Re: Foucault and 'the starving millions'

Malgosia Askanas writes:
>Tristan writes:
>> It may be a particular form of "politics",
>> necessarily restricted to the peculiar species of beast known as
>> academics and writers (and I would guess most of us fall within this
>> species), but it doesn't seem too far fetched for me to talk about a
>> writer/intellectual/academic/whatever you prefer taking a public
>> stance(s) re: some event, however "distant", and/or writing about it
>> in such a way as to potentially create difficulties for simpler
>> versions of "what's happening in Iran" as a "practical politics".
>> I'm not sure what, if anything, you mean to suggest by putting the
>> word "support" in "" marks, so perhaps you might say more there?
>You are actually reassuring me in my use of quotes. Now that you
>have elaborated on F's stance, I think it is misleading to call it
>"support"; as you say, it was a _complicating_ strategy.

I am not so reassured by my words or yours that it makes immediate
sense to separate out the two here. Let me push a bit more--*why* do you
not want this to constitute "support"? The first potential answer
strikes me as too crude to consider for long and I wouldn't impute
it to you (i.e., that only marching and fighting in the war, *real
material* stuff, can be "support", while any mere words of approval,
encouragement, whatever, are the smoke of the ideal); another perhaps
comes from a certain concern about the (forgive this convuluted
phrase) politics of traditional intellectual politics--i.e., that
there is something somehow unsettling about intellectuals involving
themselves (even if only via their words) directly and conspicuously
in the blood and muck of revolutionary political struggles, that
they should be more conscious of their more "proper" role, which is to
refrain from partisan support and content themselves with the task
of producing "complicating" work (this option also presumes
that there are obvious ways to separate out the two).
Foucault himself wrote and spoke on more than a few occasions of his
disdain for the idea that intellectuals should *prescribe* solutions
to problems, and suggested instead that their (our) role ought be to
"address problems pose them with the greatest
possible rigor, with the maximum complexity and difficulty so that a
solution does not arise all at once"; I wonder though if this is to
suggest what you seem to suggest, that the very notion of
"support" for a cause or movement (a different issue it seems to me
than the proposing of *solutions* to problems--the former seems much
more about the pragmatics of concrete situations) can or must be
excised from the intellectual's efforts to complicate simple
scenarios. You write:

This seems
>to me a very proper role for an intellectual,

and I read into this by implication that perhaps partisan support is
something you might regard as an "improper" role for intellectuals.
This can be read as a strikingly traditional and conservative take on
the business of academic politics (and I certainly don't mean that, as
some will immediately presume, as an indictment) of course, but it seems
to me that the more immediate issue is whether or not it is at all
practicable in the first place. That is, might it not be rather a
phantasm from the start, this notion of being able to neatly separate
"support" from "complicating strategies"? For example, Foucault was
absolutely adamant (and so were many of his leftist critics) that in _DP_,
he was not in the business of offering solutions, whether involving
reform, revolution, whatever. But it would be rather difficult, I
submit, to imagine that this work is (or can be rendered) incapable
of providing "support" to eg., various abolitionist movements,
prisoner's rights movements, etc.--and all of this "support" could
certainly manifest itself in rather concrete ways in policy, reform,
etc. One might perhaps then attempt to separate out the "support"
derived from the work by obviously partisan readers and the "support"
(or lack thereof) *intended* in the work by the intellectual, but this
again seems a rather fruitless clinging to notions of intentionality
and the autonomous power of the intellectual/author which I trust
you do not invest in overly heavily. And Foucault himself had remarked
on at least one occasion that he studied mechanisms of power "so
that those who are inserted in certain relations of power might
escape them through their actions of resistance and rebellion, might
transform them in order not to be subjugated any longer"--if that's
not "support" in your view, perhaps it is a problem of *definition*
between us!

>No: as a swapping exercise this would be as unfruitful as can be.
>But I have lately wondered what meaning one can possibly attach to
>the word "support" when one is talking about supporting an event
>which involves the spilling of other people's blood. I am not
>talking here about a generalized horror of blood-spilling, about
>whether blood-spilling should ever be supported. I have just found
>myself at a loss, lately, about how one even goes about trying to answer
>the question "do I support X?" when X involves the death of others and
>never possibly one's own.

The stock New Left response here of course was "just imagine
yourself getting up every day and going about your daily business in
the First World--then ask yourself if you 'support' these daily
activities--then recognize that their consequences involve "the
death of others (usually, but not solely, in the Third World) and
never possibly one's own"". One scarcely needs to go on to rehash
the various critiques of the New Left's political ideals to understand the
potential limits to such a response, but perhaps here it helps allow
the probing of your question in interesting ways. Foucault,
scarcely a New Leftie, yet understood how the vastness and
complexity of networks of power implicated us *necessarily* in
business from which we perhaps would like to be able to disengage
ourselves--and with the regime of the Shah, the work needed to trace
the connections is about as minimal as it gets. So one is perhaps
implicated in "support" of one kind or another whether one likes it
or not--in fact, perhaps F. (and if not F., certainly
Nietzsche) would have understood an effort to remove oneself from
this necessary business as tremendously misguided and even naive
concerning the moral risks accruing from simple participation in
human affairs of even the most trivial variety. But it seems you
intend to speak less of a removal and more of a rethinking, a clearing
of a space in which to situate oneself in this unavoidable field. You
go on to say:

So one very primitive proposal is that the
>question "do I support X?" is equivalent to "would I kill and let
>myself be killed for X?". I would love to move beyond this
>primitivism, but am not sure how.

I don't know about its "primitivism", but I wonder if you think this
equation would be useful in light of Foucault? Do you find in his
work the sense that it is the life/death distinction which is paramount
in his discussion of political practice (i.e., we must predicate our
political practice on the probabilities of living or dying as a
result of such activities), or is insurrection and rebellion against
domination as a matter of the 'will to not be governed' the
privileged formulation?

Agreement is an altogether tiresome constituent of conversation
Michel de Montaigne

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