Part VII: Selections from Foucault and Augustine: Reconsidering Power and Love

The final theme of chapter four is Schuld’s analysis of a Foucauldian interpretation of modern “healing” as a “transfiguring cure requiring critical intervention by specialists” (154). On Foucault’s account, “the potential danger of these dynamics of normalization—those that feed off our fears of pathology as well as those that entice us with visions of self-affirming health—is that the seeming naturalness of this ‘matrix of individualization’ is warranted by a host of expensively trained and licensed experts” (154).  Because we now turn for our every need to specialists of various kinds—specialists with particular knowledge of which we have little or no access apart from submitting ourselves to their care—our relation to these experts is unbalanced.  As Schuld explains, “many of the normalizing power relations operating within our … culture are asymmetrical and nonreciprocal.  These ‘canonical bits of knowledge’ are the privileged possession of an elite few … as such, they are beyond the grasp of those for and on whom they are applied.  Although self-knowledge supposedly resides within persons who are confessing, it nevertheless lies beyond their grasp. Thus, those who are pursuing the truth do not control this relationship” (154). The psychiatrist-patient relationship is a perfect example of an asymmetrical power relation.Schuld on Augustine and Foucault

Next, Schuld turns to biotechnologies and the science of genetics, which she believes function as a hermeneutical key of sorts in our culture.  To unpack her claim, she contrasts the new biogenetics paradigm with an Augustinian paradigm.  In the latter view, one is engaged generation after generation in an on-going struggle with sin and evil, whereas in the biogenetic (or biopower) framework, a utopian theme of final victory over our maladies surfaces.  That is, we begin to believe that “by manipulating our malleable bodies down to their tiniest micro-dynamics of power,” we can at last “be liberated from imperfection and fallibility, and along with this, the myth of the good shepherd that has governed our relations in various ways for so long” (155-156).  Though Schuld sees the confidence of the new paradigm as illusory, she points out that “such hopes create social realities” and argues that “hand in hand with this desire to be free of imperfections and guidance is the desire to be free of the obligations, burdens, and risks of caring for others and allow ourselves to be cared for.  Trying to insulate ourselves from the exposure of being influenced by others does not, … necessarily increase our safety; it inevitably opens us to new and potentially more pernicious (because less examined) vulnerabilities” (156).

As we have become accustomed to and completely comfortable with the new paradigm, we have transferred our faith to a new god, placed our hope in a telos-less progress, and we continue to search feverishly for something, anything that might resemble love.  We have replaced the old narratives with new ones and a new magisterium guards with dogmatic zeal its sacred scientific discourses, shielding them from critique with shouts of “objectivity.”

By placing so much hope…in an illusionary promise that we can liberate ourselves from relational fragility, ambiguity, and finitude, we have culturally invested, through the fervency of our faith, scientific discourses with hallowed power and given them sanctuary from historical and political critiques.  Ironically, we have made ourselves more rather than less susceptible to the uncertainties we sought to escape…By giving ourselves over uncritically to an invasive power of our own making, we have intimately exposed ourselves not only to socially exploitable technologies of personal formation and control but also to devastating disappointments when we realize it is not liberating and redemptive (157).

Schuld ends by saying that on her reading, “Augustine would agree with Foucault that such efforts are fueled by arrogance, a deluded sense of self-importance, and a refusal to acknowledge the limitations of finitude” (157).

One thought on “Part VII: Selections from Foucault and Augustine: Reconsidering Power and Love”

  1. Great series here. Thanks for it.

    The temptation of which Schuld speaks is great, yet may we find peace in Augustine’s “Faithful is the Lord, who has made himself our debtor, not by receiving any thing from us, but by promising us all things.”

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