“Marx does not exist” — Foucault
When Foucault made this comment (in
Remarks on Marx “Questions on Geography”*) what he had in mind was that our image and expectations of Marx served to obscure whatever it was that Marx may have originally said. We viewed him always through a lens of our own preferences and created our own little marx’s: a revolutionary, a philosopher, a scary radical etc.
We should not understand this as a clever-clever “what is an author” claim, much less a satisfied pronouncement on the desirably difficult state of affairs of approaching Marx, but rather the recognition of the struggle over appropriation of an author.
Now with the development of “the cheap omniscience of everyday opinion” as Heidegger once said, “which likes to claim that it is the standard for all thinking and reflection” we can see the same thing happening with Foucault.
I already posted and have sometimes linked back to a list of claims about Foucault that taken as whole are deeply contradictory (he is both a total has-been and massively influential, go two common claims), he is a structuralist, a post-structuralist, a postmodernist and definitely not a postmodernist, a “Francophoney.” He’s a philosopher, a historian, a sociologist, even a “cartographer” and “archivist” (Deleuze).
When we’re faced with this list we can dismiss it easily enough in its particularity, by choosing our favorite description or adding our own (mine is “historian”), but taken as a list in and of itself, we get the same effect: Foucault does not exist. Neither a single Foucault, nor a possible composite Foucault, or even many Foucaults, for they are not equal or identical even if they are the same.
What is the effect of this creative destruction? Foucault’s comments were offered in response to critics who thought that he should be either acknowledging Marx more often than he did, or using him more often. In either case, Marx should play a bigger role in your work, they said. Foucault’s response therefore, is to say, which Marx? Perhaps he is in fact paramount in my work, but you do not recognise him.
Foucault liked the fact that he was not pinned down or given one easy place on the intellectual map. To not be pinned down is in one sense to be free, and to not be categorized is either to invent a fresh category or to get beyond categories in some original way.
I personally don’t understand what it gets you to call Foucault a postmodernist or whatever, but I too rather like the fact that Foucault does not exist.
* “As far as I’m concerned, Marx doesn’t exist. I mean, the sort of entity constructed around a proper name, signifying at once a certain individual, the totality of his writings, and an immense historical process deriving from him.” Questions on Geography reproduced in our book, p. 181.