Gabriel Cornelius von Max [1889] Monkeys as Judges of Art. Oil on canvas, 85 × 107cm. Neue Pinakothek, Munich.


#13 Foucault: The Four Similitudes

Friday, 9 December 2016, 18:00 – 20:30
88 Fleet Street, London EC4Y 1DH
Rail/tube: City Thameslink, Blackfriars, St. Paul’s
Chaired by Penelope Kupfer
Free, please book your place

In December we will be reading The Four Similitudes from The Order of Things by Michel Foucault (1970/1966). This discussion will be chaired by Penelope Kupfer.

DOWNLOAD: Foucault, Michel (1970/1966). The Four Similitudes. In The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. New York: Random House, pp. 17-25. Originally published in 1966 as Les Mots et les Choses [Words and Things] by Gallimard.

Penelope Kupfer [2015] Moth (detail). Ink on paper, 1654mm x 2054mm.
Penelope Kupfer [2015] Moth (detail). Ink on paper, 1654mm x 2054mm.
In The Order of Things, Foucault connects the history of knowledge with the analysis of language and questions about aesthetics. In his foreword he says that he aims the book to be read as a comparative study where he puts side by side, elements such as the knowledge of living beings, the knowledge of the laws of language, and the knowledge of economic facts. Especially in the essay The Four Similitudes, he analyses the way people in the 16th century understood the world through resemblance and defines four kinds set in a philosophical context.

Benjamin Prud'homme [2004] Diversity of wing pigment patterns in Drosophila.
Benjamin Prud’homme [2004] Diversity of wing pigment patterns in Drosophila.

To search for a meaning is to bring to light a resemblance. To search for the law governing signs is to discover the things that are alike. The grammar of beings is an exegesis of these things. And what the language they speak has to tell us is quite simply what the syntax is that binds them together. The nature of things, their coexistence, the way in which they are linked together and communicate is nothing other than their resemblance (Foucault, 1970, p. 29)

1. What is the difference between resemblance and representation?

2. Are we still relying on resemblance to understand the world (or parts of it) today?

3. Can the four similitudes be seen as pillars of knowledge in the 16th century?