Re: ethics and poststructuralism

This is in response to the question of whether Foucault's late interest in
self-creation represents a remnant of liberalism in his thought. Foucault's
later interest in an aesthetics of the self, or in the creation of one's own
subjectivity, is not so much a residual liberalism (it is partly this, in that Foucualt clearly values individuality, autonomy, freedom and self-
determination), as it is a continuing interest in the humanism of Nietzsche.
Nietzsche especially admired the way in which the early Homeric Greeks allowed great individuals to express their autonomy and self-determination in acts of
courage, creation, destruction, passion, etc. Foucault, in his studies of
Greek ethics of the self, clearly admired, as did Nietzsche, the avenues of
autonomy open to those individuals who were able to create their own lives
as works of art, although Foucault, unlike Nietzsche, regards much of Greek
ethics as examples of power/knowledge responsible for the construction of
ethical subjects. Like Nietzsche, Foucault is dismayed at the almost total
lack of individuality and autonomy available to human beings in liberal
society, with its belief in reason, rational society, mass norms,
normalization, disciplining of all that is deviant, abnormal, different. This
search for avenues of self-creation by Foucaultt extends from his early
interest in the transgressive philosophies of Nietzsche, Delueze, Bataille,
Blanchot and Sade, all of which seek ways in which individuals can express
their autonomy in societies that so completely envelope individuals in their
technologies of normalization. For these authors, freedom can sometimes only be found for brief moments, and only by engaging in acts beyond the pale of
acceptable social norms. This expalis Foucualt's fascination with sexuality as both an arena of power and normalization (prohibitions on homosexuality,
S & M, etc.) and also as an arena for transgression and autonomy for those
individuals who choose to engage in such forbidden acts ( as he did quite
readily). The problem with Foucualt's interest in self creation, that is, in creating a subjectivity that is partly one's own making, is that he offers no
uncolonized self removed from the influences of power ( the subject of
humanism) in which such autonomouss self creation is to occur. Such an
admission by Foucualt that any such essential humanness exits (be it reason,
being, human nature, consciousness), would be an admission that his radically de-centered, socially constructed subject of theory is incorrect and flawed.
It would open the door for theories claiming that there is something natural, normal or reasonable about human beings and their behaviors. Such an assertion is clearly what Foucualt hoped to counter by presenting the subject as
entirely a social construction devoid of any essential humanness which defines its humanity. Nietzsche, and by extension from Nietzsche, Bataille, Deleuze, Blanchot and Sade, ground transgression in the Dionysian (passions, instincts, emotions, creativity) aspect of human nature, which may be unknowable or
hidden from consciousness due to the moderating aspects of socialization, but is nonetheless an essential aspect of human nature that reveals itself in acts of transgression, self-creation, creativity, resitiance, etc. Foucualt
consistently denied, from at least the time of 'Discipline and Punish' until
his death, any hint of essential humanness, or untouched self, which acts as
the source, at least potentially, of auotnmous actions. Foucault is left in
his latest writings with a call for autonomy and self-determination (remnants
of humanism's dream of autuonmnous human life), without any theoretical
subject in which to ground such a hope. Foucault, is thus, left with a
humanist project of securing autonomy and self-determination (that most human of attributes), grounded in a theory of the subject which denies that autonomy is a possibility,since such a subject is devoid of that essential human
something that secures, at least potentially, its auotonmy.


Partial thread listing: