I just want to clarify something I said during the course of the Foucault episode: that Foucault and Deleuze did a lot of drugs together.
This could be false.
This is one of those rumors you pick up gradually when you take a few classes in contemporary continental philosophy. You hear a lot of anecdotes of the dubious kind that always seem to begin, “I can’t remember where I heard this, but…”
Now here are some things we think we know about Deleuze and Foucault on drugs:
Foucault’s biographer, James Miller,tells us that Foucault dropped acid exactly once, in Death Valley, CA in 1975. Interestingly, we are also told that this experience may have been responsible for the break (or the perceived break) between his middle period works, like Discipline and Punish, and his later “ethical” period in which he considers the ways in which people can transform themselves (rather than merely being shaped by power).
Deleuze and Guattari specifically caution against the use of drugs, even if drug experiences can be revelatory, in their work A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia.
What I will defend is my statement that it sounds like they’re sharing some kind of inside joke. When I read Foucault and Deleuze in conversation with each other, I find them both harder to understand than when I read either alone (though I find Deleuze to be very difficult at the best of times). When I read Deleuze, or Foucault in conversation with him, I can’t help but wonder if I’m being Sokaled. I give them both more credit than that, and I think the hard work of making sense of their philosophies, jointly or separately, has been fruitful for me and for the field of philosophy. But it’s like reading Clockwork Orange; if you’re not fully engaged and you reflect too much on the language, you end up thinking, “srsly?”
it was clear that you find Deleuze difficult to understand but it still isn’t clear why you couldn’t accept the Foucault quote from the D&G text as being a ‘straight’ line of his thought?
Katie McIntyre says
Oh, good question. This makes me wish there had been more discussion of this quotation in the podcast. I didn’t mean to say that this isn’t really what Foucault thinks. Here’s my problem:
The question on the table was, “so what do we do to promote human flourishing?” and the answer offered was this from Foucault:
“Free political action from all unitary and totalizing paranoia. Develop action, thought, and desires by proliferation, juxtaposition, and disjunction, and not by subdivision and pyramidal hierarchization. Withdraw allegiance from the old categories of the Negative (law limit, castration, lack, lacuna), which Western thought has so long held sacred as a form of power and an access to reality. Prefer what is positive and multiple: difference over uniformity, flows over unities, mobile arrangements over systems. Believe that what is productive is not sedentary but nomadic.”
I don’t think anyone heard that passage and thought, “Oh good, now I know just what to do!” My frustration is that this doesn’t answer the question for me. At least, I think it requires a great deal of effort to unpack what this passage even means, and once you’ve done it, you still don’t get a concrete suggestion of what we, here, now, should do to resist dominating forms of power.
I laughed at this text in particular because there are other works in which the suggestions are at least a bit easier to understand and perhaps even more concrete. Recall though that Foucault avoided being prescriptive. He wanted to point to the weak spots in the operation of power more than he wanted to suggest how we should go about dismantling it, so at the best of times his suggestions are vague. The emphasis in this passage on multiplicity and mobility are very characteristic of Foucault, but not entirely clear. Based on other works of his, in particular “Society Must Be Defended” and the interview “The Genealogy of Ethics,” I think we can understand the passage much better. It is in these works that he seems to be suggesting something like a breakdown of norms and a respect for what he calls “local knowledges” that are marginalized by the dominant system. I think he wants a greater degree of flexibility, a greater range of possibilities for what we consider an acceptable way to live. There are problems with the way he presents this goal, but I think my response to your comment has gotten long enough. I’ve got another blog post pending where I address some of the issues with Foucault’s idea of freedom, and it might interest you when it goes up. I think Foucault is fantastic when he’s getting us to see ways in which we are dominated that might have otherwise gone unnoticed. But where I find myself frustrated is in trying to look to Foucault to answer questions like, “at what point does power become domination?,” “can there be any limitation on our freedom that is legitimate?,” and “so what do we do about it?”
thanks that makes more sense, certainly the early-mid Foucault gets stuck a bit like Derrida in de-constructing ever mindful of the tyranny of the means. See what you think of the works by John Law and company:
also Bruno Latour has been mining many of these possibilities not just of analysis but of productive action, and of course folks like Rabinow, Haraway, and Andrew Pickering.
Richard Rorty was probably the best at democratizing Nietzsche/Foucault by translating them into Dewey-ish terms. Once one embraces neo-pragmatism one never again has to entertain people who tend to say “that is problematic” it’s quite freeing!
Wayne Schroeder says
Interesting. What do you mean by “democratizing” ?
Rorty offered a vision of Nietzschean re-creation that was potentially open to all people not just some elect/elite (see his Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity), he was a promoter of close studies of particular institutions (like ethnography), and he was largely satisfied with the general public role of western democracies in their role as liberal enablers of individual freedom (he was deeply worried about plutocracies and rightwingnut fear-mongering). That’s very broad and brief but if you get a chance to read CIS or any of his other works and have more related questions I’ll do my best to answer them. .
from Deleuze’s wikipedia entry:
“His books Difference and Repetition (1968) and The Logic of Sense (1969) led Michel Foucault to declare that ‘one day, perhaps, this century will be called Deleuzian.’ (Deleuze, for his part, said Foucault’s comment was ‘a joke meant to make people who like us laugh, and make everyone else livid.’)”
that’s most likely in reference to Deleuze’s (and Foucault’s) rocky relationship with the french academy, not a commentary on the value of those texts.
here is Paul Rabinow talking some about how he and Dreyfus came to make a new space for Foucault to work and grow beyond his earlier ties:
the most productive line of of post-Foucault studies have been in science and technology studies and Rabinow is a leading thinker there.
Funny that you mentioned Sokal in an article on Deleuze. Alan Sokal dedicated a whole chapter on Deleuze in Fashionable Nonsense (http://www.amazon.com/Fashionable-Nonsense-Postmodern-Intellectuals-Science/dp/0312204078/)
On the subject of passing off quotes without a citation, I remember coming across a quote from Searle saying he asked Foucault why he could explain himself rather simply in person yet some of his texts came across as unnecessarily complicated. Foucault’s answer was that such obfuscation was expected in French academia.
sounds like Searle
Their writing is one of the reasons why I love them.