- Foucault + dead power
- ---- by Rex ButlerIn a superb memoir published in October magazine, Sylvère Lotringer (2008) recalls the circumstances surrounding the original French publication of Forget Foucault (2007a ). Baudrillard, who at the time was a relatively minor figure on the French intellectual scene, was to publish his essay, which in an obvious sense was critical of Foucault, in the prestigious journal Critique, along with a reply by Foucault. But Foucault, apparently advised by his friends, withdrew from the agreement, so that Baudrillard for his part felt free to publish his essay alone. The consequences for Baudrillard were dramatic. He reported to Lotringer that he was ostracised by the French intellectual community for many years. It is even possible to argue that the change in style in Baudrillard's work that occurred afterwards - Symbolic Exchange and Death (1993a ) was the last of Baudrillard's books to be written in an orthodox academic manner - was caused by this enforced break with intellectual respectability. Indeed, it is rumoured that Baudrillard had originally intended to publish, along the lines of Forget Foucault, an attack on Deleuze and Guattari and their notion of 'desiring production' but subsequently abandoned it. In an abstract sense, this shows Baudrillard moving beyond the project of critique; but, on a personal level, it points to Baudrillard moving beyond the entire French intellectual scene and towards the English-speaking reception that would increasingly occur from the late 1970s on.In writing Forget Foucault, Baudrillard was not only criticising a powerful external figure, but also - as with all authentic critiques - himself. In Baudrillard's work leading up to the essay, such as the chapter 'The Orders of Simulacra' from Symbolic Exchange and Death (1993a ), he is heavily indebted to Foucault's 'genealogical' method. In a later interview with Lotringer, Baudrillard attempts to deny this debt, stating that 'For a time I believed in Foucauldian genealogy, but the order of simulation is antinomical to genealogy' (FF, 76), but he is being slightly disingenuous here. Foucault in his The Order of Things (1970) is closer than Baudrillard would care to admit to his own Symbolic Exchange: at the bottom of Foucault's own genealogy there is also the figure of death. In fact, Forget Foucault does not obviously understand itself as a critique of Foucault, and the essay is as much as anything about the limits of critique. Read carefully, it starts off with almost the opposite presumption: that Foucault's analysis is perfect and there is nothing to say against it. Baudrillard's essay, that is, is not about the conceptual limits of Foucault's work, but about the fact that it has no limits, that the 'very movement of the text gives an admirable account of what it proposes' (FF, 29). Indeed, one of the methodological issues at stake in Baudrillard's text is the extent to which any critique of Foucault can merely repeat him. Baudrillard is aware of this problem, but it is an open question whether he entirely avoids it. This is not to disqualify Baudrillard's analysis, however, but paradoxically to confirm it. In part, Baudrillard's repetition of Foucault results from certain 'limits' to Baudrillard's analysis; in part, it is unavoidable, the inevitable result of the status of Foucault's analysis as simulation.What exactly is the problem with Foucault's analysis of power and sexuality, as Baudrillard outlines it in Forget Foucault? Baudrillard at this point in his career was in the middle of the development of his theory of simulation, which was to reach its climax with 'The Precession of Simulacra' (Baudrillard, 1978), which formed part of the book Simulacra and Simulation (1994a ). In that essay, Baudrillard elaborates a so-called third stage of simulation, which he had previously identified in 'The Orders of Simulacra' (SED). In this stage, the various systems of control and reason do not work directly but only by positing an other to themselves. The famous example of this is Disneyland, which through its fantasy would imply a contrasting reality (SS). And so it is with Foucault. Baudrillard's point is that Foucault's argument for the inseparability of power and resistance in Discipline and Punish (1977) is only to go towards a power that would be proved by its resistance. The same thing can be seen with Foucault's brilliant inversion in The History of Sexuality (1978), in which it is not sex that is repressed but sex that represses. Here too, for all of Foucault's distance from any liberatory hypothesis, his argument implies that there remains some natural body and its pleasures that would be proved by its repression by sex. Foucault has still not broken with the idea that there is some reality of the body or use-value to pleasure.What does Baudrillard oppose to this? Here is where the real complexity and interest of his text arises. Against that aporetic logic in which power is proved by its resistance and the body by its repression, Baudrillard puts forward what he calls at this stage of his work 'seduction', which is the reversibility or exchangeability of power or the effects of domination so that the one in power can never be separated from the one who is dominated. As Baudrillard puts it: 'The one-sidedness of a force relation never exists, a one-sidedness upon which a power "structure" might be established' (FF, 53). But, of course, the question might be asked: why is seduction in its opposition to power not another extension of it? Why does it not constitute another limit that it will inevitably leap over? Indeed, at certain moments in his discourse, Baudrillard does appear to speak of seduction as opposed to production, a seduction that simply comes before or resists power (FF). And yet, in another way, Baudrillard does not do this. Seduction is not a limit or an outside to power. It is not opposed to it and does not arise as result of it. Rather, it is that reversibility between power and its other without which there would not be power in the first place. It allows that aporia between power and its other which means that power has no limit. Seduction therefore is a kind of 'void' (FF, 54), both an imaginary catastrophe that cannot occur without falling back into power and a 'revolution' (FF, 58) that has already taken place insofar as there is power. In a certain 'double strategy' - Derridean echoes intended - Baudrillard at the same time speaks of the limits to power and sexuality and of the fact that they have no limits. Paradoxically, the 'absolute beyond' (FF, 89) of seduction would be 'absolute' only in not being 'beyond'.Passwords§ body§ death
The Baudrillard dictionary. Richard G. Smith. 2015.