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Callinicos, Alex, Against Postmodernism. A Marxist Critique, (Cambridge UK: Polity Press, 1999), pp.

80-87

This very different kind of poststructuralism permitted an orientation on history entirely absent from Derridean textualism. Probably the most lasting contribution of French Nietzscheanism will turn out to be the series of great historical texts in which Foucault explored the constitution of modernity - the Histoire de la folie (1961), Surveillir et punir (1975), and the Histoire de la sexualit (1976, 1984), towards the end of his life by way of a detour through antiquity. The appearance of continuity is, however, misleading. Foucault himself argued that, while always concerned with 'a history of truth', 'an analysis of "truth games (jeux de vrite)", of the games of true and false across which being constitutes itself historically as experience, that is to say as what can and must be thought', his thought had undergone a 'theoretical displacement' from works such of the 1960s such as Les Mots et les choses concerned with 'truth-games in relation to each other' to the genealogical study of 'truth-games in relation to relations of power', in Surveillir et punir and the first volume of the Histoire de la sexualit. This 'displacement' was, however, motivated by more than theoretical considerations. It involved a particular interpretation of May 1968, one which rejected any attempt to see it as a vindication of the classical revolutionary socialist project. Rather, Foucault contended, 'what has happened since 1968, and arguably what made 1968 possible, is profoundly anti-Marxist. 1968 involved the decentralized contestation of power rather than an attempt to replace one set of social relations with another. Any such attempt could only succeed in establishing a new apparatus of power-knowledge in place of the old, as the experience of post-revolutionary Russia showed. Foucault sought to give this argument - in itself hardly original, indeed a commonplace of liberal thought since Tocqueville and Mill - a new inflection by offering a distinctive account of power. Rather than being unitary power is a multiplicity of relations

infiltrating the whole of the social body. Consequently no causal priority can be assigned as it is by Marxism, to the economic base. Moreover, power is productive: it does not operate by repressing individuals, circumscribing their activity, but rather by constituting them - Foucault's main example is the 'disciplinary' institutions such as the prison which emerged in the early nineteenth century. Finally, power necessarily evokes resistance, albeit as fragmentary and decentralized as the powerrelations it contests. This conception of power immediately raises the problem inherent in the Nietzschean critique of the Enlightenment, which uses the latter's own tools. Foucault declares: 'It seems to me that power is "always already there", that one is never "outside" it, that there are no "margins" for those who break with the system to gambol in.' But if this is so, if power is omnipresent, how is it possible, as Foucault did, to write the genealogy of modern disciplinary society? Foucault's answer, in the 1970s at least, seems to involve relating genealogy to the forms of resistance which he argues are intrinsic to power relations. Thus he talks of 'a reactivation of local knowledges - of minor knowledges as Deleuze might call them - in opposition to the scientific hierarchization of knowledges and the effects intrinsic to their power'. But are these 'local know ledges' any more than the oppositional other of the prevailing apparatus of power-knowledge? This is related to the general problem of resistance in Foucault's work, to which a number of commentators have drawn attention. As Hubert Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow observe, 'resistance is both an element of the functioning of power and a source of its perpetual disorder. But where does resistance derive its capacity to be the latter, given the omnipresence of power? Foucault tentatively points towards the body as both the locus of power's operations, and the source of resistance to these operations, but hesitates between conceiving the body as power's malleable raw material, and as a fixed natural essence. This equivocation is symptomatic of what Dreyfus and Rabinow describe as 'a series of dilemmas' in Foucault's work about truth, resistance and power: 'In each

set there is a seeming contradiction between a return to the traditional philosophic view that description and interpretation must ultimately correspond to the way things really are, and a nihilist view that physical reality, the body, and history are whatever we take them to be. One way out of these dilemmas is to adopt a far more thoroughgoing naturalism, one which treats power as a secondary phenomenon. This is the course taken by Deleuze and Guattari in their magnum opus, Capitalisme et schizophrenie. In the first volume, L'Anti-Oedipe (1972), their argument centres on the concept of 'desiring production', reflecting their efforts in the wake of 1968 to marry Marx and Freud. Desire, they claim, is positive, productive, heterogeneous, multiple; social formations differ according to the manner in which they 'code' and 'territorialize' the flux of desire. Presumably as a result of the influence of Foucault (who emphatically rejected 'the Deleuzian concept of desire', the concept of desiring production does not appear in the second volume, Mille plateaux (1980). There it is replaced by a concept bearing a strong family resemblance to the Foucauldian concept of the apparatus (dispositif) uniting 'the said and the unsaid', that of the assemblage (agencement which is used by Deleuze and Guattari to denote the multiplicities of heterogeneous elements ramifying to infinity and spilling over into each other, forming the plateaux whose very form the book seeks to mirror. Deleuze and Guattari continue, however, to insist on the primacy of desire over power: 'Our only differences with Foucault bear on the following points: 1) assemblages do not seem to us first of all power but desire, desire being always assembled, and power a stratified dimension of the assemblage; 2) the diagram [or formal structure of an assemblage] ... has lines of flight which are primary, and are no phenomena of resistance or reaction in an assemblage, but points of creation and of deterritorialization.' In other words, the flux of desire assembling the organic and the inorganic, the human and the natural the discursive and the social, into contingent and changing unities constantly breaking down the boundaries which these unities

constitute, is primary. The tendency to resist the dominant forms of power is not generated by these forms themselves, but arises from desire's natural tendency to overreach itself, to 'deterritorialize'. The difficulties of these position are twofold. First, it seems to involve erecting what looks suspiciously like a version of Lebensphilosophie, in which the desire which overturns and outflanks power is identified with life itself, but with a life which opposes itself to the organic unities of bodies, states, societies. Deleuze and Guattari indeed espouse a 'material vitalism'. Second, this naturalistic metaphysic explains resistance, but at the price of making power itself a mystery. It is true that Mille plateaux contains elaborate accounts of the impulse towards 'territorialization' and 'stratification', of desire's tendency to confine itself within power-relations. But unless one buys the Lebensphilosophie, there is no reason to accept these accounts. Whatever the undeniable splendours of many passages in Deleuze's writings, as a corpus they suggest mainly that the only escape from Foucault's dilemmas lies in adopting a modernized variant of Nietzsche's ontology of the will to power. It would be better to say that this is the only escape so long as one accepts the central Foucauldian thesis of the omnipresence of power. Of the various devices used to insulate this thesis from criticism, perhaps the most important is an appeal to theoretical pluralism. Thus Paul Patton dismisses an attempt of mine at a global comparison between classical Marxism and Foucauldian genealogy as displaying 'a monoperspectivism that turns all theoretical difference' symptomatic of a 'will to totalize', that is, 'a refusal to accept the possibility of difference and discontinuity at the heart of human history, and a corresponding refusal to allow that there can be irreducibly different perspectives, each in its own way critical of existing social reality', a perspective reflecting the will 'to govern a multiplicity of interests' characteristic of 'state philosophy'. This argument rules out by fiat the possibility that Marxian and Foucauldian social theory might be

funndamentally incompatible with one another. The substance of Foucault's and Deleuze's positions is effectively smuggled in under the rise of a methodological preference for pluralism. Marxism, as Patton acknowledges a theory of social totality, is reduced to merely one fragment of an inherently multiple theoretical field, and thereby rendered into material appropriate for incorporation into a Nietzschean perspective which treats the class struggle as one instance of the struggle for domination traversing human history. The rhetoric of difference Patton espouses serves to conceal that the Foucauldian conception of an apparatus of power-knowledge is as much a theory of totality as Marx's. As Dews observes, 'power - often spoken of in the singular - becomes a constitutive subject on the Kantian or Husserlian sense, with the social as its constituted subject. It is perhaps fortunate, therefore, that the claim that any totalization serves some will to power is quite unsupported by argument or evidence, unless one counts Foucault's embarrassing enthusiasm for Andr Glucksmann's worthless Les Maitres penseurs. Patton's defence of Foucault and Deleuze does, however, highlight the political sources of their ideas - the post-1968 rejection by many left intellectuals of any perspective of global social transformation, a reaction to dashed revolutionary hopes and to the rise of the 'new social movements' (feminists, gays, ecologists, black nationalists, etc.). Patton argues that the experience of these movements shows that 'change in existing social relation does not have to be mediated by the totality. The conditions that sustain oppression can be altered piecemeal. This political judgement sums up the evolution of many of the generation of 1968 in the course of the 1970s - from revolutionary groupuscule to single-issue campaigns and then to social democracy, a process which took an especially concentrated form in France because of the sudden and traumatic collapse of the French Communist Party under the impact of Francois Mitterrand's revived Socialist Party. The denunciation of Marxism as the philosophy of the Gulag by the ex-

Maoist nouveaux philosophes in 1976-7 was an event of no intellectual significance but of some political moment, since it marked the transition of the French intelligentsia - marxisant for a generation - into the ranks of social democracy and neo-liberalism. Although Foucault's Nietzschean theory of power-knowledge was an important influence on those abandoning Marxism, the concept of resistance retains in his writings a definite political content, providing a rationale for various oppressed groups resisting their oppression. One sign of the degeneration of French poststructuralism in the 1980s - no doubt a consequence of the climate that has made Paris today, in Anderson's words, 'the capital of European intellectual reaction' - is the evacuation of any political content from the concept of resistance. Thus Lyotard, the author after 1968 of a philosophy of desire analogous to Deleuze's and Guattari's, has come to distrust any form of political action, regarding with suspicion even the eminently moderate student demonstrations in Paris in December 1986. The task has become, not to seek any revolutionary change, or even to articulate the political aspirations of a particular oppressed group, but to 'wage a war on totality; let us be witnesses to the unpresentable; let us activate the differences and save the honour of the name. Despite his stated opposition to 'the complete aestheticization of the political', Lyotard seems to conceive resistance in essentially aesthetic terms. He favours, over the defence of 'natural rights', 'resistance in and through writing as ... inscription which attends to the uninscribable'. Since [...] Lyotard characterizes Postmodern art as involving an attitude to the sublime that no longer (unlike Modernism) regrets the unpresentability of the whole, it is clear that the burden of resistance must now fall on art. Perhaps the limit-point of this degeneration is provided by the work of Jean Baudrillard. To the Foucauldian concept of power as well as the Marxist notion of production he counterposes the idea of seduction unlike them cyclical, reversible, purposeless. The Nietzschean antecedents of this concept are clear enough, as are those of the

related concept of challenge, whose 'only term is the immediacy of a response or of death. Everything linear, including history, has an end; challenge alone is without end since it is indefinitely reversible. The social is the product of the imposition of a linear order upon the cyclical, a process subverted in the consumer society of late capitalism, which is characterized above all by 'hyperreality', the collapse of any distinction between true and false, real and imaginary. The only appropriate form of resistance in these circumstances is the refusal of any political action, which could only succeed in restoring in a perhaps more repressive form the imploding social, but the inert, apathetic absorption of the 'silent majority' in the images showered on them by the mass media: 'withdrawing into the private could well be a direct defiance of the political, a form of actively resisting political manipulation.' [...] It is, however, difficult to see his attack on any form of collective action - with the exception of the terrorism of groups such as the Red Army Fraction, whose 'blind, non-representative, senseless' acts correspond to 'the blind senseless and unrepresentational behaviour of the masses' - as anything more than a facile attempt to trump the Foucauldian concept of resistance with one even further removed from the conventional political strategies of the left. Baudrillard's posturings do not allow him to escape from the same problem confronting Foucault and Deleuze: 'This ... remains a mystery: why does one respond to a challenge? For what reason does one attempt to play better, and feel passionately to answer such an arbitrary injunction? Why indeed? Unless one is prepared to locate the sources of the urge to dominate in the very structure of reality - as in different ways Nietzsche's ontology of the will to power and Deleuze's Lebensphilosophie do - then omnipresent power and resistance and the cycles of challenge and seduction float free, equally unsupported by any cogent argument.