Connolly and Foucault

Nathan Widder claims I am engaging in a "VERY reductive reading of
Connolly's work" and then quotes from him as follows:

"A post-Nietzschean ethical sensibility, 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 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."

After this quotation from Connolly, Nathan comments in part:

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. [end bit from Nathan]

But it seems to me that the quotation from Connolly provided by Nathan
lends some credence to my reading of him. The fact that "at NO point" are
the words 'power' or 'repression' used doesn't seem like a terribly
strong objection to my reading. Connolly does--as Nathan himself goes on
to comment--use the word "suppress" which is not that far in significance
from the word "repress." Connolly, drawing on Foucault, wants 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." And what would this ideal of
political life be? It would be one in which the post-Nietzschean ethical
sensibility is promoted. The basic point behind this post- Nian ethical
sensibility according to Connolly is that it refuses to repress
difference or, if you prefer, suppress difference. Presumably power of
some kind is used to suppress difference, so the fact that the word
"power" does not appear in the passage does not, by itself, undermine my
reading of it.

Nathan comments further:

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.

[end bit from Nathan]

But Nathan's reading misses what I take to be the very argument Connolly
is making from the passage above. What we don't want, Connolly argues, is
a world where difference is suppressed/repressed. What we do want, what
we want our normative political community to be, is one that does *not*
suppress difference. Sounds like a repressive hypothesis to me! Nathan
says that nowhere does Connolly suggest that every difference should be
actively encouraged. But Connolly's idea that we should use a notion of
agonistic respect for competing identities as a normative ideal of some
kind does seem committed to just such a claim. See the end of
_Augustinian Imperative_ where Connolly has a great deal of difficulty
with something like the abortion debate. Here are two very different,
opposed views. The participants in the abortion debate do not
particularly want to regard each other with agonistic respect; they want
to destroy each other politically and culturally. On what grounds would
Connolly be able to say "let's suppress some of these pro-lifers!" and
still remain committed to his notion of agonistic respect for difference
concerning opposed moral, ethical, and political views?

Nathan concludes by saying, "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 not." [end quotation from

I unembarassedly affirm that this is indeed my reading of postmodernism,
both as it is popularly received and as it is expounded on in excellent
scholarly works such as those by Connolly and Judith Butler. I don't see
how Nathan can claim that Connolly does not promote a "celebration of
difference." In the quotation from Connolly reproduced above, he says
that the post-Nian sensibility he wants to endorse would work "to
cultivate generosity . . . in those indispensable rivalries between
alternative moral/ethical perspectives . . . ". I'm sure there's a gap
between the phrase "celebration of difference" and "cultivate generosity"
but it's not so wide a gap that they can't be reasonably equated.

The problem I think these authors such as Connolly and Butler have is
that they collapse deconstruction into genealogy. Another way of putting
it would be to say that they collapse Foucault into postmodernism.
Foucault himself is not a postmodern thinker--at least not in the sense
of the celebration of difference as a normative goal of some kind.


Partial thread listing: