Friday, September 08, 2006

Foucault Redux

According to Richard Wolin, the usual understanding of Michel Foucault as an anti-humanist should be revised. Because, after all, Foucault himself revised his ideas to accomodate humanism. Apparently, he realized the biggest problem with works like Madness and Civilization, and The Order of Things- namely, that they (supposedly) reveal huge systems of control, and then eliminate any possibility to act against them. I once commented to a professor that it bothered me that, if I take Foucault seriously, there's no possibility of a non-alienated social interaction. There's no possible resistance- we become oppressive as soon as we resist in any way other than random acts of violence. People are just innately horrible. This, along with his glib writing style, is why I say that Foucault's books have a sociopathic tone to them. The professor pointed out that Foucault himself worked with prisoners, so he wasn't opposed to all attempts to improve things. I didn't think this was a great answer. But, it is very interesting.

Wolin thinks it shows that Foucault did indeed change his positions later in life, in his actions and in writings that haven't yet been translated into English. This is interesting.

He also notes the strangeness of academic identity politics such as 'queer studies' being so rooted in Foucault, when the man himself thought that, in modernity, 'the soul is the prison of the body', to quote from Punish and Dicsipline. When he talks about abolishing man, in The Order of Things, essentially Foucault is anti-identity politics. (And an interesting note, he's entirely wrong about Darwin in that section.)

Lastly, Wolin has a quote here from an unnamed German friend that is sublime:

"Identity politics: That's what we had in Germany between 1933 and 1945."

No comments: