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“What the Foucault !?!” (The Fourth Edition of “Waiting for Foucault”)

On Structure and Event

Here’s some intellectual diversion from the impending nuclear catastrophe: It’s from the forthcoming “What the Foucault !?!”(The fourth edition of “Waiting for Foucault”)

Structure on one hand, agency and contingency on the other, are not opposed historical determinants in the sense that they exclude one another. On the contrary, each is the condition of the historical possibility of the other.

In authorizing particular persons and circumstances as historical difference-makers, the structural order is a sine qua non of their efficacy, though it is not responsible for their particularities, nor then for the difference they will make.

In Sartrian terms, particularity is an irreducible way of living universality or the structure of the collectivity; and accordingly the collectivity must live through the attributes of the persons and things on which it has made itself dependent.

Hence the possibility of historical outcomes that are structurally consistent and eventementially variable.

Between the structural order of the historical situation and what actually happens there is no necessary relation. Rather, the structure is realized in a particular historical form by the mediation of the contingencies it has empowered.

So while one may justly conclude that the transcendent potencies ascribed to James Brooke allowed him to become the Rajah of Sarawak, he could have just as easily been assassinated for the same reason — by a rival Malay leader, for example, or some Dayak headhunter. (Perhaps nowhere more than in Dayakland, uneasy lies the head that wears the kingly crown.)

Brooke’s death would have followed from, and realized, the same concepts of the potency of alterity that had made him the rajah — for they also defined his enemies.

Indeed, in an analogous instance of the exaltation of the stranger, Captain Cook was killed by Hawaiians after he was venerated as a manifestation of an ancient deity.

Note that in either event, the divinization of the powerful stranger or his assassination, would be structurally consistent. One might say that the structure is a sufficient but not a necessary condition of the outcome.

Marshall Sahlins

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