Thursday, January 10, 2013

State of the Thesis

For my own purposes, an update on my current work on my master's thesis.

Right now, I'm trying to come to terms with Foucault.  I spent a good chunk of Christmas break working through his History of Madness, and I made it up to the end of Part II.  Unfortunately the material most relevant to my thesis is in Part III, and while I have read the most significant portions of Part III before, it would be nice to have the whole thing under my belt.

Meanwhile, time is an increasing concern.  Classes have started and I'm anxious to start writing.  Since the material on madness will come into play at the end of the thesis, I'm going to leave behind the History of Madness for the moment and go into the material on genealogy, archaeology and truth.  My original intention was to focus for this material on The Archaeology of Knowledge, and explain the function of the archaeological project and its endpoint (via History of Sexuality vol. 1) as a tool for genealogy.  However, a quick reading of part of the Dreyfus/Rabinow book on Foucault made me change my mind on this.  A lot of people talk about the genealogical turn in Foucault during the period which led up to Discipline and Punish, and I didn't want to get lost in these controversies or the subtleties which they have no doubt caused to develop.  Instead of sticking to Archaeology and assuming that I would be able to draw the right connections between it and the late works, especially on the moral/ontological level where power comes into play, I decided to start with some smaller pieces more immediately relevant to the question of the genesis and organization of systems of thought.  A few texts came up as useful here.  By accident I ended up reading the interview on "Truth and Power", the final section of which is extremely useful as an explanation for the thoughts underlying the genealogical project after the publication of Discipline and Punish.  Then, more obviously, I knew that I needed to reread "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History".  Third, it seemed worthwhile to go back to The Order of Things, and look at his final chapters on the Man and the emergence of the Human Sciences.  After these I would work through the text of the Archaeology, which would probably prove more useful and a faster read in light of the work done in The Order of Things.

There is something discouragingly vast about settling in on the study of a single author.  Foucault's output is reasonably large and pretty accessible.  Reading through his interviews and articles, one gets a sense of the flexibility and vitality of his thought as it develops.  Though obviously not a systematician (i.e., not a developer of systems, though certainly a technician of systems), neither is he simply a writer of fragments (certainly no Barthes), and consequently it is difficult to report on what is interesting in any of Foucault's works individually, as Foucault's, without busying oneself with the entire corpus.  It's a mercy that he has those lines in the Archaeology on his own lack of continuity as "Author" behind the texts, but any respite this provides against the difficulty of finding a "Foucault" to report on is wiped away by the additional difficulties it creates when one wants to set up a conversation between this "Foucault" and someone else.

Speaking of that someone else, we have yet to deal with Aquinas.  Aquinas isn't a systematician either.  He is a theologian who writes through disputation, i.e., he has an occasional style with a sapiential ordering under-girding it.  The field of Foucault studies is burdened by political interests and questions of development, but we are close enough to the man himself that his texts are relatively unproblematic considered through the lens of contemporary academic "techniques".  They are available, the practice of analyzing them is not problematic in any extraordinary or unique way.  With Aquinas one ends up in something of a bind.  Thomists are inclined more to see St. Thomas as an oracle who will gladly return answers to their problems if only enough time is spent running the conceptual algorithms or getting their parameters just right.  Because of this Thomists tend to expend lots of energy arguing over these little parameters (textual, conceptual, developmental, exegetical), and one has to worry about getting things wrong not only for the obvious reasons of wanting to report correctly on the sense of a text or the mind of the Common Doctor, but also because of the irritation and contempt one is likely to inspire if one fails to get the analysis just right.  Anyway, I have wandered far from my topic.  The research on Aquinas is yet to be done, though it seems that the points of interest for the thesis are largely obvious: the unfolding planes of order in Thomas's ontology, the rational ascent from experience to knowledge of God, from philosophy to faith to beatitude, and the ontological ordering which underlies this: the play of similitudes, the analogy of being, and the vestiges of the Divine Essence scattered across the cosmos, which are the cosmos itself.  These relationships are rich and fascinating, but also (it seems to me) easy to work out.  However, for that I have Fr. Thomas Joseph White's book, and the man himself if I have troubles.

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