Monday, April 26, 2010

Foucault and the Folly of the Narcissistic Self

We’re now studying the French philosopher Michel Foucault in our Literary and Cultural theory class and I’m finding it difficult, if not impossible, to read his book: Introduction the History of Sexuality. In fact, I’m not reading it; because it’s crap.
When it comes to philosophy and being a philosopher, Foucault is a tawdry imitation of the real thing. He has nothing to tell me. The word philosophy means: the love of wisdom (Greek: philos, meaning: love; and sophia, meaning: wisdom) and there is no wisdom to be found in Foucault’s writings. His writings are certainly pretentious, verbose, and academic, so that he might appear to have been a philosopher, but I can assure you that he wasn’t.
Although I am not a professional philosopher, I can honestly say that there is more wisdom in my one book than in all of Foucault’s books put together. And for one, simple reason: I believe that love and compassion for others is the only real purpose in life, whereas Foucault believes that the only real purpose in life is the domination and exploitation of others for one’s own purposes and pleasures.
There’s no love of wisdom to be found in his writings; quite the opposite. Philosophy is an art, and the philosopher is an artist who seeks goodness, beauty, and truth. Like someone who urinates on stage or affixes a urinal to a museum wall and calls it art, Foucault’s impure “philosophy” can be likened to excrement. And one does not consider excrement art. If anything, his is an anti-philosophy, or a love of foolishness.
As the late Professor of Literature at Boston University Roger Shattuck has pointed out, in his book Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornography, Foucault embraced the moral nihilism of the Marquis de Sade; from whom we get the terms: sadistic and sadism.
What, then, is Foucault’s great and lasting philosophical accomplishment? To tell us that abusing others physically and sexually—and then killing them—is to live the authentic philosophical life.
Shattuck tells us that “Michel Foucault presents as fundamental for the emergence of the modern era out of seventeenth century classicism the fact that Sade revealed to us the truth about man’s relation to nature. Foucault plants his declarations at crucial junctures in his two major works of 1961 and 1966. These four passages reveal the usually obscured center of his ethos:
‘Sadism . . . is a massive cultural fact that appeared precisely at the end of the eighteenth century and that constitutes one of the greatest conversions of the occidental imagination . . . madness of desire, the insane delight of love and death in the limitless presumptions of appetite.’ (Madness and Civilization, 210)
‘Through Sade and Goya, the Western world received the possibility of transcending its reason in violence . . .’ (Madness and Civilization, 285)
‘After Sade, violence, life and death, desire, and sexuality will extend, below the level of representation, an immense expanse of darkness, which we are now attempting to recover . . . in our discourse, in our freedom, in our thought.’ (The Order of Things, 211)
‘Among the mutations that have affected the knowledge of things . . . only one, which began a century and a half ago . . . has allowed the figure of man to appear.’ (The Order of Things, 386)
The last quotation from the final page of The Order of Things does not allude to Sade by name. But, in association with the other passages and in context, there can be little doubt that the great cultural ‘mutation’ welcomed by Foucault refers directly to Sade’s moral philosophy and to its practice in actual life.” (Forbidden Knowledge, 246-247)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Bakhtinian Understanding of Robert Louis Stevenson’s: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

I turned in a paper for class yesterday, which concerns Russian literary theorist Michael Bakhtin and Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and I figured: "What the heck? I may as well post it here for anyone who might be interested in it. . ."

Literary and Cultural Interpretation

Prof. Larry Shillock

Assignment 1

Student: Alex MacDonald

A Bakhtinian Understanding of Robert Louis Stevenson's: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Thesis statement: Russian literary theorist Michael Bakhtin theorizes that all speech acts, which he calls "utterances", anticipate a response on the part of an active listener.

Three main points to follow: 1) Stevenson's novella, as a whole, is a Bakhtinian utterance of the complex, secondary speech genre; 2) Stevenson's novella, as a whole, elicits a powerful Bakhtinian response from an active Bakhtinian listener; 3) Stevenson's use of Dr. Lanyon's letter, which is of the simple, primary speech genre, ends the narrator's Bakhtinian utterance and becomes caught-up into "actual reality" by being incorporated into the utterance that is the novella—the epitome, according to Bakhtin, of the living, complex, sociologically oriented, secondary speech genre that is: the novel (or, in Stevenson's case: the novella).

Contrary to other linguists, who think of language as a system of signs, Bakhtin emphasizes the sociological nature of language. Theorizing that the spoken word is primary, Bakhtin denies neutrality to language and exposes all "speech acts" as being heavy-laden with sociological presuppositions, because all speakers are also active listeners who have been influenced by—and who are responding to—innumerable, prior, sociological utterances.

Bakhtin theorizes that these sociologically influenced, non-neutral speech acts always anticipate a response from an active listener. As for Bakhtin's concept of the utterance, Bakhtin tells us "The utterance is not a conventional unit [i.e., an abstract, sign-system, unit of speech], but a real unit, clearly delimited by the change of speaking subjects . . ." Bakhtin also tells us that, "Each separate utterance is individual . . . but each sphere [i.e., genre] in which language is used develops its own relatively stable types of these utterances. These we may call speech genres."

According to Bakhtin, there are two types of speech genres: the primary (i.e., the simple) and the secondary (i.e., the complex). For example, the primary speech genre consists of the simple utterances (e.g., words, phrases, and expressions) of everyday life; whereas the secondary speech genre consists of primary utterances which are shaped, according to the spheres in which they are to be used, into the more complex utterances (e.g., scientific treaties, commentaries, novels), which are necessary for complex, socially-oriented communications.

Bakhtin thinks of the novel as a unique genre, because of its living, dynamic, and sociologically oriented nature: "Studying other genres is analogous to studying dead languages, studying the novel, on the other hand, is like studying languages that are not only alive, but still young."