Foucault roundup #3

Foucault round the web.

1. A slightly weirdy description of “9 bad boys of philosophy” describes Foucault as a “Marilyn Manson” like figure, frequenting San Francisco bathhouses and being famous as the only philosopher to die of AIDS. Um, OK, not quite what I would choose as a summary, but I celebrate your choice.

2. Dr. Crazy in the Midwest offers an example of close reading of the book Hallucinating Foucault, which I have not read. But that I would be happy to if I had a copy. But what is a close reading? Dr. Crazy sez:

You’ve got actually to deal with the language. You’ve got to:

  1. Provide context for the passage. Who’s speaking? Who’s the addressee? Is there another assumed “reader” than the one to whom the passage is addressed? What is the situation in the book at this moment?
  2. Actually look at the language. What makes this particular passage significant? Why should anybody care about it more than about any other passage that might be chosen?
  3. You’ve got to relate what you have to say about language and context to your broader claim about the text at hand. You can’t just assume the reader will “get it.” The reader, rarely, “gets it” without some instruction from the writer.

He/she goes on to say this is more than just underlining the cool passages. In fact, that’s right, I have banned highlighters from my graduate seminars and students have to submit annotated copies of the readings they’ve done each week. I learn more from those annotated articles with scrawls and marginalia than I would just by looking at their written formal responses and commentaries.

There seems to be a disconnect between the thought process while reading, to the explaining on the page, perhaps because of the way students are taught to write (no first person, no opinions, convoluted sentences and word choice they would never otherwise use).

3. The Brooklyn Rail gives some quote-lets on oppression and finds some alignment between Levi-Strauss and Foucault. The MF quote chosen comes from Remarks on Marx (a somewhat overlooked slim volume but actually a rich interview):

At the very moment in which this object, “madness,” took shape, there was also constructed the subject judged capable of understanding madness. To the construction of the object madness, there corresponded a rational subject who “knew” about madness and who understood it…I tried to understand this kind of collective, plural experience which was defined between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries and which was marked by the interaction between the birth of “rational” man who recognizes and “knows” madness, and madness itself as an object susceptible of being understood and determined.

You see here MF talking about the rise of a rationality, its object of analysis (madness) and its practical-political outcome (understanding and management). Certainly power-knowledge, but also the beginnings of the end of mastery or sovereignty and the embrace of modern management philosophy (risks, control, knowledge, surveillance, bio-politics, etc.).

4. Foucault slammed as being historically inaccurate by Chad:

The more I’m involved in studying the history of gender and sexuality, the stronger my feelings against Foucault’s “History of Sexuality.” It really is amazing how often and how thoroughly Foucault’s central arguments are roundly defeated with even the slighest historical research nowadays, much like Chuck Norris’ last devestating roundhouse kick to his adversaries, and yet the Emperor has still not been laughed out of the public square. At this rate, in a year’s time I’m going to suicide bomb Foucault’s hometown.

When asked in the comments what this means, Chad sez:

It’s just about every aspect of the social constructionist argument that irritates me to no end – and I dearly wish historians would just do away with it. Bad philosophy does not somehow make for good history, especially when it actually doesn’t jibe with the historical record.

Don’t tell Chad but Ian Hacking’s book The Social Construction of What? would probably be useful here…

5. Some Lenten reflections on biopolitics in the Bible:

I spoke earlier of Paul’s biopolitics – such that the passage to redemption is corporal. Here is yet another perspective on this biopolitics. Agamben argues, at the conclusion of Homo Sacer, contra Foucault, that there is no escape from the biopolitical predicament: every body is always already a biopolitical body. Thus, the “new economy of bodies and pleasures” that Foucault gestures towards at the end of History of Sexuality 1 is not really conceivable. Foucault, as far as Agamben is concerned, is not critical enough with his concepts. It is not merely a new relation between body and pleasure that is necessary but a, in some sense, a new body, a new corporal destiny. Further, this new body cannot be the return to an old body, there can be no nostalgia for a pre-biopolitical existence — “There is no return from the camps to classical politics” (187).

In Paul we find something like the possibility of a new corporal destiny, not in terms of an escape from bodily existence – as it sometimes sounds in 2 Corinthians – but in terms of a participation in another future for the body: “we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who died and was raised for him” – these are the words that immediately precede our text.

Verrry interesting, but again this wretched concern with Agamben. But it is certainly one way to respond to bio-politics: “There is here the possibility of not just a new relation between body and world, but the possibility of a new body, of a new site for a biopolitical resistance to biopolitics.”


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