Foucualt and Sartre

Windsor says:

In my lectures I found myself interpreting Foucault's power relations in
Sartrean terms. I found myself arguing that within the social field of
power relations we are "condemned to be free", we are free subjects who
participate in multiple subject- positions. I had surprised myself
because I had never thought that Sartre and Foucault were compatible.
[end bit from Windsor]

I don't think Foucault thinks we're condemned to be free. In a way,
Foucault has a more noble and elite theory of freedom than Sartre does.
For Sartre, it doesn't matter what you do, it's your choice. This attempt
to marry a primarily phenomenological method to a neatly groomed
Kantianized humanist subject is notoriously unconvincing. At least it is

In the "Genealogy of Ethics" interview (p. 341 of _Foucault Reader_)
Foucault discusses his preference for the less normatively driven ethics
of Greek antiquity. The kinds of prohibitions confronted by ancient
Greeks were not that different from the kind we face today, F says, but
they were integrated into the relationship with the self in a very
different way. That is, those prohibitions were not imposed from the
outside but were self-chosen. On the one hand, the population--and with
it the elite--was not normalized. On the other hand, the population was
kind of left out of the picture. The will to live a beautiful life, as F
puts it, was the "personal choice" for a small elite. He makes much the
same point on 361-362.

Windsor continues:

This is made worse by what Foucault says: "there cannot be relations of
power unless the subjects are free" (The Final Foucault, p. 12). He
repeates this in Subject and Power, the Critical Inquiry version, p. 790:
"When one defines the exercise of power as a mode of action upon the
actions of others ... one includes an important element: freedom. Power
(relations) are exercised only over (through/with) free subjects, and
only insofar as they are free. By (freedom) we mean individuals (subjects
in subject- positions) ... who are faced with a field of possibilities in
which several ways of behaving, several reactions and diverse
comportments, may be realized". But freedom implies choice (power
relations do not happen to us, are not a form of imposition, a set of
external forces that impinge themselves upon us), thus we choose to enter
into power relations with others, and over a variety of interests and
activities. [end Windsor]

But two things: One: There's a big difference between saying "there
cannot be relations of power unless subjects are free" and "we are
*condemned* to be free." Foucault's comment is more structural. The focus
is on what is required for power relations to work, to be effective, to
hold up as a structure. Sartre's comment is less structurally-oriented
and more oriented to an existential crisis of the human subject rooted in
the death of God. F wants nothing to do with the whole "angoisse" bit.
Sartre makes freedom too automatic. You hand out all this freedom to all
these people who aren't ready for it, and you wonder why the result is a
bunch of really unhappy people in those plays!

Two. I don't think it's true that we choose our power relations. We don't
choose our power relations and then in choosing them exercise our
freedom. It's rather that power relations themselves require
freedom--require it *structurally*, not ethically--if they are to
function properly. We find ourselves in power relations we can't do
anything about being in all the time. Freedom arrives in the context of
those relations, and indeed can only exist there.

Windsor continues:

We are free in asfar as we have choices, the "field of possibilities".
And in participating in power relations I therefore assume responsibility
for myself, for my body, which is the surface, the site of inscription by
power relations, a "volume in perpetual disintegration".

The "therefore" in the sentence above doesn't seem to work to me. What's
the necessary link between participating in power relations and assuming
responsibility for myself, my body, etc.?

More Windsor:

Now here is Sartre: "what happens to me happens through me, and I can
neither affect myself with it nor revolt against it nor resign myself to
it. ... everything which happens to me is mine" (p.554). Sartre goes on
to argue for the centrality of responsibility among human beings. What
troubles me is this compatibility between Foucault and Sartre which I had
never thought was possible, given what Foucault says about Sartre's
project and phenomenology. I found myself asking whether Foucault's
notion of power relations is not phenomenological ("power relations are
both intentional and nonsubjective ... they are imbued, through and
through, with calculations: there is no power that is exercise without a
series of aims and objectives" [HS, Vol.1, p.94-5]). . . . If it is
possible, as my lectures were arguing, to interprete Foucault's power
relations phenomenological, is itn't time we re-examine Foucault's
relations to phenomenology? But what would this mean, in terms of the
question of Foucault's "originality"? What remains of Foucault's
Nietzscheanism? Anyway, I hope you find these thoughts useful, and I
would appreciate any comments and suggestions, as I grapple with the
question of Foucault and Sartre. [end Windsor]

This is a very interesting suggestion. I think there is something going
on in F that could be described as "phenomenological." Unfortunately, I
think that there are just tons of moments in Sartre's brilliant book that
are *not* particularly phenomenological but rather
phenomenology-twisted-into-humanism-at-every- turn. So maybe what's
original about Foucault is that he actually wants to pursue a
phenomenological kind of method without tying that method so directly and
immediately to a clearly delineated ethics. Sartre, it seems, wants his
ethics to flow seamlessly (can things flow seamlessly?) out of his
method, his phenomenology. For Sartre, the method of phenomenological
description *itself* discovers freedom.


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