Foucault

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More specifically, Foucault has presented a trenchant critique of the association of light and vision with reason and truth in what he calls 'the classical age' (roughly from Descartes to Hegel, or from the Sun King to Napoleon). While this critique is elaborated around three great discursive formations - the 'invention of madness', the 'birth of the clinic', and the 'history of sexuality' - each of which goes well beyond the problematics of the cinema, Foucault's extrapolation and examination of the various 'scopic regimes' that according to him characterize modernity do, albeit implicitly, address issues also pertinent to film studies. In particular, his thematization of the 'panoptic gaze' (of which more below) has been widely taken up by film scholars and in visual culture studies.

Secondly, Foucault offered a critique of psychoanalysis, and in particular of Freud's theory of repression. For him the nexus power-prison-pleasure was central to the modern state, and therefore had to be redefined, if one was to engage in progressive politics at all. At the same time, it was important to understand why psychoanalysis emerged at a particular point in history, and what kinds of complicity might have favoured its official establishment (for instance, he notes the coincidence of Freud's treatment of the Oedipus complex with the criminalization of incest in Western societies). Foucault also remarked upon the reliance of psychoanalysis on speech and silence, and its alignment of therapy with (religious) confession, including the elevation of the doctor/therapist to a priest-like figure: 'It would be fairer to say that psychoanalysis doubled the absolute observation of the watcher with the endless monologue of the person watched - thus preserving the old asylum structure of non-reciprocal observation but balancing it, in a nonsymmetrical reciprocity, by the new structure of language without response' (Foucault 1988: 250-1, cited in Jay 1993: 292). From it, Foucault concluded that Freud's method could not but assist the state, religion, and other discourses of power in maintaining the status quo and keeping the subject in thrall. Rather than safeguarding an 'interiority' inaccessible to control and discipline, the modern 'subject' (political as well as psychic) was the effect of the discourses that the different 'regimes' of power inscribed on 'the body' -an entity/category that neither Enlightenment philosophy nor bourgeois society, neither Marxism nor psychoanalysis had a place for other than as criminalized, medicalized, subordinate, or symptomatic. Again, taking his cue from Nietzsche, Foucault saw the body as having its own history, at once matrix for and site of the great discursive formations he described. Whether 'madness', 'sexuality', 'discipline', 'punishment', 'surveillance', or 'love and friendship' - in each case, the task was to restore to the human body the dignity and legibility denied to it by philosophy, theology, and psychoanalysis. Such a different appreciation of the body also appealed to post-feminist film theory and gender studies, and was to have an impact on the way the film experience began to be analysed.

Finally, Foucault was a forceful critic of normativity of any kind, and an advocate of transgressive action and limit-experiences. He has therefore been a valuable ally to be invoked by minority groups of very different kinds. His key insights regarding the questions of sexuality and gender can be found in his History of Sexuality and The Birth of the Clinic. In both works, Foucault thinks of sexuality in terms of the institutions that define it, and not in the first instance as bodies with specific sexual preferences. The latter are only of interest to him insofar as they are connected with and articulated through discourses, which via compulsive heterosexuality try to regulate bodies and identities across the flows of power and pleasure mobilized by these practices: 'Sex was, in Christian societies, that which had to be examined, watched over, confessed and transformed into discourse' (Foucault 1989: 138). As a homosexual who militated for gay rights, he has been a valuable figurehead in the struggle for recognition and redefinition of non-normative forms of masculinity; as a victim of AIDS he furthermore played an important part -beyond his death - in the various awareness-raising campaigns of the 1980s and 1990s. More recently, lesbian critics, too, have enlisted his anti-essentialist and non-normative positions for sophisticated arguments around same-sex identity formation and radically constructivist accounts of gender: '[Repetition] becomes the non-place of subversion, the possibility of a re-embodying of the subjectivating norm that can redirect its normativity. Consider the inversion of "woman" and "woman", depending on the staging and address of their performance, of "queer" and "queer", depending on pathologizing or contestatatory modes' (Butler 1997: 99-100).

Thus, if Freudian psychoanalysis (and the feminist film theory influenced by it) was concerned with sexuality, and was often (even if only by default) normatively heterosexual, then Foucault in our context is above all the theorist of gender, where gay and lesbian identities are not implicitly regarded under the aspects of deviancy or 'otherness', but as part of the overall dynamics of power and pleasure that link the individual to the social formation, to practice and to politics.

Adapting these concerns to the issues of film theory is not without its problems, and while Foucault has been enormously influential in the humanities across a broad front, there are few film theorists who would see themselves directly as his disciples. If anything, Foucault has had a more demonstrable effect on the rethinking of film history - with his notion of 'archaeology of knowledge', 'history as genealogy', and the 'archive', as well as his way of thinking about institutions and power - than on film theory. Nonetheless, as already indicated, there are a number of issues in film analysis where Foucault's insights are relevant. On one topic, for instance, which has taken up much space in previous chapters, namely the cultural 'crisis of masculinity', one might say that for Foucault, masculinity was not in crisis, or rather, only insofar as Oedipal, i.e. normatively heterosexual masculinity within bourgeois society and patriarchy has always been an untenable proposition. Several of Foucault's followers (e.g. Leo Bersani) have raised the question of phallic identity vs Oedipal identity, which in turn, has inspired film scholars such as Kaja Silverman and Steven Shaviro to apply these insights to specific films (Silverman 1992; Shaviro, 1994). The other, more broadly Foucaultian field of film analysis might be what is known as 'queer theory'.

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