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260Philosophy and Literature Michel Foucault and the Subversion of Intellect, by Karlis Racevskis; 172 pp. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983, $19.50. Since the publication of The History of Sexuality critics have questioned the politics of Foucault's histories given his conceptualization of power. Karlis Racevskis's Michel Foucault and the Subversion of Intellect situates itself in this horizon. His stress is on Foucault's "profoundly liberating . . . intellectual strategy" (p. 15). But from its very title the study emits conflicting signals. To head the title with the name of an author who has questioned the very concept of author is problematic. Foucault appears moreover as an agent of history, a position about which he likewise has engaged in vehement polemics with Marxists. Since his most recent writings deny the existence of repression, terming it a ploy we construct for ourselves, how does subversion work? Are its operations confined to an academic milieu? These are some of the issues implicit in the title which Racevskis addresses but does not finally resolve in his text. These issues are magnified by two facts: he structures his text as an introduction, and Foucault's recent death casts an unsolicited stamp of definitiveness on it. Racevskis's study has two major thrusts: to explore Foucault's relation to Lacan in their shared emphasis on the Symbolic, and to underline the fundamentally intellectual quality, demands and practicality of Foucault's work. While all but the last chapters of the book follow Foucault's publications chronologically , the first five are organized according to philosophical concepts in Foucault's writing. After prefatory remarks on the problematic of the subject, Racevskis discusses the "coherence of perception," the "episteme," the "énoncé," and "inversion" respectively. While this chronological order gives Foucault's project the appearance of a theoretical consistency, Foucault's early writings are blind to their own theoretical force, or at least to those concepts which are to occupy a central role later: power and will. Racevskis locates the circumstances that made the earlier works blind to their own force not as we would expect in the Real, in the terrain of power and will, but in the Symbolic, in the domain of psychoanalysis: "Death and language both partake of the Imaginary and the Symbolic: death and language limit the meaning of individuals, yet also impose a meaning that is already there before us, in spite of us, a meaning in which we seek to justify our individuality but one which constantly undermines all our efforts by exposing their inadequacy. The Birth of the Clinic can thus serve to locate Foucault's critical enterprise within this fundamental paradox, since it clearly brings out the concerns that were to motivate his archaeological investigations in the work that followed" (p. 56). The concluding chapters are the most suggestive inasmuch as they confront critical challenges to Foucault's thought. What saves Foucault's critique from bourgeois acceptability and ineffectiveness in its marginality is that "it is aimed Reviews261 at the circumstances that favor the formation of classes, that make possible domination and exploitation — those circumstances that in some way block the mediating effect of the Symbolic order" (p. 136). While it seems a rather poor choice of words to talk of a "morality of the Symbolic" (p. 137), Racevskis finds Foucault's achievements at their most positive in his "desire to make manifest the unlimited human potential for creating meaning" (p. 138). Consequently, he avoids "the pretentiousness of any attempt at encapsulating his thought" (p. 15). Racevskis's discourse affects modesty. When he discusses critical reactions to Foucault's work, he values them in similar terms: "To put it simply, the discourse of Foucault is devoid of the pretentiousness of Baudrillard's critique" (p. 163). Yet, this is not an accurate representation of Foucault's extremely rich prose. This prose is furthermore presented in a virtual historical vacuum. To find Foucault's discourse "positive" and "liberating," a more systematic exploration is needed of Foucault's debt, debates with the Annales school, Althusser, and Derrida, and of shifts in Lacan's own discourse. Without succumbing to any biographical fallacy, which Racevskis rightly strives to avoid, Foucault's own intellectual strategy requires more attention to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 260-261
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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