The other day, while casually reading The Foucault Effect, I paused when I got to this sentence by Daniel Defert: "Wage-earners liked having the right to find employment where they pleased" (FE, p. 227). It is an odd sentence because the reader suddenly thinks, "How does he know?" Or, to put it in the terms of my last post, "Who is he to speak for the wage-earners?" Consider Deleuze's remark in "Intellectuals and Power":
A theorising intellectual, for us, is no longer a subject, a representing or representative consciousness. Those who act and struggle are no longer represented, either by a group or a union that appropriates the right to stand as their conscience. Who speaks and acts? It is always a multiplicity, even within the person who speaks and acts.
[U]nder the ancient theme of meaning, of the signifier and the signified, etc., you have developed the question of power, of the inequality of powers and their struggles. Each struggle develops around a particular source of power (any of the countless, tiny sources- a small-time boss, the manager of "H.L.M.,"' a prison warden, a judge, a union representative, the editor-in-chief of a newspaper).
And here is Deleuze again:
A theory is exactly like a box of tools. It has nothing to do with the signifier. It must be useful. It must function. And not for itself. If no one uses it, beginning with the theoretician himself (who then ceases to be a theoretician), then the theory is worthless or the moment is inappropriate.
What puzzles me, then, is how a historian who has been "affected" by Foucault can unproblematically say, first, that wage-earners worked "where they pleased" and, second, that they "liked" having the right to do so.
Defert, it seems to me, does not feel "the indignity of speaking for others" when he writes that sentence, which does not make him feel sufficiently ridiculous. Indeed, there is nothing in the text to suggest that he even appreciates the difficulty. It is entirely unclear where he gained access to the likes and dislikes of nineteenth-century workers. It's probably not really a problem in the text we're talking about, of course, but, like I say, something about exactly that sentence made me stop up and question Defert's authority (after having taken it for granted up until then). That's probably very much a consequence of the "crisis of representation". After all, before 1968, "under the ancient theme of meaning", historians simply had the right to say this sort of thing. Today, we expect them to struggle a bit more for the right to speak.
What I wrote a couple of years ago still applies:
"Modern thought," said Deleuze in 1968 (in his preface to Difference and Repetition), "is born of the failure of representation, of the loss of identities, and of the discovery of all the forces that act under the representation of the identical." Today, we normally call this "postmodern" thought. Deleuze probably meant "contemporary" or "our thinking today"; he was drawing attention to something that was only just becoming clear to philosophers at the time.
What we call "modern" (sometimes "classical", here "ancient") thought is born of a faith in representation, of the maintainance of identities, and of the repression of all the forces that act under the representation of the identical. "Repression" is a strong word. "Discipline" might be better. Modern thought takes representation for granted as an orderly process. It assumes that the forces at work under a representation are well-organized, that they can be trusted to dependably make one thing (the sign) take the place of (signify) another thing (the signified).