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The Deflationary Mind
Mark Lilla’s prosecution of radical thinkers in the name of intellectual seriousness can only lead to a flat and lifeless politics.
by David Sessions, Jacobin, 27 October 2016

During the 1990s, some of the most prominent Anglo-American interpreters of European intellectual history decided it was time to settle accounts. They brought important thinkers of the past two centuries — Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Georges Bataille, Jean-Paul Sartre, Louis Althusser, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, just to name a few — before end-of-history tribunals, and, more often than not, declared them guilty of intellectual irresponsibility, a weakness for tyranny or mythology (or both), and crazed utopianism.

The liberal reading public was delighted to read these verdicts, which convicted twentieth-century European philosophy of failing to submit to the global triumph of English-speaking liberal capitalism. The idea of “intellectual responsibility” guided both the late British historian Tony Judt’s excoriation of French intellectuals’ postwar communism, and Mark Lilla’s portrait-essays of European theorists who looked beyond the pragmatic, deflated liberal politics he presented as the exclusive terrain of legitimate intellectual engagement.

Things look different now. The limits of American power, as well as the strength of recent resistance to the global neoliberal order, have come into clearer view, making the questions Europeans faced in the first half of the twentieth century — and some of the answers they proposed — seem more current. Less prosecutorial scholars have approached the difficult ideas of European thinkers with greater theoretical subtlety, intellectual empathy, and political open-mindedness, grounding their work in its historical context.

From this vantage point, the “realism” of the fin-de-siècle American elite looks more like myopic hubris than sober responsibility. Its assessment of twentieth-century theory looks less like a reckoning with the past and more like the euphoric sanctification of what they allowed themselves to believe was the permanent overcoming of history.

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Ron Purser and Edwin Ng, Cutting Through the Corporate Mindfulness Hype, Part One Huffington Post, March 22, 2016

Extract
Michel Foucault made an astute observation: “You know the difference between a real science and a pseudoscience? A real science recognizes and accepts its own history without feeling attacked.” Hopefully, management science scholar-practitioners promoting corporate mindfulness research would contemplate on this statement.

Ron Purser and Edwin Ng, Mindfulness and Self-Care: Why Should I Care? Part Two, Huffington Post, April 6 2016

Extract

Though we are skeptical about celebratory claims, we actually do hope that mindfulness might become a disruptive technology to transform prevailing systems. However, we insist on the importance of collective attentiveness towards the workings of power, which have shaped the dominant individualistic-therapeutic approach to mindfulness and the stresses we face in our private and public lives.

I’d like to clarify the notion of governmentality that guides our work. The blended concept of govern-mentality derives from the work of Michel Foucault. Governmentality does not refer only to the processes of the state. Rather, to think about governmentality is to explore how diverse types of knowledge, expertise, and practices are developed to guide people’s voluntary conduct.

Consider, for instance, the contemporary interest in “wellness“. We learn about the research conducted by medical institutions on exercising or meditation. This knowledge filters through the advice we find in the media. With the help of a trained expert or through our independent efforts, we might cultivate a daily practice of jogging or yoga or mindfulness. Companies and institutions might incorporate a wellness program into their operations.

To put it another way, governmentality plays out formally and informally as the everyday “rules of the game” for responsible conduct. Under the conditions of neoliberal capitalism, the logics of governmentality are imbued with the moral rhetoric of “free choice” and are geared towards self-optimizing, consumerist and entrepreneurial ends.

Ron Purser, Ph.D.. is Professor of Management at San Francisco State University. His article, “Beyond McMindfulness,” in the Huffington Post went viral in 2013.
Edwin Ng, Ph.D., is an author and cultural theorist currently based in Australia. He has written commentaries on the cultural translation of Buddhism and mindfulness for Salon.com and the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.

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Chez Foucault, the 1978 Fanzine That Introduced Students to the Radical French Philosopher, Open Culture Blog, 5 March 2015

chez-foucault1

Extract

Into this fomenting intellectual culture stepped French theorist Michel Foucault, who first lectured in the U.S. in 1975 after the publication of his History of Sexuality. Foucault was a true product of the French university system and an academic superstar of sorts, as well as a gadfly of revolutionary movements fromParis in ’68, to Iran in ’79, to Berkeley in the 80s. His work as a philosopher and political dissident prompted one biographer to refer to him as a “militant intellectual,” though his politics could sometimes be as obscure as his prose. By 1981, he had risen to such cultural prominence in the States that Time magazine published a profile of him and his “growing cult.” One of Foucault’s American acolytes, Simeon Wade, befriended the philosopher in the mid-seventies and wrote an unpublished, 121-page account of Foucault’s alleged 1975 LSD trip in Death Valley (referred to in James Miller’s The Passion of Michel Foucault). Wade, along with a number of other University of California students, also interviewed Foucault the following year.

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Mark Murphy, Foucault, hybridization and social research: reflections on the Foucault @90 Conference, Social Theory Applied Blog, 29 June 2016

I was fortunate enough to attend the recent Foucault @90 conference, held at the University of West of Scotland on the 22-23 June. It was well attended with a strong selection of papers and excellent keynotes from Prof. Mark Olssen, Dr. Clare O’Farrell and Prof. Stephen Ball. A conference wholly devoted to Foucault – what’s not to like?

[…]

What I particularly enjoyed about the conference was its lack of deference and willingness to think with Foucault and beyond his work. Evident among the presenters was a desire to match his ideas up with practical research agendas in specific cultural and national contexts. This desire was reflected in the ways in which presenters made connections between Foucault and other thinkers.

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Editor: For those of you who, like myself, are involved in teaching Foucault: I find this analysis by Slavoj Žižek of John Carpenter’s 1988 film They Live, from Sophie Fiennes’ 2012 film The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology to be particularly apt.

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Progressive Geographies

While I had made some changes to the manuscript after submission, and again after receiving the reports, on Sunday evening I finished four long days of thoroughly revising the text and resubmitted it to the publisher.

Just as I was beginning the review process for the second book I received a very nice letter from Daniel Defert, Foucault’s long-term partner, saying how much he’d liked Foucault’s Last Decade. This was obviously a wonderful thing to receive, and gave me a great motivation to finish up this second study.

The key changes are to the Introduction, which is restructured and some parts extensively revised. I wrote a bit about the work here and here. I think the Introduction now more clearly sets up the argument, approach and sources of the work. I also made lots of changes through the text, and added some sentences to the Conclusion. While the reports…

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Colin Gordon: A Comment on Fassin and Chatterjee, 12/13 blog, 5 May 2016

Among the valuable Foucault 13/13 series of video and written discussions of Michel Foucault’s Collège de France lectures, recently coordinated at Columbia University by Bernard E Harcourt and Jesus R Velasco, I was struck by the following comments, linked to the session held on Oct. 12, 2015, addressing Foucault’s 1972-3 lectures entitled The Punitive Society, in written contributions by two participants, Didier Fassin and Partha Chatterjee:

Fassin writes:

“In accordance with his usual method, Foucault relies [in Discipline and Punish] on analyses of normative discourses from legal texts, institutional rules, criminology treatises, rather than of actual practices described in reports, testimonies or letters. As historians of nineteenth-century prison [sic] have shown, such research would have revealed, far from the fantasied projects of surveillance and discipline, the mere routine of neutralization, arbitrary power, physical and psychological abuse.” [1]

Chatterjee writes:

Didier also made an important point about the specificity of the prison as an institution and the lack of fit between Foucault’s discussion of the reformed modern prison and actual prisons in France or the United States today. […] Interestingly, the criticism of actual prison practices even today largely points to the failure of those practices to conform to the normative humane principles of modern power analyzed by Foucault. [2]

It is true that a disqualifying rendition of Foucault’s work as an ideas-based version of history which posits the frictionless and unresisted implementation of intellectual programmes as systems of power has been with us since the 1970s. It was part of Jean Baudrillard’s case for “forgetting Foucault”; it features in the 90s in Subaltern Studies, the illustrious journal which Partha Chatterjee co-founded.  It is nevertheless surprising and regrettable to find this view recycled here by two of today’s globally admired academics, who have themselves in the past not disdained to make some use of Foucault’s ideas, in the form of comments which can easily be shown to be inaccurate and ill-informed.

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