I was honored to be interviewed for this article in Norwegian regarding my recent piece “Foucault: The Faux Radical“: “Foucault was one of these theorists who spearheaded the development of a kind of ‘linguistic pyrotechnics.’ In the deployment of jargon and intricate concepts, an endless theoretical sea of fog arises. Seemingly radical, but without substance, says Rockhill. He goes on to talk about how this tradition has become entrenched in American universities and cites theorists such as Judith Butler and Wendy Brown as examples of academics who have followed in Foucault’s footsteps. And although there are many other well-known theorists in the French intellectual tradition Rockhill criticizes, such as Jacques Derrida and Jean-François Lyotard, there is no doubt why he focuses on Foucault: – ‘As I see it, Foucault is more dangerous than the others. Since he has been cultivated as a radical thinker, it is more difficult to see his reactionary sides.'”
France’s Strike: Another Symptom of Neoliberalism’s Legitimation Crisis
France’s public sector strike against pension reform is in its seventh week, the most serious such strike in French history. It fits very well in the context of the global revolt against neoliberalism, says Prof. Gabriel Rockhill.
I was pleased to be able to contribute to Ty Joplin’s excellent article on the Yellow Vests, which elucidates how the media spectacle around “violence” has obscured class struggle.
Excerpt: “Instead of taking activists seriously and discussing their demands for greater equality, thereby informing the public about what is actually at stake, the media construct an enormous spectacle out of ‘violence’ in order to present the movement as savage, irrational, and intent on destroying the very foundations of society,” Gabriel Rockhill, an Associate Professor of philosophy at Villanova University who also runs the Critical Theory Workshop in Paris, told Al Bawaba.
“Moreover, the production of this spectacle of violence also serves as cover for the greatest purveyor of violence in France today: the capitalist state and its repressive apparatus.”
Along with an impressive list of others scholars, I was asked to participate in State of Nature‘s one question interview on the remembrance of 1968. Please find my response below, and click here to read all of the replies.
1968 was a year of global insurrections that arose like a tidal wave out of the vast and profound historical ocean that is anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist politics. Far from being circumscribed in a delimited period of time or cordoned off in specific spaces, it is thus best understood as a symbolic high water mark for insurgent revolutionary politics in the post-war era.
The remembrance of 1968 should be first and foremost a rejuvenation and radicalization. Rather than indulging in the time-honoured burial rituals of commemoration, by which an event only takes on its full meaning by endlessly restaging its public inhumation, we should recognize that 1968 is only what it will have become in its future perfect iterations. By rejuvenating and radicalizing what it stands for, its history can literally come back to life by being rewritten as a preliminary step in a global insurrection in the name of an egalitarian politics of liberation. We can thereby honour the past by radically transforming its very meaning and place in history.
Such active historical resuscitation, in which it is recognized that the past is only truly alive in the future that it will have become, can also serve as an antidote to the rampant mythologisation surrounding 1968. For, in engaging with this historical legacy and learning from its material struggles, we can also pry it loose from its rote interpretations.
To take but one example that is particularly philosophically salient, the myth of the ‘thinkers of 68’ is in dire need of correction. On the one hand, many of the intellectuals who were actually directly involved in preparing or acting in it – including Henri Lefebvre, Cornelius Castoriadis and Guy Debord – have been side-lined or excluded from the transnational, blockbuster phenomenon known as ‘French theory.’ On the other hand, those who were not involved or openly critical of it – such as Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and Jacques Lacan – are frequently marketed under its banner. This signals the need for not only a rejuvenation and radicalization of the politics of ‘68, but also of the traditions of truly radical critique that directly contributed to it.
« Le propos de l’ouvrage est ambitieux. Au vu de l’ampleur des sujets et des références qu’il brasse, ce livre apporte une contribution remarquable à la pensée critique contemporaine […la suite] ».
– Giovanni Camarilla dans sa recension de Contre-histoire du temps présent: interrogations intempestives sur la mondialisation, la technologie, la démocratie dans la Revue française de science politique.
KPFA’s “Against the Grain” re-aired C.S. Soong’s interview with me regarding my most recent book, and in particular the final chapter on the value-concept of democracy. Click here to either listen to the interview online or download it. Here is the description of the discussion:
“Is ‘Democracy’ a Distraction?”
In the face of the contemporary infatuation with democracy in the West, what should the left do with a term and a concept often used to mask injustices and inequities? Gabriel Rockhill discusses some of the key conjunctures in the history of democracy; he also asserts that a focus on democracy may actually distract us from the task of building a just society.
Gabriel Rockhill, Counter-History of the Present: Untimely Interrogations into Globalization, Technology, Democracy Duke University Press, 2017.
I participated in a France 24 debate entitled “Le français…and the world: Can Macron’s plan boost French influence?” (3/20/18). I argued that instead of continuing to push an imperial language on the world à la Macron, crushing innumerable local languages along the way, France should start teaching Arabic and African languages in schools as a way of addressing its colonial past and present.
L’une des croyances les plus fermes en ce qui concerne les États-Unis est qu’il s’agit d’une démocratie. Chaque fois que cette conviction fait l’objet d’un léger fléchissement, c’est presque toujours pour signaler des exceptions préjudiciables aux valeurs ou aux principes fondamentaux américains. Par exemple, les détracteurs en herbe déplorent souvent une « perte de démocratie » due à l’élection de clowns autocrates, à des mesures draconiennes de l’État, à la révélation d’incroyables malversations ou corruption, à des interventions étrangères meurtrières ou à d’autres activités considérées comme des exceptions antidémocratiques. Il en va de même pour ceux dont la démarche critique consiste à toujours juxtaposer les actions du gouvernement américain avec ses principes fondateurs, à mettre en évidence la contradiction entre les deux et à placer clairement un espoir dans sa possible résolution. Continue reading
Jason Edwards published a detailed review of Counter-History of the Present: Untimely Interrogations into Globalization, Technology, Democracy. It appeared in Contemporary Political Theory and can be read here.
Excerpt: “Rockhill has written a provocative and highly readable book (indeed, it is even something of a page-turner). […] What is arresting about the book is the aplomb with which Rockhill goes about this task of disclosing the contingency of the present political imaginary. A review of this length cannot do justice to the political force of this critique. But that force, in general terms, lies in the relentless exposure of neoliberalism’s flattening out of ‘time, space, and society.’ If the force of political critique is not to be found in the revelation of a single reality marked out by being ‘now’ – which would be simply to recapitulate the homogenizing and destructive disposition of neoliberal practices of government – it may be located in the recognition of the multiple and contingently related realities of time, space, and social relations. A political theory that is sensitive to the way in which political imaginaries are constituted in and can be challenged through the practices connected across these realities, is likely to have a greater impact on those practices than one that busies itself with the fruitless search for a universal ideal of a democracy whose time can never come, precisely because its place lies outside of time, space, and society. […read more]”