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Foucault

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    SeeFrontispiece:TheFlickerofFoucaultsLasMeninas

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    SeeFrontispiece

    TheTruthinPainting

    Whatofshoes?What,shoes?Whosearetheshoes?...whatsurplusvalueis

    unleashedbytheannulmentoftheirusevalue:outsidethepicture,inside

    thepicture,andthird,asapicture,ortoputitveryequivocally,intheir

    paintingtruth

    JacquesDerrida

    Canwe,infact,locateatruthinpainting?Doespaintingshowusamoretruthful

    pictureoftruth?LasMeninas,byDiegoVelzquez,isamultifaceted,oscillating

    picturethatupendsthenotionofabinarycorrespondencetheoryoftruth,wheretit

    isfortat,andthisstandsforthat.WhatisthetruthofVelzquezspaintingandwhy

    isitsoelusive?

    ThesearejustafewofthemanyquestionselicitedbyLasMeninaswhichhas

    becomethesubjectofastaggeringliterature1byarthistoriansandphilosophers

    oflanguage.TheBaroquepainterLucaGiordanogracedLasMeninaswiththe

    monikerthetheologyofpainting,"andnotlongafterwards,SirThomasLawrence,a

    19thcenturyEnglishportraitpainter,calledthework"thephilosophyofart."2Ithas

    inspiredartistsincludingPabloPicasso,BostonpainterDomingoBarreres,and

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    Figure1PabloPicasso

    videoperformanceartistEveSussman,yetafterthreecenturiesthepaintingstill

    fascinatesus.EstrellaDeDiego,inheressay,RepresentingRepresentation,

    suggeststhatLasMeninasismuchmorethanapainting.Ithasbecomeacultural

    icon.Thepainting,sheoffers,representsus.Forsomeobscurereason,weas

    partofWesternculturebelongthere,inthesurfaceofthepainting.Onecould

    almostsayitisameanstomaterializeourculturalselves.3Andarthistorian

    SvetlanaAlpersgoessofarastosuggestthatitissurelyoneofthegreatest

    representationsofpictorialrepresentationinallofWesternpainting.4

    Figure2DomingoBarreres

    Andyetitcontinuestosidestepourabilitytofullyandsatisfactorilyexplainit.Not

    thatmanyhaventtried.Thosewhohavetrainedananalyticaleyeonthis

    monumentalworkhavearguedaboutitsmeaning,itsintendedaudience,whether

    ornotitconstructsasubject,itsnarrativity,5itsorthogonals,6aboutpowerand

    sovereignty,7thenatureofclassicalrepresentation,thelocationandnumberofits

    centers,1theclaimtonobilityoftheartist,andtheparadoxthatisorisnotinherent

    inthepainting,8andmuch,muchmore.Andwhileitistantalizingtojumpinandjoin

    thefray,9Iwouldlikeinstead,tostepbackfromthisskirmish,mirroringthe

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    movementofthepaintedpainterhimselfandexaminethewaysinwhichMichel

    Foucaulthasutilizedthisworktoillustrate,amongotherthings,theimbricationof

    seeingandsaying.

    LasMeninas,theopeningessayinFoucaultsTheOrderofThings,(1966/1972)

    servesasagatewaytoFoucaultsarchaeologicalexplorationofepistemicstructures:

    thewaysinwhichweorderourworld.Byinsistingthatwenotonlyreadhis

    descriptionofthework,butthatwelookaswellatthereplicatedpaintingonthe

    frontispieceofhisbook,heplacesusinthespottowardwhichthepaintingpoints.In

    thismanner,Foucaultunderscoresthenecessityofaninherentoscillation,the

    flickerpicturenatureofrepresentation.Thedancethattheartistdoesashechasss

    awayfromandthentowardshiscanvasisemblematic,restoringashimmering

    visibilitytowhathashistoricallybecomeaconstrained,immobiletableau.

    Hisessay,LasMeninas,nowcanonicalinthestudyofthefieldofVisualCulture,

    canbefoundincountlessanthologies;itsarrivalspurredaflurryofresponses,

    primarilyfromarthistorians,whowereeagertoexplainwhyitwasthatFoucault

    wasalmostcertainlymistakeninhisanalysisofVelzquezsmasterpiece.Foucault,

    thephilosopher,wanderedbrazenlyintoanarthistoricalspaceandtreadnonetoo

    lightlyonitspractices.10Becausehewasnotconstrictedbytheentrenchedmethods

    ofthearthistorian,hisarcheologicalapproachwasconsideredgroundbreaking.11

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    InlookingatwhatLasMeninasrepresents,Foucaultarticulateswhatbecomes

    visibleashedoesso.Althoughheseesthepaintingwedgedintheriftbetween

    epistemes,bysimplyseeingandsaying,heisabletodislodgeencrustedpolaritiesor

    whathehasreferredtoassomeoftheoldestoppositionsofouralphabetical

    civilization:toshowandtoname;toshapeandtosay;toreproduceandto

    articulate;toimitateandtosignify;tolookandtoread.12

    Inthepagesthatfollow,Imsuggestingthatamongthemanywhohaveresponded

    brilliantlytohisekphrasis13(adescriptionofaworkofartinwords),mosthave

    missedtheimportance,forhim,ofthejuxtapositionofthediscursivespacesof

    languageandpainting.14DigginguptheonetrueinterpretationofVelzquezs

    monumentalportraitwasnotatallFoucaultsintention.Infactheisquiteclearthat

    todosowouldresultinthedemiseoftheprecisespaceheisattemptingtoenliven.

    Thedeathofinterpretationistobelievethattherearesigns,signsthatexist

    primarily,originally,reallyascoherent,pertinent,andsystematicmarksThelifeof

    interpretation,onthecontrary,istobelievethatthereareonlyinterpretations.15

    Inanattempttokeepthelifeofinterpretationaliveandwell,Iamofferingseveral

    observations:

    LasMeninas,thepaintingandtheessayexemplifyanoscillationtowhich

    Foucaultispointingandwhich,inhisperformativewritingbecomesvisible.

    Weseeinthewayheissayingit,what,precisely,heissaying.

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    Thepaintedpainterhimselfisemblematicoftheceaselessmovement

    Foucaultseesasinherentintheconstructionofwhatweknowtheflicker

    picturenatureofrepresentationandwhichupendsthefamiliarCartesian

    project.

    Foucaultgivesuspaintingasadiscursivespace.

    HistreatmentofLasMeninaspaintsaportraitofhismethods:thepractice

    ofexcavatinginterstitialspaces,inthiscase,thegapsbetweentheseeable

    andthesayable.

    Readingtheessayandlookingatthepaintingofferthereader/viewerthe

    experienceofafunctionalcalligram

    FoucaultsvisionofVelazquezsmuchdisputedmirror,showsusnota

    reversal,butinsteadarupture,andthusbecomesamodelforchangesin

    epistemicstructures.

    Byopeninghisbook,TheOrderofThings,bystrainingepistemologicalstratathrough

    apainting,Foucaultdismantlescrumblingdisciplinarywallsandcontributestoan

    idiomthat,bynotbeingstrictlyarthistorical,disruptsanddestabilizesourhabitual

    point(s)ofview.16

    SteppingBack

    Thepainterisstandingalittlebackfromhiscanvas.17

    Foucaultbeginshisessaywiththissentence,foregroundingtheimportanceofthe

    painterwhoVelzquezhasinsertedintohisroyalportraitandatthesametime

    callingourattentiontothefactthatattheverymomentthatisbeingimmortalized,

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    thepainterhasmoved.Hehastakenastepbackawayfromhiswork:theenormous

    andenigmaticcanvasthatdominatestheleftsideofthepainting.Inthisstepback,

    wefindakernelofthereflectiveandreflexivenatureofrepresentationtowhich

    Foucaultisbothpointingandexemplifying.

    Taggedtotheendofhisopeninggambit,wefindafootnote.Theonlynoteinthe

    entirechapter,itsayssimply,SeeFrontispiece.Withthissmalladdendum,wesee

    thatforFoucaultitwascriticalthatwe,hisreaders(andbyimplication,viewers),

    haveafirsthandvisualexperienceofthepaintingaroundwhichhisopeningchapter

    wasdrawn.

    WemustassumethatFoucaultsdecisiontobeginTheOrderofThingswithLas

    Meninasboththeessayandtheimagewascalculated,aswerehisinstructions

    tolook.IfwetakeastepofourownbackandfliptotheForewordtotheEnglish

    editionofTheOrderofThings,Foucaultcomesclean.

    ThisforewordshouldperhapsbeheadedDirectionsforUse.NotbecauseI

    feelthatthereadercannotbetrustedheisofcourse,freetomakewhathe

    willofthebookhehasbeenkindenoughtoread.WhatrighthaveI,thento

    suggestthatitshouldbeusedinonewayratherthananother?WhenIwas

    writingitthereweremanythingsthatwerenotcleartomeSoIsaidto

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    myself:thisishowmyidealreaderwouldhaveapproachedmybook,ifmy

    intentionshadbeenclearerandmyprojectmorereadytotakeform.18

    InhisForewordFoucaultsintentisclear.Itisimportanttohimhowweapproachhis

    work.AndintheparticularcaseofthefootnoteinLasMeninas,heissuggesting

    thatwepartakeofhisthinkingbyreadinghiswordsandbylookingatthepainting

    forourselves.Beforeweenterthearchaeologicalsite,weareofferedsomeadvice

    astohowtoproceed,wheretostep,whattobecarefulof,andwhattobeonthe

    lookoutfor.Heapologizesfortellingushowtoreadthis,butnonethelesshetellsus.

    Secondly,wemightnoteintheparagraphabove,thatFoucaultmodelsamethodof

    takinghisownstepback.Hereherevisitshisworkafteratemporalgap19across

    whichheperhapshasaclearerviewandcanseethewayshemighthaveimproved

    theearlierproject.Byacknowledgingalackofclarityorpreparedness,heunfixeshis

    wordsandshowsthatbyemployinganarchaeologicalapproach,Frontiersare

    redrawnandthingsusuallyfarapartarebroughtcloser,andviceversa;Allowing

    forthefactthattherearequestionsthatevenstillremainunanswered,heinvitesus

    toreadthisworkasanopensite.20

    LastlyinthisForeword,Foucaultexplicitlydiscusseshismethodology.Hesuggests

    thatduetothecomplexityofdiscourseingeneral,wewouldbenefitfroma

    multiplicityofapproachesatmultiplelevels.However,hereheexcludesfromthese

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    valuedapproachesaphenomenologicalonehistoricalanalysisofscientific

    discourseshould,inthelastresortbesubject,nottoatheoryoftheknowing

    subject,butrathertoatheoryofdiscursivepractice.21Andwhilethismaybea

    disguisedcriticismofMerleauPontysmethod,asGaryShapirosuggests,22itseems

    tomethatspecificallyinthisessay,atleast,hisarchaeologyembodiesakindof

    stratifiedphenomenology.Hesitswiththepainting,tracingwhathiseyehasfound

    withhiswords,andallowstheunfoldingofthevisualandverbal,subjecttohis

    theoryofdiscursivepractice.23Ifwebringthissamearchaeologicalattentiona

    variationonclosereadingtohiswriting,itmaytellussomethingimportantabout

    whatweknowandhowweknowit,whatwecanseeandhowwecansayit.

    SeeFrontispiece

    Whyuseapaintingofapainterpaintingapaintingtobeginlookingathowwemak