Deleuze and vitalism

An important mistaken reading of Foucault can be traced back at least to
Deleuze in his _Foucault_. Contrary to those who claim that we need some
humanist conception of "man" in order to conceptualize resistance,
Foucault shows us that resistance can come from a broader life, a more
active, more affirmative, life that is richer in possibilities. (See p.
98 of French version; this can be found in the last paragraph of the
section titled "Strategies or the non-stratified.") "When power becomes
bio-power," Deleuze continues, "resistance becomes the power of life, a
'vital power' (pouvoir-vital). "The force that comes from the outside, is
it not a certain idea of Life ("de la Vie"), a certain vitalism" and
isn't this vitalism Foucault's culminating thought?

I think this vitalistic reading of Foucault's efforts is misguided, and
that in one form or another it has played an important role in a number
of secondary readings of Foucault.

My principal objection to this reading is that normative concerns through
the backdoor--namely, respect for difference, the positive encouragement
of plurality, and so on, which when stripped of their postmodern
rhetorical facade seem disappointingly familiar.

It is interesting to note that Deleuze does not discuss the most
important comment Foucault himself made on the subject of the life
sciences and their impact on his thinking. I'm thinking here of his
Introduction to Canguilhem's _Normal and the Pathological_.

In that brief Introduction, a natural place if there is one to lay out
this vitalistic creed that his thought culminates in, Foucault steers
completely clear of the notion. Instead, he argues that the primary
benefit we can get from studying the works of Canguilhem and other
thinkers such as Bachelard and Cavailles is an understanding of the role
of *error* in the production and transformation of life. This idea fits
in nicely with Foucault's whole effort to produce genealogies that
produce that all-important feeling of contingency.

John Ransom


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