RE: Materialism and Spirituality

In looking at the recent "materialism and spirituality" postings it seems
to me that an understanding of the tradition out of which Foucault comes is
necessary for this discussion to be fruitful. In short we're forgetting
Saussure, Levi-Strauss, and Jakobson and missing the nuances inherent in
F's complex and incomplete break with structuralism.

Something which has come to be loosely termed "structural functionalism,"
in C19 is, I expect the sort of "materialism" to which most of the
coorespondants refer. This is the theoretical/epistemological basis for
Durkheim and others and has been attributed (wrongly in my opinion) to
Marx. To give and clear example of this sort of thought I'll have to
travesty Marx as he's the most familiar. (I wish to add, however, that
this is a critical chesnet about Marxist analysis and not my view.)

On this view the class struggle is both material (i.e. it describes
phenomena in the "real world") and structural (i.e. it allows for certain
sorts of analysis that benefit from the principles which structure the
class relationship itself). This is why--shifting targets--full-blooded
Hegelians always get around the materialist/idealist divide by insisting
that "the concept" is both. The critical tools are a logical set of
structural relations which have themselves been derived from lived reality
and may be turned critically back upon it in anaylsis.

Structuralism per se bloomed with Saussure and was elaborated by
Levi-Strauss, Jakobson, et al. In his linguistics, Saussure held that the
relationship between the signifier and the signified was purely arbitrary
in two senses: that it differs from other signs in the sign system (thus it
is relational and differential with respect to other signs) and that it has
no "natural" relation with the signified. These general theorisations were
elaborated by Levi-Strauss and Jacobson outside the field of linguistics
but always with the same radical split between the signifier and the
signified. The "referant" was swept into history. One only need think
terms like "unicorn," the mathematical number 2, or "power"(to bring F in a
bit early) in order to realise this radical split, for these all are
signifiers yet none have referents only arbitrary signifieds.

Lacan and Althusser furthered this radical critique of classical
materialism; and their influnce on Foucault's thought is not to be
underestimated. Althusser was an influential mentor of F at the ENS and
Lacan was thick in the Parisian air in and around the ecole (aside from
being Althusser's buddy). Lacan insisted the unconscious was structured
"like a [Saussurian--me] language" thereby placing all human cognition in
the realm of the sign divorced from the signified and with absolutely no
hope of cozying up with any referent. Althusser is said to have done much
the same for Marxian analysis (this latter is the real area of my research
and I can't bring myself to thumbnail it here).

Foucault takes alot of this on board, and this is no-longer structuralism
(a la Levi-Strauss e.g.) but rather has been very nearly transformed by
Lacan and Althusser into what we know as Foucauldian post-structuralism.
"Post" not simply temporally, but also genealogically. This stuff is
always important to remember.

For what its worth...

Cheers, A

arwst6@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx andrew wood
dept. of english / 501 c.l.
univ. of pittsburgh
pittsburgh, pa 15260 usa

Partial thread listing: