Re: A KickOff...

On Thu, 5 Feb 1998, Daniel F. Vukovich wrote:

> NB: in response to John Ransom and the We-representation
> problem. Not much on HS, vol 1.
> At 07:10 PM 2/5/98 -0500, you wrote:
> >Could we also say that there is a link between Foucault's argument about
> >whether or not sex is repressed and Marcuse's admittedly more jargony talk
> >about "repressive desublimation" in _One-Dimensional Man_?
> >
> >--John
> Hello John,
> This is intersting, have you any leads on the F-M connection? I'd always
> taken it for granted that Marcuse would be an implicit antagonist for F.,
> that is, a repressive-hypothesis thinker. Aren't M, and esp. Reich, *the*
> radical thinkers of repression? I take Foucault's object of criticism to
> be, simply and vaguely, the entire philisophical-juridico tradition which
> sees power as essentialy epressive, negative and something to be avoided.
> Here, I can think only of anarchism as an example, excluding someone like
> Murray Bookchin.

I think that for Foucault the Frankfurt School as a whole represented an
ambiguous legacy. He even said at one point that he had more sympathy for
Habermas's project than Habermas had for him. Where I think F wants to
part with the Frankfurt School is its tendency to depict the social world
in terms of a self-enclosed, inescapable totality. _Dialectic of
Enlightenment_ depicts a dystopian totalitarian society. It is still the
case, however, that in pursuing this depiction members of the Frankfurt
School sometimes did empirical research in support of novel understandings
of power formations. Adorno's _Minima Moralia_ is the perfect example of
this nearly obsessive focus on details and gestures in support of nothing
more than an ironic grimace in the face of a too-cunning,
Hegel-in-reverse Totality.

Marcuse's notion of repressive desublimation has some superficial
similarities, at least, with Foucault's criticism of the "repressive
hypothesis." Bourgeois society, Marcuse writes (following Freud), used to
repress manifestations of the appetitive Id so as to provide the psychic
energy needed for capital accumulation and civilization generally. This
"repression" may sound unfortunate, but it has the advantage of providing
a foothold for oppositional thought and moods: if society represses
individuals enough or in a certain way, they will be able to contrast
their desires with what the social order demands of them.

The new post-World War II order, especially in the U.S. with Germany not
far behind, comprehended so much incredible wealth that the need to
repress individual desires was not only no longer necessary, but was no
longer functional in a consumerist economy. There is no "repression"
because the desires of consumers, their very Id, is prefigured to fit what
the economy provides. Our desires have come to the surface; they are no
longer repressed; but this "liberation" does not liberate us. Our merely
animal instincts have been unleashed. What *is* still repressive about
repressive desublimation is that our human capacity for shaping the
institutions and cultures we inhabit is crippled. Foucault seems to be
making a similar point, only minus the Peal O' Doom that accompanied all
major writings from the Frankfurt School.

> And, John, I might ask you if you take Marx and/or marxism as subscribing
> to the repressive hypothesis (in re power in general)? Not that I'm
> looking for an argument here, but I think this assumption would be bogus,
> making Marx and many others into romantic anti-capitalists. Similarily
> with Freud: even in the ego-id stuff, repression is much more than some
> top-down model.

I think Marx was a romantic anti-capitalist. In some ways he was a lot
more romantic than other people commonly thought to be romantic, what with
all the stuff about the transcendence of this world into a qualitatively
higher realm of species being. Only his genius -- along with his attention
to details! -- let him get away with it.

But you don't want to hear me talk about that, so why don't I just say if
I think Marx was a repressive theorist? I think he most definitely was. He
was really a kind of Life Philosopher, like Simmel or Bergson. Like them,
Marx posited that the institutions and cultural forms thrown up by the
unceasing interactions of humans tended to ossify and eventually acted as
a break on the evolving capacities of human populations. To say that
"forces of production come into contradiction with relations of
production" is simply to say that new forms of Life are chomping at the
bit and want to break through no-longer-appropriate institutions. The new
forces of production and the new possibilities for human emancipation they
represent are *repressed* in the Marxian account by a state that acts on
behalf of a once-revolutionary, now-reactionary drag on the development of
society, namely, the bourgeoisie. The first chapter of the _Communist
Manifesto_ summarizes all this in a condensed but useful way.

> >Who's we? Remember F's comments about creations of "we's" in
> the>"Polemics" interview at the back of _Foucault Reader_, p. 385.
> >(Summarizing briefly, F's point is that the task of critical thought is
> >not to stand on the side of some transcendental agent like the working
> >class, not to endorse and help clarify the nature of an already-existing
> >"we," but rather to create conditions for the production of new "we's,"
> >new communitiees of perspective and action, knowledge and power.)
> I'm with you here, until the last clause, where F is seen as somehow
> creating new conditions of possibility for not just new knowledge, but for
> new communities of resistance, etc. In short, I have no idea how F could
> be doing, or did this. (I don't mean in terms of his bio/real self) To
> claim that his work did, or could do so, seems grandiose to me. And
> precisely because of this moral handwringing over the "fundamental
> indignity of speaking for others." By which I mean: a critique of the "We"
> and of presuming to speak for the other, does not absolve one of the
> responsibilities attendant upon the fact that what one says and does, still
> affects others.
> And attending to this means again raising a "we," i.e., it again raises
> question of the micro in relation to the macro, again raises questions of a
> collective or global nature, and again requires some form of synecdochical
> thinking. And, for the life of me, I don't think one get there from here
> (from the thought of Foucault in itself). Which is not to say Foucault's
> work doesn't allow us to see the microphysics of power, "beneath" some
> repressive apparatus.
> I'm reminded, yet again, of Spivak's critique of F and deleuze in her
> "Subaltern" essay (in the Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture
> collection),

I appreciate the reference; I'll take a look.


John Ransom

> and in reference to D & F's conversation about prisons and
> such. If I remember correctly, one of her points is that their particular
> critique of the transcendental standpoint end up smuggling one back in,
> namely, their own. this is so for a variety of reasons, and Spivak points
> to their silences about the international division of labor -- and, no, a
> proper recognition of an essentialist notion of class does not allow one to
> simply wash one's hands of the 'blood and dirt' of capital -- about gender,
> and about colonialism.
> But perhaps Spivak's fundamental move is against their notions of
> representation -- that a critique of representation-as-language does not
> get them off the hook of thinking representation-as-political positioning
> (Darstellung vs. Vertretung in Marx's German). (Hence the parochialism of
> Foucault.)
> In other words, because Foucault will not admit a theory of ideology, or
> because his thematics of desire and of heterogeniety ignores Vertretung, he
> can say something ridiculous like, "the masses know pefectly well, clearly
> .... they know far better than [the intellectual] and they certainly say it
> very well" (Prison Talk, cited in Spivak, p.274). My point is that F.,
> wily nily, still speaks for these "Others" (the "we"'s, not the "We") and
> moreover by representing them (Darstellung) as transparent -- which he does
> by never naming, or fully historicizing them -- he represents himself as
> transparent and transcendent. Call it a dialectical ruse of history....
> Best,
> Dan
> Daniel Vukovich
> English; Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory
> University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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