Re: Ethics and Poststructuralism

On Sat, 20 Jan 1996, malgosia askanas wrote:

> Perhaps it is time to re-post a quote from The Order of Things that was
> posted here a while ago:
> "The modern (ethical form) formulates no morality, since any imperative
> is lodged within thought and its movement towards the apprehension of the
> unthought; it is reflection, the act of consciousness, the elucidation of
> what is silent, language restored to what it mute, the illmination of
> the element of darkness that cuts man off from himself, the reanimation
> of the inert -- it is all this and this alone that constituted the
> content and the form of the ethical. Modern thought has never, in fact,
> been able to propose a morality. But the reason for this is not
> because it is pure speculation; on the contrary, modern thought, from its
> inception and in its very density, is a certain mode of action. Let
> those who urge thought to leave its retreat and to formulate its choices
> talk on; and let those who seek, without any pledge and in the absence
> of virtue, to establish a morality do as they wish. For modern thought,
> no morality is possible. Thought had already 'left' itself in its own
> being as early as the nineteenth century; it is no longer theoretical.
> As soon as it functions it offends or recoils, attracts or repels,
> breaks, dissociates, unites or reunites; it cannot help but liberate and
> enslave. Even before prescribing, suggesting a future, saying what must
> be done, even before exhorting or merely sounding an alarm, thought, at
> the level of its existence, in its very dawning, is in itself an action
> -- a perilous act. Sade, Nietzsche, Artaud, and Bataille have understood
> this on behalf of all those who tried to ignore it; but it is also
> certain that that Hegel, Marx and Freud knew it. Can we say that it is
> not known by those who, in their profound stupidity, assert that there is
> no philosophy without political choice, that all thought is either
> 'progressive' or 'reactionary'? Their foolishness is to believe that all
> thought 'expresses' the ideology of a class; their involuntary profundity
> is that they point directly at the modern mode of being of thought.
> Superficially, one might say that knowledge of man, unlike the sciences
> of nature, is always linked, even in its vaguest form, to ethics or
> politics; more fundamentally, modern thought is advancing towards the
> region where man's Other must become the Same as himself."
> >
> -malgosia

Thanks Malgosia,

I have been trying to formulate a clarification for what I meant about
the ambivalence (better than the pessimism that I earlier indicated) I
sense in a Foucauldian or post-structuralist "ethics." Or, looked at in
terms of mode of emplotment, Foucault tends to move between the tragic
and the satiric.

One more thing: although in this passage Foucault talks about the
impossibility of a morality, read "What is Enlightenment," and the later
genealogies, as an attempt to formulate an "ethics" that not only
attempts to avoid the pitfalls of morality mentioned in the above passage,
but actually to use modernity's epistemo-ontological structure--its
dissociation, its horizon of the unthought and unthinkable, its receding
origins--to use all of these to advantage in his ethics of permanent
critique, in his "practice of freedom," and so forth.

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


Partial thread listing: