14 Following


Currently reading

Vineland (Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin)
Thomas Pynchon
Tristes Tropiques
John Weightman, Doreen Weightman, Patrick Wilcken, Claude Lévi-Strauss
Richard III
William Shakespeare
The Dwarf
Alexandra Dick, Pär Lagerkvist
The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen
Wilfred Owen, Cecil Day-Lewis
Richard Wolin
Giotto to Dürer: Early Renaissance Painting in the National Gallery
Jill Dunkerton, Susan Foister, Dillian Gordon, Nicholas Penny
Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics
Hubert L. Dreyfus, Paul Rabinow
Gravity's Rainbow
Thomas Pynchon
A Gravity's Rainbow Companion: Sources and Contexts for Pynchon's Novel
Steven Weisenburger
Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison - Michel Foucault NEW REVIEW [it took more than a few days to get back to this -- I hope someone reads it... lol]

I will add only a few additional comments to what I’ve already written (below and in the comments sections). It will be enough and more than enough.

I came at this book with decades of prejudice built-up – and it showed in my (essentially failed) reading of Madness and Civilization. I knew that Foucault was a fake and a charlatan before I ever cracked a page. So to speak…

So one can imagine my surprise at discovering that he was, in fact, a philosophical genius of sorts, and that this book – though difficult, slow, craggy, like “cracking nuts”, paragraph by paragraph, was full of insight and sense and interest. To all those who are skeptical of opening up a front here, and it is a time consuming front…, I have to say that “I, too, am a recovering Foucault-hater.”

That does not mean that I am persuaded.

(1) To echo Habermas’ complaint, Foucault (like many of the postmodernists) equivocates between irony or literature and serious work – and he does not always know the difference himself. His verbal cleverness, the frequent use of reversals and antitheses, isocola, polarities, etc…, often reveal NOT the underlying truth, but an addiction to illusion and pretense. It is rhetorical

… none of which takes away from the sheer surface brilliance of this book.

-- and as a reader of Plato’s Theaetetus and Sophist, I *fully* understand the philosophical and metaphysical implications of ‘the rhetorical’ – in fact, I teach a course on this topic.

(2) Worse, Foucault equivocates repeatedly on this question that “Nathan” and I were discussing regarding the law of contradiction. Taking pages out of the Philebus of Plato, Foucault loves to talk about the minute parts, exhaustive, continuous, almost infinite divisions and partitions into which his moral continua (and the physical continua, like body, as well) can be partitioned, divided, apportioned, etc. – without ever coming out and saying whether or not the division is infinite or not. That “almost” is an equivocation of huge proportions, and it is deceitful. One must take a stand.

(3) Again, much rests in Foucault on his claims about “power-knowledge”. But what actually happens (in this book, at least) is that Foucault suggests the notion that knowledge is a function of power – and then seeks to ground this notion with an utterly fraudulent move (see my commentary below on induction) – and then operates from here on out as if his principal point had been established. Since very few people will have the time or patience to track the beast (the fallacy) to its lair – he pulls it off and persuades. But moves of this sort are (by definition) sophistical. And I have unmasked him.

(At least so far… I now have a copy of Power & Knowledge, the interviews, and will be interested to see if there is a better justification put forth there – though I am skeptical that I will find it.)

These are decisive objections.

And yet none of them matter…

Let me explain:

If Foucault relied on historical data QUA historical data, then his project would have been an utter failure. But my contention is that he uses ‘historical data’ as myth – like Rousseau’s story of le bon sauvage in the Second Discourse – like the story line in a Utopia or, in Foucault’s case, in a ‘fictionalized’ dystopia. It does not matter whether the history is true or not. Even when he relies on real facts, they are ‘falsified’ in their proportionality. Minor figures are treated as “turning points of great moment”, incidents that no one would remember (and quite rightly) are treated as “symbols” of deeper truths (a use, or rather, an abuse of history that goes back to Dilthey, I believe)… all these are clues, in my opinion, that Foucault did not intend us (or at least, in his more lucid moments would not have intended us) to take his history as ‘historical’ – it is simply the plot he weaves, a pseudo-history (made up of bits and pieces of the Real, perhaps…, but nonetheless….), that forms the warp and matrix of a philosophical nightmare that he is seeing beneath the pattern of modernity… and it is a nightmare that is anything but fictional… Indeed, the events of the past 15 years, the advent of the ‘national security state’, the ‘surveillance state’, the increasing, encroaching normalization of the Schmittian “State of Exception’ – the Society of the Spectacle – not only under Bush, but now continuing under a “Liberal” Presidency, all show that Foucault was prescient.

Thus, those historians who criticize him for being ahistorical are missing the point entirely.

Now of course, it was Foucault’s obligation to indicate clearly to the reader that his account is only ‘history as such…’, and I do not believe (though I could be wrong) that he does so. Maybe the postmodernist in him thinks irony is the default position, and that he doesn’t have to say anything…, or maybe he was not quite sure himself… but that is, in the final analysis, a relatively minor criticism…

(*Just as an aside, I believe that I can prove that Rousseau has given his readers a massive hint that his account of the noble savage in the Second Discourse is, indeed, a myth (and not to be taken as history) – a topic which is controversial in the literature on Rousseau – and that he adopts this method from Plato. I thought once I would publish a paper on this, but as Rousseau is outside my field, and I would have had to read and master a bibliography outside my area of knowledge, I never did.)

I must pause here and add what I believe might be a comment of some significance – for I have found (I believe) a major flaw in MF’s thinking.

I no longer think it is just to criticize Foucault for a lack of historical accuracy – for I do not think that he intends his work to be taken as “historical”, despite appearances. I will develop this idea at greater length when I have finished the book. But I need first to take up an issue that I had raised in the comment section several weeks ago – and which concerns Foucault’s famous thesis about Power and Knowledge.

In my opening “comment”, I showed that Foucault had misinterpreted (pp. 41f.) the ancient notion of the “ordeal”, which he takes as “creating” truth, rather than simply “reflecting” it. He simply doesn’t know his history well enough, and his position is foolish.

Now, in the chapter on “Panopticism” (225ff.), he argues that the empirical sciences were born, in the later Middle Ages, out of the politico-juridico processes of investigation exemplified by the Inquisition. These “investigative techniques” were actually developed, he says, in the 12th-13th centuries as a method for establishing “truth”, and thus replacing the older method of “creating” truth through the “joust” or the “ordeal”.

This is absurd. The empirical sciences were born out of the development of the theory and practice of induction
(See A.C. Crombie, though I can supply a wealth of material on this: http://www.amazon.com/History-Science-Augustine-Galileo/dp/0486288501/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1358049270&sr=1-3),
which went back to the time of Roger Bacon, who got it (via the Arabs) from the Greek Commentary tradition -- that is, from the C.A.G.:

which developed these ideas in the context of Aristotle’s distinction between analysis and synthesis in geometry. The idea of analysis (which is clearly explained at the very beginning of Aristotle’s Physics I, however, was derived from the Socratic dialectic (itself a development of the sophistic/rhetorical dialectic of the late 5th cen.), which is analytical (and consciously so), not synthetic.

The theory of ideas was then postulated by Plato to explain why analysis works – and does not lead to an infinite division. This is incontrovertible.

Then, to adduce Francis Bacon, as Foucault does on p. 226, is really a blunder, for Francis Bacon was actually one of the very few people who recognized that induction had its roots in the Socratic dialectic (see Novum Organon, 1.105). Foucault simply doesn’t know what he is talking about. To seek to reduce ‘analysis’ to a juridico-investigative root is simply ignorance.

But if this postulated origin falls, then so too falls his theory that knowledge is simply power.

(That said -- I am really impressed by this book -- and think it is a major work, and I'm quite embarrassed to have missed its importance all these years. Consider the above a small attempt to make amends... in my typically Socratic fashion, of course....)