local politics and ethics

Lisa's approach to Foucault's politics is an interesting alternative to the
one I outlined in my previous mail. I think there is a possibility the two
approaches may be compatible. While my own approach does rely on an
authorial construct of Foucault's life and work, it does so only to the
extent that Foucault's life and work, as he himself stressed in his final
years, were intertwined, his life (which included political acts and
campaigns, lectures and discussion, journalistic writings, interviews,
lifestyle experiments) were as much a part of his work as his published
books. I think it would be interesting to look at the political
interlocutions of his lifework into various specific fields of
investigation, not so much to effect a total change in their discourse but
to seek to alter the terms of debate by provoking those who encounter
Foucualt's interventions toward a radical questioning of the certainties
regarding knowledge in a given field. Of course, some of these interventions
may have been aimed at augmenting and cultivating certain critical and
analytic approaches (as long as they themselves did not settle into the
formation of new hierarchies of knowledge) rather than simply at demolishing
existing hierarchies of knowledge (eg. medical discourses regarding the
nature of mental illness, criminological discourses regarding the delinquent
type). Such local interventions never aimed at creating a system of thought
(systems of thought were rather the historical field of Foucault's
researches, as the title of his chair at the College de France suggests) so
much as a critical style of selective improvisations.

I have just read Alexander Nehamas's account (in <The Art of Living>) of
Foucault's politics and philosophy as a way of life. Nehamas does stress the
life and work approach and makes the political dimension of Foucault's work
seem problemmatic to the extent that in the final years it is no longer
primary. Instead, as is evident in Foucault's late work, it is a personal
ethical goal which ends up becoming the precondition for political
interventions. The model here is the Socratic practice of the care of the
self, which though primarily an ethical and personal activity may have
profound political repurcussions on those who encounter its practice. In
this approach, it is ultimately not political strategies or the acquisition
of knowledge that are significant but the extent to which others may be
prompted to develop their own individual practice. I think this kind of
interpretation would be unsatisfying to those who found in Foucault's
analytic of power an impetus for a radical post-Marxist politics. Part of
the reason for his dissatisfaction would probably be the perception that it
only encourages individualist projects which may never translate into any
form of collective action capable of effecting decisive or meaningful
political transformations. I would be interested to know if anyone else
thinks this is the case and has any suggestions for what a rejoinder from
such a perspective would be to Nehamas's approach.



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