Re: Poststructuralism and Ethics

On Jan 17, 11:03pm, Bryan Palmer wrote:
> Subject: Re: Poststructuralism and Ethics
> >How about John Rajchman's *Truth and Eros*?
> I have not read this, can you give me a publisher a quick summary?

The full title of this short text (147 pages) is *Truth and Eros. Foucault,
Lacan and the Question of Ethics* (NY: Routledge, 1991). I've never been bery
good at summarizing texts like this, but I can say that Rajchman focuses his
attention on the relationshipe between thought, truth and eros as the
relation of self to self and self to others. He is particularly interested
in what he calls the "re-eroticized" activity of critical thought in
contemporary contexts and through the work of Foucault and Lacan.

> >While I agree with your critique of the movement from the *is* to the
> >in some self-professed poststructural work, I think that the questions you
> >raise as to the relationship between ethics and poststructuralism cannot
> >addressed simply through reference to such work. I think that the question
> >ethics in poststructuralism can be viewed as being quite complex and,
> >although it develops with relation to truth as a socio-cultural produc
> >is continually being remade, it is not limited to truth-formations and our
> >relationships to them. I will turn to Foucault's later work to flesh this
> >idea out a bit.
> > Speaking of the relation that his last works on ethics bear to
> >contemporary contexts, Foucault says in the interview "On the Genealogy of
> >Ethics: An Overview of Work in Progress":
> >
> >I wonder if our problem nowadays is not, in a way, similar to this one
> >one addressed in The Use of Pleasure and the Care of the Self], since most
> >us not longer believe that ethics is founded on religion, nore do we want
> >legal system to intervene in our moral, personal, private life. Recent
> >liberation movements suffer form the fact that they cannot find any
> >on which to base the elaboration of a new ethics. They need a new ethics,
> >they cannot find any other ethics than an ethics founded on so-called
> >scientific knowledge of what the self is, what desire is, what the
> >unconscious is, and so on.
> >
> >This concern with the creations of a new ethics is similar to that
> >in ancient Greek writing in order to "constitute a kind of ethics which
> >an aesthetics of existence." In contemporary contexts, however, the
> >of an aesthetics of existence is far too dependent on discourses which
> >either to the impossibility of recognizing the subject as a unity, or
> >discourses which find their focus in an ascetics of subjectivity. No
> >able to refer to religion, nor willing to call upon the legal system to
> >define the boundaries of such an ethics, Foucault suggests, contemporary
> >liberation movements, such as feminism, find themselves at a loss for the
> >material from which such an ethics could be moulded.
> > While Foucault claims "you can't find the solution of a problem in
> >the solution of another problem raised in another moment by another
> >he does present the Greek and Roman efforts in the work of self on self to
> >open up the field of possibility for contemporary efforts insofar as these
> >problematizations of an aesthetics of the self took place without
> >to either religious doctrine or an over-arching juridico-legal apparatus.
> >recognition that not everything is "bad"but that "everything is
> >dangerous"leads Foucault's work into a problematization of the limits and
> >possibilities of ethics as a creative force in the comportment of the self
> >toward and self and toward others. In Foucault's words: "What I want to
> >is: Are we able to have an ethics of acts and their pleasures which would
> >able to take into account the pleasure of the other? Is the pleasure of
> >other something which can be integrated into our pleasure, without
> >either to law, to marriage, to I dont know what?"
> This sounds very close to the utilitarianism of neoclassical economics.
> Surely this is not what you meant. Can you help me better understand what
> you meant.

I had the same impression when I read the interview and then tried to link it
to The Use of Pleasure and The Care of the Self. After considering it,
though, this impression shifted significantly with a question I asked to
myself: Why is it that I am "seeing" the relation of self to self and to
others in terms of utility and exchange? Why is it that I cannot account for
pleasure and for eros in these relations? I'm still struggling with the
latter question....

> >And so.... If we consider ethics to be the work of self on self, and the
> >to be something that is directed toward others, then how does this change
> >notions and assumptions about what ethics *is* and what it *ought* to do?
> >What fields of possibility does this conception of ethics foreclose to and
> >disclose from thought and action? Is critique enough?
> This is a bloody good question. If the answer in NO, you seem to come back
> to my dilemma.
Maybe Foucault's distinction between morality (as a set of values and rules
for action and thought), ethics (the work of self on self and in relation to
others) and ethos (a manner of being linked to an attitude) will be useful to
you. How one sees morality, ethics and ethos linked with regard to a problem
may provide some clue as to how to approach a critical engagement with it.
Part of the difficulty with approaching the "question of ethics" is what
one's horizon of expectations gives one to think as the question itself.
> The reason I am wrestling with this question is that I am doing a thesis on
> the provision of disability employment services for people with significant
> disabilities. Deconstructing the liberal agenda and the humanist
> assumptions in the text is relaively easy. Identifying the system of
> mutually reinforcing discourses is also pretty easy. But I feel like a
> hypocrite throwing anything which hints of a moral tone over the analysis.
> After all, (within the ps paradigm) what is wrong with the exploitation of
> people with a disability?

Hmmm. I'm not sure I am equipped to handle this question, but I have the
distinct impression that there are others on this list who are. My work, also
dealing with questions of ethics but in another sphere, is focused on reading
practices and what has come to be known as the "literature of AIDS." I'll
think about your quandry some more....
> _______________________________________________________________
> Bryan Palmer
> bpalmer@xxxxxxxxxxx
> Canberra - Australia's National Capital
>-- End of excerpt from Bryan Palmer

Penelope Ironstone-Catterall
York University
School of Social & Political Thought


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