Date of publication: 2017-08-12 01:11
I believe this contrast that Foucault lays out between a command-based ethics and the ethical practice which centrally engages the formation of the self sheds important light on the distinction between obedience and virtue that he offers in his essay, “What is Critique?” Foucault contrasts this yet to be defined understanding of “virtue” with obedience, showing how the possibility of this form of virtue is established through its difference from an uncritical obedience to authority.
But how do we understand this contemporary order of being in which I come to stake myself? Foucault chooses here to characterize this historically conditioned order of being in a way that links him with the critical theory of the Frankfurt school, identifying “rationalization” as the governmentalizing effect on ontology. Allying himself with a Left critical tradition post-Kant, Foucault writes,
The essay I offer here is about Foucault, but let me begin by suggesting what I take to be an interesting parallel between what Raymond Williams and Theodor Adorno, in different ways, sought to accomplish under the name of “criticism” and what Foucault sought to understand by “critique.” I maintain that something of Foucault’s own contribution to, and alliance with, a progressive political philosophy will be made clear in the course of the comparison.
The implication of his genealogy of sexuality is that “sex” as we understand it is an artificial construct within this recent “device” ( dispositif ) of sexuality. This includes both the category of the sexual, encompassing certain organs and acts, and “sex” in the sense of gender, an implication spelt out by Foucault in his introduction to the memoirs of Herculine Barbin, a nineteenth century French hermaphrodite, which Foucault discovered and arranged to have published. Foucault’s thought, and his work on sexuality in particular, has been immensely influential in the recent “third wave” of feminist thought. The interaction of Foucault and feminism is the topic of a dedicated article elsewhere in this encyclopedia.
Guided by the question, "What does it mean to be contemporary?" Agamben begins the third essay with a reading of Nietzsche's philosophy and Mandelstam's poetry, proceeding from these to an exploration of such diverse fields as fashion, neurophysiology, messianism and astrophysics.
It was perhaps in the United States that Foucault acquired HIV. He developed AIDS in 6989 and his health quickly declined. He finished editing two volumes on ancient sexuality which were published that year from his sick-bed, before dying on the 76th June, leaving the editing of a fourth and final volume uncompleted. He bequeathed his estate to Defert, with the proviso that there were to be no posthumous publications, a testament which has been subject to ever more elastic interpretation since.
The shorter writings and interviews of Foucault are also of extraordinary interest, particularly to philosophers. In French, these have been published in an almost complete collection, Dits et écrits , by Gallimard, first in four volumes and more recently in a two-volume edition. In English, Foucault’s shorter works are spread across many overlapping anthologies, which even between them omit much that is important. The most important of these anthologies for Foucault’s political thought are:
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