RE: Connolly


Let me answer the second part of your response first: Foucault's attack on
repressive theories. As I recall, the HISTORY OF SEXUALITY opens with Foucault
expounding on what this theory means: in Victorian times, our TURE sexuality
was repressed, but now in these times we realize we are 'liberated', our true
sexuality is 'free', 'emancipated'. The fundamental premise, I think, that
Foucault is challenging in the repressive hypothesis is that of a true self or
essence existing prior to relations of power -- i.e., what you called "natural
and instinctive kinds of things" -- that is then repressed by such power, to be
liberated by emancipation (by 'good' use of power? Well, that probably depends
on the theory). Now that is the traditional Marxist notion of power which most
'post-(call it what you will)' political theories have challenged: Connolly
being one of them, Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe (HEGEMONY AND SOCIALIST
STRATEGY) being others, who deal more directly with traditional Marxist
discourses. To the extent that power remains after emancipation in some of
these theories, I think you are right that it is treated as a 'positive force
of collective action and consensus' (which you can find in Taylor, for example,
through Arendt, in Sartre as well). And you're right that Foucault not only
opposes the notion that power represses a prior essence, but also that he
opposes the idea of a 'consensual politics' in response to it (i.e., the
interview, I think it's "politics as ethics" in the Foucault reader: the
questioners, btw, are left anonymous, but Taylor wrote in a later article that
he was the one who asked Foucault about supporting a consensual ideal, and
Foucault said something to the effect that he would support it as a critical
principle but not a regulative ideal).

Now in response to this, Foucault develops a theory of power which, among other
things, breaks with the repressive/emancipative model by positing an excess of
energies and forces operating through social institutions, identities, etc.,
necessarily 'repressed' in order for society to function but nonetheless
productive and indispensable. One of the early sites where this is located is
'madness', later on it's 'sexuality' (not only in the HISTORY OF SEXUALITY, but,
perhaps a more lucid and important source is the introduction to the English

On to the first part: the relation between Connolly's political sensibilities
and the theory of power he draws from Nietzsche and Foucault. In the first
place, I wouldn't really call it 'oppositional'. I don't think it makes much
sense to do so, because the sensibility is explicitly concerned with the way
seemingly 'oppositional' identities are interrelated and dependent upon each
other for their (ultimately contingent and fragile) specification. Also, I
don't think it's right to take what Connolly calls his 'political ideal' and
elevate it to the same status as Marxists have often elevated their ideals.
In other words, you shouldn't treat this ideal as simply a marker which guides
our actions unambiguously. Doesn't Connolly talk about this ultimate
impossibility of this ideal and of attaining the Nietzschean sensibility he
is elaborating, near the end of the chapter? In the article in POLITICAL
THEORY upon which this chapter is based ("Beyond Good and Evil: The ethical
sensibility of Michel Foucault", Summer 1993 I think), he opens with a
discussion about how precarious this sensibility is, how easily it can be
derailed, and how ultimately 'dangerous' the attempt can be. This is why
irony and self-problematization remain so critical (something ALOT of post-
whatever political theorists fail to do. Irony and self-problematization
are also critical, btw, for preventing a fall into a politics of simple
opposition). I would rather treat the ideal the way Connolly treats the
Nietzschean ideal of 'life': "an indispensable, non-fixable marker,
challenging every attempt to treat it as a concept, settlement, or principle
as complete, without surplus or resistence" (p. 143). Much the way Foucault
would treat consensus as a critical principle informing political action, but
not a regulative ideal. The point is that this is not an 'ideal' we're all
just supposed to march towards.

So I wouldn't treat this ideal in the same way as 'the future the Marxists are
fighting for'. It's much more a politics of temporary and partial coalitions
between overlapping identities (as Foucault describes in Part IV of HISTORY OF
SEXUALITY vol. 1), very much concerned with local issues which nonetheless have
general importance and relevence. There's no overarching regulative ideal:
that is why Connolly says over and over again that in regards to the people in
'his' coalition -- that is, those seeking to operationalize a Nietzschean
political sensibility -- the 'we' "is a solicitation rather than a command"
(p. 144).



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