From: "Tom Choi" <tom.choi@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Fri, 29 Oct 1999 02:39:25 -0400
well, i think that foucault's point of the 'specific intellectual' is that
philosophers don't really make all that much of a difference in the world.
'philosophers don't have a role in society. their thought cannot be situated
in relation to the current [actual] movement of a group.' beginning with
the clash between the young and the right hegelians, philosophy assumed the
role of a decisive voice in society, politically, that is. certainly,
philosophers have assumed leadership in political and social movements but
their efforts don't amount to much. in this way foucault thought that the
'universal intellectual' did more damage to society than good. would
foucault rather be oppenheimer? that's absurd: he was an intellectual. but
he keenly recognized what limited effects intellectuals had in society. he
sought to curb the authority of philosophy in society and to apply
intellectual activity where it would make some difference, namely, in
discourses circumscribed around institutions and their practices. he sought
enlightenment not in politics but in institutions. real change occurs
slowly through a long and boring (can we say 'uneventful'?) series of
modifications in institutional practices. who has more of a role in
society? greenspan or chomsky? we could include arendt's 'eichmann in
jerusalem,' in exposing the power that a specific functionary like eichmann
has than someone like sartre, as a project that is akin to foucault's. and
arendt herself practicing a specific intellectual activity, namely
journalism, made more of a difference than anyone would have in writing the
next opus on how to subvert global capitalism. the 'little people' in all
walks of life make all the difference in shaping our world. a typed memo
that circulates among the administration in a university carrys more weight
than 500 pages of heidegger. again: philosophers don't have a role in
society. and this coming from a philosophy student sounds hypocritical
(maybe it is); but perhaps, we should practice our craft with more sincerity
----- Original Message -----
From: Matthew King <making@xxxxxxxx>
Sent: Friday, October 22, 1999 5:49 PM
Subject: Re: foucault/derrida
> On Thu, 21 Oct 1999, Tom Choi wrote:
> > for the most part derrida is always complimentary of his former
> > teacher.
> Obsequious, I would say. Well, who knows. Derrida strikes me as being like
> the politician who doesn't even know when s/he's being sincere and when
> s/he's not. Not that that's necessarily bad. Better in a philosopher than
> in a politician, anyway....
> > and maybe one could also contrast foucault's insistence on anonymity
> > (as in the interview "the masked philosopher" where he conducted an
> > interview anonymously)
> One might say (a la Derrida?) that Foucault's "absence" just drew all the
> more attention to his presence. ("Who was that masked man?" everyone
> asks.) And now, of course, the interview is published under Foucault's
> name (as is that encyclopedia entry that Foucault apparently wrote
> pseudonymously about himself)--and we all think, gee, cool, an anonymous
> interview ... what a *cool guy* that Foucault was! What a *personality*!
> (Don't get me wrong, I think he *was* a cool guy ... and like Halperin
> (was it Halperin who wrote _St. Foucault_?), I don't feel like I need to
> apologize for that.)
> > with derrida today as a celebrity icon in american literary circles.
> > certainly, one can argue that derrida has become that "universal
> > intellectual" that foucault so despised in sartre.
> Despised in *himself*, maybe! Let's face it, Foucault was about as much a
> universal intellectual as it is possible, in the latter part of the 20th
> century, to be. (And in this respect, maybe, Foucault takes after
> Nietzsche, who often seems to be railing against himself as much as
> against the world--when he rails against the world, he's railing against
> his own projected image. Why did Nietzsche understand ressentiment so
> well? Because he was so full of ressentiment himself! Why did Foucault
> understand so well the futility of aspiring to be a universal
> intellectual? Because he aspired to be one--he *was* one--himself! (And so
> you're really missing something if you take it to be a point against
> Nietzsche or Foucault that they fail to live up to their own ideals.
> Aren't our ideals *precisely* what we fail to live up to--aren't they our
> ideals *because* we fail to live up to them?))
> Anyway, as I've said before on this list, I'm not so sure that Foucault
> wished to *valorize* the specific intellectual over the general
> intellectual so much as to say that, nowadays, the specific intellectuals
> are "where the action is". Foucault somewhere names Robert Oppenheimer as
> a prime example--by performing the very specific task of figuring out how
> to build atomic bombs, Oppenheimer had much more of an effect on things
> than Sartre (or Foucault) ever could. But that doesn't mean that Foucault
> thinks that it's better to be Oppenheimer than to be Sartre!
> ---Matthew A. King---Department of Philosophy---York University,
> "Whatever we have words for, that we have already got beyond.
> In all talk there is a grain of contempt."