Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Foucult

Not surprisingly, the new translations of Michel Foucault's writings on the Iranian revolution have been largely ignored or dismissed by academics. It's a shame because Foucault's relative hatred for modernity is swallowed a little too easily, as is his disinterest in women, if not outright misogyny. The "Foucult", to coin a phrase is one of the stranger aspects of modern North American academe- more a symptom than a fad. But, a symptom of what?

5 comments:

Pantiespantiespanties said...

I'm just starting out in academia, and while I've heard of Foucault previously, I have never read him (I'm intelligent, not intellectual). I am now reading a book (I'd like to keep mum about the subject matter for privacy reasons), in which the author uses Foucault's argument that the Panopticon is a model for modern power to describe a particular gov't at a particular time.

Given my reflexive anti-authoritarian tendencies, reading a description of a state's citizens as inmates of a prison with an invisible Overseer resonates with my inner hippie.

do you think Foucault is full of crap? He's popping up a lot in my readings.

Hiromi

Rufus said...

Claire's been saying the same thing about him coming up in all of her classes. It really is a cult in many departments. I think part of my problem with Foucault is in how uncritically he's been made into yet another big Daddy figure in the academy.

But, the short answer is yes, I think he's full of crap.

The medium answer is:
His history is full of holes, distortions and outright lies. When pressed about this, he would claim not to be a historian. Okay, but his philosophy is also extremely weak and self-contradictory in most regards. All the good parts are stolen outright from Nietzsche or Erving Goffman. And since his theories rely on examples that are often fudged or even made up, it weakens the philosophy.

Secondly, living with an incredible woman who suffers from a particuarly difficult form of manic depression, I find "Madness and Civilization" to be deplorable.

Mostly though, I find him depressing. There's an underlying sociopathy to Foucault that bothers me. His authorial voice is that of a psychopath. He can see no possible non-alienated social interaction, he offers no possible way out of our power-hungry sickness aside from random acts of S/M violence. Nothing good could have come from the Enlightenment, modernity is total repression... it's no wonder he embraced the Ayatollah... Humans repulse him and women don't seem to exist in his world. It's perhaps unfair gossip that Foucault willingly infected strangers with HIV after contracting the disease, but again, it would perfectly suit the man who comes across in the writings and biographies.

Here's a good critique of Foucault from the left:
http://www.newstatesman.com/Ideas/200406280015

However, the best critique I've read of Foucault was the short book "Foucault" by Jose Marquior. Just utterly devastating, and absolutely mandatory reading for any grad student in the humanities. (It's only about 100 pages, so I'm not being too demanding)

Incidentally, Foucault actually taught at UB for a few years, so I take courses taught by people who put him up on their couches!

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