Date: Tue, 30 Apr 1996 10:23:09 +0100
>This is in response to the post that claimed that the existence of an
>actual past has been accepted by all. Of course, one always concedes that
>some kind of "actual past" must exist or have existed in order for things
>today to be the way they are. But, as I said, history is not a catalogue,
>and history is not "memory". History is an active (act of) construction.
>In order to understand this, I think, one has to take into account
>Foucault's notion of discourse not as some abstract space in which ideas
>compete, but rather as a surface with a finite content. He is not
>interested in what discourse *says* - he is interested in what discourse
Foucault, may well be interested in this. Still, it is question begging
insofar as I am interested in how certain discourses get to do what they do
and why not other discourses. Malcolm, wants to reduce this to nothing more
than effects of poltical/ideological positions, and I do mean nothing more.
Given this reading, one might have good grounds for thinking that the belief
that the Earth is round is, possibly, the result purely of a
capitalist-liberal political discourse, which utilises this belief solely so
as fat middle aged white males can go around the earth. If it was still flat
one couldn't go round it only back and forth. To accept that knowledge is
theory/discourse/potically/ideologically laden is not to accept that it is
Thus, from a Foucauldian perspective, the correspondence of a
>history to the "actual past" is, even if possible, entirely secondary to
>*how the narrative rhetorically functions within a field of
But surely some function better than others and that for reasons of evidence
too. Some of the Arab peoples probably have good ideological and political
grounds as well as good material grounds for wishing the holocaust away,
that is in denying it. Still, the majority don't. Also the 'naive' belief
that political/ideological positions are hermetically sealed homogeneous
bodies of thought/power realtions, which malcolm seems to adhere to, is to
produce an undifferentiated notion of diversity. Some political positions
are more ameanable to discussion than others.
>because to say that a given set of historiographic criteria corresponds
>more or less accurately to the "past" implies a previous determination of
>the "real" shape and meaning of that past - one must have access to the
>"truth" of history in order to say that one historiography is truer than
No, why? you are confusing your epistemology with your ontology (a classic
mistake within philosophy generally) One does not have to have unmediated
access to the 'truth' in order to say that one description is better than
another, at the present time. Nor does this commit one to clinging
limpet-like to one's chosen description. Evidence, may emerge that will
require one changes one's position. Nor does this evidence have to be
experiential it can be theoretical, ideological, political whatever.
>Now, how would one acquire such a picture except through a set
>of historiographic criteria? Thus, the assessment of truth or falsity of
>historical claims begs many questions: how do you arrive at the "true"
>set of historiographic criteria? by assessing their adequacy and accuracy
>against "history itself". how do you arrive at this "history itself"?
>through historiographic criteria.
Yes, actually one probably does, much as one navigates one's own life by
accepting that not walking under buses is probably not a good thing,
irrespective of whether one has tried it or not. Is this a political
inspired belief by the way?
>Also, alot of this discussion seems to take the notion of "evidence" as
>realtively unproblematic. Thus, someone said the reason they believe the
>holocaust occurred is because there is so much evidence for its
>occurrence. Now my question is: how is it that one decides what counts as
>evidence? what appears as evidence to one person will not count for
>another. Neo-nazis do not see the vast archives of documentary material
>as "evidence". Why not? because of their political identification. Now, I
>*do* see them as evidence. Why? because of mine.
The issue of evidence is certainly problematic, but this is not to say that
it thus becomes meaningless in any discussion. What are replies that have
being posted on this issue if not evidence and/or attempts at "reasoned
arguments", and if they are not then why bother? Besides the issue of
evidence in some contexts is not as problematic as in others. What if I were
to say that Foucault wrote books on Palenstinian Housing design, might there
not be some 'evidence' that might disprove this assertion? Well there is a
certain Chantal Foucault-Forest, who has wrote on this subject, would this
perhaps count as 'evidence' of my confusion?
>People are not convinced of things because of evidence, and they are
>certainly not convinced of things through rational argument.
Who says? What is this discussion but rational argument. Besides, if this is
really the end point of a Foucaultian position and the earlier post
vis-a-vis nazis, seems to support this, then there is nothing new going on
here. This is simply a non-rational argument for Hobbesian realism.
>From my perspective, we are
>living in a vicious, bloodthirsty world in which force wins. Thus, it
>behooves me to defend myself against people who would have me and all the
>people I care about rounded up and shot - not with argument: with force.
>Have you ever tried to stop a skinhead from kicking your head in by
>saying "uh, excuse me Mr. Skinhead, couldn't we just talk about this in a
>calm and rational manner?" Doesn't work.
Who says it doesn't work. What 'evidence' have you got to support this
claim? Are you rationally arguing that we, that is the (un)enlightened naive
fools who have yet to see the light, should accept irrationality. Or are you
arguing irrationally that we, the above, should accept irrationality?
>presupposes criteria of evidence as self-evident (snicker snicker). Thus
>the evidence for the holocaust counts as evidence for you and me not
>because it is "so overwhelming" - otherwise there would be no possibility
>of denying it (but some people obviously do) - but because *we are not
Again, what evidence would you like to provide for this 'argument (snicker,
snicker)? The inference from, some people deny it to thus the evidence is
suspect is, err, obscure. Also, why do so many people of so many political
and ideological persuasions believe it? Surely, given Malcolms
epistemolgical (un)position, there should be many more diverse position on
Also, I beg to differ with the claim that holocaust denial *can
>never achieve mass acceptance because of the evidence*. This is
>dangerously naive. One can't rely on the "evidence" to make one's
>arguments for one.
Well one doesn't, that's why one reads the 'evidence' of the denyers, so
that one can consider it, and adopt one's position accordingly. Issues of
fallibilty are raised here. On Malcolm's reading he could never be wrong.
There is, in effect, nothing to be wrong about vis-a-vis the holocaust. But
consider for a moment. It is always a possibility, that some 'evidence'
could emerge that might throw doubt on the holocaust. It might even turn out
that nazism has been grossly misunderstood and misinterpreted, I doubt this,
but. Given this possibility and given Malcolm's claim that we should stop
trying to determine the 'truth' then what could one say to the nazis that
Malcolm had decided to kill? Not a lot I suppose, and that for 'obvious'
material reasons too! Another question also arises, given that we have a
generally accepted definition of a nazi that would probably include
something like: someone who kills people he/she does not like without
advancing any good reasons, but simply because they disagree with us. What
does that make Malcolm's position? :-)
>Now, the appropriate strategy in dealing with holocaust denial is not to
>seek recourse in historiographic criteria and hope and against hope that
>rational argument can prevent Naziism. The appropriate strategy is to
Why? what's wrong with Nazis on your reading? They've simply got a position
that you don't agree with. So! Also what if, they get more guns/bombs etc.,
than you. What arguments will you advance to try and persuade me, or anybody
else for that matter, that we should help you?
>Thus, I am not arguing that people are willing to sacrifice rational
>thought and critical ability to politics. I am arguing, rather, that what
>counts as rational thought and critical ability follow from politics.
I don't necessarly disagree too much with this assertion. But, I also think
that the process goes both ways and that political positions can be changed
through rational thought and material circumstances. No doubt the national
party in South Africa, changed it mind due to some of these. Political
positions are not so determinstic, nor pristine finished articles,
uncomtaminated by things outside of them.
In respect, of the long quotes from Foucault and the subject I admit to
being flabbergasted. Are these! (snicker, snicker) No! I must be wrong! My
political disposition must be forcing "me" to see it this way! But still it
is evidence is it not?
However, I am being sarcastic here, I agree, for the most part with the
analysis/sentiments expressed in the excerpts from Foucault, my only dissent
would be to argue that although these discourse were not created by a
(un)knowing subject, nonetheless, once under way they get taken up and
priviledge certain 'subjects' above others. That is the material relations
which emerge effect and motivate actors in differing ways.
>Finally, vis-a-vis the "subject(lessness)" of Foucault's history, a quote
>from "The Confession of the Flesh" in _Power/Knowledge_:
>"Let's take an example. From around 1825 to 1830 one finds the local and
>perfectly explicit appearance of definite strategies for fixing the
>workers in the first heavy industries at their work-places. At Mulhouse
>and in France various tactics are elaborated: pressuring people to marry,
>providing houses, building cites ouvrieres, practicing that sly form of
>credit-slavery that Marx talks about, consisting in enforcing advance
>payment of rents while wages are paid only at the end of the month. Then
>there are savings-bank systems, the truck-system with grocers and
>wine-merchants who act for the bosses, and so on. Around all this there
>is formed little by little a discourse, the discourse of philanthropy and
>the moralization of the working class. The the experiments become
>generalized by way of the institutions and societies consciously
>advocating programmes for the moralization of the working class. Then on
>top of that there is superimposed the problem of womens' work, the
>schooling of children and the relations between the two issues. Between
>the schooling of children, which is a centralized, Parliamentary measure,
>and this or that purely local initiative dealing with workers' housing,
>for example, one finds all sorts of support mechanisms (unions of
>employers, chambers of commerce, etc.) which invent, modify and readjust,
>according to the circumstances of the moment and the place - so that you
>get a coherent, rational strategy, but one for which it is no longer
>possible to identify a person who conceived it." (page 203)
>A bit earlier:
>"Take the example of imprisonment, that apparatus which had the effect of
>making measures of detention appear to be the most efficient and rational
>that could be applied to the phenomenon of criminality. What did this
>apparatus produce? An entirely unforeseen effect which had nothing to do
>with any kind of strategic ruse on the part of some meta- or
>trans-historic subject conceiving and willing it. This effect was the
>constitution of a delinquent milieu..." (195)
>and so on and so on.
>bye for now. fight the power.
Department of International Politics
University of Wales, Aberystwyth