Power and the Subject
Power is a misnomer. An attempt to adequately define power will ultimately reveal more about the invisible but all too real limits of language. Such a result may seem horrifying, a direct assault on our sense of reason, and, perhaps, it is. Power resists the reasonable request to adhere to the boundaries of its own definition. Power can and upon occasion does exhibit a quality or intensity observed and captured in the written word; yet there is something slippery which allows power to defy a totalizing description. Power is active. Write as we may, power will not be objectified. Any discourse on power thus begins with this disadvantage. There is much to be learned, however, from a study of power, knowledge more valuable than a simplistic definition. By focusing on where power exists and has existed we can also discuss how power relates to or has impact upon knowledge, ethics, and the individual.
" 'I mean that in human relations...power is always
present...These relations are changeable,
reversible, and understandable' " (McCarthy 139).
Like Foucault, my inquiry into power may be founded not in a desire to discover the true nature of power but to gain a new method of approaching and understanding human relations.
A fundamental question that presents itself in the face of power and demands to be reckoned with is the question of the subject. A concept of the individual, whether seen as a historically bound effect of power like Foucault or an autonomous unique creative force like Habermas, seems to underlie and shape any description, definition, or discussion of power. For the moment and for the purposes of my own discussion I will invest a little hope in Modernism and individual core of human subjectivity. At the same time I do not wish to ignore the evidence to he contrary. I simply wish to put both concepts of the subject on equal footing in order to relate power to them both.
Does power exist in isolation within the subject or is it inherently a social creation? This might be a method of restating the dilemma of the subject and power. Jeffrey Isaac creates the distinction between "power to" and "power over" to describe the difference between domination and subordination (Isaac 47). While I do not find his connections between the concepts and the phrases particularly useful, I would like to borrow his vocabulary.
Power in isolation expresses capacity, potential, the ability to perform an act. A subject in isolation has the "power to" do certain things, mundane and otherwise. This power seem to reside in the individual independent of the presence of others. Even in isolation, however, power is often limited by one's knowledge, one's savoir (to borrow from Foucault). A question that then arises is can one attain savoir apart from human interaction This...