Re: ethics and poststructuralism

On Wed, 17 Jan 1996 nologos@xxxxxxxxxxxx wrote:

> >This is in response to the question of whether Foucault's late interest in
> > self-creation represents a remnant of liberalism in his thought
> One of the things that needs more attention I think -- and which I am
> surprised it has not -- is why Foucault calls the later phase or axis of his
> philosophy "ethical." The ethical axis is really the subject and its
> relation to itself in self-mastery and self-transformation. This is not an
> identity to be found or liberated as in liberalism, but an identity very
> much in process and overcoming. Thus the late ethical phase seems to be
> more Nietzschean than liberal.
> I have always found his choice of "ethical" curious to describe Foucault's
> late philosophy. Two traditional dimensions of what we consider ethics,
> transcendental imperatives and other people, are missing to varying degrees.
> Was the man who once pronounced the "death of man" and anthropology too
> proud to come back to any self referents?
> While I realize that with Foucault we are always in Charlotte's Web, and
> thus we the Other may be implicated. It does seem to me strange to equate a
> Nietzschean self-overcoming (perhaps watered down) with ethics.

I have found this label curious as well. Here's a hypothesis concerning
its significance: In The Order of Things (328) Foucault talks about the
impossibility of a MORALITY within modernity. An ethics is the
postmodern response to this problem. I see this not only in Foucault,
but in the humanities in general today. The relation to, for instance,
the Other, is often deemed an ethical rather than a moral relationship.
Its not grounded in a transcendental view of the right or the good, but
in a code of action and self-governance. For Foucault's part, the ethics
that he comes up (that of movement discussed in one of my earlier posts)
can be seen as an attempt to come to grips (or rather to escape) some of
the problems with Morality spelled out in the order of things.

This leaves a lot unanswered, but may be a place to start. I would only
add that Foucault names this critical movement ethical because, through
the notion of ethos, it can be connected with an ethics of an earlier age
that was also aesthetically bound. His ethics, in short, become one of
stylization of the self, of creating a critical ethos with which one
confronts power/knowledge, and one's social construction.


> > >

Erik D. Lindberg
Dept. of English and Comparative Lit.
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Milwaukee, WI 53211
email: edl@xxxxxxxxxxx


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