A Defense Of Miller?

I posted a defense of Miller's book on this list about a year ago. I
will present a similar defense in this post.

It appears to me that the fundamental problem with Miller's text is not a
problem with the text, per se, but rather is a problem with how it has
been categorized - namely as a biography. The following passage is from
the first paragraph of the preface:

"This book is not a biography, though in outline it follows the
chronology of Michel Foucault's life; nor is it a comprehensive survey
of his works, although it does offer an interpretation of a great
many of his texts. It is, rather, a narrative account of one man's
lifelong struggle to honor Nietzsche's gnomic injunction, `to become
what one is.'" - Miller, _The Passion Of Michel Foucault_, p. 5

Miller does not conceive his book as a definitive nor authoritative
biographical account of Foucault's life and practices. Rather, it is an
exclusive exploration of the passions of Foucault as Miller perceives
them. The result is a somewhat limited view of a man, Foucault; a view
primarily comprised of concerns that fuse Miller within that sector of
Foucault's life that tended to demonstrate his passions at their
peak levels, i.e. Foucault's sexuality. It is for this reason that I am
in complete agreement with the claim that the main problem of Miller's
book is the narrative, what I conceive of as Miller's authorial positioning.

But the defense above in no way avoids the criticism that Miller's book
is too "sensational." It seems to me that all one can say in response
to such a criticism is that perhaps Miller should have employed different
stylistic strategies.

I still think the Miller book is worth reading. I am with those that
claim understanding the specific socio-cultural practices in which a
particular individual is engaged is relevant to interpreting the work
that such an individual produces. I offer the following further quote
from Miller which is an excerpt from Chomsky's statements regarding

"`Usually, when you talk to someone you take for granted that you
share some moral territory,' Chomsky says, looking back. `Usually,
what you find is self-justification in terms of shared moral
criteria; in that case, you can have an argument, you can pursue it,
you can find out what's right and what's wrong about the position.
With him, though, I felt like I was talking to someone who didn't
inhabit the same moral universe.
`I mean, I liked him personally. It's just that I couldn't
make sense of him. It's as if he was from a different species,
or something." - Miller, p. 203.

Foucault is truly an enigmatic character. For this reason I embrace Miller's
contribution as an understanding of a possible Foucault. However, I would
not recommend the text to anyone as a biographical introduction to the
man, his thought, and his history.

Yours in discourse,

Steven Meinking
The University Of Utah


Partial thread listing: