Foucault vs. Baudrillard, round 10

Knockout punch for Baudrillard? Accuses Foucault of being non-normative and prescriptive and therefore powerless.

However this leads me to another problem with Foucault’s theories which has been commented on many times before. Namely, that it does not begin from any normative basis. This has two consequences which are extremely important:

(1) His language mirrors that which it criticises. Baudrillard put it extremely succinctly – provided you’ve wasted enough time figuring out how decipher post-structuralist jargon:

“Foucault’s discourse is a mirror of the power relations he describes. Its strength and seduction lie there, and not in its ‘truth’ index….. No, its strength and its seduction are in the analysis which unwinds the subtle meanderings of its object, describing it with tactile and tactical exactness, where seduction feeds analytical force and WHERE LANGUAGE ITSELF GIVES BIRTH TO THE OPERATION OF NEW POWERS. Such is also the operation of myth, right down to the symbolic effectiveness described by Levi-Strauss. Foucault’s is not therefore a discourse of truth but a mythic discourse in the strong sense of the word, and I secretly believe that it has no illusions about the effects of truth it produces.” (Baudrillard, Forget Foucault p.30 – My Emphasis)

The point is that since Foucault’s theories claim to be ones of praxis if his discourse does in fact directly “mirror the power relations he describes” the solutions he proposes will necessarily be of this nature also. Here’s an analogy: imagine all you ever learnt was a very strict variant of neo-classical economic theory and you wished to help build a socialist economy. You’d necessarily be unable to do so because the very language which you use to organise economic functions already contains too many presuppositions. Similarly Foucault’s language is one of “power” and yet the problems he highlights are also ones of “power”. Thus the term “power” is completely ambivalent – it is both good AND bad. (Towards the end of his life he began to realise this, especially in his last few lecture series, but these are generally ignored in most people’s use of Foucault’s thought).

From a discussion in the Left Business Observer (LBO) list.

One Response

  1. i think (and it´s quite beyond the point) that the their view (foucautl and baudrillard) is completely different as far as simulacra concern. actually, not their view, but their understanding of the concept. so foucault could be quite positive about it (inspired or followed by deleuze). is somebody with me?

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