Publication 7131

Wolfe C. (1998) Systems theory: Maturana and Varela with Luhmann. Chapter 2 in: Critical environments: Postmodern theory and the pragmatics of the “outside”. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis MN: 40–83. Fulltext at
Excerpt: In the current social and critical moment, perhaps no project is more overdue than the articulation of a posthumanist theoretical framework for a politics and ethics not grounded in the Enlightenment ideal of “Man.” Within postmodern theory, that humanist ideal is critiqued as forcefully as anywhere in the early and middle phase of Michel Foucault’s career, whose “genealogical” aim is to “account for the constitution of knowledges, discourses, domains of objects, etc., without having to make reference to a subject which is either transcendental in relation to the field of events or runs in empty sameness throughout the course of history” by virtue of his – and it must be “his” – privileged relation to either the presence or the absence of the phallus, language, the symbolic, property, productive capacity, toolmaking, reason, or a soul. In Foucault, however, this call for posthumanist critique is more often than not accompanied, as many critics have noted, by a dystopianism that imagines that the end of the humanist subject is the beginning of the total saturation of the social field by power, domination, and oppression. And the later Foucault, as if compensating for his early dystopianism, evinces a kind of nostalgia for the Enlightenment humanism powerfully critiqued in his early and middle work but approached much more sympathetically in the History of Sexuality project.

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