Jump to content
Lazzarone

jon sharp's foucault lecture

Recommended Posts

http://www.planetdebate.com/media/viewVideo/99

_

 

 

begins with two glaringly incorrect notions - that positivism and structuralism are similar enough to be almost synonymous, and that both terms can be accurately applied to foucault's early work.

 

first, positivism and structuralism are almost opposites. positivism is a hard-line empiricism which takes as central the fact that sense-data is the only way to gain access to knowledge about the external world. contrary to the student who labeled it a religion, it's entirely dismissive of any and all metaphysics. (that positivism thereby sneaks in a new metaphysics is a standard refutation, but not a fair characterization of the philosophy on its own terms.) in fact, if i had to pick the continental current which most matches up with positivism, it'd be old-school phenomenology, in its slogan 'to the things themselves!'. i realize that's a controversial stance, yet despite their many differences, husserl had more in common with russell than russell ever had with saussure. to return to the obvious, structuralism, as its name implies, studies phenomena as structures, not as objects. in fact, the absence of an object can be as or more important to a given structure than anything positively there. saussure was more blunt than me on this point: "In language, there are only differences, and no positive terms." (to this day one of the linguistic practices that analytical philosophy - informed by positivism - has had the most trouble explaining are references that lack referents - i.e., those things that we can competently refer to which nevertheless don't really exist in the world, like the planet vulcan.)

 

jon seems to suggest that foucault began with a more scientific, methodological approach and then moved on to something else, but that's not the case - foucault kept up a methodological rigor throughout his career, putting in the long hours at the archives necessary to write his histories. (he also strictly refrained from asking scientific questions; foucault doesn't ask, 'is madness real, does it exist?', but 'how have we conceived of madness, what is the history of our ideas about the existence of madness?'.) jon suggests that foucault's earlier writings were more organized, clearer, and more warranted, which i totally disagree with, but is jon pointing out anything more than a change in tone here?, i'm not sure.

 

for the record, foucault himself said he wasn't a structuralist: at the end of his 'forward to english readers' in the beginning of 'the order of things' (1966), foucault is again more blunt than i'll be: "In France, certain half-witted 'commentators' persist in labeling me a 'structuralist'. I have been unable to get into their tiny minds that I have used none of the methods, concepts, or key terms that characterize structural analysis."

 

perhaps what jon was trying to say is that foucault began with an archeological method and later developed a genealogical one. this is an important 'migration' in his work, and while this move is often discussed in the literature by asking, 'did foucault successfully shed the residues of structuralism inherent in his early work?' (hardt and negri come down in the 'no' camp, for example), this is a clumsy way to introduce foucault since it defines him by a philosophy he adamantly disavowed.

 

{jon probably overstates the importance of foucault as well. while it's safe to say he's one of the most influential thinkers of the last century, to say that during his lifetime "it was virtually impossible to operate in the realm of political philosophy, particularly the study of individuals and power, without reference to [foucault's] work" is a bit extreme. i wish it were true! still, isaiah berlin got by without referring to him in print, to pick one example ...though maybe i just missed it.}

 

there follow a series of overly general and vague claims. i'm not sure what sense it makes to say foucault is 'more concerned with the process than the end-point'. the example jon gives to support this characterization simply explains why foucault emphasized ruthlessly criticizing our presuppositions. if i oppose the death penalty because it's not cost-efficient, and i'm later shown that it is cost-efficient, then i won't oppose the death penalty any longer; but if i oppose weighing people's lives in terms of cost-efficiency, then (ostensibly) my opposition to the death penalty will be more enduring. but where does 'process versus goal' fit in here? also, this appears to align foucault with a kantian moral calculus in opposition to a utilitarian one when foucault was neither (e.g., his work doesn't enable us to oppose the death penalty because it runs afoul of 'man's intrinsic dignity', since this too might be one of those humanist ideals in need of critique).

 

jon slips in this weird tangent about correspondence versus coherence theories of truth (not in so many words - he discusses it as whether we can 'objectively know the world'). to brush up:

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/truth-correspondence/

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/truth-coherence/

- but really this isn't terribly relevant. even if correspondence theory is true, a history of how our knowledge of truth has changed over time (and specifically, how our unconscious framing of truth has changed over time) is still a valuable endeavor. whether or not science discovers objective truth, a history of science is worth doing, and while doing it, we should suspend as many assumptions about what objective truth is as possible. you don't have to agree with kuhn to read foucault, though perhaps it helps.

 

i've never found it 'hard to extract a consistent position' from foucault's writings, and i don't believe in the 'many foucaults'-thesis. if he never once changed his mind in thirty years, then he'd have a much bigger problem on his hands - dogmatism. he did like to see himself as merely offering readers a tool-box of concepts: if you need a hammer, you don't waste time worrying if a hammer contradicts with a screwdriver - you just use the hammer; likewise, why waste time worrying about whether one of foucault's earlier concepts contradicts with a later one? - just use the concept. still, while pointing out one of the seeming contradictions in foucault's early work on mental health, jon immediately resolves it (by stating that foucault never denied the existence of 'illnesses of the mind'). foucault was surprisingly consistent throughout his career, and i fear that saying things like 'foucault is okay with contradiction' will lump him in with a pomo-irrationalism which foucault would never be okay with. foucault was ever helpful in resolving apparent contradictions by answering people's questions - one of the reasons there are multiple books of his interviews. so to imply that if you find foucault to be gibberish, 'it's not you' is going a bit too easy on a debate community that has done much to distort and water down his work (foucault as anti-statism, for example).

 

nowhere in the preface does jon mention the elephant in the room - foucault's relationship to marxism. one can understand much of what foucault was doing as applying marx's das kapital to other areas - psychiatry, the human sciences, sexuality, and so on. what marx analyzed in the factory, foucault extended to the prison, the school, the hospital. yet foucault also took to task many of the orthodox marxist dogmas - the essentialist rejection of the state, concepts like total revolution and the revolutionary vanguard, or the filtering of all political phenomena through the lens of capitalist exploitation (one of foucault's classic examples here is to laugh at those marxists who claimed that 19th-century campaigns to police childhood masturbation were directly related to instilling a capitalist work ethic).

 

...ack, i'm not even 1/5th of the way through! -- more to follow.

Edited by Lazzarone
  • Upvote 6
  • Downvote 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
if he never once changed his mind in thirty years, then he'd have a much bigger problem on his hands - dogmatism.

 

“Do not ask me who I am and do not ask me to remain the same.” ~Michel Foucault

  • Upvote 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
http://www.planetdebate.com/media/viewVideo/99

_

 

 

begins with two glaringly incorrect notions - that positivism and structuralism are similar enough to be almost synonymous, and that both terms can be accurately applied to foucault's early work.

 

first, positivism and structuralism are almost opposites. positivism is a hard-line empiricism which takes as central the fact that sense-data is the only way to gain access to knowledge about the external world. contrary to the student who labeled it a religion, it's entirely dismissive of any and all metaphysics. (that positivism thereby sneaks in a new metaphysics is a standard refutation, but not a fair characterization of the philosophy on its own terms.) in fact, if i had to pick the continental current which most matches up with positivism, it'd be old-school phenomenology, in its slogan 'to the things themselves!'. i realize that's a controversial stance, yet despite their many differences, husserl had more in common with russell than russell ever had with saussure. to return to the obvious, structuralism, as its name implies, studies phenomena as structures, not as objects. in fact, the absence of an object can be as or more important to a given structure than anything positively there. saussure was more blunt than me on this point: "In language, there are only differences, and no positive terms." (to this day one of the linguistic practices that analytical philosophy - informed by positivism - has had the most trouble explaining are references that lack referents - i.e., those things that we can competently refer to which nevertheless don't really exist in the world, like the planet vulcan.)

 

jon seems to suggest that foucault began with a more scientific, methodological approach and then moved on to something else, but that's not the case - foucault kept up a methodological rigor throughout his career, putting in the long hours at the archives necessary to write his histories. (he also strictly refrained from asking scientific questions; foucault doesn't ask, 'is madness real, does it exist?', but 'how have we conceived of madness, what is the history of our ideas about the existence of madness?'.) jon suggests that foucault's earlier writings were more organized, clearer, and more warranted, which i totally disagree with, but is jon pointing out anything more than a change in tone here?, i'm not sure.

 

for the record, foucault himself said he wasn't a structuralist: at the end of his 'forward to english readers' in the beginning of 'the order of things' (1966), foucault is again more blunt than i'll be: "In France, certain half-witted 'commentators' persist in labeling me a 'structuralist'. I have been unable to get into their tiny minds that I have used none of the methods, concepts, or key terms that characterize structural analysis."

 

perhaps what jon was trying to say is that foucault began with an archeological method and later developed a genealogical one. this is an important 'migration' in his work, one foucault is forced to confront through his failure to conceptualize why ways of knowing and thinking change over time. early on, he seems content to just map the changes, so archeology basically pins down discursive rules. genealogy, on the other hand, pays special attention to the discursive ruptures that change those rules. while this move is often discussed in the literature by asking, 'did foucault successfully shed the residues of structuralism inherent in his early work?' (hardt and negri come down in the 'no' camp, for example), this is a clumsy way to introduce foucault since it defines him by a philosophy he adamantly disavowed.

 

{jon probably overstates the importance of foucault as well. while it's safe to say he's one of the most influential thinkers of the last century, to say that during his lifetime "it was virtually impossible to operate in the realm of political philosophy, particularly the study of individuals and power, without reference to [foucault's] work" is a bit extreme. i wish it were true! still, isaiah berlin got by without referring to him in print, to pick one example ...though maybe i just missed it.}

 

there follow a series of overly general and vague claims. i'm not sure what sense it makes to say foucault is 'more concerned with the process than the end-point'. the example jon gives to support this characterization simply explains why foucault emphasized ruthlessly criticizing our presuppositions. if i oppose the death penalty because it's not cost-efficient, and i'm later shown that it is cost-efficient, then i won't oppose the death penalty any longer; but if i oppose weighing people's lives in terms of cost-efficiency, then (ostensibly) my opposition to the death penalty will be more enduring. but where does 'process versus goal' fit in here? also, this appears to align foucault with a kantian moral calculus in opposition to a utilitarian one when foucault was neither (e.g., his work doesn't enable us to oppose the death penalty because it runs afoul of 'man's intrinsic dignity', since this too might be one of those humanist ideals in need of critique).

 

jon slips in this weird tangent about correspondence versus coherence theories of truth (not in so many words - he discusses it as whether we can 'objectively know the world'). to brush up:

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/truth-correspondence/

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/truth-coherence/

- but really this isn't terribly relevant. even if correspondence theory is true, a history of how our knowledge of truth has changed over time (and specifically, how our unconscious framing of truth has changed over time) is still a valuable endeavor. whether or not science discovers objective truth, a history of science is worth doing, and while doing it, we should suspend as many assumptions about what objective truth is as possible. you don't have to agree with kuhn to read foucault, though perhaps it helps.

 

i've never found it 'hard to extract a consistent position' from foucault's writings, and i don't believe in the 'many foucaults'-thesis. if he never once changed his mind in thirty years, then he'd have a much bigger problem on his hands - dogmatism. he did like to see himself as merely offering readers a tool-box of concepts. if you need a hammer, you don't waste time worrying if a hammer contradicts with a screwdriver - you just use the hammer. likewise, why waste time worrying about whether one of foucault's earlier concepts contradicts with a later one? - just use the concept. still, while pointing out one of the seeming contradictions in foucault's early work on mental health, jon immediately resolves it (by stating that foucault never denied the existence of 'illnesses of the mind'). foucault was surprisingly consistent throughout his career, and i fear that saying things like 'foucault is okay with contradiction' will lump him in with a pomo-irrationalism which foucault would never be okay with. foucault was ever helpful in resolving apparent contradictions by answering people's questions - one of the reasons there are multiple books of his interviews. so to imply that if you find foucault to be gibberish, 'it's not you' is going a bit too easy on a debate community that has done much to distort and water down his work (foucault as anti-statism, for example).

 

nowhere in the preface does jon point out the elephant in the room - foucault's relationship to marxism. i don't think he even mentions marx in the first 16 minutes. yet one can understand much of what foucault was doing as applying marx's das kapital to other areas - psychiatry, the human sciences, sexuality, and so on. what marx analyzed in the factory, foucault extended to the prison, the school, the hospital. and yet foucault took to task many of the orthodox marxist dogmas - the essentialist rejection of the state, the reduction of all phenomena to capitalist exploitation (one of foucault's classic examples here is to laugh at those marxists who claimed that 19th-century campaigns to police childhood masturbation were directly related to instilling a capitalist work ethic).

 

...ack, i'm not even 1/5th of the way through! -- more to follow.

 

Why is this even a debate? Couldn't this be a backchannel? Or do you need to prove to high school kids how smart you are? Jon is a respected member of the community and would definitely entertain a good debate, but probably wouldn't appreciate the public nature of your post. I didn't read it, because I have better things to do, maybe you should find some too.

  • Upvote 1
  • Downvote 5

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Why is this even a debate? Couldn't this be a backchannel? Or do you need to prove to high school kids how smart you are? Jon is a respected member of the community and would definitely entertain a good debate, but probably wouldn't appreciate the public nature of your post. I didn't read it, because I have better things to do, maybe you should find some too.

 

You would be hard-pressed to find someone alive who respects jsharp more than I do, but I still think what Kevin is doing should be encouraged. While the odds of sharp replying here are basically 0, if this was also emailed to him or there was some means of expecting a reply, this back-and-forth could prove to be a rather powerful pedagogical experience.

 

A lot of people rely on these lectures to become proficient on their namesake authors. A major (if only relatively) mistake in those lectures can profoundly influence a students relationship towards that author.

 

thanks kevin.

  • Upvote 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

my point wasn't to be negative: my name is kevin sanchez, not jack stroube; i'm interested in correcting what i perceive as possible errors, not in any kind of personal attack. i haven't met jon sharp and know next to nothing about him. and i write 'possible errors' because it's very likely that jon knows the difference between positivism and structuralism (for an example), but ran the two things together in characterizing foucault's early work (as the secondary literature does sometimes as well). writing him via backchannel would not help students understand the author's work any better, which is all i'm after, though i will link him via email to this discussion.

 

_

 

oh and yes, impressing high school students is the sole preoccupation of my life. i would've thought with over 1,450 posts on this site, that would've been so obvious as to be not worth mentioning. i am a pathetic, pathetic human being. but you know what they say about even a broken clock being right twice a day. ;)

Edited by Lazzarone
  • Upvote 5

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

stefan, i don't see any place to leave comments on the website: do i have to log in first?

 

also, my player stops downloading the video, the little bar at the bottom skips to the end, and then i can't watch after about 36 minutes: is this common? (...i'll try to increase the amount of cache and redownload, but it doesn't seem to be working.)

_

 

for the time being, a book i'd recommend to all those interested in the debate about foucault and structuralism is this one published right before his death: hubert l. dreyfus and paul rabinow, michel foucault: beyond structuralism and hermeneutics (1983) / http://books.google.com/books?id=S2Q68e4Tm40C

 

the preface begins, "This book was born out of a disagreement among friends, Paul Rabinow, attending a seminar given in 1979 by Hubert Dreyfus and John Searle which concerned, among other things, Michel Foucault, objected to the characterization of Foucault as a typical 'structuralist.'" the authors thank foucault for "endless hours of stimulating conversation and patient and prompt revisions" and write "he agreed that he was never a structuralist but that perhaps he was not as resistant to the seductive advances of structuralist vocabulary as he might have been."

 

i even think the quotation jon paraphrases in the above lecture comes from the interview published in the back titled 'on the genealogy of ethics: an overview of work in progress',

My point is not that everything is bad, but that everything is dangerous, which is not exactly the same as bad. If everything is dangerous, then we always have something to do. So my position leads not to apathy but to hyper- and pessimistic- activism.
Edited by Lazzarone

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
stefan, i don't see any place to leave comments on the website: do i have to log in first?

 

also, my player stops downloading the video, the little bar at the bottom skips to the end, and then i can't watch after about 36 minutes: is this common? (...i'll try to increase the amount of cache and redownload, but it doesn't seem to be working.)

 

Yes, you have to log in to comment, but it seems like PD's comment section probably isn't the place to spark extensive discussions about Foucault and debate.

 

You can downloads the video here.

FLV's can be played in VLC.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'll test to make sure it goes past 36 minutes, but I haven't heard any other reports of problems.

 

I put a couple of the comments from here and cross-linked them in the comments section so that more people who watch the video will see these comments.

 

You do have to log in to post -- the best way to control spam -- but it only takes a minute.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

i can't watch after minute 37 no matter what i do, so as i won't be able to comment upon the full lecture in context, what's below should be taken with that grain of salt among others...

the way jon defines the repressive hypothesis is not the way foucault does in part I and II of 'the history of sexuality: an introduction - volume 1'. foucault talks there about sexual repression specifically, not the repression-centered notion of power generally associated with the juridical model. he helps explain the nuance on page 82 - 'the juridico-discursive representation of power' (which jon discusses as the juridical model of power) is not "peculiar to those who are concerned with the problem of the relations of power with sex. in fact it is much more general; one frequently encounters it in political analysis of power, and it is deeply rooted in the history of the West." still, 'the repressive hypothesis' proper is specific to discourses regarding sex after the victorian era. even dreyfus and rabinow write that "stated broadly, the repressive hypothesis holds that throughout european history we have moved from a period of relative openness about our bodies and our speech to an ever-increasing repression and hypocrisy" (page 128). not only do i see no reason to abandon foucault's specific usage, but it'd be difficult for readers to understand passages like those at the beginning of 'the history of sexuality' without keeping it - like this one from page 8:

 

The notion of repressed sex is not, therefore, only a theoretical matter. The affirmation of a sexuality that has never been more rigorously subjugated than during the age of the hypocritical, bustling, and responsible bourgeoisie is coupled with the grandiloquence of a discourse purporting to reveal the truth about sex, modify its economy within reality, subvert the law that governs it, and change its future. ... To say that sex is not repressed, or rather that sex and power is not characterized by repression, is to risk falling into a sterile paradox. It not only runs counter a well-accepted argument, it goes against the whole economy and all the discursive "interests" that underlie this argument.


foucault's hunch is that repression isn't the biggest part of the story and it's tied to a more sweeping incitement to talk about sex: "what is peculiar to modern societies, in fact, is not that they consigned sex to a shadow existence, but that they dedicated themselves to speaking of it *ad infinitum*, while exploiting it as *the* secret" (35).

in line with jon's wonderfully detailed description of the school as a dominant figure of disciplinary power ('locker space assigned to you according to an administrative chart'), take foucault's account of "secondary schools of the eighteenth century" (pages 27-9),

 

On the whole, one can have the impression that sex was hardly spoken of at all in these institutions. But one only has to glance over the architectural layout, the rules of discipline, and their whole internal organization: the question of sex was a constant preoccupation. The builders considered it explicitly. The organizers took it permanently into account. All who held a measure of authority were placed in a state of perpetual alert, which the fixtures, the precautions taken, the interplay of punishments and responsibilities, never ceased to reiterate. The space for classes, the shape of the tables, the planning of the recreation lessons, the distribution of the dormitories (with or without partitions, with or without curtains), the rules for monitoring bedtime and sleep periods - all this referred, in the most prolix manner, to the sexuality of children. [Footnote #12: reglement de police pour les lycees (1809), art 67: "There shall always be, during class and study hours, an instructor watching the exterior, so as to prevent students who have gone out to relieve themselves from stopping and congregating.
art 68: "After the evening prayer, the students will be conducted back to the dormitory, where the schoolmasters will put them to bed at once."
art 69: "The masters will not retire except after having made certain that every student is in bed.
art 70: "The beds shall be separated by partitions two meters in height. The dormitories shall be illuminated during the night."] What one might call the internal discourse of the institution - the one it employed to address itself, and which circulated among those who made it function - was largely based on the assumption that this sexuality existed, that it was precocious, active, and ever present. But this was not all: the sex of the schoolboy became in the course of the eighteenth century - and quite apart from that of adolescents in general - a public problem. Doctors counseled the directors and professors of educational establishments, but they also gave their opinions to families; educators designed projects which they submitted to the authorities; schoolmasters turned to students, made recommendations to them, and drafted for their benefit books of exhortation, full of moral and medical examples. Around the schoolboy and his sex there proliferated a whole literature of precepts, opinions, observations, medical advice, clinical cases, outlines for reform, and plans for ideal institutions. With Basedow and the German 'philanthropic' movement, this transformation of adolescent sex into discourse grew in considerable dimensions. ... It would be less than exact to say that the pedagogical institution has imposed a ponderous silence on the sex of children and adolescents. On the contrary, since the eighteenth century it has multiplied the forms of discourse on the subject; it has established various points of implantation for sex; it has coded contents and qualified speakers. Speaking about children's sex, inducing educators, physicians, administrators, and parents to speak of it, or speaking to them about it, causing children themselves to talk about it, and enclosing them in a web of discourses which sometimes address them, sometimes speak about them, or impose canonical bits of knowledge on them, or use them as a basis for constructing a science that is beyond their grasp - all this together enables us to link an intensification of the interventions of power to a multiplication of a discourse. The sex of children and adolescents has become, since the eighteenth century, an important area of contention around which innumerable institutional devices and discursive strategies have been deployed.


so you see what's going on here - a set of power relations which is typically seen as wholly repressive, foucault sees as primarily productive. jon seems to run together 'the repressive hypothesis' with the juridical notion of power as such, and if students do likewise, they'll miss the fine-grained distinctions between the two ...would be my humble criticism here.

it's also important to note that when responding to a student's question jon said, 'if prison is juridical, jail is disciplinary', this was figurative, not literal. prison is chalk full of disciplinary power, and decades of foucault's life were spent mapping this out - take this picture:

http://massthink.files.wordpress.com/2008/06/stateville-penitentiary.jpg (another picture of statesville prison is republished in the middle section of 'discipline and punish' - picture #7, page 165.)

notice the panoptic schema at work there - a central observation tower from which all the prisoners can be watched.

finally, something else jon said in response to a student's question kind of stuck in my mind: 'there are instances where the disciplinary model is the only way to get something done, and foucault doesn't think that things shouldn't be done, just that they shouldn't be done thoughtlessly'.

this is absolutely true, of course. in his life, foucault will make rather conservative comments on welfare reform and social security, he'll sit on a government panel on the sentencing of sex crimes, and he'll carve out a rather privileged spot in academia. he was not some militant living on the margins of society; he was a participant, a beneficiary even, of disciplinary society. he was pro-'getting things done', in sum. still, i worry that some of the questions he raised would be too easily set aside if policymakers could simply say 'we took your concerns into account before going ahead with the plan' (basically, 'perm: rethink, then do plan'). it's important to note that foucault flips our standard way of thinking about politics on its head: we shouldn't be blackmailed with the question 'what is to be done?' before we've confronted the question of 'how must we think?'. so it's not merely that 'things shouldn't be done thoughtlessly', but that sometimes thinking about things is doing something, and what's more, it's often doing something more valuable than imagining the enactment of cosmetic reforms. ...would be my addendum there.

all in all, a good lecture, what i heard of it, and i hope these notes contribute positively, if trivially, to its impact on debaters' understanding of foucauldian scholarship. and like i said, i'm not as up on the secondary literature as i once was - perhaps 'positivism' is now a catch-all for anything 'science-y' and perhaps 'the repressive hypothesis' has come to be used interchangeably with the limiting model of power foucault takes issue with. nevertheless it seems worthwhile to stick to what the man actually said by way of introduction ...until we discover what a counter-revolutionary he really is(!), since in foucault's account,

 

radical political practice itself is conceived of as an unending process which can destabilize, displace, and so on, the power structure, without ever being able to undermine it effectively - the ultimate goal of radical politics is gradually to displace the limit of social exclusions, empowering the excluded agents (sexual and ethnic minorities) by creating marginal spaces in which they can articulate and question their identity. Radical politics thus becomes an endless mocking parody and provocation, a gradual process of reidentification in which there are no final victories and ultimate demarcations ... Historicist evolutionism leads to endless procrastination; the situation is always too complex; there are always more aspects to be accounted for; our weighing of the pros and cons is never over. . . against this stance, the passage to the act involves a gesture of radical and violent simplification, a cut like that of the proverbial Gordian knot: the magical moment when the infinite pondering crystallized itself into a simple 'yes' or 'no'.
Edited by Lazzarone
  • Upvote 1
  • Downvote 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I haven't bothered to watch the video.

However, if you head over to edebate you can see where Stroube is ranting randomly, and blah blah blah about Marx, Heidegger, Foucault, whatever.

 

Anyway, I don't post on edebate, and I don't have discussions with Stroube, but I wanted to say that Marx was very important for Foucault, particularly for Discipline and Punish. Well, there are some obvious connections between some things from the first volume of capital, but the less talked about even more obvious connection is from volume 2 of capital. Foucault admits as much in his lecture “Les mailles du pouvoir." (Which can be found in Dits et ecrits). In that lecture Foucault explains that it is in the second volume we find not one power, but several local or regional powers.

 

I don't mean this is a specific reply to anything in particular.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

jon sharp is the greatest man alive. any factual errors he made shall compel history itself to change to match his description of foucault.

Edited by REDLEADER
  • Upvote 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I finally started watching the video, damn you all.

 

I've got a question that I don't know, was there a time in writing about Foucault that people used the term "juridical power" more than "sovereign power"? I've not read a lot of the early secondary literature on Foucault.

 

Regardless, there is nothing wrong with using juridical power (that term is often found in Foucault), I have tended to use sovereign power instead. fyi.

 

Still watching the video.

 

PS, oh yeah, I have a primer on biopolitics to finish.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

had a mini-squabble over jon's lecture with jack stroube on edebate recently; here were two potentially helpful posts which talked a little about the relation between marx and foucault,

http://cedadebate.org/pipermail/mailman/2009-June/078763.html
http://cedadebate.org/pipermail/mailman/2009-June/078767.html

 

What did Marx do when in his analysis of capital he came across the
problem of the workers' misery? He refused the customary explanation
which regarded this misery as the effect of a naturally rare cause of a
concerted theft. And he said substantially: given what capitalist
production is, in its fundamental laws, it cannot help but cause misery.
Capitalism's raison d'etre is not to starve the workers but it cannot
develop without starving them. Marx replaced the denunciation of theft
by the analysis of production. Other things being equal, that is
approximately what I wanted to say. It is not a matter of denying sexual
misery, nor is it however one of explaining it negatively by a repression.
The entire problem is to grasp the positive mechanism which, producing
sexuality in this or that fashion, results in misery.


 

[A]s soon as we struggle against exploitation, the proletariat not
only leads the struggle but also defines its targets, its methods,
and the places and instruments for confrontation... if the fight is
directed against power, then all those on whom power is exercised
to their detriment, all who find it intolerable, can begin the struggle
on their own terrain and on the basis of their proper activity (or
passivity). In engaging in a struggle that concerns their own
interests, whose objectives they clearly understand and whose
methods only they can determine, they enter into a revolutionary
process. They naturally enter as allies of the proletariat, because
power is exercised the way it is in order to maintain capitalist
exploitation. They genuinely serve the cause of the proletariat by
fighting in those places where they find themselves oppressed.
Women, prisoners, conscripted soldiers, hospital patients, and
homosexuals have now begun a specific struggle against the
particularized power, the constraints and controls, that are exerted
over them. Such struggles are actually involved in the revolutionary
movement to the degree that they are radical, uncompromising and
nonreformist, and refuse any attempt at arriving at a new disposition
of the same power with, at best, a change of masters. And these
movements are linked to the revolutionary movement of the
proletariat to the extent that they fight against the controls and
constraints which serve the same system of power.
Edited by Lazzarone

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I'll test to make sure it goes past 36 minutes, but I haven't heard any other reports of problems.

 

I put a couple of the comments from here and cross-linked them in the comments section so that more people who watch the video will see these comments.

 

You do have to log in to post -- the best way to control spam -- but it only takes a minute.

 

the dheidt emory topic lecture did something similar, and the same thing happened to me as i was watching jon's lecture.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

the claim that we can't 'objectively know the world' is another one rife with possible misunderstandings. foucault does criticize (and seek to overcome with the aid of his 'archeological' method) a correspondence theory of truth - that is, he discusses 'regimes of truth' in much the same way a coherentist would. nevertheless, foucault is not anti-science; he's anti-pseudoscience. take this interview from 1976, 'truth and power' (reprinted in power/knowledge),

 

If we pose to a science like theoretical physics or organic chemistry the problem of its relations with political and economic structures of the society, haven't we posed a question which is too difficult? Haven't we raised the threshold of explanation at too high a level? If, on the other hand, we take a science like psychiatry wouldn't the possibility of answering the question of its relations to society be much easier to pose? The 'epistemological profile' of psychiatry is low and psychiatric practice is linked to a series of institutions, immediate economic exigencies, political urgencies and social regulations. Isn't it the case that in as dubious a science as psychiatry one could seize with more certainty the intertwining of the effects of knowledge and power?

 

so theoretical physics and organic chemistry pass foucault's epistemology test. it's still possible to subject the natural sciences to a historical or even a social constructivist interpretation (what kuhn does). for foucault though the incredible fact to be explained is that the human sciences (and psychiatry in particular) have added little objective knowledge about human beings and yet have attained such an authoritative place in our culture. a physicist, after all, can't lock someone away for the rest of their life in a state-run mental hospital. so foucault stays quiet on real sciences - that's above his pay grade. as drefus and rabinow put it in michel foucault: beyond structuralism and hermeneutics, page 177,

 

Foucault makes an important distinction at this point. He remarks that the medical sciences of sexuality branched off from the biological sciences. The sciences of sexuality were marked by a "feeble content from the standpoint of elementary rationality, not to mention scientificity, [which] earns them a place apart from the history of knowledge" (History of Sexuality 54). These muddled disciplines conformed to a very different set of criteria than those operative in the biology of reproduction, which followed a more standard course of scientific development. The medicine of sex remained mired in political concerns and practices. These medical discourses on sexuality used the advances of biology as a cover, as a means of legitimation. But there was very little conceptual interpenetration: "It is as if a fundamental resistance blocked the development of a rationally formed discourse concerning human sex, its correlations, and effects. A disparity of this sort would indicate that the aim of such a discourse was not to state the truth but to prevent its very emergence" (HoS 55).

 

Foucault at times sounds - and his critics frequently misread him here - as if his intention was to situate all science as a mere product of power. This is false. Instead his goal has consistently been to isolate the interconnections of knowledge and power. Throughout his intellectual itinerary it has been exactly those "pseudosciences" or "near sciences" - fundamentally the human sciences - which he has chosen as his object of study. Others, notably Georges Canguilhem and Gaston Bachelard, have devoted their attention to the "successful" sciences. Foucault has chosen another object of study, those discourses which, claiming to be advancing under the banner of legitimate science, have in fact remained intimately involved with the micropractices of power.

 

this is, in fact, what alasdair macintyre seeks to do in after virtue as well: debunk the social sciences as false sciences (lacking in scope-modifiers and pretending to offer us predictive law-like generalizations) which cozy up to the powers that be.

 

Foucault asserts that the very self-definition of the human sciences as scholarly "disciplines," as we so easily call them, is closely linked to the spread of disciplinary technologies. This is more than simply a rhetorical convergence. The social sciences (psychology, demography, statistics, criminology...) were first situated within particular institutions of power (hospitals, prisons, administrations) where their role became one of specialization. These institutions needed new, more refined and operationalized discourses and practices. These discourses, these pseudo-sciences, these social-science disciplines developed their own rules of evidence, their own modes of recruitment and exclusion, their own disciplinary compartmentalizations, but they did so within the larger context of disciplinary technologies. This is not to say the sciences of man are a direct reflex of the prison, but only that they arose in a common historical matrix and have not separated themselves from the power-knowledge technologies which have invested the prison.

 

dreyfus and rabinow ask a pressing question of foucault here (pages 160-1), "Can the social sciences, like the physical sciences, free themselves from the background of social practices that makes them possible; and if they could, what would be the significance of the scientific results they could then attain?" -- nonetheless, they ultimately side with foucault (pages 162-3),

 

The human sciences "which [have] so delighted our humanity for over a century, have their technical matrix in the petty, malicious minutiae of the disciplines and their investigations" (Discipline and Punish 226). But until now they have failed to break away from this birthplace. There has been no "Great Observer" for the social sciences comparable to Galileo for the natural ones. The procedures of examination and inscription have remained linked, if not totally, at least closely, to the disciplinary power in which they were spawned. There have been, of course, great changes, advances of technique. New disciplinary methods have seen the light of day and taken on complicated links with power. Foucault maintains, however, that these are mere refinements, not the long awaited unmooring, the crossing of the threshold into an independent science. ... [N]atural science is successful precisely to the extent that [its] background practices which make science possible can be taken for granted and ignored by the scientist. The human sciences constantly try to copy the natural sciences' successful exclusion from their theories of any reference to the background. Their practitioners hope that by seeking a shared agreement on what is relevant and by developing shared skills of observation, the background practices of the social scientist can be taken for granted and ignored, the way the natural scientist's background is ignored. ... However, ... the context of social practices they presuppose are internal to the human sciences..., for if the human sciences claim to study human activities, then the human sciences, unlike the natural sciences, must take account of those human activities which makes possible their own disciplines.

 

in sum, an element on the periodic table or an asteroid does not exist in the same way a criminal or a poor person does; the latter is mediated by social reality in a way that the former is not. two men engaged in consensual sex with one another in the privacy of their own home were criminals in the state of texas ...until 2003, that is. and as zizek says, if an asteroid is on its way to impact with our planet and destroy all life on earth, philosophical critique is at that point irrelevant. foucault thus studies those doubtful sciences which are thoroughly enmeshed in dominant cultural practices and show no sign of becoming real sciences and studies them with a method which exposes their truth-claims as central component of their power and of bio-power in general. even if we could 'objectively know the world', these feeble sciences would fail to do so.

 

...oh and just to complete the quote that danny tanner cited: "Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same: leave it to our bureaucrats and our police to see that our papers are in order." (the archeology of knowledge page 17)

Edited by Lazzarone
  • Upvote 2
  • Downvote 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

taking fifteen or thirty minutes out of a random day to point out some common errors made in reading a particular french historian of ideas does not define the sum total of my existence as a person. i'm touched that anonymous back-channels have taken an interest in what i 'do for fun' and appreciate the public concern regarding what i 'do for a living', but certainly there's more entertaining and profitable ways to occupy one's time than to worry about little ol' me. i can't help but read comments like these as thinly-disguised anti-intellectualism and adultism: anti-intellectualism because it implies that reading these books is a waste, and adultism because it implies that high skoolers couldn't be worth the trouble. i concur with neither of those views. foucault is deathly relevant today, especially for those in high skool. so either what i've written is helpful or it isn't, and if it isn't, then feel free to move on without a backward glance.

 

incidentally, i finally got to see the rest of jon's lecture on a friend's computer the other night, and will type up my notes whenever i get some free time. i know you're all extremely excited. ;)

 

for the record, dr. octagon, i've never attended college, though i'm not sure if that makes what i write more or less likely to be dismissed.

Edited by Lazzarone
  • Upvote 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

there's again some terminological slippage (if i were in a bad mood, i'd call it a 'category mistake') in the way jon explains the differences between (i) sovereign or juridical power, (ii) disciplinary power, and (iii) bio-power or bio-politics. following foucault's delineation in volume one of 'the history of sexuality: an introduction', here's how our categories should look: there's

 

I. sovereign-juridical power and II. bio-power

 

then within bio-power, there's

 

II(a). disciplinary power at the level of the individual and II(B). biopolitics at the level of the population

 

{foucault's exact language is that the "power over life" (or bio-power) has two types (or "poles of development"), the first "an anatomo-politics of the human body" and the second "a bio-politics of the population" - more simply, 'the disciplines' and 'regulatory controls', respectively.}

 

i agree with jon's qualification that bio-power and biopolitics are often used interchangeably (even by foucault scholars) and that specific usage varies among different authors (giorgio agamben comes to mind). what's above, however, seems to me a helpful starting-point. because if we don't take this categorization into account, it's difficult to grasp a sentence like this:

 

Hence there was an explosion of numerous and diverse techniques for achieving the subjugation of bodies [disciplinary power] and the control of populations [biopolitics], marking the beginning of an era of "bio-power."

 

bio-power encompasses both the disciplinary subjugation of bodies and the biopolitical control of populations. in my opinion, it's due to this confusion that jon does a poor job of answering a student's question about the difference between disciplinary power and bio-power. it also leads him, i'd suggest, into making at least two incorrect statements:

 

(1) 'biopower doesn't act on the body, but the soul'.

(2) 'disciplinary power makes us into interchangeable parts - it deindividualizes'.

 

(keep in mind that's how i 'flowed' these two claims; i can't access the video now to obtain exact quotes.)

 

(1) is false for two reasons. since disciplinary power is a subset of bio-power, bio-power certainty does act at the level of the individual body. also, i believe jon is sloppily invoking the concept of 'soul' which foucault maps out in detail in the opening chapter of 'discipline and punish'.

 

when the french politician gabriel bonnot de mably wrote in 1789, "Punishment... should strike the soul rather than the body" (quoted on page 16), he meant that the purpose of punishment shouldn't be to inflict pain on the criminal's body but to reform 'the thoughts, the will, the inclinations' of the criminal. so this fits into the basic thesis that we've moved from an era of retributive justice to an era more principally defined by rehabilitative justice. but foucault is recycling this term toward a different end. he's not talking about some supernatural part of ourselves that lives on after our body dies (as perhaps mably was, i don't know). he's instead talking about a real social construction, a historical tradition that still lives inside us, a cultural meme (for lack of a better term) that we in the west have been infected by. even after the death of god, many of us still act as if someone above is watching (DP 166)...

 

Whenever a good pupil hears the noise of the signal, he will imagine that he is hearing the voice of the teacher or rather the voice of God himself calling him by his name. He will then partake of the feelings of the young Samuel, saying with him in the depths of his soul: "Lord, I am here."

 

...this casts a somewhat sinister shadow on every roll call you've ever participated in. one of foucault's underlying themes is that even though it looks like we're more progressive and humane than our predecessors (because we no longer gruesomely draw-and-quarter criminals, for instance), there may be nothing less cruel about trying to act on people's 'souls'. the mass production of 'docile bodies' entails physical coercion on a scale that the 18th century couldn't have imagined. note the 4th ground-rule foucault lays down at the start of his study (DP 24),

 

Try to discover whether this entry of the soul on the scene of penal justice, and with it the insertion in legal practice of a whole corpus of 'scientific' knowledge, is not the effect of a transformation of the way in which the body itself is invested by power relations.

 

'the soul', foucault guesses, is an effect of how we (mis)treat each other's bodies - "the soul is the prison of the body," he'll conclude on page 30. foucault describes what he's studying as 'a political technology of the body'. so how can it make sense to say 'bio-power doesn't act on the body but on the soul'? disciplinary power - an integral part of bio-power - certainly does act on the individual body: "even if they do not make use of violent or blood punishment, even when they use 'lenient' methods involving confinement or correction, it is always the body that is at issue" (page 25). but it also acts on and through the 'body politic', i.e., society-at-large. 'the soul' is a way of talking about how social realities are no less concrete for being abstract and how we shouldn't mistake them for mere fantasies or ideological illusions when they certainly take a very physical toll on us.

 

i feel i'm being a bit unclear, so let's take a simple example: money. technically i have two green-colored strips of paper in my pocket, but when i walk into a deli, i magically walk out with a sandwich. two slips of paper = one sandwich ...not a bad deal. but it's the fact that these strips of paper are treated as money that effectively makes them money. and if i focus solely on the empirical reality (the colored strips of paper), i would miss the importance of the social reality (the $$$)...

 

well, the fact that criminals were treated by their society (and treated themselves) as having souls effectively made them have souls. no, not in the sense of an immortal ghost inside of them which would rise from their graves, but in the moral sense of having a conscience that can be guilty or innocent, a heart that can be pure or impure, a life that can be saved or lost. this 'soul' as a social reality has very real effects on how we relate to each other and ourselves, just as the slips of green paper in my pocket do.

 

what's more, we can't stand outside of this history and say, 'ah, those idiots, they think they've got souls!', anymore than we can say, 'ah, those idiots, they're exchanging paper for sandwiches!', because my very subjectivity is tied up with these social concepts - i'm caught by them, imbricated in them. if you took the slips of paper out of my pocket, i'd be understandably angry; if you threw the slips of green paper in your own pocket into a fire, i'd also probably be a little upset.

 

to get by in our society almost always requires money, and it likewise requires that you, no matter how big an atheist you consider yourself, accept that you have a 'soul' in foucault's precise sense - that is, the kind of 'soul' created by your high school transcript, by your teacher recommendations, by your work history, by your police record, by your credit rating, and so forth. if a teacher or a cop told you 'stop!', you'd likely stop, because that's how we've been socialized. (this is akin to the process that althusser - a teacher and vital influence for foucault - called 'interpellation'.)

 

this is why, incidentally, archeology as a method of historical analysis is insufficient by itself {and there'll be more on this below}. since we can't stand above the phenomena we're analyzing, we have to do a genealogy of the soul, which isn't a scientific reduction or demystification from the outside but a historical decipherment from within. we're too close to our own socialization to be entirely objective about it. even the researcher (foucault, in this case) isn't immune from the effects of what he's trying to study. as foucault puts it on page 217,

 

We are ... in the panoptic machine, invested by its effects of power, which we bring to ourselves since we are part of its mechanism.

 

{a brilliant source for understanding foucauldian 'soul' - and 'discipline and punish' in general - is the novella/film 'a clockwork orange'. remember that it's the secular reformers, armed with newly-developed medical 'science' (e.g., the ludovico technique), who are more ruthless than the religious chaplin in trying to cure Alex's 'soul'. this is something of an irony, and helps explain foucualt's semi-ironic usage of the concept.}

 

 

(2) is false as well. point-blank: disciplinary power does individualize us. this is repeated ad nauseum throughout foucault's work from this period, to such an extent that 'de-individualization' is at times considered one of the only emancipatory alternatives to the status quo. we'll get to the alternative in a second; first let's prove my claim. at the beginning of part III of 'discipline and punish', foucault describes several new features of the post-18th century disciplinary techniques, the first being "the scale of the control: it was a question not of treating the body, en masse, 'wholesale', as if it were an indissociable unity, but of working in 'retail', individually" (DP 136). i'll argue below that 'working in retail' isn't best understood as turning subjects into interchangeable parts (or an 'indissociable unity'). but re-reading part III, i spotted at least ten places where foucault says specifically that disciplinary power 'individualizes' those on whom it's brought to bear. so before getting to the passage i'll focus on, let me just run through several instances quickly so you can look them up for yourself if you're so inclined:

 

p144: "...tended to individualize bodies... individualizing partitioning..."

p146: "...individualizes bodies..."

p149: "...characterization of the individual as individual..."

p170: "Discipline 'makes' individuals..."

p184: "...it individualizes... all the shading of individual differences"

p189-91: "...introduces individuality... makes each individual a 'case'..."

p200: "...perfectly individuated..."

p203: "...individualizing observation..."

p217: "...it is not that the beautiful totality of the individual is amputated, repressed, altered by our social order, it is rather that the individual is carefully fabricated in it..."

 

the key passage for me is on pages 191-4:

 

For a long time ordinary individuality - the everyday individuality of everybody - remained below the threshold of description. To be looked at, observed, described in detail, followed from day to day by an uninterrupted writing was a privilege. The chronicle of a man, the account of his life, his historiography, written as he lived out his life formed part of the rituals of his power. The disciplinary methods reversed this relation, lowered the threshold of describable individuality and made of this description a means of control and a method of domination. It is no longer a monument for future memory, but a document for possible use. And this new describability is all the more marked in that the disciplinary framework is a strict one: the child, the patient, the madman, the prisoner, were to become, with increasing ease from the eighteenth century and according to a curve which is that of the mechanisms of discipline, the object of individual descriptions and biographical accounts. This turning of real lives into writing is no longer a procedure of heroization; it functions as a procedure of objectification and subjection. The carefully collated life of mental patients or delinquents belongs, as did the chronicle of kings or the adventures of the great popular bandits, to a certain political function of writing; but in a quite different technique of power.

 

The examination as the fixing, at once ritual and 'scientific', of individual differences, as the pinning down of each individual in his own particularity ... certainly indicates the appearance of a new modality of power in which each individual receives as his status his own individuality, and in which he is linked by his status to the features, the measurements, the gaps, the 'marks' that characterize him and make him a 'case'. ...

 

In a system of discipline, the child is more individualized than the adult, the patient more than the healthy man, the madman and the delinquent more than the normal and the non-delinquent. In each case, it is towards the first of these pairs that all the individualizing mechanisms are turned in our civilization; and when one wishes to individualize the healthy, normal and law-abiding adult, it is always by asking him how much of the child he has in him, what secret madness lies within him, what fundamental crime he has dreamt of committing. ...

 

The individual is no doubt the fictitious atom of an 'ideological' representation of society; but he is also a reality fabricated by this specific technology of power that I have called 'discipline'. We must cease once and for all to describe the effects of power in negative terms: it 'excludes', it 'represses', it 'censors', it 'abstracts', it 'masks', it 'conceals'. In fact, power produces; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth. The individual and knowledge that may be gained from him belong to this production.

 

to recap, it used to be that only kings and adventurers were written about as extensively as any member of our disciplinary society is today. every person reading this has a number of files that will follow you from womb to tomb. discipline does not turn you into an interchangeable cog in the machine, but writes a very specific, individual case history. this allows disciplinary power (as foucault discusses at length in sections previous to the one above) to situate you in those places which are particularly well-suited for your personality; that is, it tries to be as precise as possible about what you're good at - your 'aptitudes'. that's how it takes a disorganized multitude and turns it into an ordered multiplicity - an unwashed mass into a well-oiled machine. even in disciplinary enclosures, where conformity and homogenization certainly play a role, you're still made to feel your individual soul. you are made to assert that you're special, that you and only you are fully capable of changing your behavior, that you're "a beautiful and unique snowflake" (to quote 'fight club'). nick crossley sums up the standard line in 'reflexive embodiment in contemporary society' - page 40:

 

In the old regime power worked by way of its visibility. The spectacle of torture and execution was a means by which the absolute monarch could demonstrate his power to the masses, showing them what would become of them if they transgressed. .... In the modern regime, by contrast, power works by making those subject to it visible - by surveillance. ... New architectural arrangements function to make the inmates of buildings and institutions visible. This involves segmentation and, in some cases, individualization. The exercise of power is often held to deindividualize, Foucault notes, but in fact power works by separating 'the mass' into individuals, rendering each of them distinct and accountable. Partitions and cells within buildings play a crucial role here as they separate out individuals or small groups. And the manipulation of time by way of timetables plays much the same role. It specifies where in space any individual will or should be at a given time. They can be found instantly.

 

this echoes the question you always hear from teachers/administrators in school: 'where are you supposed to be?'. ...or take the boot-camp mantra in 'full metal jacket' in its entirety:

 

This is my rifle. There are many like it but this one is mine. My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. Without me, my rifle is useless. Without my rifle I am useless. I must fire my rifle true. I must shoot straighter than my enemy, who is trying to kill me. I must shoot him before he shoots me. I will. Before God I swear this creed: my rifle and myself are defenders of my country, we are the masters of our enemy, we are the saviors of my life. So be it, until there is no enemy, but peace. Amen.

 

it's true that every recruit must mindlessly repeat this, but not because they're being de-individualized - after all, the refrain is not "I am nothing, the country is all, let me die for a higher cause and forget myself in serving the greater nation". No, it's "There are many like [my rifle] BUT THIS ONE IS MINE... I must master MY life... MY rifle and MYSELF are defenders of MY country... we are the saviors of MY life...". even in the graphically-depicted hell of military training, recruits garner personal nicknames (such as 'private joker') and their individual differences are put to use. (the drill sergeant is certainly a fine representative of disciplinary power, however, and one could even understand the rifle here as a token example of what foucault conceives of as the 'soul' - adding a layer of intrigue to the creepy conversations gomer pyle carries on with his.)

 

jon appears to say that disciplinary power still focuses on what's external while bio-power is concerned with the internalization of norms. first, this usage of 'bio-power' doesn't conform to the restricted notion of controlling populations which jon uses elsewhere. but second, foucault is adamant that disciplinary power does entail the internalization of norms. that's the point of 'the soul'. that's the point of proliferating pseudo-judges ("the teacher-judge, the doctor-judge, the educator-judge, the 'social worker'-judge" - page 304) and all their normalizing judgments. indeed that's the point of the panopticon - pages 202-3:

 

He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection.

 

jon explains this accurately when he describes those who are being watched as always having to 'act as if' the supervisor is in the tower. and of course one of the advances of panopticism is that even the watchers can be watched - there's no risk of tyranny; it's entirely democratic (DP 207).

 

faced with this insidious social construction of our very individuality, foucault looks for alternatives to it in 'deindividualizing' practices. take his flirtation with anonymity as an example (which one could connect to agamben's concept of 'whatever being', as sergei prozorov does in 'foucault, freedom and sovereignty', page 62). or take this anti-humanist excerpt from foucault's conversation with french high skoolers (republished in 'language, counter-memory, practice', page 222),

 

By humanism I mean the totality of discourse through which Western man is told: "Even though you don't exercise power, you can still be a ruler. Better yet, the more you deny yourself the exercise of power, the more you submit to those in power, then the more this increases your sovereignty." Humanism invented a whole series of subjected sovereignties: the soul (ruling the body, but subjected to God), consciousness (sovereign in a context of judgment, but subjected to the necessities of truth), the individual (a titular control of personal rights subjected to the laws of nature and society), basic freedom (sovereign within, but accepting the demands of an outside world and "aligned with destiny"). In short, humanism is everything in Western civilization that restricts *the desire for power*: it prohibits the desire for power and excludes the possibility of power being seized. The theory of the subject (in the double sense of the word) is at the heart of humanism and this is why our culture has tenaciously rejected anything that could weaken its hold upon us. But it can be attacked in two ways: either by a "desubjectification" of the will to power (that is, through political struggle in the context of class warfare) or by the destruction of the subject as a pseudosovereign (that is, through an attack on "culture": the suppression of taboos and the limitations and division imposed upon the sexes; the setting up of communes; the loosening of inhibitions with regard to drugs; the breaking of all the prohibitions that form and guide the development of a normal individual). I am referring to all those experiences which have been rejected by our civilization or which it accepts only within literature.

 

so humanism can be attacked through political struggle or creative destruction which targets mainstream culture. there's this juxtaposition of old-style marxism and new left nietzscheanism here. on one side, we have class struggle, where we lose ourselves by identifying with the proletariat (e.g., workers of the world unite!). on the other side, we have may 68ers and the hippies, where we refuse the square life (e.g., set up communes, engage in free love, do drugs, and so forth). in either case, however, the alternative to being an individual is to efface our individuality. (also notice the 'literature'-alternative in the very last words there.)

 

now, immediately we might see a contradiction between this and foucault's 'care of self' days. in the last interview before his death, foucault ponders the possibility of seeing ourselves as works of art. is this a real contradiction with the anti-individualism of foucault's earlier career? foucault in later years still isn't interested in finding our 'true self' or in curing our 'soul'. he simply thinks we might approach the problem of what to do with ourselves from an aesthetic perspective. even in 'discipline and punish', foucault is careful to point out that the type of discipline he's criticizing isn't the self-discipline involved in, say, becoming a monk. why? because they're not obsessed with utility. foucault writes on page 137,

 

...although ["'disciplines' of a monastic type"] involved obedience to others, ... their principal aim [was] an increase of the mastery of each individual over his own body.

 

foucault doesn't have a problem with this self-mastery. he doesn't seem to have a problem with "an art of the human body" directed at "the growth of its skills" either. so there's already a line to be drawn between self-discipline and disciplinary power as "the formation of a relation that in the mechanism itself makes it more obedient as it becomes more useful, and conversely." monastic self-discipline and disciplinary power are as different as running for sport in the open air and running on a treadmill to power an electric generator. page 138:

 

What was then being formed was a policy of coercions that act upon the body, a calculated manipulation of its elements, its gestures, its behavior. The human body was entering a machinery of power that explores it, breaks it down and rearranges it. A 'political anatomy', which was also a 'mechanics of power', was being born; it defined how one may have a hold over others' bodies not only so that they may do what one wishes, but so that they may operate as one wishes, with the techniques, the speed and the efficiency that one determines. Thus discipline produces subjected and practiced bodies, 'docile' bodies.

 

i'm reminded of what o'brien tells winston when torturing him in '1984', "Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing."

 

that's also why i have a bit of a problem with the monochromatic 'hard power-versus-soft power'/'punishment-versus-reward'-explanation jon falls into during parts of his lecture. there's nothing soft about disciplinary power - it's coercive, manipulative, humiliating, traumatic, and cruel. unlike sovereign power, it refrains from spectacularly violent acts, but usually only because these are more expensive, aren't as effective, and tend to backfire. nonetheless, the torment of gomer pyle is still 'the means of correct training', and alex's forcibly opened eyeballs in 'a clockwork orange' represent 'the curing of the criminal soul'. so why are we told that juridical power is based on harsh punishment while disciplinary power is based on positive rewards? this is misleading since both types of power have punishment-and-reward systems at their disposal. sovereigns are famous for their medals of valor, for instance, while disciplinarians have entirely new kinds of penalties - what foucault calls 'infra-penality' on page 178:

 

The workshop, the school, the army were subject to a whole micro-penality of time (lateness, absences, interruptions of tasks), of activity (inattention, negligence, lack of zeal), of behavior (impoliteness, disobedience), of speech (idle chatter, insolence), of the body ('incorrect' attitudes, irregular gestures, lack of cleanliness), of sexuality (impurity, indecency). At the same time, by way of punishment, a whole series of subtle procedures was used, from light physical punishment to minor deprivations and petty humiliations. It was a question both of making the slightest departures from correct behavior subject to punishment, and of giving a punitive function to the apparently indifferent elements of the disciplinary apparatus: so that, if necessary, everything might serve to punish the slightest thing; each subject find himself caught in a punishable, punishing universality. 'By punishment, one must understand everything that is capable of making children feel the offense they have committed, everything that is capable of humiliating them, of confusing them: ... a certain coldness, a certain indifference, a question, a humiliation, a removal from office' (La Salle, Conduite..., 204-5).

 

even when foucault notes the importance of rewards, it's done within the context of a "punitive balance-sheet" - pages 180-3:

 

In discipline, punishment is only one element of a double system: gratification-punishment. And it is this system that operates in the process of training and correction. The teacher 'must avoid as far as possible, the use of punishment; on the contrary, he must endeavor to make rewards more frequent than penalties, the lazy being more encouraged by the desire to be rewarded in the same way as the diligent than by the fear of punishment; that is why it will be very beneficial, when the teacher is obliged to use punishment, to win the heart of the child if he can before doing so (Demia, 17). ...instead of the simple division of the prohibition, as practiced in penal justice, ...all behavior falls in the field between good and bad marks, good and bad points. ... A penal accountancy, constantly brought up to date, makes it possible to obtain the punitive balance-sheet of each individual. School 'justice', rudiments of which are to be found in the army and the workshops, carried this system very far. ... The disciplinary mechanism secretes a 'penality of the norm', which is irreducible in its principles and functioning to the traditional penality of the law.

 

ok, one final nit to pick. jon defines archeology as 'mapping out structural relationships between words and meaning'. in fact, archeology gets rid of meaning as well. that is, the archeologist (in foucault's sense) not only attempts to remain neutral on the question of whether a particular discourse is scientifically true or not; the archeologist also remains neutral on the question of whether a particular discourse makes any sense at all.

 

to demonstrate this farther step, let's take a classic text in the annales school of french history - a precursor to foucauldian archeology: marc bloch's 'the royal touch' written in 1924. the object of his study was this peculiar ritual that kings in england and france used to practice: it was a commonly-held belief that being touched by the king could cure you of certain skin diseases. now, bloch obviously doesn't waste time asking whether this belief was scientifically true or not, because today we don't widely believe that a monarch can cure infections through touch. we can safely 'bracket out' (or neglect to discuss) the claim to truth of the particular practice bloch wants to study, and nothing is lost. nevertheless, bloch is still very interested in understanding what the practice meant to those who practiced it. this distinguishes him from foucauldian historians. they're not even interested in what the original practitioners thought they meant. watch how foucault begins 'the birth of the clinic' (his most 'archeological' book next to 'the order of things'),

 

Towards the middle of the eighteenth century, Pomme treated and cured a hysteric by making her take "baths, ten or twelve hours a day, for ten whole months." At the end of this treatment for the dessication of the nervous system and the heat that sustained it, Pomme saw "membranous tissues like pieces of damp parchment ... peel away with some slight discomfort, and these were passed daily with the urine; the right ureter also peeled away and came out whole in the same way." The same things occurred with the intestines, which at another stage "peeled off their internal tunics, which we saw emerge from the rectum. The oesophagus, the arterial trachea, and the tongue also peeled in due course; and the patient had rejected different pieces either by vomiting or by expectoration.

 

'peeling off internal tunics'? what the fuck is going on here? well, we have little way of knowing for sure because this description is incoherent. we won't have to ask whether this account is true because we can't ask this. it's a few lines of gibber-gabber away from lewis carroll or kafka. what we can do is bracket out not only the possible truth of the statements, but also the meaning for the subjects involved, then see what's left, if anything. dreyfus and rabinow put it succintly on page 13 of their book on foucault:

 

Once we treat language and practices of a discipline from another age as mere meaningless objects, we can gain access to a level of description which shows that what remains incomprehensible is not without its own systematic order. Doctors like Pomme, giving their strange descriptions [which remember, were taken seriously at the time], were unknowingly governed by precise structural "codes of knowledge" (BC 90). And once we see that the organization of medical knowledge in the Classical Age had a comprehensive formal structure, we can see that what we regard as the meaningful truth claims of modern medicine can likewise be treated as governed by similar arbitrary structures.

 

in 'the order of things', foucault does something similar when citing borges' entry from a chinese encyclopedia dividing up all the animals in the kingdom into the following 14 categories:

 

1. those that belong to the Emperor,

2. embalmed ones,

3. those that are trained,

4. suckling pigs,

5. mermaids,

6. fabulous ones,

7. stray dogs,

8. those included in the present classification,

9. those that tremble as if they were mad,

10. innumerable ones,

11. those drawn with a very fine camel-hair brush,

12. others,

13. those that have just broken a flower vase,

14. those that from a long way off look like flies.

 

it can't be a question of whether such a list is scientifically valid or not, because we have no possible way of validating such a list scientifically. it's non-falsifiable. an archeological method treats all discourses it looks at at this level of absurdity. luckily, it doesn't typically look at everyday, inter-personal discourse, but at 'serious speech-acts', i.e., when experts talk as experts. it doesn't ask 'is this scientifically true?' or 'what did the speakers mean?', because it's concerned solely with, 'how does this function in a system of discourse?'. later on, after reading nietzsche, foucault will realize the insufficiency of using this method alone; he'll question 'the formalist illusion' and begin to write genealogies. in any case, what archeology maps isn't 'the structural relationship between words and their meaning', but the historical relationship between statements and their field of discourse. (and among the many reasons foucault wasn't 'a typical structuralist' are that he didn't agree with understanding this discursive field in terms of a-historical rules.)

 

one of the advantages of this method is we don't have to worry too much about what's rolling around in people's thoughts - we can leave behind the primacy of consciousness as understood by the phenomenologists. so it also bugs me a little when jon at a couple of points seems to fall back into 'mental' explanations which foucault scrupulously avoided. "It is not simply at the level of consciousness, of representations and in what one thinks one knows, but at the level of what makes possible the knowledge that is transformed into political investment" (DP 185). so it's not something that's merely 'in our heads'. it's "movements, gestures" (DP 137), it's "buildings, rooms, furniture" (DP 148), it's "the clock" (DP 174), it's "the dust of events, actions, behavior" (DP 213), it's "the unavowable petty cruelties, small acts of cunning, calculated methods, techniques, 'sciences'" (DP 308), it's bodies and architectures. foucault links arms with deleuze and guattari in their materialist attempt to study human beings without recourse to mental representations. this 'microphysics of power' is what enables d&g to conclude on page 225 of 'a thousand plateaus':

 

The microtextures - not masochism - are what explain how the oppressed can take an active role in oppression: the workers of the rich nations actively participate in the exploitation of the Third World, the arming of dictatorships, and the pollution of the atmosphere.

 

no worldwide conspiracy is pulling the strings here. jon is absolutely correct to stress the importance of neighborhood watches and 'yellow ribbon'-patriotism. foucault discusses this as 'de-institutionalized lateral controls' on page 211 of 'discipline and punish' and we could connect this directly to deleuze's concept of 'societies of control'. what's indispensable to recognize in trying to come to terms with the genocides that marked the last century and continue into our own (and here i concur entirely with jon's analysis) is that these aren't the manifestations of some dark primitive barbaric drive into what would otherwise be our calm liberal utopia: these massacres are absolutely modern, through and through. it's the organic concept of the nation-state and its population of healthy souls that we saw grow in the 19th century that made 'ethnic cleansing' necessary from the perspective of bio-power in the 20th and to this day. (and, as a corollary, so-called islamic fundamentalism is also not 'the return of the repressed' of medieval islam; it too is an entirely modern reaction to global capitalism - a fact which, unfortunately, only increases the scale of its slaughters.) following adorno, that often-cited paragraph from part 5 of 'the history of sexuality: an introduction' argues it's a mistake to see nazism as the rejection of modernity, the return of some repressed inhuman past; nazism was thoroughly modern - or, as philippe lacoue-labarthe wrote, 'nazism is a humanism'.

 

everyone reading this is probably responsible for plenty of useless car-exhaust, for paying taxes to an imperial war machine, and buying cheap consumer goods without determining who made them. neither malice nor even ignorance explain this. do we hate the third world? ...well, some do. but are we unaware of all the facts, as chomsky suggests? ...well, most of us are, but then why don't we bother to find out? ...because we're up to our necks in our own shit, is why. that's 'microtextures' or "the steep rise in the use of these mechanisms of normalization" (DP 306). and if foucault/d&g are right, this is no historical accident.

 

 

kevin.sanchez@gmail.com

 

 

 

p.s., i came across a topic-specific quotation on page 300 of 'discipline and punish' i thought might work well at the top of a foucault kritik:

 

'Our benevolent establishments present an admirably coordinated whole by means of which the indigent does not remain a moment without help from the cradle to the grave. Follow the course of the unfortunate man: you will see him born among foundlings; from there he passes to the nursery, then to an orphanage; at the age of six he goes off to primary school and later to adult schools. If he cannot work, he is placed on the list of the charity offices of his district, and if he falls ill he may choose between twelve hospitals. . . Lastly, when the poor Parisian reaches the end of his career, seven almshouses await his age and often their salubrious regime has prolonged his useless days well beyond those of the rich man' (Moreau de Jonnes, quoted in Touquet).

 

(foucault also had some remarkably conservative things to say about 'welfare dependency' in interviews.)

 

 

p.p.s., when jon spoke about how 'deviance poses a threat to the norm of population', it reminded me of a line in pierre klossowski's book on nietzsche ('nietzsche and the vicious circle', page 5) - a book which was dedicated to deleuze and which foucault heralded unequivocally as "the greatest book of philosophy i have ever read":

 

The mediocre dominate those surplus natures whose overabundance of life is a threat to the security of the species.
Edited by Lazzarone
  • Upvote 4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

my above definition of "archeology" was incorrect, so i set it straight.

 

had a feeling i was wrong, went back over my notes on 'the archaeology of knowledge', and on page 27, foucault distinguishes his archeological method both from an analysis of language which looks for 'rules' (my mistake) and a history of thought which looks for 'meanings' (jon's mistake). what foucault's after is "the field of discursive events".

 

The question posed by language analysis of some discursive fact or other is always: according to what rules has a particular statement been made, and consequently according to what rules could other similar statements be made? The description of the events of discourse poses quite a different question: how is it that one particular statement appeared rather than another?

 

It is also clear that this description of discourses is in opposition to the history of thought. There too a system of thought can be reconstituted only on the basis of a definite discursive totality. But this totality is treated in such a way that one tries to rediscover beyond the statements themselves the intention of the speaking subject, his conscious activity, what he meant, or, again, the unconscious activity that took place, despite himself, in what he said or in the almost imperceptible fracture of his actual words[.]

 

the history of thought is always trying to uncover 'what was said in what was said' - the underlying meaning. foucault is not. he's trying to "reveal in all its purity the space in which discursive events are deployed" (page 29, italics mine). discursive rules for their part would only tell us all the statements that are possible within certain parameters, but wouldn't be able to tell us why one possible statement was actually used instead of another. this is foucault's 'law of rarity', which leads us to ask, why isn't everything that it's possible to say actually said? to answer that we need to find out what role other discourses have played in the one we're looking at and what role it played in a non-discursive field (that is, how its been appropriated strategically) - see pages 66-70. that's not to say that rules aren't important to foucualt's methodology (cf. pages 46, 58, and 74), only that grasping them is merely the first step.

 

it's also worth keeping to foucault's term 'statement' rather than 'word' seeing as several different series of words can repeat one identical statement. i like dreyfus and rabinow's example here: a flight attendant who explains the safety procedures in several different languages (page 45 of their book). the attendant uses different words - or no words in the case of sign language - but he or she is saying essentially the same thing over and over - that is, making the same statement(s). even non-sentential entities can be statements, such as maps; as foucault writes, "a genealogical tree, an accounts book, the calculations of a trade balance are statements; where are the sentences?" (page 82, 'the archaeology of knowledge', a.m. sheridan smith translation).

 

{by the way, the introduction and first three chapters of 'the archaeology' are available here: http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/fr/foucaul2.htm.}

 

but sorry again for the mix-up.

Edited by Lazzarone
  • Upvote 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think this is a counterproductive angle. If K lectures are especially likely to receive huge pages of criticism, they're less likely to be put online.

 

I specifically elected not to put my capitalism lecture at GDS online because I simply don't have time to deal with multipage critiques. I really don't - I might have once.

 

If you're genuinely interested in addressing people as colleagues, I have two suggestions.

 

1. Look for additions instead of corrections. Be nice.

 

2. Respect the time of others. Jon Sharp (a great teacher and lecturer) probably doesn't have time for a book. He may have time for a question or two. These enormous posts communicate an interest in monologue, not dialogue.

 

I am not trying to be harsh here; I'm really sincere. If you posted shorter, more communicative responses, I think people would genuinely engage you instead of yelling at you.

 

be well

  • Upvote 2
  • Downvote 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...

×
×
  • Create New...