Archive for the Marx Category

Nealon at the Alter of the Foucaultian Legacy

Posted in Deleuze, DR, Marx, Nealon on March 31, 2008 by untimelymediations

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

right here waiting for you

Posted in Marx, MM, sophists on February 4, 2008 by untimelymediations

I wish we had, after all, had the opportunity to read Marx’s dissertation because I’d like to have a sense of his objections to sophistry; solely on the basis of the “German Ideology,” however, I would have assumed Marx to approach sophistry with grudging approval at best and nothing worse than a critical skepticism—as opposed to the outright dismissal and vitriol JP assures us Marx directed toward the sophists

Consider the way Marx describes language’s social functions: “Language is as old as consciousness.  It is practical consciousness which exists also for other men and hence exists for me personally as well.  Language, like consciousness, only arises from the need and necessity of relationships with other men” (421).  In some ways, this sounds very like the sophistic insistence on rhetoric as a tool for social management; Marx and the sophists so far at least agree on one simple fact: that language binds society together and that language use (which I here equate with rhetoric in its broadest sense) is fundamentally about the relationships between individuals—that is, rhetoric is essential for maintaining social order (see Protagoras’s telling of the myth of Prometheus in the Protagoras).  In fact, Marx goes the sophists one better and insists that without these relationships, individuals qua individuals wouldn’t exist: “… the consecutive series of interrelated individuals can be conceived as a single individual which accomplishes the mystery of generating itself.  It is clear here that individuals certainly generate one another, physically and mentally” (430).  For Marx, then, only by realizing the binds between individuals—both material and immaterial—can social classes be constituted as a collective agent; that is, for the communist program to be put in to place, the individuals within a given class order must be drawn together both through material circumstance and through rhetorical suasion.</

What distinguishes Marx from the sophist most notably, though, is Marx’s rejection of some of the bolder sophistic claims that reality and materiality are but linguistic trompes l’oeil.  Indeed,  Marx’s (perhaps inadvertent) insistence on the value of material and linguistic bonds notwithstanding, his conviction remains that language and language use are derived from the reality of material conditions: “The production of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness is directly interwoven with the material activity and the material relationships of men; it is the language of actual life.  Conceiving, thinking, and the intellectual relationships of men appear here as the direct result of their material behavior” (414).  Here, Marx insists that not only are linguistic bonds inseparable from material relationships, but that linguistic behavior is a direct product of material conditions; in other words, language and its uses directly reflect the lived material experiences of those who employ it.  Sophistic theories of language (as poorly articulated as they are), view language as essential for social order but otherwise suggest that language originates, as in Protagoras’s myth, outside the realm of human materiality.  For Marx, this would have been anathema, and as later Marxists theorists might have, just the sort of mythic false consciousness that naturalizes the use of power in language in order to conceal its ideological function.

Super Response for Super Tuesday

Posted in Ambiguity, Hegel, Isocrates, Jaeger, KL, Marx, rhetoric, sophists on February 4, 2008 by untimelymediations

(Before this post begins, I’ve noticed that my blog apparently has spontaneously combusted—I’ll update the link on the right as soon as I start a new one/the old one un-combusts.)

In writing this response, I fully understand the risk of my sounding slightly morose and vulgar.  Over the weekend I was submerged in funeral planning, although as a good academic, I related the experience of death back to philosophy and rhetoric.  I have been overhearing the same conversations, individuals repeating the same apologies for the loss, the same condolences.  Derek mentioned in his post that the lexicon of the Presidential campaign is rather ambiguous, and so, too, is the lexicon of grief.  In “To Niocles,” Isocrates reinforces the notion (contra Hegel’s small “n” notion) that in speaking and ruling, one should constantly think of the masses, to “take thought for the common people, and do everything to rule them in a way that pleases them” (161).  Listening to friends and family react to death, people are very hesitant to specify anything—they are offering their apologies to comfort the masses in a way that I do not see comforting whatsoever.  (Ya know, all the “I’m so sorry for your loss”-es, “If there’s anything I can do, please let me know”-s, and the ever popular “She’s in a better place now”-s.)  But, we are all guilty of this, as we have all been in these situations where rhetoric does not suffice, so we revert to the same, ordinary phrases.  There is nothing we can say that will please the masses (in this situation, those closest to the dead), nothing that will release their pain of loss.  So, while I find Isocrates’ insistence on moderate and blanketed speech troublesome (in the same, ambiguous manner as “American family” and “tyranny” are supposed to ‘mean’ the same thing for everyone), perhaps Isocrates is right.  Since, according to Isocrates, we should not aim to please one group over another perhaps the sameness of condolences appear sufficient when one is in funeral-mode.
So maybe this funeral experience is the perfect example of Sophistry, that everyone coming and going, dropping off food, sharing their memories and condolences represents the “selfish selflessness”—they are doing these things not to make the family feel any better, but that it ultimately makes the giver feel like a better person.  Someone dying of cancer is much different than someone dying in a car accident—the family has known her that death was imminent for sometime now, and her monthly decay was somewhat preparing everyone for this weekend.  However, there are friends (some from whom the family has not heard in more than an decade) stopping by to say hello.  It’s funny because they all seem to say, “we knew she had cancer, but we didn’t know it was that bad.”  These statements lead me to believe that they are not stopping by to comfort the family, but rather that they are simply pretending to care, and hoping that all their lasagna and lunch meat will make the family feel better.  Actually, it seems that one offers such gifts so that there is a personal/selfish return—in effect the giver feels better knowing that s/he has given rather than how the family feels about receiving the gift (here seems to be the perfect space for Derrida, but that’s next week!).

Now, I would like to set aside all the “funeral talk” and focus on Marx and Hegel’s writing on the Greeks, placing particular attention on the individual verses the collective good or gain.  As Jaeger notes of Isocrates’ “Niocles”:

“The better should not be ruled by the worse, nor the wise be governed by the foolish.  In association with others that means that the prince must criticize the bad and vie with the good.  The essential thing is that he who wants to rule over others must apply that principle to himself, and be able to justify his position by his own true superiority to them all” (96).

For the Sophist, being concerned firstly and ultimately with himself is the means to pleasing the masses.  By “applying that principle to himself,” the Sophist can neither be the brunt of criticism, nor can he be the critic, since he is no different from everyone else.  By always thinking primarily of the individual, the Sophist’s best intentions are, in a roundabout way, the masses.

Hegel maintains that the differences between the Platonists/Socratics verses the Sophists lies in the emphasis placed on the individual.  We can see this divide in the following passages:

“The mission of Socrates was to express the beautiful, good, true, and right, as the end aim of the individual, while with the Sophists the content was not present as an ultimate end, so that all this was left to the individual will”

“[For the Sophists], the Notion of the thing as determined in and for itself; for it brings forward external reasons through which right and wrong, utility and harmfulness, are distinguished.  To Plato and Socrates, on the other hand, the main point is that the nature of the conditions should be considered, and that the Notion of the thing in and for itself should become evolved” (366-367).

(Okay, I have to run off again, but I plan to connect the individual aims of Sophistry to the modes of production discussed in The German Ideology.  I will finish this post later, fully understanding the risk of ridicule for having an incomplete post.)