David Metzger

title.none: Rosemann, Understanding Scholastic Thought with Foucault (Metzger)

identifier.other: baj9928.0005.020 00.05.20

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: David Metzger, Old Dominion University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2000

identifier.citation: Rosemann, Philipp. Understanding Scholastic Thought with Foucault. The New Middle Ages Series. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999. Pp. xiv, 263. $49.95. ISBN: 0-312-21713-7.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 00.05.20

Rosemann, Philipp. Understanding Scholastic Thought with Foucault. The New Middle Ages Series. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999. Pp. xiv, 263. $49.95. ISBN: 0-312-21713-7.

Reviewed by:

David Metzger
Old Dominion University

Over the course of six studies, Understanding Scholastic Thought with Foucault provides a brief introduction to a Nietzschean-Foucauldian-inspired historical methodology (Study 1), an extended application of that methodology to the study of Scholastic philosophy and its environs (Studies 2-5), as well as an argument regarding the relation of the medieval and the modern (Study 6). The tenth volume in the innovative "New Middle Ages" Series edited by Bonnie Wheeler, UST promises a theoretical underpinning for a new generation of medievalists wishing to situate their work in the growing field of cultural studies. Unfortunately, scholars already excited by the carefully-considered theoretical work of Karma Lachrie and Louise Fradenburg may find Rosemann's discussion of Foucault to be a bit thin (for example, Rosemann conflates the terms "postmodern" and "poststructural" throughout the book). And, in my opinion, UST does not provide a strong complement to ongoing work on nominalism (for example, Richard Utz et. al) or even more general work on "medievalism" (Can one really speak about scholasticism and modernity without mentioning Jacques and Raissa Maritain?).

Study 1 promises a description of Foucault's philosophy of history and an exposition of his postmodern historical methodology. My chief concern here is that Rosemann does not really provide us with a methodology. Study 1 does offer some statements about culture on p. 25: a) "No culture creates itself ex nihilo"; b) "Yet, as much as by the positive values it inherits from history, each culture, civilization, tradition, etc., is also characterized by its Outside"; c) "The rejection of the element not destined to be the culture's other does not create a relationship of mere exteriority." But is a methodology merely the identification and serialized illustration of concepts? Is it enough to find medieval examples for statements/concepts Foucault developed about culture in general? Additionally, I am not satisfied with the version of Foucault that Rosemann provides in Study 1. Rosemann does not consider alternative readings of Foucault; his chief expository method is an analogy between Foucault and Nietzsche. And he writes about Foucault as if Foucault's work were not itself a response to nor a prompt for the work of Foucault's contemporaries.

Study 2 ("Defining the Scholastic Tradition") begins with a very important question "Was there a Scholastic Philosophy in the Middle Ages?" Rosemann rewrites the question to read "What (if anything) characterizes and distinguishes medieval intellectual culture, beyond the mere historical fact that it took place during a period we call the 'Middle Ages'? And can the term 'Scholastic' be used to convey such distinguishing characteristics?" (45). Again, these are interesting questions, but are they Foucauldian? Do we need Foucault to ask and answer them? Rosemann's subsequent discussion of the "doctrinal" approach (exemplified by the work of Mauruice De Wulf) and the "formal" approach (exemplified by Martin Grabmann) to answering these questions would suggest that these questions are not then the beginning of a Foucauldian discussion of the Middle Ages as much as the beginning of a Foucauldian discussion of modernity: Why these questions now? But this avenue is not considered. Rather, Foucault, it is suggested, offers a superior approach. We are told that the doctrinal approach to the question "What distinguished medieval civilization" does not take into account the richness and diversity of medieval society (46), and the formal approach to the question yields a generalization ("Medieval thought centered around one paramount issue -- the reconciliation of authority and reason") that is not peculiar to medieval culture (47).

What does Foucault offer? Interestingly enough, the transition that Rosemann offers us for his discussion of the advantages of a Foucauldian approach does not mention Foucault at all. Rosemann invites us "to try to describe it [auctoritas/ratio: what Grabmann identified as the central issue of Scholasticism], and thereby situate Scholastic tradition in the intellectual history of the West" (48). Unfortunately, Rosemann does no such thing; he drops the discussion of auctoritas/ratio, starting up a discussion of how Greek philosophical language developed as the marginalization of mythos for the sake of logos. Could the binary mythos/logos be related to the binary auctoritas/ratio? Sure. But no such historicization is offered. We find, rather, another binary in an extended quotation from 1 Corinthians: Christian folly (moria) vs. Greek wisdom (sophia).

We might expect Study 3 ("Scholastic Intellectual Practices") to continue the discussion of moria/sophia, but Rosemann turns his attentions to Gothic script, Gothic architecture, manuscript transmission, and the methods/genres of instruction in 13th-century universities. His general orientation, here, is that an intellectual practice is not simply a vehicle for thought; an intellectual practice enables people to think and act as they do -- "exercising," in the case of Gothic script for example, "a formative influence upon the thought to which it gives expression" (63). Yet, how is it possible to support such an assertion given that what we might observe of these practices is limited to how these intellectual practices "seem to reflect and reinforce a certain confidence in the powers of human reason" (63)? The proposed solution to this problem is the identification of a sea-change, a break in tradition that can be supported only by the invention of those new practices and materials:

But one more evidentiary move is required in order to avoid a circular argument: the sea-change ("the elaboration of systematic disciplines") cannot itself be rendered wholly as these intellectual practices. Study 4 ("The Prose of the World -- The Greek Circle and the Christian Line") and Study 5 ("Aquinas: the Open Circle") serve this argumentative function.

By avoiding circularity in argument, Studies 4 & 5 run the risk of losing sight of the distinctive identity of the medieval enterprise. I say "risk" here, only because, in Study 2, Rosemann identifies this loss of a distinctive medieval identity as a problem with "formal" approaches to scholastic philosophy. Rosemann cites Foucault on the "sixteenth-century episteme" ("resemblance played a constructive role in the knowledge of Western culture"); then Rosemann adds that "much of what is said in 'The Prose of the World' can indeed be taken as commentary, extremely insightful commentary even, on medieval culture" (105). Rosemann proceeds to chart a doctrine of resemblance from Parmenides through Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus, concluding this study with a discussion of the shape of Christian time. We might very well ask what holds all of these discussions together -- certainly not a serialization/narrativization of affect through individuals, social conditions, political intentions. No, Rosemann finds his model of transmission in the difference between a circle and a line: showing us how the "texts" and "textualization" of the Hellenic world could not have given birth to the Christ (Greek time is circular; Christian time is linear). Study 4 ends with a quotation from Bonaventure: "How the center of a circle can be found by means of a cross becomes clear through a geometrical example." And Study 5 finds that Greek circularity is synthesized with Christian linearity in the following sentence from Aquinas' Libri Sententiarum:In the issuing forth of the creatures from their first principle, a certain circling or wheeling around is to be considered, due to the fact that all things turn back, as to their end, to that from which they have come forth as from their principle. (In IV libros Sententiarum, Opera omnia, ed. Busa, 1, p. 36.)

Rosemann's discussions in Studies 4 & 5 are interesting inasmuch as they encourage us to find the circle and the line in a good deal of philosophical material. But I am not certain how a Foucauldian methodology allows Rosemann to talk about circles and lines without also discussing the role geometrical figures and the "impossibility of the void" played in medieval natural philosophy.

Foucault's "method" assumes a movement between two poles: (1) that which comes to function as the Other because it is presumed to be in place of the Other and (2) that which can come to the place of the Other. That-which-comes-to-the-place-of-the-Other causes the Other as such to disappear or go into hiding, but this fading/disappearing of the Other is also necessary insofar as it allows us to recognize that the Other-function is not the Other itself. From a Foucauldian standpoint, torture/discipline becomes a way of translating the presence and absence of the Other into knowledge so that even when the Other is absent we know it's there. Likewise, the fact that the Other-function is not the Other allows for anything other than the Other to take the place of the Other-function (culture as fetish). Readers might at least consider the possibility of reading Foucault this way and then reexamine Rosemann's claims about the relationship of the modern ("post-Scholastics"?) and the medieval in "Study 6" as well as his discussion of the Inquisition and "witch-hunts" as the closing of the Scholastic episteme/circle. Foucault, I suspect, would lead us in other directions. But, to give the author his due, these other directions may well be more carefully considered because of Rosemann's efforts.