Re: ethics and poststructuralism

Recently, Gregory Coolidge wrote the following re: the apparent difficulty
in grounding an ethic of resistance, through a self never removed from
power. I have two specific problems with Coolidge's argument:

a) Coolidge continues to cling to a conception of power and freedom which
Foucault denies. Only by ignoring Foucault's argument on power does his
theory of resistance become problematic. Coolidge's vexation is a common
issue in the "Foucauldian industry" (and appears inexhaustable), but I
believe it is futile and unnecessary. Foucault argues that power is not
merely negative, but is also positive and productive. (See the book
"Technologies of the Self".) But Coolidge falls into the trap of seeing
power as merely negative when he says that Foucault "offers no uncolonized
self removed from the influences of power". BUT THIS IS PRECISELY THE
YOURSELF FROM LIFE. Power is life precisely because it is productive and
constitutive. This can be seen in virtually everything he wrote in the last
10 years of his life. I believe that Foucault significantly helps focus and
improve the liberal's debate on pos. vs. neg. power; it greatly expands the
ideas of, say, C.B. McPherson and C. Taylor. Foucault's Janus-faced view of
power is, to be sure, a real challenge to some. Many refuse to believe that
social discourses can constitute the "I", yet at the same time plant the
seed of self-reflection and resistance. I would argue that the field of the
"history of mentalities" in fact demonstrates this possibility.

b) Coolidge argues that Foucault has continually denied any "hint of
essential humanness, or untouched self". Now, "untouched" indicates
Coolidges' thorough, an unhelpful, belief that power is negative, as I've
argued above. But insofar as Foucault believes that the self is grounded in
a positive web of power/discourses, Foucault does indidcate resistance is
"essential" (given the Janus-faced nature of power and resistance within a
discursive matrix). For example, Foucault talks about resistance in a very
Camus-like manner when he argued that the Iranians who fought the Shah
demonstrated that:

In the end, there is no explanation for the man who revolts. His
action is necessarily a tearing that breaks the thread of history and its
long chains of reasons so that a man can genuinely give preference to the
risk of death over the certitude of having to obey.
(Phil. & Soc. Crit., #1, Vol.8,1981)

Remember , this resistance is NOT extra-social. It is based on the
possibilities inherent on the productive nature of social power.

Colin Welch
formerly of Social And Political Thought
York University, Toronto

The problem with Foucualt's interest in self creation, that is, in
creating a subjectivity that is partly one's own making, is that he offers no
>uncolonized self removed from the influences of power ( the subject of
> humanism) in which such autonomouss self creation is to occur. Such an
>admission by Foucualt that any such essential humanness exits (be it reason,
> being, human nature, consciousness), would be an admission that his
radically de-centered, socially constructed subject of theory is incorrect
and flawed.
> It would open the door for theories claiming that there is something
natural, normal or reasonable about human beings and their behaviors. Such
an assertion is clearly what Foucualt hoped to counter by presenting the
subject as
> entirely a social construction devoid of any essential humanness which
defines its humanity. ........
>consistently denied, from at least the time of 'Discipline and Punish' until
>his death, any hint of essential humanness, or untouched self, which acts as
> the source, at least potentially, of auotnmous actions. Foucault is left in
>his latest writings with a call for autonomy and self-determination (remnants
> of humanism's dream of autuonmnous human life), without any theoretical
> subject in which to ground such a hope. Foucault, is thus, left with a
> humanist project of securing autonomy and self-determination (that most
human of attributes), grounded in a theory of the subject which denies that
autonomy is a possibility,since such a subject is devoid of that essential human
> something that secures, at least potentially, its auotonmy.
Colin B. Welch

eMAIL: cwelch@xxxxxxxxxxxxx * Phone: 1+604+
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