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Porter Institute for Poetics and Semiotics

Modernism, Postmodernism, and Social Theory: A Comparison of Althusser and Foucault
Author(s): Robert Paul Resch
Reviewed work(s):
Source: Poetics Today, Vol. 10, No. 3 (Autumn, 1989), pp. 511-549
Published by: Duke University Press
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Modernism, Postmodernism,
and
Social
Theory:
A
Comparison
of
Althusser and Foucault
Robert Paul Resch
History,
Texas A&M
In this
essay*
I will
inquire
into the theoretical
positions
of two
major
figures
in
postwar
French and
European
intellectual
history,
Louis
Althusser and Michel
Foucault,
in
light
of current debates over the
"crisis of modernism" and the much-heralded
supersession
of the
latter
by
a still
amorphous entity
known as
postmodernism.
I will
argue
that Althusser's work and the structural Marxist school which derives
from it
represent
a modernist
approach
to social
theory,
which,
far
from
being
a
symptom
of the exhaustion of modernism
(or Marxism),
demonstrates the
potential
of Marxist modernism. Of
course,
the in-
fluence of Althusser on
contemporary
debates in social
theory
has
diminished
dramatically
in recent
years,
but I take this to be a
problem
requiring
an
explanation
rather than the "natural" outcome of the in-
ternal
development
of social
theory. By providing
an
interpretation
of
Althusser as a
modernist,
I
hope
to
problematize
the
eclipse
of both
modernism and Marxism and lift the cloak of
legitimacy
from what is
rapidly
becoming
a
postmodernist
anti-Marxist
orthodoxy.
*Defending
Althusser means never
having
to look
very
far for an
argument.
I
would like to thank
MartyJay, Doug
Kellner,
and
Larry
Hickman for their
rigorous
readings
of earlier
drafts,
as well as
my colleagues
in the
Interdisciplinary Group
for Historical
Literary Study
at Texas A&M
University
for their
stimulating
com-
ments on certain of the
arguments put
forward here. For
remaining
errors and
my
continued obtuseness I
have, alas,
only myself
to blame.
Poetics
Today
10:3
(Fall 1989).
Copyright
? 1989
by
The Porter Institute for Poetics
and Semiotics. ccc
0333-5372/89/$2.50.
512 Poetics
Today
10:3
My reading
of Althusser
necessarily
entails a defense of a modern-
ist form of historical
knowledge. Universally deprecated by postmod-
ernist
thinkers,
historical
thinking
has also been the
target
of much
modernist
criticism,
particularly
from the
major figures
of French
structuralism,
including
both Althusser and Foucault.' Until the late
sixties,
Althusser and Foucault shared a similar modernist
critique
of
traditional historicism influenced
by
structuralism and
by
the French
philosophy
of science associated with the names of Bachelard and
Canguilhem.
Both
rejected
linear
continuity,
autonomous or unified
human
agency, homogeneous
historical
context,
the evolution-realiza-
tion of a historical or transhistorical
subject,
the existence of
any
direct or reductive form of
causality
or
totality,
and the idea that
historical
knowledge
is
self-evidently
true or
complete.
For Althus-
ser, however,
the
objective
of this
critique
was to revive Marxism and
historical
thinking,
to establish the
scientificity
of
history
within an
original reworking
of the ideas of science and historical
discourse,
and to elaborate a form of historical
causality
which would do
justice
to the
complexity
of social formations and human
subjectivity
within
a nonreductive framework of economic determination.
Foucault,
on
the other
hand,
was
deeply suspicious
of
history
as a
methodological
strategy capable
of
transcending
the
devastating
criticisms structural-
ist modernism had leveled
against
it. Foucault was never convinced
by
Althusser's
attempt
to overcome the limitations of classical Marxism as
a
totalizing, teleological,
and reductive discourse. Foucault's
project,
influenced
by
the irrationalist anti-aesthetic of Artaud and
Bataille,
was to
investigate
the
exclusionary conceptual
and institutional struc-
tures of human
knowledge
without recourse to
any "repressive"
formal
theory
of
history
or
meaning.2
The fundamental tension between modernism and
postmodernism
parallels
the contrast between
critique
and renewal in the
thought
of Althusser and Foucault.
Modernism,
to construct a
concept ap-
propriate
to
phenomena
as diverse as
cubism,
Saussurian
linguistics,
relativity,
Freudian
psychoanalysis, Ulysses,
the theater of
Brecht,
and
1.
Narrowly
defined,
that
is,
confined to those whose work derives its
inspiration
directly
from the
linguistics
of
Saussure,
the term structuralism would exclude both
Foucault and Althusser. Such a narrow definition seems
wrong-headed
to me,
however,
since it obscures the central fact that what was
going
on in France in the
sixties was
nothing
less than a modernist revolution in
philosophy
and the social
sciences.
Broadly
defined,
in terms of a
general
emphasis
on abstract structural
determinations and an
antipositivist epistemology,
structuralism serves more or less
adequately
to describe the
major
intellectual currents of the
period.
2. For Foucault's relation to the tradition which runs from Sade
through
Bataille,
see Stoekl 1985. See also Allan
Megill's
(1985)
fine treatment of Foucault's aestheti-
cism.
Resch
*
Althusser and Foucault 513
the films of
Eisenstein,
is an attitude towards
knowledge, representa-
tion,
and
experience
marked
by
a double tension. As it
emerged
in
the
early
twentieth
century,
modernism
emphasized
a new awareness
of the structured
complexity
of the
object,
a
complexity
that rendered
the
object
world more abstract and
disturbingly
less familiar than it
had been to the
nineteenth-century
mind. At the same
time,
the mod-
ernist
thinker, artist,
or writer evinced an increased consciousness of
the formal structures which
shaped
his or her
perception
and
repre-
sentation of the
object,
as well as the limitations and
potentials
which
resulted from
methodological
self-awareness.3 This first
tension,
be-
tween the structured
object
and the
perceptual apparatus
of the sub-
ject,
was inscribed in a
second,
social tension between a new and seem-
ingly
inexhaustible
growth
of
technology
and
productive capacity,
and
social relations of class
inequality
and
escalating
tensions between im-
perialist powers,
both outcomes of the
rapid
internal and international
expansion
of
capitalism during
the nineteenth
century.
Modernism
was
decisively
influenced
by
the manifest contradictions and irrational
development
of
bourgeois Europe;
its critical attitude hardened into
outright opposition
as the result of World War I.
From this historical
perspective,
I would like to
foreground
two
important
characteristics of modernism.
First,
the modernist had no
doubt that the world existed and
that,
however
complicated
it had be-
come,
knowledge
of it was not
only possible,
it was
being produced
at
3.
My
use of the term modernism
attempts
to
distinguish
elements
which,
if not
absolutely
new,
were at least
newly
dominant. One
can,
of
course,
always
find
precedents
for what I define as
modern,
in Kantian
philosophy, Copernican
sci-
ence,
or wherever abstract-structural determination is
posited
in
conjunction
with
intense
epistemological reorganization.
Nor can one
deny
that elements of what
I define as
modernism,
for
example,
abstraction,
may
be
employed
for
purposes,
for
example, religious mysticism
in abstract
art,
that are antithetical to
my usage.
I would not assert that
my usage
of the term modernism circumscribes
everything
that
happens
in
art, literature,
or social
theory
after 1890,
although
I would
argue
that other elements are less
original
and less
significant
than
they
are
usually
de-
picted;
for
example,
the affirmation of the absurd seems to me little more than
bohemian
epater
le
bourgeois imbuing
romantic irrationalism with a fatalistic sense
of humor.
My emphasis
on abstraction in relation to the
object, specifically,
on
abstract structural determination and the limits and
complexity
of
representation,
that
is,
scientific
knowledge
of social
structures,
is thus a
provisional attempt
to
sharpen
the
concept
of modernism. I am
following
in the
path
of
John Berger
(1985: 159-88),
who
argues brilliantly
in "The Moment of Cubism" that cubism
represents
the
truly revolutionary component
of modernism and a new
"syntax"
for the modern
experience. (Berger's inability
to see structural Marxism as
any-
thing
but mechanistic reflectionism is an unfortunate
[and rare]
misunderstanding;
see his review of
Hadjinicolaou
in
Berger
1985:
197-204.)
My conceptualization
of modernism
is,
I
hope,
more useful than definitions so eclectic as to render the
term almost
meaningless
for
analytical purposes.
For an
encyclopedic panorama
of
"modernity,"
see Calinescu 1987.
514 Poetics
Today
10:3
a
dizzying pace.
Second,
the modernist felt that with this
knowledge
it was
possible
to criticize the
existing
state of affairs and
change
it
for the
better,
to eliminate
systematic
and
unnecessary exploitation
of the lower
classes,
and to
expand
the material and cultural bene-
fits of
society
until
they
were available to all classes. Modernism was
socially
as well as
intellectually progressive. Seeing
modernism as con-
structive rather than
destructive,
as
producing knowledge
rather than
denying
its
possibility,
clarifies a basic difference between the mod-
ernist and the
postmodernist
sensibilities too often obscured
by
their
common
antipathy
toward
nineteenth-century positivism.
Modernism
is
antipositivistic,
but it retains a
deep underlying continuity
with the
optimistic
tradition of
rationality,
realism,
and materialism.
Despite
its
parasitic appropriation
of
modernism,
postmodernism's
roots lie else-
where,
in the
ultimately pessimistic
tradition of
irrationalism, vitalism,
and extreme
subjectivity,
which has been
"post"
modern
throughout
its
long
life but
only very recently
valorized as such
by
the
very
"mod-
ern" which it
purports
to
reject.
What is at issue between modernism and
postmodernism,
Althusser
and
Foucault,
extends
beyond
the
merely
theoretical into the
political
sphere
(as
the massive
presence
of Marx and Nietzsche in the debates
suggests).
The works of Althusser and Foucault had a
strong politi-
cal
charge
and
polemical
overtone in the febrile intellectual atmo-
sphere
of France from the Marxist-structuralist
sixties,
the
apogee
of
Althusser's
influence,
to the
Nietzschean-poststructuralist
seventies,
dominated
by
an anti-Marxist Left which included
Foucault,
Gilles
Deleuze,
Jean-Francois Lyotard,
and such
self-styled
nouveaux
philoso-
phes
as Andre Glucksmann and Bernard-Henri
Levy
(see
Descombes
1980;
Callinicos
1982).
The Nietzschean Left was a
postmodernism
avant la lettre
(see
Lash
1985);
but before we
proceed
to a
comparison
of the theoretical
positions
of Althusser and
Foucault,
we must define
postmodernism
more
precisely,
situate it
historically,
and
thereby
clar-
ify
the
political
stakes in the theoretical confrontation between
post-
modernism and modernism.
Postmodernism: Content and Context
As its form
suggests,
the term
postmodernism
refers back to modern-
ism in a
gesture
of
negation
and transcendence
(see
Jameson
1984a,
1984b, 1987;
cf.
Eagleton
1986;
Foster
1983;
Huyssen
1986;
Krauss
1985;
McHale
1987;
Owens
1980).
It defines itself in
opposition
to
both the
sterile,
apolitical "high
modernism" of the fifties
(abstract
expressionism
in
painting,
the international
style
in
architecture,
the
films of the
great
auteurs,
the
"great
tradition" of
literary
modernism
taught
in literature
departments,
etc.)
and the
politicized avant-gardes
of the twenties and thirties-both of the
Left,
movements which at-
Resch ? Althusser and Foucault 515
tempted
to
integrate
art and
technology
into an
egalitarian
alternative
to
capitalist society
(Weimar culture,
Russian
constructivism),
and
of
the
Right,
movements which
sought
to blend
technology
and irration-
alist vitalism into a new
spiritual-material
elitism of either an individu-
alist or a nationalist character
(vorticism,
Italian
futurism). Indeed, the
repression
of the
politicized avant-garde by
the cold war and the re-
lated
triumph
of
high
modernism constitute the cultural conditions of
existence for
postmodernism.4
Defenders of
postmodernism empha-
size the
progressive
nature of their
rejection
of the elitist formalism
of
high
modernism and its "ethic of
contamination,"
and the
politi-
cal wisdom of
rejecting utopian
and/or totalitarian
(the
latter term
equates
authoritarian
capitalism
and authoritarian socialism in
oppo-
sition to
freedom,
which
becomes,
by
default,
identified with liberal
capitalism)
tendencies inherent in the
avant-garde position (Lyotard
1984:
60-67;
Lyotard
and Thebaud 1985:
93-100;
Huyssen
1986:
175ff.).
I do not wish to contest the
necessity
of
formulating
a feasible
(as
opposed
to
utopian)
socialism or to defend the
ponderous
and au-
thoritarian
bureaucracy
inherent in the
project
of an
overly
central-
ized
planned economy
of the Stalinist
type.
Nor do I advocate socialist
realism as an aesthetic or dialectical materialism as a unified science of
nature.
However,
I am
attempting
to demonstrate that
rejecting
such
positions
does not
necessarily
mean
accepting postmodernism
as the
only remaining progressive
alternative to the status
quo.
I wish to con-
test
postmodernism's
claim to
provide
a useful method for
analyzing
modern
capitalist
societies,
as well as its claim to
promote
the realiza-
tion of
progressive,
let alone
socialist,
goals.
Postmodernism's account
of its own
genealogy willfully
obscures differences between
(realist
and
egalitarian)
Left
avant-garde
movements and their
(irrationalist
and
elitist)
Right counterparts,
as well as differences between the Left
avant-garde
and the
elitist,
apolitical
mandarins of
high
modernism
(who were,
after
all,
the
products
and
symbols
of America's cultural
cold
war).
Postmodernism is not
wrong
to remind us of the failure of
the historical
avant-garde;
it is
wrong,
however,
to blame the victim for
his own demise and
thereby ignore
the social
origin
and determination
of the failure of modernism. Postmodernism defines itself in relation
to the failure of modernism in order to divert attention from its own
irrationalist and
politically
dubious
ancestry,
and
perhaps
to mask its
ongoing negative dependency upon
modernism as well. I would like
4. On this
point
see
Serge
Guilbaut's
(1983)
assessment of the New York and
Paris art
scenes;
see also Allen 1983. For the
concept
of the
avant-garde
as the
politicized
antithesis of modernist formalism, see
Burger
1984;
for the
history
of
its rise and fall
throughout Europe,
Willett 1978. For
right-wing
modernism see
Jameson
1979,
Kaplan
1986,
and Herf 1984.
516 Poetics
Today
10:3
to contest such
self-serving
distinctions
by focusing upon
the method
and content rather than the
professed objectives
of
postmodernism.
From the
perspective
of its method and its
content,
postmodernism
is
much less
original
(and
much less
appealing)
than
generally
realized.
Postmodernism
may
be defined as a
synthesis
of
epistemological
relativism,
ontological
irrationalism,
ethical
nihilism,
aesthetic
popu-
lism,
and
political pessimism.5
Different individuals and works dem-
onstrate considerable variation in the
quality
and
intensity
of these
elements,
of
course,
but the
general
character of the
postmodern
sen-
sibility
is clear
enough
and
remarkably
consistent. It is the condensa-
tion of these five elements which makes
intelligible
the
postmodern
"anti-aesthetic,"
its commitment to the destruction of form and formal
distinctions from art and
advertising
to
philosophy
and
fiction,
as well
as its "ethic of
liberation,"
the valorization and reification of individual
desire, instinct,
and creative
energy,
and,
more
radically,
the vitalist
ontologizing
of a
primal
"difference,"
of which the human individual
is
merely
one manifestation.
Of the five elements
constituting
the
postmodern synthesis, political
pessimism
seems to me the most fundamental
yet
least
recognized.
It
is
ideological pessimism
which
organizes postmodernism
into two dis-
tinct
political
attitudes or modes:
ironic-cynical passivity
and nihilistic-
libertarian dissidence. In its
passive
mode
(from
Warhol and
pop
art to
Diva,
from
Sontag
and Barthes to
Derrida),
postmodernism
manifests
a
progressive
erosion of substantive criticism of the status
quo.
The
links between the
production
of
art,
language, meaning,
and the struc-
ture of
society
and its social relations of
production
are
severed,
and
with them the theoretical
possibility
of
any contestatory
dimension or
practice.
From its most ironic
intellectual,
literary,
and
philosophical
masterpieces
to its most
self-parodic
affirmation of kitsch and
camp,
postmodernism
works to dissolve the distinction between
critique
and
affirmation
until,
explicitly
or
implicitly, by design
or
default,
we are
faced with a new
consensus,
forged-negatively-from
an
inability
to
formulate and defend alternate
positions. By affirming
either a
vapid
neoliberal
pluralism
(the
"paralogy"
of
Lyotard)
or a more
profound
dissolution of the boundaries between discourses
(Derridean
decon-
struction),
postmodernism imposes upon
itself an
"analytical depth-
lessness"
(to
borrow Fredric
Jameson's apt
characterization)
and an
anti-ideological ideology
which translate into
political passivity.
5. Brian McHale's
(1987: 3-25) attempt
to contrast modernism and
postmod-
ernism in terms of a
"change
of dominant" within an
epistemological-ontological
couplet,
that
is,
from an
epistemological
dominant
(modernism)
to an
ontological
dominant
(postmodernism),
obscures the fact that what is
actually occurring
is a
much more radical shift from a realist to an irrationalist
problematic.
For another
attempt
to
justify
irrationalism in historical
practice,
see Hutcheon 1987.
Resch ? Althusser and Foucault 517
Deconstruction
is,
of
course,
the
paradigmatic
(as
well as the most
self-conscious and
rigorous)
form of
postmodern passivity. Contrary
to Derrida's
(1979: 94-95)
own
opinion regarding
the subversive char-
acter of "critical
vanguardism"
inherent in deconstruction-that exist-
ing
institutions "cannot bear . .. for
anyone
to
tamper
with
language,"
that
they
can "bear more
readily
the most
apparently revolutionary
ideological
sorts of
'content,'
if
only
that content does not touch the
borders of
language"-a
historical
perspective
seems to indicate the
contrary.
It is
precisely
those aesthetic and
philosophical positions
which have no other
purpose
than to
problematize meaning
and
rep-
resentation that are most
readily coopted by
a culture that
functions,
above all
else,
on the accelerated transformation and formal
manipu-
lation of
language.6
Deconstructionists
may
well
adopt
a
political posi-
tion,
they may
choose to turn their
techniques
on
reactionary
or ex-
ploitive
discourses,
but their
practice
itself is
apolitical.
There are
only
two
possible strategies
within a deconstructionist
problematic:
first,
a series of
increasingly
monotonous and mechanical
critiques
of the
discourse of
others,
critiques
whose outcomes are known in
advance;
second,
a series of virtuosic
finger
exercises whose raison d'etre is an
equally parasitic
violation, reversal,
disruption,
or
whatever,
of exist-
ing practices.
In neither case does deconstruction
produce
or defend
a
political position.
Whatever
political position
deconstruction
may
acquire,
it
acquires
elsewhere,
from some
political
illusion of
pres-
ence,
some
theory
of social
practice,
which can exist
only
outside the
problematic
of deconstruction as its
mythologized unthought.
Decon-
struction,
for all its claims to radical
theoreticism,
is
simply
the
cynical
obverse of
positivism.7
In
apparent
contrast to its
passive
fraternal
twin,
dissident
postmod-
ernism
(Lecourt 1978),
within which we would have to situate Fou-
cault,
appears
to have retained the
political obstreperousness
of mod-
6. Derrida
(1981: 526ff.) has, however,
refused to
participate
in the Nietzschean
anti-Marxist wave and has been critical of some American
appropriations
of his
work which reinforce rather than undermine dominant
political
and economic
interests. For the
political
vicissitudes of the
practitioners
of
deconstruction,
see
Fraser 1984.
7. For an
attempt
to
politicize
deconstruction
(by ignoring
the
resolutely
ahis-
torical,
desubjectivized,
and
linguistically
bound character of Derrida's thought
almost to the
point
of
caricature),
see
Ryan
1982. For a more
faithful,
dissident
postmodern appropriation
of
Derrida,
see Ulmer 1985. I do not wish to
give
the
impression
that Derrida's work should not be taken
extremely seriously
(as my
reading
of Althusser will
demonstrate);
I am
only making
the
point
that this work
cannot be the basis of
any political position,
and that the task of a modernist social
theory
is to deconstruct Derrida
by recovering
history
and
knowledge
on the other
side of deconstruction. For this
task,
and for the most
profound philosophical
comprehension
of
Derrida,
see Gasche 1986.
518 Poetics
Today
10:3
ernist
avant-garde;
in
fact,
it seems to have taken it to new extremes.
Forcefully attacking
the
ossified, elitist,
and decadent
high
modern-
ism as well as the
homogenizing, normalizing
forms of domination
embedded in mass culture and the bureaucratic
state,
dissident
post-
modernism
appears
to be a form of radicalism
appropriate
to so-called
postindustrial
social formations.
However,
appearances
are
deceiving.
Dissident
postmodernism,
as we shall see in our
analysis
of
Foucault,
purchases
its
critique
at a
high
cost-abandonment of
any
rational
grounding
of its own
position,
selective restriction of the
scope
of its
analysis
to the
particular,
the
fragmentary,
or the
regional-thereby
avoiding
"totalitarian"
global analysis
and the
responsibility
of
provid-
ing
a
"utopian"
alternative to what it condemns. Given its
postmodern
assumptions,
the new dissidence cannot
help
but
mythologize
what it
critiques
(the
Moloch
normalizing
the
power
of
postindustrial
soci-
ety)
as well as what it defends
(an
equally
one-dimensional,
ahistorical
individual).
Dissident
postmodernism
is
deeply
related to
postindustrial
soci-
ety-not
as its
critique
but as its effect. It is a kind of
permanent
rebellion with roots in a familiar historical
tradition,
that of
Sade,
Holderlin, Stirner, Sorel, Nietzsche,
Jarry,
Artaud,
and Bataille. The
ethical nihilistic revolt
against
instrumental
rationality
is
hardly origi-
nal in
postmodernism.
It has a
seductively pseudoradical appearance,
insofar as it rails
against
dominant discourses and social
practices
in
the name of
difference, desire,
liberty, pluralism,
and so
forth,
but in
effect,
because of its own
irrationality
and extreme
egoism,
dissident
postmodernism
forecloses
any positive
outcome to its revolt
against
the status
quo. Ultimately,
such dissidence
collapses
into either auto-
mutilation or
self-parody, counterrevolutionary "pragmatism"
or
pes-
simistic withdrawal. In the
end,
dissident
postmodernism
is
congruent
with its
passive counterpart;
"Criticize
everything"
is
merely
the
flip
side of
"Anything goes."
If
everything
is
bad,
it is not
long
before bad
begins
to
look,
if not
good,
at least inevitable.
Indeed,
the
debilitating
effect of
postmodern negativity
on
postmodern
dissidence is the domi-
nant motif of the
eighties,
of which the shift of
Lyotard
and Foucault
from
gauchisme
to "Americanism" are
only
the most
glaring
cases in
point.
The
progressive
domestication of dissident
postmodernism
in the
eighties
substantiates Fredric
Jameson's
contention that
postmodern-
ism is the cultural
logic
of multinational
capitalism.
It also
suggests
that the relative
predominance
of dissident
postmodernism during
the
seventies was
something
of an aberration that deserves further
study.
I would like to
suggest provisionally
that dissident
postmodernism
has
served as the
"loyal opposition" during
the birth
pangs
of the new
multinational
capitalist
culture,
and that in this
respect
it has been the
Resch ? Althusser and Foucault 519
Left
analogue
of the New
Right.
The anti-Marxist or
"post-Marxist"
rhetoric of
postmodern
dissidence is
absolutely
crucial in this
regard.
Dissident
postmodernism
was born of the
seemingly
unlimited
bounty
of consumer
capitalism
and the
accommodating
facade of the Fordist
state8 in the form of the New Left and the radical humanist libera-
tion movements of the sixties and
early
seventies,
movements which
were
already premised,
to a
significant degree, upon
an irrationalist
neo-anarchism,
the
rejection
of economic
determinism,
and a lack of
concern for
political power.
The
white, male,
capitalist
Establishment
was
vilified,
protested,
ridiculed,
but
ultimately ignored,
left to re-
group
with its considerable resources intact. Dissident
postmodernism
survived the
crushing
defeat of the New Left
primarily by blaming
it on the
vestiges
of Marxism still at work within the radical move-
ments,
and
by participating fully
in the wave of anti-Marxism which
attended the New
Right's manipulation
of the economic crisis of the
mid-seventies and the middle-class anxieties it
produced.9
By diverting
attention from
capitalism's
new accumulation crisis and
the revival of authoritarian
politics,
dissident
postmodernism
has in-
directly
facilitated the swift and merciless
restructuring
of
capitalist
relations of
production
since the mid-seventies.
By attacking
certain
secondary
mechanisms of consumer
capitalism-normalization
tech-
niques, bureaucracy,
militarization,
the culture
industry,
and so on-
as well as the continued
oppression
of
groups peripheral
to the central
mechanisms of Fordism
(diverting
attention from the fact that these
were
being rapidly
dismantled),
the new dissidence
managed
even to
increase its
prestige
to the
(admittedly disintegrating)
Left. The less
it talked about
economics, classes,
and class
struggle,
the more influ-
ential it became. The atavistic rhetoric of the
fifties,
mobilized
by
the
8.
Fordism,
a term derived from Gramsci's
description
of
Henry
Ford's revolution-
ary system
of
coordinating
the intensive
production
of affordable
mass-produced
goods
and
wage
rates sufficient to
pay
for
them,
is
employed by
the so-called
regulation
school of French
political economy,
whose
major practitioners,
Michel
Aglietta
(1979)
and Alain
Lipietz
(1987),
among
others,
emerged
from structural
Marxism. The
regulation
school
emphasizes "regimes
of
accumulation,"
which are
structures that
reproduce
social
production
and allocate it between
consumption
and
accumulation,
and "modes of
regulation,"
the internalized rules and inter-
pellated
social characteristics which
guarantee
that
agents
conform,
more or
less,
to the
existing regime
of accumulation in their
day-to-day
lives and
struggles.
Of
course,
these structures cannot be
conceptualized
without their contradictions and
varying degrees
of
stability.
9.
However,
one must be careful to
distinguish post-Marxism
from
postmod-
ernism: All
postmodernisms
are
post-Marxist
but not vice versa.
Representative
post-Marxist critiques
of the
"overly"
Marxist New Left include Hirsh 1981 and
Balbus 1982. More
specialized post-Althusserian post-Marxisms
(works
which do
qualify
as
postmodernist)
include Laclau and Mouffe 1985 and Cutler et al.
1977,
1978. For a
vigorous critique
of
post-Marxism,
see Wood 1986.
520 Poetics
Today
10:3
New
Right,
had its
counterpart
in the anachronistic bohemianism of
dissident
postmodernism.
The radical individualism and irrationalist
vitalism of dissident
postmodernism
continue to exist (as
they
have
since
Sade)
in a
symbiotic relationship
of
negative integration
with
economic individualism and social Darwinism. Their common anti-
Marxism circumscribes their
pseudo-opposition
and facilitates their
eventual reconciliation. The shift from dissidence to
passivity,
marked
by
discursive moves from a rhetoric of
power
to one of
pluralism,
from the rebellion
against
domination to the valorization of
liberalism,
signals
the
capitulation
of dissidence to
capital.
The historical circumstances
attending
the
emergence
of
postmod-
ernism
varies,
of
course,
from
country
to
country.
The French case
differs from the
English,
the
American,
and the German
primarily
as
a result of a decade of
popular-front political activity during
the seven-
ties,
culminating
in the electoral
victory
of a reformist Socialist
party
in the elections of 1981.10 Within the French
Left,
the most
pressing
political-intellectual
issue was the
rivalry
between the Socialist
(PS)
and Communist
(PCF)
parties.
The rise of the reformist
PS,
which
blended an
ideology
of technocratic modernism and social
democracy
in the
workplace
and
parlayed
them into a middle-class-based elec-
toral coalition with
strong working-class support
and the overwhelm-
ing sympathy
of intellectuals of the Nietzschean
Left,
was
spectacular.
The
PCF,
by
contrast,
was the
primary
victim of the success of the
Socialist
party. During
the sixties the PCF had
begun
to make its
long-
overdue and
painful
confrontation with its own Stalinist
organization
and its excessive subservience to the dictates of the Soviet Union. Its
cautious
participation
in the events of
May
1968
(overly
cautious in
the minds of most
Sixty-eighters)
occasioned a decisive shift towards
a Eurocommunist
strategy
of national and democratic social transfor-
mation
during
the seventies.
Unfortunately
for the
PCF,
it made this
move after the reformist
platform
(with
a
"modernizing" plank)
had
already
been
monopolized by
Mitterand and the
Socialists,
and at the
very
time when a national reformist
strategy
was
being
taken off the
historical
agenda by
the international economic
system.
10. For an excellent account of French
developments during
the
seventies,
see
Ross 1982. Debates within the PCF are
surveyed
in
Kelly
1982 and Molina and
Vargas
1978. For the PS see the collection of
essays
in Telos 1983. For the Mitterand
government
see Ambler 1985 and
Cerny
and Schain 1985. For Eurocommunism
see the
comprehensive bibliographical survey
Bernstein and Lawrence 1980.
My
own
position
most resembles that of Mandel
(1978):
that the current
reorganiza-
tion of
capitalism requires
an internationalization of the
Left,
that
is,
a reversal of
decades of Fordist
"negative integration"
(or,
at the
very
least,
a demand for its
extension-a
global
Fordism). Obversely,
the current
capitalization
of the commu-
nist world
simply
reveals the truth of Marx's remarks
(in
The German
Ideology)
that
there can be no socialism in one
country.
Resch
*
Althusser and Foucault 521
The decisiveness of the PCF's defeat must not be
permitted
to ob-
scure the
intensity
or
significance
of the debates which attended these
events or to
magnify
the "correctness" of the winners. These debates
had a decisive effect on
Althusser,
a
revolutionary
Eurocommunist
within the
PCF,
and
Foucault,
an anti-Marxist
gauchiste,
and
they
also
illuminate the
larger
context of the birth of
postmodernism through-
out the first world. Althusser and his collaborators viewed their theo-
retical
practice
as an
attempt
to combat the theoretical sclerosis within
the PCF
(its
wooden economism and the
stranglehold
of the
party
bureaucracy
on its
membership);
at the same
time,
they adamantly op-
posed
what
they
took to be a facile and reformist "Marxist humanism"
which was
being
articulated on the Left both within the
Party
and
outside it
(see
Althusser
1977, 1978a, 1978b;
Balibar
1977;
Poulantzas
1978, 1980;
Elliott
1987;
Hirsh
1981).
For better or
worse,
Althusser's
ideas became
linked,
in the minds of
many
of his radical
students,
not
only
with the antiauthoritarian reform and
revolutionary
revival
of the PCF
(an
outcome he
certainly
desired),
but
also,
through
the
political
activities of these same
students,
with the student movement
and thus to the events of
May,
both of which he had
relatively
little
hope
for
(see
Althusser
1969a, 1973).
The results of
May
1968 were
disappointing
on all counts and to all
parties.
The PCF had used the
largest general
strike in French
history
for
purely
economic concessions and the student
movement,
refusing
to face
up
to its own
political
incoherence,
cried
betrayal.
The
major
oppositional
forces could not work out a common front and the revo-
lution
collapsed. During
the seventies the PCF moved
steadily
in the
direction of
reformism,
without
altering
its bureaucratic authoritari-
anism. Althusser's
attempt
to renew Marxism from within the PCF
was condemned
by
the non- or anti-Marxist
Left,
as well as
by
such
ex-students as
Jacques
Ranciere,
Andre
Glucksmann,
and Bernard-
Henri
Levy,
who denounced Althusser's "fetishism of
theory"
within a
larger
condemnation of "science" as a
repressive product
of
bourgeois
society.
Glucksmann and
Levy
founded a
self-styled
nouvelle
philoso-
phie,
which identified Marxism with the Soviet
Gulag
and rediscovered
the cold war libertarian rhetoric of the 1950s. The "New
Philosophy"
became an instant media sensation in
1975,
a
symptom
of the
(dis-
tressingly
smooth)
shift of intellectual fashion in Paris to a
virulently
anti-Marxist
poste-gauchisme
which has had such a
strong
influence on
American
postmodernism.
The
anti-Althusserian,
anti-Marxist reaction was also
decisively
in-
fluenced
by
the electoral
strategy
of the PCF
(which
progressively
marginalized
the
Althusserians)
and the
steady growth
of the
power
of the PS within the electoral coalition. As the decade
progressed,
technocrats
triumphed
over
gauchistes
within the
PS,
while anti-Soviet
522 Poetics
Today
10:3
polemics papered
over the tensions
and,
more
important,
reassured
middle-class voters of the
respectability
of the Socialists. The dissident
postmodernism
of
Foucault, Deleuze,
Lyotard,
and Baudrillard ruled
the Parisian
stage by
the
mid-seventies,
lending credibility
to the intel-
lectually impoverished
New
Philosophy
(see
Dews
1985;
Lecourt
1978)
while
laundering
the theoretical
currency
of
many ex-Sixty-eighters
who wished to move from the black market of cultural revolution into
legitimate growth
industries,
such as
religion, literary experimenta-
tion,
and the new cold war
(see
Callinicos
1982;
Dews
1979).
The
point
to be
emphasized
here is the
transitory
nature of dis-
sident
postmodernism,
its
functioning
within French
politics during
the dislocations of the
seventies,
and its
rapid disappearance
with the
solidification of France's
position
within the new multinational
capital-
ist order. The transformation of Mitterand's
government
into a
benign
variation of
Reaganism
seems to have
inaugurated
the era of
passive
postmodernism
in
France,
bringing
that
country
more or less into line
with
developments
in the
U.S.,
England,
and West
Germany.
The sta-
bility
of this new
stage
of multinational
capitalism
and the
durability
of its new cultural
logic
remain in
question.
With this in
mind,
let us
turn to a
comparison
of the theoretical frameworks of Althusser and
Foucault and a
preliminary sounding
of
postmodernist
social
theory.
Althusser and Marxist Modernism
It is not
possible
to
provide
more than a schematic outline of the fea-
tures of the
thought
of Althusser and Foucault most relevant to the
opposition
between modernism and
postmodernism.
I would like to
begin by introducing
the three most
significant
modernist moments of
structural Marxism:
(1)
Althusser's
conception
of structural
causality
and the
methodological implications
of "differential"
history;
(2)
the
distinctions
among
science,
ideology,
and
philosophy
as
they
evolve
in Althusser's
thinking
and in the work of his
followers; (3)
the con-
cepts
of
ideological interpellation
and
ideological apparatuses.
These
three
aspects
of Althusser's
thought
demarcate,
albeit in an evolution-
ary
manner marked
by
inconsistencies,
false
starts,
and often
unpro-
ductive
political gestures,
a modernist
critique
of various traditional
aspects
of historical
theory
and
practice.
At the same
time,
I would
argue,
Althusser's
views,
as
developed
in For Marx
(French
edition
1965,
containing essays published
from 1960 to
1964), Reading
Capital
(with
Etienne
Balibar;
French edition
1965),
Philosophie
et
philosophie
spontanee
des savants
(lectures
given
in 1967 but
published
in
1974),
Lenin and
Philosophy (containing essays published
in
1968-69),
and
Essays
in
Self-Criticism (containing
material
published
between 1973
and
1975),
maintain the
prospect
of
history
as a scientific
practice
Resch ? Althusser and Foucault 523
and constitute a formidable
beginning
to a new critical modernist his-
torical materialism. I should note in
passing
that the
development
of structural Marxism has been a collective
effort;
many problems
not dealt with
by
Althusser,
or dealt with
only
in a
cursory,
narrow,
even incorrect manner
by
him,
have been
developed
and corrected
by
others,
sometimes
independently
from Althusser himself. About
these
developments,
in
anthropology,
literary criticism,
sociology,
and
political theory,
I must
necessarily
be silent
(but
see Benton
1984;
Resch
forthcoming).
Structural
Causality
and Differential
History
It is
astonishing
that Althusser's
concepts
of structural
causality
and
differential
history,
introduced in For Marx and
Reading Capital
over
twenty years ago,
have
yet
to be assimilated
by
the
secondary
literature
on structural Marxism. Critics have
adroitly pointed
out the central
tensions within these texts-between the
concepts
of
totality
and rela-
tive
autonomy,
between the
concepts
of science and
ideology,
between
conceptual systems
about the "real world" and the real world itself-
and have used these
apparently
antithetical
oppositions
to
reject
the
structural Marxist
project." Only
a few commentators have noticed
that these tensions
may
not need to be
resolved,
that
they
have never
been resolved
by anyone,
or that structural Marxism has
managed
to
incorporate
these
oppositions
in a
startlingly original
and
productive
manner
(see
Gordy
1983;
O'Hagan
1982).
In
short,
Althusser has
yet
to be
interpreted
as a
modernist,
and no one has
recognized
struc-
tural Marxism as a theoretical
position
which has advanced
beyond
both
poststructuralism
and
postmodernism
toward the
production
of
knowledge
on a new basis. I wish to defend such a
reading
and,
re-
versing
received
opinion
on these
matters,
point
out how Althusser's
work fastens on
precisely
those discursive
repressions,
exclusions,
dif-
ferences,
and
supplements upon
which
poststructuralism
and
post-
modernism constitute themselves as discourses
(I
am
speaking
of the
possibility
of
positive knowledge
about
society,
the existence of the
social formation as a structured
whole,
and
political practice
and re-
11. The literature on Althusser is
large
and uneven.
Among
the best
surveys
are
Callinicos 1976
(excellent
on structural
causality,
weak on and hostile to Althus-
ser's
concepts
of
philosophy,
science,
and
ideology),
Karsz 1974
(excellent
for
placing
the whole
range
of Althusser's
writings
in the context of his later
emphasis
on class
struggle),
and Elliott 1987
(excellent
compilation
of contextual informa-
tion,
especially
with
regard
to Althusser's
politics,
but dismissive of and
superficial
on Althusser's
thought;
reduces Althusser's
theory
to his
politics). Among
the cri-
tiques,
Ranciere 1974 remains worth
reading,
as do Hirst 1979 and Glucksmann
1977
[1967].
Thompson
1978 is as uninformed as it is
hostile,
but it has achieved
something
of a cult status and thus a life of its own. See also Vincent et al. 1974.
524 Poetics
Today
10:3
sponsibility
based
upon
scientific
knowledge
of the current
conjunc-
ture).
It is understood well
enough
that for Althusser the theoretical
object
of historical
investigation
is the social
formation,
conceptualized
(I
will
take
up
the relation between
concepts
and
reality
in a
moment)
as a
structured
totality,
a "structure of
structures,"
whose whole existence
consists of the structured effects of its elements or instances
(political,
economic,
and
ideological
structures).
The social formation is an "ab-
sent
cause,"
since it is
present only through
its effects. Althusser and
Balibar
(1970: 193)
attempt
to
express
this
relationship by
means of
a modernist
metaphor
of
montage
or
Darstellung,
the mise en scene of
an "authorless" theater.
(The
obvious link is to
Brecht;
see Althusser
1969b: 142ff. Althusser's admiration for Brecht marks a
significant
contrast to Foucault's admiration for Artaud and
Bataille.)
Whereas
"transitive"
causality
(the
linear cause and effect of autonomous ele-
ments)
sees the actors and effects on the
stage
as
independent subjects
and
realities,
and whereas
"expressive" causality
(a
simple
essence ex-
pressed by
each
element)
sees these as manifestations of the director
of the
play
and the
playwright,
structural
causality
sees all of this as
a theater without author or
subjects;
the
primary object
is neither a
multiplicity
of
independent
elements nor a
single
immanent
essence,
but the structured mechanisms which
produce
the
stage
effects. Cau-
sality,
in other
words,
is the structural effect of the
interrelationships
of structured elements. This structural effect is therefore a structured
whole,
not a transitive
tautology
(where
everything
causes
everything
else)
or an
expressive totality
(where
all the elements
express
a
single
immanent
principle).
Structured elements have different and
unequal
effectivities and therefore exist in relations of dominance and hier-
archy.
The structured whole is a "structure in
dominance";
one of the
structures will
always
be
dominant,
with economic structures determi-
nant "in the last instance."
Structures are social
relations;
they
are manifested
only
as relations
between
people
and
things,
between
people
and other
people,
or,
more
precisely,
between classes of
people.
But
they
are also functional
relationships,
and
functionality
is an
important key
to understand-
ing
Althusser's
concepts
of structure in dominance and determina-
tion in the last instance
by
the
economy.
"The
economy,"
Althusser
(ibid.: 255)
insists,
"determines for the non-economic elements their
respective degrees
of
specific effectivity.
It can determine itself as
dominant or not-dominant at
any particular
time,
and in the latter
case determines which of the elements is to be dominant." Maurice
Godelier
(1977),
an
anthropologist working
within a structural Marx-
ist
framework,
provides
a useful
example
of the
concept
of economic
determination in the last instance in the context of
primitive
societies
Resch
-
Althusser and Foucault 525
dominated
by kinship.12
In
primitive society,
Godelier
acknowledges,
kinship appears
as both
determining
and
dominant,
a fact which has
been used to discredit the Marxist idea of economic determination.
Godelier
contends, however,
that it is not the
concept
of economic
determination that is at
fault,
but rather the
tendency
of its critics to
confuse functional distinctions
(economic,
political, family
relations)
with distinct
physical
institutions.
Looking
for a
separate
base and
superstructure
in
primitive
soci-
eties
yields productive
"forces"
(hunting,
fishing, breeding,
etc.)
but
no "relations of
production"
other than
kinship.
It is
kinship
that
determines the
rights
of an individual to land and its
products,
his
obligations
in relation to the
productive
activities of the
community,
and even
authority
in
political
and
religious
matters. Godelier con-
tends that
kinship
relations are both infrastructure and
superstructure
in such
societies,
functioning
not
only
as
family
relations but as rela-
tions of
production, political
relations,
and
ideological
"socialization"
as well. In other
words,
kinship
is the dominant social
structure;
but
is it
determining
as well? Godelier
(ibid.: 123)
says
no,
that the domi-
nant,
multifunctional nature of
kinship
is in
actuality
"determined
by
the low level of the
productive
forces,
a low level of
development
which
imposes
the sexual division of labor and the
cooperation
of both
sexes in order to subsist and
reproduce
their
way
of life." Godelier
cautions us not to mistake a
unity
of several functions for a confusion
of functions.
Accepting
that a
given
structure
may
act as the
support
for a
unity
of several functions does not
justify confusing
the different
structural effectivities of these functions. Structural
causality posits
a
hierarchy
of functional distinctions and structural effectivities "with-
out in
any way prejudicing
the nature of the
structures,
which in
every
case
performs
these functions
(kinship, politics, religion
. . .
),
nor
the number
of functions
which a structure
may support"
(ibid.: 2).
A
"non-economic"
structure,
in this case
kinship,
is dominant because it
12. Godelier is
perhaps
the best known of an
important group
of structural Marx-
ist
anthropologists
in France
during
the 1960s and 1970s.
They
have done much to
develop
the structural Marxist
concept
of modes of
production
in relation to
primi-
tive
societies,
in relation to the transition from
kinship
to state and class
societies,
and in relation to the articulation of
capitalist
and
indigenous
modes of
produc-
tion in the third world.
Major
works include Godelier
1977, 1986;
Terray
1972;
Meillassoux
1981;
Rey
1971, 1973;
Taylor
1979. See also the
important
collection
of articles Seddon 1978. The
concept
of modes of
production, developed initially
by
Etienne
Balibar,
refers to the economic instance as well as the noneconomic
social structures that the
reproduction
of the
existing
relations of
production
re-
quires (see
Althusser and Balibar 1970:
209ff.).
Thus it
occupies
an
analytical
level
of
complexity
between the
concept
of the social formation as a whole and the eco-
nomic forces and relations of
production (the
labor
process
and
property rights
over the means of
production).
526 Poetics
Today
10:3
performs
economic functions and
reproduces
economic
relationships,
but its dominance is
determined,
in the last
instance,
by
the level of
the
productive
forces.
However,
and here we enter controversial
territory
within Althus-
ser's
thought,
at the theoretical level of the structured
whole,
the
economic,
political,
and
ideological
structures/relations are
"always
already
there,"
making
it
impossible
for us to isolate structures theo-
retically
in order to
"prove"
causal
priorities
(see
Althusser 1969b:
87ff., 161ff.;
Althusser and Balibar 1970:
182ff.).
This
implies
that
the
concept
of the structured whole can
only
be one theoretical
space
or level
among
others,
that
is,
the theoretical
ground
for one
par-
ticular level of historical
analysis,
the
totality.
Causal
assertions,
which
cannot be
experimentally
isolated and demonstrated
(empiricism)
or
logically proven
(rationalism),
become heuristic rather than absolute
principles.
That the
"lonely
hour of the last instance never
arrives,"
as Althusser's
striking image puts
it,
indicates both an awareness of
the existence and limitations of what Derrida calls "illusions of
pres-
ence" within
conceptual
discourses,
and an affirmation of the
necessity
and
validity
of
concepts
made
possible
(as
well as
impossible) by
these
very
illusions of
presence
(Althusser
1969b:
113;
see also Althusser
and Balibar 1970:
98-99).
It is
precisely
this
positive
moment,
the
production
of
positive knowledge
effects
upon
the
necessarily
absent
structure of
presence,
that is absent from Derrida and all the lesser
postmodernisms
that stem from deconstruction.
The structured whole
is,
of
course,
composed
of instances or struc-
tures which Althusser insists are
"relatively
autonomous,"
that
is,
con-
ceptually
irreducible to the effects of other
instances,
including
the
economy,
or to the effects of the structured whole. This means that
the
possibility
of a reductionist
conceptualization-of
the
political
or
ideological
in terms of the
economic,
for
example-is effectively
fore-
closed. At
any given
level of
analysis,
individual structures or "in-
stances" are
conceptualized by
Althusser as "dislocated" or
unevenly
developed
with
respect
to each
other;
they
have no common
origin
with other
structures,
no theoretical
ground
zero which would reduce
them to a
single, homogeneous
theoretical
space
(ibid.: 94ff.).
Simi-
larly, any given
structure is
"contradictory,"
since it is
always capable
of
being conceptualized,
at a lower level of
analysis,
as two or more un-
evenly developed
"sub-structures." The result is a
conceptual
structure
that is decentered and
differential,
perpetually open
to the
play
of
ineradicable differences. In other
words,
for Althusser the structured
social formation does not have a
single,
monolithic or
homogeneous
history
in which all of its elements
may
be subordinated to the same
process
or even time. Each structure within the structure of structures
has its own "differential"
history,
and there are an indefinite num-
Resch ? Althusser and Foucault 527
ber of such histories
(which
is not to
say
that, for a
particular
level
of
analysis,
one
explanation
is as
good
as
another).
The
problem
re-
maining
is the
relationship
of the differential histories to each other.
If
they
cannot be
related,
as Foucault and the
postmodernists
hold,
then Althusser's
project
for a modernist historical materialism will
have failed.
Indeed,
it is here that Althusser himself reaches
something
of an
internal crisis within his
"early" thought
(i.e.,
For Marx and
Reading
Capital).
In certain
places
Althusser
(1969b:
11Ilff.)
tries to dismiss the
difficulty by
means of a
metaphor
of a chain
connecting
two
ends,
one
of which is relative
autonomy
and the other structure in dominance.
Such a
solution, however,
is inconsistent with the discontinuities within
theoretical discourse that he establishes with the
concept
of differential
history.
To his
credit,
Althusser does not seek
simply
to eliminate
the discontinuities between different levels of structural
analysis by
repressing
either the
concept
of the whole
(the
project
of
totalizing)
or the
concept
of relative
autonomy
(the
project
of
detotalizing).
What
he tries to
do,
albeit without a
completely
clear
grasp
of the
problem
or a
rigorous
theoretical
strategy,
is to
accept
the tension and make
it
productive
rather than destructive. It is in
light
of this endeavor
that Althusser's
highly original appropriation
of Freud's
concept
of
overdetermination must be understood.
Overdetermination has two
meanings,
both of which Althusser em-
ploys
to link discontinuous levels of
analysis:
first,
that the dream
(or
a structural
"conjuncture")
is
conceptualized
as the result of a fusion
of several
causes,
not
any single
cause,
and that the causes and their
determinative
priorities
cannot be
disentangled except heuristically;
second,
that the
multiplicity
of causes
may
be
conceptualized
in dif-
ferent
meaningful sequences,
different
angles,
so to
speak,
without
a
complete
or definitive
sequence
ever
being conceptually possible.'3
13. I am
relying
on
Laplanche
and Pontalis 1973: 292-94. I do not wish to over-
state Althusser's
consistency
with
regard
to the
gaps
between differential levels
of
analysis.
There is an undeniable tension between claims made at the level of
totality
and claims made at the level of the instances. This is
especially apparent
in Balibar's
attempt (see
Althusser and Balibar 1970:
273-308)
to deal with the
problem
of diachronic "totalization"
by
means of the
concept
of a "transitional"
mode of
production.
For the most
part,
however,
Balibar is consistent (and
correct)
in his refusal to
impose
linear evolution
(the
evolution of an
essence)
on
relatively
autonomous,
dislocated "diachronic" levels of
analysis (periods
defined
by
a domi-
nant mode of
production).
Structural Marxism
rejects
the idea that the essence
of
change
can be
grasped
(a
move which
always
relies
upon expressive causality).
Instead,
change
must be
grasped comparatively,
that
is,
on the basis of two or more
conjunctures,
their tendencies and contradictions. Thus the
analysis
of historical
transformation,
as Balibar
clearly grasps,
is
always,
in the last
instance,
a
problem
of
periodization.
On the diachronic
axis,
as on the
synchronic
axis,
my general
528 Poetics
Today
10:3
What restrains or limits the confusion of
causalities,
on the one
hand,
and the
dispersion
of
explanatory sequences,
on the
other,
in
psycho-
analysis
as in historical
science,
is the common
body
of
concepts,
facts,
and discursive and
methodological protocols employed
in the observa-
tion and
explanation
of each
particular sequence.
Althusser's
answer,
in other
words,
is to
accept
what Derrida calls
"supplementarity"
as
a limit of historical
discourse,
that
is,
to
accept
the
incompleteness
of
every
level of
analysis
(which
is
always theoretically open
to a
higher
synthesis
and a lower
division)
without
rejecting
the
pertinence
of
every
level with
respect
to
every
other or the
validity
of each level for
analytical purposes.
The brilliant
result,
implicit throughout
Althusser's use of the term
overdetermination,
I would liken to the
indeterminacy principle
in
phys-
ics. This
indeterminacy principle accepts multiple
levels of
incomplete
analysis,
as well as horizontal
(synchronic)
and vertical
(diachronic)
discontinuities between differential
histories,
but also
recognizes
that
different theoretical
objects
(differential histories)
are related to each
other within a common historical
"problematic,"
the common
concepts
and conventions
through
which we
produce
them all. These common
concepts put
the differential histories in a certain
relationship
with
each other. Differential histories are conditions of existence for each
other;
while
they
can never become a
single
continuous
history
(which
would mean
losing
their relative
autonomy,
their differential
speci-
ficity), they
can never be antithetical or
independent
histories,
either
(which
would
preclude
us from
accepting
one or the
other).
At the
level of a
given
structured
whole,
we have a structure in dominance.
But when we examine
any
structure within this
whole,
it becomes
autonomous in relation to the whole. Different levels of
analysis
are
conditions of existence for each
other,
but
they
cannot be deduced or
read off one from another.
Structural
causality
and differential
history
are
part
of a totaliz-
ing
discourse,
the anathema of
postmodernism,
but one which is also
capable
of radical detotalization. Such a framework is modernist in
formal
rigor
and
complexity,
in
refusing
to
posit
a
subject,
an
origin,
or a
goal
for
history, yet
it remains
productive
from the
point
of view of
science,
providing
a
powerful methodological
framework or research
program capable
of
silencing
criticisms directed
against
reduction-
ist
(the
realization of an
essence)
and atomistic
(the
juxtaposition
of
unrelated
phenomena)
histories. It
permits
historical
analysis
at
any
argument against
a
postmodernist
abolition of the structured whole still
applies.
I would defend the
utility
of
period concepts
such as
capitalism
since the Indus-
trial
Revolution,
as well as more
precise periodization concepts
of,
for
example,
monopoly capitalism
and multinational
capitalism
(Resch forthcoming).
Resch ? Althusser and Foucault 529
synchronic
or diachronic level-the French Revolution in
Paris, the
Vendee,
or
Europe,
in
1789,
from 1789 to
1799,
or from 1789 to
1814.
All
may
be
pursued
as distinct theoretical
objects (although they
can-
not be conflated with or
collapsed
into one
another),
yet they may
also
be
conceptualized
in relation to each other at a
higher,
more totalized
level of
analysis,
the articulation of feudal and
capitalist
modes of
pro-
duction. The
general
(the
French
Revolution)
and the
particular
(the
Vendee in March
1793)
cannot be
conceptualized "simultaneously"
in
the same theoretical time and in the same theoretical
space,
but
they
are not unrelated. Narrative
techniques,
the stories historians tell
with
facts,
obscure these
relationships by
their
exclusions,
supplements,
and
rhetorical
strategies
(as
postmodernists
never tire of
demonstrating),
but their
shortcomings
do not vitiate the existence of
positive
historical
knowledge
(as
postmodernists
too
frequently assume).
Science,
Philosophy,
and
Ideology
The next set of
questions
to be addressed are those
regarding
Althus-
ser's claims to the
scientificity
of his historical
problematic. Why
should
we believe Althusser's version
any
more than
anyone
else's? How does
Althusser
hope
to
prove
the truth of what he
says?
How does his con-
ceptual system
relate to the real world of the referent? As a modernist
thinker,
Althusser does not
attempt
to
provide any
absolute
proof,
for
he does not
accept philosophical proof
as absolute or
possible.
His-
tory's "truth,"
Althusser
claims, is,
in a fundamental
sense,
irrelevant
to the
production
of historical
knowledge
(see
Althusser and Balibar
1970:
43-63).
Here the historian's
(Marxist
or
other)
hackles
begin
to rise. Of course
history
is true-it is based
upon
facts and
upon
archival evidence! If we throw out facts and
evidence,
then the
post-
modernists are
right-one
historical narrative is as
good
as another.
Althusser's
critique
of traditional historicism
is,
of
course,
situated
within a broader modernist
investigation
of
meaning,
which extends
beyond history
to the
portals
of "hard science." It
may
be some com-
fort to historians that the
philosophers
of science cannot resolve such
controversies,
either
(for
example,
controversies over theoretical ver-
sus observational
statements, i.e.,
whether or not there is such a
thing
as an
objective experiment
or
objective science)!
14
Althusser
(and
Foucault,
for that
matter)
comes out of a conven-
tional school of French
philosophy
of science associated with Bache-
lard, Cavailles,
and
Canguilhem (see
Lecourt
1975;
Balibar
1978;
14. For a useful overview see Newton-Smith
1981,
and for Marxist debates see
Callinicos
1983,
Ruben
1979,
and Bhaskar
1978,
1979. Bhaskar's works are of
particular
interest because of the Althusserian influence
upon
his
attempt philo-
sophically
to defend scientific realism and critical naturalism
by
transcendental
rather than
empiricist
or rationalist means.
530 Poetics
Today
10:3
Brewster
1971).
Althusser understands science as a
conceptual
dis-
course that
specifies
and
produces knowledge
of a
precise
theoretical
object;
there is no
knowledge
outside of
(innocent of)
a
"problematic,"
which thus determines what can and cannot be
thought,
what is or
is not
legitimate,
and so forth
(Althusser
and Balibar 1970:
24-26,
59ff.).
Epistemology,
the
attempt objectively
to
prove
the truth of
any
scientific
method,
inevitably
involves
premises
which are themselves
arbitrary
and historical. This
again
is a modernist
position,
one which
eliminates the
objective proof
of scientific discourse (and which dis-
solves the hard-and-fast distinction between the "science" of
physics
and the "art" of
history).
But does this modernist
critique imply
a radi-
cal nihilism? Postmodernists like Foucault and
Feyerabend
tend to
say
yes,
Althusser
no-without, however,
relying
on
any epistemological
guarantee. Simply put,
Althusser's
position,
the modernist
critique
of
epistemology notwithstanding,
is that we
may
still defend realism and
materialism
philosophically
with the results of historical
knowledge.
Let me
clarify.
For
Althusser,
science is an
object-centered
discourse
which
emerges
from
ideology,
or
subject-centered
discourse,
while re-
maining
in a
symbiotic
tension with it. Science has no absolute
truth,
but it does have a truth relative to the
ideological
discursive
practices
from which it has
emerged
and within which it "swims"
(Althusser
1976:
112-14, 119-25).
Without this link to
ideology,
science could
not exist as a
practice
of
subjects
(scientists
who have what Althusser
calls a
"spontaneous philosophy
of
science"),
nor could there be
any
argument
or debate over the
knowledge
effects a science
produces,
for
there could be no shared discursive field within which such a discus-
sion could occur
(Althusser
1974:
98ff.;
see also Pecheux 1982:
133ff.).
Historical
materialism,
which defends the
specificity
of theoretical
practice,
the distinction between
concepts
of
things
and
things
them-
selves,
is based
upon
what Althusser calls the "materialist
thesis,"
the
"primacy
of the real over
thought
about the real"
(Althusser
1976:
193;
Althusser and Balibar 1970:
87, 156ff.).15
While
concepts
of
things
are not and cannot be the
things
themselves,
and while our knowl-
edge
of
things
cannot ever
escape
the limitations of our
conceptual
framework,
Althusser insists
that,
in the last
instance,
our
conceptual
framework is constrained
by
the real world about which it
provides
knowledge.
Althusser's
conventionalism,
in other
words,
is
englobed
15. Althusser had maintained this
position
even in his
early
works,
although
with-
out
establishing
a
plausible
connection between the materialist thesis and the dis-
tinction between the real and
thought
about the
real;
see Althusser and Balibar
1970: 87ff. Glucksmann
(1977 [1967]) pounced upon
this
problem.
Althusser's
resolution of the
problem, by
means of a new
conception
of
philosophy,
was first
presented
in the October-November 1967 lectures
published
later as
Philosophie
et
philosophie spontanee
des savants
(Althusser 1974).
Resch
*
Althusser and Foucault 531
by
his realism. "The
principle
of all existence is
materiality,"
Althusser
(1976: 54) insists,
"and all existence is
objective,
that is
'prior'
to the
'subjectivity'
which knows it and
independent
of that
subjectivity."
Science,
whose discourse is defined
functionally by
Althusser as
the absence of
practical
(i.e.,
subject-centered
or
ideological)
inter-
est,
may
therefore be seen as
having
a more
objective correspondence
to the real world
by
virtue of its break with
ideology,
but
only
if we
accept,
as Althusser
does,
the materialist thesis that the real world is
there.
Having
a realist and materialist
concept
of
ideology,
in other
words,
provides
Althusser with the
philosophical ground
for a
gen-
eral,
if
circular,
defense of materialism
(without,
of
course,
providing
any
rationalist
proof
of
it).
His
position appears
to be
very
close to
the "transcendental realism" elaborated
by Roy
Bhaskar
(1978),
who
maintains that realism can be
philosophically
defended if one
begins
with the
practice
of science itself and its effects and
"transcendentally"
deduces the material conditions for such a
practice
and such effects to
exist. For Althusser
(1974: 63-64)
the truth of
history,
like the truth
of
any
science,
is a function of the
knowledge
effects
produced by
its
own internal
problematic
and the
explanatory power
of these
effects,
but such truth is mediated
by
discursive
practices
within the arena of
philosophy
that "decide" the truth
by accepting
the
knowledge
effects
(as
science)
or
rejecting
them
(as
ideology). History presents
its
case,
or,
as Althusser
puts
it,
"takes a
position
within
philosophy," by
dem-
onstrating
the
explanatory power
of its own
knowledge
effects and
offering
it as
proof
of the
validity
of its realist and materialist
assump-
tions,
and the
superiority
of the latter in
comparison
to irrationalist
and idealist alternatives.
Of
course,
in For Marx and
Reading Capital
Althusser did
attempt
to
square
the
philosophical
circle
by establishing
Marxist
philoso-
phy
(dialectical materialism)
as the
independent
arbiter and
guar-
antor of the scientific nature of Marxist historical
practice (histori-
cal
materialism).
That is to
say,
he tried to create
something
like
an
epistemology,
a
general philosophical
criterion for science and
ideology,
that
is,
objective pronouncements
which
inevitably implied
"speculative-rationalist" pronouncements
about truth and error
(see
Althusser 1969b:
168ff.).
This
effort,
which Althusser
rejected
in
1967,
frankly
conflated the
concept
of
philosophy
with that of science.
While Althusser
(1976:
58 n.
18;
124 n.
19)
never retracted his mod-
ernist
conception
of
science,
he
completely
relocated it
by eliminating
the confusion of
philosophy
with science and
thereby excluding epis-
temological problems
from the scientific domain:
"Philosophy
is not
Absolute
Knowledge:
it is neither the Science of
Sciences,
nor the
Science of Practices. Which means: it does not
possess
the Absolute
Truth,
either about
any
science or about
any practice."
532 Poetics
Today
10:3
Beginning
with his 1967
lectures,
Althusser dismissed
epistemology
as a sterile discourse or debate over
already existing knowledge
(for
or
against
it)
rather than as a scientific discourse
productive
of
knowledge
itself.
Philosophy,
no
longer
the arbiter of the
sciences,
became an
intermediate discursive field between
ideology
(the
realm of
subject-
centered
discourse)
and science
(the
realm of
object-centered
dis-
course).
Philosophy
became more
significant politically
as a result of
this reformulation. Given the
highly charged, disruptive
effect a sci-
ence
may
have on the
legitimation
and
reproduction
of
existing
social
relations,
Althusser
(1971: 23-70)
began,
in
1967,
to refer to
phi-
losophy
as "class
struggle
in
theory."
Rather than an
"epistemological
Marxism,"
Althusser
(1976: 148-50, 155-56)
defends a Marxist con-
cept
of
epistemology:
that science is a social
practice,
that each science
has its own internal
epistemological
criteria,
and that these two
propo-
sitions are elaborated from within historical
materialism,
that
is,
from
within a
problematic
that
corresponds
to a realist
position
in
philoso-
phy.
Althusser defends
science, materialism,
and
realism,
not because
he can
prove
them
(any
more than their
opponents
can
disprove
them),
but because historical science
compels
him to do so.
Althusser's materialist
hypothesis
marks another essential distinc-
tion between his own Marxist modernism and
postmodernism.
Althus-
ser
(ibid.: 116-17, 119ff.)
acknowledges
that we have no direct access
to
history,
that facts are underdetermined
by
data, etc.,
but he will
not abandon the real world
(a
position
he labels
"theoreticism,"
in ref-
erence to his own
early fling
with
epistemology). By affirming,
from
a modernist
perspective,
historical
knowledge
of a world outside dis-
course,
Althusser clarifies the
relationship
between
concepts
of
things
and
things
themselves that was obscure in For Marx and
Reading Capi-
tal. His final
position
is neither a
"ventriloquist"
structuralism,
letting
epistemology
in the back door
through
a
Spinozistic homology
be-
tween the
"production"
of
concepts
and other social
productions,16
nor
16. This
charge
stems from Glucksmann 1977
[1967]
and has been
dutifully
re-
produced
in almost
every commentary
on
Althusser,
including
Elliott 1987. What
is too often
forgotten
about Althusser's
"Spinozism"
is what he
rejected
in
Spi-
noza's
thought,
that
is,
the
philosophical
rationalism which
permitted Spinoza
to
demonstrate that an
adequate
idea was
necessarily
a true
idea,
that the order of
ideas was identical to the order of extension: "Never for an instant do we set foot
beyond
the
absolutely impassable
frontier which
separates
the
'development'
or
the
specification
of the
concept
from the
development
and
particularity
of
things
-and for a
very good
reason: this frontier is
impassable
in
principle
because it
cannot be a
frontier,
because there is no common
homogeneous space (spirit
or
real)
between the abstract of the
concept
of a
thing
and the
empirical
concrete of
the
thing
which could
justify
the use of the
concept
of a frontier"
(Althusser
and
Balibar 1970:
190).
In his
concepts
of science and
ideology
Althusser is indebted
to
Spinoza's concept
of
adequate knowledge,
but he
rejected Spinoza's
deductive-
Resch ? Althusser and Foucault 533
forever condemned to transcendental
ruminations,
as is the case with
Derrida,
for whom discursive
practices
are the sole
reality
and
positive
knowledges
are restricted to the realm of
critique.
At the same
time, in
contrast to Foucault and the Nietzschean
Left,
Althusser's
separation
of
concepts
of
things
from
things
themselves is not "transcended"
by
a
pseudomaterialist ontologizing
of the
play
of differences within dis-
course-a
projection
of difference
upon
the
phenomenological
world
as its essence.
Ideology
and
Ideological Interpellation
A final modernist
position adopted by
Althusser is "theoretical anti-
humanism,"
a
decentering
or
displacement
of the human
being
as
the
subject
of
history.
In this
regard,
Althusser's
concepts
of ideol-
ogy,
interpellation,
and
ideological apparatuses
have
generated
fierce
polemics
and much
misunderstanding
(not
all of it
unintentional).
Critical
opinion
has
ranged
from moral
condemnation,
in which inter-
pellation
is seen as the
logical
outcome of Althusser's
early
structuralist
"totalitarianism,"
to uncritical exultation in the eradication of struc-
turalist "formalism" from Althusser's
thought
in favor of "class
strug-
gle."
17
My
own
position
is that each of these
interpretations
is
seriously
misleading,
for at issue is neither "totalitarianism" nor "class
struggle,"
but scientific
knowledge
about social structures. Althusser's
concepts
of
interpellation
and
ideological apparatuses
are not
only
consistent
with his
early
work,
in
my opinion,
but essential to the modernist
posi-
tions
regarding
historical
knowledge
and the
concepts
of science and
philosophy
established in For Marx and
Reading
Capital. They
are
also,
rationalist
assumption
that the laws of
logic
were infallible
guides
to the laws of
nature,
and that
philosophy
could be
something
like a unified science. Althusser
thus
rejected
the
possibility
of a
homology
of the
type
asserted
by
Glucksmann:
"We must
recognize
that there is no
practice
in
general,
but
only
distinct
practices
. . . there can be no scientific
conception
of
practice
without a
precise
distinction
between the distinct
practices" (ibid.: 58).
Spinoza's
was rationalist
materialism,
whose rationalist shell Althusser discarded even as he
appropriated
its materialist
kernel. See Althusser 1976:
105, 132-41,
and
187-93;
see also
Macherey
1979.
17. The best-known and
perhaps
the most scurrilous
(although
there is much com-
petition
in this
regard) example
of the "totalitarian" criticism is
Thompson
1978;
the most coherent attack is Ranciere 1974. See also Vincent 1974 and Gerratana
1977;
for a defense of Althusser see
Mepham
1985 and Lock 1976. The "elimi-
nation of structuralism"
argument
derives from the Althusserians themselves:
Althusser, Balibar,
Macherey,
and
Eagleton
all
begin
to invoke "class
struggle"
as a
global
correction for "theoreticism." I take issue with the lack of
specificity
of their
ritualistic use of the term
(Resch
forthcoming),
but it remains a not
altogether
in-
appropriate response
to the identification of structural Marxism with anti-Marxist
variants of structuralism or so-called
post-Althusserian post-Marxism,
and with
the Parisian anti-Marxist wave of the seventies. See Althusser 1969b:
227ff.;
1971:
127-86;
1976: 46ff. and 195ff.
534 Poetics
Today
10:3
as we shall
see,
indicative of the
superiority
of Althusser's modernist
framework over that of Foucault with
respect
to the
problem
of social
subjectivity.
I would
argue
that,
far from
eliminating
human
agency
from
history
(the
achievement of
Derrida, Foucault,
and
postmod-
ernism,
not
Althusser),
Althusser's
concept
of
ideology provides
the
basis for a new
understanding
of the
relationship
between
theory
and
practice
with its new
theory
of
practice
or social
subjectivity.
Althusser uses the term
ideology
in different
ways
for different
pur-
poses,
and this has been the source of much
interpretive
misunder-
standing.
In his
early
work,
Althusser used
ideology
to denote
(1)
social
subjectivity-the
domain of social
subjects,
their constitution as sub-
jects,
their
practice
or action as social
agents (including
the semantic
aspect
of
language);
(2)
the other of a science-either
absolutely
false
(a
premodernist position
discarded
along
with
epistemology)
or,
as a
body
of
ideas,
concepts,
and
problems,
declared erroneous
by
a sci-
ence as
part
of its constitution as a
science;
and
(3)
the
specific
other
of historical materialism-those
ideas,
concepts,
and
problems
that
Marxism
rejects
as erroneous. In his later
work,
Althusser
begins,
again
with considerable hesitation and lack of
clarity,
to differentiate
among
these three uses.
Ideology
in the third sense becomes a
philo-
sophical "category,"
a
position
to be
defended,
to be sure
(i.e.,
one
must defend a
materialist,
realist
position,
without which the
category
of "science"
disappears,
as it does for
postmodernists),
but one that
lies outside the
production
of historical
knowledge. Ideology
in the
second sense becomes a
concept
for a
history
of science with no rele-
vance to absolute truth or falsehood.
Ideology
in the first
(or "strong")
sense, however,
remains
unchanged:
It is the
basic,
general concept
from which the others are derived and one of the fundamental social
practices
which,
along
with economics and
politics,
constitute human
social formations.
Ideology
in this basic sense
refers,
as Althusser
puts
it,
to the "lived
relation of human
subjects
to the conditions of their existence." As
such,
ideology
is neither
necessarily
true nor
necessarily
false;
it is
only
necessarily subjective
(see
Althusser 1969b:
231-36).
In an
impor-
tant
essay, "Ideology
and
Ideological
State
Apparatuses,"
Althusser
(1971)
likened the
production
of
subjectivity
to a
process
of "hail-
ing"
or
interpellation,
where
society says, "Hey you!"
and we turn
around,
a
process
embedded in material
practices
and institutions,
to which he refers as
ideological
state
apparatuses.
Althusser's ini-
tial formulation stressed the
functioning
of
ideological apparatuses
as
normalizing
devices for
reproducing existing
relations of
production
and therefore,
following
Gramsci,
their function as de facto state
ap-
paratuses,
but he also noted that such
ideological apparatuses
were
the site of real class
struggles
as well as class
subjugation,
and that
Resch ? Althusser and Foucault 535
ideological interpellation
could never be
completely
successful. Others
(Macherey
1978;
Therborn
1978, 1980;
Renee Balibar 1974; Pecheux
1982;
Hadjinicolaou
1978;
Eagleton
1976;
Edelman
1979; Laclau
1977;
Jameson
1981;
Poulantzas
1975, 1978;
Bourdieu
1977, 1984)
have taken Althusser's
concept
of
ideology
in a number of
interesting
directions,
developing
and
elaborating upon
(1)
the social contradic-
tions between the
enabling power
of
ideology
(the
subject
as
qualified
social
agent)
and its
normalizing power
(the
subject
as
subjugated
to
existing
social
relations); (2)
a materialist
theory
of semantics and dis-
cursive
practice;
(3)
the
relationships
between the
interpellated
sub-
ject,
class
relations,
and
political practice;
(4)
aesthetic
production
and
reception
as
ideological practices
and the
significance
of this for criti-
cism and
history.
(Laclau,
we should
note,
is now a staunch defender
of
post-Marxist,
neoliberal
irrationalism;
Bourdieu does not
explic-
itly acknowledge
the influence of
Althusser,
despite
his
heavy
reliance
upon
structural Marxist
terminology
and the remarkable
affinity
be-
tween his own
concepts
[habitus,
social
space, symbolic capital,
etc.]
and Althusser's
concept
of
ideology.)
Far from
denigrating
human
subjectivity,
structural Marxism at-
tempts
to understand both the
positive
and
negative aspects
of its
pro-
duction. Althusser has decentered the human
subject
and in
doing
so
taken an
uncompromisingly
modernist
position,
but he does
not,
as he
is so often
accused,
thereby
remove the
subject
from the field of
power
or
practice.
If he insists that there is no
subject
behind or
beyond
the
mechanisms of
interpellation
(no
"end of
ideology"),
he also insists
that there is no
practice (including
science)
except through subjects,
that
subjectification
is the
precondition
of all
power
and
any practice
(Althusser
1971:
170ff.;
1976:
95).18
Goran Therborn
(1980)
demon-
18. Post-Althusserians of the Hindess and Hirst
group
have
effectively
isolated
theory
and
practice
into a rationalist
theoreticism,
on the one
hand,
and a
political
voluntarism,
on the other. Hindess and Hirst
reject
the materialist thesis and with
it
any
link between
theory
and
reality,
as well as
any concept
of
totality.
Hirst
(1979)
contends therefore that Althusser's
concept
of
ideology
must be
rejected
because it cannot live
up
to its claims of
conceptual autonomy.
Hindess, Hirst,
and
others want to
separate concepts
from
empirical reality
and,
within this rationalist-
theoreticist
dimension,
achieve absolute
logical purity.
There are
only
two
paths
to
such
certainty,
either
absolutely subordinating
social
concepts
to one level
(totality,
where
ideology
is
absolutely
determined and therefore reflects social
relations)
or
absolutely fragmenting
them into discrete levels
(autonomy,
where
ideology
is
absolutely
free of
determinations).
They
follow the latter
path, using
this anti-
realist rationalism to
justify
an
absolutely
autonomous
political pragmatism
which
has
moved,
over the
years,
from dissident
postmodernism
to neoliberalism. Their
paths merge, ironically enough,
with the historical humanism of their
arch-enemy
E. P.
Thompson. Thompson
and the
post-Althusserians
are
truly opponents
en
taille,
but their debates have
progressively
less and less to do with structural Marx-
ism.
536 Poetics
Today
10:3
strates how Althusser's
concept
of
ideology
allows us to
conceptualize
the contradictions between the different
ways
we are all
interpellated
as members of
society,
as well as the tensions between the forces of sub-
mission,
inherent in our
conformity
to the roles which we are
assigned
by society,
and the
enabling power
which comes from our
qualification
as social
subjects through
these same roles. Pierre Bourdieu
(1977),
operating
from an
independent
theoretical
position
with obvious simi-
larities to
Althusser's,
shows how a social
agent
is not a mindless robot
but a
decision-making player
within a rule-bound
yet open-ended
interactive
system
of
dispositions,
discourses,
and interests which he
calls the social "habitus."
Habitus,
a brilliant
development
of the con-
cept
of
interpellation,
is thus a
historically specific
and
class-based,
"generating-enabling" ideological
structure whose
complexity
cannot
be reduced to either the free will of man or the mechanistic reflection
of the relations of
production.
If structural Marxists have
emphasized
the
hegemonic
dimensions
of
ideology
in
capitalist
(and
state
socialist)
societies,
they
have not
gone nearly
so far in
asserting
the monolithic nature and
pervasive
power
of normalization as
many postmodernists
have,
including
Fou-
cault,
to whom
they
are often
unfavorably compared
in this
respect.
A correct
understanding
of Althusser
(and
the
others)
on this
point
is
to
recognize
that the
subject
is a
contradictory
bearer of social
quali-
fications and
subjugations
too often
acting
as if he or she were free
of such determinations.
Looking
backward,
as historians are wont to
do,
the
subject appears
as a
complex
determined
production.
Look-
ing
forward, however,
analysts
of the
possible
outcomes of the
present
conjuncture
must
recognize
not
only
the
progressive
contradictions
within the habitus and the
ideological apparatuses
themselves
(over-
determined
by
economic and
political
relations),
but also the inter-
pellative
effects of
knowledge
(or
the denial of
knowledge).
Unlike
Foucault,
Althusser can
specify
the
gap
between
ideology
and
science,
the
space
for critical
knowledge, avoiding
the reduction of science
to
ideology,
as well as the
gap
between
ideological interpellation
and
normalizing
domination,
the
space
for
political practice, avoiding
the
reduction of
interpellation
to domination.
Foucault and Postmodernism
The
postmodernism
of Foucault is
particularly interesting,
since
prior
to 1968 he seemed to be
engaged
in a
project
not dissimilar to that
of
Althusser,
despite
Foucault's non-Marxist orientation.19 Althusser
19. Foucault's
negative dependence upon
Althusserian
concepts
(see
Lecourt 1975:
187ff.)
is
surely
the
best-kept
secret
among
Foucault enthusiasts in the United
States. In the "authorized"
commentary
on
Foucault,
Dreyfus
and Rabinow 1983,
Resch ? Althusser and Foucault 537
admired Foucault's books and Foucault was for a time a student of
Althusser. In his earlier
books,
Madness and Civilization
(French
edi-
tion
1961)
and The Birth
of
the Clinic
(French
edition
1963),
Foucault
investigated
the discourses of
psychiatry
and medicine and the
ways
in which these discourses
produced, perceived,
and
regulated
their
objects, "sanity"
and "health." Foucault
sought
to show that the dis-
tinctions basic to these
discourses,
distinctions between madness and
sanity,
sickness and
health,
were
arbitrary
distinctions related not to
the
progress
of
knowledge
but to new or
changing
social forces of
exclusion and
integration
embedded in institutional
frameworks, like
asylums
and
clinics,
whose functions were social control-normaliza-
tion and
administration,
not science or humanitarianism. Small won-
der that Althusser
approved
of these works and saw them as
recogniz-
able
offspring
of his own ideas.
However,
in his next two
works,
The Order
of Things:
An
Archaeology
of
the Human Sciences
(French
edition
1966)
and The
Archaeology of
Knowledge (French
edition
1969),
Foucault
(1972: 205ff.)
shifted his
perspective
to the internal structural constraints of discourse and to a
new antimaterialist
methodological strategy,
which he called "archae-
ology."
The first of these books is an erudite
survey
of the dominant
structures of discourse
(epistemes)
in the human-centered discourses
on life
(biology),
labor
(society),
and
language
(culture)
from the late
Middle
Ages
to the twentieth
century.
The second is a theoretical tract
in which Foucault tried to
justify
his
methodological assumptions.
It
is a
particularly disappointing attempt
to out-Althusser Althusser
by
constructing
what
is,
at
best,
a reactive
negative image
of differential
history.
Foucault failed to resolve the tensions between the social and
the internal determinants of discourse and failed to
provide
a coher-
ent
epistemological position
for himself. More than
this,
he
rejected
the idea that he needed to do so. His
archaeologies
are
radically
de-
centered
"dispersions"
that can never be reduced to a
single system
of
differences,
a
"scattering"
that is not related to
any
axis of reference.
This is a more
extreme,
postmodern position
than that
implied by
Althusser's
concept
of differential
history,
because Foucault
absolutely
refuses the
possibility
of
any conception
of the structured whole. At
the same
time,
Foucault refuses the
problem
of
meaning.
Like Althus-
ser,
he denies the existence of a
philosophical guarantee
of
objective
truth,
but unlike
Althusser,
he refuses to address the
consequences
for
Althusser is never mentioned. Alan Sheridan
(1980: 214ff.),
translator of
many
of Foucault's
works,
acknowledges
the
charge
but
angrily (yet feebily) rejects
it
by
repeating
Foucault's own disclaimers.
Merquior
(1985)
makes
repeated
reference
to the connection but does not elaborate on it. For a
thoughtful comparison
of
Althusser, Pecheux,
Hindess and
Hirst,
and
Foucault,
see Macdonell 1986.
538 Poetics
Today
10:3
his own theoretical
practice.
In
short,
unlike
Althusser,
Foucault can-
not or will not
conceptualize
the
relationship among
different struc-
tures and discourses or defend his own theoretical
practices.20
This is
not,
as we
might expect,
an embarrassment to
Foucault; rather,
it
is,
in
his
eyes,
somehow a
(no
doubt
heroic)
leap beyond
the modern condi-
tion. Rather than
grapple
with the
consequences
of
modernism,
as
Althusser
attempts
to
do,
Foucault
willfully ignores
them,
pursuing
an
oxymoronic
discourse that
rejects "totalizing"
discourse while
insisting
upon
the truth of what it
says
about "little" structures.
In the aftermath of
May
1968,
Foucault made his "Nietzschean
turn,"
a move
heavily
influenced
by
the works of Gilles Deleuze in
the late sixties
(Callinicos 1982).21
The move was
extremely
successful
in terms of the Foucault
persona.
An
important figure
in the
age
of
high
structuralism,
Foucault became a
superstar
of
poststructuralist
anti-Marxism both in France and in the United States. He assumed a
position
in the seventies
equivalent
to that of Althusser in the sixties.
At the heart of Foucault's shift was a radical resolution of the deter-
minative tension between the
normalizing
social forces which
impinge
upon
the
production
of
knowledge
and the
internal,
systematic
rules
which determine what can and cannot be said. Foucault had never
been able to
conceptualize
these two factors
except
in one-dimensional
terms
(since
he refused a
totalizing
discourse which
might
articu-
late their causal relations to each
other);
now he
simply
conflated the
two. Instead of
knowledge
and
power,
Foucault
(1977: 135ff., 209ff.;
1980b:
113)
now
spoke
of a
unitary,
monolithic
knowledge/power.
In
the
published summary
of his 1971-72 course on
penal
institutions,
Foucault
(cited
in Sheridan 1980:
131)
summarized his
position
this
way:
Power relations
(with
the
struggles
that traverse them and the institutions
that maintain
them)
do not
play
with
respect
to
knowledge
a
facilitating
or obstructive
role;
they
are not content
merely
to
encourage
or
stimulate,
to distort or limit
it,
power
and
knowledge
are not linked
together solely
by
the
play
of interests or
ideologies;
the
problem
is not therefore that
20. Foucault
(1972: 121-22)
attempts
to
escape
this
difficulty by cribbing
from
For Marx: "The field of statements is . . . a
practical
domain that is autonomous
(although dependent),
and which can be described at its own level
(although
it must
be articulated on
something
other than
itself)."
To avoid the task of
describing
this
"something
other than
itself,"
and his own
epistemological position,
Foucault
(ibid.: 109)
disingenuously
labels himself a
positivist.
21. Allan
Megill
(1985)
situates Foucault in the tradition of Nietzsche and Hei-
degger,
but he is
relatively
insensitive to the
uniqueness
of the French Nietzsche
represented by
Deleuze. Deleuze's influence is nowhere mentioned
by Dreyfus
and Rabinow
(1983). Merquior's
(1985: 141ff.)
discussion of Foucault as a "neo-
anarchist" is
very
much to the
point.
Resch ? Althusser and Foucault 539
of
determining
how
power subjugates knowledge
and makes it serve its
ends,
or how it
imprints
its mark on
knowledge, imposes
on it
ideological
contents and limits. No
body
of
knowledge
can be formed without a
system
of
communications, records,
accumulation and
displacement
which is in
itself a form of
power
and which is
linked,
in its existence and
functioning,
to other forms of
power. Conversely,
no
power
can be exercised without the
extraction,
appropriation,
distribution or retention of
knowledge.
On this
level,
there is not
knowledge
on the one side and
society
on the
other,
or
science and the
state,
but
only
the fundamental forms of
knowledge/power.
This
move,
again
a
fairly
obvious reaction to Althusser's
well-publi-
cized redefinition of
philosophy
and shift towards the material
appa-
ratuses of
ideology
and the
process
of
interpellation,
is not without
its
important
truth. Rather than
deny
the
validity
of Foucault's in-
sight,
I would
simply
like to
point
out its weaknesses vis-a-vis Althus-
ser's
framework,
weaknesses which
are,
in
turn,
symptomatic
of the
weaknesses of
postmodernism.
First,
concealed within the
conceptual
transition from
episteme
to
power/knowledge
(which
has a
positive
heuristic
value;
knowledge
is embedded in
ideological apparatuses)
is
an ominous shift in Foucault's attitude toward the content of discourse.
Knowledge
effects had never been connected to the real world
by
Fou-
cault
(there
is no materialist thesis in his
work);
they
were either neu-
tral
things
(The
Archaeology of Knowledge)
or effects of exterior "bad"
things
(Madness
and
Civilization).
Now
knowledge
became in itself a
bad
thing,
an
explicitly oppressive
form of domination
(Dews 1979;
Poulantzas
1978).
Foucault's
insight
that the
production
of
knowledge
is also a
process
of
interpellation
is inscribed within a
simplistic,
undif-
ferentiated
negativity
that
distinguishes
Foucault's term
"knowledge/
power"
from Althusser's more nuanced and
sophisticated concepts
of
science,
philosophy, ideology,
and
ideological apparatus.
The reduc-
tion of
knowledge
to
power
in Foucault is
part
of a
postmodernist
rejection
of critical
thinking
and a
misplaced hostility
towards distinc-
tions between rational and
irrational,
knowledge
and
ideology,
and
so forth. The unfortunate but not
unexpected
result is an irration-
alist,
mythologized,
ahistorical
ontology
of
power equally incapable
of
explaining
(rather
than
describing)
the mechanisms of
power
and
formulating any
contradictions within its effects.
Secondly,
far from
overcoming
the
methodological
and
epistemo-
logical
contradictions of
archaeology,
Foucault's new
"genealogical"
method
reproduces
them in an intensified form. Aside from his focus
upon knowledge
as an
ideological apparatus (admittedly,
and far from
innocently, undeveloped by
structural
Marxism),
all the
positive,
his-
torical,
and materialist attributes of Foucault's books on
prisons
and
sexuality
derive from the
recognition
of
subjectivity
as a social
pro-
duction-an
insight
taken over
completely
from Althusser and then
540 Poetics
Today
10:3
impregnated
with a Nietzschean vitalism.
Subtracting
those materialist
elements it borrows from structural
Marxism,
genealogy
is little more
than a rhetorical
posture, oscillating
between didacticism and
dada,
that
is,
between a
peculiarly negative teleological
form of historicism
and a
strident,
postmodernist
automutilation of historical
analysis.
In
his 1971
essay
"Nietzsche,
Genealogy, History,"
Foucault
(1977)
elabo-
rates on the
strengths
of the
genealogical
method. First
among
these
is the fact that
genealogy,
like
archaeology,
continues to
reject
his-
torical
meaning, reducing
all historical
phenomena
to
arbitrary epi-
phenomena
of a
primal, ontological
"difference"
(which
he will later
call
power). Genealogy,
in contrast to
history,
has no use for
totality,
but
only
for limited and localized
"beginnings"
to
phenomena
which
are somehow of interest to the
genealogist
who traces their "descent."
Foucault
(ibid.: 146)
tells
us,
"Genealogy
does not resemble the evo-
lution of a
species
.... On the
contrary,
to follow the
complex
course
of descent is to maintain
passing
events in their
proper dispersion;
it is to
identify
the
accidents,
the minute deviations-or
conversely
the
complete
reversals-the
errors,
the false
appraisals,
and the
faulty
calculations that
gave
birth to
things
that continue to exist."
Genealogy,
Foucault seems to be
saying,
is the method of know-
ing
real
history ("proper dispersion"),
the
antiteleological teleology
of
things ("identify
the accidents . . . that
gave
birth to
things"),
a kind
of
antipositivistic positivism
which
permits
the
discovery
of the true
untruth of
being.
I stress all of
this,
not
simply
because it is taken
so
seriously
in American academic
circles,
but also because Foucault
himself does not take it at all
seriously.
At the same time that the
gene-
alogist
has
privileged
access to
history,
he must
reject any
claims to
the truth of that access. Foucault
(ibid.: 231)
says, "Reject
all
theory
and all forms of
general
discourse. This need for
theory
is still
part
of the
system
we
reject."
His fear of
totalizing
discourse,
rooted in
his own reduction of
knowledge
to
power,
leads to a
postmodern
ma-
nipulative
aestheticism. Foucault
(1980b: 193)
denies that he has ever
written
anything
but fictions: "One fictions
history starting
from a
political reality
that renders it
true,
one 'fictions' a
politics
that does
not
yet
exist
starting
from a historical truth." The commendable causes
which Foucault has
supported
must not blind us to the
irrationality
and
frankly manipulative quality
of his
approach:
"Writing,"
Foucault
(cited
in
Megill
1985:
243)
tells
us,
"only
interests me insofar as it en-
lists itself into the
reality
of a
contest,
as an instrument of
tactics,
of
illumination. I would like
my
books to be as it
were, lancets,
or Molo-
tov
cocktails,
or
minefields;
I would like them to self-destruct after
use,
like fireworks." Where the coin of reason has been
devalued,
the
counterfeit of
manipulation
will have to
serve,
and with it comes the
inevitable inflation of rhetoric and voluntarism.
Resch ? Althusser and Foucault 541
However,
and this is
my
third and final
point,
Foucault's
postmod-
ernism of resistance runs
aground
on his
negative ontology
of
power.
In his
major
books of the
seventies,
Discipline
and Punish
(French
edi-
tion
1975)
and The
History of Sexuality
(French
edition
1976),
Foucault
dramatically
asserts the
dominating
essence of discourses
pertaining
to human
beings
and their social nature and
organization.
For Fou-
cault,
expanding
our scientific
knowledge
of human
beings
is
only
the
ideologically foregrounded
side of a
process
of
disciplining
(dres-
sage)
the
body,
the creation of a
normalizing "bio-power" by
means
of a relentless subdivision and
subjugation
of human
beings.
Unlike
the Althusserian
concept
of
ideological apparatuses,
such a view is
wholly negative, lacking
contradiction as well as
complexity.
Given his
self-imposed rejection
of
totalizing
discourse,
Foucault is unable or un-
willing
to
provide
a
general
structure of social determinations within
which the machinations of
bio-power might
be located and
explained.
Instead he
presents
us with an
undifferentiated,
homogeneous
field
of
power
within which a monolithic
strategy
of domination is
imper-
sonally
and
relentlessly
enacted. The
persuasiveness
of this
strategy
turns on
avoiding
distinctions
among
different
types, degrees,
and rela-
tions of
power.
Power becomes a "black
box,"
a
simple
essence which
exists
prior
to
society
but is somehow
implicated
in
it,
the antithesis of
human freedom
yet
somehow an essential attribute of human nature.
For structural
Marxists,
on the other
hand,
there are no essences.
Human freedom is a
product
of
ideological interpellation
not
prior
to
it,
and
interpellations
are both
contradictory (enabling
as well as
disabling)
and
socially
determined
(part
of the
open-ended
but rule-
bound
habitus).
Foucault
frequently
hints at the
relationship
between
normalization and
capitalism,
but he does not wish to
push very
far
in this direction.22 Structural Marxists insist
upon
the
limiting
effects
imposed upon relatively
autonomous cultural
practices by
the forces
and relations of
production
(and
the structures
necessary
for their
reproduction).
The monolithic and
negative
character of
knowledge/power
and
bio-power,
and his refusal to
ground power
in
society
(and thus hazard
a
general theory
of
society: power
for what
purpose,
for the benefit
of
whom, etc.),
leaves Foucault without the
ability
to
conceptualize
resistance to
power.
Structural Marxist critics like
Poulantzas, Lecourt,
and Dews have all fastened on this
point.
Foucault
(1980a: 92-96)
resorts to a
spontaneous generation
of resistance out of
power,
an
22. For
example,
see Foucault 1980:
140-41,
where
bio-power
is linked to
capi-
talism but also held to
precede
and exceed all social
transformations,
with the
result that the entire
picture
loses
recognizable shape.
The attitude that
"every-
thing
causes
everything
else" leads more or less
directly
to
political
and theoretical
passivity.
542 Poetics
Today
10:3
immaculate resistance if
you
like,
one untainted
by
the
dirty
hands
of historical determination.
Resistances,
like
power,
are
everywhere,
but as Poulantzas
(1978: 150ff.)
has
pointed
out,
this is
"impossibly
natural." If
power
is the source of
resistance,
that
is,
if
power
alone
is
constitutive,
how can resistance be
anything
other than a form of
power?
If,
given
its
existence,
resistance is
always
resistance to
power,
what
happens
if resistance succeeds? Once
power
has been
defeated,
is not resistance left as a new form of
power
and
oppression? (ibid.;
see
also Dews 1979:
164ff.).
Resistances blend into the
power
from which
Foucault tries to
distinguish
them,
and the ultimate
consequences
can
only
be
pessimism
and
passivity.
The
postmodern
dialectic of reaction
and resistance seems to
put everything
in
question,
but,
given
the
omnipresence
of
power,
the outcome is
always
known in advance. The
ultimate
message
of this line of
thought
is clear
enough: Things
can
only get
worse,
not
better,
so let's
accept
the status
quo
as the lesser of
two evils.
In his
final,
posthumously published
works, The Use
of
Pleasure
and The Care
of
the
Self (French
editions
1984),
Foucault
abruptly
abandoned dissident
postmodernism
and
(with
considerable assistance
from American
academics)
refashioned himself
into,
of all
things,
a
liberal humanist-albeit of a
peculiar postmodern variety. Typically,
Foucault reacted to the
shortcomings
of his
previous
work not
by
cor-
recting
them but
by striking
out in a different direction
altogether,
abandoning
the
genealogies
of
knowledge
and
power
for a new
proj-
ect,
a
genealogy
of ethics.
Using
Greek and Roman culture as histori-
cal
foils,
Foucault embarked
upon
a
subject-centered
meditation on
"practices of the self"
organized
around the social structures of sexu-
ality. Sexuality
remains a structured
phenomenon (composed
of three
elements:
acts,
pleasures,
and
desires;
organized
in terms of four ethi-
cal
categories:
an ethical
substance,
the human attribute to be acted
upon;
a mode of
subjection,
the
ways people
are
socially encouraged
to
recognize
moral
obligations;
an
ascetic,
the
practices
of the self
by
which
morality
is
attained;
and a
telos,
the ideal or model
being
sought),
but its structure is no
longer
a
dominating, oppressive
form
of
bio-power
or
power/knowledge.
Instead the structures of
sexuality
are
merely
fields of
"problematization,"
no more than a social back-
ground
for the
personal
choices of the
subject.
Ethics,
for
Foucault,
is understood "as the elaboration of a form of relation to self that
enables an individual to fashion himself into a
subject
of ethical con-
duct"
(1985: 251).
Always
a
quick study,
Foucault
may
well have been
reacting (again
with
negative dependence)
to Pierre Bourdieu's Dis-
tinction
(French
edition
1979)
and the latter's
conception
of
ideological
self-determination in relation to a habitus and the class
struggle
over
Resch ? Althusser and Foucault 543
symbolic capital
which constitutes the field of status. In
any
case,
the
theme of
"self-fashioning"
is
suddenly predominant
for Foucault.
Foucault
has,
of
course,
many interesting
and
original things
to
say
about
Greek, Roman,
and Christian
sexuality.
However,
his
gene-
alogical
method remains
essentially unchanged. History
for Foucault
remains a disconnected series of
phenomena
whose
only
interest is to
reveal
past
forms of behavior that
might
be "reactivated" for
present
political purposes.
Since Greek
sexuality,
with its "aesthetics of
experi-
ence,"
is not
grounded
in or determined
by specific
social
conditions,
there is no
reason,
for
postmodern
historicism at
any
rate,
why
it
cannot be
simply
recreated in
contemporary capitalist
societies. The
self-fashioning
Nietzschean
subject
of
history
does fit more comfort-
ably
with the voluntarism of Foucault's
politics,
but this new method-
ological
move
begs
rather than revolves the
question
of
power
raised
by
Foucault in the seventies. Power
simply disappears
from the field
of ethics
altogether.
Foucault's new attention to the
subject, coupled
with his
fragmentation
of social structures into autonomous
spheres,
provides
a
new,
more coherent defense of liberal
micropolitics
but
no
analysis
of the
complexity
of issues or the obstacles to be over-
come. Partial
changes
can be achieved because
changes
in one
domain,
for
example sexuality,
do not
imply disruptions
and confrontations
in other domains
("We
have to
get
rid of this idea of an
analytically
necessary
link between ethics and other social or economic or
political
structures,"
Foucault
[1983: 236]
has stated in an interview on his new
genealogy
of
ethics).
Far from
signaling
an advance of social
theory,
a "New
Historicism,"
as it is now
called,
such
methodological "sophis-
tication"
signifies nothing
more than the
capitulation
of
postmodern
dissidence to the
political
status
quo.
The real
path
of
progress
in social
theory,
as I have tried to dem-
onstrate,
is not to liberalize
postmodernism
but to
recognize
it for
what it is: a
symptom
of a massive socioeconomic transformation that
it reflects but cannot understand. The world is
considerably
more
complex
as a result of the current
restructuring
of
capitalism,
but
it is not
incomprehensible
for all of its
complexity.
Critical modern-
ism-social
theory
that is
realist, materialist,
and historical without
being
reductionist-remains the
only path leading
to
knowledge
of
the current
conjuncture. Fictionalizing
or
"textualizing" history simply
creates new
ideological
masks for the structures of
power
and
exploi-
tation which are coherent as well as
contradictory.
In his modernist
conceptualization
of
ideology
Althusser takes a
position
from which
he is
capable
of
identifying power, defining exploitation,
and defend-
ing
his views on both theoretical and
political grounds.
Foucault (and
postmodernism generally)
"distrust" the term
ideology
and
thereby
ab-
544 Poetics
Today
10:3
dicate their
responsibility
to
identify,
define,
and defend
(see
Foucault
1980b:
118ff.;
Lyotard
and Thebaud 1985:
93-100).
In its
passive
posture postmodernist "pluralism"
is a refusal to
question,
in its dissi-
dent form a refusal to answer. Insofar as it is
passive, postmodernist
cultural
logic
is no more
meaningful
than the aestheticist formalism of
high
modernism,
no more
liberating
than the
cooptive
"individualism"
of the culture
industry;
it is
merely
their lowest common denomina-
tor. Insofar as it is
dissident,
postmodernism
is a
willfully
incoherent
extrapolation
between certain
aspects
of critical modernism and Left
political theory,
one which dulls the
cutting edge
of each of its sources.
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