The Post-Marxist Immateriality

One of the moves I have noticed in American disciplinary uses of Foucault and Delueze that I am find suspect, but do not know if I actually think is something I should reject: the move from material social relations to ideas about discourse communities.  Now the Foucault/Delueze and company critique of the subject: the place of power in the person or the institution solely is not particularly innovative. It’s implied in Marx and the notion of classes, so the “death of the author” and the “birth of the discourse” seems implied in thinking about the the commodity fetish and ideological apparatuses as well as Hegelian Marxist notions of reification.

The self is a product of means of production: i.e. it is limited by social relationships in the same movement as it is created in reflection to those events. Consciousness may be separate, but one can almost see it as a feedback loop.  This is still in an intersection of the material with the idea, which itself emerges from purely material history.  The idea of the discourse as a the primary locus of power which one sees in a many of the Nietzsche-influenced post-Marxist thinker seems to keep this critique of the subject but more away from the material limitations. In other words, in one sense it clarifies the problem of classical subjectivity assumed in Kant, but in another sense it moves away from the material by either bracketing that concern out of the question or mystifying relations.  One can see this in the synchronic approach used even by most structuralist thinkers after Althusser: Foucault has epistemes and then has the power/knowledge that causes this to emerge but does not address the material issue. 

While not idealist in the “spiritual” sense of Hegel, but it does seem to take Heidegger’s notion that ideas drive history and move this into the discourse which keeps that immaterial property.

Is it any surprise that this kind of thinking has become dominant in an age where symbolic equality may be increased but real material disparity in wealth has become huge even by the standards of modernity? Is this merely a consequence of the discourse? Or is there some more material problem at hand? 

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About El Mono Liso

Por una civilización de la pobreza.

Posted on April 24, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I read The History of Sexuality vol. 1 alongside German Ideology the first time around, while I also focused on a reader that had excerpts of Althusser in it. I came to some different conclusions while trying to synthesize all that.

    “The self is a product of means of production: i.e. it is limited by social relationships in the same movement as it is created in reflection to those events. Consciousness may be separate, but one can almost see it as a feedback loop. This is still in an intersection of the material with the idea, which itself emerges from purely material history. The idea of the discourse as a the primary locus of power which one sees in a many of the Nietzsche-influenced post-Marxist thinker seems to keep this critique of the subject but more away from the material limitations.”

    I ended up arguing in a paper after I was finished reading all of that that a person who holds a certain amount of material privilege over another, but who wants to act in solidarity with them, and with all marginalized people who are at a disadvantage, don’t necessarily need to understand radical ontologies that they may use in order to act with them, not for them or unwittingly against them. Rather, an in-depth understanding of how their material position has shaped their “consciousness” is a better approach for someone who is trying to work for equity (not the notion of equality in what currently exists) while really attempting to dismantle the structures that allow them privilege over others — not an extension of privileges to reshape underclasses to allow for more in strata who vie for accoutrements of the ruling class’s.

    In any case, I think Foucault can complementarily aid in understanding the power of ideology through discourse. I have heard said about him that he is needlessly liberationist, but I do not think this is a fault. I think this falls in line with what people often forget about Marx, or those who do not actually read him omit: labor, not capital, is necessary for production. Admittedly, it is easy to get lost in a symbolic equality if we apply the idea that seems to coalesce over many of his texts that anyone situated correctly in the panopticon can hold power over another, which is absurd to apply in isolation from the material position of who simply does not have the social relations necessary to do so (but we see it done all the time, especially among anti-feminists and “men’s rights advocates”).

    This can be useful to consider when we think of bell hooks’s analysis of how lower class fascists act on behalf of the ruling class among those consigned to ghettos: we think of material reasons why thieves steal and rob from their neighbors and family members, while the ones they steal from have in some way established enough relationships to survive the hardships they face living in conditions no one wants to think on too long on. The victims who are understandably scared of people in their own class robbing them might be considered “ignorant” of the conditions that cause someone to steal from them. As hooks argues in Where We Stand: Class Matters, those who are indoctrinated to want beyond what they absolutely need in order to survive, like most are (and we can understand why when consider German Ideology alongside hooks’s description of the perceived lack materially comfortable individuals of upper classes feel), act for reasons that they did not create in order to frighten through this use of a discourse of the powerful the people they should be acting in solidarity with. All in all, the ruling class does not need brownshirts to carry out the terror in environments that have systemically been put in place when indoctrinated actors do that for them.

  2. I read Foucault more materialistically. He does bracket class struggle explicitly, but he remarks somewhere, I forget where, that he isn’t focused on Derrida’s “relations of rhetoric” but rather relations of power. One can almost hear him whispering the word, “real” relations of power.

  3. Interesting. Just so it’s clear: I don’t know that I think Foucault’s thought is actually as Heideggerian (and thus immaterial) as I am reading it here, but I do still think the notion of power here is still a mystification or, at least, is too easily mystified. The ideological state apparatus does a lot of the work of the discourse community, I would agree with Foucault that would should take the “state” of the ideological state appartus and place it back in terms of classes (of social class, of race, of gender), but I wouldn’t remove the base of production for the analysis in the way Foucault brackets it out.

  4. But the problem is that he refuses to define power in away that doesn’t move to the “discourse” community. I think Althusser or even Hegelian Marxism is actually a little clearer on this.

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