Marx and the Postmodernism Debates: An Agenda for Critical Theory

By Lorraine Y. Landry | Go to book overview
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Foucault's work is beset by competing theoretical commitments which, on the whole, tend to lend support to the substance of Habermas's criticisms. 61 However, Peter Hohendahl has argued convincingly that Habermas's criticisms of Foucault have more to do with the support of Habermas's own project than with a decisive refutation of Foucault's challenge to it. 62

While Habermas's formal argument against the self-referentiality of Foucault's critique is persuasive, Hohendahl points out that it is less "certain whether it is strong enough to challenge Nietzsche's and Foucault's assumption that there is no ultimate meaning in history. To put it differently: the proof that Foucault's project is contradictory in terms of its own logic is not the same as proving that his pessimistic view of history is wrong." 63

Thus, while Foucault's grounding of his critical project is formally flawed, it may not be devoid of critical force in another sense, which escapes Habermas's account. Derrida, for example, makes the point that Habermas has made when Derrida asks what kind of argumentative force could possibly attach to Foucault's critical genealogies. 64 However, what Habermas takes as evidence of a sheer logical dead-end, Derrida takes as the "strictly impossible nature of Foucault's undertaking." 65 That is, since for Derrida no decisive break with the protocols of reason and truth is possible--"since every sentence of Foucault's writing betrays an opposite compulsion--Derrida can acknowledge the critical force of that writing despite and against its avowed purpose." 66

Habermas apparently takes Foucault at his word as having left behind all rational criteria in a rejection of the "discourse of modernity," despite Habermas's recognition and criticism of Foucault's historical relativism. Unlike Derrida whose deconstruction enjoins reflection upon the limits and aporias of discourse, Habermas does not sustain a more ambivalent appropriation of Foucault that allows for these features. 67 That is, Habermas's stake in criticizing the Nietzschean counter- Enlightenment heritage effectively blinds him to the possibility that Foucault's critique "might yet possess a power of demystifying insight that works against its own professed aims and interests." 68

See Chapter 2, Part III.
The Kantian version entails a subject/object division, and the Husserlian conception appeals to a transcendental subject.
See Hubert L. Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics ( Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982). They characterize Foucault's project in this manner. Others, such as Martin Jay, itemize a more comprehensive list of "influences," which includes figures such as, Georges Canguilhem, Louis Althusser, and Georges Bataille. See Jay, Totality, p. 519. Habermas, in Discourse, essay IX, draws out the importance of


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