Foucault vs Chomsky

I’ve never seen this debate before, people, and I’m loving it. Whose brilliant idea was it to put in the same room one of the leading philosophers of the XXth century and a superficial populist? These guys exist on two planes of reality that do not intersect. It’s like a discussion between an old professor and a freshman who declaims the funny little slogans he learned in high school.

OK, the geek-out is over and we are back to our regular programming.

36 thoughts on “Foucault vs Chomsky”

  1. This rules. Foucault rules. I’ma snag it for my blog.

    Here’s an English-language transcript of the whole thing. http://www.chomsky.info/debates/1971xxxx.htm. Relation to this clip starts just a little past halfway down.

    It’s pretty much like, Chomsky’s trying to frame class struggle in terms of Platonic-ish ideals of justice and human nature and Foucault’s all, “What crack are you smoking?”

    Like

    1. I almost peed my pants when he started stumbling around this “human nature” argument. I enjoy talking about the human nature as much as the next person, but I know I’d have managed to avoid this if I had the luck of being around Foucault.

      My thesis advisor hated Foucault with a passion. You’d use the word “power” in a casual conversation and she’d jump at you with “I’m fed up with Foucault!” And you’d be like, “I was just saying we had a power outage in my building, Professor.”

      Like

      1. Uh … doesn’t every lit scholar do close reading as a matter of praxis? What would “just” close reading be like? Were they just really strictly New Critic formalist or something?

        Like

        1. Narratology was a big thing. Actually, the only thing. First-person narrator, third-person narrator. This definitely has its uses but when it’s the only thing you can use, you get very very bored.

          Like

  2. We were talking about Foucault the other day! My advisor was talking to me about studying abroad, and I suggested Uppsala in Sweden, since they have a great international relations program (I’m told) and he started laughing and said “You know they’re famous for flunking Foucault’s thesis?”
    I said to him, “Well, he’s still Foucault isn’t he?” and my professor nodded sagely and said “But the thesis committee at Uppsala didn’t know it then!”
    And thanks for the transcript, P.rhoeas.

    Like

    1. I’m no Foucault, but the piece of writing that I was vilified for at my grad school (and I mean really vilified) got accepted for publication in an interdisciplinary theoretical journal with only tiny changes.

      It’s hard to recognize the genius in our midst. 🙂 🙂

      Like

  3. I brought chocolate for you today, but you weren’t there and it won’t fit under your office door. Now what shall I do?

    (Maybe I should take your trashing my favourite linguist on your blog as a sign that it wasn’t meant for you?) 🙂

    Like

  4. The following section from Foucault Is very interesting, because it recognises what I have also discovered, which is that you need a kind of “doubling” (in my terms) or in this case, “a mind folded back” in order to have any kind of profundity in thinking.

    >>you find this idea of a mind in profundity; of a mind folded back in the intimacy of itself which is touched by a sort of unconsciousness, and which can develop its potentialities by the deepening of the self. And that is why the grammar of Port Royal, to which you refer, is, I think, much more Augustinian than Cartesian.

    Like

  5. bloggerclarissa :
    I call myself a total snob all the time but I can’t leave as much as I try.

    I’m no snob of any sort at all — except when people behave according to strictures of normalcy, I have no idea why they would debase themselves to behave in that way.

    I have no base-line concept or experience as concerns normalcy.

    Like

  6. French people are always calling me a snob because I like large, cosmopolitan cities and dramatic landscapes. It’s just my tastes, I don’t think these make me superior to anyone, but the French think I must feel that way if I have such tastes.

    Like

  7. Chomsky is clearly “one of the leading philosophers of the XXth century” – given that he did for linguistics roughly what Einstein did for physics – and it’s true that there aren’t many people who take Foucault seriously any more, but it’s not quite fair to call him only “a superficial populist.”

    Like

    1. Or you can skip the textbook and simply bow in awe at the purposely obfuscated comments that passes as “research” in philosophy. You would never catch a philosopher making a clear and simple claim that could potentially be refuted. This is to “science-y”, instead you can make yourself a name by writing things so cryptic that is hard to see if there is anything to them to begin with (see Kierkegaard, Soren).

      Like

      1. Who’s cryptic? Foucault??? He had one of the clearest, easiest to understand writing styles ever. What have you read of his that sounded cryptic to you?

        Chomsky’s linguistic articles, on the other hand, are quite convoluted. That isn’t his main fault, though. His general readership books on politics are the real nightmare.

        Like

        1. From the Vietnam War to the Arab Spring, Chomsky’s extensive political writings have no equal for factual accuracy or analytic insight. Often rejected by the consensus of academics and pundits at the time, they now can be seen as nonpareils.

          Try reading one of the older articles that stands clearly outside the usual limits of allowable debate, e.g., “The Soviet Union Versus Socialism” .

          Like

          1. I haven’t read what Chomsky had to say about the Vietnam War, so I don’t have an opinion. I have, however, read him on Soviet Union, and his writings were filled with such egregious lies that I had to stp reading.

            More recently, his defence of the Tea zPartiers and their progressive potential confirmed my belief that the guy is clueless.

            Like

            1. bloggerclarissa :
              I haven’t read what Chomsky had to say about the Vietnam War, so I don’t have an opinion. I have, however, read him on Soviet Union, and his writings were filled with such egregious lies that I had to stp reading.
              More recently, his defence of the Tea zPartiers and their progressive potential confirmed my belief that the guy is clueless.

              Quod gratis asseritur gratis negatur. Chomsky gives his reasons.

              Like

  8. «Whose brilliant idea was it to put in the same room one of the leading philosophers of the XXth century and a superficial populist?»

    Again, no wonder you will take the more elitist of the two from the one who was and who still is closer to the people.

    Chomsky is a genius. But yeah, if your only goal is to masturbate yourself intellectually inside academia, Foucault is your man. 🙂

    Like

  9. bloggerclarissa :
    Who’s cryptic? Foucault??? He had one of the clearest, easiest to understand writing styles ever. What have you read of his that sounded cryptic to you?

    Just read above. Here’s the full quote:

    On the contrary, you can find, I think, at the same time in Pascal and Leibniz, something which is much closer to what you are looking for: in other words in Pascal and in the whole Augustinian stream of Christian thought, you find this idea of a mind in profundity; of a mind folded back in the intimacy of itself which is touched by a sort of unconsciousness, and which can develop its potentialities by the deepening of the self. And that is why the grammar of Port-Royal, to which you refer, is, I think, much more Augustinian than Cartesian.

    This is pseudo-scientific babble, and it takes many years of training in philosophy to learn to see meaning where there is none. As I said before, terms such as “mind in profundity”, “mind folded back in the intimacy of itself” “touched by a sort of unconsciousness”, “deepening of the self” have either no meaning—except in that they resonate in your mind—or at best hide a simple statement such as “you require awareness of your own consciousness to reason about your own choices”. This and a dime should buy you a cup of coffee, but quoted as “a mind in profundity” will get you tenure at a Philosophy department.

    bloggerclarissa :
    Chomsky’s linguistic articles, on the other hand, are quite convoluted.

    Chomsky has at least two results which are of consequence in real life (the Chomsky hierarchy, and the Chomsky–Schützenberger theorem). This is more than we can say for all of philosophy combined.

    Nothing wrong with the subject, is the approach that is suspect.

    Like

      1. Chemistry without rigor is alchemy, medicine without method is medicine-man-witchcraft, biology before the theory of evolution (or chemistry for that matter) is stamp collecting.

        Philosophy currently sits in the same place as those disciplines used to reside before they introduced scientific rigor (of different type in each case) to their endeavors.

        Within philosophy itself, think of the tremendous strides made in the study of logic once Boole’s notation and mathematical rigor was brought in.

        About a decade ago there was an overview in the popular science press of a technical subfield of computer science which for the first four decades had failed to find its own method upon which to measure progress. Then a simple benchmark was introduced and suddenly the field took off.

        Philosophy is at that crossroads right now. It can reject its obfuscation and move to clearer statements, hypothesis and better criteria to move arguments forward or it can remain locked up in its pseudo-scientific babble, infinitude of schools and utmost irrelevance to itself (let alone make sandwiches)..

        Like

  10. I hardly expect to convince you given that you have dedicated your professional life to the subject. This does not make the argument any less valid or the need any less pressing.

    However I did expect you to keep the tone and level of discussion a bit more sophisticated than “it simply means that you are not equipped to understand it”.

    I do urge to keep what I said in mind next time you find yourself trying to understand an obscure passage. Was the complexity inherent to the argument (as it would necessarily be in any advanced scientific paper) or was it overlaid by a rhetorical style that purposely hides the main tenets and rationale of its arguments.

    Like

    1. I’m not a philosopher. 🙂 I’m a literary critic. Philosophy is just a hobby. As for the thinkers who employ a purposefully obscure writing mode, they definitely do exist and it serves certain ideological goals for them. I discussed it here: https://clarissasblog.com/2010/05/06/academic-jargon/ and I don;t want to repeat myself. I, for one, do not support this movement and always try to write my academic articles in as clear and accessible way as possible. I have to confess that it’s a work in progress for me, though. 🙂

      Like

      1. Glad to see we agree on this one, at least on the general gist. The old thread of yours together with the links therein is bang on the money, btw.

        In general, I’m wary of any discipline that does not attempt to make claims and arguments as precise as possible.

        It goes without saying that such precision varies by discipline. Clearly is harder to do so in the humanities than in, say, math or physics, but regardless it is easy to see when an academic author tried to pin its claims as clearly as possible under the circumstances and when the author is simply hiding behind vague terms.

        It shouldn’t be hard for someone versed on the lingo of your respective discipline to identify what are you trying to say, and what evidence you have to make such claims. The argument itself then can be hard to follow or verify, but at least now you have a well identified target to wrap your head around or refute, as the case may be.

        Like

        1. I usually ask grad students to tell me what their idea (for the dissertation or the paper) is in a couple of simple sentences. If they can’t, I tell them this is evidence that they still have no idea what they are talking about. 🙂

          Like

Leave a Reply to Culture Club Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.