Re: Ethics and Poststructuralism

On Sun, 21 Jan 1996, Brendan Harkin wrote:

> Thanks for the quote - it's certainly beautifully written (page number pls?)
> - but it's a quote that amongst other incitements calls us to think and
> speak for ourselves. Or does it? The word "reflection" is strikingly
> undecidable.
> >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,
> If we merely (?) reflect (mirror), as in a pure repetition (of a quote, for
> example), then nothing is silent or mute but what is already said repeats
> itself, through our repetition, like a prayer or litany. Nothing
> "unthought" has yet been thought.

I don't think this is exactly what Foucault is after, here. I interpret
his use of the word reflection archeaologically: this is what those in
Modernity (himself included, though with "reflective distance") are
condemned to do. As Foucault argues throughout the last 1/4 (or so) of
OT, modern thought is characterized by its movment toward the unthought,
but the unthought is never accessible because, as he puts it, "Man is a
mode of being which accomodates that dimension--always open, never
finally delimited, yet constantly traversed--which extends from a part
not reflected in a cogito to the act of thought by which he apprehends
that part. . . . Because he is an emprico-transcendental doublet, man is
also the locus of misunderstanding--of misunderstanding that constantly
exposes his thought to the risk of being swamped by his own being. . . .
The quest judgments? But rather: How can man think what he does not
think. . . " (322).

It is in this light that his remarks, "as soon as it functions it offends
or reconciles, attracts or repels, breaks, dissociates, unites or
reunites; it cannot help but liberate and enslave" (328).

I think this is important to my argument about ambivalence because
Foucault realizes that he cannot help but "think the unthought" (in his
case revealing "the positive unconscious of knowledge"). Thus though the
above passage doesn't summarize the sort of reflection a Foucauldian
ethics involves, this ethics (or whatever) is done in conscious and
ironic repetition of that seen in his description. The reflection that
Foucault does, in short, is (like you say) a combination of thinking and
mirroring, but in such a way that he can escape the problems of proposing
a morality within modernity.

> Yet "reflection" also means thought, to reflect, to think. Therefore there
> is a strange relationship between repeating the words of an-other (mute
> speech) and thought (which, I say, takes the name of action)
> > 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'?
> To say "that there is no philosophy without political choice" and "that all
> thought is either 'progressive' or reactionary"' is not the same thing. I
> can easily concur with the former while not agreeing with the latter.
> >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."
> >
> Wonderfully said! But this is left up in the air.
> The sciences of nature are not linked to an ethics or politics? Are we sure
> about that? This is a very high level of belief (faith/ideology/insistence)
> on the "sciences of nature" - if there is such thing (I thought we'd gotten
> rid of cartesian dualism).

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


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