Michel Foucault and the Subversion of the Intellect, and: Michel Foucault: The Freedom of Philosophy, and: Foucault, Marxism and History: Mode of Production versus Mode of Information (review)
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Critical Discussions Michel Foucault and the Subversion of the Intellect , by Karlis Racevskis; 172 pp. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983, $22.50. Michel Foucault: The Freedom of Philosophy, by John Rajchman; 131 pp. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985, $22.00 cloth, $12.50 paper. Foucault, Marxism and History: Mode of Production versus Mode of Information, by Mark Poster; 173 pp. Cambridge, England: Polity Press, 1985, $29.95 cloth, $9.95 paper. Discussed by John J. Stuhr In the introduction to The Use of Pleasure, Michel Foucault writes that his wide-ranging works, from the early studies of madness and illness to the later analyses of punishment and sexuality, share a common aim: "to learn to what extent the effort to think one's own history can free thought from what it silently thinks, and so enable it to think differently." It is by reference to this goal that Foucault characterizes his discussions of historical formations of discourses and disciplines of knowledge, his accounts of systems of power that make possible, result from, and regulate these formations, and his genealogical histories of how selves constitute themselves as subjects through these disciplines and powers, as "philosophical exercises." He continues: "But, then, what is philosophy today — philosophical activity, I mean — if it is not the critical work that thought brings to bear on itself? In what does it consist, if not in the endeavor to know how and to what extent it might be possible to think differently, instead of legitimating what is already known."1 These efforts to think critically and differently are receiving increasing attention, at least in thought. For many in philosophy, literature, history, the social sciences, and other disciplines, Foucault's work has 148 John J. Stuhr149 become virtually impossible to ignore. Recent conference programs, books, journal articles, and reviews provide evidence of this expanding scholarly interest. In academia today, Foucault is a growth industry (ironically, as much of this scholarship seems destined to thoroughly legitimize, effectively police, and render disciplinary Foucault's critical thought). Not surprisingly, this growing concern with Foucault arises from aims, assumes forms, serves interests, and issues in assessments and agendas all of which differ widely from, and often conflict with, one another. Some uncritically celebrate Foucault, while others, equally uncritically, rapidly dismiss him. Other commentators, in spite of both Foucault's warnings and his writings, proclaim some concept, method, or thesis the key to unifying and systematically understanding his entire work. Still others, with much success in many cases, strive to elucidate that work, chart its development, or compare it to other important writers and traditions.2 The three brief and clear books discussed here, however, have a different announced primary purpose: sympathetic to Foucault's work, all strive to use Foucault's thought to advance contemporary critical social theories and practices. So, Karlis Racevskis, in the introduction to his Michel Foucault and the Subversion of Intellect, writes: ... I have not tried to write a survey or a systematic interpretation of "the man and his work." My principal aim has been to outline an intellectual strategy that I consider to have been profoundly liberating in its effects, to examine what I view as his successful attempts at dismantling the system of constraints with which Western civilization has established the norms and limits of humanity. I have therefore sought to delineate the critical relation Foucault's discourse maintains with the intellectual traditions that have produced our civilization and its truths in order to underscore the fundamentally subversive thrust of Foucault's archaeological and genealogical approaches, (p. 15) John Rajchman, in Michel Foucault: The Freedom of Philosophy, also views Foucault's work as a strategy for dismantling, questioning, resisting , and freeing: Foucault is the great skeptic of our times. He is skeptical about dogmatic unities and philosophical anthropologies. He is the philosopher of dispersion and singularity. . . . 150Philosophy and Literature Thus he does not ask classical skeptical questions about "experience in general"; he asks skeptical questions about the very idea of subsuming our sciences, rationalities, subjectivities, languages, or techniques of rule, under a single philosophical category such as "experience in general ." . . . He does not have a total skepticism because he is skeptical about totality. Thus he...