Nealon at the Alter of the Foucaultian Legacy

I must admit, that initially I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Nealon’s text. Though I am slightly familiar with Nealon’s reputation, and I have faith in Pruchnic’s reading selections, I was concerned that Nealon might, quite simply, fail to go “beyond Foucault.” I think this was a reasonable assumption, on my behalf, considering the rather devastating use of Foucault in contemporary “scholarly contexts,” and the rather ambitious theoretical plan of work that Nealon sets forth in his introduction. Fortunately, my fears were soon assuaged, for Nealon, himself, criticizes the very texts that I initially feared he might emulate.

First, concerning the content, the repertoire of examples from which Nealon draws is quite provocative. In many ways, I find that the title is indicative of another move that Nealon prompts. Although Nealon is successful in his attempt to bring Foucault into more contemporary contexts, where vastly different situations have emerged since the time of his death, I feel that Nealon’s method of discourse encourages another significant move or shift. In the course of his work, Nealon takes Foucault beyond what might be considered the limiting confines of the academic or scholarly spheres. It seems that the examples Nealon draws on are more accessible than those invoked by others. It is this very Chuck Klosterman – esque, pop cultural awareness that becomes so entirely provocative in the course of Nealon’s work. Here, if one is to assume that this method of discourse is intentional, it is interesting to consider what the import of such a method might be? Or, perhaps, what is the inherent “cost” of speaking in this manner; of addressing such an important issue in this capacity? These questions stem from my understanding of a very purposeful decision on Nealon’s behalf. To go beyond Foucault, means not only to go beyond the limitations imposed by death, but to go beyond the very method of discussing Foucault that is so entirely prevalent in current academic discourse. This entails not only a different understanding of Foucault, but a different means of discussing that very understanding. And, it seems that here I might insist that this is the very means by which Nealon goes beyond simply revising a tradition of short sighted discourse.

On another note, it seems that Nealon’s recovery of Foucault, is driven by the same word-centered progression that Deleuze and Guattari pursue in A Thousand Plateaus. Here, I take the same interpretative strategy that I use to approach Barthes, Deleuze, and Guattari. I introduce this interpretative method in an attempt to outline an effective means of approaching the major issues that Nealon addresses.

As a point of departure, I begin with the terms “intensity” and “subjectivity.” For Nealon, much of Foucault’s significance in contemporary contexts stems from his theories on intensity. This is the term that links his middle career to his later work; the concept that allows Nealon to bridge the theoretical gap that many academics continue to reinstate. Instead of relegating Foucault’s theoretical dispositions to some rather inadequate model of linearity, Nealon’s argument evidences the importance of a more Deleuzian conception of progression. Instead of (mis)understanding Foucault’s theories of the varying systems or regimes of power as being segmented, separable, or defined by temporal limitations, Nealon argues the importance of a more integrated understanding. The power shift from the body to the soul, and from the soul to the action (tortured -> reformed -> docile bodies), must be understood, as Nealon suggests, in terms of overlap or bleeding. This, of course, is a matter of the increasing intensity of power (32). And, it seems reasonable to assert that Nealon takes this emphasis on intensity one step further. For Nealon, not only is it fruitful to consider intensity in Foucault’s work, but it seems important to consider history as a whole in terms of intensities. History, in Nealon’s terms, can only be read as slow accumulations as opposed to the predominant discourse of radical shifts (38-39). This is an issue of thresholds, phase transitions, or tipping points:

With the rise of governmentality in the historical linkage between discipline and biopower, Foucaultian “intensification” becomes both the useful tool and the desired end of power relations (53)

Second, the other term that seems of extreme pertinence to Nealon’s discussion is subjectivity or the subjective. Nealon spends a good portion of his text refuting the more general assumption that Foucault is focusing on subjectivity as a means of liberation in his later work. Here, Nealon is quick to suggest that not only is this not really what Foucault is addressing, but that, the subjective is really the worst way to approach the questions that Foucault introduces or propels. For Nealon, Massumi and others that approach affective subjective experience, fail to consider that this is really the least effective or productive way of approaching the question of intensity; they fail to consider the implications of such an individualized perspective. As Nealon outlines earlier in his text, Foucault’s theories are predicated on more complicated relationships; relationships which negate theories of individual significance.

Take for example, Nealon’s emphasis on the power that is incurred by dispersement. Power, as is associated with the individual sovereign is quite weak, whereas that which is more dispersed or more ubiquitious becomes more powerful. Dispersement, then, is an intensifying process.

Or, one should consider Nealon’s emphasis on the premise that punishment rarely targets the individual. Instead, punishment operates in direct relationship to the virtual field surrounding the individual (36). Punishment, in effect, is only effectual when it moves beyond the individual. Although the individual might be considered a starting point, there must be something more.

Here, I return to Foucault’s insistence on “channels” for further clarification. It is not the individual institution that is most powerful, but the channels that guide us as “living” bodies (Discipline and Punish). Most specifically, as Nealon argues, Biopower is applied not to man as body, but man as living being (45).

Finally, I really enjoy Nealon’s suggestion that some theoretical alignment exists between Foucault and Marx. Here, though this argument is present throughout much of the first half of the book I reference Nealon’s discussion of wealth, commodity, and profit. Again, it is Nealon’s very ability to draw on contemporary examples that benefits his argument. Here, Nealon notes that it is no longer a shift from wealth to commodity to profit, but rather a more direct relationship between wealth and profit. The fourth and most intense wave is that of finance. The problem is no longer that we are all made into consumers, but that we are all made into producers (67).

For now, that is enough. Rest assured, I will be returning to Nealon soon.

I leave you with a complimentary picture of Foucault…who says I can’t compete in this picture game?

foucault is a pimp
Myspace Glitter Graphics

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One Response to “Nealon at the Alter of the Foucaultian Legacy”

  1. […] brings me to my next point in relationship to Nealon’s text.  Although I posted on this previously, by means of the directed study site, it seems that Nealon’s text makes another important […]

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