Conclusion

Let me summarize. I reconfigured Foucault so as to have him complete the majestic plan of The Order of Things and then to modify it as he proceeds through the chapters of his life and sees what he did not adequately take into account. This Foucault, young and brash indeed, worked out a systematic conception of Western modernity from its beginnings and never abandoned it. His late remarks on pastoral power would place it in the Medieval age that gave way to the Renaissance. Long before, he had located the sovereign power of the crown in the Renaissance without having said so explicitly. His treatment of the classical age has sovereign power rationalized as the legal regime of the sovereign state. The advent of the modern age at the end of the eighteenth century marks “the birth of biopolitics” in company with positivist science. Disciplinary power finds a place in what I have called the modernist age. In the domain of law, it adds functional differentiation and an implicit evolutionary logic to modern processes of positivist reduction and rationalization.

Thirty years after Foucault’s death, whatever seems to be happening now in the domain of law and what it says about late or post-modernity do not make the Foucault whom we think we know—the normalized Foucault—the most insightful or prescient of observers. If I were to bring my reconfigured Foucault into the present (figuratively, of course) and he were to consider the convergence I just alluded to, he might conclude that epistemic discontinuities do not mean that old ways of thinking disappear. Instead, they pile up as the modern world sags under many burdens. Moreover, he might see that the domain of law and its highly disciplined technologists threaten to swamp the other three domains—all of them.

Perhaps not. Foucault as I have configured him put the modern world aside in his last years and went back to antiquity. There, in an epistemic context not ours but not entirely unfamiliar either, he hoped to find a subject, a self, so constituted as to care for itself in a way that is impervious to the convergence of modern and modernist conditions. The texts he consulted link the care of one’s self to pleasure, thus leading from an “ethics of control” to an “ethics of pleasure.”34

“A break with the traditional ethics of self-mastery?” A young Foucault might have said yes to his own question: There had been a break, a discontinuity, a rupture in the ethics of antiquity. Yet this is not what happened. “Clearly not, but rather a shift, a change of orientation, a difference in emphasis.”35 This abrupt sequence of incomplete sentences manages to convey a contemplative tone, a rueful awareness. The ethics of self-mastery has never gone away. Texts from that age linking self-control to good conduct, and good conduct to the common good, still resonate.

The Foucault that I have reconfigured to suit myself would have soon moved from self-constitution to its paradoxical double, that is, to selfcontrol. To have done this would have brought his attention back to resistance and thus to normativity. In due course, he would have embraced what we now call virtue ethics and a republican conception of the domain of law. Such a turn is, I believe, the only possible antidote to late modern excesses and the impending collapse of the liberal world.

Of course, I have projected myself into this figuration of Foucault. I have no doubt that any number of foucauldians, armed with texts that I have never so much as laid eyes on, will dismiss it out of hand. I have reservations myself, spurred by Foucault’s attachment to Nietzsche as a figure whose ethical claims would seem to have little or no relation to the virtue ethics descending from Greco-Roman antiquity. Yet it is Foucault’s conception of limits and their transgression that gives me greater pause.

And yet, toward what is transgression unleashed in its movement of pure violence, if not that which imprisons it, toward the limit and those elements it contains? What bears the brunt of its aggression and to what void does it owe the unrestrained fullness of its being, if not that which it crosses in its violent act and which, as its destiny, it crosses out in the line it effaces?36

Foucault wrote these words in 1963, only two years after he published Folie et deraison. I hear in them two contradictory impulses: one is the glorification of “pure violence” and the other is the absence of an agent. Transgression is “obstinate”; “aggression” is a property of transgression and not the act of a trangressor. Together these impulses deny the possibility of self-control, not to mention responsibility, the social function of limits, the domain of law and the point of resistance.

Taken together, these impulses define madness for many purposes. Indeed, they grant madness “a primitive purity.”37 Is this Foucault coming to grips with the possibility of his own madness? Or Foucault assuaging the pain that abnormality so often inflicts? Or a high-style fanboy’s taste for such cartoonish figures as Sade and Artaud? Or, as Hacking has suggested, a “romantic fantasy”?38

We will never know. It seems likely that the man whom we call Foucault never knew himself (the double entendre is deliberate). Insofar as that man believed in the purity of madness and acted out his transgressive impulses, it would discredit both the normalized Foucault and the reconfigured Foucault that I have invoked in these pages. I prefer to think that he lived most of his life by an implicit code of self-control. How else to account for the sheer size and many layers of the foucauldian archive?

It seems fitting to end this essay with Foucault’s definition of an archive:

The archive is first the law of what can be said, the system that governs the appearance of statements (enonces) as unique events. But the archive is also that which determines that all these things said do not accumulate endlessly in an amorphous mass, nor are they inscribed in an unbroken linearity une linearite sans rupture], nor do they disappear at the mercy of chance external accidents; but they are grouped together in distinct figures fig- ures distinctes], composed together in accordance with multiple relations, maintained or blurred in accordance with specific regularities; that which determines that they do not withdraw at the same pace in time, but shine, as it were, like stars, some that seem close to us shining brightly from afar off, while others that are in fact close to us are already growing pale.39

Madness resides in the domain of what cannot be said. Nothing that Foucault said accumulates endlessly and amorphously. All that he did say can be grouped together in distinct figures, of which he is indeed one. For so many of us, in so many fields, this figure shines more brightly the farther we are from its biographical singularities.

 
Source
< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >