Dissent of the Day


In comments, Stockerb fulminates,

I think it’s a bit of a shame to attack Foucault in this way. It’s very misleading to refer to him as the stereotypical intellectual sipping espresso on the left bank. He was very involved with prisoner rights in France, he was frequently on demonstrations and frequently got beat up by the police, not only in France but also when teaching in Tunisia. His theories of power, knowledge, and institutions have roots in his own experience of psychiatry and his father’s work as a doctor, as well various intellectual interests. Yes, a properly functioning Panopticon would be an improvement on what’s going on at present in Venezuela. Even better would be exploration of ways of dealing with crime outside prison. These are not mutually exclusive positions.

Somebody better acquainted with his work really should sink his teeth into this, but for me there’s a lot to be written on Venezuela as a kind of counterfactual to Foucault’s idea of distributed power. Because the obvious place to go from that prison analysis from this morning is to say that just like our own Total Institutions don’t function as Total Institutions at all, the mechanisms of power that supposedly have their roots in Total Institutional surveillance and permeate all of society just don’t do that in Venezuela, with the consequences we all see.

But I just dabble in these topics…somebody who really knows about them should really get into them.

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  1. Foucault offered, from my recollection, an idiosyncratic and sometimes insightful critique of the Enlightenment that spawned a lot of bad immitators and had limited practical application, like his precursor Nietzsche. Also like Nietzsche, he became something of a darling of the left, although to me, sounded more of a libertarian strain than anything else. I would be interested to know how the reformist Foucault squared with his radical critique. There was a famous exchange between Chomsky and Foucault that as I recall, basically came down to that question: what has your theory done for the people lately. Be interesting to revisit that conversation today.

    The Cacique that runs Venezuela has expressed a fondness for Nietzsche. He is the cautionary tale of a world where Enlightenment values, including human rights, are held in suspicion, if not contempt, venezuelan prisons being that world in its purest form.

    Kudos to devoting space on your blog to the issue of venezuelan prisons.


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