From: Jim Underwood <jim@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Sat, 23 Mar 1996 17:34:01 +1100 (EST)
This is great guys, it's really getting clearer (sort of).
Darlene's quote from Shepherdson shows how radically disturbing reading
Foucault can be. Anyone can produce an argument which undermines others,
but to (joyously?) undermine oneself at the same time, while building on
strong philosophical tradition is really clever (and Socratic?).
Anyway, what that means to me is that I have to "bracket" the
metaphysical question (as Joe suggests) because if I ask "is F cheating -
is he falling back on some essential 'a priori' (hence my previous
reference to Kant)?" the answer must always be yes - and he could reply
"I told you so - I'm not producing yet another theory". But then I can't
read (and presumably he couldn't write) unless I'm coming from somewhere.
So when I read "order exists" I am inevitably drawn to thinking of
permanent or objective existence although I "know" that the meaning of
order is culturally dependent (at least in one culture - mine). And so
it goes round infinitely, and I am personally experiencing Foucault's
point while I am reading "about" it. Brilliant!
So when Derrick says "Cultures are in the business of ordering."
immediately after saying "to characterize Chinese culture FROM a Western
point of view", or when he says "the being of order whose function he
conceives as ultimate arbiter", I can't help feeling someone (Derrick,
Foucault, me, the language?) and is slipping absolute concepts back in.
Maybe our current habits are so ingrained that we (I?) can't give up
doing philosophy,or maybe Derrick is playing Foucauldian mindgames with
me (or himself) or ... and so it goes again.
So try this. I (putting myself in F's place!!) realise that my current
culture is on a cusp, in the process of changing into something
completely different. I can't know what it's going to be like until I
get there (and then I won't know what the "old" me would have thought of
it. So maybe I can get clues from some previous change (eg 1790
approx). But if that change was so great, how can I uderstand what it
was like before then. It was all so strange. But if I take several
"disconnected disciplines" from that previous time, and try to experience
their common strangeness I might get a clue to an underlying something,
or at least be able to work out what of the underlying something of MY
time was missing or different. And in MY time we might call this
underlying something "order". Whether that's what THEY would have called
we can never know.
But there's an extra problem. I can't believe cultures are
unidimensional. If we are really unconscious of the "positive
unconscious" then we can't see all these dimensions - we only see order
(and man) because it changed so dramatically last time. It seems
unlikely that the same dimension will be dominant this time.
Which brings me back to the "region mediane" which Thomas has clarified
quite a bit. I agree that for me "culture" covers the whole spectrum
(which is one reason I get annoyed by F's apparent belief that the
physical sciences are more "developed" than the social sciences). Can
these areas (ordinary knowledge vs philosophy) be separated? is this a
typically "modern" practice? But when, for whatever reason, we do try to
separate a bit of experience out and theorise about it, we then might see
in the misfit a hint of the positive unconscious, the order, poking
through the cracks in the "surface culture". "It is here that a culture,
imperceptibly deviating from the empirical orders prescribed for it by
its primary codes, instituting an initial separation from them, causes
them to lose their original transparency, relinquishes its immediate and
invisible powers, frees itself sufficiently to discover that these orders
are not the only possible ones or the best ones;". Seems rather like
dreams? (I never quite grasped the Freudian side of F before.)
(There seems to be something in here about power which could be
interpreted in the light of later writings, but I'm not ready to do that
So where does that get us? F seems to use this as a basis for allowing
change, though he claims to be not interested in causes or history of
ideas. And (because the theory is self destructive) it can't be an
explanation, because the whole analysis is from our time, and might not
apply to THEN. But of course it could apply to NOW. So why does F keep
going back to history (except in some of the interviews, which I'm not
too clear about yet), rather than applying his theory to the current
predicament. Perhaps because it's something we can only do ourselves (as
individuals, as a culture, as non-subjects, as ????).
One little thing Derrick - you quote "l'etre brut de l'order" which is
translated as "order in its primary state". My French is very basic, but
do you think the sense comes across - I feel I'm missing something.
And Bryan - I'm not a neoMarxist, so I don't quite see how a
deterministic view of class would fit in. The F model seems a bit too
complex and messy to be simply an "effect" of socio-economic change (do
all neoMarxists still see culture as "superstructure"?). What if
Foucault had chosen Marxism as one of his disciplines rather than natural
history or grammar (yes, it is from the wrong era, but you get the
idea). In The Glass Bead Game Hesse says something like "You can build a
bamboo grove in the world, but you can't build the world in a bamboo grove".
But which is which, Foucault or Marx, or neither. Since I revel in the
(apparent?) relativism of Foucault, I suspect there are Marxist
interpretations of his work, I'm just not sure I'd understand them. "You
can believe anything you like, as long as you don't believe it's true."
But I suspect a Marxist wouldn't be comfortable with that. What do you
Well, I'd better start reading the next chapter.
Jim Underwood University of Technology, Sydney
(jim@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx) PO Box 123, BROADWAY
School of Computing Sciences AUSTRALIA