Re: specific and organic intellectuals (SI)

Hello John and Colin, and all,

Just a note to say that it behooves us to think of another category here:
the organic intellectual, be it Marx and Engels (etc), Gramsci, Cornel West
or bell hooks. I don't, myself, take Foucault as berating Marx or even
most Marxists in his comments on the universal vs. the specific
intellectual. Maybe the critique of the universal "standpoint" would apply
to an Eric Fromm, but for the most part marxist humanism -- I'm thinking
of Lukacs or Henri Lefebvre -- is still rooted in class, or the social
division of labor. I don't see how that (or marxism itself) is about
"economic reductionism"; is not the distinction between "reductionism" and
"determinism" (or determination) one we want to hold on to? The former is
an "error," the latter, not. Additionally, I would agree with Colin,
though, in that Foucault's remarks here do, or can, get taken up as a
critique of marxism.

Meaghan Morris says somewhere that we need both of these types of
intellectuals (organic and specific), and this makes sense to me. For that
matter, the question here (specific or universal: which one works best?)
cannot really be decided in the abstract, by way of the concept (as Adorno
might say). The political or cultural work such an intellectual can do,
would have to be decided in context, or in the details. So I'd have to say
that a universal intellectual could do such (good) work, in the right
context. Not that I'm much interested in "saving" the category, let alone
humanism itself.

Paradoxically, Edward Said springs to mind as a model specific intellectual
(notwithstanding the fact -- I think -- that he calls himself a humanist).
His piece in the "Foucault: A Critical Reader" collection might be a useful
thing to throw into the mix here. I believe he ends his (sympathetic,
positive) review of Foucault with an invocation of Gramsci and Raymond
Williams (and hegemony, culture, blocs, etc); memory suggests his point was
to point to the absence in Foucault of a notion of counter-hegemonic
resistance, collective struggle (as in decolonization, for example). I
think Said's point is a good, provocative one here, though on the other
hand, Foucault never claimed to be analyzing (or believing in?) hegemony.


Daniel Vukovich
English; Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Partial thread listing: