Authorship in What is an Author

Authorship is in question

What is an Author
Notes and Quotes Part 01

Authorship and the Author
What is an Author?

Read What is an Author

What is an Author is a text created from a Lecture that Foucault gave in 1969. He repeated a version of this lecture in 1970 in the United States of America. The version of this text is translated into English by Josué V.Harari and has been slightly modified. Importantly, Foucault had multiple texts that held the title “What is.”
This version of notes and quotes is designed to follow “The Death of the Author” by Roland Barthes. Read notes and quotes on The Death of the Author.


Teaser Quote

In a superb move of inside-outside thinking [Foucault] engages in the Shakespeare conspiracy as a moment in the proper name problem. However, rather than ask: Was it Bacon who was the true writer of the sonnets, the tragedies and comedies; he instead asks: “What would it mean if Shakespeare was the author of Bacon’s Oeuvre?”



What is an Author? The person who composes the text of course! Really? Well, the context in which this question is asked is crucial. If a young child was to ask “(mum or dad) what is an author?” that is one thing. It is though, an entirely different situation when one asks this question in response to Barthes’ axiom: The Author is dead so that the reader may live! The situation is suddenly far more complex, and requires a level of intellectual sophisticati

What does this term really mean?

on to recognize it as a question of epistemology. Foucault, is one such autéur, to address the epistemology at play in Barthes axiom.  He demands we return to first principles with his question. In fact, Foucault had a series of “What” questions which remind us how dangerous it is to take nouns, especially proper nouns, for granted; the most important of these being “What is Enlightenment.”


So we have looked at Barthes on the Tangent General website, and sought to derive as much value from this masterwork as possible. Yet it is not without fault.  In fact it emphasizes the reader heavily and doesn’t sufficiently define “What” is the author is. In order to fill this gap, we turn now to a lengthy lecture delivered by Foucault, and with skepticism – rinse and repeat for another edition of notes and quotes.

What Constitutes  An Author?

Foucault beings his lecture by demonstrating that there is a “sociohistoric” context in which the author concept has emerged. He is going to pry open the concepts of authorship throughout this lecture in order to reexamine the precepts from which they have been formed. Thus, he begins with the basic seeming a priori statement of authorship, which is that the author is a unit of measurement when examining a literary field. He writes:

Donald Trump - author of "The Apprentice"
Why is he called “The Donald” and why does that matter?



I shall not offer here a sociohistorical analysis of the authors persona. Certainly, it would be worth examining how the author became individualized in a culture like ours, what status he has been given, at what moment studies of authenticity and attribution began, in what kind of system of valorization the

author was involved, at what point we began to recount the lives of authors rather than of hero, and how this fundamental category of “the-man-and-his-work-criticism” began. For the moment, however, I want to deal solely with the relationship between text and author and with the manner in which the text points to this figure that, at least in appearance, is outside it and antecedes it (p.205).



He Who Speaks vs What has been Said

Foucault is, in this formulation highlighting how unusual the desire is – to know who is speaking, as opposed to concentrating on what is said. Being fully immersed in the cult of the Author which may be more aptly described as the cult of personality. Why for example, is the issue “Who is Donald Trump (or Hilary Clinton for matter)” rather than “What does the POTUS do?” We take for granted its unique place in cultural history. Barthes who wanted to kill off the author, may have been reacting directly to this, so it is in this paradigm that Foucault is examining the significance of Authorship within a discursive culture.

Color Theory (as metaphor for inside-outside thinking)

Foucault is the preeminent progenitor of what I like to call “inside-outside” thinking. One way to easily conceptualize this is to consider what colour the sun is. Here we borrow from Color Theory, color theory exposes that the sun is not yellow (or Gold or White) but yellow (or Gold or White) against blue. That is, the sun cannot be (directly) perceived except through the context of the sky. Similarly, Foucault here is outlining that the author cannot be perceived outside of the act of authorship. Thus we have our first precept to examine: the act of authorship as a body of distinguishable from the act of writing. Now, as soon as we recognize this precept, we immediately uncover the second. If the author is the act of authorship and authorship is distinguishable from the act of writing, then we must isolate and understand what the act of writing is.

Author as the act of Authorship

Foucault offers two themes in the act of writing: 1) writing is a game; and 2) writing is a process to keep death at bay. Foucault explains:

Our culture has metamorphosed this idea of narrative, or writing, as something designed to ward off death. Writing has become linked to sacrifice, even to sacrifice of life: it is now a voluntary effacement that does not need to be represented in books, since it is brought about in the writer’s very existence. The work, which once had the duty of providing immortality, now possesses the right to kill, to be its author’s murderer, as in the case of Flaubert, Proust, and Kafka.

That is not all, however: this relationship between writing and death is also manifested in the effacement of the writing subject’s individual characteristics. Using all the contrivances that he sets up between himself and what he writes, the writing subject cancels out the signs of his particular individuality. As a result, the mark of the writer is reduced to nothing more than the singularity of his absence; he must assume the role of the dead man in the game of writing (pp. 206-07).

Authorship as opposed to Writing

Writing is an act of First Principles. Think about a resume, it is written as opposed to being authored. The implication then follows quite clearly, the act of authoring is a derivative function of the act of writing. In other words, authorship has a very particular set of attributes which form a subset from the act of writing. Set

Set Theory
A set of all subsets, within which the subsets of the subsets also exist. Author emerges from writer.

relationships is a metaphor taken from Set Theory. Nonetheless, set theory is a valuable metaphor as it highlights the distinction of attributes that form authorship which exist (only?) within the set of writing. Here though, it may prove useful to abandon writing and replace it with “acts of self expression”.

Foucault will, later acknowledge that his observation can be scaled up beyond text to include, for instance, image and music as well. Image, Music, Text – a deliberate reference back to Barthes on my part. Foucault  though, wants to delve deeper in to his distinction between writing and authorship. Where are the boundaries of authorship? Foucault argues they are contained in the accepted body of work, the oeuvre.

When is it an act of Authorship and when is it just writing?

Yet, what constitutes the oeuvre is not immediately apparent and Foucault deals with this directly:

Even when an individual has been accepted as an author, we must still ask whether everything that he wrote, said, or left behind is part of his work. The problem is both theoretical and technical. When undertaking the publication of Nietzsche’s works, for example, where should one stop? Surely everything must be published, but what is “everything?” Everything that Nietzsche himself published, certainly. And what about rough drafts of his work? Obviously. The plans for his aphorisms? Yes. The deleted passages and the notes at the bottom of the page? Yes. What if, within a work book filled with aphorisms, one find a reference, the notation of a meeting or an address, or a laundry list: is it a work or not? Why not?

… How can one define a work amid the millions of traces left by someone after his death? A theory of the work does not exist, and the empirical task of those who naively undertake the editing of works often suffer in the absence of such a theory (pp. 207-08).

Again, the metaphor of the author’s death raised by Barthes in 1967, is prominent in this passage. I draw special attention to Foucault’s use of the verb “undertaking” and the cessation of a theory of work once the individual would-be author has died.

Authorship as a unified body of writing?

Penguin books
What are the attributes of “classic” and how are “penguin classics” fulfilling this?

Already Foucault has highlighted the complexities existent at the boundaries  of Authorship and writing. He has also introduced a relationship that can be formulated between empiricism and a theory of work. This then necessitates the question: does the author exist in the absence of an empirical theory of work? The answer is a paradox: yes, we need the author to have an empirical theory of work, but we need the epirical theory of a body of work to produce the author. In this sense Foucault suggests “we try, with great effort, to imagine the general condition of each text, the condition of both the space in which it is dispersed and the time in which it unfolds” (p.208). In other words, a text without a context is an indecipherable piece of writing.

Writing as Religious and Creative

However, there is more to this assertion. Anticipating the author as penal figure, the notion of time unfolding is significant. Why does Madame Bovary shift from an illicit and blasphemous text in the 19th Century to a classic piece of literature in the 21st? Is it because the text can be the author’s killer? Foucault argues that it is because writing contains within itself an inherent transcendental quality. He says:

In current usage, however, the notion of writing seems to transpose the empirical characteristics of the author into a transcendental anonymity. We are content to efface the more visible marks of the author’s [empirical essence] by playing off, one against the other, two ways of characterizing writing, namely the critical and the religious approaches. Giving writing a primal status seems to be a way of re-translating, in transcendental terms, both the

Authorship as religious
The original critique may have been a method to interpret the biblical texts.

theological affirmation of its scared character and the critical affirmation of its creative character. To admit that writing is, because of the very history that made it possible, subject to the test of oblivion and repression, seems to represent in transcendental terms, the religious principle of hidden meanings (which requires interpretation) and the critical principles of implicit significances, silent determinations, and obscured commentaries (which give rise to commentaries).

To imagine writing as absence seems to be a simple repetition, in transcendental terms of both the religious principle of in-alterable and yet never fulfilled tradition, and the aesthetic principle of the work’s survival, its perpetuation beyond the author’s death, and its enigmatic excess in relation to him (p. 208).

Author through Critique

I will now take a lot of the above passage apart. The vector of the transcendental as Foucault has introduced, is a crucial element of the emergence of the figure of the author. Empiricism alone, in one sense, in ill-equipped to fully identify the authorship of a body of work. The theory of work then exists outside of the authorship in and of  itself. Already it is very clear how connected  authorship is to the specter of death. In light of this, Foucault invites into our reading, the theological approach. Religion and death go hand in had culturally speaking. This is an inappropriate time to examine religion’s cultural role beyond understanding death, but have faith that religion also contains the capacity to teach us how to live.

Nonetheless Foucault elucidates here the role religion plays  in determining the meaning of a text. Thus, by extension, its role in developing a theory of work. It crucially seeks to reveal and expose the hidden meaning beneath the surface. So too, Foucault explains does the critic. Religion is exchanged for the implicit, yet the function remains the same. Therefore, the transcendental nature inherent in the text as Foucault reveals, is the need for an interpretation. In other words, the text cannot exist  without it’s commentary.

Critique as Mid Wife

The critique then, the commentary, brings the author to life. Or at the very least, the critique extrudes the authorship beyond the text. So, if Derrida

Post-Structuralist Author
This is not a pipe, it’s a text describing a pipe.

says there is only the text, because language requires language to enunciate itself, then Foucault resist this. He does so by espousing the transcendental nature inherent within. However, Foucault’s move here is greater than reaffirming the importance of structuralism in a post-structuralist world, he is also continuing to highlight how context “creates” text. Put succinctly, the author is formed through the authorship determined in the critique. In other words,: The author’s birth is delivered by the critique.

This is not simple semantics. At play is a situational understanding of how the Truth is perpetuated. Foucault points out a symbiotic relationship between author and

critic. Here foreshadowing how the function of an identified author can stand for much more than a text in itself. Later Foucault will introduce discursivities and elaborate on the transcendental implications. For now though, he continues to work on nailing down the definition of author. If an author is the act of authorship identified through the critic then, Foucault asks, what constitutes the Author’s proper name.

Author as constituted Author’s Proper name

Did Homer really write the Iliad? If not Homer, then who? More significantly, did it matter in the Hellenistic Golden Age? Foucault shifts the interrogation now to the very instance of the Author: their proper name. The Author’s proper name is for Foucault, already problematic. Rather than solve this issue, he  instead seeks to further complicate it. In a superb move of inside-outside thinking he engages in the Shakespeare conspiracy as a moment in the proper name problem. However, rather than ask: was it Bacon who wrote the sonnets, tragedies and comedies; he asks: “What would it mean if Shakespeare was the true author of Bacon’s oeuvre? This exposition of the proper name dialectic is central to the question of what is the Author. Foucault demands that we engage deeply and contemplatively with this issue:

The proper name and the author’s name are situated  between the two poles of description and designation: they must have a certain link with what they name, but one that is neither entirely in the mode of designation nor in that of description; it must be a specific link. However – and it is here that the particular difficulties of the author’s name arise – the links between the proper name and the individual named and between the author’s name and what it names are not isomorphic and do not function in the same way. There are  several differences (pp. 209-10).

Author Function

The Author is, and is not just, a designated proper name. Foucault in making this argument is drawing our attention to the functionality of such a proper name. How does the functional proper name fit with in the paradigm of text in critically produced context? If Shakespeare didn’t actually live in Stafford-upon-Avon, then that has little bearing on Hamlet. However, if Hamlet and the Organon originated from the same pen, the function of the proper name is shattered. Therefore, Foucault asks that we examine in some detail, the “Author Function.”

End of Part 01

If this close reading is set against the  previous reading on Tangent General of Barthes The Death of the Author, then quickly we have moved out of the Post-structural

Roland Barthes Michel Foucault
What is an Author if the Author is Dead?

ist abyss through Foucault. Foucault in the above is searching for Truth in the concept of Authorship. Truth that is transcendental and ineffable, only perceptible  via signification and implication. What has happened rapidly in this discussion of authorship is the functionality of authorship in the context of the author’s death. Foucault rejects pure empiricism in developing such a determination. He strives to retain and maintain the transcendental aspect of the text, which transcends the image of the author. Therefore, in the examination of the precepts which form our concepts, the author is an emergent property. At root of this emergence is the author function.

In Part 02 of a close reading of Foucault’s What is an Author we will examine the Author Function in some detail before moving on to examining the historical moves Foucault identifies from this observation. As foreshadowed above, having an Author means a work can be considered profane or sacred. Further to this, Foucault will demonstrate how authority is a fundamental embedded attribute of authorship. This will open up the specter of discourse and eventually discursive narratives which sit ephemerally above the author in and of themselves. Freud birthed the Freudians and Marx did the Marxists. So click back soon for the further unfoldment of these arguments in part 02.

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Society Must be Defended Part 02: Power

Michel Foucault - Power

Society Must be Defended Part 02: Power

Society Must be Defended

About Society Must Be Defended Part 02: Power

In this section of a close reading of Lecture one we will discuss Power. Today, Foucault is most known for his conception of Power and the way that Power is Contested through discourse. Identity Politics is a prime example of the sort of discourse power contest that Foucault outlines in this section of Lecture one.

Notes and Quotes from Foucualt, M., 1997 Society Must be Defended Picador, New York. These notes were written in 2013 when studying for a thesis on conspiracy theories. Foucault is a complex thinker and demands serious attention when being read. I am performing a close reading here of the first lecture in the book. Foucault’s lectures were tape recorded by students and the transcripts of those recordings have been used for create Society Must Be Defended.

Click here for part 01

Teaser Quote:

“What is power?” is the wrong question though! I think  we should be asking “what is Order” as power in a concrete sense is predicated on Order. It is interesting that Foucault begins this lecture with a discussion of Free Masonry, given that their motto is “Order out of Chaos.”


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Read more about Foucault here

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Post Modernism
There’s got to be at least one good pub in this town?!

Power is a big deal for Foucault. One of the aims of this close reading of Foucault, is not simply to understand his thought, but to understand how he has been used in our contemporary analysis of identity. Identity politics has become a major political problem – ranging from the minor (transgendered bathrooms) to the major (Islamic State Terrorism). Some have laid the current strife at the feet of Post-Modernity and the notions espoused by Foucault’s contemporaries. We must seek to learn from them to understand what it is they said that has led to our current discontent. We must ask what role Foucault played in this.

It is essential to seek out what we take from these thinkers. What were their powerful insights? We can do this by parsing out their propagandistic tendencies. It is not enough to call Post-Modernism one homogeneous body of work and dismiss it wholesale. We now face the unenviable task of finding the treasure in the trash…

What is Power?

Out of context, the quote below can be twisted and turned and used to promote the post-modern resentment towards the Western culture. There are some clues as to why Foucault may not wish to link power directly to the Economy – one of which is the fact that already in this lecture Foucault has delivered a harsh and accurate assessment of the veneer of the “science” that Marxism attempts to push in lieu of an organic relationship between human volition and reality.

What is power? Or rather – given that the question “what is power?” is obviously a theoretical question that would provide an answer to everything which is just what I don’t want to do – the issue is to determine what are, in their mechanisms, effect, their relations, the various power-apparatuses that operate at various levels of society, in such very different domains and with so many different extensions? Roughly speaking, I think that what is at stake in all this: can the analysis of power, or the analysis of powers, be in one way or another deduced from the economy (p.13).

Another clue is that Foucault tells us directly that power cannot be understood by gazing directly at it. He wants to find the “powers,” the various contests that occur, the domains in which these context are played out. Foucault, is perhaps, driving at is the idea that the economy is an indicator; of the set of power games that are being played out in society.

Not A Theory of Everything

Importantly, Foucault is resisting here the creation of a theory of everything. This is interesting to grapple with given that we now have the benefit of hind sight. Foucault didn’t have the same appeal that Thomas Paine for example had. He was clothed in the garbs of the academy and say high in the ivory tower.

Grand Theory
‘Is that it? Is that the Grand Unified Theory?’

We don’t know much of his personal life, but we do know that he was incredibly wealthy. Foucault’s oeuvre today is housed in the set of high theory, critique of it revolves around the fact that “there is no outside Foucault, everything can be explained within Foucault.” That is, Foucault is often accused of providing an answer to everything.

So on some level Foucault was able to foresee how his work would be used and twisted and he did two things to prime that. Firstly he voiced a resistance to his work being used to explain power in such a way that it is an  answer to everything, and secondly, he divorced himself from his work and created a “tool box.” The tool box could be a collection of any and all theory and it could be packed away and then fragments could be produced to solve specific problems at specific points in time. In other words, Foucault preempted the Post-Modern murder of the Author by figuratively (and literally) allowing himself to die before his work could be employed.

Foucault Doesn’t Care

Foucauldian apologists stand proud today, because Foucault followed through. He lived his own particular brand of identity politics in the sense that he left France to pursue Sadomasochism. He also demonstrated just how powerful he was, which is to say  not at all, as the figure of author once his work had been released.

He continues:

Power is the concrete power that any individual can hold, and which he can surrender, either as a whole or in part, so as to constitute a power or a political sovereignty. In the body of theory to which I am referring, the constitution of political power is therefore constituted by this series, or is modeled on a juridical operation similar to an exchange of contracts. There is therefore an obvious analogy, and it runs through all these theories, between power and commodities, between power and wealth (p.13).


Power vs Order

What is power is the wrong question though! I think  we should be asking what is Order as power in a concrete sense is predicated on Order. It is interesting that Foucault begins this lecture with a discussion of Free Masonry, given that their motto is “Order out of Chaos.” Perhaps what Foucault is offering here then is a bridge to understanding the manufacture of order through contest of power. He wants to point to the accumulation of wealth as being a source of concentration of power and that is a priori. So we have an axiom we can take from Foucault here: concentration of wealth becomes the concentration of power. This however, is a dangerous axiom and wielded improperly can promote Marxism and the earnest desire to redistribute wealth.

First as Tragedy and then as Farce

Again though, we need to think about the social order in which that wealth has been facilitated. Simply going to some of the bigger power brokers and draining their accounts does not solve the problem. This is one of the most seductive aspects of Foucault and why he is held in such reverence by those who have read him. Foucault here is implicitly attacking the very system which produces wealth. One might be tempted to even go as far as to say, what Foucault is arguing here is that we need to “Abolish the Fed.”

Abolish the Fed?

Of course, Foucault isn’t arguing that we should abolish the Fed (Federal Reserve Bank of the United States of America), but he is developing a path through which we can begin to understand how our discourse around production and accumulation of wealth is constituted into direct social power. Social power, at a high enough level then becomes political power. This is a great point again to jump off and start digging into theorists such as Bourdieu, who offer a framework for conceptualizing social capital. However, sticking to the task at hand and continuing a close reading of Foucault, what we can immediately take note of is the face that he uses the word “analogy.”

Power in Marxism

The devil is always in the detail, so Foucault at once sets up the fact that power is the accumulation of wealth (a priori and thus axiomatically) and then he tears it down (I’m only speaking analogically). In other words, power – concrete power – can be understood at an individual level, sure. As soon as you attempt to scale it up though you run into problems. I propose this is because power is predicated on Order and Order is not simply the economy. This then brings us nicely to yet another critique of Marxism that Foucault makes in this opening lecture:

[In the] Marxist conception [of power], you have something else that might be called “economic functionality” of power. “Economic functionality” to the extent that the role of power is essentially both to perpetuate the relation of production and to reproduce a class domination that is made possible by the development of the productive forces and the ways they are appropriated. In this case, political power finds its historical raison d’être in the economy (p. 14).

One way of looking at this passage is to think about the progenitor and the antecedent of a thing. In this case the “thing” is power (as we conceptualize it within human and animal interactions) the progenitor for power is, as I am arguing Order, and the antecedent of power is what Foucault suggests the Marxists call “economic functionality.” So that’s a lot to take in, but essentially Foucault is accusing the Marxists of going in the wrong direction. He is accusing them of treating the symptom and not the disease.

Economic Functionality as Power in Marxism

However, at the same time, the relationship between power order and economic functionality is far from straight forward. It is coiled upon itself and deeply intertwined. Thus, power is an indicator of the ability to act in the world in a coherent manner commensurate with understanding or desire. Order is the set of understandings and desires manifest from the always already present chaotic potential of the universe writ large and economic functionality is the specific exercise of power within a particular social framework.

What we could say is my ability to eat depends on my ability to harness social power, and this mean acting in radically different ways if I am in a communist society or if I am in a capitalist society.


Foucault’s own Marxists tendencies are going to start to appear now, because he is turning his gaze towards the most fundamental question that Marx posed: What does the term Alienation mean? Foucault writes:

My research into power is broken into two themes of overarching questions… First: Is power always secondary to the economy? Are it’s finality and function always determined by the economy? Is power’s raise d’être and purpose essentially to serve the economy? It is designed to establish, solidity, perpetuate, and reproduce relations that are characteristic of the economy and essential to it’s workings? Second question: Is power modeled on the commodity? Is power something that can be possessed and acquired, that can be surrendered through a contract or by force, that can be alienated or recuperated, that circulates and fertilizes one region but avoids others? (p. 14).

Alienation has a profound impact upon our capacity to act.

Foucault then doesn’t buy the notion that the economy is the system of Order and therefore Power in society. Rather he questions what the system actually is that produced the economy as a visible system. This is another clue that Foucault was more aligned with psychoanalysis than with structuralism. These questions are seeking to understand the root of our manner of being within boundaries of ordinance and sub-ordinance. The economy makes this clear and apparent. If you are an employee you are subordinate to a boss or a series of bosses. Yet your power as an individual is not confined to these relationships. So Foucault introduces the concept of Force.


Power abstracted is useful for quickly assessing your role in a particular situation. Do you have the power to act? Can you demand a pay rise from your boss, can you get away with cheating on your wife. Can you successfully provide for your family? These are all questions of your capacity to act – specifically your capacity to act within the boundaries of time and space. A Lord in the 16th century had a much higher chance of successfully cheating on his wife than a 40 something year old in Canada who’s Ashley Madison profile has been leaked.

However, power as an abstraction is also ambivalent. It doesn’t actually describe the relationship of subject and object sufficiently well enough to serve as a metaphor for a natural phenomenon. Foucault knew this and using his genealogy method began to deconstruct the forms of power throughout various constituted societies. That is to say, Victorian Era sexuality vs Grecco-Roman sexuality vs contemporary sexuality. The result of this is that he introduced the concepts of Force and Repression into his theoretical framework:

… Power is not primarily the perpetuation and renewal of economic relations, but that it is primarily, in itself, a relationship of force. Which raises some questions, or rather two questions. If power is exercised, what is the exercise of power? What does it consist of? What is its Mechanism? We have here what I would call an off-the-cuff answer, or at least an immediate response, and it seems to me that this is, ultimately, the answer given by the concrete reality of many contemporary analyses: Power is essentially that which represses. Power is that which represses nature, instincts, a class or individuals (p.15).

Power as Repression

Foucault is building towards his next axiom. That is: “Power is war, the continuation of war by other means.” At this point we can begin to disentangle the complex political aspects of Foucault’s work. He is certainly not a Capitalist. What this concept shows is that rather than the economy order being the constitution of power, the economic order is there to keep power in check. This is a radical idea. Foucault is also separated from traditional Marxism at this point.

He asserts that his contemporaries has determined that power is that which represses. I have shown though that he is building towards the axiom that power is war. War doesn’t simply repress it destroys, it terrifies, it plunders. War is a form of brutal chaos. My question at this stage of understanding if power is war, is this: if you calculate that Foucault’s axiom is correct, are you saying that the strongest will always win out?

If you’ve studied military history then you will know that many a stronger, more well equipped, even more professional army have lost on the battlefield. War is not simply a matter of strength. To successfully wage war there are “rule of engagement.” These may as well be considered “laws of engagement,” as they outline consequences for particular actions that become indisputable. If we consider sport as a model for war, as a “play” version of war (particularly contact sport) then we start to see what it is that Foucault is hinting at. The level of organization and cooperation as well as the notion that both opposing sides are basically adhering to the same set of rules, reveals how dramatically complex this rendering of power is.


Power is not repression, that is an oversimplification. Power is relational. Thus when people adopt the Marxist ideology of the oppressed and the oppressors they fall into the trap of Power simply being the ability to exercise repression.

War – Always and Everywhere

Foucault then, breaks out of the paradigm of power as repression and builds towards his axiom stated above. He continues now by deconstructing the idea of power and repression by asking his second question in relation to force and the enactment thereof:

[Second] if power is indeed the implementation and deployment of a relationship of force, rather than analyzing it in terms of surrender, contract, and alienation, or rather than analyzing it in functional terms as the reproduction of the relations of production, shouldn’t we be analyzing it first and foremost in terms of conflict, confrontation, and war? That would give us an alternative to the first hypothesis – which is that mechanism of power is basically or essentially repression – or a second hypothesis: Power is war, the continuation of war by other means (p.15).

More questions are raised here by this axiom than are answered. However, Foucault is unfolding the depths of relationships that are predicated on force. What we go back to the employee/employer relationship the force factor does not go one way. This opens the door to discourse analysis as the relationship is actually just a story being enacted through two parties who choose to play particular parts.

Politics as an end to War?

I am immediately drawn here to ask whether peace is the opposite of war or if it is a function of war ? George Orwell comes to mind here which his series of axioms set out in 1984 – War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength. The first time you read that your inclined to think of it as biting satire. However, there may be, and in fact there is, much more depth to these axioms. I would even go as far as to say that there is some surface level truths that Orwell is articulating.

Foucault speaks to this question directly:

[Whilst] it is true that political power puts an end to war and establishes or attempts to establish a reign of peace in civil society, it certainly does not do so  in order to suspend the effects of power or to neutralize the disequilibrium revealed by the last battle of war. According to this hypothesis, the role of political power is perpetually to use a sort of silent war to reinscribe that relationship of force, and to reinscribe it in institutions, economic inequalities,

language and even the bodies of individuals. This is the initial meaning of our inversion of Clausewitz’s aphorism – politics is the continuation of war by other means. Politics in other words, sanctions and reproduces the disequilibrium of forces manifested in war (pp.15-16).



Reich, Nietzsche and the Convenience of Hypothesis

Foucault now works hard to reveal the great thinkers who have developed extant grand theories of power. Nietzsche is perhaps an obvious target for Foucault given the extreme influence he derived from the German philosopher. Reich however is a more complex and difficult thinker. Today Reich is largely diminished from the public purvey. An acolyte of Freud and the developer of Orgone energy he is one of the original alternative scientists of the twentieth century. Unlike Tesla though, his fan base is small and marginalized, even and perhaps especially during the 1970s when Foucault was delivering this particular lecture.

It is then another clue as to the deep root of psychoanalysis that Foucault has branched out of. Importantly, it is these psychoanalytic insights that allows Foucault to really reveal the underlying shadows of power that form the current of the river of society.

In short then, the two grand hypothesis that Foucault lays out are: 1) the mechanism of power is repression; and 2) the basis of the power-relationship lies in a warlike clash between forces. Foucault writes:

So you see, one we try to get away from economistic schemata in our attempt to analyze power, we immediately find ourselves faced with two grand hypotheses; according to one, the mechanism of power is repression – for the sake of convenience, I will call this Reich’s hypothesis, if you like – and according to the second, the basis of the power-relationship lies in a warlike clash between forces – for the sake of convenience, I will call this Nietzsche’s hypothesis. The two hypotheses are not irreconcilable; on the contrary, there seems to be a fairly logical connection between the two. After all, isn’t repression the political outcome of war, just as oppression was, in the classical theory of political right, the result of abuse of sovereignty within the juridical domain? (p.16).

Final Thoughts on Lecture 01

This article and the previous article on Society Must be Defended start to demonstrate the complexities that run throughout Foucault’s thought. Yes, he is modular, he shifts and changes depending on the context. Yes, he rejects a through line in his work that could propagate a grand theory. But… he also retains his world view throughout all of his work. I argue that he was deeply interested in the underlying relationships between the role of the individual acting within a series of increasingly complex social systems.

This method of viewing the world does diminish the influence of ideologies that are abstracted from nature. I have focused heavily in this article and the last on Marxism, but the same can be said for Capitalism, Feudalism or Anarchy. They are all abstracted from nature. This leads to easy simplifications as Foucault points out, like the oppressor and the oppressed. In fact Foucault calls this the attempt to categorize Power as being “legitimate or illegitimate.” However, this reduces agency and the reduction of agency is only ever a synthetic overlay. For even in the gulag archipelago there was a choice in terms of how to act in the world. The perpetual problem for tyrants remains the fact of human agency or to put it Biblically: “Free Will.”

Foucault thus argues against such abstractions. He wrestles with a form of articulation that simultaneously simplifies the thing in itself (which is a prerequisite for communication) and accurate portrayal of the thing in itself. Power is always-already intangible due to the problem of human agency. So I will leave the final word to Foucault:

So, two schemata for the analysis of power: the contract-oppression schema, which if, if you like, the juridical schemata, and the war-repression or domination-repression schema, in which the pertinent opposition is not, as in the previous schema that between the legitimate and the illegitimate, but that between struggle and submission.

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The Problem of Post-Modernity


The Problem of Post-Modernity

The Problem of Post-Modernity
Welcome to the Weird indeed!

Teaser Quote:

Today it’s no different, the same discipline is required of an individual to call themselves a Marxist, they must read and read closely and read carefully and read intelligently the full three volumes of Das Capital. And in fact those who wish to call themselves Capitalists must do the same.  Otherwise how can we begin to understand the problem of Post-Modernity?


What is the problem of Post-Modernity? If I was to ask you who was the most influential figure of the 20th Century, you might facetiously say “Homer Simpson,” then you might think about it a bit and say it was “Henry Ford” then you might really think about it and say “FDR” and before long you might convince yourself that the most influential figure of the 20th century was Hitler. I doubt very much that you would say Jack Kerouac or Jacques Derrida. I doubt very much that you would even say it was Henry Kissinger or George Soros. But, despite the enormous impact each of these figures has had on the 20th Century I don’t think any of them really account for the shaping of history in the same way that Karl Marx did.

Our continuous eternal question of the 21st century is the question of Marxism. Marxism broke a dichotomy wide open and also created a new dichotomy in the process. Dichotomies are always dangerous and rarely absolute, yet with the split between East and West, between Capitalism and Communism the dichotomy plays as closely to reality as a dichotomy ever  can. One of the major problems we have today with Marxism and why it has endured as far as it has is that it take on an individual level an enormous amount of work to understand what he means. As such, in the same way that Hegel and Nietzsche and Freud have been distilled propagandistically by those who wish to extract power through their work, Marx too is susceptible to easy and inappropriate interpretations.

The Need to Read Carefully After the Author has Died

What Foucault demonstrates in his own writing is the level of attention to detail that is truly required to grapple with complex social ideas. The responsibility an individual must take in their own engagement is extreme. Take for example my work on Society Must be Defended and the need to really break down each paragraph and examine what it means in the context of the broader idea being portrayed. I argue that one of the vectors Foucault was enacted by writing in such an incoherent and obfuscating manner is that he was attempting to demonstrate how incoherent his contemporaries were. Therefore, he was signalling a call to action, I may be dead, the post-modernists may have killed me (in the sense of the author’s intention) and now you have been born as the reader so read very carefully and take the task seriously. What does that mean? What does it mean to read carefully and seriously? I propose it means that you have to read on multiple levels simultaneously. If no longer there exists an intention that we can draw upon from the author then the message as a whole and the individual words that construct that message have no inherent meaning.

In other words, we as readers, must first grasp the message as a whole in a low resolution form – for example: Discipline and Punish is a book which demonstrates the manner in which we have not become more, but rather less, humane in our treatment of the excluded members of society. However, our task doesn’t end with that, we have to rip apart, screw up, shred twist and perform a sort of “convolution” on the very establishment of the argument. We need to settle for ourselves why this is laid out in the order: Torture, Punishment, Discipline, Prison. We have to contemplate why the Panoptic model makes so much sense in the context that Foucault puts forth and then wrestle with his fallibility as an author and consider whether it actually makes sense or whether we are being pursued.

Post Modernity Requires Active Reading

We must then determine how Foucault has represented his influences. Has he actually taken Bentham on appropriately. So does that mean we need to read Bentham? And if we do, how are we to read Bentham? The same way! So now the task of reading is far more complex than simply absorbing the words as they lay on the page. No longer is it a passive exercise but requires a deep engagement with a set of ideas that juxtapose the concepts being presented. Well FUCK! Who has time for that anyway?

Worse! Who has time for that in World War 1 when there are enemy armies marching forward and ready to kill you. This is the problem with Marx, it is too easy to reduce his oeuvre to sound bites:

Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks

The theory of Communism may be summed up in one sentence: Abolish all private property.

From Each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.

The Power of Das Capital

The economic pressures across Europe were real, were evident and as Rage Against the Machine state so eloquently “Hungry people don’t stay hungry for long.” So it becomes a matter of survival who you are going to listen to. It was a major matter of life and death what ideas you considered, and in the early 20th century the less ideas you had to consider the better. Today it’s no different, the same discipline is required of an individual to call themselves a Marxist, they must read and read closely and read carefully and read intelligently the full three volumes of Das Capital.

A True Post Modern Text
The knowledge we need the most is in the books we wish to read least.

And in fact those who wish to call themselves Capitalists must do the same. In fact the task is even more difficult. You need to read the full three volumes of Das Capital in German. Who has the time or the inclination for that? So we face a huge conundrum, because when that task isn’t undertaken earnestly the seductive power of the veneer can be overwhelming. The charasmatic voices that speak it far too alluring:


“A fairness for all and a responsibility from all”

Responsibility From All?

What does that even mean? What are you talking about Obama. A responsibility from all could mean that each and every person in the set of “all” has responsibility. Or it could mean that Obama’s vision will alleviate you from the burden of any responsibility. What does the word “Fairness” mean? What is the particular etymology that Obama is enacting when he speaks this word? You can see already how difficult it is to think in the shadow of Marx (and for that matter Kant, Descartes, Aristotle, Plato) and how easy it is to abandon that responsibility that you have in coming to terms with what these messages are. Coming to terms of course being a pun here. However, if you abandon your responsibility, you have abandoned your ability to respond.

I can’t foresee that people are going to heed this message, that there will be a critical mass of people on either the Left of the Right who will go and read the German version of Das Capital and face the gargantuan task of distilling it into their own lives. But it is crucial to understand that this is at least the task. It is crucial to understand that this is the root of the problem of Post-Modernity. What we desperately need then is a figure who can diminish the impact of Marxism. What we desperately need is a figure who is so large and renowned that they can present a knock down argument against Marxism and then settle some of the dust. What we need is a hero, in the mythical sense. We need a figurative Hercules to take on this task for us.

Academics and Post Modernity

Steven Hicks may have highlighted the problems of post modernity twenty years ago but he was twenty years ahead of his time.
John Taylor Gatto may have identified the major employment opportunity was security guard fifteen years ago, but he was fifteen years ahead of his time.
Jordan Peterson may have become to deconstruct the problems with tyrannical government in Maps of Meaning revised 10 years ago, but he was 10 years ahead of his time.
And Brett Veinotte, Steven Hicks, Jordan Peterson, and many others are speaking out about the Humanities and Social Sciences at University now, but they too may be two or three years ahead of their time.

None of these figures are that hero, Foucault wasn’t that hero. Derrida, Fromm, Marcuse, Reich, Wittgenstein, Zizek the list goes on – are not that Hero. They may be considered prophets to begin to mix metaphors, but they are not the Savior. We need St. George to go and find the fire breathing dragon and slay it, to continue to mix metaphors. I am not that figure either. What is the cost here? To what level of sacrifice are we expecting this Savior to submit? Is it that, like Neo at the end of the Matrix Trilogy, like Jesus on the Cross, they must dies for our academic and intellectual sins against the Father? It’s no joke to start to put Marx in the mix with words and concepts like Anti-Christ. It’s only a very serious wonder why Mein Kampf was thrown away culturally speaking but The Communist Manifesto still persists.

We Need a Hero

Jordan Peterson, who I talk about a lot, regales his students with a story of his nephew and how he had to face a dragon in his nightmares. First there were trolls, mean nasty little trolls hell bent on destruction and turmoil, then the dragon came into view. This is an important story and you need to hear it spoken by Peterson himself. I wish only to point out the enthralling image that’s presented in this tale – that being of the trolls formation: The trolls are formed from the embers of the fire that the Dragon breathes. The trolls are infinitely reoccurring and will only start to dissipate once the dragon is slayed.

Post Modernity as a dragon to be slayed
Who shall slay the Post Modern Dragon?



If Post-Modernity is the dragon then social justice  warriors are the trolls. Now it is unfair to say, and I am not saying, that there is a one to one correlation. Put another way, I am not suggesting that all social justice warriors are mean and nasty little trolls. But they do represent the problem with seduction. Once they have been seduced by the doctrine, there is no point in defeating them on an individual level, you need to defeat  – impossible task, we can only ask for a diminishment of influence – the doctrine itself.

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, communism has two or three hundred years left to run before it is relegated to a form of subjugated knowledge. Perhaps by the 24th century we as a people (if we survive) will look back and wonder with astonishment why people abdicated their responsibility so freely. Why people accepted their enslavement so willingly. Two or three hundred years of history can see an almighty amount of bloodshed though. So yes! We are still ahead of our time. We haven’t located the lair this dragon calls Post Modernism hoards it’s gold. And there is gold in Post Modernity worth rescuing. We also haven’t found our St. George who is willing to sacrifice themselves in order to slay this beast. But we have some clues. We have a rough understanding of the terrain.

I ask you to consider reading the English version of Das Capital, at the very least open the first few pages. I will struggle to do the same. Perhaps we can create the environment from which St. George can emerge.

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Foucault Society Must be Defended Part 01

Michel Foucault

Society Must be Defended

Notes and Quotes – Part 01

Society Must be Defended
Cover of the book available at Picador

About Society Must Be Defended

Foucault M., Society Must Be Defended is Picadors fine rendering of Michel Foucault’s lectures at the College de France.

Tape Recordings of Foucault
Cutting edge 1970s technology!



These particular lectures took place between 1975 and 1976. Foucault himself didn’t take coherent notes, nor did he stick to them, however audio tape recorders were quite popular at the time and it is for this that we are able to study these remarkable lectures today.

Much of the notes (if not all of the notes) that you will read in this article relate to the first lecture dealing with Subjugated knowledges.




I focused in 2013 on this particular aspect of Foucault as I was writing a thesis on conspiracy theories (available here ). We pick up the lecture series with Foucault discussing secret societies and their possession and dissemination of knowledge.

Teaser Quote:

That said, he goes on and the next paragraph I will quote is seminal to understanding Foucault’s work as a body of knowledge.

Links for this article

Read more about Foucault here

Buy Society Must be Defended here

Read Society Must be Defended here

What are these notes and quotes?

Notes and Quotes from Foucualt, M., 1997 Society Must be Defended Picador, New York. These notes were written in 2013 when studying for

a thesis on conspiracy theories. Foucault is a complex thinker and demands serious attention when being read. I am performing a close reading here of the first lecture in the book. Foucault’s lectures were tape recorded by students and the transcripts of those recordings have been used for create Society Must Be Defended. These notes were taken between 22 Feb 2013 and 5 March 2013. Editing has obviously been completed on 5 June 2017.



Brett of the School Sucks Project has spend considerable time looking into the phenomenon and influence of Post-Modernity in the growing crisis that the humanities face. This is an important undertaking and one that has many rabbit holes. My role in this series is to shed some light on the role that Foucault played in the development of Post Modernism. I have already written an article based on my reading of the book EMPIRE by Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt see here.


Useless Erudition

All this quite suits the busy inertia of those who profess useless knowledge, a sort of sumptuary knowledge, the wealth of a parvenu – and, as you well know, its external signs are found at the foot of the page. It should appeal to all those who feel sympathetic to one of those secret societies, no doubt the oldest and the most characteristic in the West, one of those strangely indestructible secret societies that were, I think, unknown in antiquity and which were formed in the early Christian era, probably at the time of the first monasteries, on the fringes of invasions, fires and forests. I am talking about the great, tender, and warm free masonry of useless erudition (pp. 4-5).

Useless erudition? Why does Foucault accuse the free masons of useless erudition? Perhaps denying their influence in the world, or perhaps he is suggesting that the relevance of erudition is found in its pomp and ceremony and that for all the fear and misunderstanding, secret societies are little more than their cere

Delueze and Guattari
Post-Structuralism par excel-lance.

mony. Power, and influence thereof, remains with the individual. Those who are willing to look, and to look past the pageantry see that the choices made there as much as elsewhere are choices made by the individual.

Importantly though Foucault is also taking the time here to call out some of the critiques of society that are based more on the notion of sounding erudite than on the ability to convey sensible knowledge. In particular he takes a hard line on Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti Oedipus. This probably is more of a territorial dispute on Foucault’s part than anything else. This though is instructive as it is a clear distinction between methodologies that we could loosely describe as being structuralist (Foucault) and Post-Structuralist (Deleuze).

All Encompassing and Global Theories

Interestingly though Foucault links the ideas of Marx, Reich and Marcuse with (perhaps futile?) attempts to create efficacy with an “all-encompassing and global [theories]. He argues that Reich and Marx seek to tackle the prevailing existential crisis. He  argues that Reich and Marcuse are seeking to put forward attacks on morality and traditional sexual hierarchy. And beyond that, that these writers are involved in some sort of search for Class Justice.

But they [all encompassing and Global theories] have, I think, provided tools that can be used at the local level only when, and this is the real point, the theoretical unity of their discourse is, so to speak, suspended, or at least cut up, ripped up, torn to shreds, turned inside out, displaced, caricatured, dramatized, theatricalised, and so on (p.6)

Real point? That the theoretical unity of an all encompassing and global discourse is suspended so as to extract the “tolls” from within that can be applied and used at a local level. Perhaps what Foucault is arguing so strongly here is that we are taking Marx, Reich, Marcuse and others far too seriously when we read their works. I would argue that Foucault’s own work falls into this trap as well. The issue that Foucault is highlighting though is an interesting one in the sense that we risk falling prey to the seductive power of the words of a Karl Marx.

Power of Karl Marx

Worse still perhaps is that if we’re not on guard, we risk falling prey to a derivative of Karl Marx which doesn’t actually have the full understanding of the original point that was being made. This article itself has that challenge. If you as the reader walk away thinking you know Foucault from reading this, then you haven’t thought critically enough about the situation. What Foucault is saying is that the only way to know is to test and use and manipulate and harness ideas and concepts. To take them and really examine them before accepting any worth that they may offer.

When I say “subjugated knowledge,” I mean two things. On the one hand, I am referring to historical contents that have been buried or masked in functional coherences or formal systematizations. To put it in concrete terms if you life, it was certainly not a semiology of life in the asylum or a sociology of delinquency that made an effective critique of the asylum or the prison possible; it really was the appearance of historical contents. Quite simply because historical contents alone allow us to see the dividing line in the confrontation and struggles that functional arrangements of systematic organizations are designed to mask. Subjugated knowledges are, then, blocks of historical knowledges that were present in the functional and systemic ensembles, built which were masked, and the critique was able to reveal their existence by using, obviously enough, the tools of scholarship (p.7)

This paragraph is dense and deliberately so.  For example, Foucault introduce the concept of blocks of historical

Karl Marx
We will all always live in peace and harmony

knowledge. This is the unit for which both his archaeology and genealogy use for the basis of analysis. Roughly speaking, a block of knowledge is a long series of modes of practice that have changed and adapted over time. However, these blocks of knowledge become porous, and they hold within them nuggets of wisdom that have been shaped and glossed and glossed over. Perhaps one way to think about blocks of knowledge is to think about active and passive forms of knowledge,  within this unit there are sides of the block that are values and sides which are not.

In other words, society promotes a 2 dimensional square for the boundaries of knowledge on any particular topic – and this is the result of a continuous power contest between those who can influence public discourse. Foucault however, steps back from public sentiment about a topic at any particular point in time and seeks to uncover the other sides aspiring to present a 3 dimensional cube.

Knowledge, a political act of power

Additionally, Foucault in this passage is discussing the use of knowledge. Knowledge is thus always-already a political act of power. We know this implicitly because  we have the axiom knowledge is power but Foucault is taking that one step further in this discussion and suggesting that knowledge is power both in the attainment and the occulting. The ability to remove particular forms of knowledge from mainstream discourse is just as powerful a move as it is to hold knowledge about a topic and about the self. Thus we have knowledges that allow us to see the dividing lines of confrontation and knowledges that are masked by “erudition,” systematization, and formal functional arrangements.

Within the critique however, and importantly, within the scholarship the critique allows, these historical blocks, these “subjugated knowledges” are revealed. Perhaps then the historical blocks are not simply methods of understanding a topic, or instruction packets on how to act and behave in the world. Perhaps these historical blocks can be thought of as packets of information, events or circumstances that gave birth to the myths that fuel consensus reality and thus that act of favoring one block over another is the very same act of subjugating knowledge.

This idea is drawing heavily on Lacanian Concepts though, in particular when I discuss “consensus reality” I am not referring to the common conception that is used in conspiracy analysis circles, but rather the notion that there is a Real, and access to that Real  is not permitted, so instead culture adapts management schemas that mask the Real such that we can communicate from a common set of references.

Subjugated Knowledges

When I say “subjugated knowledges” I am also referring to a whole series of knowledges that have been disqualified as non-conceptual knowledges, as insufficiently elaborated knowledges: naive knowledges, hierarchically inferior knowledges, knowledges that are below the required level of erudition or scientificity.

And it is thanks to the reappearance of these knowledges: the knowledge of the psychiatrized, the patient, the nurse, the doctor, that is parallel to, marginal to, medical knowledge, the knowledge of the delinquent, what I would call, if you like, what people know (and that is by no means the same thing as common knowledge or common sense but, on the contrary, a particular knowledge, a knowledge that is local, regional, or differential, incapable or unanimity and which derives its power solely from the fact that it is different from all the knowledges that surround it), it is the reappearance of what people know at a local level, of these disqualified knowledges, that make the critique possible (pp. 7-8).

If we make a slight of hand and set it up so that we are looking at these knowledges in a particular way then we can begin to parse out what I believe Foucault is driving out in this paragraph. When he speaks of knowledges he is referring to a set of common references. Today, it may be  easier (although for how much longer I am not sure) to turn this into a metaphor of TV shows. Each knowledge could be considered a TV show in and of it’s own right. For many there will be a lot of overlap and the references to individual aspects of the show will resonate with the interlocutor.

The Order of Things

However, there may also be shows that were a lot older, deeply unpopular, produced for a specific region or perhaps there are leaks, and so a small subset of the community has access to the outtakes or episodes that were never meant to air. Now Foucault is very concerned even in the mid 1970s with the regulation of self. This is something that becomes a big deal as the genealogical methodology is further developed, especially in the History of Sexuality Vols. 1 and 2.

The regulation of self is a knowledge and this is a knowledge that is predicated heavily on shared references. This is understood in The Order of  Things and here more implicitly developed in the passage  I’ve quoted. Nonetheless, Foucault is highlighting how, no matter the efforts to propagandise and to indoctrinate, an understanding of something small such as the presentation of self in public, or something large such as the state’s framework for Justice of Medicine is  not a coherent whole and not a straight forward unity.

New Methodology

This is where the notion of qualitative research also begins to emerge. What can we learn from speaking directly to doctors that the numbers gloss over. What can we learn from individuals that the trends do not elucidate in high enough resolution. He is at this point in the lecture, and this is becoming quite a close reading of society must be defended outlining his approach to a new or altered methodology (with Foucault it’s never really clear what the distinctions are between various approaches in his research. He is structuralist in one book or passage and post-structuralist the next. Modernist then Post-modernist, then modernist again – although in fairness Post-modernity did not exist when he was writing).

What I think ultimately is the important concept that is conveyed in this passage is the question – the question that Foucault elaborates on in the next phase of the lecture, the question of the power games that must have gone on and continue to go on in producing subjugated knowledges. In other words, whose interests are served when a set of references is disqualified.

The question or questions that have to be asked are: “what types of knowledge are you trying to disqualify when you say that  you are a science? What speaking subject, what discursive subject, what subject of experience and knowledge are you trying to minorize when you begin to say: ‘I speak this discourse, I am speaking a scientific discourse, and I am a scientist.” What theoretico-political vanguard are you trying to put on the  throne in order to detach it from all the massive circulating, and discontinuous forms that knowledge can take?”

And I would say: “When I see you trying to prove that Marxism is a science, to tell the truth, I do not really see you trying to demonstrate once and for all that Marxism has a rational structure and that its propositions are therefore the products  of verification procedures. I see you, first and foremost, doing something different. I see you connecting to Marxist discourse, and I see you assigning to those who speak that discourse the power-effects that the West has, ever since the Middle Ages ascribed to a science and reserved for those who speak a scientific discourse” (p.10).

Foucault was a Champagne Socialist

So here Foucault is making a marked criticism of Marxism. In fact this is akin to the critique that Jordan Peterson puts forward when he deconstructs Pinocchio and discusses the adoption of a victim identity as the price Pinocchio pays for entering pleasure island. Foucault is arguing that there is a synthetic, not wholly organic, aspect or manner to the attempt to speak of Marxism as a science here. In fact he is directly saying that there is an underlying political vanguard that is being masked by an attempt to speak scientifically on the  topic of Marxism. This is one of the “discoveries,” if that could be considered the correct word, that emerges from the archaeology of knowledge project.

Russell Brand
Russell Brand is today’s epitome of a Champagne Socialist.

Foucault is about to go even further in outlining the role that his oeuvre is to play as a form of methodological analysis. However, it is worth keeping in mind here that Foucault wasn’t arguing against Marxism in this passage. Rather he was apologizing for it, he was showing the flaws of the  ideology such that they may be more closely examined and understood. Foucault himself had a political vanguard that he operated from within and this is not necessarily something he “shied away from,” he just did it at such a sophistication  that it was implicit in much of his work. His critique of the Justice system has within it a critique of capitalism and more  precisely the West.

His Method in A Nut-Shell

Even that is not good enough though, for Foucault delved the depths of knowledge strains such that words like the West and Capitalism quickly lose their relevance. So instead it may be proper here to talk of Foucault’s disdain for the Occidental. That said, he goes on and the next paragraph I will quote is seminal to understanding Foucault’s work as a body of knowledge.

To put it in a nutshell: Archaeology is the method specific to the analysis of local discursivities, and genealogy  is the tactic which, once it has described these local discursivities, brings into play the de-subjugated knowledges that have been released from them. That just about sums up the whole project.

That just about sums up the whole project in the words (and mind) of Foucault. What is this project though? It for one thing requires a dedicated subject matter through which to explore local discursivities and then play through the chronological evolution of such discursivities to determine the power games that shaped, and corrupted and molded each set of references such that there is a split between the acceptable understanding of a topic (like sex) and an unacceptable understanding of a topic (such as, that the medicalisation of madness has led to worse treatment rather than better treatment).

This is a smart move by Foucault here though as it is setting up the shift he is about to take in moving the audience from narrative to power. Here, we are beginning to notice the absolutely and central role that forms of linguistics play for Foucault; this is why he is such a modular theorist too. We may ask what was the driving motivation for Foucault, just as we would when we approach Marx or Durkheim, Marcuse, Fromm or even Ayn Rand. But this is the wrong question. This is a deeply Modernist Question, and the trap is to think for a moment that Foucault has produced a grand theory of the world that explains everything through the contest of discursive power.

He has not.

Foucault and Grand Theory

The argument about grand theory and Foucault will rage in Academia for many generations to come (we hope), but at the very least in order to learn Foucault it is important to remain vigilant. Instead of looking at Foucault with a desire to seek out his primary motivation, we must instead look at Foucault in the manner in which we look at Zizek or Deleuze.

That is, what does Foucault have to say in regard to Sex, what does  he have to say in regard to Clinicians, and what does he have to say in regard to Power? This is the Post-Modern approach, this is the birth of the reader at the expense of the writer. Ultimately it doesn’t matter what Foucault’s primary driving force was, what matters is what he said.

This is particularly important in the tracing of his methodologies. What does he say about his Genealogy? Is it that they are a continuous lineage of an idea over time? He says:

…I am not suggesting that we give all these scattered genealogies  a continuous, solid theoretical basis – the last thing I want to do is give them, superimpose on them, a sort of theoretical crown that would unify them – but that we should try, in future lectures, probably beginning this year, to specify or identify what is at stake when knowledges begin to  challenge, struggle against, and rise up against the institution and the power – and knowledge – effects of scientific discourse (p.12).

The End

This is where I shall leave the discussion on Lecture 01 of Society Must be Defended. I will add more  in future posts about Foucault’s difficult relationship with knowledge/power and build upon his first lecture some more. For now, thank you for reading and  supporting the Tangent General in his work.




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Developing Biopower out of Foucault



Part 1 [the Political Constitution of the Present]

Section 1.2 – Biopolitical Production:

pp. 22-42:



The Emergence of Biopower. Negri and Hardt point to the work of Foucault and particularly to his work that outlines a change from a “disciplinary social construct” to a”society of control.” That is to say, no longer does society punish the body directly (be it in the form of corporal punishment, public execution/torture, the deprivation for a variety of lesser crimes i.e. debtors prison etc. and the conditions of the asylum). Rather society, in a paradigm of the “society in control” is seeking to “produce bodies.” This is what is a t the heart of Foucault’s concept of biopower, and is what Negri and Hardt outline in some detail in their argument as presented in Empire.
For instance they write:

Disciplinary society is that society in which social command is constructed through a diffuse network of dispotifs or apparatuses that produce and regulate customs, habits, and productive practices (p.23).

Still surmising the work of Foucault, Negri and Hardt offer that the key defining aspect or distinguishing feature of a disciplinary society is that it’s institution and structure provide the boundary or limits of conformity. Or as Negri and Hardt paraphrase: “Disciplinary power rules in effect by structuring the parameters and limits of thought and practice, sanctioning and prescribing normal and/or deviant behaviors” (p.23).

Teaser Quote

“Today I would say that “The Internet,” but even more so “The Internet of Things,” is crucial to the production of society and given this is an online article that fact remains self evident.”


Historically, Negri and Hardt suggest that the “society of control” emerges during the “modern” period and develops throughout “post-modernity.” Undoubtedly, this placing is imprecise, however it does demonstrate that the history we are essentially tracking here is based on/around the intersection of cognition, technological advancement and shifts in ontological/epistemological framings. In other words, Negri and Hardt are outlining a shift in thought form that occurred over a period of time. Importantly, throughout both of Foucault’s major projects (the Archaeology and the Genealogy) the implicit and explicit power relationships play a major role. This is evident and center stage here when discussing the shift from disciplinary power to the society of control and Negri and Hardt work to highlight this. They write:

The behaviors of social integration and the exclusion proper to rule are thus increasingly interiorized within subjects themselves. Power is now exercised through machines that directly organize the brain (in communication systems, information networks etc.) and bodies (in welfare systems, monitored activities, etc.) towards a state of autonomous alienation from the sense of life and the desire for creativity (p.23).


Keep in mind here that the Foucauldian oeuvre reminds us continually that power is contested.  Thus, just as with the shift itself out of disciplinary power, the society of control is one in which power relations are in a constant state of flux. Nonetheless, power has to have some basis in reality and in a more advanced course we would at this point, tangent off into a discussion of Social Capital, both from Bourdieu and Zizek’s perspectives. For now we will have to settle for a rather unsatisfying answer. However, it is an answer we will get a chance to unpack and examine in some detail. The essential reality that those who (whomever they may be at each particular point in time) control the power relationships is peer pressure.

To put it another way, the society of control is obsessed with what constitutes normality, normal height, weight, finger length. Average life span, diet, eye color. The society of control tracks movement, watches macro-social behavioral patters and learns more and more each day about the habits and standards of acting/responding. This form of control becomes power (knowledge in power sort of thing) and this is what Foucault called Bio power. Negri and Hardt write:

Bio power is a form of power that regulates social life from its interior, following it, interpreting it, absorbing it; and re articulating it. Power can achieve an effective command over the entire life of the population only when it becomes and integral, vital function that ever individual embraces and reactivates of his or her own account (pp. 23-24).


It is important to highlight here that the society of control is immersive. As opposed to the former disciplinary model, biopower works on the body of the society as opposed to the body of the individual. Again here, we can branch off into discussions concerning the development of utilitarianism and discuss how that fits into this model, in particular as a philosophic foundation.

One key aspect  of Negri and Hardt’s argument regarding the production of biopower is the role of globalization and the functionality of technology. This is important in the sense that the civic world that existed during the disciplinary power structure has now become diffused throughout not only the state, but the “global village” as well. If we take an example, we may look at Facebook and see how interconnected we have become as individuals yet we struggle to identify at the same time a clear community structure.

This is further emphasized when we take into account some of the less sociable aspects of new media and social media. Here for instance an algorithm that can be used to track your personal search history can be captured and sold as data corporation which then has a greater capacity to specifically target its advertising. Here we also see the role of money in connection with this form of social structuring.


Now we need to ASK THE IMPORTANT QUESTION: WHY? Why study Negri and Hardt? Why are Negri and Hardt relevant to the study of Justice? Negri and Hardy are an interesting and curious duo for sure. Negri for instance, was in prison when this book was written, charged with a number of acts of terrorism (this is related to Operation Gladio which is yet another vector on this same plane). There is much more to the story of course, and Negri’s incarceration shouldn’t deter you from reading and understanding this important work. Additionally, the unusual circumstances of the books production highlights the way in which technology has continued to have an amazing impact upon our everyday lives.

I would even hesitate to go as far as saying that Hardt was given a unique position due to his co-workers situation to offer a new perspective on social formation. The second question  is the IMPORTANT ONE though: how is this book connected to our interrogation of the concept of justice? Empire offers at a broad level a critique of capitalism as facilitated through globalism. Whether we ultimately agree or disagree is a moot point, as the critique itself allows us to see a perspective we’d be otherwise too immersed in, too truly appreciate.


In particular though, their exposition of biopower is important, as biopower is the state technology which currently permeates the social norms of our society, and thus is a key facilitator in the production of justice. Negri and Hardt outline how the biopolitical context thus becomes central to their argument. They write:

…the biopolitical context of the new paradigm is completely central to our analysis. This is what presents power with an alternative, not only between obedience and disobedience, or between formal political participation and refusal, but also along the entire range of life and death, wealth and poverty, production and social reproduction and so forth (p.26).


In this way, what we essentially arrive at is a dichotomy. Generally we should be weary of dichotomies and this is no expectation. However, the distinction that is created here is useful as a model. So we have on one hand a disciplinary state that seeks to exclude life vs on the other a state within a society of control or a biopower state which seeks to “produce life.” This is then the fundamental axiom of Biopower, it is the mechanism through which the state can produce life.

Negri and Hardt’s exposition of the production of/and life begins with a critique (a very brief critique) of the foundational work Foucault had developed in relation to biopower. It’s important to keep in mind that Foucault is indeed the progenitor of this field of inquiry, and as Negri and Hardt highlight here is that this is almost an accident of his prior research.


There is an argument to be made here that Foucault could be considered among the canon of psychoanalytic work. This is due to his exposition of Nietzsche first and foremost who paved some of the road that Freud would later tread, and then later using The Invasion of Compulsory Sex Morality a book by Freud apostle Wilhelm Reich, for the basis of his history of sexuality. Therefore, and in particular with biopower, it can be understood as a psychoanalysis of the systems of society through which individuals are able to “play the (set) of games” that constituted power in culture.

It is thus my own personal view is that Foucault was implicitly doing a psychoanalytical project in the same vein as Zizek et al., however as we never explicitly stated this Foucault cannot yet be named a psychoanalyst. I bring this up because often we are going to struggle to really pin down the systems of thought that Foucault used. NEgri and Hardt suggest that his work on Biopower was heavily influenced through a structuralist framework. This is perhaps arguable. However, this interpretation is not controversial. There is plenty of evidence in Foucault’s work that really highlights how he has used a structuralist method.


OK. So please keep in mind as we continue to discuss and approach this critique and also as we work through Foucault, that he is very modular, i.e. each project Foucault has done in many ways attempts to use a range of perspectives. Today we might call that an interdisciplinary approach.  That said, I am not sure that we can really get away with the argument that Foucault was “interdisciplinary.” Foucault though, can easily be called a “Structuralist” without too much difficulty.

So, what do Negri and Hardt write about Foucault’s structuralist limitations:

By structuralist epistemology here we mean the reinvention of a functionalist analysis in the realm of human sciences, a method that effectively sacrifices the dynamic of the system, the creative temporality of its movements, and the ontological substance of cultural and social reproduction. In fact, if at this point we were to ask Foucault who or what drives the system, or rather, who is the “bios?” His response would be ineffable, or nothing at all. What Foucault fails to grasp finally are the real dynamics of production in a biopolitical society (p. 28).


This is quite a damning statement in regards to Foucault’s work, yet as I prefaced Foucault can be (and is) read as modular. SO here I suggest what we take away from this is a break from the preceding scholarship rather than an attack on Foucault. Here again we could go into much more depth on the development of Foucauldian Discourse Analysis and arrive at our own position as to whether Foucault failed to fully embrace social and cultural dynamics. Nonetheless, in regard to biopower and especially biopolitics Negri and Hardt make a good case for moving beyond Foucault. They are particularly interested in these dynamics they find lacking in preceding scholarship and as such move to Deleuze and Guattari in order to resolve some of these issues or gaps.

Now Deleuze and Guattari are also a curious duo in their own right and position themselves alongside but ultimately  outside other French sociology. They largely play by their own rules and as such can be misinterpreted as Zizek famously has done. Negri and Hardt employ Deleuze and Guattari for their poststructuralist analysis and specifically in the search for the production of the “social being” (p.28). Yet even here they are unsatisfied with this analysis. Essentially in their through line, they trace the developing articulation of social production, namely “creative production, production of value, social relations, affects [and] becomings” (p.28), as they began to emerge in this literature.


So leaving the structuralist/poststructuralist modern/postmodern debates aside, Negri and Hardt are highlighting how difficult it was to articulate and outline social production in a social system with so many divergent an diverse influences through technology, globalization, capitalism etc. I want to highlight one aspect of political history here that I feel is relevant to this discussion. That is the collapse of the Soviet Empire. This, much like perhaps 9/11 would later be, was a distinct “before and after” moment in history. Importantly both Foucault and Deleuze/Guattari wrote before and Negri and Hardt wrote after. In that mix we might also throw in the development of the internet although given that it was only really beginning to be adopted between say 1995 and 2003, and the Napster explosion didn’t happen until late in 1999, this I feel that this has much less relevance in Negri and Hardt’s argument.

Today I would say that the internet but even more so “The Internet of Things” is crucial to the production of society and given this is an online article that fact remains self evident.


Essentially, one of the problems that Negri and Hardt outline but do not name is the role of emergence in our contemporary and highly interconnected world. Taking a Marxist approach allows them to identify that the issue of exploitation has become more opaque in a biopolitical sphere and as such their existing theories of value (both Marxist and otherwise) become inadequate in approaching the question of power and it’s development in the society of control. Focusing for instance on the role of labor in the early twenty first century they write:

The immediately social dimension of the exploitation of living immaterial labour immerses labour in all the relationship elements that define the social but also at the same time activate the critical elements that develop the potential of insubordination and revolt through the entire set of labouring practices. After a new theory of value, then, a new theory of subjectivity must be formulated that operates primarily through knowledge, communication and language (p. 29).

Ironically enough, this is going to bring us back to Foucault but also writers and linguists such as Wittgenstein who will outline that language is vital in regard to determining and shaping our thoughts…



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