continuities in Foucault

Reg writes:

I don't mean to parse up Foucault too much -- perhaps
I'm overstressing my hestitancy regarding the quite common
conception of Foucault as a philosopher of power. Power is a
sexy, convenient, and uselful concept, especially in the social
sciences and political mean to par Perhaps this is necessary and
fine. The way I read him, though, the only thing that seems to
have been a constant concern for Foucault (even and especially in
his 'literary phase' between '62 and '66) is the nature of the
subject. I tend to see power as only one of Foucault's attempts
to think the subject in a non-subjectivistic way. If there are
benefits to seeing Foucault's various conceptual schemes as
similacra of power-analysis (most obviously, the elision from
subject- qua-substance to subject-qua-function being amenable to
such analysis), I think there are also problems with it, problems
which were explictly and implicitly acknowledged by Foucault and
that led him to at least 'side-line' the power analysis and to
introduce others. For instance, of course phenomena of power are
always present in his (and almost anyone's, for Hegel's) analysis
of the constitution of the subject; there is always an
exteriority that is fundamentally determinative of the subject,
and the more completely this exteriority seems to constitute the
subject, the more apropos seems the analytics of power.
_Discipline and Punish_ and other essays from the early mid '70s
are 'extreme' in this sense: they maximize the discourse of
power. But this discourse also exludes, makes it difficult to
think some things (who could have taught this better than
Foucault!) that are nevertheless relevant for a reflection on the
subject, things that Foucault turned to in order to think the
non-subjectivistic subject and hence, so it seems to me, he
turned away from power-analysis. (Parenthetically, I think that
for political philosophy it is as interesting to ask what is
happening in the recurrent reduction of political discourse to
the discourse of power as it is to ask which conept of power it
is that we should be reducing all this to.)

Rather than an analytic of power I think one might well
characterize the 'final Foucault' as a philosopher of care.
Foucault's analysis of parrhesia (1983) is, I think,
irreducible to an analytics of power, though without doubt
power relations are nevertheless ubiquitous. I think there is
a space that opens up and takes shape with the final Foucault --
and in the midst of the 'power-space' -- that calls into question
the sufficiency of power analysis (which is not to say its *concerns*
become obsolete) without simply negating it.

So, I want to agree with you that there is thematic continuity.
My question is what is the nature of this continuity that you see?
What do you make of the obvious differences in his various
vocabularies and conceptual apparatuses? Reg (who'll be off for
a while but will try to follow up)

[End quotation from Reg]


First I want to affirm that if the subject of power is sexy,
convenient, and useful as you comment above, then we should keep
this subject! But to get serious: you write:

"The way I read [Foucault], though, the only thing that seems to
have been a constant concern for [him] (even and especially in
his 'literary phase' between '62 and '66) is the nature of the

Indeed. But how far does this get you from Foucault's notion of
power? You mention the last two sexuality books: _Use of
Pleasures_ and _Care of the Self_. The argument often is (and
this is not your argument Reg; I'm bowlderizing a bit) that the
Foucault of the last two volumes of the sexuality series is a
different Foucault from the one who seemed so preoccupied with
"power" in the seventies (and epistemes in the 60s, etc.). A good
example of such a reading is provided by . . . well, just pick
one. They're everywhere. May as well use this: Thomas McCarthy's
"The critique of impure reason: Foucault and the Frankfurt
School" in _Political Theory_, Vol. 18, No. 3, August 1990, pp.
437-469. In the seventies, McCarthy argues, Foucault gave us a
picture of modern power as a dark dungeon with no means of escape
(442). But McCarthy's imagery is better: "Foucualt's conception
of power is like the night in which all cows are black" (446)
with the result that he is unable to account for the existence of
distinctions between just and unjust social institutions.
Foucault gives us no reason to struggle; worse, he does not give
us a "subject" where the struggle can be centered, whose cause
can be championed. Not only does he not give us a subject to
struggle with, he works very hard to take away the subject we had
before. Many felt that if this "subject" was good enough for
their mothers, fathers, and grandparents, then it's good enough
for them too, thank you very much. They didn't need some
fandangled post-gobbledy-gook fragmented and decentered psychic
plurality that, once you had it, you didn't know what to do with
it, no sir!

Then something happened, as it had happened so many times in
Foucualt's career. He changed *again*! Silly French man! Silly

In _Use of Pleasure_ and _Care of the Self_, Foucault talks about
how subjects in Greek and Roman antiquity engaged in practices,
mental exercises, and so on, in order to transform themselves
into beautiful, cultured individuals who, by showing their
capacity to rule over their own desires, revealed at the same
time their fitness to rule the polity. Now subjects can work on
themselves! Now they're not completely the "effect," the
"venicle," the "creation" of a single, omnipresent, dark power; a
power that is so dark, it looks like a cow (or something).

What do the critics--including McCarthy--do? They take their
distortion of Foucault's earlier work (the stuff about the "dark
cow of power") and then they contrast that distortion of theirs
with an equally distorted version of what is going on in the last
two sexuality books. And what is that second distortion? Nothing
other than the *exact opposite* of the first distortion. The
first distortion said that Foucualt's picture of power from the
70s was totally, like, iron-cageish, and offered no escape for
subjugated subjects who were "wholly constituted by power
relations." The second distortion, then, is that the Foucault of
_Care_ and _Use_ does a 180 degree turn, stops thinking about the
nature of societal power completely, and begins to write about
how individuals can create themselves as works of art, completely
independent of the condition of society as a whole. If the
Foucault of distortion #1 gave subjects no way to escape societal
domination, Foucault of distortion #2 recommends flighty,
Baudelarean, experimental hijinks centered on the self.

In fact, Foucault is *very careful* to *thematically link* his
earlier work on power with his later work on subjectivity. He
does this in a substantive and not an off-hand, interviewish way
in the second volume of the sexuality series; specifically, in
the Introduction. And I would like to talk about that
Introduction, but again I have gone on too long, and will have to
return to this theme tomorrow. I am aware I have not yet answered
Reg's question (!) which, to repeat, was as follows:

So [Reg comments], I want to agree with you that there is
thematic continuity. My question is what is the nature of this
continuity that you see? What do you make of the obvious
differences in his various vocabularies and conceptual

I will be better able to comment on this point in the context of
reviewing the Introduction to _Use_.


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