Date: Thu, 6 Aug 1998 16:19:56 EDT
Although I agree with your description of America as hyper-body
conscious, reading Foucault as only a thinker of discipline is problematic.
First, his courses from 74-77 all have to do with a great deal other than
discipline, for example governmentality and the policing of populations.
Also, History of Sexuality Vol. 1 closes with the introduction of one of
Foucault's most important concepts -- biopolitics (Actually, it was introduced
early in his lectures).
Biopolitics is linked to the notion of biopower, "what brought life
and its mechanism into the realm of explicit calculations and made knowledge
power an agent of transformation of human life." There are two facets that
lie within what Foucault references with his notion biopolitics:
1)anatomicopolitics of the human body (here is where disciplinary technologies
are most recognizable). 2) Regulation of populations -- knowledge of
populations (birthrates, infant mortality, number of obese people,
"statistics"), and welfare (public hygiene, identification of the dangerous
and unhealthy as well as the safe and the healthy, "normalization"). Both 1)
anatomicopolitics and 2) biopolitics are techniques of biopower. Biopower
brings life out of the Aristotelian distinction of the oikos as the bodily
realm of necessity and the polis as mindful realm of freedom. In short, it
brings Western society out of the classical age and into the modern age. As
Foucault explains, "?what might be called a society's threshold of modernity
has been reached when the life of the species is wagered on its own political
strategies. For millenia, man remained what he was for Aristotle: a living
animal with the additional capacity for a political existence; modern man is
an animal whose politics places his living existence in question (HS1,p143)."
Since Foucault, the term biopower has become generally understood as denoting
"politics of the body." Yet, biopower can not simply be read as disciplining
the body. Biopower must be understood in terms of biopolitics - the care,
control, and use of bare life. Biopolitics produces bodies (Perhaps, at this
point I should distinguish D&P and HS1 in terms of the latter having a more
overt and developed critique of the repressive hypothesis). Various thinkers
have found this in Foucault, and they have found it useful to think critically
regarding the mass culture of which you write. For example, in NEGOTIATIONS
Deleuze emphasizes Foucault's importance as being other than the documenting
of disciplinary power. Deleuze looks to Foucault as a thinker of the birth of
biopolitics, of a post-disciplinary situation where power needs to be thought
of in terms of control. In UNBEARABLE WEIGHT, Susan Bordo also finds Foucault
useful for critically engaging discourse of "the body." Foucault's double
awareness of the affectivity of the disciplinary and the biopolitical are
deployed by Bordo to deal with the processes of the materialization of female
bodies. For example, bodies with "eating disorders."
I hope these comments may open us to more discussion of
Foucault and "the Body" or bodies.
In particular, several people on the list have mentioned the
use and/or readings of Foucault in Critical Race Theory and in Post-Colonial
Theory. I would love some good references to these areas. I feel that the
discussion of Foucault in relations to bodies through the concept of biopower
would be important to think in relation to both of those fields of thought.
James - UVA English. How's Rorty? Maybe he fits in here somewhere. I do not