Re: Marx/Foucault/RH, etc

On Sat, 7 Feb 1998, Daniel F. Vukovich wrote:

> At 11:32 PM 2/6/98 -0500, you wrote:
> >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.
> Actually, a/c to F. in the little "Remarks on Marx" book, F parts ground
> with them on the question of the subject. That A & H et al. subscribe to a
> "traditional" or pre-structuralist notion of the subject, is I think a fair
> point (even if they are all anti-humanist). Interestingly, I recall F
> saying in the same interview that, had he discovered the Frankfurt School
> earlier, he likely would have been "seduced" (his word) into writing
> nothing but commentaries/elaborations of them.

I agree. And in the _Politics, Philosophy, Culture_ collection of essays,
p. 95, Foucault describes the "philosophy he wishes to engage in" as
"an ontology of ourselves," a tradition of thought that extends from
Hegel, through Nietzsche and Max Weber, to the Frankfurt School.

> A few things about totality: any student of the F-school knows their
> critique of Lukacs on totality, and that it is a concept they contually
> utilized *and* displaced. As I think Jameson noted, Adorno's references to
> totality (or late capitalism/the adminstered world/etc) were always used to
> rebuke or debunk interpretation (including his own of course), not to use
> it to interpret something a la *the* last instance.

I've never experienced this displacement. That's not the experience I
have when I read _Negative Dialectic_ or _Dialectic of Enlightenment_ or
_Minima Moralia_ and so on. They may have intended to utilize and displace
the totality (though I'm not sure about that), but I don't think the
deplacement part of the plan ever worked.

> I wonder if F is not himself constructing totalities, perhaps a more
> spatial and Nietzchean-inflected one? Not that he said he was doing
> that..... But in HS, v.1, he does often invoke the Industrial rev/rise of
> bourgeoisie as a backdrop to the emergence of -- and to our "incitement"
> towards -- sexuality as-we-know-it. He simply is not interested in a
> linear type of causality (and quite properly so).

Right. And he also doesn't think the hyper-sexualized world of sexologists
and seductive story-telling by patients is some kind of totality. Indeed,
much of the point of the book, if we ever make it to the more "political"
section near the end, is to displace the Frankfurt School's unitary vision
of the social world with a much more fragmented and bottom-up account.
Perhaps Foucault is part of the dialectic of the Frankfurt School because
he's finally effecting the displacement that the School itself never

> In re Marcuse: Perhaps ironically, here I think you yourself are not giving
> F enough space in his difference from M's Freuodo-Marxism. I know F says
> somewhere that, of course, repression (in the political sense at least)
> still exists. But his difference from Marcuse would be in the notion of
> discourse, and our "incitement" to it. So his notion of power
> (pouvoir-savoir) is more "productive" than M's, who even in "desublimation"
> is still presupposing repression, but now the displacement, of desire.

I completely agree especially with the last part on what separates M and

> >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.
> In re Marx: Yeah, you're right, I can't take seriously your claim that the
> old Moor was simply a Romantic or Philospopher of Life. More specifically,
> a "grounding" in the Portable Marx, or even one in revoluionary marxism, is
> a pretty weak warrant; folks who have worked through even just the first
> section of Capital 1, or the Grundrisse, etc know there is not simply some
> top-down notion of power. Why do you think the book starts with the
> commodity in itself?

I think _Cap_ starts with the commodity because its fetishization is an
intellectual doorway through which one can glimpse the totality.


John Ransom

> Similarily, while I think your account of the old
> "fetters bursting assunder" (from the Preface, which is, again, a sound
> bite version of his political economy) is actually fine, I don't see how it
> reveals a "repressive hypothesis".

> In short, I think you are conflating
> two things: one, a claim that there is a productive and actually complex
> conflict or struggle between emerging forces and relations of production,
> with two, an "older" or dominant state which is trying to ward off (or
> indeed "repress") the emergent forces. Two quick things here: one, instead
> of simply saying "state," we should read "mode of production" (a rather
> larger, more differentiated entity/concept). And two, why is any (or just
> this one) account of struggle or conflict necessarily a "repressive
> hypthosesis"? Or if your account is accurate enough, what would be wrong
> with this particular repressive hypothesis of old Beardo's?
> Best,
> Dan
> Daniel Vukovich
> English; Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory
> University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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