From: "Nathan Goralnik" <rhizome85@xxxxxxxx>
Date: Sun, 26 Nov 2000 10:23:46 -0700
Asher and I were privately discussing Richard Rorty but I want (without a
trace of offense to Asher) to hear more input on the matter. I am interested
in work that is critical of Rorty's layered dichotomy between theory &
practice and public & private.
My first response to Rorty is rather general--I see his critique of Foucault
as being based in a general misrepresentation of Foucault's understanding of
theory and practice. It seems to me that Rorty has this fear of a monolithic
Nietzschean intellectual bloc waiting in the wings to revolutionize practice
in the public sphere. Nowhere in Foucault's work do I see any threat of such
a circumstance. Rather, as power pervades our private lives and traditional
modes of political participation become less and less effective, I see
Foucault as advocating a proliferation of theory-as-practice whereby the
intellectual's role is not so much to take responsibility for consciousness,
truth, knowledge, and discourse, but, rather, to smash the ivory tower that
invalidates, blocks, and prohibits the knowledge of the masses. If this is
really what Rorty wants to avoid, then he appears to be instituting
something of an intellectual holocaust!
After all, Foucault's point is not so much that we should rid "the system"
of bio-power or that we should re-organize the prison system in a specific
"Each struggle develops around a particular source of power (any of the
countless, tiny sources-a small-time boss, the manager of "H.L.M.," a prison
warden, a judge, a union representative, the editor-in-chief of a
newspaper). And if pointing out these sources-denouncing and speaking out-is
to be part of the struggle, it is not because they were previously unknown.
Rather, it is because to speak on this subject, to force the
institutionalized networks of information to listen, to produce names, to
point the finger of accusation, to find targets, is the first step in the
reversal of power and the initiation of new struggles against existing forms
of power (Intellectuals and Power, 214)."
I really need to go now, but I want to say one more thing on the topic:
If you translate Rorty into Honig's reformulation of Arendt's public/private
dichotomy and apply his work specifically to performative action, you could
say that what Rorty is advocating is that we politicize what Arendt
considered private but that we (somehow) do not politicize what Arendt
considered public. But as long as we are talking about performative
action/utterances, Rorty's public/private distinction seems to be an
arbitrary reversal of Arendt's. The public sphere becomes
constative/irresistible in the sense that action in the public sphere
focuses exclusively on satisfying bodily needs ("avoiding misery," to use
Rorty's terms) while the private sphere becomes performative/resistible.
Honig's reformulation of Arendt is meant to make way for Butler, but would
Rorty really consider cross-dressing (for example) a private-sphere
"Thought is no longer theoretical. As soon as it functions it
offends or reconciles, attracts or repels, breaks, dissociates,
unites, or re-unites; it cannot help but liberate and enslave.
Even before prescribing, suggesting a future, saying what must
be done, even before exhorting or merely sounding an alarm,
thought, at the level of its existence, in its very dawning, is
in itself an action--a perilous act."