Re: fish out of water

On Fri, 17 Nov 1995, Philip Goldstein wrote:

> I could go on to argue that Althusser's notion of ideology and
> Foucault's notion of discursive practices have important similarities,
> but my wife wants to use the computer.

This would no doubt be a very interesting comparison to make, and one
well beyond my competence. In my own defense, I was attempting no
exhaustive characterization of the relation between Foucault and
Althusser, which was, as you suggest, more complicated than any single
citation or description can do justice to. I wanted to acknowledge at a
pretty general level the fact that the Order of Things is also engaging
in polemics with its contemporary political environment, as well as
with such "historical" entities as nineteenth-century Marxism, that may
help to explain the choice of certain targets, and the way these targets
are positioned. In fact, many of the criticisms of Foucault I have here
been reiterating (that his analyses are conducted at the level of general
epistemology, "beneath" or "beyond" where meaningful political analysis
is done; that his formalistic aparatus provides no helpful orientation for
material practice -- I'm not concerned to defend them here) these same
criticisms have often been leveled at Althusser. (see Sebastiano
Timpanaro, "Structuralism and its Successors" in On Materialism, Verso
1975, for instance, or Ernst Mandel's Late Capitalism: "Althusser thus
sanctions only a relationship between economic theory and historical
theory; the relationship between economic theory and concrete history is
by contrast declared a 'false problem', 'non-existent' and 'imaginary'.
What he does not seem to realize is that this is not only in
contradiction to Marx's own explanation of his method, but that the
attempt to escape the spectre of empiricism and its theory of knowledge
-- a spectre of his own making -- by establishing a basic dualism between
'objects of knowledge' and 'real objects', inevitably runs the danger of
idealism." p19. I leave unspecified the extent to which I agree with
either of these analyses.) Polemically for my part, I think there is
reason for great caution in following the road of Marxist exegesis that
magnifies alienation and reification (the price capitalism extracts also
from the bourgeoisie, so to speak) and diminishes economic exploitation and
imperialism, a trend uniting such widely disparate thinkers as early Lukacs,
Althusser, Adorno. As an alienated member of the bourgeoisie myself,
these discussions have a wonderful plausibility and resonance, but I find
myself having to insist that capitalism is corrupt not in the first
instance because it alienates me from myself, but because it shoots a
lot of poor people in the head.

But this is Marxism. On this list we should, I agree, return to Foucault.



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