Friday Ephemera
Phantom Subtext (2)

Toy Barricades

Poking through the comments following this, I rediscovered a quote from an essay by Roger Scruton, first published in the New Criterion, February 2003. He’s talking about the Paris riots of 1968, but readers may spot some connection with the sentiment of this.

That evening a friend came round: she had been all day on the barricades with a troupe of theatre people, under the captainship of Armand Gatti. She was very excited by the events, which Gatti, a follower of Antonin Artaud, had taught her to regard as the high point of situationist theatre - the artistic transfiguration of an absurdity which is the day-to-day meaning of bourgeois life. Great victories had been scored: policemen injured, cars set alight, slogans chanted, graffiti daubed. The bourgeoisie were on the run and soon the Old Fascist and his régime would be begging for mercy…

What, I asked, do you propose to put in the place of this “bourgeoisie” whom you so despise, and to whom you owe the freedom and prosperity that enable you to play on your toy barricades? What vision of France and its culture compels you? And are you prepared to die for your beliefs, or merely to put others at risk in order to display them?

…She replied with a book: Foucault’s Les Mots et les Choses, the bible of the soixante-huitards, the text which seemed to justify every form of transgression, by showing that obedience is merely defeat. It is an artful book, composed with a satanic mendacity, selectively appropriating facts in order to show that culture and knowledge are nothing but the “discourses” of power. The book is not a work of philosophy but an exercise in rhetoric. Its goal is subversion, not truth, and it is careful to argue - by the old nominalist sleight of hand that was surely invented by the Father of Lies - that “truth” requires inverted commas, that it changes from epoch to epoch, and is tied to the form of consciousness, the “episteme,” imposed by the class which profits from its propagation. The revolutionary spirit, which searches the world for things to hate, has found in Foucault a new literary formula. Look everywhere for power, he tells his readers, and you will find it. Where there is power there is oppression. And where there is oppression there is the right to destroy. In the street below my window was the translation of that message into deeds.

Related: Rebellion, Foucault’s Suit, Foucault and the Ayatollah, A Romantic Hostility. (h/t, pst314)