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Power and Difference: A Derrida and Foucault Encounter

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  1. The Company of Ghosts and the Reason solution
    1. Foucault's attempt to reconstruct what he calls an archaeology of silence
    2. Rose's daughter as a fledgling example of reason's controlling tendencies
    3. The relationship between Rose and the Process-Server
    4. Faults with the language of reason
  2. Platform and the Eros solution
    1. The protagonist Michel in Houellebecq's Platform
    2. The chapter 'Philosophical Interlude'
    3. A somewhat hedonistic solution to life's problems
    4. An Eros venture is always one that limits the freedoms of the participants
  3. Conclusion
  4. Works cited

The works of Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault discussed here explore relationships of power in Western language and social structures. These relationships can be difficult to detect and are thus often overlooked, even when one searches rigorously. We will find that such relationships are relationships of presumed order, of hierarchy, and that such hierarchies are neither always justifiable nor always desirable.

In Foucault and Derrida: The Other Side of Reason, author Roy Boyne explores the points at which the ideas of these two philosophers converge and the points at which they depart. Boyne writes that in general, for Derrida, Foucault's approach to thinking would always lead to the idea of a false utopia, and for Foucault, Derrida's approach to thinking would always lead to the false god of Reason (4). The problem in their misunderstanding, this knocking of heads, is a problem of difference and power?the power of reason has supplanted god, and the power of utopia has supplanted reason. Similar problems of difference and power appear in varying forms in Lydie Salvayre's The Company of Ghosts and Michel Houellebecq's Platform. With the help of ideas presented by Foucault and Derrida, I will examine the roles of power and difference in these two novels?how each novel narratively resembles the philosophical issues that Derrida and Foucault present, and what, if any, conclusions we might take from such power relationships.

[...] I.e., is it accurate to say that Michel pre-Valérie exhibited a certain Rousseauistic nostalgia and guilt for absence of center of which Derrida writes? I don't think so. Perhaps more disturbingly, Michel's outlook is Derridian and Nietzschean after all. Perhaps Michel has already affirmed the noncenter and innocence of becoming, the affirmation of a world of signs without fault, without truth, and without origin?[15] yet this affirmation is still not joyous for him. Michel does admit that was nothing more than an attachment. [...]


[...] Valérie is introduced in such a manner because figuratively and quite literally the story of Valérie takes over Michel's narrative and the narrative that is Platform. Love, we can say, or whatever we may choose to call it (maybe we should call it Valérie), has supplanted the beginning narrative of a misanthropic man. And we can deduce that the misanthropic narrative and the misanthropic man are still there, underneath. And indeed, we see his apathetic observations popping up here and there throughout the narrative. [...]


[...] We have seen above with Derrida how the romantic anticapitalism solution is based on faulty assumptions of the origin of pleasure, and we have seen with Foucault how such ideas cannot escape capitalist tendencies anyhow. And here with Ko Maya Island, we can apply Derrida in a slightly different way, for Michel begins to approach a certain Lévi-Straussian ideal?what Derrida calls ethic of nostalgia for origins, an ethic of archaic and natural innocence?[14]?in that Michel views Ko Maya as an ?exemplary society.? (See Houellebecq 228.) For Derrida, such thinking is again a problem of origin and presence, and one cannot find ethnography, as Lévi-Strauss does, the ?inspiration of a new humanism'? (Derrida 292). [...]

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