From: John Ransom <RANSOM@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Fri, 21 Jul 95 9:13:38 edt
I have a question I would like to ask about Deleuze's treatment
of Foucault's notion of power. I've been reviewing pages 70-73 of
D's Foucault trans. Sean Hand (Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press, 1988). My question will have to follow a brief
overview of Deleuze's argument. Page numbers below will refer to
the above-mentioned English translation.
Deleuze characterizes Foucault as a kind of functionalist (26).
In social theory "functionalism" refers biographically to figures
like Herbert Spencer, Malinowski, Talcott Parsons, and Giddens.
Ideationally, the term refers to the argument that social
institutions should be understood somewhat along utilitarian
lines in terms of the functions they fulfill. The actual natives
of an African tribe may understand their totem religion (or
whatever) in terms of some edict from a deity or deities, but
enlightened functionalists know that the actual "function" the
totem religion performs is to produce forms of social
integration. You get the idea
Deleuze (so I gather, anyway) thinks that Foucault is a
functionalist who has improved on the founders of this school of
thought by adding a perceptual level unknown to his predecessors.
When they described (for instance) the ritual exchange of sea
shells among island communities, they allowed their understanding
of power (not that they used that word) to be exhausted by the
particular operation of power they described. This is why
functional-structuralist theories of society always seem so
unrealistically closed, so dense: if power is collapsed into its
particular application, equated with the particular institutional
form it takes at any moment, we have an inertia problem. If power
"is" this totem religion or that set of sea shell exchanges, or
even a combination of both of these and a number of other
cultural practices, then an escape from power seems impossible.
But our notion of power should not be reduced to the particular
cultural expressions it takes at this or that moment, and
Foucault's advance over his predecessors can be understood in
terms of his ability to identify a level of activity--or at leas
existence--that transcends particular expressions of power.
Power, Deleuze comments on 71, is productive rather than
repressive. In a power relationship, we have something that
incites, while something else in turn is induced to produce. One
is active, while the other is reactive. But to say "reactive" is
not to say "passive," and to avoid this conclusion Deleuze
introduces two kinds of power:
1. the "power to affect"
2. the "power to be affected"
The "power to affect," Deleuze says (71-72) is the "function" of
force, while the "power to be affected" is the "matter" of force.
I may as well admit it: I am not quite sure what Deleuze means
here. When he says that the "power to be affected" is the
"matter" of force, does he mean that the "power to be affected"
is that which is specifically shaped by "force"? But then how is
the "power to be affected" a "power" if its only concrete
expression is in allowing itself to be formed?
And in what sense is Deleuze speaking when he says the "power to
affect" acts as the "function" of force? What does the word
"function" mean here? Does Deleuze mean that "force" is the
primary category and that the "power to affect" is the
"expression," the "function" of it?
On 72, Deleuze insists that this "power-to-affect-function-of-
force" (not a direct quote) should be thought of as a "pure"
function. "Pure" here means "non-formalized," and "non-
formalized" means "independent of the concrete forms it assumes,
the aims it serves, or the means it employs." Foucault, then, is
a "pure" functionalist: he does not let his understanding of
power become contaminated by its specific expressions.
Is this perhaps a Kantian reading of Foucault? At 71, Deleuze
refers to "categories" of power. He lists three:
1. distribution in space
2. ordering in time
3. composition in space-time
Hospital patients and prisoners are distributed in space. The
movements of the soldier firing the rifle are ordered in time.
The specific nature of the interaction between the first two
categories gives "force" its particular character. But standing
behind all particularities are the "categories" of power--and
this does seem to have a Kantian ring to it.
I have more I would like to discuss concerning this section in
Deleuze (pp. 70-73 of his _Foucault_), but perhaps that's enough
for tonight. I hope someone else has some thoughts on what
Deleuze is up to here.
There's another author who gives a Kantian reading of Foucault.
The name of the book is _Discipline and Critique_. It's very