Aselda Thompson on Radhakrishnan, "Toward an Effective Intellectual"

[please excuse the lack of ', ", and italics - somehow during the cut and paste from MicrosoftWord my punctuation was ignored.]
Radhakrishnan, in an attempt to elucidate politics and the intellectual in his essay, Toward an Effective Intellectual: Foucault or Gramsci?, discovers a profound contradiction. In a world fraught with potential disasters, there is a need for global solidarity; the collective we rather than the individual me. This same world, however, consists of numerous diverse coalitions with as many diverse agendas, each desiring to advance its stance in society by spouting its own principles; the individual me, not the collective we. The attempts of theorists to speak in terms of global solidarity have been undercut by reality: the worlds coalitions do not unite on a global level. Thus, for critical theorists to use the word we has become profoundly problematic (57). To which we are they referring? Is it impossible for the intellectual to theorize in such a setting?

Jesse Jacksons Rainbow Coalition asks the individual alliances to recognize that in order to achieve specific goals for the individual coalitions, each must look first to the goals of the global community. In this way, each coalition will find identity in difference, difference in identity. This is the only way to achieve individual success, argues Jackson, because each specific coalition is interrelated on a global level.

Radhakrishnan questions whether theory is out of sync with reality. Is it possible to view the world as a single unit? Or is it necessary to address each single unit which makes up the whole? He attempts to answer these questions in terms of Foucault and Gramsci.

In terms of the social purpose of the intellectual, Foucault has theorized himself into an awkward position. Although an intellectual who represents the fringe of a population of which he is not a member, he has declared that the masses need no outside voice, that they can express their own thoughts without the representation of the intellectual. They do not need to express their views on life because they are in themselves the expression of life. He considers the intellectuals, of which he is one, to be instruments of a repressive system of power that blocks, prohibits, and invalidates the discourse of the masses (68). Would not the member of the mass who spoke out to express the views of the mass in turn become an intellectual and therefore be an agent of the repression? So what then is the role of the intellectual, if it is no longer to voice the message of the masses? He gives the answer that the new role is to struggle against the forms of power by obtaining knowledge, truth, (68) etc., however, if no longer allowed to speak for the masses, for whom will the intellectual struggle? For other intellectuals?

In Radhakrishnans words, this new theory of the role of the intellectual is self-critical and deconstructive (68). If this new rhetoric is to be accepted, why then should we listen to Foucault? He is speaking for the masses without being a member - we are to disregard what he says. How are we to receive and valorize a point of view that persists in articulating itself on the assumption that it has nothing worthwhile to say? (68).

Radhakrishnan exposes Foucaults failure as a stopping short, in a sense. He did not take his theory far enough. With no authority to do so, Foucault has decided that the global no longer exists. He has forgotten that each individual position together with each other position come together to make up the global diversity. He has opted for a strategy (for whatever reasons) that is local rather than global without acknowledging that he has done so. Despite these gaping flaws and the fatalistic nature of his theory, Radhakrishnan has pointed out the value in Foucaults message that we must be wary of the monolithic, monological, and monothetic opposition (77).

The shift now turns to Gramsci who believes that all humans are defined by the relationships of which they are a part. These collective relationships both define and are defined by the individuals, changing as the individual change. Although the individual is a part of the group and affects the group, (s)he is not the same as the group. Also, humans are acutely aware of the relationships and take an active role in them; they are not blind of their membership. Through a synthetic consciousness of these relations, knowledge can be produced as change and as a theory of change (85).

In terms of the role of the intellectual in this world of relationships, Gramsci believes that intellectuals are the functionaries of the whole complex and the social fabric (86). He believes that those individuals who assume the role of intellectual, (all individuals are intellectuals in their own lives, although all are not the functionaries or organic intellectuals which Gramsci describes) are the persuaders of society. The intellectual is inserted into historical participation whereby his or her eloquence is given terms of purpose (88). Each relationship or coalition has a persuader who is held accountable historically and politically (88). Unlike Foucault, Gramsci believes that this persuader is good for the group. It is not inherently dangerous to have a speaker. Without the speaker, the voice of the group would be muddled and therefore ineffective. There would exist no organization without intellectuals, that is, without organisers and leaders (90).

The theories of Foucault and Gramsci, because of their opposing definitions of the role of the intellectual in society, are mutually exclusive. Radhakrishnan concludes that although a persuader or intellectual may be the voice of a group, and though that group may have the global dominance at the present time, we should not follow Foucaults example and be alarmed. Instead, he points out that the power of factions fluctuate; today the global ear is turned to the black faction, but without fail, it will turn its ear tomorrow to the feminist faction. The global atmosphere is created and altered by these undulating waves of hegemonic coalitions.

With respect to Arnolds view that the role of the intellectual is to speak the truth of the time so as to stimulate further creative works, neither Foucault nor Gramsci, nor for that matter de Man, seems to hold a similar viewpoint. Foucaults view that the intellectual is a repressor of creative thought opposes Arnolds premise outright. Gramsci, on the other hand, merely approaches the issue from a different angle. Instead of from the viewpoint of the literary critic, but rather from the viewpoint of political scientist, Gramsci sees the role of the intellectual to be to express the views of a particular faction of society. For de Man, the intellectual is a necessary element in the struggle against tyranny and power. Certainly de Mans definition of the role of critic is most strongly in opposition to Foucaults in that former sees the intellectual as the terminator of tyranny whereas the latter sees the intellectual as the pawn of tyranny.