Foucault roundup #2

Today’s Foucault discussions from around the web include a midterm answer on The Order of Things, a MA on the grudge match between de Beauvoir and Foucault and whether Foucault tried to have it both ways by refusing to commit to political action (did he?);

1. Someone is taking an exam on Foucault and was asked this question:

In his writings, Foucault often offers many lists as approaches to understanding complex concepts. Choose one of these “lists,” summarize it, and discuss its importance.

How did they answer it? They chose the famous “four similitudes” from the Prose of the World chapter in the Order of Things:

The similitudes represent different forms of similarity within a group of thing. Conventia represents a resemblance that symbolizes a spatial connection between the objects. In juxtaposition to this is the similitude of aemulatio which represents how things can be similar without being adjacent to each other. Both analogy and sympathy exemplify the similarities while exhibiting he differences between the objects; analogy exemplifies the differences through the comparison while sympathies exhibit the similarities between the physical qualities which displaces the interior characteristics (Order 18-23).

2. Another student looking for an MA topic is contemplating a Simone de Beauvoir vs. Foucault “grudge match”:

Like all of you, I love Foucault. What one always runs into when reading Foucault, however, is the uneasy feeling that he was too careful about the context of ideas to endorse any political project. In the essays our reading group did this term, we ran across numerous areas wherein he seemed to be endorsing vaguely leftist liberation movements, but he refused to identify himself with any specific project. To his credit, he was always careful to explain himself; he viewed his role as elucidating power relations, not being a “piece on a chessboard.”

That all being said, a refusal to engage is a choice unto itself (thank you Existentialism 101.) And when Foucault was talking about things like sex and gender, all he could really say is that ethics have changed, values have changed, identities have changed, and let’s talk about some of the changes.

3.  Someone arguing obliquely that Foucault “pushed” a notion that mental illness does not exist:

If I understand the argument, if the brain is not “sick” with a virus or cancer or something along those lines — in other words, if a physiological test reveals a “healthy” brain like a healthy heart and set of lungs, there is no mental illness. And all categorizations have been somewhat arbitrary exercises of power (which thesis was pushed hard by the likes of Foucault).

My solution which both recognizes mental illness but tries to act as a check against the use of such categorization to enforce social norms is to decouple the notion of mental illnesses and social norms. Having a mental illness, even if it doesn’t involve physiological sickness like being infected with a virus, ought to be understood as analogous to physical sickness. Finding out someone is mentally ill ought to be like finding out they have high cholesterol or diabetes. Such says nothing about a person’s character or social norms.

2 Responses

  1. A curious reading of Foucault, as you hint here, to suggest that he wasn’t politically engaged. What was the GIP, if not precisely this? He was even drawn on/into gay liberation discourse, although with obvious reservations about the confessional structure of the politics of ‘coming out’, the logic of identity politics, etc. Sounds a bit like the Nancy Fraser, Charles Tayler, Jurgen Habermas criticisms to me, and we all know what Deleuze had to say about such criticisms…

    Ben G

  2. […] only we could respond to Kittler by pointing out that nobody writes like Foucault, that nobody manages so much in such a little space, that nobody openly works through problems in […]

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