- After Foucault: Culture, Theory, and Criticism in the 21st Century ed. by Lisa Downing
Cambridge University Press’s ‘After’ series focuses on ‘the legacy of iconic figures, and key themes, in the origins and development of literary theory’ and the ways in which influential thinkers ‘opened up new critical landscapes for research’. After a first volume on Derrida, and others on Lacan and Said, comes this on Michel Foucault, edited by Lisa Downing. A major benefit of this collection is its gathering of voices from a wide variety of disciplines: literature (French, English, German, and comparative), politics, cultural studies, gender studies, and sociology. The sum of these parts is a wide-ranging and at times provocative account of the far-reaching impact of Foucault’s thought across the humanities and social sciences. Generally speaking, the essays provide useful reviews of how Foucault’s work has been received in various fields, before going on to suggest further avenues of research and discussion. Thus for example Rey Chow’s essay on ‘Foucault, Race, and Racism’ explains how Said, aided by Foucault, constructed a theory of racism, premised on colonialism, that has become hegemonic in the Anglo-American academy, and then suggests how Foucault’s thought could now be used to construct an alternative theory of racism. The closing pages of Chow’s essay, on how Foucault’s analysis of racism as a ‘systemic and regulatory capacity’ imbued with ‘residual Christian techniques of power’ could be used to interpret ‘new race war[s]’ against Islam in the present day, are remarkably compelling (pp. 116–19). At their best, the essays in this collection provide similarly arresting suggestions for how Foucault’s thought can help us to interpret and critique pressing problems in the present day: Nicholas Gane’s essay on neo-liberalism, Kay Peggs and Barry Smart’s essay on biopower (which includes a powerful section on the subjection of animals), and Emma Foster’s essay on the use of Foucault’s analyses of governmentality for political ecology (in which she explains that Foucault is helpful for challenging singular and reductive definitions of ‘Nature’) are particularly effective. For those interested in clear expositions of complex, influential Foucauldian concepts, Robert Gillett’s essay on genealogy is excellent, and concludes with a persuasive argument about how homophobic attacks and the AIDS crisis illustrate Foucault’s thesis ‘that the discourses of history are written on the bodies of individuals’ (p. 28). Monica Greco and Martin Savransky’s essay on ‘Foucault’s Subjectivities’ has an illuminating final section contrasting the conceptions of self inherent to Stoic philosophy and to Christian religion; [End Page 500] this could be usefully read alongside Chow’s piece. Downing’s Introduction to the volume explains that its tripartite structure (‘Going After Foucault’, ‘Coming After Foucault’, ‘Reading After Foucault’) corresponds to a tripartite aim of ‘clarifying, contextualizing, and carrying out readings’ (p. 5). This may seem to imply that ‘readings’ (innovative applications of Foucault’s thought to new objects) are confined to the final section of the volume: they are in fact found throughout. Despite occasional lapses in clarity in some of the contributions, overall this is a powerful collection, the concise chapters of which argue powerfully for Foucault’s ongoing and manifold influence.