Things I Don’t Understand: Foucault

So, this Continental philosopher writes a reading of the universe, and it syncs up to modernity. He says stuff like that everything is just a play for political power, but he doesn’t back this up with definite evidence, which is sensible enough because it is a metaphysical principle and not a scientific claim. Some of what he says, for example on madness, is merely a repetition of G.K. Chesterton, but he adds a tone of suspicion that makes a perfect fit for the academic culture of critique.

He uses some examples but they are clearly symbols, for example, the Panopticon was a mere idea that never got built. If you wanted to write an anti-Foucault you would do very well to start with the everyday image of a guard rounding a blind corner in an ordinary prison. His premodern historical examples have been shown to be rubbish. Anyway, the plural of anecdote is not evidence.

This metaphysical theory of modernity is then claimed to be the basis of everything that ever happened in history. Well, maybe not everyone considers Foucault specifically when they are rewriting a medieval church-state dispute to claim that nothing was incarnate in the actors for the church or the state except selfish greed, but if they run into a conflicting theory written by someone who claims the church had higher goals in mind (this would have to be a very brave academic these days), they will laugh at them and remind them that Foucault “proved” all of this wrong.

Foucault did not “prove” anything, any more than the Bible “proves” that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all. Like Foucault, the Bible is a testimony and not an evidence, and the only difference between Foucault and the Bible is that you can believe in the Bible and be happy and content with what life gives you.

But maybe I just don’t understand Foucault.

Posted: July 24th, 2012 | Academic mumbo jumbo 1 Comment »

One Comment on “Things I Don’t Understand: Foucault”

  1. 1 Jim Buck said at 7:26 pm on January 5th, 2013:

    Try reading Thomas Hobbes.