[lit-ideas] Re: Madness, Foucault, Nietzsche & Emerson

  • From: "Lawrence Helm" <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 6 Dec 2011 14:59:13 -0800


After reading "Madness and Civilization" I began accumulating books by
Foucault planning for the "rainy day," but thus far I have not managed to
complete any of them for some of the reasons you indicate.  Still, for
Foucault to argue that the reality or sense of morality of a madman is as
legitimate as that of one sane is provocative.   If "reason" is an
imposition upon the "unreasonable" (or rationality upon irrationality) by
the bourgeoisie then it is at least interesting to imagine a counter-factual
society in which Foucault's irrationality rules -- but we don't learn what
it might be from Foucault, at least I haven't for he doesn't precisely
advocate it.  He merely denies the right of the rational to lock it up. 

I liked your definition of Postmodernism as the "snarky guy at a party who
enjoys dominating by sarcasm but adds nothing to the event."  I had a recent
encounter with just such a snarky guy, the guy who took my argument about
the continued usability of old Olympus cameras off into a quibble about the
meaning of the word "obsolete" claiming to quote the OED as his authority.
He covered everything with a brass-colored coat of sarcasm that wasn't open
to either reason or rationality.  He hasn't done anything illegal other than
stalking me off line to pursue his quibble and to try to bully me into
accepting it.  In the end I did something like what Foucault accuses
Capitalism of doing.  I "locked him up" in a manner of speaking by telling
him to quit writing to me.  I would gladly have packed him off on a ship of
fools if that had been one of my options.


-----Original Message-----
From: lit-ideas-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:lit-ideas-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx]
On Behalf Of Eric Yost
Sent: Tuesday, December 06, 2011 2:17 PM
To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: [lit-ideas] Re: Madness, Foucault, Nietzsche & Emerson

These sociologies of reason unhinge the conventional but seldom offer
anything to offer to replace them; further, the postmodernist view is that
"not having anything to offer" is a good thing.

For Nietzsche, it makes sense. With his emphasis on the artistic creation of
an individual life, Fred is like a high-octane Ayn Rand.
(Remember Fred's assertion that people are not happy because they are good,
they are good because they are happy.) Pindar's "become yourself" is all for

Emerson, being the only American writer Fred liked, was mild by comparison
because he assumed his audience had a shared foundation from which they
could engage in positive self-transformation by exhortation. (Henry Miller
continued this exhortation-to-transformation theme a century later.)

For bald Mike F., slain by AIDS, who is part of the postmodern game of
refusing binaries, it's enough to remove foundations. When considering the
various "selves" we maintain -- work life, family life, church life,
friendship life -- postmodernists tend to think they should have no unifying
moral or epistemological thread. One could include Feyerabend and his call
for anarchy in the methods of sciences. Not "become yourself" but "play
group role X, Y, or Z"
seems the clarion.

This annoys me on so many levels: as a rejection of integrity, as an
abandonment of Western tradition, as an exercise in domination disguised as
intellectual discourse. The generalized postmodernist view is like a snarky
guy at a party who enjoys dominating by sarcasm but adds nothing to the

Meanwhile science seems to be offering a new foundationalism, a
revitalization of Whitehead's Process and Reality, and that, combined with a
little pragmatism may rescue philosophy from the failures of Continental and
Analytic traditions.

Anyone who's read Helen Vendler's scathing review of Rita Dive's anthology
of twentieth century poetry can see that this annoyance with the hip
nihilism of inclusion is widespread.


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