Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Badiou versus Foucault

Slavoj Žižek, First as Tragedy, then as Farce (London: Verso, 2009), pp. 101-102:

In this choice of "Badiou versus Foucault," one should nonetheless insist on a dimension ignored by the Foucauldian approach, a dimension on which Badiou's notion of invisibility focuses. That is to say, in the Foulcauldian notion of productive power, a power which works not in an exclusionary way, but in an enabling/regulatory way, there is no room for Badiou's notion of the point of inconsistency (or the "symptomal torsion") of a situation, that element of a situation for which there is no proper place (with)in the situation--not for accidental reasons but because its dislocation/exclusion is constitutive of the situation itself. Take the case of the proletariat: of course, the working class is "visible" in multiple ways within the capitalist world (as those who freely sell their labor-power on the market; as a potential rabble; as faithful and disciplined servants of capitalist managers, etc.). However, none of these modes of visibility covers up the symptomal role of the proletariat as the "part of no-part" of the capitalist universe. Badiou's "invisibility" is thus the obverse of visibility within the hegemonic ideological space, it is what has to remain invisible so that the visible may be visible. Or, to put it in another, more traditional way: what the Foucauldian approach cannot grasp is the notion of a two-faced symptomal element, whose one face is a marginal accident of a situation, and whose other face is (to stand for) the truth of this same situation. In the same way, the "excluded" are, of course, visible, in the precise sense that, paradoxically, their exclusion itself is the mode of their inclusion: their "proper place" in the social body is that of exclusion (from the public sphere).

This is why Lacan claimed that Marx had already invented the (Freudian) notion of a symptom: for both Marx and Freud, the way to the truth of a system (of society, of the psyche) leads through what necessarily appears as a "pathological" marginal and accidental distortion of this system: slips of tongue, dreams, symptoms, economic crises. The Freudian Unconscious is thus "invisible" in an exactly homologous way, which is why there is no place for it in Foucault's edifice. This is why Foucault's rejection of what he calls the Freudian "repression hypothesis"--his notion of regulatory power discourses which generate sexuality in the very act of describing and regulating it--misses the (Freudian) point. Freud and Lacan were well aware that there is no repression without the return of the repressed, they were well aware that the repressive discourse generates what it represses. However, what this discourse represses is not what it appears to repress, not what it takes itself to be the threatening X it seeks to control. The figures of "sexuality" it portrays as the threat to be controlled--such as the figure of the Woman, whose uncontrolled sexuality is a threat to the masculine order--are themselves fantasmatic mystifications. Rather, what this discourse "represses" is (among other things) its own contamination by what it tries to control--say, the way the sacrifice of sexuality sexualizes sacrifice itself, or the manner in which the effort to control sexuality sexualizes this controlling activity itself. Sexuality is thus, of course, not "invisible"--it is controlled and regulated. What is "invisible" is the sexualization of this very work of control: not the elusive object we try to control, but the mode of our own participation within it.

1 comment:

  1. This is something I never quite understood in Foucault: on the one hand there really doesn't seem to be a place for any "hidden underside" within his method. One of his basic assumptions was that discourses are pretty transparent, there's nothing to them that cannot be seen on the surface. On the other hand in some interviews he seemed to imply that he is not neccessarily "anti-Freudian". Rather he is not at all interested in the "truth value" of a theory. Instead he studies its genealogy. To use a completely dumb example, one can study the socio-economical conditions of possibility of the invention of the microscope and the study will say nothing about its scientific usefulness etc. I have to admit, I'm a great admirer of his work and I wonder if there is really no way to reconcile Foucault and Lacan/Zizek. Whenever Zizek explains the meaning of the statement "With no god nothing is permissible", he basically invokes Foucauldian notion of biopolitics, the "benevolent" society that won't let us harass our neighbors, smoke cigarettes, eat unhealthy foods. This is something typical for modern democracies, unknown to absolute monarchies or even modern totalitarianisms. This point is repeatedly made by Zizek and was also at the heart of Foucault's writings.

    OK, again I have a feeling that I'm going off on tangents.

    Any chance you can write something on J. Butler contra Zizek some time?