Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Michel Foucault: The Minimalist Self, The Use of Pleasure, and, Intellectuals and Power; Ivan Illich: Deschooling Society; B.F. Skinner: Walden Two

From "The Minimalist Self":

"For me intellectual work is related to what you would call aestheticism, meaning transforming yourself. I believe my problem is the strange relationship between knowledge, scholarship, theory and real history. I know very well, and I think I knew it from the moment when I was a child, that knowledge can do nothing for transforming the world. Maybe I am wrong. And I am sure I am wrong from a theoretical point of view for I know very well that knowledge has transformed the world. ... I am not interested in the academic status of what I am doing because my problem is my own transformation. That's the reason also why, when people say, 'Well, you thought this a few years ago and now you say something else,' my answer is [laughter] 'Well, do you think I have worked like that all those years to say the same thing and not to be changed?' This transformation of one's self by one's own knowledge is, I think, something rather close to the aesthetic experience. Why should a painter work if he is not transformed by his own painting?"

From Foucault, The Use of Pleasure—v. 2 History of Sexuality, pp 8-9:

As for what motivated me, it is quite simple: I would hope that in the eyes of some people it might be sufficient in itself. It was curiosity—the only kind of curiosity, in any case, that is worth acting upon with a degree of obstinacy: not the curiosity that seeks to assimilate what it is proper for one to know, but that which enables one to get free of oneself. After all, what would be the value of the passion for knowledge if it resulted only in a certain amount of knowledgeableness and not, in one way or another and to the extent possible, in the knower’s straying afield of himself? There are times in life when the question of knowing if one can think differently than one thinks, and perceive differently than one sees, is absolutely necessary if one is to go on looking and reflecting at all. People will say, perhaps, that these games with oneself would be better left backstage; or, at best, that they might properly form part of those preliminary exercises that are forgotten once they have served their purpose. But, then, what is philosophy today—philosophical activity, I mean—if it is not the critical work that thought brings to bear on itself? In what does it consist, if not in the endeavor to know how and to what extent it might be possible to think differently, instead of legitimating what is already known? There is always something ludicrous in philosophical discourse when it tries, from the outside, to dictate to others, to tell them where their truth is and how to find it, or when it works up a case against them in the language of naive positivity. But it is entitled to explore what might be changed, in its own thought, through the practice of a knowledge that is foreign to it. The “essay”—which should be understood as the assay or test by which, in the game of truth, one undergoes changes, and not as the simplistic appropriation of others for the purpose of communication—is the living substance of philosophy, at least if we assume that philosophy is what it was in times past, i.e., an “ascesis,” askesis, an exercise of oneself in the activity of thought.

From Foucault, “Intellectuals and Power: A Conversation between Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze,” in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice, 1977, pp. 207-208.

[T]here exists ... a power not only found in the manifest authority of censorship, but one that profoundly and subtly penetrates an entire social network. Intellectuals are themselves part of this system of power—the idea of their responsibility for “consciousness” and discourse forms part of the system. The intellectual’s role is no longer to place himself “somewhat ahead and to the side” in order to express the stifled truth of the collectivity; rather, it is to struggle against the forms of power that would transform him into its object and instrument in the sphere of “knowledge,” “truth,” “consciousness,” and “discourse.”

Ivan Illich from Deschooling Society, p. 58:

People who submit to the standard of others for the measure of their own personal growth soon apply the ... ruler to themselves. They no longer have to be put in their place, but put themselves into their assigned slots, squeeze themselves into the niche which they have been taught to seek, and, in the very process, put their fellows into their places, too, until everybody and everything fits.

From B. F. Skinner, Walden Two (1948 utopian novel by behaviorist psychologist):

All that happens is contained in an original plan, yet at every stage the individual seems to be making choices and determining the outcome.... Our members are practically always doing what they want to do—what they “choose” to do—but we see to it that they will want to do precisely the things which are best for themselves and the community. Their behavior is determined, yet they’re free.

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