In d’Avray’s compelling volumes on rationalities (CUP 2010) there is no trace of Foucault. There are no index entries for power. Yet d’Avray has worked, through Weber, to remarkably similar conclusions to Foucault on what power is and how it functions in society.
“The chameleon-like character of instrumental rationality explains why its universality is not patently obvious. In a combination of values and instrumental reasoning the instrumental element is hard to distinguish.” “We have defined instrumental rationality as the ability to put two and two together logically and causally (granted premises which may indeed vary enormously from culture to culture and person to person).”“Instrumental rationality is like the water added to different kinds of dehydrated foods: the outcome conceals the common component. Or is like an adroit speech-writer, who can promote almost any kind of conviction. It wears the livery of the values it serves. Thus
d’Avray, Rationalities in History, p59
instrumental rationality is universal, but it is shaped by value
d’Avray, Rationalities in History, p135 “Was this simply about power, instrumental rationality uncoupled from
d’Avray, Medieval Religious Rationalities, p146
“Power relations are both intentional and nonsubjective. If in fact they are intelligible, this is not because they are the effect of another instance that “explains” them, but rather because they are imbued, through and through, with calculation: there is no power that is exercised without a series of aims and objectives. But this does not mean that it results from the choice or decision of an individual subject; let us not look for the headquarters that presides over its rationality; neither the caste which governs, nor the groups which control the state apparatus, nor those who make the most important economic decisions direct the entire network of power that functions in a society (and makes it function); the rationality of power is characterized by tactics that are often quite explicit at the restricted level where they are inscribed (the local cynicism of power), tactics which, becoming connected to one an other, attracting and propagating one another, but finding their base of support and their condition elsewhere, end by forming comprehensive systems: the logic is perfectly clear, the aims decipherable, and yet it is often the case that no one is there to have invented them, and few who can be said to have formulated them: an implicit characteristic of the great anonymous, almost unspoken strategies which coordinate the loquacious tactics whose “inventors” or decisionmakers are often without hypocrisy.
Foucault, The History of Sexuality Volume 1, p94-95
The equation of power & instrumental rationality is the perfect marker of this.It is this congruence that proves the crucial importance (the centrality) of ‘theory’ to History. Just as you cannot read an edited text without its critical apparatus (see West, M (1973) Textual Criticism and Editorial Technique, BG Teubner p7) you cannot read society or culture with out the appropriate critical apparatus: sociological, anthropological, literary, psychological, & critical theory.
“Paradoxically,the past remains the most useful analytical tool for coping with constant change, but in a novel form. It turns into the discovery of history as a process of directional change, of develop- ment or evolution. Change thus becomes its own legitimation, but it is thereby anchored to a transformed “sense of the past”. Bagehot’s Physics and Politics (1872) is a good nineteenth-century example of this; current concepts of “modernization” illustrate more simple-minded versions of the same approach. In brief, what legitimates the present and explains it is not now the past as a set of reference-points (for example Magna Carta), or even as duration (for example the age of parliamentary institutions) but the past as a process of becoming the present. Faced with the overriding reality of change, even conservative thought becomes historicist. Perhaps, because hindsight is the most persuasive form of the historian’s wisdom, it suits them better than most.”
Hobsbawm, E. J. (1972) ‘The Social Function of the Past- Some Questions’, Past & Present, No. 55 (May)
In his discussion of the common medieval practice of storing wealth as gold ornaments and pawning or, especially, melting them down in times of monetary need Marc Bloch offers this insight:
But a custom like this also bears witness to the low value set upon the element of human labour in the economy of this period. If anyone could so easily resign himself to losing the value of the work embodied in the material, it is evident that this could not have represented a very high proportion of the loss.
Bloch, M (1967) ‘Natural Economy or Money Economy: a pseudo-dilemma’ in Land and Work in Medieval Europe, trans JE Anderson, Routledge & Kean Paul, London
Besides the fact that this one passage seems to refute all attempts to place objects and the material at the centre of analysis of life-in-society (for reasons similar to this) it also cearly speaks to the one crucial similartity between the medieval and now: the gulf between elite consumption and dependent labour.
text as the production of society
In this blog I have suggested that we should (following Barthes injunction to do so) use S/Z as the starting point for thinking about other codes/voices that could be involved in the construction of texts (i.e. the harpocratic code & the cryptographic code) and I think we could work with gender & sexuality in texts in the same way.
things in texts are just that; things in texts
One of the problems of History (one of its main ‘disciplined errors’ in Foucault’s terms [Foucault, M (1971)]) is that things in texts are taken-as [Edwards, D (1997)] though they were things outside texts and not for what they are. So a character in a text who referes to a person ‘in reality’ will be counted-as that extra-textual person. When that extra-textual person is just one more Code/Voice at work in the social production of the text.
“is there a women in this text?”
This problem is especially acute in the pre-modern as the control of textual production was typically reserved to men (even in those circumstances where high status women could commission works the labour was most likely carried out by men). If we take the enclosed female figures discussed by Bynum [Bynum, CW (1987) Holy Feast and Holy Fast: the religious significance of food to medieval women, University of California Press] we can see that they are just that; figures. The problem of Holy Feast and Holy Fast is that it is about the wrong thing and thus simply wrong in every way; its sub-title should really be ‘the social significance of the trope of medieval women’s relationship to food in the writings of selected hagiographers’.
The Prosoponic Code/ The Voice of the Actor
We should take the extra-textual person present in the text as figure to be one more warp or weft in the fabric of the text.