Forget Foucault

Mira Schendel, Untitled, 1962 - India ink on rice paper on cardboard - 25,9 cm x 25,9 cm
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By AFRANIO CATANI*

Commentary on the book by Jean Baudrillard

Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007) wrote a warlike text. Forget Foucault (Oublier Foucault, Paris: Éditions Galilée, 1977) ended up going, I believe, unnoticed here, as it is rarely cited, either in the works of those who research from the same perspective as Michel Foucault (1926-1984), or in the texts of those who criticize the work of the thinker French.

It's a pity, because Baudrillard carries out a profound reflection on Foucault's thought, even, at times, complementing the paths outlined by Marx and Freud - one cannot forget that the translation of Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, from Marx into French was carried out by Baudrillard.

In the presentation of the Brazilian translation, Muniz Sodré tells a backstage story. According to him, Baudrillard, a friend of Foucault, wrote an article criticizing his work, handing the work over to the critic and proposing that Foucault write a reply. Thus, both would publish the articles in the same issue of a given journal. Foucault liked the idea and said fine. Meanwhile, time passed and he remained silent.

Baudrillard telephoned his friend and heard the following reply: “I decided not to write anything, you can publish your text yourself”. When Baudrillard sent the article to the magazine, as agreed with the editor, the latter, embarrassed, gave him the following explanation: Foucault, “an intellectual of great influence in the publishing house, had brandished the seal of non imprimatur”. Baudrillard reacted by posting Forget Foucault in book form at another publisher.

Baudrillard writes that the very movement of Foucault’s text “admirably translates what it proposes: this generative spiral of power, which is no longer a despotic architecture, but a chaining in an abyss, a volute and a stanza without origin (or catastrophe), of an increasingly vast and rigorous extension; on the other hand, this interstitial fluidity of power that pervades the entire porous system of the social, mental and bodies, this infinitesimal modulation of the technologies of power (where relations of force and seduction are indissolubly mixed) – all of this reads directly in Foucault's discourse (which is also a discourse of power): it oozes, penetrates and saturates all the space it opens up, the slightest qualifiers will meddle in the smallest interstices of meaning, propositions and chapters wind in a spiral, a masterful art of decentering allows new spaces to be opened (space of power, spaces of discourse) that are immediately obliterated by the meticulous development of his writing. There are no voids in Foucault, nor ghosts, nor against currents: a fluent objectivity, a non-linear, orbital writing, without flaws. Meaning never exceeds what is said: no vertigo; on the other hand, he never flies into a text that is too big for him: no rhetoric. Ultimately, Foucault's discourse is a mirror of the powers he describes” (p. 11-13).

Interpreting Baudrillard, Muniz Sodré states that he “distrusts disguised Cartesianisms, logical-rationalist excesses”. And he adds: “his criticism of Foucault goes in this direction, which perhaps can be summarized as follows: it is too logical to be true. Or else: wouldn’t seeing so much power be blinding oneself in a seductive relationship with oneself?” (p. 10).

Baudrillard's causticity continues when he dedicates himself more deeply to the analysis of the power, that is, when studying one of the central issues of Foucault's work, writing that when power is talked about too much “it is because it is nowhere”. Extending his reasoning, he speaks of God's omnipresence: “the phase where he was everywhere closely preceded that of his death (…). Same thing with power: it's because he's dead, ghost, puppet (...) which is talked about so much and so well: even the refinement and microscopy of the analysis are an effect of nostalgia” (p. 92-93).

For Baudrillard, power itself does not always allow itself to be carried away by power, “and the secret of great politicians was to know that power does not exist. That it is just a perspective space of simulation, like the pictorial space of the Renaissance, and that if power seduces, it is precisely (...) because it is simulacrum, because it metamorphoses into signs, invents itself based on signs (...). The secret of the inexistence of power, the secret of the great politicians, is also that of the great bankers, of knowing that money is nothing, that money does not exist, of the great theologians and inquisitors, of knowing that God does not exist, that he is dead. This gives them fabulous superiority. When power discovers this secret and issues itself this challenge, then it becomes truly sovereign. When he gives up doing so and tries to find a truth, a substance, a representation (in the will of the people, etc.), he then loses sovereignty, and it is the others who return the challenge of his own death, until he effectively perish from this presumption, this imaginary, this superstition of oneself as a substance, this lack of knowledge of oneself as empty, as reversible from death. In the past, chiefs were killed as soon as they lost that secret” (p. 90-92).

At various times of Forget Foucault the reader will probably feel a little disoriented, because Baudrillard, in addition to writing in a not the most direct style, makes use of psychoanalytic categories and also of central ideas of Marx, Freud himself and several philosophers, carrying out a truly transdisciplinary approach.

Despite the difficulties and a series of disagreements experienced along this analytical journey, one cannot fail to note Baudrillard's genius and erudition, as well as recognize that Foucault came across, in this case, one of his most severe and astute critics. – perhaps, because he felt fully empowered, he didn’t bother to respond to Baudrillard…

*Afranio Catani is a retired professor at USP and visiting professor at UFF.

Reference


Jean Baudrillard. Forget Foucault. Translation: Cláudio Mesquita and Herbert Daniel. Rio de Janeiro: Rocco, 1984.

 

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