[Let me begin by apologizing for my imperfect English. My proofreader is not at hand now, and I prefer not to delay the presentation of my essay. Furthermore, in some cases you may attribute some obscure points in my discourse to poor language skills rather than to intellectual confusion, and in those cases I prefer to leave you in doubt. Anyhow, thanks for your patience.]
Radhakrishnan's essay is principally concerned with the political responsibilities of intellectuals in today's world. The author sees in the poststructuralist theoretical trends a tendency to take refuge in the world of pure speculation, escaping in this way the responsibility connected with the intellectual's role as a model and a political leader. In particular he examines the gap existing between Foucault's identity as a political intellectual and his theory's presumed incapability of generating positive politics. In a few words and necessarily oversimplifying, Foucault's, and poststructuralist theory in general, criticize any globalizing views, because these necessarily are made at the expenses of differences and "local" subject positions, and end up in another form of exploitation of minorities. In this way, advocates Radhakrishnan, Foucault's theory precludes the possibility of positive political action, which instead is necessarily based on alliances and mediations of differences, in other words, necessary compromises stipulated in order to join forces toward the common goal of emancipation from oppression. Even if Foucault has "transformed the course of Western historiography by rendering it fundamentally vulnerable and accountable to what it has systematically repressed"(62), by accepting and not advocating a reaction to the marginality of what he calls "subjugated knowledges"(63) he keeps a distance between “theory” and the world of political action. In other words, for fear of getting his hands dirty, he escapes in a world of utopian practices without any practical counterpart, and this is ultimately functional to the interest of the various dominant regimes.
As opposite to this position Radhakrishnan poses Antonio Gramsci's theory of the "organic intellectual". As much as possible rooted in the needs and the values of a determined social class, naturally born out of that as their leader, the organic intellectual’s function is that of spreading class consciousness and creating consent in the common political goal. This clearly makes Gramsci an intellectual from "within", an insider in the struggle he advocates, as opposite to Focault who conveniently uses difference as a way of distancing himself from any existing form of political struggle.
I am not particularly familiar with neither of the two authors jet, if not by second-hand knowledge, and thus am not able to elaborate a very articulate and “authorial” critique of this article. Some remarks I will attempt though, to start the discussion, and excuse myself in advance if I shall incur in imprecision.
1 Even if Radhakrishnan points out that these two intellectuals deal with two different sets of reality (81, II), he doesn't seem to me to put in the right perspective the fact that Gramsci is a Marxist intellectual who had to deal with one particular problem: the formation of class consciousness and identity in fascist Italy. His problem was sure global (in the sense of the organic panorama of European politics) but was circumscribed to a *class* action in well determined local and historical circumstances, Foucault not. Different historical circumstances lead the two critics to assume different responsibilities, and different stands in relationship to their audience.
2 A similar discrepancy I find when Radhakrishnan talks about the events of may 1968, the history lesson for Foucault and Delouse. There they learned "the disquieting lesson that there exists a profound asymmetry, within society, between the perspectivity of the intellectual and that of the masses"(67) and this brought him to assent with Deleuze that "representation no longer exists". Once again, I am not documented, but it seems like Radhakrishnan is talking about the peasants revolution in Luther's times, or Heinrich Heine watching the 1830 revolution in Paris, and not about the movement of 1968, which took place Paris, in schools, universities and political parties. Who are these "masses" so irreversibly cut off from dialogue with intellectuals?
3 As last point, I do not find convincing the main critique to Focault's thinking, especially considering the solutions given, when Radhakrishnan concludes: " Yes, it is certainly possible that at any given world-historical conjuncture or its locally inflected conjuncture, a particular constituent of the bloc will play the dominant role or casting the trigger vote. But there is nothing to be alarmed about since: 1) the trigger vote will be cast on behalf of the bloc with the consent of the bloc and 2) the structuration of the bloc is not a constant through history: the positions within the block will be in a state of constant change.......Extending Gramsci in a Bakhtinian direction, I would say that this constitutive exotopy (?) of the field makes for a practice that is always undertaken in the name of the weakest (the most oppressed) element within the formation."(95). If Foucalut's is utopian thinking, disanchored from reality, what is this if not a romanticized dream about brotherly comradeship? How do we achieve "intellectual and moral unity"(92) in practical terms? These are fundamental questions Radhakrishnan's essay doesn't answer for us in a convincing manner.
Send a Comment to Umberto Taccheri
Send a Comment to the class listserver