Date: Mon, 10 Feb 1997 09:33:16 -0500
Murray Simpson writes:
> brehkopf@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx wrote:
> > Foucault proposes a fairly new "theory" (of power, the subject,
> > whatever), one that goes very very deep. Now, what should people do in
> > response? Should they accept his work, without hesitation or after
> > cursory and superficial examination? Or should they - and should
> > Foucault encourage them to - submit that work to thorough and rigorous
> > examination?
> Yes, I would agree with this. However, the question is on what level we
> conduct this analysis, on the level of a general theory of
> power/subjectivity, etc. or in relation to the rigour of concrete
> analyses. I would suggest that the latter is both more feasible and
> appropriate. As far as the former goes, I'm not sure how it can proceed
> beyond an analysis of Foucault's methods, since I'm not convinced that
> there is a theory of power per se.
I'm with you here. I'm not sure whether Foucault offers a theory of
power, either (thus the scare-quotes around "theory" in my posting).
There is some literature on this question. Dreyfus and Rabinow
explicitly deny that Foucault is offering a theory, for instance. I
continue to wonder, though, what the implications of this denial are.
Certainly, it is a creative - not to mention convenient - move to deny
that one is offering a theory in response to other theories. It is, as
Murray rightly implies, extremely difficult to argue against a
non-theory: it's like trying to play - let alone win - a game that has
no rules (my Wittgenteinian influence!). Yet is there *nothing* that is
theory-bound in Foucault's method? How do we know that an analysis is a
*Foucauldian analysis*? If there are not rules for proceeding in a
Foucauldian analysis, at the very least there seem to be rules enabling
identification of such analyses.
Murray also talks about the "rigour of concrete analyses." It's
interesting to note that so much of the early criticism of Foucault's
work turned on just such particular and concrete points (if I'm
understanding your use of this notion of concrete analyses). An early
favourite is the reams of paper devoted to the question whether Foucault
was accurate to affirm the existence of actual, historical "ships of
fools" in *Madness and Civilization*: "they weren't real," "they *were*
real"..... and so on. For me, though, the answer to that question - and
more concrete historical questions - was of so little importance to what
I was getting out of Foucault. I'm sure I might be accused of failing to
understand Foucault if I say that such matters are inconsequential.
Perhaps that's right. But still, there seems so much more going on.
> > Foucault was calling for nothing less than a paradigm shift, and to me a
> > large part of his work suggests that such paradigm shifts are not simply
> > the result of mere choices to believe X rather than Y. I take it that
> > for Foucault, X (or Y...) wasn't just an idea to Foucault, to be taken
> > off or put on like a shirt, but rather that X was
> > in some way descriptive of one's subjectivity for him. I don't recall
> > Foucault ever implying or suggesting explicitly that "we" are any more
> > capable of rising out of / above / beyond our way of thinking so easily
> > than was any other generation caught in these disciplines he describes.
> > So, far from it being paradoxical that the bulk of scholarship that has
> > resulted from Foucault's work is theory rather than application, it
> > would be paradoxical if "we" all did what Foucault said was largely not
> > in our...ummmm....*power* to do.
> Can I ask you to clarify what you mean here, I'm not sure I'm following
> it. Are you suggesting that we cannot avoid theorising because our
> current episteme condemns us to it?
Well, perhaps I make more promises than I can deliver! Yes, in a way I
guess I am saying that we are condemned to theorize. I think we can go
some distance in avoiding this theorization, but for me, it's not
something to be jettisoned so quickly. (Like a childhood trauma, one will
eventually have to come back to it and face it rather than simply avoid
it altogether.) I'm of the mind that we'll need to work through the
attempts to theorize in order to really be rid of it.
I think that if one too quickly attempts to move to anti-theory, one
can't help but be theoretical about it all. That's who we are.
Anti-theory (if I may use that term here) cannot simply be an
alternative to theory; we can't simply decide that "I'm doing a
Foucauldian analysis, and that means non- or anti-theory." One cannot
simply choose to non-theorize, rather one must *emanate* non-theory if it
is to have any authenticity and relevance. And to emanate it means to
become something else, something other than what one is (to paraphrase
And, if I can further paraphrase Foucault: We are far less Foucauldians
than we think we are.
Sorry to ramble. Sorry for the "mysticism" at the end.
Thanks for your interesting points, Murray.