The Dissimulation of Law and Power: Michel Foucault

By Rockhill, Gabriel | Philosophy Today, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview

The Dissimulation of Law and Power: Michel Foucault


Rockhill, Gabriel, Philosophy Today


Victor Hugo's professed decision to have written a vast and serpentine novel in memory of the inscription and later effacement of a single word-anagke: fatality, necessity-- might serve to preface the following investigation of the relationship between law, power and dissimulation in the work of Michel Foucault.1 Aside from the dominant role played by regimes of visibility and invisibility,2 one of the central features of the author's search for the story behind an inscription in the recesses of Notre-Dame is his insistence on working from the bottom up through a series of local and apparently disconnected events. He thereby avoids any centralized account that would authoritatively establish the precise role of the word in the novel. Anagke, along with its French equivalents fatalite and necessite, comes to function as a place holder for various contextually defined uses. If there can be no single answer to the question "what is the meaning of anagke in Notre-Dame de Paris?" it is ultimately because Hugo situates his reader in a matrix of discursive forces lacking any final law that would determine every specific use of the term or concept.3 In other words, the reader is performatively inscribed in an elusive network of linguistic constraints that reveals a surprising proximity with the mysterious anagke that Hugo himself sets out to elucidate. Under the guise of exposing the story behind anagke, Hugo thus surreptitiously positions his reader within it.5 His object of study is concealed in the circuitous and fragmented narrative lines that are supposed to lead up to it, thereby mirroring the very process of dissimulation that accompanies anagke.

This series of themes suggests an immediate affinity with the subject of the present article: the diverse currents at work in Michel Foucault's research on the question of power, particularly in the mid to late 1970s. Rejecting all essentialist attempts at a metaphysics of force that presumes to isolate the defining characteristics of power in a single, abstract and universal idea, Foucault illustrates how power operates at a local level in decentralized constellations specific to precise historical situations. Since power ultimately escapes philosophical abstraction, it is impossible to define it once and for all or even give a general account of Foucault's theory (since, strictly speaking, there is none). The difficulty inherent in discussing Foucault's work on this subject should thus be readily apparent, without mentioning the further complication that it is disseminated through essays, interviews, and passages from various books where he reformulates, corrects, or amends what he says elsewhere, leaving his reader unsure as to which particular description, if any, should be taken as authoritative. Much like Hugo's anagke, Foucault's notion of power not only eludes interpretive abstraction but, as an object of study, it cannot be divorced from the various forces operative in the very act of investigating it.

For this reason, the following analysis will be partially hermeneutic and methodological in nature, in order to contravene some of the dominant tendencies at work in the construction of Foucault's "theory of power": the assumption that nominal notions such as power can be assimilated into abstract, unified concepts; the presupposition that Foucault's research evolved in a relatively homogenous fashion, leading to the progressive maturity of his ideas and their expression; and the tendency to read Foucault's conception of power through pre-existing philosophic schemata. Given these hermeneutic concerns, the investigation that follows will be guided by one central theme in order to circumvent the temptation to give a general account of power. It will focus on the transformation that occurred in Foucault's later writings when certain features of the analytics of power formulated in the 1970s were sacrificed in the name of a binary model of domination and resistance. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Dissimulation of Law and Power: Michel Foucault
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.