Foucault on Power

freedomI’m editing something of mine right now on Foucault. It seems suitable for here, since for now I’m leaving it blunt:

As such, in the remainder of this chapter, we take up Foucault’s work just where it operates on macro-physical developments, namely in the rise of nations and races in “Society Must Be Defended. In these lectures, Foucault lays out the macro-micro movements of power first in a society at war with itself and then in a society docile under disciplinary and bio-political regimes—all preceded by what he rightly calls the “administrative monarchy” that then becomes, after the nineteenth century, a more insidious racist sovereignty (G, 219; STP, 100; SD, 255-260). Thus I am quite comfortable with the supposed uncomfortablility of these broad claims, which have the much-feared consequence of showing productions of power everywhere, making any confrontation with power apparently pointless. Foucault’s work is thus said to lead to a political quietism given the inevitability that one is always imprisoned within these power formations.[1] This complaint is as old as Foucault’s first publications on madness. Indeed, critics of Foucault often measure their resistance to his work quasi-aesthetically, a problem not uncommon to Agamben as well. They contend less with his work and methodology than with what they take to be (wrongly) its distasteful consequence, namely that all resistance is futile. It is rather odd, though often the case, that this is what passes for serious rebuttals to Foucault’s work: his descriptions of power might mean that I’m less free than I would like to presuppose, thus I can counter the feared implications of his work with imbrications of age-old views of the sovereign self. As such, I can avoid the quintessential Foucaultian insight that power operates more than through coercion, and thus I can take a view that would return to a classical notion of power, one which has the upshot that it can be more easily resisted. This is theory as catharsis, a declaration of one’s fears while quieting oneself with having an identifiable enemy: a state, a class, a demanding family member. This is a teenage analysis of power that sees power as merely having to with the “problems of law and prohibition,” as finding one’s freedom by taking it on mom and dad (Foucault 2007: 156). Power would be localizable. It would have a position and a center and my freedom would be nothing other than marking myself as outside of that center.[2] This is, of course, the facile thinking behind all versions of negative freedom, where power is denied its productive force.