From: Larry Chappell <larchap@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Sat, 06 Jun 1998 22:23:29 -0500
> 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?
Who knows? How could there be a general answer to a question of this
sort? Maybe Machiavelli had it right: About half luck; half skill. I
have no idea. My thesis was that we will attempt to manage surprises.
Sometimes we will be good at at; sometimes not. I take it as a general
feature of the will-to-power that an effort will occur.
> 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
Maybe. It is a commonplace of administrative theory that policies have
unintended consequences, and that we ought to pay attention to them. Put
that way, you are right; it is too general to function as useable
advice. You actually have to look at particular policies and see what
can be managed or not. In this respect, I agree with Foucault that wee
need to turn to "specific intellectuals" rather than rely on the
enlightened fantasy of a uniform system of covering laws that yield
The theoretical issue that Foucault, Illich and, I would add, Ellul
point to is whether miscarriages of intention can be understood
systematically. If so, are we trapped by unintended consequences or can
we propose systematic alternatives? "Things go wrong" is a rather
different proposition from "western medicine is Itarogenic," Does
Eastern Medicine have the same kinds of unintended consequences? Are
Paul Tillich and others right that holistic models work better? These
are important questions, but a general awareness of unintended
consequences does not help us answer them.
>> 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.
Change in what direction? The original thread posed the question of
critique. Can we say that one set of arrangements is "more free" than
another. More specifically, the post asked if Foucault could help us
unmask the ways in which claims that we are left free disguise
unfreedom. This replicates Marx's concern with the critique of ideology.
Of course, as you correctly observe, Marx was counterpoising a "realm of
freedom" to the ostensible freedom of the bourgeois epoch.
Part of the issue is whether Foucault provides or is consistent with a
similar counterpoint. Now the general point you make is correct: By
hypothesis, resistance to power never frees us of power because power is
everywhere. That does not eliminate the question of freedom unless all
we want to mean by freedom is resistance to power in general (as opposed
to some configuration of power). I suspect that few people want to use
the term "freedom" So the valid question remains: Is there a conception
of freedom usable for critique that can either be derived from Foucault
or is compatible with Foucault?
NB: These are distinct questions: the question of derivation and the
question of compatibility. It is important not to run them together.
Like you, I doubt that we can derive a theory of freedom from Foucault.
It is worth exploring the issue anyway. I suspect that a successful
attempt to build a Foucauldian theory of freedom will concentrate in
Foucault's Nietzchean borrowings that treat selves as works of art
(Coles' approach I think) and emphasize technologies of the self. On the
question of compatibility, more momentarily.
> I dunno: absence of restraint sounds pretty much like the traditional
> liberal sense of "freedom".
Absence of restraint cannot simply be equated with liberal freedom.
Liberalism is a slippery notion, but I think Marx (Judith Shklar as a
defender of liberalism) can be properly associated with "juridical"
liberty. We are free, in the liberal sense, to the extent that the law
does not restrain us. The Marxian critique argues that juridical freedom
disguises the other ways in which we are left unfree and points the way
to a realm of freedom where history begins. Whatever one thinks of
Marx's realm of freedom (either as a postulate or as central or
peripheral to his thought) he has a point. We are constrained by lots of
things besides government. Mill came to realize this after reading
Tocqueville, and much of the history of modern liberalism involves its
attempt to grapple with this epiphany.
Now at least one influential way of reading/using Foucault involves
insisting that liberalism simply cannot grapple with the problem -- that
liberal regimes always disguise their unfreedom. If this is right, we
cannot simply say -- lets use Foucault for some purposes and talk
liberalism for, say, policy or management issues. Is Foucault
anti-liberal to the core? That, I take it os a serious scholarly issue.
> 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).
What I mean by being left alone is fairly complicated. I am writing a
book about it with two other people. Generally, I mean unconstrained by
some X. The variable is patient of almost any content. My mother.
Assassins, if I am Salman Rushdie. The people, if I want to be a
dictator. The dog attempting to bite me. More narrowly, I am concerned
with the ways in which liberal societies (others too, but they are of
less practical concern) ask people who do not fit to participate in
liberal ways of living. Amish, mentally ill, Christian Scientist. I am
interested in ways of exempting people from particular social contexts.
I am sure this pricis sounds cryptic, but the list is not the place to
explicate a project. What I am NOT attempting is a simple defense of
liberalism (though I am a defender), but rather exploring the
possibility of freedom FROM liberalism.
> 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
> everything instrumentally....)
Two answers that are probably inconsistent, but I want to hold them
(1) My deployment of the phrase "exegetical thinking" was gnomic and
insured confusion. The term is from Walter Kaufmann who coined it to
critique a certain style of Heidegger scholarship where the interpreter
thinks she has completed the task of profound thought upon deciphering a
difficult text. Since your comments are thoughtful, my deployment of the
term is probably misplaced, Here is what i think about exegesis.
Of course it is important to interpret someone you are going to use. It
is even important to try to get someone as right as you can. There is
even intrinsic interest in the interpretive act.
None of these statements imply that I owe very much fidelity to someone
use. I may want to wrench a good idea from its context. How faithful
were Kant or Russell in using Leibniz's distinction between synthetic
and analytic propositions? The may have been faithful to the concept,
but showed little regard for Leibniz's "project." (I often wonder if we
would be better off without this Heideggarian coinage.)
Furthermore, I do not assume that dead writers (or living ones) are
masters of their projects. Projects are like open systems evolving in
surprising directions. (We like surprises, no?) Since Foucault described
himself as a Nietzchean philosopher, he surely distrusted the dishonesty
of systems. Could he really be surprised at weird (not a negative word
for me) uses of his stuff? He did help kill off the author, didn't he?
(2) Philosophers seem so anal retentive to me. Why hoard Foucault? I
come not to interpret Foucault but to master him. I want him on his
knees. Now the question becomes not "What did he mean" but rather "Where
is my best whip?" On a more civilized note: I am seeking "a strong
misreading" (H. Bloom) of Foucault. Alternatively, I want to
"fictionalize" (Foucault) Foucault.
> 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....
Wow. Plagiarism in the unconscious!! Archetype forgive me. I surely
hope I can cleanse myself of Habermas. Or is this guilt by association?
> Marx's notions of exploitation and alienation don't help you with the
> concrete struggle to live freely?
No. If I believed in "species being" or the labor theory of value they
might. Actually, I do think the notion of alienation can be shorn of its
metaphysics and deployed in useful ways, but you have to dump a lot of
Marx to get there.
> 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.
What do Habermasians do when they are doing politics? I catch them at
conferences mostly. See Arthur Koestler, "The Call Girls"
> 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
I have never figured out the teleology of postings. Being "on topic"
with Foucault connects you with a dizzying range of topics. I am pretty
anarchic about lists, but I try to be as law abiding as I can. I would
like to think that Foucault has very concrete applications. To sexual
politics, prison politics, the organization of "mental health services."
If I am wrong, there are other things to talk about.
> 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"....
Its been awhile, but Carnap made a last ditch attempt to salvage the
positivist theory of meaning. We can't have stuff like science if we
confine our terms to concepts composed of verified sense experiences. We
can't make much sense of "verifiable in principle." So what can we
salvage? A concept is meaningful, he urged, not only if it is explicated
( by verified experience) but also if it is explicatable. At this point,
I think the theory was dead, but I like the term. The implications are
very close to Michael Polanyi's conception of "tacit knowledge." I
agree. Polanyi argues that we can never say all we know, so he (and I)
would agree that we cannot "nail down" our concepts. We can develop and