d a b o v e
all i n a d e q u a t e - to a t t r i b u t e this m u t a t i o n to t h e d i s c o v e r y of h i t h e r t o
u n k n o w n objects, such a s t h e g r a m m a t i c a l s y s t e m o f Sanskrit, o r t h e
r e l a t i o n b e t w e e n a n a t o m i c a l a r r a n g e m e n t s a n d o r g a n i c functions i n
living b e i n g s , o r t h e e c o n o m i c role o f capital. A n d i t w o u l d b e n o m o r e
accurate t o i m a g i n e t h a t general g r a m m a r b e c a m e p h i l o l o g y , n a t u r a l
h i s t o r y b i o l o g y , a n d t h e analysis o f w e a l t h political e c o n o m y , because all
these m o d e s o f k n o w l e d g e c o r r e c t e d their m e t h o d s , c a m e closer t o their
objects, rationalized their c o n c e p t s , selected b e t t e r m o d e l s o f f o r m a l i z a t i o n - in s h o r t , because t h e y freed themselves f r o m their prehistories
t h r o u g h a sort o f auto-analysis achieved b y reason itself. W h a t c h a n g e d
at the turn of the century, and u n d e r w e n t an irremediable modification,
w a s k n o w l e d g e itself a s a n a n t e r i o r a n d indivisible m o d e o f b e i n g b e t w e e n
t h e k n o w i n g subject a n d t h e object o f k n o w l e d g e ; i f t h e r e w e r e those w h o
b e g a n t o s t u d y t h e cost o f p r o d u c t i o n , a n d i f t h e ideal a n d p r i m i t i v e
b a r t e r situation w a s n o l o n g e r e m p l o y e d a s a m e a n s o f a n a l y s i n g t h e c r e a t i o n o f v a l u e , i t i s because, a t t h e a r c h a e o l o g i c a l level, e x c h a n g e h a d b e e n
replaced as a f u n d a m e n t a l figure in t h e space of k n o w l e d g e by p r o d u c t i o n ,
b r i n g i n g i n t o v i e w o n t h e o n e h a n d n e w k n o w a b l e objects (such a s
capital) a n d p r e s c r i b i n g , o n t h e o t h e r , n e w c o n c e p t s a n d n e w m e t h o d s
(such as t h e analysis of f o r m s of p r o d u c t i o n ) . Similarly, if, after C u v i e r ,
research w a s directed t o w a r d s t h e internal organic s t r u c t u r e o f living
b e i n g s , a n d i f i n o r d e r t o m a k e this possible t h e m e t h o d s o f c o m p a r a t i v e
a n a t o m y w e r e used, it is because Life, as a f u n d a m e n t a l f o r m of k n o w l e d g e , h a d also p r o d u c e d n e w objects (such a s t h e relation o f c h a r a c t e r t o
f u n c t i o n ) a n d n e w m e t h o d s (such as t h e search for analogies). Finally, if
G r i m m a n d B o p p a t t e m p t e d t o define t h e l a w s o f v o w e l g r a d a t i o n o r
c o n s o n a n t m u t a t i o n , it is because D i s c o u r s e as a m o d e of k n o w l e d g e h a d
b e e n replaced b y L a n g u a g e , w h i c h defines objects n o t h i t h e r t o a p p a r e n t
(such as families of l a n g u a g e s w h o s e g r a m m a t i c a l systems a r e a n a l o g o u s )
a n d prescribes m e t h o d s t h a t h a d n o t p r e v i o u s l y b e e n e m p l o y e d (analysis
o f t h e rules g o v e r n i n g t h e modifications o f c o n s o n a n t s a n d v o w e l s ) .
P r o d u c t i o n , life, l a n g u a g e - we m u s t n o t seek to c o n s t r u e these as objects
t h a t i m p o s e d themselves f r o m t h e outside, a s t h o u g h b y their o w n w e i g h t
a n d as a result of s o m e a u t o n o m o u s pressure, u p o n a b o d y of l e a r n i n g
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t h a t h a d i g n o r e d t h e m for t o o l o n g ; n o r m u s t w e see t h e m a s c o n c e p t s
g r a d u a l l y built u p , o w i n g t o n e w m e t h o d s , t h r o u g h t h e progress o f
sciences a d v a n c i n g t o w a r d s their o w n rationality. T h e y a r e f u n d a m e n t a l
m o d e s o f k n o w l e d g e w h i c h sustain i n their flawless u n i t y t h e s e c o n d a r y
a n d d e r i v e d c o r r e l a t i o n o f n e w sciences a n d t e c h n i q u e s w i t h u n p r e c e d e n t e d objects. T h e c o n s t i t u t i o n o f these f u n d a m e n t a l m o d e s i s doubtless
b u r i e d d e e p d o w n i n t h e dense archaeological layers: o n e can, n e v e r t h e less, discern s o m e signs o f t h e m i n t h e w o r k s o f R i c a r d o , i n t h e case o f
e c o n o m i c s , o f C u v i e r , i n t h e case o f b i o l o g y , a n d o f B o p p , i n t h e case o f
philology.

II

RICARDO

I n A d a m S m i t h ' s analysis, l a b o u r o w e d its p r i v i l e g e d p o s i t i o n t o t h e p o w e r
it w a s r e c o g n i z e d to possess to establish a c o n s t a n t m e a s u r e b e t w e e n t h e
values o f t h i n g s ; i t m a d e i t possible t o achieve e q u i v a l e n c e i n t h e e x c h a n g e
o f objects o f n e e d w h o s e standardization w o u l d o t h e r w i s e h a v e b e e n
e x p o s e d t o c h a n g e , o r subjected t o a n essential relativity. B u t i t c o u l d
a s s u m e such a r o l e o n l y at t h e price of o n e c o n d i t i o n : it w a s necessary to
suppose t h a t t h e q u a n t i t y o f l a b o u r indispensable for t h e p r o d u c t i o n o f a
thing was equal to the quantity of labour that the thing, in return, could
b u y i n t h e process o f e x c h a n g e . N o w , h o w c o u l d this i d e n t i t y b e justified?
On w h a t c o u l d it be based, if n o t on a certain assimilation accepted as
t a k i n g place i n t h e m o r e t h a n i l l u m i n e d s h a d o w l y i n g b e t w e e n l a b o u r a s
p r o d u c t i v e a c t i v i t y a n d l a b o u r a s a c o m m o d i t y t h a t can b e b o u g h t a n d
sold? In t h e s e c o n d sense, l a b o u r c a n n o t be used as a c o n s t a n t m e a s u r e ,
since it 'is subject to as m a n y fluctuations as t h e c o m m o d i t i e s c o m p a r e d
w i t h i t ' [ i ] . I n A d a m S m i t h , this confusion o r i g i n a t e d i n t h e p r e c e d e n c e
a c c o r d e d to r e p r e s e n t a t i o n : all m e r c h a n d i s e r e p r e s e n t e d a certain l a b o u r ,
and all l a b o u r c o u l d represent a certain q u a n t i t y of m e r c h a n d i s e . M e n ' s
activity a n d t h e v a l u e o f things w e r e seen a s c o m m u n i c a t i n g i n t h e
cransparent e l e m e n t of r e p r e s e n t a t i o n . It is h e r e that R i c a r d o ' s analysis
finds its place a n d t h e reason for its decisive i m p o r t a n c e . It is n o t t h e
f i r s t t o g i v e l a b o u r a n i m p o r t a n t place i n t h e e c o n o m i c process; b u t i t
explodes t h e u n i t y of t h a t n o t i o n , a n d singles o u t in a radical fashion, for
the f i r s t t i m e , t h e w o r k e r ' s e n e r g y , toil, a n d t i m e t h a t are b o u g h t a n d sold,
a n d t h e activity t h a t i s a t t h e o r i g i n o f t h e v a l u e o f t h i n g s . O n t h e o n e
h a n d , t h e n , w e a r e left w i t h t h e l a b o u r c o n t r i b u t e d b y t h e w o r k e r s ,
accepted o r d e m a n d e d b y t h e e n t r e p r e n e u r s , a n d r e m u n e r a t e d b y w a g e s ;
253

THB ORDER

OF THINGS

o n t h e o t h e r , w e h a v e t h e l a b o u r t h a t extracts metals, p r o d u c e s c o m m o d i t i e s , m a n u f a c t u r e s objects, t r a n s p o r t s m e r c h a n d i s e , a n d t h u s f o r m s
e x c h a n g e a b l e values w h i c h d i d n o t exist before i t a n d w o u l d n e v e r h a v e
arisen w i t h o u t it.
It is t r u e t h a t , for R i c a r d o as for S m i t h , l a b o u r c a n m e a s u r e t h e
equivalence o f m e r c h a n d i s e w h i c h takes p a r t i n t h e circulation o f
exchanges:
I n t h e early stages o f society, t h e e x c h a n g e a b l e v a l u e o f these c o m m o d i ties, o r t h e r u l e w h