Great essay on Foucault and radical politics

December 17, 2012 § 1 Comment

Great essay on Foucault and radical politics

This text comes from the website where this essay was published:

The Roundhouse Student Journal Autumn 2011 edition is a collection of articles written and peer reviewed by students who took part in the Critical Theory module in POLIS during the academic year of 2010-11. These articles were originally written as part of the module, they went on to be peer reviewed in association with a student led discussion group and conference which took place in June of 2011.

I came across Oonagh Ryder’s essay on Foucault and radical politics by chance. Her essay offers a really helpful overview of some of the possibilities and problems associated with drawing on Foucault’s work to formulate a radical politics.


§ One Response to Great essay on Foucault and radical politics

  • This taken from the comments section on an article recently published by Roger Scruton on the Guardian website (

    @Arbitraryname – ‘I remember being a young pseud in my early twenties, desperately trying to convince myself that Deleuze and Guattari’s post structualist manifesto A Thousand Plateaus contained some Great Truth – before I grew up a little, and realised it was just pretentious, incomprehensible mush. The authors could literally have assembled words at random, and it would not have made any less sense.’

    Instead of a revelatory realisation that D and G didn’t make sense, perhaps you simply didn’t understand A Thousand Plateaus? Try reading D’s introductions to Kant and Nietzsche. Much more accessible, and it’ll arm you with the terminology which is deployed without explanation in the book you became frustrated with.
    And have you ever tried to read some of the seminal works by philosophers outside of the postmodern ghetto? Kant’s first critique is an absolute pain to read, as is Wittgenstein’s Tractatus and even the analytic stuff from Frege and Russell, and their followers like Dummett and Quine are very unclear to someone coming to them fresh. That’s sort of the point. Philosophy, like optometry, pediatrics, theoretical physics and mathematics, has a specialist vocab and axioms which require effort and dedication to learn, comprehend and master. These works frustrate former psueds because they refuse to be broken down into easily digestible chunks, consumables, like this article. Deleuze and Guattari criticise ideas that require familiarity with a great deal of intellectual history to comprehend, as well as their own obscure terminology. However this terminology performs a function, and without it the book would be twice as long and a very drab affair indeed (again, like this article).

    Also, on an aside, Scruton claims that there is fake and real, yet there is at least one claim here which is extremely inaccurate (ie. the fact that Lacan and Althusser are two of the intellectual fakers which followed Foucault – temporally so). Now the problem with writing an argument structured in this way is that the writer himself sets himself an undeliverable task – to express nothing but the truth. It’s also manipulative, because the writer, by pointing and hectoring towards the things which he claims are false, places himself on the podium of truth without really justifying it.

    Broadly speaking, that is what post modern writers are going towards in their works – that ultimate and objective truth is unjustifiable. There are different means via which this is done (Derrida (who many would argue is not a post modernist at all, and in fact Foucault would be horrified to have himself aligned with any critical school) does this by drawing attention to the text via the employment of literary devices, Deleuze can only really be understood if you have a grasp of his views on mathematics and set theory (which he rejects), likewise Badiou.

    So to draw rather a lengthy response to a close, the seminal works by writers like Derrida, Deleuze, Foucault, Badiou and other leading figures in the C20th cannon are the results of a lengthy process of work, and require effort and dedication to understand. I think only then can you begin to criticise these texts.

    Finally, truth is not dispensed with by all of these writers, and it is still possible to read post structuralists like Foucault as demanding a more complex understanding of the term thanks to his genealogical projects that aim to outline abuses of truth talk, that is to say, dominant ideologies which have sought to play a power game and employ truth talk to give a seal of approval to ultimately unjustifiable claims to knowledge. Rejecting these writers without engaging with what they do just reinstates forms of knowledge that are unjustifiable, and simply work on (disguised) pragmatic grounds. In the current political climate, the challenge these thinkers pose needs to be addressed, rather than shirked, especially when economic measures for austerity, that impinge upon the welfare state and workers rights, have no justification on the pragmatic and/or empirical grounds that political powers seek to justify them on. In these cases it is best to see the plans that are being made as selfish, as propping up the power of those in power at the expense of the the weak in society.
    (I’m aware that the tone of my response may come across as somewhat elitist about philosophy (ie. that a young pseud cannot wade his way in to impress whomever), however this is the opening gambit of Scrut’s essay, so I’m hardly going to lose sleep about it.)

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