From: "M.A. King" <kingma@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Sat, 6 Jun 1998 18:15:16 -0400 (EDT)
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On Thu, 4 Jun 1998, Larry W. Chappell wrote:
> A guy can go to a leather bar, get
> himself handcuffed or put in a body suit and have the experience be
> relatively surprise free. Or he could meet Jeffrey Dahmer or the guy in
> "Pulp Fiction." I doubt I would want to live in a world with either no
> surprises or nothing but surprises. I doubt I could.
Right, but if the issue is managing to reduce surprises, then what's
relevant is this: it would surprise you less to run into someone like
Jeffrey Dahmer in a leather bar than it would to run into someone like
Jeffrey Dahmer in the kinds of contexts in which people actually ran into
Jeffrey Dahmer. Indeed, think of Pulp Fiction: what happened in the army
surplus (or whatever) shop was rather surprising, no? Stores like that,
after all, are where good Constitution-fearing Americans go to arm
themselves so that things like that don't happen to them.... So, does
managing your life, or your society, with the aim of reducing surprises
really reduce surprises, or does it increase the opportunities for you to
be surprised? What Foucault identifies as the outcome of modern penal
practices--the production of delinquents--would certainly surprise the
managers who devised those practices. What Ivan Illich identifies as the
outcome of modern medical practices--the production of disease--would
certainly surprise the people who manage those practices. (And Illich's
thesis, given the rumblings these days about medicine breeding more potent
microbes by subjecting them to more potent drugs, can no longer seem as
wacky as it once might have.) The tighter the grip you think you've got,
the more secure you think you are, the more vulnerable you are to
Now you, as a political scientist, in the business of figuring out how to
manage things--if that is your business, which it may not be--no doubt
wonder what good *that* is to you. Not much good at all, I admit. The
conclusion to be drawn can't be: give up management (although people like
Rorty and Walzer seem to have thought was Foucault's conclusion). Perhaps
for someone in the business of managing, the only conclusion to draw is
this: you need to be very, very careful, even more careful than you
already thought, to make sure that what you're doing doesn't have an
effect at odds with what you intend.
Foucault, though, was not in the business of managing, and he was not
writing for managers, but rather for people trying to avoid being managed
in particular ways. And maybe that is your business: trying to avoid
management. But I don't think that Foucault is of much use, either, to
people approaching that question in the manner characteristic of political
science: that is, looking for a way to manage which will reduce the
amount of management in a particular society, or will limit management to
certain areas. Because, for Foucault, we're always subject to management
by *something*. Foucault's concern is never how to avoid management
in general--how to escape disciplinary power, for instance, in
general--but with knowing how particular apparatuses are constructed so as
to give us a chance to change the terms on which we're managed.
> With respect to freedom, I read it as a relative term. X is
> free from restraint by Y. That hardly implies either that X is free from
> al restraint or that the only kind of freedom is "freedom in the old
> fashioned liberal sense."
I dunno: absence of restraint sounds pretty much like the traditional
liberal sense of "freedom".
> The guy in the bondage suit is free vis-a-vis
> the law if his actions are permitted (as some are not in States like
> mine with sodomy laws). He is free vis-a-vis the police if he hides out
> to play his rituals. he may be free vis-a- vis his wife. There are, of
> course, senses in which he is not free and many could be specified. He
> is certainly not free of Nietzschean/Foucauldian power because his
> agency is constituted and restrained by it. He CAN be left alone (forget
> about cultivation) to exercise what freedom he has.
Left alone by whom? Left alone by the state? Left alone by juridical
apparatuses? If that's what you're concerned with--and I agree, it's an
important concern--then traditional liberal ways of thinking will be of
more service than Foucauldian ones. (And if that's your point, well,
then, I agree with you).
> I am not interested in exegetical thinking. I am not terribly concerned
> with what Foucault "really meant," nor do I owe any fidelity to his
> project. I am a political scientist trying to figure out ways to use his
> work. If it pans out -- fine. If not -- cool too.
Well ... it's not really his work you're using if you don't know what he
meant, is it? Doesn't exegesis give you more to work with? Give exegesis
short shrift, and you risk assimilating texts to already-assembled
paradigms and projects, and missing the insights that might lead you to
alter your paradigms and projects--no? (I'm somewhat leery, anyway, of
taking purely pragmatic approaches to texts--approaching texts
instrumentally rather than communicatively, as Habermas would say. It
fits too well with the more general inclination to treat everyone and
> Not terribly impressed by these folks, and I would rather speak for
> myself unless I quote or cite somebody.
You mean Fraser and Habermas? Well, the fact is, the challenge you put--
give me a notion of freedom I can resist in the name of, or why should I
resist?--is one which was put by Fraser in "Foucault on Modern Power:
Empirical Insights and Normative Confusions", and expanded on by Habermas
in _The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity_. So, you may not have been
quoting them, but your words were, so to speak....
> Marx is useful for exploring the
> restrictions on freedom. The invention of the sociology of knowledge was
> quite important. Habermas is fine if you are not interested in politics,
> I guess. Neither help me with the concrete struggle to live freely.
> Marx's realm of freedom is simply another eschatological fantasy as far
> as I can see.
Marx's notions of exploitation and alienation don't help you with the
concrete struggle to live freely? Hard to figure. I'm not sure why you
say what you do about Habermas--please elaborate. I would say that the
political implications of Habermas's work are quite clear: his analysis
of the way social problems are passed off between state and economy,
and the reasons why neither are able adequately to deal with them,
certainly seems to have political implications.
> This sounds a bit mystical. I am no more interested in grand theories
> than you are. I do want to think, however, and "freedom" is both an
> explicatable (Carnap) and useful term for the problems I am interested
> in. Or, so I would like to think. I may be wrong (Dennis Miller). The
> test for me is largely pragmatic. We would need to descend from the
> level of abstraction of this argument to decide if either Foucault or
> freedom meet the test.
Well, yes. But that's something to do in your everyday life; mailing
lists are perhaps not the best place to descend from the level of
abstraction.... I'm not sure what you mean when you say that "freedom" is
"explicatable"; perhaps you could elaborate on Carnap? I certainly agree
that it is a useful term. Just not one that can be nailed down--not
without veering toward "eschatological fantasies"....
----Matthew A. King------Department of Philosophy------McMaster University----
"The border is often narrow between a permanent temptation to commit
suicide and the birth of a certain form of political consciousness."