Foucault’s Untimely Struggle

Theory, Culture and Society 26 (6):25-44 (2009)


In his series of essays on Kant written during the 1980s, Michel Foucault attempted to discern the difference today made with respect to yesterday. As his essays as well as his lectures during the early 1980s demonstrate, he was drawn — and devoted the bulk of his scholarly efforts to a renewed form of genealogical work on themes, venues, practices and modes of governing the subject and others — to experiments in new forms of friendship, sociability and transformations of the self and others that he saw taking shape, or imagined were taking shape around him. This work, which has come to be known unfortunately as the ‘late Foucault’, arose out of deep dissatisfaction with his own life conditions, the broader political climate of the time, and a profound and unexpected rethinking not only of the specific projects he had intended to carry out but of what it meant to think. This article explores some of the elements at play during these deeply formative several years, which as they unfolded were in no way intended to constitute a ‘late Foucault’, quite the opposite, even if fate would have it otherwise. The article begins with a ‘prelude’ that introduces the problem of what mode is appropriate for giving form to thinking. It proceeds to argue that Foucault engaged in a struggle to redefine the object of thinking; that in order to do so he was led to pursue a venue in which such thinking could be practised; and finally to an increasingly articulate and acute quest for a form that would constitute a difference between what Foucault diagnosed as an impoverished modern problem space and a future in which things might be different and better.If we define spirituality as being the form of practices which postulate that, such as he is, the subject is not capable of the truth, but that, such as it is, the truth can transfigure and save the subject, then we can say that the modern age of the relations between the subject and truth begin when it is postulated that, such as he is, the subject is capable of truth, but that, such as it is, the truth cannot save the subject.

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