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Chapter 4 Ideology and Social Subjectivity
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From Archaeology to Genealogy

The Archaeology of Knowledge did little more than expose the soft theoretical underbelly of Foucault's otherwise important historical works. The failure of his attempt to "out-Althusser Althusser" propelled Foucault toward the only viable approach left open to him, that is, toward Nietzsche and to the neo-Nietzschean, postmodern Left of Deleuze. In the early seventies Foucault returned to the problem of the rarity of discourse from a new "genealogical" perspective and resolved the question of determinative priority between structures of thought and the structures of society, brutally, in favor of the latter. The notion of episteme is abandoned in favor of a new term, discursive regime , which represents a strong identification of knowledge and domination. "What was missing [in The Order of Things ]," Foucault remarked in a 1977 interview, "was this problem of the 'discursive regime,' of the effects of power peculiar to the play of statements. I confused this too much with systematicity, theoretical form, or something like a paradigm" (Foucault 1980a, 113).


The move away from "theoretical forms" toward a "discursive regime" reactively mirrors Althusser's well-publicized redefinition of philosophy and shift toward the material apparatuses of ideology and the process of interpellation, and once again places Foucault in a position of negative dependence on Structural Marxism. By the time of his important essay "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History" (1971, in Foucault 1977), a new set of differences between Foucault's position and that of Althusser were coming into focus. Lacking anything comparable to Althusser's multifaceted concept of ideology or any general framework for differentiating the existence and function of social practices, Foucault had always conceptualized discursive practice in one-dimensional terms, as either "knowledge" or "power"; hereafter he simply collapses them into a simple unity, knowledge/power. Foucault explicitly reformulates his idea of discourse in terms of power. The discursive regime becomes a dispositif , a system or apparatus (the debt to Althusser could hardly be clearer), signifying that knowledge is now merely an effect of power, that power alone creates structures of thought and constitutes the condition for the possibility of knowledge. In the published summary of his 1971-72 course on penal institutions, Foucault summarized his position this way:

power relations (with the struggles that traverse them or the institutions that maintain them) do not play with respect to knowledge a facilitating or obstructive role; they are not content merely to encourage or stimulate it, to distort or limit it, power and knowledge are not linked together solely by the play of interests or ideologies; the problem is not therefore that of determining how power subjugates knowledge and makes it serve its ends, or how it imprints its mark on knowledge, imposes on it ideological contents and limits. No body of knowledge can be formed without a system of communications, records, accumulation and displacement which is in itself a form of power and which is linked, in its existence and functioning, to other forms of power. Conversely, no power can be exercised without the extraction, appropriation, distribution or retention of knowledge. On this level, there is not knowledge on the one side and society on the other, or science and the state, but only the fundamental forms of knowledge/power. (Foucault, quoted in Sheridan 1980, 131)

Foucault has a valid point to make here. It is essential that social theory recognize that the production of knowledge is itself a process of interpellation embedded in an ideological apparatus. However, I suggest that Foucault has bent the stick too far in this direction, promulgating a simplistic reduction of knowledge to domination that extends beyond the history of science (where it has an undeniable, if partial,


heuristic value) to the philosophy of science (where it serves as an epistemological category based on a ontological essence, power). Concealed within the conceptual transition from episteme to knowledge/power is a rather ominous shift in Foucault's attitude toward the content of discourse. Knowledge effects are no longer neutral things (Archaeology of Knowledge ) or even effects of exterior "bad" things (Madness and Civilization ); knowledge becomes in itself an explicitly oppressive form of domination. Foucault's insight, that knowledge is a process of interpellation, is inscribed within a simple, undifferentiated negativity that distinguishes Foucault's usage of the term knowledge/power from Althusser's concepts of science, philosophy, ideology, and ideological apparatuses. Foucault's conceptualization not only forecloses any attempt to articulate a philosophical defense of its own interpretation of historical events but also pre-empts any attempt to discuss knowledge effects in relation to their theoretical object and the knowledges they produce of that object.

In actuality, Foucault's "genealogical method" is a poor alternative to the Althusserian problematic and not much of an improvement over archaeology, whose ad hoc character and bias against totalization it retains without qualification. Aside from a focus on knowledge as an ideological apparatus, all the positive attributes of genealogy derive from the recognition of subjectivity as a social production, an insight taken over completely from Althusser and then impregnated with a Nietzschean-Deleuzean vitalism. The result, far from overcoming the methodological and epistemological problems of archaeology, reproduces them in an intensified form. Whereas structural causality can easily accommodate knowledge/power in terms of an articulation of scientific practice within a social whole that assigns it a place and a function (a social whole determined, in the last instance, by the economy), Foucault can express knowledge/power only as reified and hypostatized fact. Subtracting those materialist elements it borrows from Structural Marxism, Foucault's genealogy is little more than a series of rhetorical flourishes, oscillating between a peculiarly teleological form of historicism and a strident, politicized aestheticism that denies the truth of its own research.

In "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History," Foucault elaborates on what he takes to be the strengths of the genealogical method. First among these is the fact that genealogy, like archaeology, continues to reject historical determination and scientific realism, the belief in "immobile forms that precede the external world of accident and succession." If the genealo-


gist "listens to history," Foucault explains, "he finds that there is 'something altogether different' behind things: not a timeless and essential secret, but the secret that they have no essence or that their essence was fabricated in a piecemeal fashion from alien forms" (Foucault 1980a, 142). The "search for origins" that defines history for Foucault is abandoned by the genealogists in favor of an analysis of what he calls "descent." The difference between descent and origin is that the former is not based on a category of "resemblance." Rather than the unity of resemblance, genealogy is interested in "subindividual marks that might possibly intersect . . . to form a network that is difficult to unravel." The genealogist "sets out to study the beginning—numberless beginnings whose faint traces and hints of color are readily seen by an historical eye. The analysis of descent permits the dissociation of the self, its recognition and displacement" (Foucault 1980a, 145-46). In fact, the distinction between origins and "beginnings" turns on ontologizing difference in the manner of Deleuze, a move that simultaneously asserts the accidental nature of being and the privileged eye of the genealogist.

An examination of descent also permits the discovery, under the unique aspect of a trait or a concept, of the myriad events through which—thanks to which, against which—they were formed. Genealogy does not pretend to go back in time to restore an unbroken continuity that operates beyond the dispersion of forgotten things. . . . Genealogy does not resemble the evolution of a species. . . . On the contrary, to follow the complex course of descent is to maintain passing events in their proper dispersion; it is to identify the accidents, the minute deviations—or conversely the complete reversals—the errors, the false appraisals, and the faulty calculations that gave birth to those things that continue to exist. (Foucault 1980a, 146)

Genealogy, Foucault seems to be saying, is the method of knowing real history (proper dispersions ), the anti-teleological teleology (the chain of accidents ) of what exists, by means of an anti-reflectionist reflectionism (which permits the discovery of the true untruth of being). It must be left to the reader to measure Foucault's disarmingly frank embrace of ad hoc historicist reflectionism against the Structural Marxist project of differential history. Here it is necessary only to contrast Foucault's historical reflectionism with his antithetical posture of epistemological relativism in order to demonstrate the absurdity of the whole genealogical enterprise. Not only does Foucault claim to have privileged access to history—to real historical events and tendencies which he wishes to bring to our attention and against which he wishes to enlist our support—but he also disclaims any responsibility for what


he views to be the totalitarian implications of his claim to knowledge. If knowledge is power, and power is bad, then theory must be rejected: "Reject all theory and all forms of general discourse. This need for theory is still part of the system we reject" (Foucault 1980a, 231).

Foucault wants his genealogies to be part of what Deleuze and Guattari call a rhizome , a vine-like subterranean resistance that surfaces, unexpectedly, as a nomadic guerrilla attack on the global network of power and then disappears again. "Against this global policy of power," Foucault valiantly proclaims, "we initiate localized counter-responses, skirmishes, active and occasionally preventative defenses. We have no need to totalize that which is invariably totalized on the side of power" (Foucault 1980a, 212). The fear of totalization, rooted in the reduction of knowledge to power, leads Foucault to pragmatism, a reduction of his genealogies to political pamphlets whose sole value resides in their rhetorical power. "Writing," Foucault insists, "interests me only insofar as it enlists itself into the reality of a contest, as an instrument of tactics, of illumination. I would like my books to be, as it were, lancets, or Molotov cocktails, or minefields; I would like them to self-destruct after use, like fireworks" (Foucault, quoted in Megill 1985, 243). Where the coin of reason has been devalued, the counterfeit of manipulation will have to serve, and with it comes the inevitable inflation of rhetoric and voluntarism.

Both the historicist-theoretical and the rhetorical-pragmatic tendencies of Foucault's method have a common objective, the identification of and resistance to structures of domination. The problem is that these tendencies contest each other in an irreconcilable fashion. Rather than setting up a productive tension between theory and practice, one that would clarify and distinguish each in relation to the other, Foucault elides the antithesis between them, leaving us in a realm of political fiction: "I am fully aware that I have never written anything other than fictions. For all that, I would not want to say they were outside the truth. It seems plausible to me to make fictions work within truth, to introduce truth-effects within a fictional discourse, and in some way to make discourse arouse, 'fabricate,' something which does not yet exist, thus to fiction something. One 'fictions' history starting from a political reality that renders it true, one 'fictions' a politics that does not yet exist starting from a historical truth" (Foucault 1980a, 193). Even if one shares Foucault's desire for a new vision of the future, one may entertain deep reservations about fictionalizing history as the means to achieve it.

In his major works of the seventies, Discipline and Punish (1975;


English translation, 1979) and The History of Sexuality (1976; English translation, 1980), Foucault focuses on "disciplinary technologies" (normalizing techniques, forms of domination), which he holds to be both more representative of modern industrial societies and more broadly diffused throughout social practices than the economically derived domination emphasized in Marxist analyses. Indeed, Foucault likes to accuse Marxists of missing the actual "mechanics of power" or the "general functioning" of power by focusing on only one of its forms, economic domination: "Psychiatric internment, the mental normalization of individuals, and penal institutions have no doubt a fairly limited importance if one is only looking for their economic significance. On the other hand, they are undoubtedly essential to the general functioning of the wheels of power. So long as the posing of the question of power was kept subordinate to the economic instance and the system of interests which this served, there was a tendency to regard these problems as of small importance" (Foucault 1980a, 116). Again, I have no quarrel with the rational kernel of Foucault's critique (despite the straw-man tactics that serve to give it more force than it would otherwise carry), nor do I deny the important corrective function Foucault's works have performed. Foucault's seminal studies of prisons and sexuality, and his concepts of disciplinary technology, bio-power, and so forth have justifiably called attention to the subtle mechanisms and pervasive presence of normalizing technologies within social institutions and discursive practices.

Nevertheless, as several critics have pointed out, Foucault's Nietzschean problematic, heavily indebted to Deleuze, works at cross-purposes to a materialist understanding of power. It seems to me that the merits of Foucault's historical analyses derive from their reactive tension with (and underlying dependence on) Althusserian concepts. Foucault's Nietzschean turn, far from advancing beyond Structural Marxism, in fact represents a regression, inferior by the very criteria that Althusser and Foucault share. Foucault is ineluctably driven away from the materiality of power (the starting point of his analyses) toward a mythologized, ahistorical, and ultimately essentialist concept: Power. From the perspective of Power, Foucault is unable to distinguish between different forms or relations of power (any more than between different forms of discourse), nor can he formulate any coherent concept of political resistance to power. However, if we strip away Foucault's Nietzschean veneer, his essentialist ontology of Power, and his rather vulgar anti-Marxism, we discover an imaginative practitioner of


differential history whose insights may be reconciled with Althusser's Structural Marxist problematic. This outcome is surprising only at first glance; on reflection it is a logical terminus to the common project—the anti-historicist, anti-humanist, anti-empiricist reformulation of historical methodology—begun by Althusser and Foucault in the sixties.

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Chapter 4 Ideology and Social Subjectivity
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