I think it strange that Foucault told Searle exactly what he wanted to hear, if we are to believe Searle. I think that Searle didn’t realise the degree of humour present in Foucault’s rather uncharacteristic remark. Foucault was probably sending him up, given the equation he establishes between clarity and childishness. Clarity is not the same when you have an ontology of multplicity and incommensurabilty and when you don’t.

Perhaps Foucault was giving in to a sad affect, that of resentment, at this point in his life. Deleuze and Guattari in WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? claim that such consensual discussions are animated by ressentiment, and we know that both Searle and Foucault had disparaging remarks to make about Derrida as an example of “terrorist obscurantism”. Yet even here Searle may be hearing what he wants, projecting his own interpretative grid onto Foucault’s enunciations. Foucault distinguished the act of writing as a form of becoming, self-transforming, disappearing as egoic subjectivity, from writing as contained in the author-function. In our society these are two faces of the act, and Foucault’s remarks apply to the authorial function that he finds to be dominant in Derrida’s method. The diagnosis would be a more pluralist one than Searle can imagine. In Deleuze and Guattari’s terms Derrida would be the author of “fascicular” texts, that embodies an “immediate, indefinite multiplicity” (A THOUSAND PLATEAUS, p 6). The criticism would be that this indefinite multiplicity is not pluralist enough, as it is confined to the content level of the enunciation, and at the level of the subject of the enunciation a new spiritual unity dominates, imposing it’s terrorist dictates: you cannot use my texts in other ways, you cannot use them to criticise me, I alone can understand and explain them.

Foucault wants to weaken or dissolve the author-function: he wants more multiplicity, more obscurity (conceptual change), more ambiguity (undoing the dominant significations), less brevity (liberating language from its limits), less order (freeing writing from the human form). He thinks that Derrida in fact strengthens the author-function. So when Searle and Foucault agree to criticise Derrida, they are doing so on the basis of very different background understandings. Derrida shares with Foucault a concept of “écriture” that is not conversational, and Foucault’s complaint is that Derrida betrays it for the author-function  Searle however thinks that this very concept of “écriture” should be replaced by that of a cooperative conversation – clear, univocal, brief and orderly. He does not see the double edge to Foucault’s remark: “If I wrote as clearly as you, people in Paris would think it’s childish and naïve.”

Deleuze declares that it is of no use to recount Foucault’s words if you cannot convey how they feel both “dangerous” and “tender” at the same time. Semantic clarity may mask affective complexity.

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  1. Pingback: BLOGOPHOBIA IN PHILOSOPHY: Platonism and corporatism in the profession | AGENT SWARM

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