From: smh@xxxxxxxxxx (Sean Hill)
Date: Fri, 30 May 1997 13:47:05 -0700
(Colin: Sorry for taking so long with this reply. I tried sending a couple
of times but it never returned to my mailbox from the list and I doubt it
reached you or anyone else. I think it is too long. Due to its length I
divided it into two postings.)
On 5/23 Colin writes:
>I, for example, cannot be held totally
>responsible, if (as some have done) people on the list interpret my
>questioning as "smashing" or "disrupting". But the point for me is that some
>level of responsibility does lie with me and I accept it. Yes I acknowledge
>that sometimes my posts are over polemical, absurd, and partially
>incoherent. sometimes this is deliberate, sometime unintentional. Equally,
>however, I don't think we would want to get into a situation where we allow
>people to produce a pamphlet full of racist slogans and Fascist images and
>then allow them to turn round and say "that's your interpretation of it!".
>So for me it is a two way process, texts need writers and an audience.
But in any case, the type and number of interpretations is indeterminate,
and therefore no matter how much conscious responsibility you wish to take
as an author, it is unlikely you could anticipate all of them. Now, like
you, I agree that not all interpretations are equally or relatively valid,
some are better than others in relation to their larger context or
background. However, I refuse that the criteria for testing the validity
of interpretations be anchored in some unhistorical, metaphysical notion of
morality, truth, freedom, etc., that can be applied in any circumstance at
any time (I am also aware that in an earlier post, Colin, you stated
something similar). And this is why I would be hesitant about silencing
anyone because of disagreement or that I found their words dangerous. This
blindness in the relation between the author and his/her text is no
arguement for self-censorship or total responsibility. To write can be a
political act, and history is full of accounts of writers whose words were
silenced because they violated the established discursive pratices. I'm
more interested in seeing risks taken than in silencing fascists.
> The way I read F is that one must write
>>despite the possible appropriation of one's words beyond the author's
>>intentions. I don't find that irresponsible. Can you hold Hegel or Marx
>>responsible for Stalin? If anything I would say that the responsibility
>>lies with the reader of the text.
>I think here, you might be glossing over some fundamental points. The work
>of Heiddegger, for example, did not simply get appropriated by fascists and
>indeed perhaps his political beliefs were a motivating factor in his
>philosophy, De Man, of course has the same problem. Nietzsche, although
>never directly espousing fascism (temporally, of course, this was not
>possible), did provide much that licenses such a form of politics. And I
>find all that stuff about supermen deeply offensive and his misogny really
>troubles me. Now, I am not saying that we should stop reading these people,
>but that, yes they themselves are indeed partially responsible for the way
>they have been appropriated, because certainly in Nietzsche's case he was
>very elitist (not _read_ this way this is what he actually meant) and
>dismissive of the herd. So I don't really like Nietzsche, not simply the use
>to which his work has been out, although that doesn't mean I havent used him
This reading of Heidegger is not the only one that can follow from his
philosophy, although that is one interpretation. As for Nietzsche, he did
espouse an elitism that we today can reject as dangerous. But was he
really as dismissive of the herd as he was for the herd instinct? I read
him in the latter sense that the herd fails to realize the power it has,
not because it is the herd, but rather that it clings to the herd instinct
which prevents it from acting, from becoming aware of its true interests.
In this sense, Nietzsche can be seen as taking an authorial risk that could
lead to his concept being largely misunderstood. But the life of the text
extends far beyond that of its author and so we don't read Nietzsche today
in the same way that they did 50 years ago. And that shift in
interpretation has more to do with what we are today than with anything in
>>I hesitate to say this, because it seems I'm conceding to your point, but I
>>don't think he would act any differently than you or I or any other
>>rational person in contemporary society. But he doesn't need his work to
>>inform him of that.
>You see I still think you are misunderstanding me here. I am not saying that
>he needs his work to inform him. My point is much more fundamental. That is,
>if we, or he, really took his work seriously then he would never act,
>because there are no grounds for action, but rather plenty of grounds for
>inaction. So as I have already stated, when Foucaults acts he only acts by
I can only partially agree. His work is not intended to be the ground for
moral action, nor is he offering us a theory of social action. What he is
offering us is a tool for critically examining our social practices,
especially those practices that blind us to real consequences of
domination. And this is not the same thing, because anyone is free to
accept his thought or reject it. To accept it does not require that one
anchor it in some traditional notion of what a thoery should be. And
furthermore, it is not going to be applicable in all situations, if only
because not all situations will lead to domination.
>I don't think anyone needs a philosophy to tell them
>>how they should act.
>My reply here is that the question is not whether or not to act with or
>without a philosophy, but rather, one always has a philosophy.
Could you explain this a bit more? Do you mean anyone acts from a
philosophical perspective whether aware of it or not?
>simply don't agree with:
> And I think that is why he can perform a genealogy of
>>what we do, say, and think without needing to constantly measure it against
>>a moral imperative.
>Because, theory, as someone in my discipline once said, is always for
>someone and some purpose.
Well, unlike some theories, I don't think Foucault's genealogical method
can be applied in some cases. But I don't think that's an arguement
against where it can be applied. I agree that theory is never
disinterested, that is always backed by power relations which can exercise
themselves through agents without their knowing it. And that would hardly
mean that Foucault is exempt from the same criticism of not knowing to what
extent hidden power interests govern his own thought; I'm sure they are
there. But since his notion of critique is local in character and does not
require total theory, why test it against such criteria?
>>Where have you read that for Foucault the background is to be constructed?
>>I read him as explicating the background, although realising, following
>>Heidegger, that the background can never be fully articulable. And yes, I
>>read some Marx in his work as well, though I wouldn't call it Marxist.
>Well the first question relates to my reading of Foucault as a discursive
>idealist. If this reading is simply incorrect could someone please coorect
>me with references.
_Discipline & Punish_ is about power relations and how discourses are
linked with social practices. Unlike the _Archaeology_ where he does try
to give a disinterested theory of discourse, by D&P he recognizes his own
prior position as always interested and therefore attempts to be less
totalistic. I'd say that after the _Archaeology_ he is more suspicious of
his own theoretical blindnesses, knows that he cannot be freed from them
(by making them fully explicit) and consequently is less theoretical, and
more suspicious of discurive idealism.
Now of course, discursive idealism, like any form of
>idealism, hits a major problem. If discourses construct their objects what
>constructs the discourses. At this point Hegelian idealism goes mystical,
>Berkelyian Idealism gets theistic, I simply wonder what Foucault does, how
>does he explain the fact of object producing discourse, apart form other
>discourses ad infinitum (in effect a viscious regress, with that which must
>be explained being used to explian itself)? If he makes the move that there
>is an ontological realm independent of discourse, then why does he not
>accept that this may place strategic limits on our constructions of it? It
>seems to me that foucault is very, very close to Rorty's position wherein
>there are simply no non-linguistic constraints on how we talk about the
The ways in which we talk about the world, natural or social? Are you sure
that we can talk about the world in either case and be free from hidden
interests? Discurisve idealism, or any idealism for the that matter,
thinks itself free from dogmas and blindnesses. Foucault is not claiming
this. Are you saying that unlike more explicit idealists, his own idealism
is largely hidden from him? If so, I can agree with this because it shows
the extent to which the local character of criticism cannot transcend the
opacity of its local situation, i.e., it cannot make itself fully
transparent to itself without paradoxically increasing its distortions. But
any theory can never be separated from the perspective in which it emerges.
That would be a perspectiveless perspective which doesn't make much sense.
>>Are you saying that he cannot avoid the role of "traditional intellectual"
>>even when he pronounces otherwise?
>Yes, I suppose that is exactly my point. Here I think your argument about
>not being totally in control is apt. Intellectuals play a specific role
>independent of what they think their role is. They are simply not totally,
>although not totally not as well, in control of their role.
Nor in total control of their texts.
(continued on next post)