I just came across the “famous” 1972 conversation between Deleuze and Foucalt in which they discuss the role of the intellectual. The transcript was originally published in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice (ed. Donald Bouchard, 1977), and in Foucault Live ( ed. Sylvere Lotringer, 1996).
The part of this dialogue that stands out the most is when Foucault says “theory does not express, translate, or serve to apply practice: it is practice,” which causes me to reflect on pseudo theorists, intellectuals, and pontiffs who speak on high ideals and lofty goals, yet reside firmly within and operate contingently within systems they wish to draw attention to or “struggle against.”
Here’s the portion in which Foucault brings up the intellectual’s role and
then Deleuze responds (I think they both nail it!):
FOUCAULT: The intellectual’s role is no longer to place himself “somewhat ahead and to the side” in order to express the stifled truth of the collectivity; rather, it is to struggle against the forms of power that transform him into its object and instrument in the sphere of “knowledge,” “truth,” “consciousness,” and “discourse. “
In this sense theory does not express, translate, or serve to apply practice: it is practice. But it is local and regional, as you said, and not totalising. This is a struggle against power, a struggle aimed at revealing and undermining power where it is most invisible and insidious. It is not to “awaken consciousness” that we struggle (the masses have been aware for some time that consciousness is a form of knowledge; and consciousness as the basis of subjectivity is a prerogative of the bourgeoisie), but to sap power, to take power; it is an activity conducted alongside those who struggle for power, and not their illumination from a safe distance. A “theory” is the regional system of this struggle.
DELEUZE: Precisely. A theory is exactly like a box of tools. It has nothing to do with the signifier. It must be useful. It must function. And not for itself. If no one uses it, beginning with the theoretician himself (who then ceases to be a theoretician), then the theory is worthless or the moment is inappropriate.
You can find the full transcript here.