Dialectics, Subjectivity and Foucault's Ethos of Modernity

Patrick McHugh

Subjective reflection, even if critically alerted to itself, has something sentimental and anachronistic about It something of a lament over the course of the world, a lament to be rejected not for its good faith, but because the lamenting subject threatens to become arrested in its condition and so to fulfill in its turn the \a\N of the vi^orld's course .. Nevertheless, m an individualistic society, the general not only realizes itself through the interplay of particulars, but society is essentially the substance of the individual Theodor Adorno
fvlmima fvloralia

The debate currently flourishing in North American universities on the vifork of Michel Foucault has to be called, with perhaps some chagnn for the participants, an ethical debate, for it concerns the question of practice More specifically, following Foucault's own insistence on the analysis of specific historical contexts rather than abstract

91

at least for those who consider themselves oppositional intellectuals. feeling and acting. however. the intellectual should do no more. and to show what interests it serves and what interests It oppresses According to this ethical position. should act According to Foucault's cntical analyses. the debate on Foucault brings forth an ethical dilemma over the role of the intellectual. and rational society at large. Should one strive for a purely critical discourse divested of all power save that of the negative.generalities or universalities. the traditional ethics of intellectual activity IS little more than a deception justifying service to the status quo."^ Much analysis has been given to Foucault's specific analyses of the social and institutional practices spawned by the Enlightenment. the affirmation of negation remains an easily ignored academic exercise. not productive because it leaves the important political business of determining social and institutional organization m the power of established interests Mn short. because it disrupts the traditional ethics derived from the Enlightenment that requires the objective production of knowledge or rational principles according to which the intellectual. who are also sympathetic to Foucault's analysis of social and institutional organization. the new intellectual should refuse to produce any knowledge. The debate in response to Foucault produces two opposed positions Some. and thus leads to a re-examination of the methods. as Foucault himself says. for anything more would serve established interests. and thus nsk the perpetuation of established relations of power by participating in the practices that sustain them*? Foucault's contribution to the ethics of intellectual discourse IS to recognize. explore. consequently. and thus risk political irrelevance and impotence'' Or should one strive for concrete and specified changes in social and institutional organization. In particular. In this view. his position marks an "ethos of modernity. or project any vision that suggests a concrete alternative to the established order For such intellectual practice is perfectly traditional and would only reproduce the structure of power and oppression within a new organization which." a way of thinking. this debate among academicians concerns the question of how an intellectual should act Foucault's work raises this question with some urgency. purposes and effects of that activity.' Others. would not be different at all. and theorize the limits presented by this dilemma Foucault's position. Yet the ques- 92 . "a mode of relating to contemporary reality. reflect on any possibility. suspect the intellectual who remains entirely cntical to be almost as entirely ineffective. even if it served different power interests. who see themselves as elucidators and defenders of Foucault's own position. cannot properly be called an ethics since It does not follow in Enlightenment fashion from articulated principles of knowledge or value or even faith. seek to articulate a new role for the oppositional intellectual characterized by a Nietzschean affirmation of negation In order to oppose established interests of power. the new intellectual would analyze contemporary social and institutional organization to uncover the dynamics of power that establish and sustain that organization. Rather.

and the tradition of critical philosophy that begins with Kant. transcendental. which cannot know but only represent objects through its own reason. that this difference forms the philosophical substrate of the contemporary intellectual's ethical dilemma In other words. and knows only its own representations The contemporary transformation within the Kantian project consists in positing language rather than reason as the logos of subjectivity The important thing for Foucault is that this uncovers the subject of representation as Itself a metaphysical construction Like the metaphysics It opposes. he analyzes knowledge not as a question of truth but a question of power. and consequently the ethics based on these philosophical precepts collapses as well In this essay. Foucault conceives the Enlightenment subject. is inherited and transformed by Marxism. asserts itself against the olaims and methods of metaphysics The original Copernican turn insisted that knowledge of objects is no more than a metaphysical illusion. so that truth IS a kind of battleground where the victor determines knowledge in a way that serves its own interests On the other side. I propose a fuller philosophical investigation of Foucault's critique of Enlightenment in order to provide a fresh and illuminating perspective on Foucault's intellectual ethos II Foucault aligns himself with the contemporary analytic of subjectivity which. as a construction specific to a histoncal context of power and knowledge. then. then Kant's analysis is not of an eternal or absolute essence but of a particular kind of linguistic construction The identity of the Kantian 93 . and that all that can be known with certainty is the subject and the way it relates to objects Thus Kant's critical philosophy analyzes the representational subject. identity then becomes the hallmark of subjectivity. like Kant's critical philosophy.tion of the role of the intellectual emerges from the more neglected philosophical dimension of these analyses Here Foucault attacks the grounds from which the traditional intellectual derives an ethics Foucault's analysis of the Enlightenment is two-pronged a critique of knowledge and a critique of the subject On one side. furthermore. and concerns the analysis of the subject and its conditions I will argue that Foucault's two-pronged critique of the Enlightenment reveals a crucial difference between the dialectical pursuit of knowledge and the analysis of subjectivity. critical philosophy posits the primacy of the One. and. and autonomous. and thus as a construction that serves the interests of power established within the context In this critique. and concerns the production of knowledge. which was supposed to be rational. I will pursue this two-pronged critique through an analysis of Foucault's relation to the two mam currents of Enlightenment thought the dialectical tradition that begins with Hegel. But if the context of subjectivity is language. both the objectivity of knowledge and the autonomy of the subject collapse. continues through Freud and Heidegger to French poststructuralism. and posits Reason as its unifying or synthesizing essence.

to contemplate the material world. historical. its operations and intrinsic conditions. its autocratic stupidity. now displaced. the Enlightenment. as if the re-writmg were enough. through all its transformations. which has Itself had to survive a continuing series of attacks. as if the historical conditions of the possibility of establishing this new subject were not an issue—m short. which Foucault recognizes even if some of his contemporaries do not. and whatever the risk of error or abuse. as if the re-writing had the divine power of the sacred Word itself Analyzing Foucault's project in these terms provides a fresh and 94 . all constitute hunfian attempts to cognize the natural. this obsession with subjectivity IS a withdrawal from that which had always been the purpose of thought: to think objects. as if the power to establish this rewritten subject were not a probiem. is the same limitation. ideological or even impossible the task. its dogmatic naivet6.subject. Foucault aims to show the ways in which any limit to subjectivity is historically constituted. becomes understood as a construction of a particular historical period Foucault's project is to analyze the ways in which this conception informed specific historical social and institutional practices While Kant aimed to establish the transcendental limits to subjectivity. and above ail in its injunction first uttered by Marx not simply to understand but to transform the material world. more or less exactly like a poem. which was guaranteed by this unifying subjective reason. Hegel suspected an intellectual solipsism that. dialectical thought nonetheless retains its imperative. In the context of dialectics. the concept and the thing the concept exists to understand Pagan religions. then. empties it of any content. most of them valid. in the dialectical analysis. according to Hegel. that Hegel articulated as an attack on Kant With the focus restricted entirely to the subject. Especially in the arena of social and cultural critique. "an assumption whereby what calls itself fear of error reveals itself rather as fear of the truth"' Though Hegel's cognitive confidence—particularly since its source is its presumed access to Absolute Truth—can m the contemporary context easily be revealed as so much castration anxiety. The limitation to this analysis of the subject. concrete conditions of human existence. or some other condemnation of its attempt to cognize concrete reality Through it all. To shy away from this dialectical task in order to contemplate the proprieties and possibilities of subjectivity alone is. in the name of keeping thought withm its proper bounds. the task of changing the world would degenerate into the hubris of an idealism convinced that all that needs to be done is to re-write the subject according to the bifurcation within signification. and the history of modern science. on its intellectual hubris. his suspicion about the inadequacy of a thought that restricts itself to itself nonetheless remains m force It survives mainly within Marxism. to understand the concrete historical foundations of human existence However inadequate. monotheism. thought must m its dialectical imperative focus on the dynamic of subject and object. the diaiectical imperative survives all warnings about the void or abyss beyond language For otherwise.

Deleuze largely by-passes the question of the concrete histoncal possibility of a new subject.to historicize.' Yet Foucault's concrete analyses of subjectivity reflect the fundamental concerns. for which Foucault articulates great sympathy and enthusiasm if not complete concurrence In rejecting dialectics. and thus brings forth the question of where possibility ends and wishful thinking begins In short. Foucault asserts. what it can and cannot be or do. Deleuze explores the conditions of possibility for a future subject Moreover. the concrete transformation of an actually existing subject and the practices that constitute it In all this. indeed the guiding imperative of Marxism. yet m so doing he embarks upon a philosophical direction that articulates the limits and limitations of the dialectic. consisting in the conception of the transformative purpose of philosophy. because Deleuze pursues that exploration to new and exciting lengths. understanding Foucault's project as a break from Althusserian dialectics highlights its relation to the work of Gilles Deleuze. Foucault aligns himself with Deleuze and the re-mvestigation of subjectivity—Foucault himself has Identified this project retro-spectively as the "general theme" of his research. nonetheless conforms to the guiding analytical imperative of Marxism Foucault's ambivalent rejection of dialectics in favor of the analytics of subjectivity. whose major work is a revision of the Mapcist dialectic Throughout this revision. he extends thought to new speculative lengths. its capacity to know and to respond to changes in objective histoncal conditions. dialectics locates change in a discourse by a subject. The philosophy of the subject seeks transformation according to a discourse on the subject. Althusser aims to reinvigorate dialectical thought by making the knowledge it produces ever more histoncal. while presenting itself as a rejection of Marxism. which is to say. it emphasizes Foucault's relation to perhaps the most influential post-war philosopher in France and Foucault's teacher. brings forth a crucial distinction between the two traditions The distinction is ethical. As such. he passes into zones where Foucault never ventures To be sure. Louis Althusser. in pursuit of the transcendental conditions of subjective possibility. Confronting the limits of both the dialectical and cntical projects. Althusser initiates an analysis that Foucault and others extend to a break altogether from dialectics Secondly. as it is developed in this essay through an analysis of Foucault's relation to Althusser and Deleuze. in the face of the limitations and risks of the contemporary intellectual's ethical dilemma. In short. its limits and possibilities. indeed recasting the analysis of subjectivity as precisely this dual confrontation. an ethos 95 . material and scientific.Illuminating context First of all. Foucault's revision of the Kantian analytic of subjectivity. Foucault joins Deleuze m an analysis of subjectivity But where Foucault focuses on the historical constitution of a concrete existing subject.

"stands it on its head. Unity. like a theoretical watchdog. Unity for Althusser is complex and structural." by bringing the abstract Idea into a confrontation with the material reality of a specific historical "conjuncture" to produce "concrete knowledge. particularly for the question of intellectual practice Althusser's focus on impersonal processes rather than individual actions and his critique of dialectical totality both reflect his revision of the Marxist dialectic in the effort to make knowledge ever more historical and materialist. which he calls the "Theory of theoretical practice. then. Foucault appropriates Althusser's structural reversal of anthropocentric humanism." he criticizes Hegel's dialectical movement of the Idea through the material object as the selfdevelopment of a simple subjective mterionty that requires the object only as the substrate for its own movement of self-development While such "labor of the universal" provides continuity to the dialectical process and hence a unity to knowledge.Like many reacting against Althusser's dominance of the intellectual scene m Paris in the sixties. Foucault appropriates and extends Althusser's distrust of the totalizing impulse in dialectical thought. as if the expression of the Idea could re-arrange and unify into a Simple the complexity of material reality. Foucault's project retains distinct Althusserian resonances First." Material reality. especially following the events of May 1968. and analyzes culture and society not as the product of sovereign human subjects. and thus analyzes social and cultural processes by conceiving an autonomy for specific historical contexts or "conjunctures" In these two fundamentally important aspects. is always complex. In this. moreover. Foucault's project bears the influence of Althusser's structural Marxism But the difference between the two projects is crucial. then. theory must take it into account. that knowledge remains abstract and incomplete because the dialectical transformation is guided not by the concrete specificity of the object but by the abstract identity of the simple. keeps thought unerringly focused on material history by creating restrictions and guidelines forthought In Althusser's revision." the labor of a theoretical practice that transforms an abstract ideological Idea into the specificity and concreteness of knowledge is not a labor of the universal but a labor "on a pre-existing universal": 96 . universal Idea'The matenalist dialectic reverses this process. but rather conceives the subject as the product of impersonal social and cultural processes. he follows in the tradition established by Marx and Engels in The German Ideology and revised by Lukacs. is never an "expressive" unity as Hegel would have it. involving many factors m an intricate and variable network of interrelations Rather than ignore this complexity wth the simple unity of the universal Idea. Secondly. corresponding to the complex structural interrelations of so many concrete facts and factors In "a real understanding of materialism. Adorno and the Frankfort School. which.

In the epistemological break from economism. then.a labor whose aim and achievement is precisely to refuse the universal the abstractions and temptations of "philosophy" (ideology). understanding history in terms of this essential economic contradiction remains a Hegelian enterprise."'" Foucault joins the poststructural turn away from the totalizing impulse in philosophy and toward an affirmation and an analysis of a "de-centered" multiplicity He opposes. he argues for the necessity and importance of "local" and "specific" contexts."' so that history can be understood in the specificity of its historical conditions If Marxist theory understands these conditions m terms of a contradiction m the conditions of economic practice. social and cultural analyses which. the "Theory of theoretical practice" contains certain conditions for the actual practice of histoncal materialism This constitutes the "epistemological break" from the Marxist tradition of "economism. to the conditions of a scientifically specified universality If the universal has to be this specificity. and to bring it back to its condition by force. multiple and unique. presume a unified structure that permeates and constitutes all of a society or the entirety of a culture. but must rather be conceived as overdetermmed by the complexity and specificity of concrete reality Althusser's analytical focus on the impersonal processes of history clearly marks Foucault's project of analyzing the social and histoncal constitution of subjectivity. expressive or structural. simple or complex. which has indeed sometimes been called "structural" Moreover. Althusser asserts the "overdetermination of contradiction. but that never add up to a unity. but pursues those imperatives to their poststructural conclusion Yet to conceive the difference between Althusser and Foucault in these structural/poststructural terms is to overlook the crucial shift 97 . that may overlap m some areas or share common features. it must not conceive that contradiction as determined by the law of a simple contradiction. we have no nght to invoke a universal which IS not the universal of this specificity' Thus conceived. since it amounts to nothing more than applying the concept of contradiction to all political and historical contexts as if this were a simple and immutable concept universally expressed in material reality Economism ignores and suppresses the complexity and specificity of historical reality by "superceding" It with the abstract notion of a simple contradiction." or the tendency to conceive the materialist reversal of Hegel's dialectic as a shift from the movement of the concept to the movement of the economic contradiction in material conditions between the means of production and the distribution of products For Althusser. like Hobbes's Leviathan. Rather." Foucault thus follows the structuralist imperatives of social and cultural analysis initiated m France by Althusser. like Derrida in his critique of the "center elsewhere"' and Lyotard in his definition of the posimodern as an age that "has lost the belief in meta-discourses. m his own terms.

becomes effect. always on the level of materiality"'^ Instead of the dialectical focus on the material object." which is for Althusser an assertion of the validity and material consequences of theoretical labor and Its product The difference or "break" is in the conception of the relation of discourse to matenal effect. becomes not so much to transform human consciousness. all operating within a historically specific field of power and knowledge. it can be dominated and controlled. which IS always an ideological task. or as an event subject to the repression of its power. and for Foucault just as much evidence of the materiality of discourse. on the various ways a specific field of knowledge gets established over other possibilities to become a "regime of truth" in a "general politics of truth"" Foucault's focus on the materiality of discourse extends Althusser's notion of "theoretical practice. and political practices. forced to operate within certain channels whereby its material effect is restricted or elided The incorporeal materiality of discourse bears two concrete possibilities: as an exercise of power it can dominate and control a historical context by establishing its field of knowledge as the terms of concrete cultural. all on the order of material reality. Foucault analyzes the power of discourse to shape the world Discourse produces knowledge. though theoretical labor is itself a genuine labor. of struggles and conflicts. It establishes privileges and priorities. there is a "ponderous. but to ensure that the Marxist problematic produces not ideology but knowledge Thus Althusser articulates his "Theory of theoretical knowledge" to ensure that knowledge is dialectically produced. and therefore scientific and concrete This is all according to Lenin's perfectly traditional maxim 98 . consequently. informs the machinations of the State. makes distinctions and exclusions. the power of discourse is repressed. In other words. controlled.'^ an "incorporeal materialism" where discourse is an event that "takes effect. and analyzes knowledge not on the epistemological scale of truth but on the genealogical scale of power. which provides an epistemological foundation and as such a foundation for concrete action. and thus insists on a Marxist discourse that produces an ever purer ("scientific") knowledge of the material object In contrast. as Foucault says. this structural approach replaces the humanist and existential emphasis on individual choice and commitment in favor of an emphasis on the structural problematic For Althusser. Or alternately. For Marxism. social. a context of tensions. its material effects happen only through this epistemological relation to action The task. Foucault focuses on the materiality of discursive knowledge Itself. organizes institutional practices. Foucault's histoncal analyses of these fields focus. and regardless of whether this knowledge is "true" or "false" to some material reality.from a dialectical problematic to a problematic that focuses on the subject and Its constitution. theoretical labor produces knowledge. Althusser delineates a "corrected" version of historical matenalism. of strategies. awesome materiality" to discourse. tactics and techniques. then. Its knowledge regulated within the determinations of the established knowledge These two possibilities indicate. regulated.

of the privilege and exclusions established by a field of knowledge Thus Foucault brings into question Marxism along with all other "enlightened" or "enlightening" discourses Insisting as Althusser does upon concrete knowledge as more "true" or "valid" IS simply another arbitrary exercise of power. this critical turn takes place not in the context of transcendent categories but in the context of historical analysis Where Kant turned the metaphysical question from the transcendental object or Idea to the transcendental subject. he replaces the question of the object with the question of the subject. Foucault focuses not dialectically on the material object but critically on the materiality of the subject Like Kant. but historically in terms of its concrete effects In short. Foucault turns the historical question from the material object to the materiality of the subject This Kantian turn presents a whole series of questions about the purposes and methods of philosophical inquiry. Althusser's Marxist faith in the dialectically produced distinction between truth and illusion. no revolutionary action"'* For Foucault. no longer is this an issue of distinguishing knowledge from illusion. even when this is a continuous process in the way of Althusser's revision of the materialist dialectic The question of a better.for the enlightened Marxist intellectual. Foucault disrupts the ethics of the traditional intellectual by disallowing the justification of power on epistemological grounds. and instead conceives this knowledge and this organization to be the same as any other exercise of power In short. therefore. "Act only according to the maxim by which you can at the same time will that It should become a universal law. theoretical practice is itself a matenal event. subject to social and institutional constraints but also capable of social and institutional effect Discourse is not only a genuine practical labor. "without theory. more concrete and scientific knowledge is beside the point The question is one of power. has no special privilege over any other discourse. on the contrary. implying a set of exclusions governing the concrete organization of historical reality Foucault disallows the Enlightenment assumption that a true and scientific knowledge of society leads to a better organization of society. though here. indeed."" The categorical imperative provides no specific principle or law for any particular empirical circumstance. Althusser cites. but rather the universal standard to which "practical laws" must conform in order to be ethical Kant's analysis of practical action thus 99 . and to pursue this faith in the pursuit of a better world like a scientist producing the epistemological foundation for the engineers of society implies—as the post-1968 generation in France sometimes concluded—Stalinism'^ IV The Enlightenment altemative to an intellectual practice justified on epistemological grounds is Kant's "categoncal imperative". which. but more importantly the product of theoretical labor. is no longer understood epistemologically m terms of truth. particularly when the issue is not simply to understand but to transform material reality For Foucault.

a relation characterized as adherence to law. here. Deleuze and Guattari articulate the processes not of reason but of desire. following Freud. desire produces reality 100 . practical action finds its justification in the rational processes of the transcendental subject. The "transcendental unconscious" is the central theoretical framework or problematic of Anti-Oedipus. in which it is possible to expenence the movement toward "a sum that never succeeds in bringing its parts into a whole pure multiplicity. an affirmation that is never reducible to a whole"" For Kant. rather. which makes possible the understanding of the one. and since adherence to law IS made possible only by reason. yet it also challenges Freud's charactenzation of this experience as pathological. limited."the proper problem of pure reason is contained in the question How are a priori synthetic judgements possible''"^" In contrast. Anti-Oedipus follows Freudian psychoanalysis.establishes a relation between the transcendental and the historical. Foucault points toward his own understanding of Kant and of the modern intellectual ethos. transcendental or material. such an experience would be discounted as an irrational if not impossible aberration. In this. he foregrounds the fact that Deleuze does not explicate reality. written in conjunction with Felix Guattari. In short. AntiOedipus raises anew questions about the concrete historical relevance of such transcendental speculations Deleuze and Guattari articulate the possibility of multiplicity— and thereby give evidence of the speculative character of AntiOedipus—through their assertion and explication of the processes of "desirmg-production" The term does not mean that desire is produced in the transcendenal unconscious. Deleuze's directive for practical action emerges out of this transcendental analysis and affirms subjective possibilities heretofore proscribed by the Kantian and Freudian analyses. Gilles Deleuze's writings analyze a transcendental subject. on a subject constituted in the context of conflicting unconscious libidmal impulses Moreover. however. enduring form.'^ Yet he also qualifies that enthusiasm by suggesting that Deleuze's major work. that is to say. Anti-Oedipus revises the analysis of subjectivity to articulate the conditions of possibility for what had been impossible or improper. possibilities founded on a Foucauldian sensitivity to the issues surrounding discourse and power. be understood as an ethics. In so doing. as if the two projects were in some way complementary. that AntiOedipus be read as an "Introduction to the Non-Fascist Life'""' In this way. In this Kantian critical tradition. and derive from that analysis a general directive for practical action Yet Deleuze's analysis is directly opposed to Kant's He focuses not on a subject founded on reason but. and occupies the same analytical position as Kant's transcendental structures of subjectivity But there is a crucial difference Kant's project analyzes the transcendental conditions of a subject supposed to be founded on its synthetic reason. constant. but rather explores discursive possibilities guided by a motivation for social and cultural change In so doing. Foucault responds to Deleuze's work with enthusiasm and a sense of solidarity.

internal combustion. But this desire. value and identity." minonty discourse affirms not negation but "becoming. "The problem is never to acquire the majonty. even in instituting a new standard. processes which are all no more than various machinations of desire Furthermore. the same processes are at work. which Deleuze and Guattari call "schizophrenic" desire. however. a discourse whose effect is to create domination and oppression For Deleuze. this IS generally the strategy of traditional philosophical discourseincluding that of Kant and Hegel. Anti-Oedipus posits the reality of the subject and its world as the product of the interplay of a paranoiac desire to dominate and control by establishing codes of order and law. this decentered and nomadic movement of desire. p 32) In the world of nature and the world created by men and women. pollination. Marx and Freud—which seeks knowledge of the one. cognition. is always coupled to another "paranoiac" desire. according to which law can be formed and order established." In this way it is similar to those contemporary intellectuals who appropriate Nietzsche's affirmation of negation m order not to support the practices of domination and oppression of the status quo For Deleuze. p 316) Thus. copulation. which attempts to arrest and codify the flows of desinng-production Thus the schizophrenic "flows" are always subject to repression by paranoiac "codes" In a metaphor borrowed from wildlife biology that emphasizes the universality of desirmgproduction. Anti-Oedipus conceives desire in the first instance m a way exactly contrary to Kant. The strategy is to orient discourse to the passage between ideals of truth. might become something other than it is. 101 . but to negate it so that the ideal It sets up might change. "Minority" discourse responds to the majority from the position of the minority. deterritorialization can only operate in relation to territorializations "The movement of deterritorialization can never be grasped in itself. the ideal. and a schizophrenic desire for liberation from established codes In Deleuze's short but very suggestive essay. the production of the real" {A-0." Its strategy is not to negate the dominant discourse in order to replace it with another. the eternal and universal truth This IS also. clearly. the philosophical foundation for the practice of the traditional intellectual. following his own reading of Nietzsche. m an analysis similar to Foucault's analysis of power relations but much more speculative. "Philosophie et Minority."" he outlines a parallel tension within philosophical practice between two forms of discourse The "majority" discourse is the attempt to establish an ideal standard of truth. Deleuze and Guattari describe this tension as a "deterritorializmg" movement m relation to a "territorializing" movement As the terms suggest. productive processes like photosynthesis. one can only grasp its indices in relation to terntorialization" (A-0. whose transcendental analysis presupposes a subject that unifies The processes of desirmg-production operate rather according to relationships of difference The subject does not unify experience but experiences these relations of difference. nor to negate it purely for the purposes of cnticizing its oppressive effects."There is only one kind of production.

" and listing several "essential principles" for this "book of ethics. minonty discourse constitutes a guide if not a categorical imperative for intellectual practice "This would be the task of philosophy. m what way does its exploration of subjective possibility effect historical reality'' The problem is understanding the relation to material conditions of a discourse that does not pretend to produce knowledge of matenal conditions" If the transcendental unconscious has no more claim to truth than Kant's transcendental processes of reason. how is it related to material conditions? Moreover. [t]he completion of the process is not a promised and pre-existing land. Anti-Oedipus brings forth questions about the historical efficacy of these subjective possibilities.value and identity. In short. but a world created in the process of Its tendency. p 322) As such Anti-Oedipus constitutes perhaps the most extreme example of a poststructural discourse exhorting political change by pointing toward the possibilities that arise in the dissolution of established discourses. p 63) In the brash presumption of its analysis of a "transcendental unconscious" that enables these possibilities. 102 . it would be m touch with them" In the same way. its coming undone. if there is no evaluative standard of truth.you haven't seen anything yet—an irreversible process ." Foucault concludes: The book often leads one to believe that it is all fun and games. its deterritorialization {A-0. IS AnthOedipus just a discursive dream'' Is this discourse on desire no more than wishful thinking? If not. in opposition to its abstract major claim Philosophy would be traversed by all these becomings. possibilities that reach the point in Deleuze and Guattan's analysis of society where "the desiring-production of affects impose[es] Its rule on institutions whose elements are no longer anything but drives" {A-0. according to what criteria is this analysis and this affirmation preferable? It is in this context that remarks made by Foucault in his preface to the English edition of Anti-Oedipus can be understood. following the analysis of its possibility within a transcendental unconscious. Thus the ideal is always in a state of transformation. when something essential is taking place. Anti-Oedipus affirms the revolutionary potential of schizophrenic desire It should therefore be said that one can never go far enough in the direction of deterntorialization. if it constitutes simply an exploration of an alternative mode of analyzing the subject. Suggesting with some irony that the book be read as an "Introduction to the NonFascist Life. for Deleuze. and in the extremity of Its exhortations to pursue them. always either "becoming" itself or "becoming" something other than It IS It comes as no surpnse that.

is itself a consequence of a relation to history. and thus the genealogy of his own philosophical project. but m its historical occasion. Anti-Oedipus offers. Foucault's archaeology of the subject and his genealogy of the subject's historical contingency also constitute a relation to history. finds its justification for Foucault not in the knowledge it produces or the metaphysics it implies. back to Kant's own remarks on the Enlightenment in "Was ist Aufklarung"?" But surprisingly—and significantly— the genealogical connection he makes is not their common concern with the subject. but a continuity m their relation to history The telling thing for Foucault is that "Was ist Aufklarung''" "is a reflection by Kant on the contemporary status of his own enterprise" ("WIE. "What is Enlightenment" Foucault traces the ethos of modernity. marking a histoncal context peculiar to the latter part of the twentieth century. almost the manifesto of French political thought following the events of May 1968 in Pans More generally." p 38) Kant's analysis of the rational subject and the categorical imperative it makes possible." moreover. Foucault emphasizes the histoncal occasion of Anti-Oedipus After all. according to Foucault. emerging out of a Europe which for more than three decades had been contemplating the phenomenon of fascism and how it could have attracted so much intellectual as well as popular support Foucault suggests that AntiOedipus be read not as a treatise on truth but as a response to a historical context rethinking the relation between truth and freedom In short.something of extreme seriousness the tracking down of all vaneties of fascism. an affirmation for the possibilities of a non-fascist life In referring to a "non-fascist life. is here understood as a consequence of a particular relation to history. it is the foremost document. from the enormous ones that surround us to the petty ones that constitute the tyrannical bitterness of our everyday lives " In place then of scientifically specified objectives and the categorical imperative. It IS a late twentieth-century philosophical text. Similarly. repression. to contemporary reality and one's role m it. then. the constitution of "man" as an object of inquiry. Foucault marks here the distinction 103 . then. Without doing it explicitly. like Anti-Oedipus and its affirmation of deterntorialization. Foucault's concern with material history. The critical task of articulating the proper transcendental limits to subjective reason is an ultimately historical exercise. It results from a reflection on "today" "as a motive for a particular philosophical task" ("WIE. with his tongue-m-cheek assertion that it should be understood as an ethical treatise. he suggests that it be understood m terms of the ethos of modernity In his posthumously published essay." p 38) The concern with the subject. an affirmation against domination. which IS how Foucault characterized the significance of the Enlightenment m The Order of Things. exploitation.

" the analysis and reflection upon limits. this means a practice of liberation accomplished not through the free use of reason but through art. dialectics obeys a transcendental imperative. one that finally leads to a new philosophical task. of acting and behaving that at one and the same time marks a relation of belonging and presents itself as a task A bit. and the attitude toward the limit changes according to historical changes in the problem of freedom For Kant." p 39) Through comparative analyses of Kant. since its concern with material history is absolute. not in the complacent analysis of the transcendental limits to the subject but m the artistic capacity to transgress subjective limits and create a new subject The continuity between Kant and Baudelaire. then. no doubt. the issue was to escape a condition of immaturity.between his own and the dialectical focus on material history and its transformation In the context of this distinction. and himself. mature or produce itself 104 . but on the historical subject or the self. that Foucault brings out and posits as the ethos of modernity. a voluntary choice made by certain people. Foucault goes on to characterize this ethos as a "limit-attitude. finally compels man "to face the task of producing himself" ("WIE." p 38). limits established by reason as the proper limits to a mature human subject. which he defined as an unthinking obedience to authority He sought a "way out or a liberation from immatunty accomplished through the free and legitimate use of a transcendental reason" Thus the Enlightenment is "the moment when humanity is going to put its own reason to use. eternal and immutable "Always historicize. too. Baudelaire. without subjecting Itself to any authority. is that of the subject and its discourse. m the following century. a way. yet the attitude toward the limit does not remain the same Submerged in Foucault's analysis of this ethos IS the question of freedom. this relation to self. Foucault claims only a histoncal justification for his concern with matenal history Motivating Foucault's histoncal analyses is the ethos of modernity Not a relation of knowledge but a "philosopical attitude. asserting this slogan as "the one absolute and we may even say transhistorical imperative of all dialectical thought"" In contrast. The focus on "today" brings forth the historical limits of the subject. one that can transform." it is a mode of relating to contemporary reality. a way of thinking and feeling. IS not the focus on a transcendental subject. For Baudelaire. this harmonious relation between freedom and reason turns into a conflict. The limit here. reason is confronted with the historical reality that man's freedom has thereby been restricted This contemplation of the subject." Jameson says. But instead of liberating "man" in this process. like what the Greeks called an ethos ("WIE. and hence to establish the limits of the rational subject beyond which IS not only a transgression of reason but also a threat to freedom For Baudelaire." p 42). in each case. in the end." It therefore becomes necessary to define "the conditions under which the use of reason is legitimate" ("WIE.

even if it is not a rationally produced. Foucault dismisses both discourses of liberation. but conceived solely in terms of transgression. or seek to establish a new liberated order At the same time.For his part. The questions Foucault poses to politics through the problematic of power and knowledge concern. the rational reflection on a transcendental essence and the creative reflection on a historical contingency. but he remains consistent with Kant m that he seeks to establish new limits to subjectivity. but always to ask politics what it had to say about the problems it confronted. the ways m which any solution to a problem constitutes certain kinds of repressions The effect of such questions is to bnng forth the limit in its restnctive or "negative" aspect. a new identity. transcendental and necessary limit but a creative. Foucault only identifies contemporary limits m a project whose transformative purpose is still liberation. but a discourse whose effects are liberating Foucault's project. then. The difference from Kant here is clear. As such. historical and contingent limit Foucault. responding to their own time. m a statement that recalls his qualification of Anti-Oedipus. however. He does not attempt to solve social problems nor does his discourse imply or lead to any solution of any problem As he says." p 41) Foucault conceives the problem of limits only as that which can be transgressed Unlike Kant and Baudelaire who. he pursues a discourse that does not link liberation to truth. points to Baudelaire's "doctrine of elegance" as "a discipline more despotic than the most terrible religions ("WIE. while Foucault contemplates these limits as themselves the production of a contingent or historical discourse Thus he turns the reflection on limits into "a practical critique that takes the form of a possible transgression" ("WIE. since Kant seeks transcendental limits beyond which the subject must not transgress. cannot be understood or appreciated according to the problematic of constituting a proper social organization or a proper subjectivity. he cautions "not to settle for an empty dream of freedom. and he conceives liberation as the transgression of the historical limits of subjectivity. and instead reflects upon how both of these discourses have led not to liberation but to the need for liberation." p 45) The distinction from Baudelaire is less obvious but equally telling Baudelaire's analysis of the subject is thoroughly historical. but the techniques of power employed in establishing the limit and what that lin^iit elides and represses and excludes His archaeological attention to material conditions seeks not knowledge of a new and better limit 105 ." but rather to put the experiments of subjectivity "to the test of reality" ("WIE. "I have never tried to analyze anything whatsoever from the point of view of politics. established new limits." p 46) He intends his analysis of limits not as a discourse whose truth leads to liberty."" Foucault clearly uses the term "politics" here to designate the various discourses that seek to determine laws and policies to deal with various social phenomena that are perceived in Enlightenment fashion as problems to be solved. m fact. m contrast. emphasizing not what the limit allows or values or identifies. nor can it be appropriated by any discourse addressing that problematic.

effective intellectual discourse would not avoid the dilemma but confront it and engage in It as the historical context of the contemporary intellectual Boston University NOTES 1 See Paul Bov6 (the most ardent North American defender of Foucault). both sides of the debate on the ethics of the intellectual appear insufficiently historical Those who m the name of opposition participate in the practices of the traditional intellectual without confronting the historical context of power relations that those practices have always masked and supported. "The farthest I would go IS to say that perhaps one must not be for consensuality. a negation to have its effect withm that context upon those discourses Thus Foucault raises questions and poses problems to politics with the expectation. one blithely pursuing its possibility. 1986) and "The Foucault Phenomenon the Problematics of Style. with the purpose of making possible a transgression of that limit In the context of the contemporary intellectual's ethical dilemma. do indeed perpetuate practices of povifer that can only serve the status quo Yet the rejection and condemnation of any and all attempts to achieve concrete alternatives to social organization constitutes a refusal of any productive historical relation between intellectual activity and politics The culpable complacency of the former is matched by the latter's promotion of a plaintive but benign "no" to the status of the categorical imperative. then. that "politics must answer these questions"^' That he limits his own discourse to the task of raising questions does not mean that critics and thinkers will not or should not contemplate solutions."" From the perspective of Foucault's relation to his histoncal context." which Is the "Foreword" to Gilles Deleuze's Foucault. Inlellec tuals m Power (New York Columbia Unlv Press. Governing both sides is a vestigial Enlightenment desire for the purity and simplicity of a solution.or law. Foucault's project is indeed closer to a Nietzschean affirmation of negation. but both thereby effectively avoiding the concrete historical dilemma they confront. or at least pursue less repressive limits to subjectivity and less repressive laws of social organization For example. according to the terms of Foucault's historical analyses. For Foucault. Foucault's position on group solidarity or consensual politics is not an outright opposition. as he carefully says. but one must be against nonconsensuality. Yet Foucault retains more political savvy and clout than his North American defenders According to the ethos of modernity. Foucault's critical analyses do not constitute a transcendental negation but a histoncal one. pp vii-xi 106 . the other celebrating Its impossibility. but knowledge of how the reignmg limit or law inhibits freedom. trans Sean Hand (Minneapolis University of Minnesota Press. a specific negation asserted within a specific context of power relations among competing discourses. which means. 1988). indeed the demand.

ed Paui Rabinow (New Yori< Pantheon. "Contradiction and Overdetermination. Leviathan is no other than the amalgamation of a certain number of separate individualities. The Postmodern Condition. Foucauit writes we shouid try to grasp subjection in its materiai instance as a constitution of subjects This would be the exact opposite of Hobbes's project in Leviathan. trans A M Sheridan (New York Harper & Row. i beiieve. rpt London NLB. trans Bennington and Massumi (Minneapolis University of Minnesota Press. pp 208-26 LOUIS Althusser. 1977). the constitution of a unitary. trans Gordon et ai (New York Pantheon. ed Fons Eiders (ixn don Souvenir. "What is Enlightenmenf. rpt New Yori< Harper & Row. eds Richard Maci^sey and Eugenio Donato (Baltimore Johns Hopl<ins Univ Press. MA Harvard Univ Press. p 133 Michel Foucault. ed Colin Gordon. "Structure. singular body animated by the spirit of sovereignty—from the particular wills of a multiplicity of individuals Think of the scheme of Leviathan insofar as he is a fabricated man. p 231 107 . The Political Responsibility of the Critic (Ithaca Corneli Univ Press." in Power/Knowledge." p 183 LOUIS Aithusser." afterword to The Archaeology of Knowledge. second edition (Chicago Chicago Univ Press. The World. particularly in the context of its delivery at the conference on structuralism at Johns Hopkins in 1966. 1980). trans Ben Brewster (1969. 1984). p 216 Foucault. i believe that we must attempt to study the myriad of bodies which are constituted as peripheral subjects as a result of the effects of power (pp 97-98) 3 A 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 I* Michel Foucault.2 See especially Edward Said. "On the Materialist Diaiectic. Michel Foucault Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics. 1967). p 189 Althusser. who find themselves reunited by the complex of elements that go to compose the State. dramatizes and articulates this poststructurai turn most clearly Jean-Francois Lyotard. there exists something which constitutes it as such. The Phenomenology of Mind." trans Catherine Porter. 1983). 1983) and Jim Merod." afterword to Hubert L Dreyfus and Paui Rabinow. 1972). pubiished as "iHuman Nature Justice versus Power. p 6 In "Two Lectures. 1987) See aiso Noam Chomsi<y interview with Foucauit on Dutch television. pp 178-202 Michel Foucault. of ail jurists for whom the probiem is the distillation of a single wiil—or rather. Sign and Piay in the Discourse of the Human Sciences. and this is sovereignty. trans J B Bailie (1910. and of that. pp 89-127 Jacques Derrida. which Hobbes says is precisely the spirit of Leviathan Well. "The Discourse on Language. 1984). "Subiect and Power. at its head." p 231 Michel Foucault." m For Marx. but at the heart of the State. pp 247-64 This essay." m For Marx. rather than worry about the problem of the central spirit." in Reflexive Water The Basic Concerns of Mankind. 1976)." in The Structuralist Controversy. "On the Materialist Dialectic. the Text and the Critic (Cambridge." Power/Knowledge Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977. pp 32-50 (hereafter cited as "WIE") G W F Hegel. or rather. 1974). "Truth and Power. in The Foucault Reader. "The Discourse on Language.

1981). preface to Anti-Oedipus. trans Bouchard and Simon (Ithaca Cornell Univ Press." L'homme et la sociiti." p 384 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 108 . in Michel Foucault and the Subvet sion of Intellect (ithaca Corneii Univ Press. Nietzsche and Philosophie. Practice Selected Essays and Interviews. 31-62 Immanuel Kant. for example. "Polemics. p xiv Fredric Jameson." New Left Review." in The Foucault Reader. p 9 Michei Foucault. 1969). Jacques Rancidre. pp 205-17 Michel Foucauit. 1980) Foucault. Probiems and Probiematizations An interview. AntiOedipus Capitalism and Schizophrenia. "Philosophie et Minority. "Poiemics. The Political Unconscious Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (Ithaca Cornell Univ Press. Anti-Oedlpus Capitalism and Schizophrenia. trans Hurley etal (New York Viking. 28-44 See also Kariis Racevskis for a discussion of the same issues in reiation to Foucault and Baudrtiiard. "Sur la th^arie de I'ld^ologle Politique d'Althusser. Poststructuraiism. p xiv Immanuel Kant.15 16 Althusser. 1977). 1983) Peter Dews raises the diaiectical question about the materiai object in a dismissive commentary on Deieuze and other "phiiosophers of desire" in "Adorno. Counter-Memory. p 384 Michei Foucauit. preface to Gilles Deleuze and F6lix Guattan. and the Critique of Identity. 1977). The Critique of Pure Reason." p 168 See. rpt New York St Martin's. p 55 Gilies Deieuze and F6lix Guattari. 1977). pp 154-55 The translations are my own See Giiles Deleuze. p 44 See the "conversation" between Foucauit and Deleuze. eti Donald Bouchard." in Language. 157 (May/June 1986). p 42 (hereafter cited as A-0) Gilies Deieuze. Probiems and Probiematizations. 34 (Feb 1978). trans Hugh Tomlinson (New Yort< Columbia Univ Press. trans Lewis Beck V^hite (Indianapolis Bobbs-Mernll. 27 (1973). "On the Materialist Dialectic. trans Norman Kemp Smith (1929." Critique Revue g6n6rale des publics tions frangaises et 6trang6res. 1965). "Intellectuals and Power. trans Huriey et ai (New York Viking. Foundations lor the Metaphysics ol Morals." in The Foucault Reader. "Politics and Ethics An interview. p 379 Foucauit.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful