Re: foucault, power and authenticity

Gabriel Ash wrote:
> Hi
> I do not know of any direct discussion to ethnicity in Foucault's
> work (doesn't mean there isn't, just my ignorance). However, his
> discussion of sexuality (hist. of sex. vol.1) deals with the relation
> between power and some kind of authentic 'personal identity' that the
> last century connected with freed sexuality. I think some analogy
> can be made. Foucault basically inverts the relations between
> authenticity and power. Where 'the discourse of sex' says: you need
> to enter on an arduous path, fighting immense difficulties (and we
> we'll offer for the job our great institutional support - psychology,
> medicine, education, etc.) in order to find your true self.'
> Foucault claims the real relation is something like: 'you need to
> struggle to find your 'true self' because this gives the institutions
> of power an opportunity to invest your body and your life.'

I'm not sure what you mean by the latter, as institutions of
power need to "invest your body and your life" with something.

Leaving aside the question of what that "something" really is,
I would like to refer to scholarship that addresses the issue of
authenticity in Foucault's writings. As I am not much of a scholar
myself, only an incurable generalist, I can hope to do no better than
by simply quoting that literature, which is an article in *Critical
Review* by Ronald Beiner, "Foucault's Hyper-Liberalism":

(Begin quote)

What matters to Foucault is not whether we opt for a morality
of sexual austerity or a morality with an exactly opposite
content; what matters is, one might say, the cultural
motivation that impels one towards one morality or the other.
The Greeks embraced the ideal of sexual austerity, Foucualt

in order to give their life much more intensity, much
more beauty. In a way it's the same in the twentieth
century when people, in order to get a more beautiful
life , tried to get rid of all the sexual repression
of their society, of their childhood. Gide in Greece
would have been an austere philosopher.

(Rabinow, 1984, 394)

(still quoting)

If we follow the Greek example, we are driven towards the
challenge: "Couldn't everyone's life become a work of art?"
(Rabinow, 1984, 350).

Here Foucault's interviewers [Paul Rabinow and Herbert Dreyfus]
raise some very pertinent questions, and Foucault's answers
are extremely illuminating. Rabinow/Dreyfus point out that the
notion of submitting all the details of one's life (how one
eats breakfast, how one has sex) to an art of self-perfection
is actually a California project. Foucault replies that the
problem is that people in California think that there is a
truth about there things that they are capable of
apprehending. Rabinow/Dreyfus then ask whether, if one is
obliged to create oneself "without recourse to knowledge or
universal rules," is this different from Satrean existentialism
(Rabinow 1984,350-51)? In answer, Foucault notes that of
course Sartre *wants* to break with the idea of the self as
something given. But in the end Sartre cannot help coming back
to the idea of a true self: a relation to the self that is
judged to be authentic or inauthentic. The problem with Sartre
is not his existentialism, but his failure to uphold it with
utter consistency. The superiority of Foucault's conception of
"creating ourselves as a work of art" is that, unlike Sartre,
it avoids lapsing back into an ideal of a true self. That is,
it perserveres in the idea of creating oneself *all the way
down* (or to use Rabinow's notion: the idea of *pure*
contingency). Sartre's problem is that he is an inconsistent
existentialist. Rabinow/Dreyfus mention Nietzsche, and
Foucault agrees that his view "is much closer to
Nietzsche's than to Sartre's" (Rabinow 1984, 351). In short,
Foucault's ideal is Sartrean existentialism *minus the appeal
to authenticity*. Only Nietzsche had the courage to descend
into the abyss of the self without hoping to land eventually on
some kind of bedrock--and if Foucault had read certain passages
in Nietzsche (for instance, _Beyond Good and Evil, $230), he
might well have concluded that even Nietzsche occasionally
loses his nerve.

(End quote)


Re: foucault, power and authenticity, Gabriel Ash
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