Re: Secondary Sources

On Wed, 24 Sep 1997, Campbell Jones wrote:

> At 18:11 23/09/97 -0500, Andrew Herman wrote:
> >I would like John Ransom to put aside his modesty and tell us
> >more about his new book.
> >
> Indeed. And despite recent polemics about advertising books on this list,
> maybe John could provide us with a small taste... A preface and/or
> contents list perhaps?
> -------------------
> Campbell Jones
> University of Otago
> New Zealand
> -------------------

Here, for those who would like to see it, is the Preface to my book,
_Foucault's Discipline: The Politics of Subjectivity_.


The varying images the name "Foucault" provokes has a great deal to do
with the kind of reading he is given. Foucault, it appears, is a symbol
that serves different functions in discrete narratives. Indeed, much of
the ink that fills the Great Lakes of Foucault scholarship (to which this
effort contributes its modest pond) is dedicated first to defining
Foucault the symbol; the actual reading of Foucault's texts merely
confirms in increasingly predictable ways the original reception of the
symbol. Thus, if Foucault the symbol represents the flighty, bombastic,
overdrawn, incoherent, overexposed, merely (and briefly) fashionable
Continental intellectual, a certain reading follows: Foucault prefers mad
people over Enlightenment reason; opposes hospitals; is capable of writing
unreadable prose; thinks ripping people apart with horses is better than
putting them in prison; first characterizes the whole West as a dystopic
nightmare of inescapable power, and then without missing a beat tells us
to turn our lives into works of art.

Among those writers who read Foucault more sympathetically, an
effort is being made to find in him or extract from him a normative
standpoint of some kind that will provide a grounding for the critical
activity he appeared to endorse. Perhaps, some authors propose, Foucault
can be thought of as promoting the value of an untamed force, a capital
'L' Life, over the rigid and restrictive forms it has taken in the
present. Others suggest that Foucault, like Derrida, can be seen as a
philosopher of *diffaerance*, a theorist and champion of excluded voices
and suppressed identities.

These arguments about the principle with reference to which
Foucault pursued his work lead, perhaps inevitably, to notions about the
kind of political community a Foucauldian ethos would be willing and able
to support. Such a move explicitly or implicitly concedes the force of the
principal objection his work has provoked; namely, that he offers no
positive vision of the political world as it should be and no normative
framework for his critical activity.

I reference and briefly discuss a number of these commentaries on
Foucault in the notes to the chapters that follow. My own reading flows
from an emphasis on Foucault's valorization of critique, independent of
utopian projects for radical change. Secondary works that simply dismiss
Foucault rarely include detailed, much less convincing, argumentation.
These authors assume that if Foucault did not include a normative
grounding for oppositional activity, it was due to some perverse and
merely personal whim on his part. The truth is that the political world
Foucault describes for us has developed a kind of immunity to oppositional
moves based on normative ethics and that serious efforts must be made to
rethink how opposition might function and justify itself. Authors who are
tempted to reread Foucault and postmodernism generally as perhaps providing
a normative grounding for critical activity make the same error from a
more sympathetic perspective. Personally, I doubt we will be able to put
the normative genie back in the oppositional lamp.

Foucault called himself a "specific intellectual." By this he
meant that he worked in particular fields of concern to him and did not
try to extract from them an overall theory of how the world did or should
work. His work is both better understood and more useful to practitioners
when seen in the light of this desire for specificity. The fact that so
many of Foucault's interpreters see no way to defend or employ him without
reference to an "ought" is solid evidence of the difficulty involved in
separating critique from dreams of a liberated existence. It is just this
separation, however, that Foucault wished to effect.


Introduction: Rethinking "Critique"
I Confronting New Forms of Power
II Disciplines and the Individual
III Governmentality and the Population
IV Genealogy in the Disciplinary Age
V The "Plebeian Aspect"
VI Politics, Norms, and the Self

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