chapter  3
19 Pages

Individuality and agency in the Discursive Condition

The Discursive Condition famously throws into crisis Foucault’s “founding subject” of history, in other words the constitutive element of the modern perspective system in time. With that subject go many of the liberal values that Eurocentric societies have taken for granted for at least several centuries. For the sake of argument, say we accept that discursive systems (Saussure’s semiological systems) lie at the basis of our knowledge, and thus that no universal common denominator exists to enforce neutrality. Several things follow that make conventional definitions and causal explanations seem increasingly parochial. First, the definition of “individuality” changes and with it the definition of agency. There is no such thing in the Discursive Condi - tion as that free-floating monad known as “the” simply located individual, or Foucault’s “founding subject” of history, or the “miserable treasure” of auton omous selfhood, or the Cartesian cogito. In the Discursive Condition individual usage is always, unavoidably, an enunciation that implies systemic values that pre-exist, enable, and limit what any individual can do within the system. Thus one can say that language speaks us, in the sense we are born into multiple discursive (semiological) systems, and that each language or discursive system enables and limits what we can do or think or say. For example, an English speaker has complex temporal inflections that are not available or even necessary in languages with other forms of inflection. Inflected languages have powers outside of sequence that English lacks. So before we skip the questions and go straight to the lament about the loss of habitual assumptions about identity, autonomy, agency, moral freedom, ethics, collective responsibility, etc., some clarity about the alternatives would be in order.