John Ransom makes the point specifically, and I'll try and make it
generally: this whole materialist/idealist distinction isn't going to
get us very far. First off, materialism has a long, rich, and
complicated history that did *not* start with Marx, or Foucault, or even
with Newton. It goes back a long way to Democritus. The real point I'm
trying to make is that each of these thinkers, and any thinker in
general worth reading, if they wish to deal with issues of ontology,
will offer their own _reformulation_, as opposed to simply "taking a
side." Of course, with Marx, we have the Dialectial Materialism, which
is maddening to understand. Just ask anyone today who considers
themself a "Marxist," and they'll be hard pressed to give you an
answer. If they do have an answer, then ask another one and get a
contradictory formulation. This is not a critique of Marx, so much as
one of the few parts of his project (incl. the quasi-Hegelian sense of
history. Does history take its course all by itself or does someone or
a group of people have to step in and "make" history follow Marxist
understanding of Feudal-->Capitalist-->Communism?) that make him still
worth reading and arguing about. As for Foucault, I've read less, but
as I wrote earlier I'm concerned with his understanding of the "soul."
I think he uses the term with a liberal number of grains of salt, and as
someone else mentioned the "soul" is a social construction that serves
to re-inscribe standards of power, discipline, and knowledge. Not only
would Foucault deny the "soul" as a matter of metaphysical reality, but
so is any conception or attempt at focusing our subjective realites
around terminology such as "person," "self," "individual," or "I." Of
course, we operate by a vague sense of these terms, indeed, we seem to
have to, but are we really expressing agency, ever, or are we simply
determined by a vague social reality and a quite literal
imposition/construction of varying episteme, i.e., "ways of knowing"?

Ahh, when I sat down to write this it was going to be a glittering,
cohesive work of prose that would stun you all. Alas, this hasn't been
the case. Thanks for your time.


James Parr
University of Virginia
Department of English

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