uncertainplume (bobbydrake666) wrote,
uncertainplume
bobbydrake666

Jean Baudrillard's 'Forget Foucault'

What's Baudrillard's beef with Foucault? In a sense, Baudrillard's reading of Foucault is analogous to Derrida's in 'Writing and Difference'- Foucault is attempting to have his cake and eat it too, hypothesizing about the other side of reason while remaining behind its frontiers. Simply put, Baudrillard's problem with Foucault is that he makes too much sense in a world that is properly senseless. Just as Nietzsche and Heidegger probed the fractures of discursive speech, denouncing systematic philosophy's (metaphysics) complicity with scientific manipulation and technological domination, Baudrillard sees himself as the harbinger of another annunciation. Friends and countrymen, truth is dead, we have killed it and yet we refuse to bear witness to its passing! If 'Forget Foucault' accomplishes anything, it warns us against the dangers of NOSTALGIA.

As such, Sylvere Lotringer is absolutely correct when he underlines the NECESSITY of this maneuver for Baudrillard himself- this is Baudrillard's farewell note to classical social theory, which has always entertained a 'vampiric' relationship with that which it comments upon. All theory is premised upon the seemingly irrefutable postulate that social reality exists, that theory supplies an arsenal of analytic optics by which we can evaluate this reality. Post-structuralism, in its elegant deconstructions of the ways in which concepts crystallize into 'real abstractions', rendering the division of reality and discourse indiscernible through the production of 'truth effects', is not immune from its own critique- theory cannot help but install regimes of truth, it is ultimately mediatory. As such, when it presumes to comment upon reality, all it does is refer endlessly to its (disavowed) self-referentiality. Reality is really theory's alibi. In this way, we can say that theory subsists upon its host, upon the multifarious 'antagonisms' and 'contradictions' that constitute it. We need not mention that this parasitism directly corresponds to capitalism's extraction of value- Deleuze & Guattari have already reminded us that psychoanalysis thrives on the surplus value of obsession and hysteria. Baudrillard's controversial hypothesis, perhaps the most divisive and polarizing one of the 20th century, is that EVERY canonized philosophical postulate must be made to account for itself, that absolutely nothing should be spared nor conserved. What if, he asks, the atomic presuppositions that compose every theoretical substratum, from repression and the unconscious to class struggle, are ultimately tautological, self-legitimating signs that refer to nothing but themselves? This was the trajectory that Baudrillard had embarked upon in his time with Utopie, the radical architecture group centered around Herbert Tonka.

Taking this logic one step further, Baudrillard asks a rather jarring question. What if Deleuze's 'anti-psychoanalysis', far from abolishing the foundational premises of psychoanalysis, elevates desire to the level of an unassailable invariant of psychic life? Is Foucault's 'molecularization' of power, his revocation of every transcendence, not another chapter in the lineage of 'political philosophy'? In effect, 'Forget Foucault' is a sobering rejoinder to every hagiographic valorization of Foucault's 'revolutionary break'- Foucault may have alerted us to the micrological immanence of 'biopolitical' power, but all this comes down to is a sophisticated re-evaluation of a classical problematic. Note that Baudrillard does not dismiss Foucault for all that- Baudrillard's work up to and including Symbolic Exchange and Death is heavily reliant on Foucauldian schemas. So what changed? For whatever reason, Baudrillard came to feel the inexorable/insupportable weight of a historical exigency, one that led him to question the efficacy and validity of Foucauldian genealogy.

While Baudrillard's critique stands and falls upon your acceptance of his position vis-a-vis reality, it is clear to see that Baudrillard can no longer treat Foucault as a fellow wayfarer- he must leave Foucault behind, as a 'moment' in his intellectual development. His imploration to 'forget Foucault' is not really as radical as one might think- for all of Baudrillard's clownish posturing, he is really reiterating the first rule of dialectical/historical materialism. For Baudrillard, the criterion of a theory's currency is contingent upon its suitability for the time in which it is situated. This makes perfect sense when we frame it in the terms of Baudrillard's Bataillean economy of seduction and challenge. Capitalism issues a challenge to theory, and theory's response must be even more excessive, protean and hyperbolic than its adversary. By failing to do so, theory is locked in the disequilibrium that power enforces upon it- it will forever remain in a position of abjection and subservience, a mere accountant of capitalism's ills that is incapable of becoming its equal. Theory must rise to the occasion and assert itself as an INTERLOCUTOR, advancing a question that capitalism cannot resolve on its own terms. Just as capital, in its mad pursuit of surplus value, is prepared to stake itself on the roll of the dice, theory must be prepared to sacrifice and wager itself when the conditions demand it. Whatever one may think about Baudrillard's contentions, I think that his prodigious, prolific work following Forget Foucault constitutes a protracted combat with intellectual inertia.

For all of its coy feints and metaphorical contortions, the argument in 'Forget Foucault' is embarassingly simple. In effect, Baudrillard poses Bataillean non-knowledge against the Children of May, whom he feels continue to bear the stigma of Cartesian positivism. He wants to out-Nietzsche an entire generation, to interrogate every assumption that history has super-imposed upon the human form. Baudrillard's text hinges upon the central axis of 'reversibility'- theory has heretofore described the 'positive' side of reality (note that Baudrillard's use of the 'symbolic' and the 'real' are directly opposite to that of Lacan; in fact, one might say that we can substitute the one for the other in Baudrillard's work), while ignoring the fact that Man has a profoundly negative dimension, characterised by death, waste and excessive expenditure. For all of their radicalism, the Children of May simply aren't radical ENOUGH- while acknowledging their debts to Nietzsche and Bataille, two thinkers who carved out a space in which philosophy could take leave of itself, post-'68 philosophy merely rehearses the same old gestures of the Enlightenment, recycling anthropological presumptions that, for Baudrillard, amount to an inexcusable CENSORSHIP and MORALIZATION of man. While placing every margin, frontier and limit in question, Foucault and Derrida remain entrenched within the quandary of humanism, espousing a conception of Man as a reasonable, meaningful, PRODUCTIVE creature. Every affirmation of productive difference, liberatory desire and autarkic 'self-authorship' is ensnared within this vicious circularity, orbiting around the identity of the concept- at base they all describes Man's reconciliation with himself through joyous acts of creation.

In reading this text, we should recover its effaced SUBtext: Forget Foucault, Remember Bataille. Remember that which escapes all recuperation by the dialectic, which eludes all representation and shatters every frame of reference. The truly troubling thing about Baudrillard's text is his tacit assertion that Capitalism ALREADY KNOWS THIS, that the operations of capitalism enact, in a way that theory is thoroughly incapable of grasping, Bataille's exaltation of meaninglessness, the splitting of the pure signifier from any corresponding referent.

This is why Baudrillard's retrieval of Bataille is so unabashedly 'naive' in comparison to the borrowings of Deleuze (who castigated Bataille for being 'too French'), Foucault and Derrida (who appropriated the form and movement of Bataille's critical method while eschewing its ethnological 'content'). By contrast to this, Baudrillard's corpus strikes us as a tremendous atavism- his 'theoretical' production from this point onward probes the subcutaneous, abyssal depths beneath the Enlightenment project, excavating all that is irrational, asocial, ahistorical and atemporal about human experience. The post-structuralist objection to Bataille's metaphysics, its hankering for some originary, 'lost' Real that escapes all socio-historical mediation, is thus misplaced- deconstruction, in its insistence on the irreducibly material 'traces' that are effaced and repressed by every 'metaphysics of presence', fails to see that materiality itself has evaporated in the fiery crucible of capital. This is why every insistence upon the primacy of matter, on the classical schemas of Marxist analysis, fails to grasp the disappearance of matter, time and meaning in our spectacularly ephemeral world of speculative finance and virtual reality. More troubling than this is the suggestion that meaninglessness is our DEEPEST DESIRE, that the supposed 'vacuity' of commodity fetish, far from inhibiting us from returning to the fullness of our true destination, is the inalienable destiny of mankind, its consummate expression.

This is why Baudrillard and post-structuralism are intrinsically inimical to one another- Baudrillard's work is impossible without the 'metaphysical' claim that an ineffable negativity persists beneath being, a bottomless chasm that collapses every truth claim that suspends itself above it. In short, every theoretical edifice is PRECARIOUS, and this is directly correlative to the utter precariousness of capital itself. Much like Zizek, Baudrillard indexes the success of capitalism to its unconscious understanding of this invariable dimension of human subjectivity, its calculated manipulation of desire and drive. Baudrillard's claim can be stated thus: the Enlightenment is dead, and capitalism has given up the ghost a long time ago. Are we capable of doing the same? This is his first attempt to supply an answer, and whether one agrees with him or not- I myself read Baudrillard with a mixture of ambivalence and horror- his conclusions are both chilling and unsettling.
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