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

But isn't the point here not that the episteme is bound to any one
ideological form that occures within it, that is, its not a question of a
bourgeois epistemology or of a revolutionary epistemology, rather it is a
question of the relation between a given form of knowledge and the
condition of possibility out of which it arises. At the level of their
condition of possibility both bourgeois economics and revolutionary
econimics aim towards the end of history, though they approach this
point from different directions.

> 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.

Its true that Foucault is not seeking beneath the discourse of the
nineteenth-century an exploitative function which, if brought to the
light of day, would overcome with a flash the injustices of an industrial
economy. But then this probably isn't what Marx is up to either, since
such a move would be the highth of idealism. Regardless, its seems a bit
of a stretch to claim that Foucault is merely interested in 'why people
talk the way they talk'. Language is most certainly somewhere near the
heart of Foucault's program, but to suggest that the focus is on idle
chatter, mere gruntings and groanings which themselves stand above and
in some way shroud that which is real and concrete, is to miss the point.
The point here is not 'why do people talk the way they do', but 'what is
it possible to say within the confines of a given set of discursive
relations'. Initially these two propositions don't seem very distinct
from one another in that they both seem to delimit a space in which the
word indicates an idea, which itself must then be examined as to its
truth or falsity in relation to the real. But what is the relation
between discourse and the real? Isn't Foucault's point that the mode of
discourse and the mode of being of man are inexstricably tied to one
another? And couldn't it then be said that discourse is not a relation
between words and ideas, but the material condition of the knowable, or,
if you will, isn't it the material condition by which being is given
expression in the world?

It seems fairly clear that when Foucault refers to Marx and Ricardo he is
not talking about Marx and Ricardo. That is, Marx and Ricardo are not
taken as the symbol of an intentional project, and Marxism is not offered
as the synechdoche of Marx's aims. Rather, Marx and Ricardo are offered
as straw men, and as a critique of resemblance. On the one hand these
two stand there simply to open a space into which Nietzsche can step,
though the Nietzsche who arrives should not himself be thought of as an
intentional project. On the other hand, Marx and Ricardo compose
replacable elements in a variegated structure of signs. Either of them
can be replaced by the dialectic, and the linear continuity that the
dialectic enforces, or by anthopological finitude, and the necessity of
lack in the economic field which it entails. When Nietzsche steps in at
the end of the chapter to "burn for us...the intermingled promises of the
dialectic and of anthopology" he does so not to correct the manner in
which Marx and Ricardo might have been wrong, but to open a space of
interpretation in which the questions to which Marx and Ricardo responded
are no longer in force.

> This is not, I think, Foucault's last word on the subject of Marxism,
> but it is without question one of his stupidest.
> Jim McFarland



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