A long rambling post that his been in the works for a while.
Peter Hallward, Prof of Modern European Philosophy at Middlesex Uni, is probably best known for his work on largely being responsible for introducing the Anglophone world to Alain Badiou’s philosophy. Before this Badiou-phase Hallward wrote a book Absolutely Postcolonial: Writing Between the Singular and the Specific. The ‘singular’ as a concept has become central in contemporary philosophy. Hallward’s conception of the ‘specific’ can be inferred from the short extract of an essay available on the Radical Philosophy journal website.
In a different essay Hallward sets up a systematic distinction between Deleuze and Foucault using this ‘specific’ and ‘singular’ distinction.
My aim here is to provide the basis for a systematic distinction, in the broadest available terms, of Foucault from Deleuze with regard to their conceptions of individuation and experience. Deleuze, I will argue, pursues a fully singular conception of the individual, Foucault a fully specific one. This distinction says more about their fundamental projects than the many and generally familiar thematic resemblances that linked their work and justified their mutual admiration. For these two approaches to individuation, singular and specific, are poles apart. The singular is aspecific. If a specific individual is one which exists as part of a relationship to a context, to other individuals and to itself, a singular individual is one which like a Creator god transcends all such relations. A singularity creates the medium of its own existence or â€œexpression,â€ in Spinozaâ€™s sense. Examples of singular logics include the sovereign of absolutist political theory, the proletariat of Marxistâ€“Leninism, and the market affirmed by contemporary global capital; each constitutes itself through itself, to the exclusion of others (other sovereigns, other classes, other markets â€¦). The singular recognises no limits. The specific, on the other hand, exists only in the medium of relations with others, and turns ultimately on the confrontation of limits â€“ the limits, for instance, of experience, of language, of knowledge, of expression, of introspection…
The essential difference between Deleuze and Foucault, then, can be stated very simply: Deleuze seeks to write a philosophy without limits (through immediate intuition of the unlimited, or purely creative), whereas Foucault writes a philosophy of the limit as such (at the limits of classification, at the edge of the void that lies beyond every order of recognition or normalisation).
I don’t want to appear to be too much of a twit, as Hallward offers an extremely erudite argument and he is a successful prof and everything, but there are two problems with this essay and one minor stylistic thing.
1) The distinction is “made of Foucault from Deleuze” as if Deleuze is the ‘singularity’ which must be accounted for in the ‘specificity’ of Foucault. What would happen if the task was reversed? The distinction was ‘made of Deleuze from Foucault’? This raises its own problems as the measures of comparison would have to change even if the focus was to remain on individuation. Foucault’s method was primarily historical, Deleuze’s was not. Foucault was working under the ‘burden of causality’ precipitated by historical method that Deleuze was not. More on this below.
2) From what I can figure out (Hallward references another book the essay appears in), Hallward does not quote or reference Foucault’s essay on “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History”:
An entire historical tradition (theological or rationalistic) aims at dissolving the [eruption of] singular event into an ideal continuity-as a teleological movement or a natural process. “Effective” history, however, deals with events in terms of their most unique characteristics, their most acute manifestations. An event, consequently, is not a decision, a treaty, a reign, or a battle, but the reversal of a relationship of forces, the usurpation of power, the appropriation of a vocabulary turned against those who had once used it, a feeble domination that poisons itself as it grows lax, the entry of a masked “other.” The forces operating in history are not controlled by destiny or regulative mechanisms, but respond to haphazard conflicts. They do not manifest the successive forms of a primordial intention and their attraction is not that of a conclusion, for they always appear through the singular random//ness of events. The inverse of the Christian world, spun entirely by a divine spider, and different from the world of the Greeks, divided between the realm of will and the great cosmic folly, the world of effective history knows only one kingdom, without providence or final cause, where there is only “the iron hand of necessity shaking the dice-box of chance.” Chance is not simply the drawing of lots, but raising the stakes in every attempt to master chance through the will to power, and giving rise to the risk of an even greater chance. The world we know is not this ultimately simple configuration where events are reduced to accentuate their essential traits, their final meaning, or their initial and final value. On the contrary, it is a profusion of entangled events. If it appears as a “marvelous motley, profound and totally meaningful,” this is because it began and continues its secret existence through a “host of errors and phantasms.” We want historians to confirm our belief that the present rests upon profound intentions and immutable necessities. But the true historical sense confirms our existence among countless lost events, without a landmark or a point of reference.
The ‘singular randomness of events’. This is not the ‘same’ singularity as Deleuze’s. Yet, what would happen if the ‘burden of comparison’ was reversed? First, although some would like to otherwise argue (allegedly on his behalf), I think Foucault is being accurate when he says, “I’m not much of a philosopher” (249). His works were not ones of philosophy. Second, he was working not only against both “the facticity and mute inertia of occurrences”(351) but a particular conception of continuist historical method. Examples from Volume 2 of the ‘essential works – aesthetics’ (the one that Hallward references):
1) â€œThose events [of the existence of discourse, by the fact words are spoken] functioned in relation to their original situation, they left traces behind, they continue to exist, and they exercise, in that very subsistence in history, a certain number of manifest or secret functions.â€ (289)
2) â€œArcheology, as I understand it, is not akin either to geology (as the analysis of // substrata) or to genealogy (as the description of beginnings and successions); it is the analysis of discourse in its archival form.â€ (289-290)
3) “One might ask what is the ultimate purpose of this suspension of all accepted units this obstinate pursuit of discontinuity, if it is no more // than a matter of releasing a cloud of discursive events, of collecting them and preserving them in their absolute dispersion. In fact, the systematic effacement of merely given units makes it possible, first, to restore to the statement its singularity as an event. [â€¦] [A] Statement is always an event that neither language nor meaning can completely exhaust. […] [T]he aim is to grasp how these statements, as events and in their so peculiar specificity, can be articulated to events that are not discursive in nature, but may be of a technical, practical, economic, social, political, or other varietyâ€ (307-308)
I really don’t understand why the ‘event’ has not played a much larger formal role in the work of those using Deleuze and Foucault. I don’t think I’ve read a single thing about ‘events’ in Foucault’s work except for Chris Colwell’s stuff on Deleuze and Foucault and the ‘Event of AIDS’. I have read lots, but maybe I haven’t read enough! (oh, the PhD anxiety…) It seems as if Deleuzian or Foucaultian acolytes are more interested in becoming part of the event of ‘Deleuze’ or ‘Foucault’ by continuing to be interested in the things they were interested in rather than using a critical use of their methods. Is this why they are popular, because it allows academics to engage with ‘academic popular culture’ (academic enthusiasms)?
If Hallward engaged with Deleuze’s anti-philosophical texts — his ‘pop-philosophies’ — such as Kafka with Guattari or Essays Clinical and Critical I think a comparison between Foucault and Deleuze on Foucault’s terms would be very interesting.
3) Lastly, there is an annoying stylistic thing with the way Hallward writes. We all have our quirks, but this is frustrating as it appears to be blatant rhetorical flourish. Examples:
1) “Throughout this highly misleading account of Foucault’s work…” Highly misleading? How? Why? (The English version is a highly misleading translation of the French!) Perhaps it is beyond the orbit of Hallward’s agrument, but for a lowly dumb arse like me I like to know why it is a ‘misleading account’ (and not, for example, a ‘successful philosophical engagement with an anti-philosopher).
2) Or another example: “Nothing could be further from Deleuze than Foucault’s merging, through Blanchot, or the privileged myths of Eurydice and the Sirens.” What does this even mean? What sense of proximity allows one to say ‘further from’ a person’s name? Which stands in for what? ‘Deleuze’ the person, the body of work, the alleged body of thought? It doesn’t mean anything and means everything at once.
I thought I was reading Foucault through Deleuze, but now I realise I am increasingly doing the opposite, or even more complex readings that cannot be reduced to either Deleuze’s or Foucault’s respective singularities of thought. Hallward’s essay is very interesting, but the confrontation between ‘Deleuze’ and ‘Foucault’ has to be more complex than a reduction of one singularity into the other’s specificity.