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Chapter 4 Ideology and Social Subjectivity
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On the Subject of Power

The human sciences, long the object of Foucault's interest and animosity, are the paradigmatic examples of knowledge/power. Taking up, in a more sophisticated and direct way, themes of Madness and Civilization and Birth of the Clinic , Foucault dramatically asserts the dominating character of discourses pertaining to human beings, their social nature, and organization in Discipline and Punish and The History of Sexuality . For Foucault, expanding our scientific knowledge of human beings is only the ideological exterior of a process whose invisible core, masked by scientific and humanitarian rhetoric, is actually a complex and relentless conquest of human beings. In Discipline and Punish , a brilliant survey of prisons and their rationale, Foucault argues that the transition from physical punishment to modern methods of imprisonment and rehabilitation—the whole legal, psychiatric, carceral apparatus—is not the result of a "humanization" of the social handling of deviant behavior based on an increase in knowledge. Instead, it is one instance of a general process involving the creation and expansion of what Foucault calls "discipline," the internal subdivision and subjugation (dressage ) of the body, as opposed to "punishment," the external command and control over an otherwise whole and independent body.

Such disciplinary technologies, forms of political anatomy that Foucault calls "bio-power," extend far beyond the phenomenon of the prison system. They form discrete parts of a general pattern, originating in the eighteenth century, that progressively embraced the entire spectrum of the human sciences. In Foucault's view, the exercise of power over the population and the accumulation of knowledge about it are really the same process. Science functions within social formations to increase the leverage of power over the body, which in turn advances objectification: not power and knowledge but knowledge/power.

I am not saying that the human sciences emerged from the prison. But if they have been able to be formed and to produce so many it is because they have been conveyed by a specific and new modality of power: a certain policy of the body, a certain way of rendering the accumulation of men docile and


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useful. This policy required the involvement of definite relations of knowledge in relations of power; it called for a technique of overlapping subjection and objectification; it brought with it new procedures of individualization. The carceral network constituted one of the armatures of this power-knowledge that has made the human sciences historically possible. (Foucault 1979, 305)

In The History of Sexuality , Foucault argues that discourse about sexuality is also a dispositif , yet another example of bio-power serving to bring the body under calculation, observation, and normative control. Foucault attacks the commonly held view that sex was "hushed up" by Victorian morality in the nineteenth century. In fact, he notes, discourses about sexuality proliferated at an unprecedented rate after 1800. However, as discourses about sexuality proliferated, the actual libidinal life of individuals became more restrictive. Sexuality was posited as the most powerful of drives, so powerful (and so irrational) that new forms of collective and individual discipline were necessary to control it. Through various strategies (redefining women as hysterical, attacking adolescent masturbation, the socializing of procreation of couples, and the psychiatrization of sexual "abnormality"), bio-power was extended during the nineteenth century through the "scientific" understanding of sexuality. Moreover, sexuality became an integral part of what Foucault calls "confessional technology," the idea that one could, with the help of experts, of course, know and cure one's self by telling the truth. "Western man," Foucault insists, "has become a confessing animal." What we are accustomed to view as a therapeutic process becomes in Foucault's eyes merely "one of the West's most highly valued techniques for producing the truth" (Foucault 1980, 59).

Bio-power is obviously, if negatively, related to the Althusserian concepts of interpellation and ideological apparatuses; the underlying anti-Althusserian animus of Foucault's thinking is readily discernible. Points of demarcation, however, must be clearly noted. Whereas Structural Marxism is able to situate the interpellation of human beings within a conceptual framework that accounts for both the positive as well as the negative aspects of the process, for both the internal complexity of subjectivity as well as the external forces that overdetermine it, Foucault presents us with a homogeneous field of power couched in exclusively negative, oppressive terms on which a mysterious and monolithic strategy of domination is being impersonally enacted. This is, of course, not an original strategy. Foucault's understanding of power and domination is infused with the rhetoric of libertarian-libertine aesthetic revolt (a


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tradition that runs from Sade to Bataille) and neo-anarchist, irrationalist populism (from Michelet through Bakunin and Sorel to the soixantehuitards ). Whatever persuasive character this tradition possesses turns on a strategy of avoiding distinctions between different types, degrees, and relations of power—and invoking instead a primal opposition between an ahistorical essence of liberty (existing prior to society) and society itself (the essentialized antithesis of liberty, which is becoming ever more successful in limiting, regulating, and dominating liberty). It is the achievement of Nietzsche, of course, to have given this essence a name, "will to power," but it is his French admirers who have extended the domain of heroic striving for liberty to include the toiling masses (for whom Nietzsche had only contempt).

While ideological interpellation is always a matter of power, Althusser, in contrast to Foucault, does not conclude that it is therefore necessarily oppressive. Ideological interpellations—including knowledge/power and bio-power—are assigned a place and a function by the matrix effect of a mode of production. However, they also possess their own relative autonomy, distinct effectivity, and internal contradictions. For Althusser, because of substantive differences and an irreducible degree of contradiction or incompatibility among the various interpellations, they cannot be reduced to a monolithic, undifferentiated whole. More fundamentally, Althusser acknowledges no "essence of human liberty" waiting to be set free from the process of interpellation. In actuality, it is interpellation that gives the human subject its "essence," the capacity to act in society, and without interpellation society is simply unthinkable. Foucault knows this, of course, but his description of the process of interpellation is necessarily negative given his dogmatic rejection of any Marxist (or even any historical) problematic that might explain power in terms of society (rather than society in terms of Power). Foucault can explain knowledge/power and bio-power only by hypostatizing them, that is, by making Power, in true Nietzschean fashion, the primal stuff, the ontological precondition of historical processes. This reification of power—a subtle move from the explanation of power to an explanation by Power—pushes Foucault toward the idealist and voluntarist camp of Deleuze despite the strong materialist element in his own best work. The material world is never left out of Foucault's analyses—the materiality of power is the source of Foucault's undeniable superiority vis-à-vis the other French Nietzscheans—but it is, in the last instance, the effect of Power, which is always anterior to any particular configuration of power.


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The consequence of hypostatizing Power is an inability to specify relationships between bio-power and other forms of social power. For example, Foucault frequently acknowledges some more or less strong historical relationship between bio-power and capitalism. He notes that it becomes historically possible to make people work efficiently and productively only after they have been "caught up in a system of subjection (in which need is also a political instrument meticulously prepared, calculated and used); the body becomes a useful force only if it is both a productive body and a subjected body" (Foucault 1979, 26). Even more directly, "If the economic take-off of the West began with the techniques that made possible the accumulation of capital, it might perhaps be said that the methods for administering the accumulation of men made possible a political take-off. . . . In fact, the two processes—the accumulation of men and the accumulation of capital—cannot be separated" (Foucault 1979, 220-21).

Foucault cannot, however, flesh out the relations of determination between economic power, its reproduction, and other relations of power such as bio-power. Bio-power is linked to the development of capitalism, but because it precedes and exceeds this and every other historical transformation, the entire picture loses any recognizable shape.

This bio-power was without question an indispensable element in the development of capitalism; the latter would not have been possible without the controlled insertion of bodies into the machinery of production and the adjustment of population to economic processes. But this was not all it required; it also needed the growth of both of these factors, their reinforcement as well as their availability and docility; it had to have methods of power capable of optimizing forces, aptitudes, and life in general without at the same time making them more difficult to govern. If the development of the great instruments of the state, as institutions of power, ensured the maintenance of production relations, the rudiments of anatomo- and bio-politics . . . operated in the sphere of economic processes, their development, and the forces working to sustain them. They also acted as factors of segregation and social hierarchization, exerting their influence on the respective forces of both these movements, guaranteeing relations of domination and effects of hegemony. (Foucault 1980, 140-41)

Foucault's analysis loses its focus at precisely the point where the reciprocal determinations of power must be conceptually disentangled, given a hierarchy of dominance and subordination, and set into coherent theoretical form. From a certain point of view, Foucault's problem-


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atic appears to take into account the "real" complexity of history, the absence of any causal nexus, the excess of historical signifieds over theoretical signifiers, and so on. If this were the case, we would still be entitled to ask why the analysis pulls up just here and not at a higher or a lower level of abstraction. The answer, I think, has less to do with empirical "complexity" than with ontological simplicity—a metahistoricization of Power. Differences in power and the hierarchical relationships between different forms of power do not really matter for Foucault, because in the end such distinctions are epiphenomena of Power. Power serves as an escape mechanism for Foucault, an escape from the responsibility of proceeding from description to explanation. "Power must be understood in the first instance as the multiplicity of force relations immanent in the sphere in which they operate and which constitute their own organization. . . . Power's condition of possibility . . . must not be sought in the primary existence of a central point, in a unique source of sovereignty from which secondary and descendent forms could emanate. . . . Power is everywhere; not because it embraces everything, but because it comes from everywhere" (Foucault 1980, 92-93).

"Power is everywhere." Located at every point in the social structure, or rather in every "relation of force" between points, Power constitutes and traverses individuals, invades and informs the gestures of the body, circulates within regimes of discourse, and produces effects of knowledge and pleasure. Power is diffused through the finest channels of the social body by what Foucault calls "micro-powers." Here Foucault reverses the traditional conception of power as invested in a central organizing instance—most notably the state. "Micro-powers" may be "crystallized" so as to produce certain global effects of domination—for example, class domination—but there is no intrinsic relation between these "micro-powers" and the larger structures of domination that are supported by them. The various forms of exploitation cannot be predicted because Power precedes structure and therefore cannot be deduced from it. Power is thus some kind of undifferentiated force or energy that circulates through social formations and is basic to them. It is ultimately unimportant (as well as impossible) to distinguish ideological, political, economic, or theoretical practices, for such distinctions don't really matter: they are all merely forms of power. It is never, with Foucault, a question of what power and for what purpose, since power is always already there, obeying its own laws, and its only purpose is its own expansion.


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Foucault's problem, of course, is how to formulate a radical, democratic political practice from such a Nietzschean metaphysics. In the absence of concrete relations of determination, power is effectively emptied of any real political content. Foucault attempts to avoid this outcome by introducing Deleuze's concept of "resistance" into his problematic. The shortcomings of the whole Nietzschean methodology are nowhere more evident than in Foucault's tortuous attempt first to generate resistance out of power and second to demonstrate how such resistances might actually succeed in subverting power without simply becoming new forms of domination in their turn. The passage is lengthy but it must be quoted in full:

Where there is power, there is resistance, and yet, or rather consequently, this resistance is never in a position of exteriority in relation to power. Should it be said that one is always "inside" power, there is no "escaping" it, there is no absolute outside where it is concerned, because one is subject to the law in any case? Or that, history being the ruse of reason, power is the ruse of history, always emerging the winner? This would be to misunderstand the strictly relational character of power relationships. Their existence depends on a multiplicity of points of resistance: these play the role of adversary, target, support or handle in power relations. These points of resistance are present everywhere in the power network. Hence there is no single locus of great Refusal, no soul of revolt, source of all rebellion, or pure law of the revolutionary. Instead there is a plurality of resistances, each of them a special case: resistances that are possible, necessary, improbable; others that are spontaneous, savage, solitary, concerted, rampant, or violent; still others that are quick to compromise, interested, or sacrificial; by definition, they can only exist in the strategic field of power relations. But this does not derive from a few heterogeneous principles; but neither are they a lure or a promise that is of necessity betrayed. They are the odd term in relations of power; they are inscribed in the latter as an irreducible opposite. Hence they too are distributed in an irregular fashion: the points, knots, or focuses of resistance are spread over time and space at varying densities, at times mobilizing groups or individuals in a definitive way, inflaming certain points of the body, certain moments in life, certain types of behavior. Are there no great radical ruptures, massive binary divisions, then? Occasionally, yes. But more often one is dealing with mobile and transitory points of resistance, producing cleavages in a society that shift about, fracturing unities and effecting regroupings, furrowing across individuals themselves, cutting them up and remolding them, marking off irreducible regions in them, in their bodies and minds. Just as the network of power relations ends by forming a dense web that passes through apparatuses and institutions, without being exactly localized in them, so too the swarm of points of resistance traverses social stratifications and individual unities. (Foucault 1980, 95-96)

Despite ritualistic assurances of the existence and efficacy of resistances, what comes through most clearly in this passage is Foucault's


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inability to conceptually distinguish resistance from power and thus specify the conditions of possibility of resistance. Resistance has what Poulantzas refers to as an "impossibly natural" character in Foucault's thinking. If power is the source of resistance, that is, if power alone is positive and productive, how can resistance be anything other than a form of power? If, assuming its existence as given, resistance is always resistance to power, what happens if resistance succeeds? Once power is "defeated," is not resistance itself transformed into a new form of power generating in turn a new form of resistance? Resistances ceaselessly merge into the power from which Foucault tries to distinguish them, and the ultimate consequences are pessimism and passivity. Since power is everywhere, everything is contestable; at the same time, because it is everywhere, eternal and omnipresent, the outcome of the contest, the inevitable victory of power, is pre-ordained.

This is the point where perceptive critics are quick to point out the underlying unity of Foucault's "micro-powers," the "active schizophrenia" of Deleuze and Guattari, and the Moloch-power of the state posited by the New Philosophers. Not only do they commonly reject any "grand strategy or power" or any "grand refusal" as being inherently an increase rather than a diminution in power, but they also share a common view of power as homogeneous and monstrous. Because they posit power as the essence of society, they cannot see power as differentiated, delimited, or determined. The impossibility of Foucault's resistances, an unpleasant corollary of Deleuze's ontology of Power, is the obverse of the New Philosophy's conception of the state as the perennial expression of Original Evil opposed to the Original Good of individualism. In this respect, Poulantzas observes correctly, "The New Philosophy can legitimately call Foucault to their support: more than the last consequences of his thought, they are its ultimate truth" (Poulantzas 1978, 149).

Foucault's assertion of resistances also directly promotes the illusion of radicalism that allows the New Philosophy to mask and surreptitiously defend capitalist exploitation. While rallying to the defense of certain radical causes, the New Philosophy studiously avoids the class struggle, the economic taproot of power, and instead revives all the old themes of totalitarianism. Foucault and Deleuze, despite their active participation in a number of progressive political causes, from prison and mental health reform to the emancipation of homosexuals, ultimately espouse an egoistic individualism that degenerates all too easily from postmodern dissidence to neo-liberal conformity. Dissidence and anti-Marxism become, in the hands of the New Philosophers, a thinly


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veiled defense of the status quo. Deleuze, Foucault, and the Nietzschean Left are enlisted, inevitably if not entirely by choice, into the ranks of petty bourgeois populism, a tradition Dominique Lecourt has perceptively described as the "Occidental ideology of dissidence" (Lecourt 1978, 24). As Lecourt points out, this tradition characteristically combines a "radical" critique of Marxist theory (which exploits every "crisis" within that theory for anti-Marxist purposes) with an anarchist or libertarian politics in order to undercut, neutralize, or deflect any potentially egalitarian development in political and ideological practice. For every Camus or Foucault there is an Aron or a Glucksmann ready to draw the appropriate conservative conclusions from the dissident critique. Never far beneath the choppy waves of Dionysian dissidence and Promethean rebellion flow the disempowering currents of Apollonian accommodation and Sisyphean despair.

In his final, posthumously published works, The Use of Pleasure and The Care of the Self (French editions, 1984; English translations, 1985 and 1986), Foucault abruptly abandons his dissident postmodern position and, under the growing influence of American academics, refashions himself into, of all things, a neo-liberal humanist—albeit of a peculiar postmodernist persuasion. Typically, Foucault reacts to criticisms of his essentialist view of Power not by fundamentally rethinking his position but by blithely striking out in a different direction altogether, abandoning genealogies of knowledge/power for a new project, a genealogy of ethics. Using Greek and Roman culture as historical foils, Foucault embarks on a subject-centered meditation on "practices of the self" organized around the social structures of sexuality. Sexuality remains a structured phenomenon composed of three elements (acts, pleasures, and desires) and organized in terms of four ethical categories (an ethical substance, the human attributes to be acted on; a mode of subjection, the way people are "socially encouraged" to recognize moral obligations; an ascetic, the practices of the self by which morality is attained; and a telos, the ideal or model being sought), but its structure no longer constitutes a dominating, oppressive form of bio-power or knowledge/power. Power has become rather cuddly, a field of "problematization" that is no more than the social background for the personal choices of a self-realizing subject. Ethics is enabling rather than oppressive: "the elaboration of a form of relation to self that enables an individual to fashion himself into a subject of ethical conduct" (Foucault 1986, 251).

Foucault has many interesting and original things to say about


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Greek, Roman, and Christian sexuality. However, his genealogical method remains essentially unchanged. History for Foucault remains a disconnected series of phenomena whose only interest is to reveal past forms of behavior that might be "reactivated" for political purposes in the present. Since Greek sexuality, with its "aesthetics of experience," is not grounded in or determined by specific social conditions, there is no reason, for postmodern "New Historicism" at any rate, why it cannot be simply recreated in contemporary capitalist societies. The new self-fashioning subject of history does correspond more consistently to the unchanged voluntarism of Foucault's postmodern politics, but this new theoretical move begs rather than resolves the question of power raised by Foucault in the seventies. Power, as an oppressive force, simply disappears from the field of ethics altogether as the impossible dissidence of "resist everything" is transformed into its conformist obverse, "anything goes." Foucault's new attention to the subject, coupled with his fragmentation of social structures into autonomous spheres, does provide a coherent defense of neo-liberal micro-politics, but it offers no analysis of the complexity of political problems or the obstacles standing in the way of their resolution. Partial changes can be achieved, Foucault maintains, because changes in one domain, for example, sexuality, do not imply disruptions and confrontations in other domains. "We have to get rid of this idea of an analytically necessary link between ethics and other social or economic or political structures," Foucault insists emphatically in an interview on his new genealogy of ethics (Foucault 1983, 236). Far from signaling an advance in social theory, a "New Historicism" as it is now called, Foucault's new methodology signifies nothing more than the capitulation of postmodern dissidence to the liberal capitalist status quo.


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