RE: Totalization

Does Foucault's philosophy suffer from a totalizing approach? Many on
this list have argued in the affirmative to that question. Fraser has
been mentioned as one of those who support this criticism of

The criticism against Foucault of totalization, whether by list members or
Fraser, seems very weak to me. In raising this objection, what most
appear to refer to is a phenomena present in Foucault's texts related to
concepts and methodology. In many instances, Foucault denounces
universal methodological and conceptual applications. Yet, in the same
instances, Foucault seems to apply an all encompassing vision of his own
within the text that contradicts what he claims cannot be done. Fraser
identifies this as a subtext in Foucault's philosophy, a location in
which Foucault presents a totalizing system in the guise of erudition and
complexity. The subtext is a space in which Foucault may maneuver and
evade criticism while producing very little that is philosophically
useful or plausible. (It has been a while since I read Fraser's
criticisms, so please forgive me if I am not entirely clear in their

To answer this objection I will address two problematics. The first is
that of interpretation. The second problematic is autonomy, something
closely related to interpretation.

More often than not, totalization seems to be something that cannot
always be avoided. Whether the author can be made to disappear or not,
there is always an interpretive pivot to a text; a point in which all of
the textual components gather and function in a positive and coherent
way. Foucault spent a great amount of time trying to figure this matter
out. In "What Is An Author" we find a substantive acknowledgment of this
issue. Foucault identifies many features that pertain to the designations
and limitations of a text. All such limitations intersperse the field of
discursive relations and the subject of these relations. In this sense,
the criticism of totalization is a recognition of a duplicate or
recurring series of certain limitations in a variety of texts and their
definite relation to a certain subject, in this case Foucault. The
interpretive vantage point is thus being criticized.

Now it is very easy to levy this criticism on an "author." However, is
it fair to do so to Foucault? The interpretive vantage point is not a
position that can be escaped. It is necessary for the existence of the
text. So let us scrutinize Foucault's texts more closely. The challenge
that someone on this list declared in relation to identifying a certain
case of totalization in Foucault is a good one. For each of Foucault's
works deal with a very narrow and precise field of discourse and
practice. Here texts like _Madness And Civilization_, _The Birth Of The
Clinic_ and _Discipline And Punish_ come to mind. And even though other
works like _The History Of Sexuality Vols. I, II, III_ and _The
Archaeology Of Knowledge_ come across as spreading beyond their narrow
fields, Foucault would be very hesitant in doing so. The analyses of
"histories of systems of thought" are case by case analyses. In
AOK, Foucault states quite clearly (I believe in the preface of AOK) that
many of his conclusions are a result of reflections on his previous works.
A demonstration of totalization, in the universalizing sense, is thus
difficult to find.

Foucault's application of concepts can be considered in a similar way.
His concepts are deployed in a very narrow field. From text to text this
field consistently changes, and so do the concepts. In BOC, Foucault
speaks of the "gaze"; in OT, the "episteme"; in DP, "power"; and in HS,
"bio-power," an interesting variation of concepts for a totalizing

What of autonomy and this issue? Autonomy and the interpretive position
are closely related. In this context, autonomy is the privelaged
position of the subject. Autonomy is the interpretive presence within a
text that adheres the positive product. It is also the critical
expression of our capability for freedom. At this point, Fraser's
criticism of a subtext is neutralized (I am claiming here that the
subtext and autonomy are the same thing). I fail to see how this objection
explains anything of critical interest aside from what Foucault had
acknowledged or explained on his own.

The complaint that Foucault's philosophy is to erudite and complex is
another fuzzy point. One of the characteristics of excellent academic
work, a characteristic that has been applauded for centuries, is the
preparation of a text in a rigorous manner. This involves thinking
matters through deeply and utilizing documentation to support one's
theoretical claims. Is Foucault's thinking too complex and chaotic? Is
his use of documentation and other media too erudite? Is this really a
criticism? It does not seem to be a criticism at all! Instead
it sounds like something someone would whine about when they are too lazy
to figure something out.

Is there someone who supports the criticism of totalization against
Foucault that can present it in a substantive manner?

Yours in discourse,

Steven Meinking
The University Of Utah
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