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.