Foucault is not a Marxist

Or a Marxian for that matter.

Well, at least I would like to discuss this further. Take this passage

The question was: to what extent can the history of science question its
own rationality, limit it, or introduce external elements? What are the
contingent effects which are introduced into science from the moment it
has a history and develops in a historically determined society? These
questions were followed by others: can one produce a rational history of
science? Can a criterion of intelligibility be discovered amid the
various accidents, chances, and the possible irrational elements that are
insinuated in the history of science?
If these were more or less the problems advanced by a Marxist or
phenomenological kind of thinking, for me the questions were posed
instead in a slightly different way. My reading and assimilation of
Nietzsche return precisely in this connection: what's necessary is not so
much a history of rationality as a history of truth itself. (61-2)

I have purposely chosen a passage where Foucault is not expressing any of
the hostility for Marxism that he sometimes had. The difference may be
small, but it is crucial, for Marxian thinking (as I see it) does not
historicize the truth (only rationality) to the extent that Foucault does.

I've assembed in my mind a very incomplete list of some similarities and
differences between Foucault and Marx:

sometimes similar, though Foucault is more likely to look to the
periphery, to the excluded, to understand the "essence."
Both were good archivists.

Both had a broad scope, but Foucault is quite determined that small scale
investigations not be extended (metonymically) into a broader theory of
history. He was individual systems--mini-histories of the truth--having
their own "rationality."

This, narrowly conceived, is where I see the most similarity. Both were
dedicated, as Marx put it, to "a ruthless critique of everything existing."

Both may have been invested in the critique, but the results were
organized in a greatly different mode of discourse. To invoke Hayden
White's notion of historical emplotment, they end up opposite to each
other. Foucault adopts an ironic, satiric mode: one of his main targets
is the futility, even peril, of imaging that one may transcend. Marx, on
the other hand, employs a Romantic emplotment of history, characterized
by its transcendence (if this seems like an outdated emplotment, Jameson
concurs that not only has Marxism emploted itself Romantically, it must
continue to do so).

One might respond by saying that contemporary MarxIAN thinking has become
more local, more interested in the periphery, more dedicated to a
negative dialectics, and so on. In this case, Foucault does seem MORE
Marxian. But why not say instead that Marxism has become more
Foucauldian? While I can think some good reasons (based on my preferred
mode of emplotment) for the latter, I think it really boils down to those
endless terminological wars: what, after all, is a Marxian, a Foucauldian
(and since there are Marxists, why not Foucauldists?)? Foucault would
certainly approach this not in terms of the rationality of each position,
but in terms of the institutional truths each is attempting to
establish. What are the stakes, I ask in this vein, of making Foucault
into a Marxian, what is the power/knowledge investment in doing so? I
should be forced to answer the same type question regrading my desire to
see Foucault not as a Marxian.


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


Partial thread listing: