Re: fish out of water

On Tue, 14 Nov 1995, James McFarland wrote:

> >
> I think we determined that the quote comes from Order of Things (p. 262 of
> the English). What we didn't determine was why Foucault would have said
> such a pointless thing, unless he was under the misconception that Marx
> aimed to overthrough bourgeois epistemology instead of bourgeois
> relations of production, or unless he thought that bourgeois epistemology
> was peculiarly 19th century, and so was irrelevant to us now (in which
> case it isn't clear why 12 pages earlier, at the start of Chapter 8,
> he's calling precisely the episteme in which Marx swims "a certain
> *modern* manner of knowing empiricities...the thought that is
> contemporaneous with us, and with which, willy-nilly, we think...")
> What Foucault shows (convincingly, of course), is that Marx isn't
> Foucault, that he is not interested in *why* people talk the way they do as
> much as *how* one class exploits another class, and what we can do
> practically to keep them from continuing in this way. In fact, Marx's
> German Ideology has some very funny passages about philosophical
> revolutions that tear down in histrionic gestures entire metaphysical
> epochs, all the while leaving the police pretty much where they were.
> This is not, I think, Foucault's last word on the subject of Marxism,
> but it is without question one of his stupidest.

Well, it is stupid only if the battle of paradigms or the act of
redescribing someone's work in term other than their own is stupid.

The rather polemic statement about Marx is in fact central to Foucault's
argument that the manner in which Marx discussed the problem of
exploitation and proposed a solution is at one with lots of other 19th
century discourse. This is a significant connection, according to
Foucault, because the anthropomorphism that it participates in is doomed
to failure because of its epistemological structure. Foucault does not
fail to understand Marx or his project, but is providing a critique of
the assumptions that underwrite Marx's project--its "positive unconscious
of knowledge." Foucault is not dumb to the fact that he is interested in
discourse instead of labor; he is presenting an argument, long and
subtle, that it is "the way we talk" that is in some cases of the utmost

More generally, Foucault is playing (though perhaps with irony) what I
would call the "complicity game," which I sometimes think is the only
game in town, and is certainly one that Marx helped established. This is
the complicity game: take an intellectual (or political) gesture that
claims to be radical, subversive, revolutionary, different, transcendent,
or just plain humane, and show how it _really_ reconfirms that which it
apparently rejects. Thus what Foucault is saying about Marx's
complicity, Marx also said about Smith's and Ricardo's complicity, how they
simply reconfirmed a system of value that they thought to be analyzing in
a fresh way. In doing this, Marx made a point of rejecting their
criteria and terms, criticizing them for not breaking out of certain
bourgeois assumptions (I guess this makes Marx pretty stupid too). In
short, by criticizing Smith and Ricardo for not undermining the system of
exploitation, he is criticizing them for not being Marx. As you point
out, Jim, Marx also does this to German philosophers in THE GERMAN
IDEOLOGY. To align Hegel, for instance, with other metaphysicians is quite
clever, but there are contexts in which the break between Kant and Hegel
is quite significant (again, Marx is pretty much an idiot here, right?).
Unless it is totally clear who the "police" are, and what is being left
intact, Foucault's point is worth hearing.

Since Marx, the complicity game has been played with increasing vigor.
Adorno, for instance, is driven to a frenzy by it in JARGON OF
"game" all over the place. "Radical" men are complicitous with
patriarchy. Feminists are at times complicitous with heterosexism, and
so forth. Again, this is a symptom of the proliferation of competing
paradigms, a non-ending (and important, I would argue) contest over what
terms we should view history and thought in: class, race, gender,
epistemological, economic, poltical, and so on and so on. It is an
ongoing debate concerning what categories need to be subverted in order
to be "truly radical."

I myself am ambivalent to this game. I think it does an important work,
but it is also monotonous and epistemologically suspect (complicitous, in
a backdoor way, with a long tradition of metaphysical thinking that it
hoped to have left behind!). I am tempted to say that this game is
stupid. But since so many obviously intelligent thinkers have played it,
often with high political stakes, I will say instead that while the
complicity game is a dead-end, there are still reasons to drive down it
from time to time.


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


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