Thursday, September 29, 2005

Foucault and Iran

While slagging off of the political and historical naiveté of post-Heideggerian French philosophers is undoubtedly something of a still-increasing Anglo fashion (and what responsible person would ever wish to even risk being confused with the conveniently reductive excesses such as those that are content to sweep, say, Derrida tout court under the same rug as Tel Quel), a more nuanced look at the current (though again, rather predictably topical) scholarship is nevertheless required. This article from Radical Philosophy I think makes a start:
In essence, Foucault's use of the Orient poses the same problem for us as Nietzsche's: how to respond to the unconventional use of a conventional stereotype of Islam in a critique of Western modernity? Of course, in one sense the madness of Foucault's Iran has nothing to do with the kind of madness which has always been stereotypically attributed to mad mullahs and fanatical Mohammedans. Foucault's now famous interpretation of the eighteenth-century treatment of madness forces us to understand in a different way the folie he attributes to the Islamic Revolution– a folie or irrepressible energy, rather than mental derangement or delusions of grandeur. Perhaps it is irrelevant to ask how far Foucault's description of madness is an ironic pun on his own work, and how far he is playing with a familiar history of Islamic stereotypes. An ironic (and therefore charitable) reading of the madness Foucualt attributes to Iran is dependent on a familiarity with Foucault's specific use of the word, relying on a most un-Foucauldian idea of author intention in order to see the irony. To choose this path is certainly not mistaken, but when doing so two points must be borne in mind. First, in linking madness with Islam, Foucault effectively draws on an already extant store of motifs concerning Islam, even in the act of subverting them. Second, the intended audience of Foucault's article, by no means academic, undermines the sophistication of Foucault's gesture and suggests, perhaps, a more practical populism in Foucault's journalism strikingly absent in the more careful prose of Foucault's theory...

...what begins to emerge is the extent to which thinkers of posetmodernity, in their encounters with the world of Islam, appear to draw on the same European vocabulary as their predecessors. That in attempting to write about the Other, we invariably end up writing about ourselves has become in itself a cliché or Orientalist studies. What remains remarkable is the manner in which one of the principal figures responsible for deliniating and demonstrating this situation of epistemological finitude so visibly failed to escape it in his own work. (courtesy of Ali Rizvi)

More here and here.

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