31 Jan 2009
In many Western universities there are heaps of Foucaldian rubbish waiting to be taken out with the trash. Perhaps this article will help hasten the day. Forse.
13 Feb 2009
I happened to be reading Edward Said's Reflections on Exile when this came out (yes, I lead an exciting life), and happened to read it around the same time as I re-read Edward Said's obituary for Foucault, "Michael Foucault, 1927-1984." NER's readers might find the contrasts amusing.
Unlike Ibn Warraq, Said deals with Foucault's views on the Iranian Revolution in a single obscure, but decidedly exculpatory paragraph (p. 195), which is sandwiched on the one hand by adulation for the "regimen of erudition" Foucault practiced, and on the other by praise for Foucault's exhaustiveness as a "researcher" and the "exhiliration" he produced in his readers.
This bit of whistling in the dark comes from an author who otherwise cannot get off of the topic of the specifically political circumstances and implications of humanistic research, and can't stop making accusations about those who deal too lightly with it. Well he got off the topic fast enough here.
Later we are told that Foucault "wanted everyone to be aware of what disciplines, epistemes, and statements were really all about, without illusion." I'm not quite sure what the "really" could signify if "episteme" (i.e., knowledge) is itself an illusion. And never mind that Foucault's dubious "want" went into mysterious remission on the occasion of the Iranian Revolution.
But my favorite passage is: "But whether Foucault is read and benefited from as a philosopher or as a superb intelligence riskily deploying language and learning to various, often contradictory ends, his work will retain its unsettling, antiutopian influence for generations to come" (p. 196).
It tells you something about Said's standards that he regards self-contradiction as the mark of intelligence. But those, I guess, are the standards required to praise Foucault as he does. And that, I think, is an accurate summary of both Said's and Foucault's "unsettling influence for generations to come."
Ironically, I happen to be teaching Foucault's Archaeology of Knowledge in a class on epistemology next term. I'll give it a fair shot, and trust my students to make up their own minds about it (assuming they actually do the reading). The "generations to come" are now here. They might as well figure out how to deal with being "unsettled."