Connolly and Foucault


You ask if Connolly is an updated version of a kind of argument made by Marcuse
and others of the Frankfurt school. Well, no, he isn't.

I think -- no, I am quite certain -- that you are engaged in a VERY reductive
reading of Connolly's work. We'll start with the 'quote' from page 144.
Actually, you only quoted sporadically from pages 143-144. Let's put the whole
quote down.

"A post-Nietzschean ethical sensiblity, then, strives, first, to expose the
artifice in hegemonic identities and the definitions of otherness (evil)
through which they propel their self-certainty; second, to destabilize codes
of moral order within which prevailing identities are set, when doing so
crystallizes the element of resentment in these constructions of difference;
third, to cultivate generosity -- that is, a 'pathos of distance' -- in those
indispensable rivalries between alternative moral/ethical perspectives by
emphasizing the contestable character of each perspective, including one's own,
and the inevitability of these contestations in life; and, fourth -- as
Foucault eventually endorsed -- to contest moral visions that suppress the
constructed, contingent, relational character of identity with a positive
alternative that goes some distance in specifying the ideal of political life
inspiring it. I draw these themes from Nietzsche and Foucault respectively:
The ethical importance of the struggle against existential resentment is
emphasized by Nietzsche and the politicization of an ethical sensibility is
emphasized by Foucault."

The first thing to note is that at NO point in this quote are the
terms 'power' or 'repression' invoked. There is a mention of moral visions
that 'suppress' the relational and constructed nature of identity, but that
cannot be translated into 'power represses' -- it only says that some views
suppress or refuse to acknowledge the relational construction of identity.
Indeed, no ontology of power is articulated -- at least not directly. And at
NO point does Connolly say anything like "If what's bad about power is that it
creates/represses difference, then the ideal polity will be one where we simply
refuse to suppress difference." On the contrary, he speaks of the ineliminable
strife between and among identities. At NO point does he suggest that EVERY
difference should be tolerated or actively encouraged.

I think you have conflated the idea of a politics of affirmation of difference
with a theory of power. The former does follow from the latter in Connolly's
work, but they are in no way the same. But I must ask you, what do you mean
by a 'repressive theory of power'? If you mean that power represses a pre-
existing identity (i.e., through alienation), then Connolly and Foucault
obviously both oppose that. If you mean that power does nothing more than
repress, or is somehow 'top-down', then both oppose that too. By the
'repressive hypothesis', do you mean one which sees freedom or the ideal polity
as one where power is eliminated? If so, Connolly opposes that with Foucault
too. I don't know of any place where he suggests that power is eliminable.
It's precisely because it's productive that it is ineliminable. What Connolly
has said is that certain modes of identity (i.e., fundamentalisms) repress
difference because they refuse to recognize the contestable, contingent and
interrelated character of their own identities. But that does not mean all
power is repression. Indeed, if you want to see where Connolly does present
an ontology of power, take a look at the 'Voices from the Whirlwind' chapter
in THE AUGUSTINEAN IMPERATIVE. There, power is the excess of anarchic energies
constantly exceeding any formation of identity/difference.

In any event, I think you're simply putting forth the typical (mis)reading of
postmodernism as simply a 'celebration of difference'. Perhaps there are some
who think that way, but I doubt there are very many. Connolly certainly does

Anyway, if you want Connolly's theory of power, or, rather, his reading of
Foucault's theory of power, than a good place to start is the following quote,
taken from an exchange with Charles Taylor that was printed in POLITICAL
THEORY, August, 1985.

" Foucault, says Taylor, offers a theory of power that is not linked to
freedom. It is a theory of 'power without freedom or truth.' And this
will not work, for the 'notion of power or domination requires some notion
of constraint imposed on someone by a process in some way related to human
agency.' And again, 'power needs targets,' but Foucault wants to use a
language of power while refusing to accept the idea of subjects who have power
exercised over them.
Foucault agrees in part with this contention. But the target of power is
not in his theory a subject that is repressed or constrained by power. Power
produces the subject that becomes not a mere fiction of theory and law but a
real artifact. The subject, on Foucault's reading, is not 'dead': It is
very much alive and very much the effect of modern disciplinary institutions.
But if power produces the subject, in what ways does power constrain or limit
the self? Subjectification, an effect of power, subjegates recalcitrant
material in an embodied self resistent to this form. Power produces and
constrains, then, but the target of constraint is not the self as agent, but
that in selves which resists agentification. Foucault's theory of power and
subjectification is part of his assault on those teleological philosophies that
continue to find disguised expression in the modern age. The theory of the
essentially embodied subject, for instance, is a theory of self-realization that
treats the self as if it were designed to fulfill its potentiality through
perfecting its subjectivity; and to reject the residual teleological premise
inside that hope is to see the subject as an artificial reality imposed on
material not designed to receive it. Freedom, in this perspective, is not
reducible to freedom of subjects; it is at least partly the release of that
which does not fit into the molds of subjectivity and normalization. This is
what Foucault means when he says that 'the soul is the prison of the body'
and when he supports the 'insurrection of subjegated knowledges' that speak,
although imperfectly and indirectly, to that which is subjegated to
normalization. Foucault also explicitly aspires to a conception of rights
attached not merely to the self as subject, but especially to that which is
defined by the normalized subject as otherness, as deviating from or falling
below or failing to live up to the standards of subjectivity."

All for now.



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