[Foucault-L] REcent Question

HI Scott, Hi All,

Scott, if it is fair to summarize your position in the following terms. "where is the element/possibility for freedom in the shadow of Foucault's "Discipline and Punish" in which it appears that the 'modern soul' is, in fact, a 'docile body'" then i would like to raise a number of points.
First read, carefully, everything Foucault wrote AFTER Discipline and Punish. THis is an issue that he was continually confronted with and wrestled with after the publication of DP, and he offers a number of possible solutions to it. Including, for example, criticizing himself for focusing too much on repression and domination in his previous analysis of modern power relations. [see for example, "Society Must be Defended"]/
Second, putting all his later thoughts and suggestions aside [although they are of major importance] I believe that part of the answer lies in our very experience of reading Foucault. Foucault wrote each book in order to achieve an effect in his audience. The effect that we experience from DP is a sudden critical awareness of the systems of discipline, domination, repression and normalization that exist in modern western liberal socieites. Obviously then, the eruption of this consciousness is testament to the fact that we are not simply so many, 'docile bodies'. Perhaps, for some of us, this was an accurate description of our lives beforehand, but, if we have looked clearly and understood fully the portrayal he presents, then Foucaults historical and theoretical analysis serves to break down this docility. Foucault presents to us a book like DP as a critique so that we shall be docile, that is, complacent, conventional, uninterested, unaware, no longer! We can never look at our own socieity with quite the same eyes again.
Lastly, id like to speak as a historian as i believe that an understanding of Focuault's historical practice, as well as the practice of history generally, is usful in this context. Despite Focuault opening his book with a grandiose statement about describing the history of the 'modern soul', his analysis/description ends by 1840. He speaks nothing about the 20th C. Thus to say that DP is describing our current social atmosphere is simply wrong. It is describing events from the 17th to the 19th C, he is decribing a delimited historical episode, one that is at least a hundred years behind us, a lot has changed since then, a lot has stayed the same, the question is, in both cases, how much? that is a question that is left open, it is for you to decide. Now, in conclusion, to say something about the practice of history, specifically my own long endeavours in historical research. One thing that one soon learns is that there is something myterious, something ineluctable, something irretrievable, in all the past events that we seek to bring to the light. The days when historians thought they could give a total, objective rendition of the entireity of a past experience is long since gone. As a historian i think Foucault knew very well about this evanescent, protean quality of historical inquiry. In DP, he spoke about a range of social institutions, about a range of social practices, and of the forms brought to bear under their supervision. He spoke about schools, prisons, hospitals, and monastries, but this is not to speak of the universal experience of the totality of a society. There were many people in the past that never went to a school, or a prison, or a hospital or a monastry, there is a limitless churning ocean of lost human voices which have never been inscribed in a single historical document, which never were snared, petrified and filed away by the tentacles of bureacratic machination. Put simply, Foucault as a historian, is not to be thought to be saying in DP, "before the modern era, there were no docial bodies, after the modern era, we are all docile bodies", no serious historian would float such an unbelivable generalization. No he talks about specific events, specific social spaces, a specific historical period, specific social classes, and he uses specific empirical evidence, well aware, as i imagine, of the endless silent depths of lost human experience flowing beneath the archives.


"What good is a book that does not even carry us beyond all books?"
Nietzsche, 'The Gay Science'.

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