Re: Foucault and 'the starving millions'

To whom it may concern:

In my view, Megill has misconstrued both Derrida and Foucault, but, more to
the point, he trivializes them by bunching them together with Nietzsche, and
reducing the considerable differences -- differences of politics, of ethics,
and of social theory -- that define their respective projects. Foucault in
particular was a political activist all of his life. He never ceased
struggling for prison reform, gay, lesbian and minority rights, the rights of
the mentally ill, and the victims of totalitarian regimes. To level this
banal criticism against Foucault is simply inappropriate. He was not an
armchair academician, and yet he was skeptical of philosophy's ability to
prescribe a course of political action. I remember at the Foucault conference
at USC in 1981, somebody asked Foucault what he should do in response to the
increasing institutionalization of thought, and Foucault said that as a
philosopher, he could only describe and analyze these regimes and the forms
of power they engender historically, structurally, in terms of the production
of certain types of subjects, sciences, procedures, arguments, and
institutionalized disciplines. As a person, he urged that we resist these
structures of power that impinge upon our bodies and the body politic from
within and without. I suggest that much of the (academic) criticism of
Foucault -- and Megill is certainly an academic historian in Prophets of
Extremity -- emerges out of guilt and bad faith in the wake of the failure of
the institutionalized disciplines in the 80s and 90s that have not only
maintained the old power regimes of signatures, identity, supervision, reward
and punishment, the register, the exam, the lesson, but have done so under
the guise of creating "new," "politically correct," progressive avenues of
thought and writing. Foucault rejected such idealisms. His was a constant
vigilance, analytical of institutions and disciplines, skeptical about
narratives of "social transformation." The significance of this position
towards modernity -- so well crafted in "What is Enlightenment?" (1984) --
will not be lost on anybody who remains critical of the legitimating,
rationalizing efforts of power in any of its many masks.

Rob Leventhal
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