Re: continuities in Foucault

On Thu, 10 Aug 1995, John Ransom wrote:

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

I don't think we need to see these changes as distortions of a straight
course, or as haphazard and silly. Rather, why not see them as Foucault
dealing with his most previous "discovery." This is what I mean:
Foucault is constantly creating "iron-cages" from which, he announces,
there is no escape--be it the epistemes, power, the limits of impure
reason, and so on. Yet after setting up this sort of iron cage,
Foucault's next stage of thought involves trying to carve out some
possibility of freedom, critique, or whatever, in the face of what seemed
to be an impossible situation. Now I tend to read this as Foucault the
master story-teller, who establishes obstacles that he might heroically
overcome. But this is a different Foucault than the one who was unable
to "stay the course" and produce a theoretically consistent philosophy.

Erik D. Lindberg
Dept. of English and Comparative Lit.
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Milwaukee, WI 53211
email: edl@xxxxxxxxxxx


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