The Clare Spark Blog

May 15, 2010

Foucault Follies Redux

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 7:44 pm
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Foucault with UC Berkeley students, 1983, photo by Paul Rabinow

In the annals of “diversity” training, nothing could be more startling than this description of the “archaeological” or “excavating” project of Michel Foucault as elucidated by one of his publicists, C. G. Prado, in his Starting with Foucault: An Introduction to Genealogy (Westview Press, 1995):

“Archaeology has a diversifying effect in that its objective is to fracture the smooth totality of a disciplinary tradition’s picture of itself or of one of its constitutive elements. The objective is to unearth, to excavate factors and events, overlooked likenesses, discontinuities and disruptions, anomalies and suppressed items, which yield a new picture of whatever has previously gone unquestioned and has been taken as definitive knowledge and truth with respect to a particular subject matter and more generally of how the world is. Foucault is everywhere concerned with exhuming the hidden, the obscure, the marginal, the accidental, the forgotten, the overlooked, the covered-up, the displaced. His subjects for investigation are whatever is taken as most natural, obvious, evident, undeniable, manifest, prominent, and indisputable.

Shored up by meticulous empirical research, Foucault’s basic strategy in both archaeology and genealogy is to retell the history of a discipline or institution or practice by highlighting previously marginal and obscured elements and events, thereby presenting a very different picture of that discipline, institution, or practice….Cases in point are madness, the subject matter of psychiatry as dealt with in the asylum, and illness, the subject matter of medicine as dealt with in the clinic” (25, 26).

What is startling in Prado’s exegesis is the notion that no one had ever thought of doing this before: no historian, no psychoanalyst, no alert journalist, no sociologist or political scientist, no artist or author or composer—as if reconfiguring our pictures of what is real had gone uninvestigated before the great philosopher weighed in:  Foucault, the son of a surgeon, whose reputation Prado was rehabilitating in his book after years of protest against postmodernism and its domination of comparative literature, literary history, or the history of science/madness/medicine, all in the name of “theory”  and “interdisciplinarity.”

Is the Foucault folly over? Even the young conservative commentator S. E. Cupp asked in one appearance on “Red Eye”, “should we be studying Foucault?” She is not alone. Here is  a call to papers that appeared in my Inbox several days ago. Read it and weep, students of antisemitism. It appears that yet another academic entity will be attacking what has been studied for eons. But of course, that would be missing the point: modernity and the Enlightenment, hitherto broadly represented in the rise of “the Jews,” must be in crisis. Here is how Yale University, once home to Paul De Man, presents itself :

 YIISA: The Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism


The International Association for the Study of Antisemitism (IASA)

For The Upcoming Conference

“Global Antisemitism:

A Crisis of Modernity”

Monday, August 23rd – Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Yale University, New Haven, CT

 The International Association for the Study of Antisemitism (IASA) is a newly formed professional association which aims to represent scholars and intellectuals engaged in the study of antisemitism across the globe regardless of school of thought, scientific approach, academic discipline or ideological view.  Created to advance knowledge pertaining to the origins and manifestations of antisemitism, IASA recognizes the aspirations of scholars in all disciplines.

Antisemitism, is one of the most complex and, at times, perplexing forms of hatred.  It spans history, infecting different societies, religious and philosophical movements, and even civilizations.  In the aftermath of the Shoah, some contend that antisemitism illustrates the limitations of the Enlightenment and modernity itself.  In the contemporary context of globalised relations it appears that antisemitism has taken on new and changing forms that need to be decoded, mapped and critiqued.  In fact, given the rise of current genocidal antisemitic discourse as a social movement, and the limited response to it by the human rights community, this could point to a possible crisis of modernity.  This conference aims to explore this discursive phenomenon from an interdisciplinary approach. [End, call for papers, my emph.]

    “Discourse,” the favorite word of postmodernists who are unremittingly disdainful of panopticons and all other bourgeois innovations to perpetrate universal surveillance, the better to control our minds,  is described as “a social movement.” To the postmodernists, this is no big whoop. Speech is a performative act. Discourse creates reality. Genocide will be halted by one great inclusive conference, in which anti-Zionists and supporters of radical Islam presumably will be welcome to join the cultural anthropologists and hip philosophers. The exemplary multiplicity of interpretations (“truths”) the conference promises (that is pomospeak), along with the renewed Ivy-League enabled assault upon the modern critical tools that could help us analyze our institutions and ourselves, will leave us kinder, gentler world citizens. Your tax dollars are paying for this charade, boys and girls. (For a related blog see, or


  1. All those terms and names for “tools” remind one of some hospital scene in a Marx Brothers movie, in which Harpo, masked and in white smock, wields a terrible scalpel, carving at everything and everyone in a fury of professional glee. All these rubrics need is a straightforward test by Korzibski, taught in 1933 in his SCIENCE AND SANITY. Abstractions to the Nth degree, reified. What a lot of stuff fit only for Harpo’s slashing. Irreality to the Max.

    Comment by Jascha Kessler — May 16, 2010 @ 4:09 am | Reply

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