28 December 2016

Power and Irrationalism

'The Enlightenment Gone Mad (I): The Dismal Discourse of Postmodernism’s Grand Narratives' by Rainer Friedrich in (2012) 19(3) Arion 31-78 comments
[T]here is a discernible commonality among the various branches of postmodernism. They have in common a penchant for passing death sentences and issuing death certificates, promulgating, with either insouciant glee or ponderous gloom, the death of reason; the death of the enlightenment; the death of universalism; the death of normativity and law; the death of meaning and truth—in short, the death of almost everything that the Western intellectual tradition stands for in general and that modernity has claimed in particular. With exorbitant virulence, postmodernism has turned against the anthropocentric and subjectivistic-individualistic tenor in modernity, in particular against its focus on the thinking subject, with the denigration of the Cartesian cogito, yielding further death certificates: the death of man; the death of autonomous subjectivity; the death of the self; the death of the author. Such pervasive negativity, often speaking in apocalyptic tongues, is the chief defining feature uniting the many postmodernisms. This had prompted Jacques Derrida to ridicule his own postmodern camp for the tendency of “going-one-better in eschatological eloquence . . . the end of history . . . the end of the subject, the end of man, the end of the West, the end of Oedipus, the end of the earth, Apocalypse now.” By his own admission, Derrida, as we shall see, has been no stranger to the apocalyptic tone he derides. A murky discourse of death, Postmodernism usurps the epithet from yesterday’s dismal science and accedes to the status of today’s dismal discourse.
In 'The Enlightenment Gone Mad (II): The Dismal Discourse of Postmodernism’s Grand Narratives' in (2012) 20(1) Arion 67-110 Friedrich comments
... Foucault was a voluptuary of power. Detestable to Foucault is only that kind of power that wraps itself insidiously in the language of truth, rationality, science, knowledge, jurisprudence, democracy, popular sovereignty, humanitarianism, and morality; that effaces itself in order to be able to rule with an invisible hand, so that it cannot be combated—detestable is, in short, the power/knowledge régime, the disciplinary power prevalent in the democratic republics. That’s the kind of power Foucault urges resistance to. When calling it, as he occasionally does, productive and creative, Foucault is referring primarily to its ability to invent ever more, and more sophisticated, forms of camouflage and vehicles for its hidden hand. 
Yet power is for Foucault also creative and productive when, for instance, it gives rise to limit-experiences in sado-masochism, a relationship the core of which is sexually charged power—and to Foucault that’s a desirable thing. This hints at the hidden normativity in Foucault’s power-discourse. How to disclose it? I propose a new avenue. Let us seek the criterion for judging and evaluating power within his power discourse, so that we cannot be accused of forcing extraneous norms on it that would subject him to a dis- course he disowns. Foucault does have a criterion by which to evaluate, judge, and condemn the modern power-knowledge régime. It is, quite simply, power—unadulterated, undisguised, self-asserting, authentic power that is. In Foucault’s Grand Narrative there lurks the unreflected and un- stated normativity of good and bad power: power precious and desired versus power ugly and detested. For a starter, here is a passage reminiscent of Batailles’s affective politics:
Power has an erotic charge. . . . How do you love power? Nobody loves power any more. This kind of affective, erotic attachment, this desire one has for power, for the power that’s exercised over you, doesn’t exist any more. The monarchy and its rituals were created to stimulate this sort of erotic relationship towards power. The massive Stalinist apparatus, and even that of Hitler, were constructed for the same purpose. But it’s all collapsed in ruins and obviously you can’t be in love with Brezhnev, Pompidou or Nixon.
 There is an air of regret in this. The culprit for the “collapse in ruins” is quickly identified: 
Humanism is everything in Western civilization that restricts the desire for power: it prohibits the desire for power and excludes the possibility of power being seized. The theory of the subject (in the double sense of the word) is at the heart of humanism and this is why our culture has tenaciously rejected anything that could weaken its hold upon us. But it can be attacked in two ways: either by a “desubjectification” of the will to power . . . or by the destruction of the subject as a pseudosovereign.
Like Nietzsche, Foucault admired the age of the sophists— the age prior to Plato’s inauguration of Western metaphysics that forced the will to power to efface itself and masquerade as the disinterested pursuit of truth. Nietzsche had invoked the “culture of the sophists” (“Sophisten-Kultur”) as “the invaluable movement amidst the moral and idealist swindle of the Socratic schools which was then breaking out in all directions.” In that culture, Foucault holds, arguing in the same vein, “effective, ritual discourse” (rhetoric that is), “precious and desirable,” is “linked to the exercise of power,” “charged with power and peril,” and “respond[s] to desire or to that which exercises power.” In short, in the discourse of the sophists, the overt, undisguised, self-assured will to power was operative. Through rhetorical discourse, as the sophist Polos in Plato’s Gorgias (466b11–c2) unabashedly holds, one can, like a tyrant, have one’s personal and political enemies in the city-states put to death and thus enhance one’s own power. No self-effacement here! It’s the kind of desirable power that humanism prohibits. 
Thus it is overt authentic power that provides Foucault’s Grand Narrative with its criterion for indicting disciplinary power on the charge of establishing the carceral in moder- nity’s democratic societies. The implication of its crypto-normativity is somewhat disconcerting. It appears that any regime, any society, any social formation where the will to power is exercised freely, assertively, and overtly, without masking itself as some form of non-power, is preferable to liberal or social democracy.