Re: Foucault and capital

While there is a limit to how much I can say on this matter without
revisiting books I read several years ago, in response to Philip's comments
I would start by making a point about Warren Montag's recent book, which I
read recently.

I think you do make valid points about Warren's book not addressing
Macherey's recent work. The point I would make though is that in that book
Macherey's work is discussed in the context of his collaborations with
Althusser, so the later works by Macherey are not directly relevant. He did
write an introductory essay to the recent collection of Macherey's writings
on philosophy, _In a Materialist Way_, which is more focused on Macherey's
work but also seems to focus more on the relations between Macherey's work
and that of Althusser. I would have to revisit the chapters of Macherey's
_The Object of Literature_ that I have read and read the remaining chapters
before I could say anything sensible about it, but from what I have gained
in conversations with Warren I would think that he considers Macherey's
method to have remained fairly consistent since 1966 even if preoccupations
or style might have changed. Again I'm not a Macherey or Althusser scholar,
unlike Montag, but rather someone who has gained a lot from reading those
works for my work on British intellectual history, so I don't feel really
that qualified to give any authoritative account. I guess I would say that
from Montag's perspective, at least in the works I've read of his on
Foucault, he does not imagine the differences between Althusser and Foucault
to be as great as some others would.

Resch's book is completely different in method from that of Montag. It
attempts to construct a social theory that would answer all of the recent
criticisms of marxism by producing some sort of super marxism derived from
aspects of the works of Althusser, Terray, Macherey, Balibar, Poulantzas,
Godelier, and others. There is no attempt in Montag's work to do anything
more than highlight Althusser's theory of reading and the materiality of
ideology and to use these in literary analysis, as well as to use that
theory to give a materialist reading of Spinoza. He doesn't attempt to
produce some sort of super sophisticated Marxist social theory or
epistemology such as an "Althusserianism" of the 1970s sort, and is quite
critical of accounts to do so in the new book. He does discuss concepts and
methods that might be considered "Althusserian" in derivation, but does not
seem to be producing an Althusserian social theory. Perhaps it is a
literary theory, or just a method of analysis.

> 2. McInerny wrote "This approach contrasts with that of many other
> readers, such as Resch, who emphasised the structuralist aspect and
> attempted to construct a sociological system out of Althusser's work."
> Montag may not share Resch's notion of this structuralist aspect, but,
> according to my notes, Montag and Resch share a hostility to Foucault
> and "other postmodern 'irrationalists' who reject, Resch says, "economic
> determination and class struggle as explanatory principles" and show a
> "hostility to Marxism ... whose significance can hardly be understated"
> (Althusser, 5.) Stuart Elden says that Montag does not repudiate
> Foucault as a relativist. Perhaps I misread his 1988 essay
> "What is at Stake in the Debate on Postmodernism?" or maybe he changed
> his mind since then. Also it may depend on which Foucault is involved.
> Althusserians like Anthony Easthope appreciate the Foucault who puts
> together knowledge and power, but they dismiss as functionalist the
> Foucault who says that disciplinary techniques constitute the subject.

That old essay of Montag's, although justly well-known as a critique of
Jameson, is very old. I can't remember the exact details regarding Foucault
in that essay. The main aspects I remember was that the debate on
'postmodernism' -- as a 'postmodern condition' that we have somehow
'arrived' at -- was the main object of criticism. There is some sort of
leninist argument regarding the 'stakes' of the debate on postmodernism in
that paper but to be honest I cannot remember the details and as I do not
own a copy of the book in which it appears would have to visit my library.
Balibar did criticise 'irrationalism' in an article in _New Left Review_ in
the late 1970s that was directed at _Anti-Oedipus_ and those influenced by
it. It is true that many remain hostile in attitude towards Marxism as a
body of theory. The terrain of struggle has shifted so much though that
defence of Marxism per se is perhaps ineffectual, and in any case many are
now rethinking their relationship to the marxist tradition and we are seeing
all kinds of productive encounters between marxism and post-structuralism
these days, despite the persistence of some reactionary views. This might
mean that Marxism as an ideology has lost its bite. Re your reading of
Easthope -- of whose work I'm not familiar -- while his work might derive in
some ways from Althusser's it would seem to be very different from that
represented in Montag's article on Althusser and Foucault in _Yale French
Studies_ No. 88, which was very positive regarding Foucault's work on
discipline and in many ways saw it as a positive development relative to
Althusser's work on ideology and the subject.

> 4. McInerny says, "I think it is fair to say that few influenced
> by Althusser would consider themselves 'relativists', with the exception
> perhaps of Steve Resnick and Richard Wolff." In literary circles, those
> influenced by Althusser and liable to be charged with relativism by the
> realists you mention also include Tony Bennett, Toby Miller, and, to an
> extent, Catherine Belsey, and John Frow -- no minor groups. Of course,
> they may not consider themselves relativists but the reason may be that
> they don't
> believe that anything goes, which is one meaning of relativism, but not
> the only one.

Certainly there are many who are influenced by Althusser's work in one
respect or another. I'm familiar with Bennett's and Frow's works, but I
thought that they stopped working on Macherey's stuff a little while back.
Bennett's book on the museum as an exhibitionary complex I thought was
excellent, but did not seem to be presenting a distinctively 'Althusserian'
view. I was perhaps too loose in my language: what I should have said was
'few who would consider their method and concepts to be in some sense
distinctively Althusserian would consider themselves relativists'. Although
the usefulness of the notion 'influence' is limited, we can see that many
theorists now, including many who would consider themselves 'foucaultian'
rather than 'althusserian' in the manner I've just suggested, have adopted
concepts, methods, and positions that we can trace back to the work of
Althusser in some important respect. For example, Alun Munslow's work in
postmodernist historiography shows some marks of Althusser's work, such as
the use of the concept of interpellation, but he doesn't explicitly describe
his work as 'Althusserian' in any signficant way. I meant only to suggest
that the attempts to construct a special form of Marxism, a 'structural
Marxism' etc, out of Althusser's work have largely been abandoned except the
'postmodern Marxism' of Resnick and Wolff, and that the works of Resch,
Benton, etc seem to be something of a dead-end, and that the main thing that
might be considered distinctively 'Althusserian' in the recent literature is
the emphasis on the materiality of discourse and the method of symptomatic
reading outlined in Montag's work, and the works of the various people (such
as Balibar and Macherey) who continue to work within this form of analysis.

I'm of course interested in reading more about Althusser in respect to
literary theory, and especially relative to Foucault, and if you can
recommend any special journal issues etc that I might have missed, I'd be
very pleased to be informed of them.

Thank you for your interesting comments. I do feel though that I am taking
up too much space on a Foucault list with issues regarding Althusser, which
may be of interest but would suggest the need for a separate list. I am
interested though to hear more of member's thoughts on the relations between
Ian Hacking's positions and those of Foucault, if anyone can say more.

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