My seminar*, or, how Anthro Foucault Guy became my nemesis.
Day 1: 2 papers presented. Ensuing discussion on bodies, dead and alive.
Anthro Foucault Guy: You know, there's this REALLY INTERESTING guy named FOUCAULT. Maybe you guys in literary studies** have heard of him. blah blah BODIES IN PRISON blah blah CARCERAL. ...fast forward a few minutes... FOUCAULT IS A GENIUS.
More discussion on death and temporality.
AFG: Let me inform you about something called CULTURAL RELATIVISM. Anthropology knows a lot about this. It goes like this: other cultures have other notions of death. This changes how they feel about death when they're alive. Like, in some tribes in South America, death is just part of existence. etc.
Day 2: 3 papers presented, among them mine. Ensuing discussion on literary repetition.
AFG, to Kermit: You know, in anthropology there's been a lot of work done on repetition, having to do with chant and ritual...
Kermit: Yes, actually, in the context of my broader project, I've looked at some works that link anthropological studies of chant and ritual to forms of lyric poetry.
AFG: stays pretty quiet.
Day 3: 3 papers presented, among them AFG's. AFG's paper is written in a notebook, and we are instructed to excuse him if he stumbles because his handwriting is not so neat. The paper's argument goes as follows: "Foucault (gently caress book by Foucault) is a genius, but if you combine his views in Discipline and Punish (gently caress book again) with Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology, you discover that the individual has individual ways of reacting to structures of power. [Translates somewhat haltingly, on the spot, a passage from Foucault. Translates somewhat haltingly, on the spot, a passage from M-P.] I really think that it's necessary to think about individuals and how they actively participate in disciplinary structures. Plus, the physical structure of the prison is necessary for its disciplinary structure to be effective."
Discussion ensues, with an emphasis on the words "I think that," always delivered with a flair of machismo.
Kermit: (deciding that AFG needs reminding that other people might possibly have thought about Foucault and discipline before) What you're describing as the individual's participation in disciplinary structures sounds a lot like 20th-century revisions of the Marxist idea of ideology, which discuss how individual people are drawn to want to become part of the dominant cultural field, rather than having it imposed on them...
AFG: NO. Marxism is TOP-DOWN. My point is that individuals can respond to things individually.
Kermit: Yes, and these theorists have thought about this.
AFG: NO. MARXISM IS TOP-DOWN.
Moderator: Well, what you're describing sounds a lot like a problem other people have pointed out in Foucault, but what strikes me about your account is... ... and I've generally seen Foucault as a post-Marxist ...
At this point I must break into the first person. No one else (out of the 6 people left in the room) was willing to call AFG out. This shook me, not out of respect for the integrity of the discipline or anything like that, but because AFG was talking with such a combination of sycophancy and egotistic confidence. I wanted to say:
Guys. We are supposed to be colleagues here. When we are too concerned with maintaining polite conference conversation to call bullshit, that's when jerks can get away with dominating other people by delivering wrong assertions or rehashing arguments with macho confidence, and that's just wrong.
I politely made my excuses to the moderator and left early.
*The format of this conference was unusual in that we were supposed to meet each day with the same group of people, to whom we'd each present our papers.
**Anthro Foucault Guy is an anthropologist. This was a literature conference.