Sunday 21 May 2023

Spivak, Said & Foucault

The great expansion of higher education following the G.I Bill led to the creation of a class of 'celebrity' academicians whose signature concepts had (what Rothbard called) a diminishing half-life.  This was cool if they overdosed while still young. It was tragic if they gained tenure without developing any fatal type of cancer.

This was because the 'linguistic turn' in the Humanities had left it with nothing to say and so, by the late Sixties, belles-lettrism gave way to the arid cultivation of an impenetrable literary style which swiftly passed from the pretense of Punditry to outright Paranoia. Spivak, on the other hand, was never mad. She was merely stupid and ignorant. 

Back in 2016, she wrote this-

Let me begin with Edward Said’s On Late Style:

Said observed that artists at the end of their careers have an increasingly opaque or cylopean style which however occasionally appears oracular. But this is an 'observer effect'. Such artists had pruned their work when they were at peak productivity and so the themes they return to in old age aren't curated. They never found a place in the canon. But this is not to say they didn't exist. 

'the relationship between bodily condition and aesthetic style seems at first to be a subject so irrelevant and perhaps even trivial by comparison with the momentousness of life, mortality, medical science, and health, as to be quickly dismissed.

This is meaningless. Bodily condition refers to the same thing as 'mortality' and 'medical science' and 'health'.  Clearly Said was no longer capable of writing coherently. Sad.

Nevertheless, my contention is as follows: all of us, by virtue of the simple fact of being conscious, are involved in constantly thinking about and making something of our lives, self-making being one of the bases of history, which according to Ibn Khaldun and Vico, the great founders of the science of history, is essentially the product of human labor.

This too is meaningless. Khaldun is nothing like Vico and neither are 'general founders' of anything whatsoever. Said himself may have been conscious but his 'self-making' was decidedly 'off the peg'. He was a narcissist and did what would get him noticed.  

Said has clearly oublié Foucault –

forgotten Foucault. But there was nothing to remember in the oeuvre of that crazy sadist.  

the typically mischievous title of a book by Jean Baudrillard — perhaps because there was so much Sturm und Drang over his misunderstanding of Foucault, first from Jim Clifford and others and lately the question from Etienne Balibar:

Clifford is an anthropologist- i.e. is as stupid as shit. Balibar was expelled from the French Communist Party in 1981. What either understand or misunderstand is of no concern to anybody because they were fuckwits.

Did Said have any acquaintance, direct or indirect, with the discourses in which, through the detour of a discussion of the Greek notion of parrèsia,

It is also a Protestant Christian notion and Said was a Protestant Christian who attended an elite Prep School and a posh American Collidge. The Quakers were making a big deal out of 'speaking truth to power' in the mid-Fifties. Then people remembered that Nixon's Mom was a Quaker. 

Foucault- who was a deeply silly man- thought that Truth must be 'Cartesian'- i.e. deductive.  But Godel, Tarski, Turning etc. showed why this could not be the case. Foucault didn't know about Gentzen and 'natural deduction' and 'sequent calculi' and type theory and so forth. The fact is, only 'verification' matters. You are speaking the truth if what you say can be verified. It doesn't matter if you are a nice guy or or are risking your life or are doing 'self-criticism'. If you say 'x is the case' and we find that x is not the fucking case, then you are a fucking liar and your pants are on fire. 

Foucault himself tried to engage in a genealogy of the agonistic relationship between “truth-telling,” is a function of the intellectual…, and the combination of power and knowledge in the exercise of government?

This is bullshit. In France, the 'intellectual' is welcome to join the Government or advise it in some useful way. Look at Kojeve. He had a spectacular career. But, under Dubya, so did many acolytes of his pal Leo Strauss.

Probably not.

Said knew a thing or two about something better than 'power' and 'knowledge'- viz. having lots and lots of money.  

But for us at least the result is a striking tension between the clear Foucauldian resonances of those words with which Said defines what he calls “the basic question for the intellectual: how does one speak the truth? What truth? For whom and where?”),

Said's own life supplies the answer. Since he was Palestinian, he was a credible spokesperson for the Palestinian cause. I believe he first got involved in this after Sirhan Sirhan killed Bobby Kennedy and an American magazine asked him to write an essay explaining the assassin's motivation. Since Said's English style was quite good- he was a Professor of Literature at a time when it was not uncommon of such people to have actually read a book or two- he needed to write in an elegant and erudite manner pushing forward facts favorable to his cause. 

Foucault was merely mad and his brief attempt to pose as a Maoist came to nothing. What is alarming about his oeuvre is the ignorance he displays even of school-boy French history.  

and a certain distance which is perceptible in the text with respect to Foucault’s understanding and applications of his own formulations.…

Said was merely a narcissist. He wasn't foaming at the mouth kray kray.  

With a few others, I do in fact believes that a self-critical reflection of Foucault’s on his own engagement alongside the Iranian Revolution,

there was no 'engagement'. Foucault had orgasms contemplating all the vicious sadistic tortures he fondly believed the Iranians were inflicting on each other.  

about which he kept completely silent after 1979, could be one of the causes of Foucault’s interest for the meaning and transformations of the Ancient civic and moral notion of the parrèsia, or the “fearless speech”.

The man kept silent about having contracted AIDS. He literally 'died of ignorance' even if he didn't pass on that disease to others. 

Foucault himself relates German interest in Cynicism to the second world war.
In 1983, a two volume 'Critique of Cynical Reason', by Peter Sloterdijk came out. It showed the Cynicism was an inter-war phenomenon. Sadly, the German people believed- as did Keynes- that they would starve unless they conquered land to their East. Nobody can be a cynic about bread once the larder is empty.
For him another “cause” – if that is the word – is the call of late style. What is Said’s definition of late style?
'Late style is what happens if art does not abdicate its rights in favour of reality'. But this is also true of early style and middle style and insisting on wearing assless chaps to your son's bar mitzvah. 
His “obvious personal reason”  is impending death from chronic leukaemia.

The imminence of death tends to concentrate the mind to such a degree that even the most constipated of writers shits out a book or two. 

I am also now revising my words on Frantz Fanon opening Goran Olsson’s film “Concerning Violence” and therefore thinking hard about the fact that The Wretched of the Earth was famously written in the last ten weeks of Fanon’s life, when he knew he was dying of acute leukemia and finally traveling to a hostile United States for a cure that failed.

Had he lived, he'd have seen lots of Algerian Muslims running away from the new regime. Also, Fanon was a Doctor. He should have been researching cures for actual diseases rather than writing Sartrean shite.  

Said suggests that at a certain point in our lives we want to locate a point of origin,

more especially when applying for a passport. You have to mention the place you were born.  

but the late style does not necessarily do so. I would like to propose that Foucault does the whole thing in these last lectures: Socrates began, but also not – and vedi Napoli, poi mori – “a philosophy professor” must teach Socrates “at least once in one’s life.”

Unless they do mathematical logic- which aint entirely useless. Come to think of it, the only way to teach Socrates is through 'category theory'. The Socratic 'palinode' is an intensional item in what appears an extensional set. William Lawvere was explaining Hegel in category theoretical terms. But kategoros is a legal term.  Socrates, I suppose, changes the meaning of Judgements re. asebia such that he himself prefigures the Christian paraclete. But, in ancient Athens, the paraclete was an ambulance chaser while in the Old Testament 'kategoros' is the Devil- or Devil's advocate. 

Said’s “second great problematic is about… continuity” .

He 'd have preferred continuing to publish meaningless shite rather than dying and getting buried.  

This too Foucault rehearses in these late lectures; precisely the most disappointing lecture in the series, Foucault knows it is the least good – “forgive these superficial surveys,” he says, “they are notes for possible work” – hoping for continuity — is about the continuity of the Cynics into modernity and terrorism.

but also the continuity of the Stoics into senility and having a pineapple shoved up your arse.  

But Said is most interested in “explor[ing] the experience of late style that involves a nonharmonious, nonserene tension, and above all, a sort of deliberately unproductive productiveness going against….”

Whether in the Sciences or the Arts, one returns again and again to the problems one has not been able to solve. Late style is interesting for this reason- indeed it can seem oracular, if only in a negative sense. 

Although Foucault celebrates Socrates as the master of harmonies and pays his dues; and shows some of his contrariness in reading the classical philosophical tradition as clearly suggesting that there can be no ethical differentiation in democracy

 Nonsense! Athenian democracy was founded on dokimasiai, tests to determine eligibility to vote, or hold public offices or discharge liturgic duties.  An Emperor may not distinguish between his subjects. He wants obedience from them all- nothing more, nothing less. But Democracies differentiate those worthy to lead from the great mass of the sheeple.  

incidentally I can turn Foucault around here and put him with Gramsci and Fanon

not to mention De Sade, Charlie Manson and Patti Obaweyo Golem 

and, humbly, with my own practice, by suggesting that this calls for sustained work for individual education for collectivization that his argument can be made to take on board.

or, if it gets bored, then it could collectivize the individuation of education or educate the individuated Collective or collect the individuals who shat on education.  

But surely it is in the celebration of the philosophy of the cynic that the absence of serenity and “the deliberately unproductive productiveness going against” comes into play;

Very true. If you see a lunatic repeatedly slamming his head against a wall, you say to yourself 'aha! this dude is not serene because he is celebrating the philosophy of the cynic'. The same thing happened to an Aunt of mine when her hairdresser accidentally shaved her head.  

precisely after his apology for the effort to show continuity into and through terrorism.

Said was an A-rab. Them guys are all terrorists- right? 

Foucault had always said that he did not mention Heidegger because Heidegger was so important to him.

In which case he was always mentioning Heidi. Sadly, the truth was that Foucault was genuinely mad. Heidi was merely bad- a spoiled Catholic who didn't get that Truth was what you arrive at through a metanoiac process which makes you verifiably a nicer person to those around you.  

He relates the neglect of “the question of the philosophical life” to Heidegger’s project of suggesting that “the question of Being . . . has been what Western philosophy has forgotten, and that this forgetting is what made metaphysics possible” 

The problem with Catholic philosophy is that not everybody could get a job as a Professor of it. That's what pushed Heidi and Schmitt over the edge.  

There is indeed a moment of serenity in quoting Epictetus’ formula for the cynic: “The Cynic ought to be free from distraction, wholly devoted to the service of God, free to go about among men, not tied down by the private duties of men, nor involved in relationships which he cannot violate and still maintain his role as a good and excellent man.”

If that is serenity, give me alcohol.  

But it is the last characteristic of the cynical program that he particularly celebrates in the first hour of the lecture on March 14, 1984, figures a summary of what he has said so far: first the political bravery of truth-telling

which is zero if you dress up your shite in pseudo-philosophical terms and are paid to be a fucking pseudo-intellectual.  

it’s “involved opposing the courage of truth-telling to an opinion, an error,”

The truth is that the French need to stop teaching Philosophy in High Schools. The thing makes kids stoooooopid.  

“in the case of Socratic irony, and” by contrast and in the second stage “it involves introducing a certain form of truth into a knowledge that men do not know they know, a form of truth which will lead them to take care of themselves”

This is 'synoida'. The Jews took it up and so, in Christianity, the word is linked to synderesis and parrhessia- which is cool provided you are going to Confession and leading a good and useful life.  

“After political bravery and Socratic irony we have, if you like, Cynic scandal” 

A scandal is a stumbling block to faith. 

This is where “one risks one’s life,…

No it isn't. Foucault was risking his life by going to bath-houses. Nobody gave a shit about his psilosophy. 

By the very way in which one lives. In all the meanings of the words, one ‘exposes’ one’s life. Today, through the modality of Protestantism

plenty of Protestant sects are big on synoida and synderesis and parrhesia and trying to get the cannibals of Kilburn to stop deep frying missionaries.  

and the scientific study of philosophy, the old grand idea that philosophical life must be “an other life” has been forgotten.

it should be a practice of death. This needn't involve going to bath-houses. Just put a noose around your neck and stroke yourself off. With any luck, the life insurance company will pay out for your spouse and kiddies.  

his is where we are now with parrhesia – living a life to risk death. “Now, the Cynics say, can there be anything bad in what nature wills and in what she has placed in us?”

Yes. Pineapples ought to have no place in our rectums. On the other hand, the French may have different ideas about this.  

Now again he starts telling anecdotes as reported by the ancients. He speaks of Heraclitus, who was supposed to have gone “among the artisans and sat and warmed himself at the baker’s oven, saying to those who were astonished and indignant: . . . but the gods are also here.” In the original Aristotle text, the word can also be “dungheap” or “latrine”.

No. You don't warm yourself in the latrine. The kitchen, not the toilet, is meant.  The custom then was for guests to avoid the kitchen where womenfolk might be at work.

Foucault writes that


a banker exiled for debasing the currency in his home town 

chose to go to Corinth so often because it was a big, public town where one could live in public and meet sailors,

Diogenes wasn't gay. Still, it is nice to think of him putting out to the whole fleet.  

travelers, and people from all over the world on the street corners and in the temples. It was under this gaze that Diogenes chose to live. And finally he dies in a gymnasium at the gates of Corinth, wrapped in his cloak like a sleeping beggar 

So, the guy was a self-publicist. Big whoop.  

And the “cynic must actively seek dishonor” – adoxia – which “could not begiven positive value in a society in which relations of honor were so important, where glory, a good reputation and the record one leaves in men’s memory, was one of the desired forms of afterlife” 

Foucault, truth be told, was senile. His later lectures were sophomore pabulum. I suppose he needed the money. 

Thus Yet Foucault never exercises a deliberate intentionalism here. It is nowhere more than this is how they thought. The only “effect” of what he is teaching is his technique of teaching now through narrative as ethical instantiation rather than argument.

He might have well have just put up a slide-show. Ancient Greeks dressed in bed sheets. They were totes Gay.  

Stories, stories; same stories not always read the same way . . . This impatience I will describe in Michael Wood’s delicate words: “Death does sometimes wait for us. . . .

It has waited too long for Spivak and Sen 

The quality of time alters then, like a change in the light, because the present is so thoroughly shadowed by other seasons: the revived or receding past, the newly unmeasurable future, the unimaginable time beyond time”

not to mention the unimaginable unimaginable beyond the unimaginable, at least this time. We'll cover it next week.  

This is a text without women.

More sadly, it is a text without red hot anal sex 

The only mentions of women are on page  “Epictetus says that the Cynic cannot have a family because, ultimately, humankind is his family: ‘Man, he has fathered all humanity, all men are his sons, all women his daughters.’”

If Incest is good enough for Greek gods... 

And, where Hector asks Andromache to go home and weave.

Rather than fuck the pool-boy 

I can live with this. In these lectures in the late style, Foucault has perhaps undone – since he doesn’t openly speak his desire – the impudent compalaint that I made against him in 1981: that he doesn’t walk what he talks.

The colophon to his History of Sexuality was that he died of AIDS.  

Many of us know he can’t step out of Europe. It’s hard, but I want to end by citing the very beginning of my “Foucault and Najibullah,” which Pakistani feminists have found helpful. [Not enough time to integrate, I will answer in Q & A if there is interest]

Pakistani feminists like Bushra Bibi have been greatly helped by Spivak. General Munir must be quaking in his boots.  


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