Friday, January 27, 2012

Changing The Change

A quick note.

While revisiting Foucault I am thinking about what it means to grapple with an author. How to account for the scope of their oeuvre. How do you get to know a thinker beyond individual texts? How do you perceive the mind behind the books?

Because clearly a writer will change from one book to another. As Foucault said, don't ask me who I am and don't ask me to stay the same. He was bent on changing, on becoming different by thinking differently.

Gauging an author's changes becomes easier if the author is involved in the interpretation of their own work. Foucault, for example, claimed that the real subject of Madness And Civilization was power. He claims he didn't know it at the time, but what he was really talking about was power.

How can this be the case? If he didn't know he was writing about power how could he have been writing about it? How can an author read their own subtext?

Seems like an intense thing to do.

By interpreting their changes they change their changes.

It is like Foucault's self-interpretation reaches into the past and puts power into his work by reading it there. It is like Zizek says, something is in a text both because it is really there and because we put it there. This idea that our reading of a text can implant meaning into it relies on Zizek's notion of retroactive freedom. There is something in action that reaches into the past and creates the conditions for its own possibility. This idea still eludes me. I don't know how to think about it (except in terms of Collingwood's theory of the imagination).

I think Foucault's reading of his own work might be an example of this. Foucault puts power into his first book by reading it there.


He underwent an intuitive change in his thinking. He went from thinking in confused ways about madness to thinking more clearly about power. But he then changes the quality of this intuitive change by explicitly describing the nature of the change. He changes Madness And Civilization into something new by providing a narrative of its development and its place in his oeuvre.

Retroactive freedom? I'm not sure what the hell that means.

But there is something here about changing the change. About how a statement in the present can change what existed in the past. Whatever that means.

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