Foucault’s guide to everyday life

I thought I was aware of most of Foucault’s important work and then I downloaded Anti-Oedipus from the aaaarg site (the how to do your own  revolution site) and realised that Foucault had written the introduction. This contains two lists and I love Foucault’s lists because they are a model of clarity and because they point to a different way of doing politics when under the shadow of late capitalism. The first significant list that I came across is contained in part 1 of ‘A History of Sexuality’, this provides an analysis of power and points at the ways in which power maybe resisted.

The list in Anti-Oedipus is a summary of the book which makes it into “a manual or guide to everyday life”.  There are seven points and I will deal with each in turn-

“Free political action from all unitary and  totalizing paranoia”.  This presents mainstream political action with a problem as it is too often bogged down in this kind of thinking which goes “if only we could overthrow militant Islam / capitalism / discrimination / pollution / racism / global debt / crime /  sexism then everything would be okay”. Both left and right are guilty of this kind of thinking, the left in seeking to demonstrate how the current economic hegemony is responsible for all our ills and the right for looking to minority groups to blame. The other kind of political paranoia is embedded in the Protestant parties in Ulster who are driven by the fear that they will be ‘abandoned’ by Westminster.

The second point is ” Develop action, thought, and desires by proliferation, juxtaposition, and disjunction, and not by subdivision and pyramidal hierarchization”. I read this as a kind of follow-on from Foucault’s analysis of power where he emphasises that the exercise of power is not just a top-down thing and what we need to do is try and identify those multiple sites where various forms of resistance may be productive. It also ties in with the notion that power is everywhere and not just in its more blatant forms. From my personal experience this is much easier to write than it is to do as the complexity of power relationships can sometimes be overwhelming.

The third point reads “Withdraw allegiance from the old categories of the Negative (law, limit, castration, lack, lacuna), which Western thought has so long held sacred as a form of power and an access to reality. Prefer what is positive and multiple, difference over uniformity, flows over unities, mobile arrangements over systems. Believe that what is productive is not sedentary but nomadic”. This is the essence of Foucault’s challenge to traditional monolithic modes of thought and action, encouraging us to explore and celebrate the fluid and varied nature of existence rather than getting stuck in ossified and monolithic ways of being.

“Do not think that one has to be sad in order to be militant, even though the thing one is fighting is abominable. It is the connection of desire to reality (and not its retreat into the forms of representation) that possesses revolutionary force”. I really like this, too often we get bogged down and disheartened  by the size of the task but I can see that if we do connect our desire to reality then radical action (of whatever kind) can be seen to be more productive. It is very easy to become saddened by the increasingly oppressive actions of the state but staying focused on what should be and fighting for that makes small ‘victories’ that much more worthwhile.

“Do not use thought to ground a political practice in Truth; nor political action to discredit, as mere speculation, a line of thought. Use political practice as an intensifier of thought, and analysis as a multiplier of the forms and domains for the intervention of political action”.  I think this is crucial, in order to be effective we do need to be more confident in our ability to improvise our tactics by means of learning from what we’ve already tried. I know that this ‘works’ on a small scale but it would be good if we could build on many different ways to multiply many different modes of intervention.

“Do not demand of politics that it restore the “rights” of the individual, as philosophy has defined them. The individual is the product of power. What is needed is to “de-individualize” by means of multiplication and displacement, diverse combinations. The group must not be the organic bond uniting hierarchized individuals, but a constant generator of de-individualization”. The cult of the individual has been around for a long time and panders to the ‘logic’ of capitalism. What I think Foucault is saying is that we need to oppose this by constantly finding new alliances that are themselves ready to change both membership and tactics as situations change. It is this collective fluidity that stands the best chance of being effective.

“Do not be enamoured of power”. When I was a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain we were overly obsessed with power and influence, we would take great delight in infiltrating single issue groups with a view to exerting influence and subtle control. It could be argued that the collapse of state socialism was due to an unhealthy concern for retaining and exercising the instruments of power. Anarchists have always had a healthy mistrust of power and Foucault’s description of the way power works shows that it can never be something to aspire to.

Also in this preface Foucault how do we rid ourselves of the fascist within. This has redolence for me, because I’m bipolar I have a constant struggle with containing and ‘controlling’ my mood and I now realise that perhaps I should learn to be more accepting of my condition rather than to try all the time to ward off its effects. This isn’t to say that I should be passive about it but perhaps experiment a bit more with the ways I can respond.

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One response to “Foucault’s guide to everyday life

  1. Pingback: flows over unities : new proletariat

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