It is perhaps true that every generation treats the revered thinkers of the previous generation as a “dead dog,” to quote Marx’s famous phrase. When I was in grad school I remember that Sartre in particular was dead to us, too tainted by humanism to be interesting. This was of course a shame. From a rather cursory observation of current conferences and publications it seems that a similar fate is befalling Derrida, Foucault, and Lyotard. This may just be another example of a generational shift, but it also may have to do with the revival of interest in Marx and Marxist thought. (The "dead dog" of their generation.) Thus, focusing on one of these figures in particular, namely Foucault, I offer the following two paragraphs, paragraphs edited out of a published piece, as something of a provocation.
Foucault’s courses of the late seventies, the course on security and biopolitics, address something largely absent from his published work: the relation between the formation of subjects and economic relations. Foucault always kept his distance from explicitly addressing this problem, a problem which in many ways would be a variant of the classical Marxist base/superstructure problem, but this distance took at least two different forms. At times, Foucault clearly stated that it was a matter of a difference of emphasis, arguing that while it is possible to study the relation between power relations constitutive of subjectivity and economic exploitation he prefers to study the relationship between power and truth. In such a case, the study of power and exploitation stand as simply two different approaches for understanding history and politics. At other times, however, Foucault sees the examination of power relations and economic analysis to be completely opposed, arguing against the reduction of the former by the latter. Foucault argues that the two political philosophies, liberalism and Marxism, which are generally considered to be opposed are united in what he terms an “economism of power.” Although what is meant by economism changes in each philosophy, as Foucault writes: “Broadly speaking, we have, if you like, in one case a political power which finds its formal model in the process of exchange, in the economy of the circulation of goods: and in the other case, political power finds its historical raison d’etre, the principle of its concrete form and of its actual workings in the economy.”
These vacillations at the level of programmatic theoretical statements are echoed in Foucault’s actual historical analyses. Discipline and Punish and History of Sexuality each begin with a rejection of a Marxist analysis, one cannot directly correlate punishment to the mode of production or comprehend sexuality based on the demand for productive labor, yet nonetheless each of these analysis ends up affirming a connection between the economy and power; the rise of disciplinary power and biopower cannot be separated from the transformation of society from feudalism to capitalism. While Foucault overtly distances himself from Marx, or explicitly criticizes the reduction of history to economic struggle, he continually cites elements of Marx’s analysis, without quotation marks, as he puts it. In addressing this vacillation my point is not to ultimately settle the relationship between the analysis of power and the critique of political economy, or Foucault and Marx, to take the proper names, especially since this relationship is thoroughly mired in the polemics and politics of another time and place, but rather to lay the groundwork for addressing the turn that characterizes not only Naissance de la biopolitique, but the previous year’s course, Sécurité, Territoire, Population, as well. In the lectures that make up these courses Foucault turns to the question of the relation between politics and economy, not in terms of the imposing figure of Marx, or the question of relation between base and superstructure, which is always a question of priority and hierarchy, of determination in the last instance, but in terms of governmentality, which situates politics and economics on the same level, that of the control of conducts, and the constitution of subjectivity.
As I have said, these a remnants of a longer piece, something that I will not be able to return to for a long time, I post them here as a provocation and a question. Perhaps someone can tell me where this is addressed, or would like to take up the provocation.