Sei sulla pagina 1di 12

Foucault's Oriental Subtext Author(s): Uta Liebmann Schaub Reviewed work(s): Source: PMLA, Vol. 104, No.

3 (May, 1989), pp. 306-316 Published by: Modern Language Association Stable URL: . Accessed: 21/12/2011 09:53
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact

Modern Language Association is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to PMLA.


Foucault's Oriental Subtext

FEW AUTHORS CAN match the effect Foucault has had on contemporary intellectual culture. The response to his work has been widespread, diverse, and intense, and the scope of the responses mirrors the diversity of his interdisciplinary enterprise. His disregard for the traditional boundaries of academic disciplines and for the established hierarchyof authorities within each discipline has spawned a large number of commentaries and studies, many of which attempt to reclaim his work for the traditions he has shunned or criticized. But the complexity of his work has only allowed limited and often controversialreappropriations. Although most of the influence studies have traced Western intellectual traditions in his work, there is an as yet unexplored non-Westerncounterdiscourse or subtext that also affects his mode of thought and, as a result, his style. An understanding of this subtext will help the readercomprehend some enigmatic aspects of Foucault's work. Variouscommentators have suspected that some form of counterdiscourse-or, in Racevskis's phrase,"epistemologicalalibi"(18)-constitutes the motivating force behind Foucault's discourse. Racevskis concludes his study by allowing for the possibility of reconstructinga correctiveanthropological model from Foucault'scritiques.He remains vague in his suggestions about what that model might be: some vision of liberatedhumanity or perhaps "an ancient and familiar archetype of man" (166). He refrainsfrom identifying this archetypein any way. Other critics have been equally hesitant to identify the counterpart, the positive opposite, to Foucault's unliberated, hopelessly trapped "Western man." Some discern a spiritual promise in Foucault's thinking of the "other."Bertherat,for example, foresees "the return of the gods," the "patient reconstruction of a common myth, of a hope." But about the place of this return, Bertheratcryptically declares, Foucault "cannot tell us anything"(879).' Dreyfus and Rabinowask, "Is there some unthematized insight perturbingFoucault'searly methodology?" (84). Analyzing Foucault's view of the Renaissance,Burgelindetects a preoccupation with magic, hermetism, gnosticism, Pythagoreanism, 306 and the cabala-in short, with a "belatedand orientalized Hellenism" in medieval Europe (855). But Burgelin has not pursued this particularinterest of Foucault'sbeyond the treatmentof the Renaissance "episteme" in The Orderof Things. Even Manfred Frank, whose book Wasist Neostrukturalismus?is the most probing examination of poststructuralism from within the Western philosophical tradition, admits to an unexplained aspect in Foucault. In his discussion of Foucault's antisubjectivity, which he links to the conceptions of subjectivity in Romanticism and in Heidegger, Frank concedes that Foucault brings into play a "teleology of transcending the subject that is not justified by anything other than a preference by the author" (214). Similarly, Allan Megill places Foucaultwithin a Europeantradition of anti-Western"crisis thought" that leads from Nietzsche and Heideggerto Foucaultand Derrida (183). Megill, too, concludes that there remains a major problem with Foucault's attack on the Westerntradition: "his inability to specify what we have outside it" (256). Megill briefly considers the Orient as the possible "outside" but dismisses Foucault's appeal to "the East" as "peculiarly empty and abstract" (256). Thus, while indigenous Westerntraditions have been thoroughly searchedfor clues to the challenge posed by Foucault's often puzzling discourse and while this search has yielded a wealth of insight, none of his commentators, as far as I havebeen able to see, has triedto explainFoucauldiantextsthrough the ancient Western construct of the Orient, although the global demarcationbetween Orient and Occident has been inscribedin our thinking and invoked often during the past two hundred years. What has not been attributed to his work, however,has often been assigned to his person. Perhaps responding to the subtext that haunts the Foucauldian discourse with its concealed presence, scholars as well as feuilletonistshave referredto Foucault with Easternsobriquets.In the Nouvel observateur, Jean Daniel describes Foucault as a "sort of frail samurai"sporting his "skull of a bonze" and "that famous smile of a mandarin which cut through his face." Pierre Billard, on the occasion of Foucault's death, describesthe ritualisticfervorwith which the

Uta Liebmann Schaub

Parisian intelligentsia goes about burying its "gurus." The homage of a former student, Billow, shows that Foucault had "disciples" whose adulation elevated him to the stature of a guru master. His famous Wednesday morning lectures at the College de France, as Billow recalls them, were exercises in collective "anachoresis." A gurulike posturing is, to a certain degree, endemic to what is termedParisianismeby the French themselves (Lemertand Gillan 3). Paris has to have its "mandarins," and for a time Foucault was its "Mandarin of the Hour" (Steiner). Hayden White views the Oriental demeanor as characteristicof all of major representatives poststructuralism.Each of them, White notes, has "attained to the status of a guru"who transmitsknowledgelike "secretwisdom hidden from the profane eyes of the uninitiated" (259). Alan Sheridan compares Foucault, the teacher, to a Zen master (222), and Pierre Nora, in his eulogy in the Nouvel observateur, attributes a "wholly Japanese affability"to Foucault. In a vitriolic obituary, Jean-Edern Hallier, a past editor of Telquel and a former friend turned foe, calls Foucault that "Gandhi pete-sec du Quartier Latin" 'stickler of a Gandhi from the Latin Quarter'(76). In all these characterizations of Foucault, the man and the teacher, the Oriental context remains the general frame of reference. It is invoked by admirers and detractors alike, and his own comparison of Eastern and Western educational modes supports these characterizations. In his Discourse on Language, Foucault makes quite clear that he considers the alleged universal communication of knowledge one of the great myths of European culture. Indeed, he asserts,thereare ritualsof exclusion and selectivity in Western education that operate not entirely unlike the Oriental transmission of a monopolized and secret knowledge (Archaeology 225). As a teacher, Foucault adopted a discursive style free of any pretenseto unlimited communication, thus fostering a measure of exclusivity. A certain Oriental demeanor was no doubt part of Foucault's personal style and a conscious attitude. But many of his texts suggest that within his work the Orient means far more than that. His surface text allows us to trace elements of Orientalphilosophy, religion, and kindred forms of Western mysticism and to assume that they constitute a generativecode beneath much of his discourse.The avenues by which Foucault might have appropriated Oriental thought are not known, and claims about the extent of his involvement with the study


of Oriental systems cannot be derived from a close reading of his texts. Jiirgen Habermas, in his lectures on Foucault, suggests that "the contact with and the immersioninto the Orientalworld"is mediated by Schopenhauer, and that it constitutes, for Western rationality, one of the boundary experiences ("Grenzerfahrungen")Foucault undertook to explore (280-81). But Foucault's work also points to a more immediate and direct encounter with Oriental thought than could have been mediated by the philosophical tradition alone. As with other influences on Foucault, we are certainlydealing here with highly individualized appropriations and with often deliberate concealment. A case in point is the philosophy of Martin Heidegger.Many commentators see it as one of the more prominent influences on Foucault, and it goes a long way towardexplaining Foucault, as Manfred Frank has shown. Yet Foucault never mentions Heidegger, thus concealing a source and avoiding a specific positioning of his own discourse. Similarly, Foucault rarely refers explicitly to the Orient, while other Frenchthinkersof the poststructuralist generation publicly discuss their perceptionsof the East, modern as well as traditional, showing a keen interest in the subject and urging intensified study. One prominent example is Roland Barthes's book on Japan, L'empire des signes. It is because the Oriental discourse in Foucault's work is almost always hidden that I designate it a "subtext." Foucault would conceal such appropriated knowledge all the more rigorously if he considered it "subjugated" and "subversive" at the same time. For him, there is no dichotomy here. In his view repressed and forbidden knowledge can have the most explosive potential for subverting power. Much of his work is concerned with excluded and forbidden codes or discourses.They become hidden, according to Foucault, when interdictions are brought to bear against them within certain intellectual cultures. Thus they become the silent underground of the official discourses. Foucault himself has termed such concealed codes "esoteric in . . . structure"("La folie" 16). In the West, Orientalthought systems are indeed often regardedas esoteric theologies rather than as philosophies. Perhaps one reason Foucault concealed the Oriental element in his work was to avoid having his discourse stigmatized as "religious" or "metaphysical." In his book Orientalism, Edward Said surveys Western perceptions of the Orient, "one of [the


Foucault's Oriental Subtext

ing the Westboth for dominating evergreaterparts of the world and for warping Hindu philosophy in the process of assimilating it. He holds Western individualism responsible for perverting the most significant goal in Oriental spirituality:the obliteration of the ego. According to Foucault, the aim of "mind expansion" for the individualist is not, as in Oriental practice, "to destroy the madness of normality and to regain true reality . .. but to attain an individualmadness beyond the rationalityof the world" (Caruso 99-100). In this interview,Foucault addressessome of the main conceptions of Indian philosophies: the distinction between a delusive world of appearances (maya, samsara) and a true reality beyond it (moksha, nirvana);the strivingfor attainmentof nirvana through detachment from delusive reality, including the delusion of a separate and continuous self. Because Western individuals think of themselves and their surrounding reality as knowable through reason, they do not strivefor detachment from that reality.For them, mind expansion means not abandoning the notion of self but heighteningindividual experience-that is to say, increased egoism. These are commonly held views about the most fundamental differencebetween Westernand Eastern thinking. Foucault makes a far more complex statement concerning this difference in his preface to the first edition of Folie et deraison, which appeared in 1961. In one passage Foucault refers explicitly to the Orient and the Occident as counterparts and takes his criticism of Western misappropriations one step further by declaring the Orient inaccessible to the Westernmentality, thus proclaiming its unmitigated otherness: Withinthe universality Occidental of ratiothereis to be foundthe dividing thatis the Orient: Orient line the that one imaginesto be the origin,the vertiginous point at whichnostalgia thepromises return and of the originate; Orient is presented theexpansionist that to of rationality the Occident that remains but inaccessible beeternally causeit alwaysremains limit. the (iv) Foucault suppressed the entire preface in all later editions of this book. One reason, I suspect, was to eliminate, with this passage, any suggestion of a counterimage to his image of the West. A close reading of the above quotation shows that Foucault's Orient is not a space, for his text gradually obliterates the conventional notion of a geographical Orient. This notion is eroded by the

West's] deepest and most recurring images of the Other" (1). While adopting Foucault's method of a critical discourse analysis (3), he follows Foucault only up to a point. All the Westerndiscourses Said considers under the term "Orientalism" support the politics of subjugation and domination of the Orient by a colonizing West. In his view even an East and Westin a Romanattempt at "integrating" tic concept of universal history, as in Friedrich der Schlegel's Uber die Spracheund Weisheit Indier, cannot quite escape complicity with domination (98-99). Said's argument is persuasive for many of the discourses he examines. But whereas Foucault allows for the emergence of counterdiscourses beneath the official discourse of power, Said ignores Western discourses about the Orient that oppose Westernexpansionismand subvert,ratherthan support, Western domination. Clearly, such antiexpansionist discourses have developed and circulated in the West over time and have not infrequentlygrown out of encounterswith the Orient. My argumenthere is that Foucault himself operates a counterdiscourse that appropriates Oriental lore in opposition to Westernstrategiesof control. It is in this form, albeit syncretic, that the modern Westerncounterculture has embraced the Orient. It was to the same end that some nineteenthcentury European thinkers adopted Orientalism as a position from which to criticize Occidental culture. Schopenhauer is one prominent example. Another is Nietzsche. Among his critiques of European civilization, Beyond Good and Evil and the Genealogy of Morals are the most influenced by Indian philosophy, especially that of the Veddnta (Glasenapp 103).They are also the ones most often cited by poststructuralists.Manfred Frank calls the Genealogy of Morals the "Bibleof neo-structuralist power theory" (235). Foucault was familiar not only with the philosophical tradition that leads from Schopenhauerto Nietzsche but also with the adaptations of Oriental thought and practicesthat flourished within the youthful counterculture of the sixties and early seventiesand helped shape its ideology. At the same time he feared that such adaptations would distort fundamental Oriental concepts. In an interview he gave during the aftermath of the May 1968 student revolt in France, he replied scornfully when he was asked to assess the currentinterest of young people in "mind expansion," the "new sensibility," and Oriental philosophy. Here Foucault revealsthe purism of his concern with Easternspirituality,criticiz-

Uta Liebmann Schaub

referencesfirst to a line (dividing line and limit) and then to a mere point (the vertiginous point of origin). What happens through this paradoxical text? The readerwitnessesthe retreatthrough a geometrical disappearing act. What seems to be a space becomes the immaterialpoint zero. Following Foucault's geometrical metaphor, one sees that this point, although it has no spatial extension, still has a presence, as does any geometrical point in a table of coordinates. It is the figure of ultimate elusiveness and inaccessibilitythat Foucault developshere. The movement loses itself in a vertiginous vortex. Correspondingly,if the Westis expansionistin its rationality, the spiritual Orient is something that retreatsand recoils from that expansive force. Unable to be conquered and penetrated,it remainsthe eternallyother, the perpetualchallenge and frustration for rationality, which, for Foucault, is the West'sonly cognitive strategy.Expansionist thinking knows of no limits but those situated at its outside, at the line of its furthest expanse, until the radically other unsettles it by cutting through, dividing, and thereby obliterating the universality to which rationalitylays claim. Foucault'smetaphor of the "dividing line" versus the "limit" describes this confrontation. Here one encounters another cause of Foucauldian "vertigo":the constant oscillation of the function of the line. This play with dividing line and limit is one of Foucault'srecurring configurations. It might be called his essential paradox. Foucault was not the first to invoke thought systems of alien, geographically distant cultures as an image of the other of Occidental thinking. Claude Levi-Strauss,in The Savage Mind, uses the anthropological model of a distant society as a counterimage of Westernsociety. Wolf Lepenies succinctly describesthe processinvolved:as the "savagemind" becomes the other of Westernthinking, the defense of the "savage mind" turns into a metacritique of the modern mind. When Foucaultbegan to publish, the use of ethnological, anthropological, and cultural counterimages had become a common approach to the metacritique of Westerninstitutions. Yet Foucault, along with Barthes and Derrida, insists on the fundamental emptiness of the "other." In the conclusion to his Archaeology of Knowledge, he seems to affirm his intent to avoid the content fixation of a counterimage.But even here he merely poses the question "How can you escape the naivety of all positivisms?" His answeris tentativeenough:


"for the moment, and as far ahead as I can see, my discourse, far from determining the locus in which it speaks, is avoiding the ground on which it could find support" (205). This formulation does not negate the existence of a supportive ground (or subtext); it merely states a resolve to avoid that ground. Even so, how could Foucault have succeeded in this resolve without falling into the trap of pure negativism and irreverence,as some of his critics maintain he did? How can a condition of what he has termed "nonpositive affirmation" be attained (Language 36)? Oriental, especially Buddhist, systems furnish such a possibility. Unlike most forms of Christianity and Westernhumanism, they aim to support through denial of support, operating around an empty center: nirvava, sunyata. Because this center is at the same time full of presence and empty of content, the "other"can remainempty,open, unthinkable, and unspeakable while providing the ground for a critique of its counterpart. The concept of an empty presence permits application of a radically subversive methodology without the need for working out an anthropological theory or an ethics. And, perhaps most important, Buddhist systems offer the spirituality of a theology without god-a theology nearly indistinguishablefrom philosophy. This possibility is no longer availablein the West unless one casts aside all interdictions against intermixingphilosophical and religious discourses, as the younger Frenchthinkersincreasinglydo. Examples are Julia Kristeva and the nouveaux philosophes Glucksmann and Levy, who openly discuss their concern with a current "crisis of spirituality." Like Jacques Derrida, Foucault occasionally contributed to Telquel during the sixties and thus had some association with Julia Kristevaand others in her group. That association, transitoryand loose though it was, should be taken into account when questions are raised about Foucault's involvement with Oriental philosophy. As Barbara Johnson recalls, individual writerswho later became important "didn't stand out from the Tel quel group at that point" (156). Although Foucault never explicitly endorsed Oriental philosophy, he nevertheless must have been aware that it served as the grounding for the group's critical subversion of Westernintellectual traditions. A closer look at Tel quel may therefore be helpful. The Telquel group surroundingPhilippe Sollers and Julia Kristeva constituted a veritable intellec-


Foucault's Oriental Subtext

is without duration; its presence is "not susceptible to examination"; it is "unspeakable," not capable of representation, "inaccessible" (59). Mall and especially Kristeva view the Buddhist sunyavada as more complex than, and thereforesuperior to, similar Westernphilosophical concepts. Inevitably, their presentation of the Buddhist system turns into yet another critique of the West's deficiencies. They both explicitly contrast not only the Orient and the Occident but also "Oriental man" and "Occidentalman" along with the specific modes of thinking characteristic of each (clearly, the essayists intend these terms and the substitute pronouns to be understoodgenerically)."L'homme oriental," for Kristeva,is the "sujet zero,"meaning that he is, through his praxis of detachment from subjectivity, in possession of that profound and illuminating knowledge of the void to which Occidental man has no access. Steeped in theory and subjected to the constraining significations of the discoursesthat he ceaselesslyinvents,"l'hommeoccidental" is incapable of annulling individuality. Western man, for Kristeva, remains the "sujetindividu" even when the individual acts as a member of a group; then it becomes hypostasized into a "sujet-collectif." This merely additive collectivization, however,is inevitable as long as the individual refuses to be transformed and thus propelled to higher knowledge (prajna), to the final level, the "niveau final," of the Buddhist two-tiered system of knowledgethat Mall and Kristevaespouse. Western thinkers are doomed to the "niveau initial" of their delusive discourses, unable to rise to the shattering experience of the presence of sunyata, of the "void," the "beyond,"the "other,"or the "outside" (synonymsabound in poststructuralist writing),unless they reject Occidental discourse altogether, along with its mode of expression,representational language. Kristeva explains what Occidental discourse embodies for her: Platonic rationalism and the logocentrism of the entire Western tradition (50). The rejection of this tradition, and the resolve to subvertit, must be consideredfundamentalto the Telquel program at this time. This objective is also shared by Derrida, who drawshis boundaries between the "discourseof the Occident" and "a certain outer realm"("un certain dehors")to which he attributesawesome capacities for subversion: "This subversion is enacted in the violent confrontation between the whole of the Occident and its counterpart" (161-62). In an exten-

tual movement whose influence remained considerable up to the mid-seventies. It assumed, from its outset, a decidedly programmaticstance in espousing not only a new literary language but also new forms of thinking, which wereintended to promote an entirely new understanding of reality and ultimately to effect a radicaltransformation of the human condition. Foucault was later to call that movement "a swan song" (Power/Knowledge 127), but as John Rajchmannotes, "literarytheory in the 1960smay have been a swan song, but Foucault was part of it" (12). The extent to which this avant-garde ideology was informed by Oriental concepts can be clearly seen in Kristeva'sand Linnart Mall's contributions to the 1968 Winter issue of Telquel. Kristeva'sessay, "Distance et anti-representation," introduces Mall's, "Une approche possible du sunyavada." These two texts analyze fundamental concepts of Buddhism and apply them in a critique of the West. The analysis is Mall's, its programmaticapplication chiefly Kristeva's. The main purpose of Mall's essay is to promote understanding and acceptance of the central concept and ultimate focus of Buddhist contemplation: sunyata, emptiness,the void. Sunyavadais the Buddhist doctrine of emptiness. Primarily concerned with distinguishing the Buddhist concept of emptiness from Westernconcepts of nothingness, nonsense, and absence, Mall explainssunyatdby means of the mathematical concept of zero and its properties. Just as zero, in its original Indian conception, signifies not absence or negation but ratherthe suspension of any opposition between affirmative and negative judgments, between + and -, emptiness is not to be thought of as "nothing" or pure negativity. In Mall's view, Westernphilosophy thinks of being and nothingness as mutually exclusiveopposites and knows of nothing in between. Buddhism, however, can think of coexisting opposites. Mall is in agreement here with the scholarship of Buddhism, which generally points to the greater tolerance that Buddhist doctrines have for paradoxes, for a coincidentia oppositorum that the West often associates with mysticalspeculation as the opposite of science. Sunyata, in Mall's presentation, takes on such seemingly mystical properties: it is being-in-between; it is that which extends between and connects two opposites, without, however,having any spatial properties. Lacking spatiality, it is also devoid of temporality; occupying no space, it

Uta Liebmann Schaub

sive study of affinities between Derrida'swork and Oriental systems of thought, Robert Magliola calls attention to thinking germane to Derrida's in the work of Nagarjuna, the early great dialectician of Buddhism and proponent of the "middle path" of the Madhyamikaschool-the "path zero" in Mall's interpretation. Nagarjuna's system also functions as one of Mall's main points of reference, and it is of special interest regarding Foucault as well. (Nagarjuna'sphilosophy is well representedin Kenneth Inada's translation and commentary.) Nagarjuna stands at the beginning of the tradition of MahayanaBuddhism, whose most formidais ble and influential representation Zen. Of specific interest is his logic, or his dialectics. He developed to its radical extreme a four-cornered "logic" that essentially works towardthe reductio ad absurdum of everything to which it is applied. According to this logic, one can assert for every aspect of reality (1) being, (2) not being, (3) being and not being, and (4) neitherbeing nor not being. Its purpose, according to its critic Hans Kiing, is to "choke" logical thinking altogether (542). In Nagarjunist Buddhism, however,this process leads to the realization of the essential emptinessof all things, that is, to the attainmentof perfect wisdom (prajin-paramita)or, in the terminology of Kristevaand Mall, the niveau final of all possible knowledge. In contrast to Western logic, this dialectical style does not culminate in any conclusions about the being of things. It neither provesnor wishes to proveanythingbut, rather, demonstrates the ultimate elusiveness of proof. It asserts nothing but the fallacy of assertiveness. Therefore, questions have been raised-for example, by Inada-about whether this style can be called a "logic" or "dialectics" at all, since it actually is, as a style and a method, an ontology. Style here is the message. Because it is a praxis, not a theory, it needs to be distinguished from similar operations in Western philosophy. As we look at Foucault's writings, especially those published before 1968, we find that they reflect essential aspects of the Buddhist system analyzed by Magliola and Mall. Foucault's work repeatedly describes the philosophic enterprise as a probing of the limit, of the empty other, and of the possibilities of transgression;develops an essentially two-tiered scheme of knowledge and discourse;and forecastsor promotes a new knowledge, along with a new discourse that expresses it. The


structure of this new discourse, he asserts, is nondualist, unlike the traditional mode of Western thinking, whose method is a logic of antagonistic contradictions. In accordancewith his nondualism, he rejects a dialectics that works in exclusionary pairs. Indeed he develops, in contrastto Westerndialectics, a paradoxical style that he calls nondialectic and that he claims has "ontological status" (Language 56). His is not a dialectics that wishes to prove a proposition but, rather,one that wishes to subvertthe single-minded confidence in the possibility of proofs. Instead of taking and defending a position, he tries to avoid or elude fixed positions. His style thus is central to his enterprise;it is, once more, a praxis (which unsettles immutabilities and certainties) rather than a theory (which by its nature aims at immutability). Foucault therefore has to insist on the inseparabilityof discursivethought and style. Rhetorical style thus becomes the message; it is intended as a "tool kit" to work change (Language 208); it is not descriptive, nor is it representational. Finally, what has been considered "the crux of the Mahayana or Buddhism in general" (Inada 153)-the belief that samsara, the world of things, and nirvana, the void, become indistinguishablein the ultimate monistic emptiness of all thingsenables Foucault to deny emphatically any involvement with metaphysicswhile permittingmetaphysics to pervade his subtext. He can thus enter the edifice of modern philosophies, those of Nietzsche and of Marxist materialism, and simultaneously contest positivism and eschatology. For this reason Dreyfus and Rabinow can charge him, some thirty pages apart in their book, with both "extreme phenomenological positivism" (52) and "extreme nihilism" (87). The correspondencesbetween Foucault'swriting and Oriental concepts can also be seen in some of his earlier texts. In his 1963 "Preface to Transgression," he endorses a new philosophy that he labels "nonpositive affirmation" (Language 36). Seeminglyparadoxical,nonpositive affirmation becomes understandableas a Buddhist subtext where the presence of the void can affirm, as zero can. Such a philosophy does not negate; it merely "contests." In explaining how contestation differs from negation, Foucault seems to characterizeand enact his own enterprise, although he is describing Blanchot's:


Foucault's Oriental Subtext

sion contains nothing negative, but affirms limited being-affirms the limitlessness into which it leaps as it opens this zone to existence for the first time" (Language 35). What Foucault sees on this side of the limit, at a safe distance from the precipice, is a knowledge unaware of the potentialities of the void and unaware of its own illusory nature but, instead, convinced that its logical discourses reflect the truth. It is the knowledge of the West, "a form of knowledge which presupposes that truth is visible, ascertainable,measurable.. . . This type of affirmation of truth becomes fundamental in the history of Western knowledge" (Language 204). He calls the institution of "true" discourses "one of the basic problemsof the West"("Non au sexe roi"93). Western discourses operate by means of the "meagre logic of contradictions" (Power/Knowledge 143), which inevitably entraps itself in its own "pro"and "contra."Westernthinking, in Foucault'sview, creates fixed antagonistic positions and totalizing systems of theory. It constantly tries to incorporate and fixate even that which tries to subvert it, Foucault's own discourse included. Over the years, he saw his work increasinglysubjectedto the same hermeneutics he had relentlesslydenounced as the supremefallacyof the Westernphilosophicaltradition from Plato onward. Western thinkers, according to Foucault, have never become awareof the essential fallaciousness of their convictions. Caught in sleep, they are in need of awakening. This is one of the essential implications of "The Anthropological Sleep," a provocativeand much discussed chapterin The Order of Things (340-43). Perhaps Foucault's subtext provides the basis for a satisfactory explanation of this chapter. Underlying the imagery of sleep and awakening is the two-tiered Buddhist system of of knowledge.Foucault makes the "disappearance" the individual the condition for a superiornew way of thinking and for a new discourse.The rationalist era that has prevailed since Kant he attacks as the historical period of the deepest "anthropological sleep." What Foucault assails is the domination of anthropocentrismafter it had pushed aside the last vestiges of the "other" philosophy in the West, the noumenal. He sees noumenalism as having been present in the West in one variety or another until the end of the eighteenth century, although in the form of mysticism it had been suppressed and relegatedto the outer edges of Christianity.It is no

Contestation does not implya generalized negation,but an affirmationthat affirmsnothing,a radicalbreakof Ratherthanbeinga processof thoughtfor transitivity. contestation theactwhich is existence values, and denying carriesthem all to their limits and, from there,to the Limitwherean ontologicaldecisionachieves end;to its contest is to proceeduntil one reachesthe emptycore the wherebeingachieves limitandwhere limitdefines its limit,the "yes"of conbeing.There,at the transgressed
testation reverberates. . . . (Language 36)

Foucault here operates the paradoxical logic of Buddhism where opposites can coexist without recourse to any notion of evolution or "transitivity" and wherethe limit is recognizedand thought capable of transgressionat the same time. The once-only capitalization of "Limit" is obviously significant. Foucault's subtext works through orthography. It delineatesthe radicallyother,the "emptycore,"into which one can only be initiated by transgression. The spiritual aspect suggested by the capitalization is borne out as Foucault continues: and afTransgression opensintoa scintillating constantly firmedworld,a worldwithoutshadowor twilight,without thatserpentine "no"thatbitesinto fruitsandlodges theircontradictions theircore.It is the solarinversion at of satanicdenial.It was originallylinkedto the divine, or rather, fromthis limitmarked the sacredit opens by the spacewherethe divinefunctions. (37) This text, with its biblical imagery, seems to suggest a familiar paradise-that of the Old Testament-while pointing to its essential imperfections. Denial, interdiction,and temptation werebuilt into the Eden of Genesis. Paradiseregained,as Foucault sees it here, would be the indivisible nirvana rather than the precariousGardenof Eden, whereindividuation constantly threatensdivision and alienation. His text evokes a rapturous experience of total affirmation comparable to mystical experiences. What becomes clear in these works is that the Foucauldian transgressionhas an essentially initiatory and soteriological function. It is not an ethically defined transgression, nor is it a victory over limits set by social antagonisms. Foucault denies both these associations emphatically (Language 35). Rather, it is mystical initiation into unity and wisdom, the goal of Oriental religious practice. Such initiation is often likened to a "leap" without trajectory,spaceless and timeless, although describable only in terms of space and time: "Transgres-

Uta Liebmann Schaub accident that he mentions Dionysius the Areopagite, the Pseudo-Dionysius, as the transmitter of that mystical knowledge which "subsisted at the boundaries of Christianity; perhaps it was preserved for a millennium or almost as long in the guise of a negative theology" ("Pensee" 526). Not only has Dionysius's Mystical Theology been the basis of Westernmysticism since its translationinto Latin by John Scotus Erigena in the ninth century ("a millennium" ago), but it also representsone of the closest links between Westernand Indian thinking. In the estimation of the noted Orientalist Edward Conze, some passages in Dionysius's text "may well be called a Christianversion of the Heart Sfitra"(220). In "La folie, l'absenced'oeuvre," Foucault evokes the Buddhist sunyavada in announcing a Western rebirth of this lost thinking: "an experience is being born that concerns our thinking; the imminence of this experience, already visible, but still absolutely empty, cannot yet be named" (21). He perceivesit as emerging in "a configuration that retains and suspends meaning and that is the ordering principle for a void in which only the as yet unrealizedpossibilities remain"(18). The European Enlightenment not only stigmatized and excludedthe philosophical contemplation of the noumenal, it also exalted the autonomy of the individual subject. In contrast, most Oriental systems of thought hold that perfect wisdom is synonymous with the cessation of self. Thus the insistence on the supremacy of the individual, as in Enlightenment philosophy, would make such wisdom impossible. It will become possible only after the limited subject of "anthropological" thinking (Kristeva's "sujet-individu") has ceased to exist. This is the disappearance that Foucault forecasts. According to "The Anthropological Sleep," the space that this disappearance will leave open is nothing negative, no gap of any sort. It is, once more, the positive void of Oriental provenance,the "space" of a superior philosophy. The Orderof Things is not the first of Foucault's works to advocate the disappearance of the individual. Three years earlier,in his 1963"Prefaceto Transgression,"Foucault had announced the "new language of thought that makes us aware of the shatteringof the philosophical subject";it is "at the center of the subject'sdisappearancethat [the new] philosophical language proceeds." This new language would be "the exact reversalof the movement which has sustained the wisdom of the Westat least


since the time of Socrates"(Language 43). In 1964, in "La folie, l'absence d'oeuvre,"Foucault made even clearer who this "subject" is: "dialectical man," a product of the Westernlogic of contradictions and antagonism, and "alienatedman," whom Foucault seems to have considered a mere figment of Hegelian-Marxistdiscourse. His nominalism allows Foucault to treat the production and the disappearance of "man" (a term he uses generically) as matters of discourse: He soon will die, is alreadydyingwithinourselves (his in deathbeingmanifested ourcontemporary discourse): homodialecticus-embodiment separation, return, of of of time;that beingwhichloses his truthand then finds it again,purified; stranger himselfwho becomes the to familiar himselfagain.Thismanwassubject-master with in and servant-object all the talkthat has beencirculating for a long time about man and especiallyabout alienatedman. Fortunately, is dyingin this drivel. he

Referencesto a new language as the substance of a new way of thinking are ubiquitous in Foucault's early work, and they are consistent. That most statements about this new language are tentative is explained by its purpose and relative position in a teleology of knowledge.Foucault sees this language as only beginning to emerge, first of all in literature and poetry, but also in criticism. It is the "nondialecticallanguage of the limit"(Language44), the transitory stage between two distinct forms of discourse that correspond to the forms of knowledge they support. The discourse that thinks of itself as "true" is characterized and structured by the prescriptivedemands of dialectics, representation, coherence,and continuity;the new language will be nondialectical, nondescriptive,incoherent, and discontinuous. It will operate in paradoxes. Foucault contrasts the bankrupt language of the past with a new or "rejuvenated"language that is only beginning to surface or to take shape but that will be, Foucault predicts, the language of the future (Language 33). Whereverit has begun to manifest itself, this language operates on the precipice of silence. Silence is consistent with Foucault's subtext, in which perfect wisdom is beyond words as are even the glimpses of it attained in the initiatory experience of transgression.In the final analysis, Foucaultcannot wish merely to replace one discourse with another, as Westernculture has done in the past. It is


Foucault's Oriental Subtext

tate the disciple's shock of enlightenment. "Perversity" becomes purposeful pedagogy: Thephilosopher mustbe sufficiently to perverse playthe this whichopergameof truthanderror badly; perversity, atesin paradoxes, allowshimto escapethe graspof cat"ill egories.But asidefromthis, he mustbe sufficiently humored" persistin his confrontation to withstupidity, to remain motionlessto the pointof stupefaction orin derto approach successfully mimeit, . . . andto it and conclusionto this await, in the alwaysunpredictable elaboratepreparation, shock of difference.Once the have catatoparadoxes upsetthe tableof representation, nia operateswithinthe theaterof thought. (Language190) In this passage, from a 1970 essay titled "Theatrum Philosophicum" (Language 165-96), the tone is different from that of the earlier essays. The choking of language and thought in mystical raptureis replacedhere by "catatonia."The subtext no longer reflects ecstatic mysticism but now displays the conceited and condescending attitude of the Sophist or the Zen teacher.After 1968Foucault apparentlywished to reaffirm the radicalismof his subversiveintent by intensifying his technique and by making his enterprise even more objectionable and baffling. The strong pedagogical power generated by his enigmatic style has been acknowledged -for example, by Jonathan Arac (78). In fact, the pedagogical intent essential to Foucault's subtext is at work even with his "ill humored" philosopher, leading from shock to transformation. As we read on in his "Theatrum Philosophicum," we see that catatonia is presented as only a transitional stage, as a crisis; once thought is "freed from its catatonic chrysalis," it will rise, renewed and completely transformed (Language 190). But the tactic used here, however,indeed resembles a "slalom"between traditionalphilosophy and an abandonment of all seriousness. Foucault himself describedhis venturein this way to Dreyfus and Rabinow (205), and their analysisof his work shows that they took his descriptionfor granted.They find that he "does not take serious speech acts seriously at all" (50). If there is no recourse to an underlying subtext, this conclusion amounts to nothing less than a charge of not making sense, which is in fact wheretheir argumentationleads them in their chapter "Beyond Seriousness and Meaning" (85-90). Clearly, Foucault has walked a narrow line between play and purpose, between pure sophistry

this cycle that he wants to change. For him the ultimate goal has to be the cessation of verbalcommunication. It is the final point of a teleology of mystical knowledge. The language of the limit then has to be a paradoxical"languageof silence."What it articulates "places us at the limits of all possible languages" and causes us to "lose language in a deafening night." In Bataille's words, which Foucault quotes, the ultimate communication is "an immense alleluia lost in the interminable silence" (Language 32-33). Foucault refers to the mystics' "secret language of prayer,"which is "embedded and choked by a marvellous communication which silences it" (Language 48). This communication, or communion, is not only one in which the speaker ceases to speak but also one in which there is no listener. It too points to the Oriental void ratherthan to the personalism of Westernmysticism. In an essay republishedin Language but dating back to his association with Telquel, whereit appearedin 1963, Foucault calls the new language "this unique Discourse which no one, perhaps, will be able to hear," "this Saturnianlanguage [that] devoursall eventual words" (Language 61). The suspension of the final stage affects language as it does thought. Before the "unique Discourse"(with capitalD as orthographic signifier), there are still discourses. The emerging language is "neither complete nor fully in control of itself, eventhough it is sovereignfor us and hangs above us" (Language 39). Its telos, silence, remains to be mastered,but until we attain that end, we must ceaselessly speak the self-destructive language of our awakening in order to "succeed-if not in silencing and mastering it-in modulating its futility" (Language 60). The function of this language is no longer the representation of the world; it is, instead, selfreflection (self-representationor reduplication).As in Kristeva,this language now speaks only of itself. In the encounter with its "futility,"its incapacity to articulate truth, it finds its only meaning in constantly consuming itself. The rhetorical means to such relentless self-consumption is the paradox. What has just been said is not contradicted but revoked and suspended. Thus Foucault endorses a "slightly monstrous" language "wherea division in two signals itself" (Language 59). Foucault has also called it "perverse."As he extols this paradoxical, illogical language, it has the same goal as does the practice of Zen, where meditation on a seemingly meaningless koan is supposed eventuallyto precipi-

Uta Liebmann Schaub

and the praxis of Oriental schools such as Zen and its early predecessor,the Madhyamikas' sunyavada. Inada has pointed to the affinity between Sophism and the Madhyamikas'style of reasoning, but only to make clear the essential differences. While the Sophists' tactic is eristic, that is to say, argumentative merely for argument'ssake, and thus in the end negative and destructive,the Madhyamikas'dialectics is soteriological, directedtoward ultimately attaining wisdom, and thus positive and constructive (Inada 19). fIf, as I believe, Foucault's unsettling style is informed by Buddhism rather than by Sophism, Dreyfus and Rabinow's charge of nonsense needs to be qualified. Foucault does not take seriously speech acts that claim to establish truth. He takes very seriously language forms that do not assert anything but, rather,display the tentativenessof all discourses and show the essential insufficiency of language for expressing truth. Asking for seriousness in Foucault may finally be the same as asking for the seriousness of the Zen teacher who baffles disciples with the enigmatic text of a koan and with unpredictable,unsettling derision or sudden, ironic encouragement, all aimed at bringing about the enlightening shock. The question of seriousness in Foucault must concern not the seriousness of meaning but the seriousnessof praxis-the efficacy of the writer's style. Speaking of the task of the writer in The Pleasure of the Text,Roland Barthesexplicitlycompares the literary community to the Buddhist monastic community, sangha, and the writer'sexperience to that of the Zen initiate: for the writer residual substitute thebeggar, Is today's the but monk, the bonze: unproductive, nevertheless pro-


to videdfor?Analogous theBuddhist sangha,is theliteralibi it uses, supportedby a whatever ary community, mercantilesociety, not for what the writerproduces
( . .. nothing), but for what [the writer]consumes? Su-

not perfluous,but certainly useless?


nothingbuttheperdesiring profit,the Zenmushotoku, verseblissof words(butblissis nevera taking:nothing

separates it from satori, from losing). (35)

[The writer] . . . is outside exchange, plunged into non-

Barthes, much more than Foucault, was concerned with an aesthetics of the literary text and a sociology of the Westernliterary community. But Foucault's Oriental subtext supports a much broader critique: a critique of Westerncivilization as a whole. In view of the fundamental shortcomings that Foucault ceaselessly exposes, this civilization needs to recognize and produce its positive counterimage. He is not the first writer to stop at criticism and to refrain from describing that counterimage and the means of realizing it. This limitation should not be held against him. His discourse has certainlyachievedmuch of what it set out to do. It has unsettled fossilized modes of discourse and has indeed stimulated new thinking that attempts to push beyond the boundaries of the Western philosophical traditions. Thus, in his way, through his style, Foucault has been a "teacher" and a "moralist"-one who neitherteaches nor moralizes. Trueto his concealed pedagogy, he has not left behind prescriptions of how to proceed, or methods to apply, or a theory to stand on. In that sense at least, his enterprise can be called emancipatory. University of Toledo Toledo, Ohio

1Unless otherwise indicated, translations are mine.

Arac, Jonathan. "TheFunction of Foucaultat the PresentTime." Humanities in Society 3 (1980): 73-86. Barthes, Roland. L'empiredes signes. Paris: Flammarion, 1970. .The Pleasure of the Text. Trans. Richard Miller. New York: Hill, 1975. Bertherat, Ives. "La pens6e folle." Esprit May 1967: 862-81. Billard, Pierre."Michel Foucault: Le discours et la maniere."Le point 2 July 1984: 63. Bulow, Katharinavon. "L'artdu dire vrai." Magazine litteraire May 1984: 34.


Hallier, Jean-Edern."Cette tete remarquablene comprenait pas l'avenir."Figaro magazine 30 June 1984: 76+. Inada, Kenneth K. Nagarjuna: A Translationof His Mtulamadhyamakakarikd with an Introductory Essay. Tokyo: Hokuseido, 1970. Johnson, Barbara. Interview.With Imre Salusinszky. Criticism in Society. New York: Methuen, 1987. 151-75. Kristeva, Julia. "Distance et anti-representation." Tel quel 32 (1968): 49-53. Kiing, Hans, et al. Christentum und Weltreligionen.Munchen: Piper, 1984. Lemert, Charles C., and Garth Gillan. Michel Foucault: Social Theory as Transgression.New York:Columbia UP, 1982. Lepenies, Wolf. "Der franzosische Strukturalismus: Methode und Ideologie." Soziale Welt 19 (1968): 301-27. Levi-Strauss,Claude. The Savage Mind. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1966. Magliola, Robert. Derrida on the Mend. West Lafayette: Purdue UP, 1984. Mall, Linnart. "Une approche possible du sunyavada."Telquel 32 (1968): 54-62. Megill, Allan. Prophets of Extremity:Nietzsche, Heidegger,Foucault, Derrida. Berkeley: U of California P, 1985. Nora, Pierre. "Nos ann6es Foucault." Nouvel observateur 29 June 1984: 45. Racevskis, Karlis. Michel Foucault and the Subversion of Intellect. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1983. Rajchman, John. Michel Foucault: The Freedom of Philosophy. New York:Columbia UP, 1985. Said, Edward W. Orientalism. London: Routledge, 1978. Sheridan, Alan. Michel Foucault: The Will to Truth.London: Tavistock, 1980. Steiner,George. "The Mandarinof the Hour: Michel Foucault." New York Times Book Review 28 Feb. 1971:8+. White, Hayden. "FoucaultDecoded: Notes from Underground." Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1978. 230-60.

Burgelin, Pierre. "L'arch6ologie du savoir." Esprit May 1967: 843-61. Caruso, Paolo. Conversazioni con Levi-Strauss, Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan. I1 cammino: Pensiero e civilta 4. Milano: Mursia, 1969. Conze, Edward. Thirty Yearsof Buddhist Studies: Selected Essays. Oxford: Cassirer, 1967. Daniel, Jean. "La passion de Michel Foucault." Nouvel observateur 29 June 1984: 20. Derrida, Jacques. Marges de laphilosophie. Paris:Minuit, 1972. Dreyfus, Hubert, and Paul Rabinow. Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1982. Foucault, Michel. TheArchaeology of Knowledge. Trans.A. M. Sheridan Smith. New York: Pantheon, 1972. . "La folie, l'absenced'oeuvre." table ronde May 1964: La 11-21. Folie et deraison: Histoire de la folie a l'age classique. Paris: Plon, 1961. . Language, Counter-memory,Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews. Trans.Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon. Ed. Donald F. Bouchard. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1977. . "Non au sexe roi." Nouvel observateur 12 Mar. 1977: 92+. .The Order of Things:An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. New York: Pantheon, 1970. "La pens6e du dehors." Critique June 1966: 523-46. Power/Knowledge:Selected Interviewsand Other Writings 1972-1977.Trans.Colin Gordon. New York:Pantheon, 1980. Frank, Manfred. Wasist Neostrukturalismus?Frankfurt:Suhrkamp, 1984. Glasenapp, Helmuth von. Das Indienbild deutscher Denker. Stuttgart: Koehler, 1960. Habermas, Jiirgen. Der philosophische Diskurs der Moderne: Zwolf Vorlesungen.Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1985.