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)

Why the admiration of Sade’s morally nihilistic—sadistic—philosophy? Foucault’s thinking, here, is hardly original. Philosophically, he borrowed the moral nihilism of a previous philosopher, Frederick Nietzsche, who at least had the intellectual honesty to lay bare his hatred for God and morality in plain language; unlike Foucault, whose philosophical jargon, rhetorical flourishes, and pretentious historical investigations knowingly obscured—rather than reveled—the truth of what he believed. Foucault, in fact, is the exact opposite of what a philosopher is supposed to be. Nietzsche—as wrong as his morally nihilistic philosophy is—at least had the decency to be honest and plain spoken about what it was that he believed.

This moral nihilism, however, was not original to Nietzsche’s thought; Nietzsche simply borrowed and re-packaged (as Foucault did with Nietzsche) the morally nihilistic philosophy of certain previous philosophers: the ancient philosophers of India, whose morally nihilistic philosophy can be found in the Rig Veda, the Upanishads, and theBhagavad Gita, which tells us that people who are enlightened are able (and entitled) to transcend (i.e., go beyond) the unenlightened (and therefore illusory) categories of “good” and “evil” (Nietzsche’s concept of cyclical time was also taken from ancient Hindu philosophy).

I had read and understood many of these ancient Hindu writings by the time I was eighteen years old and I also considered myself (at that time) to have been enlightened by doing so. And I’ll tell you why. As an example, let’s examine the message of the Bhagavad Gita, which is the most sacred of written works to those of the Hindu religion, because it presents an excellent, word-picture example of the enlightened, morally nihilistic Hindu philosophy about which I am speaking.

The Bhagavad Gita is a story, and in this story the main character, Arunja, faces—what appears, to him, to be—a moral dilemma: he faces, in battle, some of his own relatives and he is hesitant to kill them. Krishna, who is an incarnation ofVishnu, tells Arunja that he simply doesn’t understand the true nature of things. Arunja’s dilemma does not really exist, because people do not actually die; they only appear—to the unenlightened—to die. People, like everything else, are Brahman—a sort of monistic Life-Force—that cannot die, and everything that appears to dies actually goes on living forever, only to return again and again (reincarnation). Death, like the world itself, is merely an illusion (maya):

“That which is can never cease to be; that which is not will not exist. To see this truth of both is theirs who part essence from accident, substance from shadow. Indestructible, learn thou! The Life is, spreading life through all; it cannot anywhere, by any means, be anywise diminished, stayed, or changed. But for these fleeting frames which it informs with spirit deathless, endless, infinite, they perish. Let them perish, Prince! and fight! He who shall say, ‘Lo! I have slain a man!’ He who shall think, ‘Lo! I am slain!’ those both know naught! Life cannot slay. Life is not slain!” (Bhagavad Gita,Chapter Two)

The act of killing someone, whether in battle or anywhere else, is simply an illusion, which the unenlightened are deceived by. This is Nietzsche’s concept of going beyond good and evil. The enlightened are not bound to illusory “realities”, such as the moral categories of “good” and “evil”, because they know the truth: all is one and one is all (what we call monism or pantheism).

I once explained this concept, in an occult bookstore, to a young lady who had told me that she had rejected the God of Christianity because she had been raped, because she didn’t believe that a good and loving God would have allowed such a thing to happen to her. And she had now adopted the Life-Force “god” of pantheism and reincarnation in its stead. I told her that, in Christianity, God holds the man who raped her responsible for his evil act, whereas in pantheism “god” is everything and everything is “god” and her thinking that “she” had been “raped” by this “man” was an illusion of the unenlightened. At best, we could probably say only that “god” had “raped” “god”. This, I told her, was why I was no longer a pantheist, because the Christian concept of God allows for justice, for the man to be punished for what he did—eternally, if he does not truly repent—whereas the pantheistic concept of “god” does not, because all is one and one is all—the incarnate appearances of people and things just keep recycling around and around eternally.

She wasn’t too crazy about pantheism after hearing it laid bare in such a way.

This is why I don’t like Foucault, and his fascination the Marquis de Sade: he thinks that he and the Marquis are enlightened to the point where they can do whatever they damn well please, and what they wish to do is to do exactly the opposite of what Christ himself told us to do, which is to “do unto others as you would have them to do unto you”. Foucault, like Nietzsche before him, believes that religion and society, influenced by Christian morality, have hindered men from living truly authentic philosophical lives; he believes that he (we) must throw off all of the weak-minded and weak-willed hindrances of unenlightened religious and societal oppression (i.e., Christian morality) and do, like Sade, the exact opposite of what society and religion demands of us: “do unto others that which you would never wish to have done to yourselves” (e.g., incest, torture, rape, murder, necrophilia).

All Michel Foucault has done, philosophically, is to stand the Golden Rule upon its head; he’s simply taken the three philosophical ideals of Goodness, Beauty, and Truth and turned them the other way around, making his philosophy the pursuit of Evil, Ugliness, and Lies. It doesn’t take great mind to give us this sort of “wisdom”; what it takes the waste of a great mind and a mind (like Foucault’s) is a terrible thing to waste. Sadly, Foucault’s great accomplishment in life was to have wasted his mind and, in the end, to have laid waste to his body as well. In short, his was a wasted life.

Is it any wonder that people, today, seem to have very little, if any, sympathy for those innocents around the world who are suffering, and who have been, for years, suffering at the hands of U. S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan? But since the U. S. wishes to attack, kill, and torture the peoples of these nations we at least have the pseudo-philosophical “will to power” notions of Nietzsche and Foucault to endorse—even praise—such behavior. Perhaps both the U. S. and NaziGermany are not only to be excused but praised for their sadomasochistic tortures of the many prisoners they’ve held captive in their many prisons and concentration camps. And if the Marquis de Sade is to become our guiding literary and philosophical light of truth, then we must also praise, rather than scorn and imprison, the individual man who wishes to sexually torture, rape, and murder his innocent young daughter as well.

Foucault scorned biblical notions of morality, believing that they hindered his ability to realize and actualize his identity, which he accomplished at bath houses in San Francisco, contracting AIDS in the process, but what he failed to realize is that the Bible had already identified him and his kind (i.e., pseudo-intellectuals who hate God) long ago: “Claiming to be wise, they became fools . . . therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie . . . ” (Romans 1:22-25).

If Kierkegaard’s existentialism opened the door to deciding for ourselves what is right and what is wrong, then Nietzsche and Foucault walked right through it: the enlightened individual’s will to power over others is beyond the judgments that can be passed upon the enlightened individual by an unenlightened society.

It should be no surprise to us that, when we choose to reject the natural, innate, God-given standard of morality found in the human heart and the human conscience, we will inevitably begin—callously and cold-heartedly-- abusing others and even ourselves in the unending, unsatisfying, and misguided pursuit of narcissistic pleasure. This is the legacy of Michel Foucault: the self, unhinged from its natural, innate, and God-given moral obligation (i.e., to be concerned for the well-being of the other peoples with whom we share our world) now lives in pursuit of folly, running amok in a morally bankrupt and murderously orgiastic plethora of narcissistic delights as it exerts raw power over others in order to dominate, use, and abuse them for its own selfish, corrupt, and depraved pleasures.

(Thanks Michel. As if the world weren’t already a bad enough place to be when you were here, you’ve now helped to make it an even worse place. A mind, especially a mind as great as yours, truly is a terrible thing to waste and I’m truly sorry that you somehow managed to waste the great mind that God had given you.)

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