Friday, 06 April 2007

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With Apologies, a Little More Foucault (X-posted) A few more brief notes about the discussion of Foucault are in order. Far from being tired, as Alex suggests, I think we should have more such conversations, and more frequently. As serious scholars, we should not concede the floor to sad spectacles of transparent cronyism, nor should we brook the claim that a frequently cited work—one whose title often appears to the immediate right of words like “seminal” and “magesterial”—is near-juvenalia. Critics of Madness and Civilization are not members of a committee maliciously conspiring to torpedo the career of a promising graduate student, but members of a scholarly community which (ideally) can discuss the relative merits of a work considered important. Where Madness and Civilization fits into the Foucauldian corpus is, for the moment, irrelevant. Point of fact, the desire to defend Foucault from his own work—cutting his nose to spite his face—suggests an irrational investment in its inviolability. (This investment is made all the more irrational by the scapegoating by which its illusion is sustained.) If we ignore the historiographical problems with Madness and Civilization, Foucault remains for his acolytes what they desperately need him to be. But what if we mention, as I did, the problems Simon Goldhill identifies in The History of Sexuality? Will it be jettisoned too? I only ask because this reverential model leads to some supremely unintellectual waters, a frightful bilge we would do best to avoid. This is not, however, a post about the inbred thought of oblivious sycophants. Following Foucault Blog‘s lead, this is a post about what I should have foregrounded in my initial one; namely, that I juxtaposed the Scull alongside “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History” because I value the standards espoused in the latter, not to hoist Foucault by his own petard. To claim that only an unserious, derivative hack—like those fools who populate English departments—could express a preference for one Foucauldian period over another is profoundly myopic. Those who chose not to weld the blinders on can see where I’m headed here: Scull may not be able to differentiate methodology from the conclusions drawn through it, but we can; moreover, his review should compel us to question this issue as it relates both to Foucault’s work and our own. Methodological reflection should be part and parcel of academic study; declaring it anathema will neither preserve another’s reputation nor allow us to do the quality work required to build our own.
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Žižek, He Sounds Like a Fool Eyes roll when he opens his mouth, I grant that; but rarely do they drift asleep on a sea of banality, as mine were tempted to watching the many, many Žižek-centric extras on Children of Men. I happily hold his strange blend of Lacanian and Hegelian thought against him—these assumptions, I think in ridiculously stentorian tones, I cannot bear. But I'd never been bored by the man before last night; yet there I was, on my couch, listening to his Slavic-lilt and wanting to slit my wrists. He declared many things, and strongly, and many other things strongly too ... but he never made much of an interesting point, nor did he say much of anything I hadn't already thought. Which is when I realized that his lackluster performance was probably not his fault. I don't share many (if any) assumptions with Žižek, so if I could muster on my own approximately what he'd said, that meant either 1) I'm a sleeper-Lacanian or 2) many, many hours of footage had been edited until all that remained were a few clips that sounded smart to the dropouts working the editing suite. Whatever he'd said that was peculiar to himself had been chopped in order to satisfy someone else's (mistaken) idea of what an intellectual sounds like. However, I could almost reconstruct the interesting strain of thought Žižek wanted to follow there. It had something to do with the challenges countries with no written constitution face when the traditional (common law) order on which they teeter finally crumbles. He said as much once, and would've elaborated in his discussion of the "rootlessness of boats" had someone decided to include that footage in the piece. I would try to reconstruct the argument in full ... but as I said, I'm not quite equipped for that climb.

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