A non-defense ofthe Miller book.

On Mon, 10 Apr 1995, Erik D Lindberg wrote:

> Why not start this ethos of "criticism" by DISCUSSING the Miller book. I
> know it is controversial, but I also know of good scholars who have found
> some of Miller's interpretations useful. Is there anyone out there who
> can offer some sort of defense of the book? Will those who don't like it
> give an argument why? I am interested in hearing both views.
> Sincerely,
> Erik Lindberg
> >
I can say without hesitation that the Miller book is worth reading,
however, I wouldn't recommed it as an introduction to Foucault. The same
can be said for the other two biographies as well. In relation to
Foucault biographies present a very particular problem, for as a genre
they attempt to capture and recuperate the essence of a subject. The
attempt to evaluate a biography as a biography, that is, the attempt to
claim that this biography is better than that one because it more exactly
capture the essence of the subject, is a motion which proceeds from an
all too Cartesian totality. An attempt such as this seems to be
the furthest thing from the issue here. Rather than revealing who
Foucault was as a knowing subject, the biographies play a part in what
Foucault is as an object of knowledge. But what is Foucault?

At its most fascile point it would be a logical impossibility to claim
that Foucault is a thinking subject for no other reason than the fact that
he's dead and cannot think, but this in its turn would be yet another
attempt to construct Foucault wihtin the limits of a substantial
subjectivity. Nonetheless this does offer an interesting point from
which to begin, for not only is Foucault not now a thinking subject, he
never was. You'll have to pardon the contradiction and apperant
hypocracy here, though its not without precedent, but the Foucault of
whom we speak is a discursive possibility in the same manner that
Foucault described Nietzsche, Marx and Freud as being the founders of
discursivities. Its within and as
this discursive possibility that the biographies become active as a
discursive element and Foucault becomes multiple. Just as Elizabeth's
editing of _The Will to Power_ composes an element in Nietzsche's
discursivity, so too Miller's biography in relation to Foucault's
discursivity. In fact one of the primary things differentiating discourse
from writing is the prospect that the meaning and significance of a work
can be transformed and even abused such that it no longer articulates the
intention of the author, and it may even directly contradict the author's
intention, though it does this without escaping the possibility which the
author's writing initiated. In relation to Nietzsche Foucault even goes
so far as to say "The only valid tribute to thought such as Nietzsche's is
precisely to use it, to deform it, to make it groan and protest. And if
commentators then say that I am being unfaithful to Nietzsche, that is
absolutly of no interest." (PN pp. 53-54)

Is Miller's book an aboration? Is it unfaithful to Foucault? Is this

Would the real Michel Foucault please stand up? Miller's book is
certainly an aboration, but Miller is a tabloid journalist who traffics
in sensationalism. As such Miller's book is a very entertaining read.
Who cares about the moral content anyway? But not to dismiss it too
lightly it must be pointed out that Miller's thesis is not strictly
equivalent with the National Enquirer. Miller spends alot of time on the
notion of a limit experience and he presents Foucault almost as a thrill
seeking philosopher in search of a moment of cathartic irrationality.
This in itself is no mean feat given that philosophers are pretty much
the super geeks of the academic set (please don't flame me for this, I'm
only speaking as a philosopher), however, such a reading is not outside
the scope of what Foucault said. In an interview with Duccio Trombadori
in which they are discussing _The Order of Things_ Foucault says: "I
have already spoken to you about the 'limit-experiences'; this is realy
the theme that fascinates me. Madness, death, sexuality, crime: these
are the things that attract my attention most." (_Remarks on Marxs_
pp.99-100) This example though is as problemtic as the issue whichit
attempts to address for along with asking what is the discursive function
of biography, its also necessary to ask what's the discursive function of
the interview?

I was going to add a bit about Eribon's biography and the third
biography, though I forget the authors name at the moment, but at this
point discussion of the biographies for their own sake seems less than
interesting so I'll stop here.



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