Re: Foucault on power

>Shane Wiilcox asks:
>A quick response (or perhaps a question) to John Ransom--
>Does it make sense to say on the one hand that there is no
>capital-P "Power", but only specific, situated power-relations,
>and on the other to say that in all Foucault's works, which
>involve the unravelling of the workings of power in those
>situations, power is always the same thing? Under certain
>circumstances I can see the value of asserting this--when one
>within a particular relationship entirely in its favour (a
>comparatively rare situation)--but generally, I think this is
>somewhat misleading.
>Interested in your response--
>I answer:
>Excellent comment! At a minimum, I must revise or re-explain what
>I "meant." There is no capital-P "Power" in the sense of some
>kind of *agent*. What, after all, do we mean by asking the
>question: "Does Foucault believe there is some kind of capital-P
>'Power'?" What does the capital-P represent, such that we want to
>know if Foucault is or is not promoting such a version of power?
>Well, it's like Hegel: When he wanted to indicate that his notion
>of spirit was actually an agent, an actor of some kind, he
>initial-capped spirit into "Spirit." (Of course, all the nouns
>in Germans are initial-capped, but you get what I mean. Certainly
>Hegel's English translators did.) So it seems the question we are
>asking when we talk about this capital-P stuff is: does Foucault
>think of power as some kind of overall explanatory principle, as
>some kind of permanently identifiable force in history, in the
>same way that Hegel understood his use of Spirit (*Geist*)? And I
>think that the answer is "no."
>[Marginal comment that might be skipped: Here is where we might
>identify a difference between Nietzsche and Foucault. In
>_Zarathustra_-- a book Foucault specifically says he did not like
>(see Michael Mahen, _F's Nietzschean Genealogy: Truth, Power, and
>the Subject_, Albany, SUNY Press, 1992, pp. 83-85)--the will to
>power is metaphysicalized (sorry!) into the "eternal return."
>Foucault wants nothing to do with this kind of backdoor
>No doubt, Shane, you are right: power always exists. But this
>power is not a capital P power. It's just power.
>Karen Kolodenko also asks:
>This is interesting and helpful except for one thing - I don't
>get how there can be intentions without subjects.
>I answer:
>Here's what Foucault says--in summarized form--in _History of
>Power, he says on 94, is exercised from innumerable points in
>interplay of mobile relations. Relations of power not
>superstructural, rather they have directly productive role.
>Power comes from below. Power relations are both intentional and
>non-subjective. If power relations are intelligible, this is not
>because power relations are the effect of another instance that
>explains them, but rather because they are imbued through and
>through with calculation. No power is exercised without a series
>of aims and objectives, but let us not look for the headquarters
>that presides over its rationality. At the restricted level at
>which they are inscribed, the tactics are quite explicit, but
>then these become attached to one another, attracting and
>propagating one another, but finding their base of support and
>their condition elsewhere, and end up forming comprehensive
>systems, 95. And yet it is often the case that no one is there
>to have invented them. [end summary notes from Foucault]
>When we look at it like this, the point is actually kind of
>simple, isn't it? Take the example of the pathologization of
>sexuality that Foucault describes in the same book. Sexologists
>sought to get at the heart of the illnesses that were ravaging
>the Victorian family by getting their patients to treat their
>sexuality as the essential secret to be revealed through
>confessional practices. The sexologists did this with a genuinely
>clear conscience--that is, they were trying to help! They were
>not agents of the state! But it turns out that the state--for its
>own reasons--is also interested in illnesses that affect the
>psychological, motivational state of its citizens. Sexolgoists
>loaded down with data, diagnoses, and proposed cures were turned
>to as "experts" in maintaining the health and stability of the
>family and its members. The knowledge of the sexologists was in
>this way increasingly valorized and institutionalized. The
>resulting alliance between state institutions and the will-to-
>knowledge of the sexologists is much more opportunist than it is
>conspiratorial. This is why Foucault says that we should not look
>for the headquarters that presides over the rationality of some
>particular power formation. There are two reasons why we should
>not do this: First, as historians, we will miss what's actually
>going on if we enter into our investigations with assumptions of
>a conspiratorial kind. Second, we will overestimate the strength
>of our opponents and sink into apathy--a consequence that
>Foucault was very interested in avoiding.
>I've gone on *way* too long! My apologies to list colleagues.
>John Ransom
John et. al;

It strikes me that the problem is not caps or no caps, but that (at
least for a time [ca. 1972-80]) Foucault believed there was something in
terms of which one could render all possible phenomena intelligible: power.
In the HSI passage you quote/summarize, he makes it clear that power is
intelligibility itself, and since this is the case, one need not look for
something behind power to make it intelligible. He therefore also implies
that all the concepts descriptive of power's functioning were also univocal.
However, what happens if the symmetry between power and "target(s)" or
effects is seen to be asymmetrical? What if the economy of power is not
closed but admits of excess, pointless expenditure, etc? What happens if,
rather than seeing power as that for which there is no exteriority (viz.
"resistance is never in a position of exteriority in relation to power" 95),
one conceives power qua intelligibility as itself conditioned and
conditional in every instance. I think that the analytics of power then
becomes much more problematic as I think it did in Foucault's view at the
end of his life, eg., _Care of the Self_, _The Use of Pleasure_, etc. in
which the analytic of power is quite muted. I think it may be the case,
ironically, that when Foucault -- or for that matter, Nietzsche --
(momentarily) ignores the way language functions, they end up hypostatizing
a term-thing that functions, ambiguously, as a foundation for their
analytics, and they can do this because, in a rather classically
metaphysical manner, what they have also hypostatized the *Grund*/reason of
what it: power. For the Foucault of HSI, power is both the final term of
one's analysis as well as the essential constituent of things. That power
drops out of his later discourse is not, I think, just a change in
expressive style.
This is not so say thay these analyses aren't very illuminating, but
so are Hegel's.

Reg Lilly
Dept. of Phil/Rel.
Skidmore College
Saratoga Springs, NY 12866


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