The Task of Commentary

There is more work in interpreting interpretations, than in interpreting things; and more books about books than on any other subject; we do nothing but write glosses on one another.’ These words are not a statement of the bankruptcy of a culture buried beneath its own monuments; they are a definition of the inevitable relation that language maintained with itself in the sixteenth century. This relation enabled language to accumulate to infinity, since it never ceased to develop. Perhaps for the first time in Western culture, we find revealed the absolutely open dimension of a language no longer able to halt itself, because, never being enclosed in a definitive statement, it can express its truth only in some future discourse and is wholly intent on what it will have said; but even this future discourse itself does not have the power to halt the progression, and what it says is enclosed within it like a promise, a bequest to yet another discourse….The task of commentary can never, by definition, be completed. And yet commentary is directed entirely towards the enigmatic, murmured element of the language being commented on: it calls into being, below the existing discourse, another discourse that is more fundamental and, as it were, ‘more primal’, which it sets itself the task of restoring.

Michel Foucault, The Order of Things, An Archaeology of the Human Sciences, p. 40-41


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