Eventalization and Popular Culture

Below is an edited extract from my dissertation. In it I discuss my use of Foucault’s historical method, which I term, following Foucault, ‘eventalization’. It does not include any of the actual historical work and is selected from roughly 15 pages of one chapter. Plus, to conform to the blogging form, some of the footnotes have been included in the text, while others have been deleted. I am posting it here to give some of my students a sense of what it means to follow Foucault’s method beyond simply using the philosophical concepts (‘theory’) he created through his method.

My historical method is based on Michel Foucault’s method of producing ‘discourse events’ from archival sources. Foucault argued “[t]hose events [of the existence of discourse, by the fact words are spoken] functioned in relation to their original situation, they left traces behind, they continue to exist, and they exercise, in that very subsistence in history, a certain number of manifest or secret functions” (2000b: 289). This is from the productive period between what is generally considered the ‘archeological’ and ‘genealogical’ stages of Foucault’s work. ‘Archaeology’is “the study of discourse in its archival form” (Foucault 2000b: 290). He described the method of producing ‘discourse events’as the ‘process of eventalization’ in an interview (approximately a decade after the archeological stage of his research).

[Eventalization] works by constructing around the singular event analyzed as process a ‘polygon’ or rather a ‘polyhedron’ of intelligibility, the number of whose faces is not given in advance and can never by properly by taken as finite. One has to proceed by progressive necessarily incomplete saturation. And one has to bear in mind that the further one breaks down the processes under analysis, the more one is enabled and indeed obliged to construct their external relations of intelligibility. (1991: 77)

As Clare O’Farrell (2005: 79) has implied, Foucault never ‘gave up’ on this dimension of his archeological practice (eventalization); rather, in the genealogical stage of his work, eventalization was complemented with a greater attention to the functioning of discourse in particular discursive and non-discursive configurations of power relations termed dispositifs. The discursive conditions of practice within the street rodding scene only change across particular thresholds of different or transformed discursive formations. The discursive formation at stake in this chapter is part of the regulation of practices of modification and the cultural events of the enthusiasm.

[…] I map the shifting terrain of the discourse of enthusiast knowledge as the series of ‘statements’ change or new ‘statements’ emerge during the street rodding era of contemporary modified-car culture. By focusing on enthusiasm however, I need to shift my focus slightly, and incorporate the ways enthusiasm continually escaped from the dispositifs of particular discursive formations, and the way the social institutions attempted to regulate enthusiasm.

[…]

A discourse event is defined by the dispersion of statements within the archive. A statement is not a conventional unit of language; it is both at the limit and the centre of discourse, because statements define the field of positivity for truth claims within a discursive formation itself. Foucault’s method was largely configured towards isolating the discursive ‘ field of possibility’ for ‘truth’. Foucault located this field in the capacity of dispersed ‘statements’:

One might ask what is the ultimate purpose of this suspension of all accepted units this obstinate pursuit of discontinuity, if it is no more than a matter of releasing a cloud of discursive events, of collecting them and preserving them in their absolute dispersion. In fact, the systematic effacement of merely given units makes it possible, first, to restore to the statement its singularity as an event. [… ] [A] Statement is always an event that neither language nor meaning can completely exhaust. [T]he aim is to grasp how these statements, as events and in their so peculiar specificity, can be articulated to events that are not discursive in nature, but may be of a technical, practical, economic, social, political, or other variety. (2000a: 307-308)

A ‘statement’ defines the limited conditions of possibility for the way truth circulates within differential power relations. The work of the historian, Foucault argues, is to transverse the documents of the archive and work towards producing a ‘grid’ or ‘series’ of the distribution of statements. A discourse event resides in the archive as expressed through the dispersal of statements, which serve as a trace of the contingency of historical discontinuity. ‘Statement’ and ‘discontinuity’ are two types of singularity that reside in the archive and need to be isolated for Foucault’s historical method of eventalization.

[…]

An important difference between my interpretation of Foucault’s method of ‘eventalization’ and my historiographical practice is regarding the nature of the archive. Mine is the popular archive assembled largely from enthusiast magazines, but includes club notes, event programs, videos, newspaper articles, and various online sources. The archive of enthusiast literature is ‘popular’in two senses. It is largely made up of the texts of popular culture, and in this respect it is similar to Michael Lynch’s (1999) notion of the “popular archive.” Lynch uses the term to describe the archive of media video footage of the O.J. Simpson trial accrued almost accidentally as a result of a project on the use of DNA testing in trials. The second reason for calling it a ‘popular archive’takes the notion one step further than Lynch’s definition. The popular archive of enthusiast literature only exists because of the deliberate archival labour of enthusiasts to ‘save’ magazines and the like. I quickly discovered when beginning this research that there are not any public holdings in any Australian libraries of most of the texts that I use in my research. I bought nearly all the magazines online through eBay and found a few in second-hand shops or through family and friends.

A second important difference is therefore between Foucault’s episteme scale investigations of the discontinuities between particular discursive formations and the smaller scale of discourse investigated here. For example, if Foucault investigated the emergence of the ‘disciplinary society’, and Deleuze’s (1988b; Galloway 2004; Lazzarato 2006) comments on the periodisation of the present as that of the ‘control society’ are regarded as accurate, then I am not, for example, attempting to research the emergence of the ‘control society’ as coherent set of discursive formations. My focus is extremely narrow compared to these episteme-scale periodisations. Most of the magazines that I have collected and read to construct a ‘popular archive’ are quarterly, bi-monthly, or monthly. This allows me to trace discontinuities on a different frequency to that of Foucault. The relation between continuity and discontinuity is therefore different in my historical work compared to that of Foucault. The rhythm of discontinuities, or points of transformation at the level of the discursive formation, uncovered in the context of popular culture are many times more frequent. That is, the rhythms of transformation to the scene are of a different scale.