Friday, May 05, 2006


Blogging is a special form of thinking...but thinking is not what you think it is.

According to Michael Foucault, in "Polemics, Politics, and Problematizations", an interview conducted by Paul Rabinow in 1984, thought is the mental ability to detach self from action, to critique your own behavior.

This stepping back, lurching aside, swerving from parallels, discoincidence, non-congruence, is thought. Thought is rebellion against tradition, habit, status quo. Thought questions the unquestioned. Thought persecutes counter-productive nonsense and detrimental whim.

Blogging is a type of thought, a jagged glance that cuts its way into topics, a piercing lance stabbing into the meat of controversy and confrontation.

Michael Foucault explained this concept of "thought" as a "problematizing force", an energy that transforms the familiar into an unknown, the common into the extraordinary, the dull into the bizarre.


For a long time, I have been trying to see if it would be possible to describe the history of thought as distinct both from the history of ideas (by which I mean the analysis of systems of representation) and from the history of mentalities (by which I mean the analysis of attitudes and types of action [schémas de comportement]).

It seemed to me there was one element that was capable of describing the history of thought—this was what one could call the problems or, more exactly, problematizations.

What distinguishes thought is that it is something quite different from the set of representations that underlies a certain behavior; it is also quite different from the domain of attitudes that can determine this behavior.

Thought is not what inhabits a certain conduct and gives it its meaning; rather, it is what allows one to step back from this way of acting or reacting, to present it to oneself as an object of thought and to question it as to its meaning, its conditions, and its goals.

Thought is freedom in relation to what one does, the motion by which one detaches from it, establishes it as an object, and reflects on it as a problem.

To say that the study of thought is the analysis of a freedom does not mean one is dealing with a formal system that has reference only to itself.

Actually, for a domain of action, a behavior, to enter the field of thought, it is necessary for a certain number of factors to have made it uncertain, to have made it lose its familiarity, or to have provoked a certain number of difficulties around it.

These elements result from social, economic, or political processes. But here, their only role is that of instigation. They can exist and perform their action for a very long time, before there is effective problematization by thought. And when thought intervenes, it doesn’t assume a unique form that is the direct result or the necessary expression of these difficulties; it is an original or specific response—often taking many forms, sometimes even contradictory in its different aspects—to these difficulties, which are defined for it by a situation or a context, and which hold true as a possible question.

To one single set of difficulties, several responses can be made. And most of the time different responses actually are proposed. But what must be understood is what makes them simultaneously possible: it is the point in which their simultaneity is rooted; it is the soil that can nourish them all in their diversity and sometimes in spite of their contradictions.

To the different difficulties encountered by the practice regarding mental illness in the eighteen century, diverse solutions were proposed: Tuke’s and Pinel’s are examples.

In the same way, a whole group of solutions was proposed for the difficulties encountered in the second half of the eighteenth century by penal practice. Or again, to take a very remote example, the diverse schools of philosophy of the Hellenistic period proposed different solutions to the difficulties of traditional sexual ethics.

But the work of a history of thought would be to rediscover at the root of these diverse solutions the general form of problematization that has made them possible—even in their very opposition; or what has made possible the transformation of the difficulties and obstacles of a practice into a general problem for which one proposes diverse practical solutions.

It is problematization that responds to these difficulties, but by doing something quite other than expressing them or manifesting them: in connection with them, it develops the conditions in which possible responses can be given; it defines the elements that will constitute what the different solutions attempt to respond to.

This development of a given into a question, this transformation of a group of obstacles and difficulties into problems to which the diverse solutions will attempt to produce a response, this is what constitutes the point of problematization and the specific work of thought.

It is clear how far one is from an analysis in terms of deconstruction (any confusion between these two methods would be unwise).

Rather, it is a question of a movement of critical analysis in which one tries to see how the different solutions to a problem have been constructed; but also how these different solutions result from a specific form of problematization. And it then appears that any new solution which might be added to the others would arise from current problematization, modifying only several of the postulates or principles on which one bases the responses that one gives.

The work of philosophical and historical reflection is put back into the field of the work of thought only on condition that one clearly grasps problematization not as an arrangement of representations, but as a work of thought.


This seems to be blogging at its best, a refined form of Foucaultian thinking:

radically analyzing power structures, subtle dominations, war, politics, web design, progress, democracy, violence, environmental policies, technology, blogosphere, family, belief systems, self.

To understand self as a series of problems, and not unmodifiable habit cluster, is to be enlightened. From that spot of light, we blog.

EDIT UPDATE 5-6-2006:

While I like much of Foucault, and I read his Madness and Civilization book long ago, it bugs me when he says:


It is clear how far one is from an analysis in terms of deconstruction (any confusion between these two methods would be unwise).


And then Foucault proceeds to describe a methodology that is indeed similar in all respects to a Jacques Derrida treatment, i.e., a full-blown deconstructive analysis.

It's funny how a thinker can disavow a contemporary while at the same time using tools that this disavowed other, this peer and co-laborer instigated.


carrie said...

understand life and self as a series of problems... no escape.

so give up trying to escape. let go of trying not to escape. and trying not to try not escaping.

steven edward streight said...

I have in the past wished for an Off Button, to escape, an Alt switch was the only thing available.

Unable to flee, I had to stand my ground and grow strong, fight back, and learn to triumph in all situatuations, in an amicable manner whenever possible.

Extinguishing will come soon enough, then the Edna St. Vincent Millay poems will rapturously sparkle true.

I clicked on the wheelchair icon by word verification, and heard boy and girl voices in an eerie recital hall tone chime in with "503371" so that's what I typed into the text entry box.

Will this usability/accessibility test prove to work out okay?

carrie said...

hm. that's interesting. i don't think i ever noticed that "differently abled" icon before.