Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Sodomy & Seduction

I've always thought of Foucault as philosophy beach reading. As long as you keep your distance from the methodological and epistemological difficulties (Foucault claims to unearth different modes of thought in which "knowledge" is produced, but he is no less a prisoner of his own era [or episteme] than the objects of his study, so isn't his claim to objectivity blahblahblah), then it's pretty fun, light reading. Since I do keep my distance from those meta problems, any Deep Thoughts I have about his thought is usually of the Jack Handey variety. Better still, it's of the college stoner variety ("See, if I were an 18th century botanist, here's what I'd do....." I thought that this very morning, in fact).

One of the fun things about The Order of Things (TOoT) is his willingness to get swept up in other logics. This text traces the history of how knowledge is produced, and there's a pretty large section devoted to methods of classification among, as you may have guessed, 18th century botanists. Baudrillard once hypothesized that the terms of a discourse seduce the speaker; ya get so wrapped up in what you're saying that that which is said drives the speaker, rather than th'other way around. And this is what happens throughout TOoT - Foucault drops the academic-y passive voice, and seems to write as if he were advocating or teaching these old-timey modes of analysis. It's really pretty cool, and one doesn't even notice until Foucault is pages and pages into this voice.

Another way of taking another's voice is prominent in Zizek's Organs without Bodies. Here, Zizek takes a one-off mention by Deleuze that his philosophy could be characterized as "buggery" of other philosophers, and expands it into a running theme (hence the chapter titled "Taking Deleuze from Behind"). The idea of this strange sodomy is that the author transforms another into his/her marionette, forcing the other to say what the author would otherwise say. More simply, it's twisting the words of the other into the shape of the author's own thought.

The curiuos thing about TOoT is the oscillation between sodomy and seduction. One moment, Foucault will be speaking in the old-timey voice, and the next will be twisting the old-timey thought into new-timey boxes. So, for example, the old-timey voice slowly transforms into the voice of Levi-Strauss, a 20th century structuralist. I'm sure there's a lot more cool stuff that could be wrung out of that progression from seduction to sodomy, but I'm lazy like that.

That's as deep as I go when I'm beach reading.