Foucault 2.0: A Neo-Liberalised Foucault Beta?

Eric Paras’ book Foucault 2.0 has an atrocious title. The Web 2.0 phenomenon is an expression of the worst excesses of the cultural industry capitalising on a techno-enthusiasm. The title of Paras’ book therefore immediately puts me off. This is a pity because I don’t think I am alone in my desire to not be intepellated into the current fashions of the cultural industry, be they academic or otherwise, and Paras’ book deserves some critical attention. Let this post stand as a review of sorts, it is not a proper review, I only want to highlight the useful and not very useful sections of his book as I understand them.

Others have described this book as partially a biography and partially a work of philosophical critical commentary. This is the strength of the book. To understand philosophers doesn’t mean comprehending concepts according to their identity, but understanding the contingent material practice of philosophy that served as the conditions of emergence for the concept. So not a body of concepts, but a seriality of contingencies that allowed the concepts to be developed. Another brief post is in the works where I engage with Buchanan’s tips for reading Deleuze and Guattari (in the Deleuze and Music edited collection), and I argue that Buchanan takes a pedagogical line organised around the resemblance of the concept to identity, and not the genealogy of the concept and the contingency of its emergence.

The extended discussion of the period of a few years from the late-1960s until the early-1970s in Foucault’s oeurve is very productive. Paras notes the influence of Deleuze’s work and the reconfiguration of Foucault’s method. For example, I have elsewhere described it as the mobilisation of the event where Foucault shunted the event from the shackles of the discursive archive and mobilised it by asking how discourse related to the mechanisms of power as they affected bodies. If Deleuze’s reading is followed then Foucault was always talking about power, but the mobilised event of disciplinary dispositifs was described not simply through the rule-based configuartions of statements, but through the relation of statements to dispositifs: of the archive of discourse to the history of bodily practices.

Similarly, I think Paras’s analysis of Foucault’s Iran writings are productive in that he takes them seriously and unravels the core argument regarding the revolution as a moment where the ‘planetary forces’ of ‘modernisation’ were refused. (This is in stark contrast to Janet Afary and Kevin B. Anderson’s reading of Foucault’s Iran writings, which I briefly mention here.)

This is all well and good until Paras seems to lose the ‘plot’ a bit in what I assume is meant to be the point of the book’s argument, the “Deep Subjects” chapter. Another reader had similar problems with Chapter Four: “Paras’ interpretive strategy blinds him to the continuities at work across Foucault’s texts and reduces his later texts to something of a death bed conversion to the time-honored values of liberal humanism.” The problem, condensed: Paras writes from within neo-liberal discourse and argues from the assumption that “interests” equals “individuals”, thus transforming Foucault’s two courses (77-78 and 78-79) into a project “that viewed the individual as the secret bearer of his own deep truth” (113).

Catastrophic. Why would Foucault simply start to ignore the work of Deleuze and Guattari, where desire is social before it is individual? Why would ‘interest’ necessarily be ‘individual’? The insertion of economics into governmental discourse and practices was completely organised around organising bodies and practices so as to lead to a convenient end or outcome. The convenient end was not of some reified individual, but of ‘interests’. Interests coalesced, they formed agencements that exceed the subjective interests of individuals. The ‘calculated leaving-alone’ was calculated precisely because nothing was left alone. Utter nonsense:

Rather than tighening of the reins of social control, Foucault described a kind of slackening: a power that functioned with precision inasmuch as it let natural processes pursue their course, inasmuch as it let individuals follow their inclinations. (103)

‘Processes’ are not ‘natural’ and ‘inclinations’ do not belong to ‘individuals’.

EDIT 27/09/07: Eric Paras replies in comments.

12 thoughts on “Foucault 2.0: A Neo-Liberalised Foucault Beta?”

  1. Rather than tighening of the reins of social control, Foucault described a kind of slackening: a power that functioned with precision inasmuch as it let natural processes pursue their course, inasmuch as it let individuals follow their inclinations.

    Well that’s just stupid. And that claim alone is enough to suggest that this Paras fellow doesn’t have a clue.

    So instead of commenting on inanities, I’d like to take up the much more sensible (potentially) and enticing (potentially) point you make here, Glen:

    To understand philosophers doesn’t mean comprehending concepts according to their identity, but understanding the contingent material practice of philosophy that served as the conditions of emergence for the concept. So not a body of concepts, but a seriality of contingencies that allowed the concepts to be developed.

    I both agree and disagree with this. I agree that it’s a very productive, and counter-hegemonic (to use an old language for the sake of convenience), way to approach the work of a philosopher. I appreciate the pragmatic value of this approach and the strategic intention behind it, as well as its truth-value (for want of a better word). But I get a bit restless around negation (even though it’s unavoidable at a certain point). I’m not, in other words, very comfortable with the way your affirmation of a particular approach to F. (or any other philosopher) has to be made at the expense of another way.

    Don’t get me wrong: I recognise that the negation is strategic, insofar as it negates an utterly pervasive assumption about how to understand a philosopher. But I wonder whether a “body of concepts” account might not also be pursued in such a way that those concepts are comprehended in terms of a different kind of contingency — hence not according to their identity. Indeed, I wonder whether the quasi-genealogical account of concepts in terms of “a seriality of contingencies” might actually bestow upon those concepts a kind of identity, an identity which itself negates another form of contingency.

    For instance, it’s actually quite common to read F.’s work in terms of the “shifts” that led him to reconfigure his “method” and to focus on different questions, etc. Accordingly, the early F. (supposedly) examines “discourse” via archaeology, then shifts to “power” via genealogy, then examines “the subject” via the question of ethics. Now, it’s true that you’re offering a slightly different take on the “discontinuity” across F.’s “oeuvre”, but the common account of F’s “discontinuity” — qua discontinuity — nevertheless attempts to attend to the contingency of his concepts. Yet that approach also effectively defines the limits to those concepts (hence their identity) in terms of the identity of the “period” constituted by the discontinuities. Effectively, for this common view, F. discusses “power” only in the middle period, and discusses “discourse” only in the first period, etc.

    The argument you cite from Deleuze — that “Foucault was always talking about power” — shows how ridiculously limited and myopic this common view is. But that argument (whether Deleuze concedes it or not; and I wouldn’t have a clue, as I’ve never read D.’s F. book) hinges on the affirmation of a particular kind of speculative transcendence (e.g. as “line of flight”) such that the concept of power, and the formative force of that concept, can be seen as exceeding the contingency of its emergence. Undoubtedly, that event of speculation is itself contingent and emerges from a seriality of contingencies. But its only because part of the contingency of contingency lies in the inevitable possibility of reconstituting or reconfiguring such serialities, after the “fact”, such that contingency is always defined in terms of a future yet to come, that one can position a concept in terms of the contingency of “its” emergence.

    To put it another way, if the concept were defined utterly in terms of the contingency of its emergence, there would be no way of retrospectively investing F.’s earlier work with a concept of power that emerged after that work. Strictly speaking, then, any genealogical account of the emergence of F.’s concepts can be pursued only on the basis of situating that moment of genealogising as the “first” event in the seriality that one subsequently describes. And the implication of this is that a pedagogical, “body of concepts” approach is also, to varying degrees of implicitness and explicitness, a genealogy of sorts. The problem is not, therefore, the account of a philosophers work in terms of its status as a body of concepts. Rather the problem lies in the rhetorical strategy of eliding the significance, even priority, of the event of commentary in the constitution of that body of concepts — a rhetorical strategy that makes out that this is the system of F.’s concepts and as such is independent of its constitution as system.

    I think a pedagogical take on a philosopher’s work is both valuable and legitimate, although I would prefer such an approach to underscore the contingency of the system thus characterised (i.e. the contingency that is the system’s dependence upon the act of systematising). I think that the pedagogical take is valuable and legitimate because — qua pedagogy, qua “method” (implying the possibility of “application”) — the pedagogical approach holds open the possibility of reinscribing the philosopher’s concepts within serialities of contingencies that are yet to come. To that extent, I would prefer a systematic approach that sought also to stress the contingency of “the” system insofar as it hinges on the contingency of those events of “application” (which is by now not the right word) within which the system might subsequently be inscribed.

    So a philosopher’s work always emerges from a seriality of contingencies. It’s just that that seriality isn’t just the one that seems to define the history of the project (or the bio-bibliography of that project). It’s also the seriality that defines the depiction of that work as seriality of contingencies or as body of concepts. And it’s also the seriality that defines the subsequent (speculative) use of such concepts (or of such serialities) for other purposes. To the extent that each of these serialities depends upon the contingency of its constitution as seriality, moreover, the contingency of a philosopher’s work is undelimitable.

  2. “I think a pedagogical take on a philosopher’s work is both valuable and legitimate, although I would prefer such an approach to underscore the contingency of the system thus characterised (i.e. the contingency that is the system’s dependence upon the act of systematising).”

    Excellent comment, and, simply, I agree. Contingency was meant in Althusser’s materialist ontological sense, not in Foucault’s sense of historical discontinuity; although I understand both are historical singularities of a sort refering to open multiplicities.

    I’ll respond properly (hopefully!) in a few days by finishing my post on Buchanan’s chapter. I compare it to the explicit pedagogical basis of the Deleuzian-mode of commentary elucidated in Albert Toscano’s preface to Alliez’s book _Signature of the World_. Toscano’s argument is similar to yours above but framed more in a Deleuzian conceptual terminology. It basically argues that concepts need to be comprehended in their problematic multiplicity, not their identity, so as to promote their differential repetition, rather than the mobilised indoctrination of consumer/students governed by the law of resemblance/identity.

  3. Glen–

    I appreciate that you’ve taken the time to read, digest, and comment upon Foucault 2.0. Although there were clearly a number of things about the book that bothered you tremendously, you didn’t let it stop you from putting together a thoughtful review. I’ve tried to respond to a few of your major criticisms below. For the sake of readability, I’ve set it up in the form of a dialogue between us.

    G: “Eric Paras’ book Foucault 2.0 has an atrocious title. The Web 2.0 phenomenon is an expression of the worst excesses of the cultural industry capitalising on a techno-enthusiasm.”

    E: Foucault 2.0 may very well be a poor title. In fact, I’m sure it is. But not because it’s named after the Web 2.0 phenomenon. It’s not.

    G, quoting Corey McCall: “Paras’ interpretive strategy blinds him to the continuities at work across Foucault’s texts and reduces his later texts to something of a death bed conversion to the time-honored values of liberal humanism.”

    E: The expression “death bed conversion” is actually a direct quote from Foucault 2.0. The whole line reads, ” the best of [recent] scholarship has helped to dispel the myth that Foucault’s interest in the Enlightenment was a kind of ‘deathbed conversion'” (126).

    G: “Paras writes from within neo-liberal discourse and argues from the assumption that ‘interests’ equals ‘individuals’, thus transforming Foucault’s two courses (77-78 and 78-79) into a project ‘that viewed the individual as the secret bearer of his own deep truth’ (113).”

    E: One of James Miller’s preferred tactics in The Passion of Michel Foucault was to extract quotations from historical documents cited by Foucault and put them into Foucault’s own mouth. This made it appear — to readers who only read Miller and not Foucault — that the philosopher advocated, among other things, torture and cruelty. Here, just the opposite approach is used. The quotation above (about the individual as the secret bearer of his own truth) appears in Foucault 2.0 as a description not of Foucault’s project, but of a historical phenomenon — the emergence of the so-called hermeneutics of the self — that Foucault isolated and studied precisely because he considered it “a misfortune” (144).

    G: “‘Processes’ are not ‘natural’ and ‘inclinations’ do not belong to ‘individuals’.”

    E: So insistent was Foucault in this course on the “naturality” of “natural processes” that he repeatedly used the noun “naturalities” (93) to describe them.

    G: “Why would Foucault simply start to ignore the work of Deleuze and Guattari, where desire is social before it is individual?”

    E: We might equally ask why Foucault started to ignore the work of Blanchot (in the mid-60s). Or why he started to ignore the work of Levi-Strauss (in the early 70s). In each case, he did in fact “start to ignore” a prior intellectual mentor and comrade-in-arms; in each case, there is an explanation with tangible historical evidence behind it. In the case of Deleuze, Chapter 3 tries to answer just this question by pointing to, among other things, the great political divide that opened up between the two men in the late 70s. But the real thrust of your question appears to be: ‘Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas are so good — why would anyone abandon them?’ But we don’t need to judge whether Foucault’s intellectual migration was a positive or negative development: the fact that Foucault stopped borrowing a vocabulary from Deleuze; that he stopped citing Deleuze; that he stopped writing about Deleuze; and that he stopped associating with Deleuze in any personal or professional capacity, should, on its own, convince us his thought had proceeded in new directions.

    One comment that I wanted to append was that — while I appreciate your need to vent, and agree that there’s no better forum for venting than a blog — I felt that the (at times) belligerent tone of your review detracted from rather than adding to its quality. To say that the book’s title is “atrocious,” or that a textually-supported opinion is “[utter] nonsense,” while cathartic, really lowers the level of the argument. It also, more seriously, pre-emptively deflects the kind of civil discourse through which we might hope to get closer to the truth. Rob, one of your readers, adopts your tone when he writes that the ideas in Foucault 2.0 — in the decontextualized form in which you’ve presented them — are “just stupid”; are, in fact, “inanities” and proof that “this Paras fellow doesn’t have a clue.”

    Such, anyway, were my thoughts in reading through your post. I’m grateful that you thought enough of the book to critique it; I hope life will afford us the opportunity to talk about it further. Best of luck with your dissertation.

    Eric Paras

  4. Hi Eric,

    Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. Your book deserves a much more thorough engagement than my brief and bellicose remarks above. I really don’t have time to do this completely, and for this I apologise, but I will respond to your main points above with an explication of more developed points so you know where I am coming from.

    A division it seems is emerging in Foucaultian scholarship around the distinction made in the fourth lecture of Security, Territory, Population (“Governmentality”):

    “Interest as the consciousness of each of the individuals making up the population, and interest as the interest of the population, whatever the individual interests and aspirations may be of those who comprise the population, will be the ambiguous fundamental target and instrument of the government of the population. This is the birth of an art, or anyway, of absolutely new tactics and techniques.” (pp105-106 of STP, and slightly different trans. p100 of FE).

    Individual or population? So a better way to have framed my admittedly corrosive comments above would have been to ask regarding the whereabouts of ‘population’: Why did Foucault choose to pursue a focus on the ‘individual’ over ‘population’? Most of the secondary literature that I find interesting draws on the ramifications of engaging with ‘biopolitics’, so there is some interest out there, and I am curious why you didn’t spend more time on the 77-78 course.

    The D&G call was not about how good they are (or their limitations) but derived from your comments on ethics and _Anti-Oedipus_:

    “Foucault, it will be recalled, had argued in The Order of Things that modern thought was incapable of generating a coherent morality. He compounded this statement in a spring 1968 interview, stating pithily that, “morality has ceased to exist in the course of the twentieth century.” Yet by the end of the 1970s, Foucault began to show signs of wavering on this point (as on so many others). As early as 1977, the language of ethics began to infiltrate his working vocabulary. In his preface to the English edition of Deleuze and Guattari’s _Anti-Oedipus_, he called the book, “the first book of ethics to be written in France in quite a long time.” It was, he wrote, a kind of ethical treatise showing us how to unburden ourselves of the “fascism” that, against our will perhaps, inhabits our words and acts.” (p 130)

    You then go onto to make a connection between Foucault’s AO preface and _Subject and Truth_, hence the substance of my comment about where has D&G gone. Deleuze and Guattari’s argument is that the will itself — assembled by desire (in the ontological positive sense) — is constructed into micro-fascisms, so political fascism is assembled largely from people who will their own oppression as a product and expression of their micro-fascisms. As you may have figured out from my blog title I am interested in the notion of the ‘event’. When I read the word ‘ethics’ in Foucault’s preface I immediately thought of Deleuze’s remarks in The Logic of Sense on ethics, and considering Foucault’s excellent review essay of D&R and TLoS, I don’t think the connection is unwarranted. If Foucault reads AO as a book of ethics it is because he is treating the assembly of the subject as an event. Schizoanalysis is a counter-effectuation (or ‘counter-actualization’) of the ‘fascist’ ‘soul’. This is the opposite of a turn to ‘morality’, as moral imperatives, by virtue of various assemblages of church and state, are majoritarian, and tend towards processes of subjectivisation through a manifest juridical priestly function.

    If you recall the distinction Deleuze and Guattari made in _A Thousand Plateaus_ regarding the difference between their approach and that of Foucault (desire vs power), then Foucault’s later works can be understood as attempting to comprehend the constitution of the subject as necessarily a subject of truth, ie (self)knowledge, ie power, as an art of living. You briefly mention the post-Kantian dimensions of this (p145), but in your explication it does read very much like ‘experience’ is that of a subjective interiority. From my perspective, ‘Experiencing one’s own subjectivity’ (as you phrase it, p 144) is therefore a contradiction, when experience itself is subjectivity (to paraphrase Deleuze from _Empiricism and Subjectivity_). Foucault’s essay “What is Enlightenment?” reminds me of Deleuze’s notion differential repetition. Not only in the sense of Foucault’s project and the differential repetition of Kant’s project, but in the quote you (in part) reference (p 145):

    “Constantin Guys is not a flâneur; what makes him the modern painter par excellence in Baudelaire’s eyes is that, just when the whole world is falling asleep, he begins to work, and he transfigures that world. His transfiguration does not entail an annulling of reality, but a difficult interplay between the truth of what is real and the exercise of freedom; ‘natural’ things become ‘more than natural,’ ‘beautiful’ things become ‘more than beautiful,’ and individual objects appear ‘endowed with an impulsive life like the soul of their creator.’ For the attitude of modernity, the high value of the present is indissociable from a desperate eagerness to imagine it, to imagine it otherwise than it is, and to transform it not by destroying it but by grasping it in what it is. Baudelairean modernity is an exercise in which extreme attention to what is real is confronted with the practice of a liberty that simultaneously respects this reality and violates it.”

    The subject here is less a construction of a variation of truth, but of the truth of variation (again to paraphrase Deleuze in _The Fold_, which is actually a paraphrase from D&R). Hence, Foucault’s describes this ‘art of living’ as a “critical ontology of ourselves,” which he suggests “has to be considered not, certainly, as a theory, a doctrine, nor even as a permanent body of knowledge that is accumulating; it has to be conceived as an attitude, an ethos, a philosophical life in which the critique of what we are is at one and the same time the historical analysis of the limits that are imposed on us and an experiment with the possibility of going beyond them.” Furthermore, he adds “This philosophical attitude has to be translated into the labor of diverse inquiries. […] Their theoretical coherence in the definition of the historically unique forms in which the generalities of our relations to things, to others, to ourselves, have been problematized.” According to your reading “experience” and “system” are opposed, and when talking about ‘experience’ “one was looking at the subject from *within*, as an actor” (p 144).

    So to frame my critical comments more in line with agreeable and conventional academic discourse:

    1) I don’t agree that Foucault was pursuing a line of argument that separated “system” and “experience”; as he suggests the “critical ontology of ourselves” requires “the historical analysis of the limits that are imposed on us and an experiment with the possibility of going beyond them.”
    2) I don’t agree that the “critical ontology of ourselves” is produced from an engagement with ‘interests’ (at least not in the sense of ‘interest’ as the “consciousness of each […] individuals”) as this reproduces a Kantian interiority of a judging ‘moral’ subject, rather than the far less certain, ontological practice of ‘experimentation’ of going beyond the limits imposed upon “our relations to things, to others, to ourselves.”

    The title is pretty bad! Granted, not because it is based on “Web 2.0” (my apologies!), but because the resemblance captures what is also grating about Web 2.0. That is, Web 2.0 is necessarily presumptuous in its manufactured or projected seriality. Sure people will have to read your book to understand that (I think!) you mean the ‘late’ Foucault, according to your argument, is the ver 2.0. I think most people will be reminded of the section on ‘commentary’ from his inaugral College de France lecture however. (“The infinite rippling of commentary is agitated from within by the dream of masked repetition: in the distance there is, perhaps, nothing other than what was there at the point of departure: simple recitation.”) This is compounded with the glut of ‘introductory’ texts currently on the market. The only reason why I picked your book up after months of walking past and getting annoyed with the title (as an avatar of the academic cultural industry) was because I was bored at work and I work in a book shop. Hopefully other perhaps similarly-minded googlers will find your comments above and discover it is not related to Web 2.0(!!).

  5. To say that the book’s title is “atrocious,” or that a textually-supported opinion is “[utter] nonsense,” while cathartic, really lowers the level of the argument. It also, more seriously, pre-emptively deflects the kind of civil discourse through which we might hope to get closer to the truth. Rob, one of your readers, adopts your tone when he writes that the ideas in Foucault 2.0 — in the decontextualized form in which you’ve presented them — are “just stupid”; are, in fact, “inanities” and proof that “this Paras fellow doesn’t have a clue.”

    Thanks for the nod, Eric. I’m sorry to see that you want to take my throwaway remarks seriously. By the same token, I’m also a bit miffed that you want to attribute my flippancy and biliousness simply to the content of glen’s review.

    The truth is rather that I’m less than optimistic about the virtues and effectiveness of “the kind of civil discourse through which we [who?] might hope to get closer to the truth”, especially in a blog context. I’m certainly suspicious of any attempt to appeal to the inherent and universal worth of such a discourse, so as to question the “ethics” of any particular contribution to intellectual debate in whatever context. My “low” tone can be attributed therefore to the fact (1) that I don’t feel any imperative to conduct myself in the context of a blog comment box in the same way that I might choose to conduct myself in the context of other sites of intellectual discussion, and (2) that I don’t take it for granted that “non-civil” modes of communication are necessarily impediments to the process of “getting closer to the truth”.

    Still, it’s gotta hurt when someone says you don’t have a clue, especially on the basis of not the slightest bit of direct contact with your work. And so, even though you shouldn’t have any reason to suspect that my opinion, in terms of any “intellectual weight” or “qualification” that it may express, is worth more than that of the lowest kind of internet troll, I offer my apologies for the unkindness of my words. I would be very delighted to learn that the ideas in your book are far from inane and stupid, and I sincerely hope, in that case, that your book garners in other forums the positive reception that it would therefore deserve.

    Cheers
    rob

  6. We might equally ask why Foucault started to ignore the work of Blanchot (in the mid-60s). Or why he started to ignore the work of Levi-Strauss (in the early 70s). In each case, he did in fact “start to ignore” a prior intellectual mentor and comrade-in-arms; in each case, there is an explanation with tangible historical evidence behind it…. the fact that Foucault stopped borrowing a vocabulary from Deleuze; that he stopped citing Deleuze; that he stopped writing about Deleuze; and that he stopped associating with Deleuze in any personal or professional capacity, should, on its own, convince us his thought had proceeded in new directions.

    I should add, btw, that Eric’s comment above, particularly its appeals to biography and a linear history of a bibliography, is exemplary of the reason why I chose to take glen up on his affirmation of the genealogical account of a philosophy over the pedagogical account. The possibilities of F.’s work are not reducible to the “tangible historical evidence” that may or may not suggest where and how “his” thought proceeded. By all means trace such genealogies, etc., but if you seek to use them to negate other accounts — even (especially!) really stupid accounts — you are asking for a fight (i.e. for responses that don’t abide by the rules, as some see them, of “civil discourse”).

  7. Rob’s my hero 😉 Fuck polite bourgeois discourse. Wear your heart on your sleeve people, and get a thicker skin.

    [EDIT by glen: a rob, but not the rob]

  8. Rob #1-

    As always, I appreciate your comments. You made a solid defense of “low” tone and the right to un-civil discourse. Rob #2 then entered stage left to provide a fresh example of what it generally looks like.

    Is making an evidence-based claim “asking for a fight”? I guess. When I responded to Glen’s comments and yours with a request for civility — even in a blog — I wasn’t asking for a tea party. I think that civil discourse IS a fight. It’s the only fair fight, and the only kind that two people can come out of stronger and better than they went in.

    Is a blog an imperfect forum, unlikely to lead to a discourse of “inherent and universal worth”? Absolutely. But your recent comments, like Glen’s, have been serious arguments all — and for that reason extremely helpful, even when they stung; they may not get us to truth, but they get us somewhere. Rob #2, whose primary weapons are the cliche, the emoticon, and the f-word, is in no sense “in the fight.”

    You’re welcome to respond, and I hope you will. I mean it when I say that I’ve gotten a lot from talking with you.

    Eric Paras

  9. Hi Eric

    Is a blog an imperfect forum, unlikely to lead to a discourse of “inherent and universal worth”? Absolutely….. Rob #2, whose primary weapons are the cliche, the emoticon, and the f-word, is in no sense “in the fight.”

    You gotta admit, though: there’s at least a slight vein of humour running through the legs of this thing. I’m enjoying it; glen’s enjoying it; and your most recent comment suggests you’re getting something out of it.

    But your recent comments, like Glen’s, have been serious arguments all

    Absolutely. My beef is with morality and not with serious argument per se, and so it’s the implied imperative — speak the good discourse (where what counts as “good” here, as glen rightly points out, is hardly a universally liberating and impartial value) — that I seek to challenge, rather than the importance of developing new ideas, of justifying particular concepts and ways of thinking, etc.

    My point, then, isn’t simply about debate in a blog context, i.e. a blog being an “imperfect forum”. There is no perfect forum. What you’ve called “civil discourse” seeks to carve out a space which might be imagined as “perfect”, i.e. as open, impartial, and oriented towards the goal of truth and the good society, etc. But the very act of carving out this space on the basis of some perceived ideal properties, formalised as “rules” of conduct, entails a whole series of exclusions, via the establishment of limits on what may count as reasonable, civil discourse.

    Exclusions and limits are, of course, inevitable, and we couldn’t even begin to talk if this weren’t so (as Fish so beautifully put it, “There’s no such thing as free speech, and it’s a good thing too”). So the problem isn’t so much that appeals to the morality of “civil discourse” end up excluding a certain form of speech, etc.. The problem, rather, lies in the force underpinning the belief that “civil discourse” is “the only fair fight, and the only kind that two people can come out of stronger and better than they went in”, i.e. that civil discourse constitutes a universal, regulating ideal, hence the model for assessing intellectual discussion on any and every issue, in any and every context, for any and every purpose.

    That belief and the force of that belief is complicit with the systematic marginalisation of forms of argument, etc., that may (yet) (to come) have some worth.

    None of the above is to say, “don’t defend yourself”. It is to say that trying to shame and scold your critic for not being well-tempered and obedient to the Law of Civil Discourse may not be as effective as you might hope. Indeed, it may well put a great many of your readers off (just to underscore the fact that there is never only two people involved in a debate).

    Of course, it would be fucking stupid (in the sense of utterly inconsistent) to draw from that argument an alternative moral imperative (“do not moralise”). My aim here is not to pronounce the law, but to offer suggestions on matters of effectiveness and strategy (hence reason). If you find those suggestions at all useful, please feel free to draw on them whenever it suits, and don’t feel at all obliged to acknowledge their source. 😉

    Cheers
    rob

  10. Eric: “We might equally ask why Foucault started to ignore the work of Blanchot (in the mid-60s). Or why he started to ignore the work of Levi-Strauss (in the early 70s). In each case, he did in fact “start to ignore” a prior intellectual mentor and comrade-in-arms; in each case, there is an explanation with tangible historical evidence behind it. In the case of Deleuze, Chapter 3 tries to answer just this question by pointing to, among other things, the great political divide that opened up between the two men in the late 70s. But the real thrust of your question appears to be: ‘Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas are so good — why would anyone abandon them?’ But we don’t need to judge whether Foucault’s intellectual migration was a positive or negative development: the fact that Foucault stopped borrowing a vocabulary from Deleuze; that he stopped citing Deleuze; that he stopped writing about Deleuze; and that he stopped associating with Deleuze in any personal or professional capacity, should, on its own, convince us his thought had proceeded in new directions.”

    Coming to this rather lately (and not yet having read the book), I agree with the basic thrust of this argument, for what it is worth. On the other hand, being the superficial sort of person, seeing the book’s title on Amazon (or wherever I first came across it) didn’t incline me to want to pick it up… The recent attention to the book suggests that it may, in fact, be worth taking a look at.

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