Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Jim Martin Strategically Confusing 'Polemic' With 'Critique'

“Perhaps, someday, a long history will have to be written of polemics, polemics as a parasitic figure on discussion and an obstacle to the search for truth. Very schematically, it seems to me that we can recognize the presence in polemics of three models: the religious model, the judiciary model, and the political model. As in heresiology, polemics sets itself the task of determining the intangible point of dogma, the fundamental and necessary principle that the adversary has neglected, ignored, or transgressed; and it denounces this negligence as a moral failing; at the root of the error, it finds passions, desire, interest, a whole series of weaknesses and inadmissable [sic] attachments that establish it as culpable. As in judiciary practice, polemics allows for no possibility of an equal discussion: it examines a case; it isn't dealing with an interlocutor, it is processing a suspect; it collects the proofs of his guilt, designates the infraction he has committed, and pronounces the verdict and sentences him. In any case, what we have here is not on the order of a shared investigation; the polemicist tells the truth in the form of his judgement and by virtue of the authority he has conferred on himself. But it is the political model that is the most powerful today. Polemics defines alliances, recruits partisans, unites interests or opinions, represents a party; it establishes the other as an enemy, an upholder of opposed interests, against which one must fight until the moment this enemy is defeated or either surrenders or disappears.
Of course, the reactivation, in polemics, of these political, judiciary, or religious practices is nothing more than theatre. One gesticulates: anathemas, excommunications, condemnations, battles, victories, and defeats are no more than ways of speaking, after all. And yet, in the order of discourse, they are also ways of acting, which are not without consequence. There are the sterilizing effects: Has anyone ever seen a new idea come out of a polemic? And how could it be otherwise, given that here the interlocutors are incited, not to advance, not to take more and more risks in what they say, but to fall back continually on the rights they claim, on their legitimacy, which they must defend, and on the affirmation of their innocence? There is something even more serious here: in this comedy, one mimics wars, battles, annihilations, or unconditional surrenders, putting forward as much of one's killer instinct as possible. But it is really dangerous to make anyone believe that he can gain access to truth by such paths, and thus to validate, even if in merely symbolic form, the real political practices that could be warranted by it. Let is imagine, for a moment, that a magic wand is waved and one of the two adversaries in a polemic is given the ability to exercise all the power he likes over the other. One doesn't even have to imagine it: one has only to look at what happened during the debates in the USSR over linguistics and genetics not long ago. Were these merely aberrant deviations from what was supposed to be the correct discussion? Not at all: they were the real consequences of a polemic attitude whose effects ordinarily remain suspended.” [Foucault in Rabinow [Ed.] 1984: 382-383]
Rabinow, P 1984 The Foucault Reader. Penguin.
We could perhaps rephrase Foucault’s question about the productivity of critique
‘What productive developments in SFL theory, description and/or practice have arisen from the critiques noted in the list discussion?’
And further, how might we weigh the value of these against the costs?

Blogger Comments:

[1] As previously noted here, this quote from Foucault is a polemic against polemics, made without a trace of self-irony.  (Martin previously posted the quote to the Sysfling list on 8 January 2016.)

[2] Here Martin misleads by strategically confusing polemic with critique.

[3] To be clear, the productivity of critiques of SFL theory depends on two general factors:
  • the validity of the critiques themselves, and
  • the willingness of academics to read, recognise and act on valid critiques.

[4] To be clear, the discussion of critiques of SFL occurred on the international list, Sysfling.  Here Martin has chosen instead to raise the issue on his local list, Sys-func.

[5] To be clear, valid critiques are essential for the development of any theory and the descriptions and practices it affords.  The more crucial question is: what is the cost of the absence of valid critiques to a theory and the descriptions and practices it affords.  What suffers?  Who benefits?

To kill an error is as good a service as, 
and sometimes even better than, 
the establishing of a new truth or fact.
— Charles Darwin

To free a person from error is to give, 
and not to take away.
— Arthur Schopenhauer

It is error only, 
and not truth, 
that shrinks from inquiry.
— Thomas Paine