Mark Bear Foucault And Critique Essay


In the closing chapter of Giving an Account of Oneself, entitled “Foucault’s Critical Assessment of Himself,” Judith Butler makes the surprising statement that “telling the truth about oneself comes at a price, and the price of that telling is the suspension of a critical relation to the truth regime in which one lives.” [1]  Judith Butler, Giving an Account of Oneself (New York:...[1] The conclusion of Butler’s book concerns Foucault in particular, yet it has a general pertinence. What does it mean? Foucault, in an interview with G. Raulet, maintains that his problem has always been that of telling the truth and of the relation between “telling the truth” and “forms of reflexivity, of self upon self.” [2]  Michel Foucault, “Structuralism and Post-structuralism:...[2] Butler reads Raulet’s interview with Foucault as a scene of interpellation—namely, a demand made by one person to another to account for themselves, their trajectory, and their history, in a coherent manner. Foucault cannot escape, any more than anyone else, from the anthropological failing of the discourse of the self, which is supposed to furnish, in response to an interpellation, some coherent account of the history of the formation of the self.


The Althusserian notion of interpellation, which Butler takes up, shows how conscience is essential to the formation of the subject: the subject hailed by the policeman turns around to face the force that has interpellated him—in other words, it is responsibility before the other that inaugurates reflexivity. This means, according to Butler, that responsibility, which is manifested in acts of discourse of the form “giving an account of oneself,” only comes about in response to an interpellation or an inquiry undertaken by an Other. I give a narrative account of myself because I am spoken to, because someone insists that I address myself to whoever addresses me, and thus form myself as a reflexive being before the Other.


The circumstances of interpellation, as contingent as they may be, take the form of the necessity that I only give an account of myself, and thus only form myself as subject, through or for an Other. But this structure of interpellation that forms the subject has an origin which evades the subject. For it has roots in the very name that is given us at birth, and in which we realize that which is most proper to us is given to us by the Other: from those who have called us forth to be. Thus, “the ‘I’ can tell neither the story of its own emergence nor the conditions of its own possibility without bearing witness to a state of affairs to which one could not have been present.” [3]  Butler, Giving an Account, 37 [Le Récit, 37].[3] In fact, concerning our origins, we know only what others have told us, and we fabricate ourselves out of fictions, relating scraps of discourse to each other. The relation to oneself is thus psychic, obscure; no ‘I’ belongs to it, since its being is fabricated by “relationality” and by loss; therefore, it is only as a dispossessed being that one can effectively give an account of oneself.


In the discourse on the self, we accept the norms of truth that structure discourse before the Other; we say “I,” even though there is no “I” outside of the relation to the Other; and we thus strive for a form of coherence and intelligibility. Every discourse obeys a regime of truth, without which it is not audible. We obey it, because “when that law falters or is broken, the very possibility of recognition is imperiled.” [4]  Judith Butler, “What is Critique? An Essay on Foucault’s...[4] Because it is produced by norms, the subject is never completely free to ignore these very norms that inaugurate its reflexivity: “Ethical agency is neither fully determined nor radically free. Its struggle or primary dilemma is to be produced by a world, even as one must produce oneself in some way.” [5]  Butler, Giving an Account, 19 [Le Récit, 19].[5] Did Foucault appreciate the need to recognize that, at the moment of telling the truth about the self, he himself is led to suspend the critical relation to the social status of truth, to the regime of truth—he who made the critique of knowledge-power [savoir-pouvoir] the heart of his work? [6]  See K. S. Ong-Van-Cung, “La Vérité du sujet. Descartes...[6]


What is interesting in the fact that Butler maintains, in relation to Foucault, something that the latter was perhaps unable to admit about his topic, is that it brings to light an appreciably different conception of self. Why did Foucault avoid thinking the “psychic life of power”? For in Foucault, the relation to self is critical:


There are times in life when the question of knowing if one can think differently than one thinks, and perceive differently than one sees, is absolutely necessary if one is to go on looking and reflecting at all […]. [W]hat is philosophy today—philosophical activity, I mean—if it is not the critical work that thought brings to bear on itself? In what does it consist, if not in the endeavor to know how and to what extent it might be possible to think differently, instead of legitimating what is already known? [7]  Michel Foucault, The Use of Pleasure: Volume 2 of The...[7]


I would like to reflect upon these differences between conceptions of self, critique, and ethics that I have indicated in Foucault and Butler, and on the consequences that follow from them for the relation between ethics and politics.

Critique and Desubjectivation


In “What is Critique?” Foucault holds that in critique there is something akin to virtue, which links it to the development of governmentalization. [8]  “What is Critique?,” in Michel Foucault, The Politics...[8] Starting in the sixteenth century the question “How to govern?” poses itself in its fullest sense, in a secularized form and through a “proliferation of this art of governing into a variety of areas—how to govern children, how to govern the poor and beggars, how to govern a family, a house, how to govern armies, different groups, cities, States and also how to govern one’s own body and mind.” [9]  Foucault, “What is Critique?,” 27 [“Qu’est-ce que la...[9] But the question of governmentalization cannot be dissociated from the question, “How not to be governed?” because resistance is never in a position of exteriority in relation to power. The question cannot be reduced to the opposite affirmation, “we do not want to be governed at all,” but is rather the following: “How not to be governed like that, by that, in the name of those principles, with such and such an objective in mind and by means of such procedures, not like that, not for that, not by them.” [10]  Foucault, “What is Critique?,” 28 [“Qu’est-ce que la...[10] Kant’s text “What is Enlightenment?” is seen from the perspective of a “critical stance.” To pose the question of Enlightenment is to rediscover the question: “How not to be governed like that.” The problem is that of desubjectivation, within the framework of a politics of truth. Modernity is the privileged historical period for the study of the devices of subjectivating knowledge-power.


Butler is attentive to three elements of Foucault’s text: (1) resistance is described as a virtue; (2) the distinction between governmentalization and government corresponds to the couplet formed by the notions of subjectivation and desubjectivation; (3) critique is an act, a practice of freedom. What status should be given to the “decision-making will not to be governed” that Foucault evokes at the end of his presentation? [11]  Foucault, “What is Critique?,” 73 [“Qu’est-ce que la...[11] Such an expression is strange for a philosopher hostile to the notion of the sovereign subject, given that the latter is notoriously associated with the notion of free will. [12]  Michel Foucault, “An Aesthetics of Existence,” in Kritzman,...[12]


To begin with the first point, “resistance”—a term, let us note, which does not appear in Foucault’s text—is described as a “virtue.” [13]  Butler, “What is Critique?,” 216 [“Qu’est-ce que la...[13] In 1978, there was only Foucault’s axiom according to which “where there is power, there is resistance,” [14]  Michel Foucault, History of Sexuality Volume I: An...[14] without any explanation of this resistance of a subject nonetheless subjected to the norms that form it. Butler’s “collage” of these two Foucault texts clarifies this notion of resistance found in History of Sexuality 1: The Will to Know. To consider that the relation to self cannot be reduced to the product of norms, and that subjectivation is not the last word on the subject, while not a return to the sovereign subject, is nonetheless to consider that subjectivation confers a form of autonomy on the subject. [15]  Michel Foucault, “What is Enlightenment?,” in The Politics...[15] If the subject were only the result of power relations, then resistance would not be ensured. Thus subjectivation does indeed imply an appeal to virtue, to a “voluntary” attitude, to an ethos, as Foucault writes, or even to a “force of the soul [force d’âme],” in Cartesian terms, which lacks the native subordinations of the subject. But where could such a stance possibly come from, in the context of Foucault’s antifoundationalism? Butler links this virtue to an aesthetics or a stylization of the self. [16]  Butler, “What is Critique?,” 217 [“Qu’est-ce que la...[16] It is a matter of a practice of freedom, not an innate freedom.


Let us pass on to the second point, the distinction between government and governmentalization. Whereas the first term means that a form is given to the existence of those who are governed, governmentalization, on the other hand, refers to a practice of subjectivation of individuals institutionalized “by mechanisms of power that adhere to a truth.” [17]  Foucault, “What is Critique?,” 32 [“Qu’est-ce que la...[17] Butler formulates this point with acuity, for she wants us to see, beneath Foucault’s distinction, the ethical problem of life being livable or unlivable under certain norms. In fact, this is the direction in which she develops the Foucauldian notion of biopolitics. [18]  Butler, “What is Critique?,” 217 [“Qu’est-ce que la...[18] With the notion of life, Butler gives a full resonance to the Foucauldian concept of biopower, to the entirely crazy rationality that inhabits it furiously, when it invests the life of the subject that it subjects. With this concept, it becomes a matter of Habermas’s question, which Foucault claims for his own also—the question of a critique of the rationality of state power. But Foucault thinks it within the framework of a history of the subjected subject, where, in a privileged relation to an empirically determinable epoch, the question becomes: “‘What, therefore, am I,’ I who belong to this humanity, perhaps to this piece of it, at this point in time, at this instant of humanity which is subjected to the power of truth in general and truths in particular?” [19]  Foucault, “What is Critique?,” 46.[19] And, indeed, the price to be paid for telling the truth about oneself—the truth understood as identity of self to self—a truth which is spoken always according to a certain regime of truth, is the exclusion of the Other.

Critique and “Decision-Making Will”


Let us pause a moment on the explanation of Foucault’s formula, according to which critique is an attitude that relates to “a certain decision-making will not to be governed.” [20]  Butler, Giving an Account, x [Le Récit, 123].[20] Foucault explains himself using the term “decision-making will” in a response to a question from the public: by decision-making will, he means the decision-making will not to be governed thusly, like that, in this way; he is not referring to a fundamental anarchism that would be “like an originary freedom, absolutely and wholeheartedly resistant to any governmentalization.” He adds: “I did not say it, but this does not mean that I absolutely exclude it.” [21]  Foucault, “What is Critique?,” 73 [“Qu’est-ce que la...[21] With original freedom, we touch on one of the presuppositions of the classical subject, and it is not very easy to determine Foucault’s position. [22]  On the Foucauldian notion of the subject and its difference...[22] In one sense, there is no originary freedom, because there is no absolute refusal to be governed: why does Foucault add that he does not exclude the existence of such an originary freedom, possibly with an insurrectionary implication? [23]  Originary freedom is implied by the question of revolt....[23]


According to Butler, in Foucault’s mention of “originary freedom” “a nearly collapsible critical distance is performed for us.” [24]  Butler, “What is Critique?,” 224 [“Qu’est-ce que la...[24] What is interesting is that, on Butler’s part, this is not at all a negative observation; quite the opposite, for this suspension can be read as a type of courage. In saying “originary freedom,” he posits it and then withdraws it, she says.


Foucault finds a way to say “originary freedom,” and I suppose that it gives him great pleasure to utter these words, pleasure and fear. He speaks them, but only through staging the words, relieving himself of an ontological commitment, but releasing the words themselves for a certain use. Does he refer to originary freedom here? Does he seek recourse to it? Has he found the well of originary freedom and drunk from it? Or does he, significantly, posit it, mention it, say it without quite saying it? Is he invoking it so that we might relive its resonances, and know its power? The staging of the term is not its assertion, but we might say that the assertion is staged, rendered artfully, subjected to an ontological suspension, precisely so it might be spoken. And that it is this speech act, the one which for a time relieves the phrase, “originary freedom,” from the epistemic politics within which it lives, which also performs a certain desubjugation of the subject within the politics of truth. [25]  Butler, “What is Critique?,” 224 [“Qu’est-ce que la...[25]


By making originary freedom an act of language, and therefore an act prior to all Foucauldian theses on freedom, this reading proves quite remarkable, precisely because certain terms, in late Foucault, sometimes have the air of entering into his discourse like unidentified objects. While they seem to refer to different characteristics of the classical subject, the Cartesian subject if you like, Foucault was always hostile to this subject. To say that Foucault returns to it would be as ridiculous as it is incorrect. But for all that, it is difficult to explain how, after the critique of the sovereign subject, Foucault can end up saying, in “What is Enlightenment,” that the historical ontology of ourselves that he proposes implies the philosophical ethos of critique and of the permanent creation of ourselves in our autonomy. [26]  Foucault, “What is Enlightenment?,” 123 [DE, II, no....[26] The creation of ourselves, autonomy—so many terms to take cum grano salis!


Butler, by designating the Foucauldian position of original freedom as an act of language, at the limit of the epistemological field—because original freedom is posited in the discourse without, however, being posited as its foundation—brings it to our attention as an act of courage through which Foucault risks his (idea of the) subject at the limits of that which organizes it.


His mention, his insistence, become an allegory for a certain risk-taking that happens at the limit of the epistemological field. And this becomes a practice of virtue, perhaps, and not, as his critics profess, a sign of moral despair, precisely to the extent that the practice of this kind of speaking posits a value which it does not know how to ground or to secure for itself, posits it anyway, and thereby shows that a certain intelligibility exceeds the limits on intelligibility that power-knowledge has already set.  [27]  Butler, “What is Critique?,” 224 [“Qu’est-ce que la...[27]


And no doubt, she tells us, when one comes, as Foucault does here, to touch the very point of one’s ignorance, one begins to tell the truth about oneself. For Butler the self is psychological, and critique is a labor: the critical labor on the norms that form the subject. The livable life thus serves as the criteria for this critique, in the sense that “an ethical norm that fails to offer a way to live or that turns out, within existing social conditions, to be impossible to appropriate has to become subject to critical revision.” [28]  Butler, Giving an Account, 5–6 [Le Récit, 5].[28] What follows from this is a human, nonviolent ethics, one that is beyond judgment, because the critical struggle that its subjects prosecute, and the aesthetic labor to which they deliver themselves in the performative construction of the self, call for a form of ethics of recognition and forgiveness, rather than an ethics of the censure of judgments. And it is not even surprising that she should have found this citation of Foucault that goes in this direction:


I can’t help but dream about a kind of criticism that would try not to judge but to bring a work, a book, a sentence, and idea to life […]. It would multiply not judgments but signs of existence. [29]  “The Masked Philosopher,” in Michel Foucault, Ethics:...[29]


In Foucault, critique is a stance, “a way of relating to the contemporary,” oriented toward “the contemporary limits of the necessary”—in other words, critique is the critique of the regimes of truth that have led us to constitute ourselves, and to recognize ourselves, as the subjects of what we do, think, and say; and the aim of this critical stance is to rid ourselves of that which is not necessary in the constitution of ourselves as autonomous subjects. It is the historical ontology of ourselves that describes what Foucault understands by critique as practice. And philosophy, as enterprise of speaking the truth, must “constantly practice its criticism with regard to deception, trickery, and illusion, and it is in this that it plays the dialectical game of its own truth.” [30]  Michel Foucault, The Government of Self and Others:...[30] To say of critique that it is a stance, an ethos, a way of thinking and feeling, is to inscribe it into an ethics of the relation to self, of the critical labor of thought upon itself; and this ethics is that of the free courage to speak the truth. In Foucault there is no psychological relation to self, but a relation entirely subtended by an ethics of virtue as courage of truth telling.


In the 1983 Collège de France course The Government of Self and Others, we see that democratic parrhesia (truth telling) is bound up with freedom of speech; freedom is the courage to speak the truth. With philosophical parrhesia, we have the encounter of critical virtue and the freedom that Foucault identifies in what he calls “the real of philosophy.” The real of philosophy consists in the practice of telling the truth to power. The politeia must be the object of the philosopher’s intervention. Philosophy is a way of addressing power. But philosophical truth telling does not consist in giving laws to men; it resides rather in the articulation of the problem of the government of self and the government of others. [31]  Foucault, Lesson of 23 February 1983, 288 [266]: “Philosophy...[31] In this correlation of philosophy to politics, the political thing can never be the affair of the specialist or the property of power, whatever power it may be; and it is only as philosophical discourse, philosophical veridiction, that philosophy thus encounters its reality and exerts its ergon. This correlation which is no coincidence, is the philosophical “position” or mode of intervention, exerted as critique or as counsel. The real of philosophy is attested to in its opening to politics, and without ever being a closed or violent discourse, philosophical discourse resolutely marks its difference in relation to other discourses.


With Butler’s “more psychologically resonant notion of ‘self’” [32]  Butler, “What is Critique?,” 226 [“Qu’est-ce que la...[32] we have a more anthropologically consistent subject, which situates us beyond the temptation of the sovereign subject. Psychoanalysis institutes a relation to self that brings us close to what it might mean to speak the truth about oneself. Nevertheless, we must agree with Foucault that the courage of truth telling is not entirely a matter of psychology, but also one of ethical resoluteness. Butler is right to speak of a suspension of the critical relation to the regime of truth within which one lives. But to speak of the critical force of the subject, of the critical stance, as of a virtue, is to say that the ethical relation to self always ends up relating to a resolution—the resolution to speak and to act, a vital resolution without which there is no subject.

Psychism and Politics: The Permeable Subject or the Critique of Norms


Butler places her reflection on the subject under the aegis of the power to act or conatus, rather than that of free ethical resolution. Let us begin with the critical distance she introduces in Giving an Account of Oneself, where she explains how she is distancing herself from the way in which, in The Psychic Life of Power, she read the Althusserian theme of ideology as interpellation of individuals and subjects.


In The Psychic Life of Power, I perhaps too quickly accepted this punitive scene of inauguration for the subject. According to that view, the institution of punishment ties me to my deed, and when I am punished for having done this or that deed, I emerge as a subject of conscience and, hence, a subject who reflects upon herself in some way. This view of subject formation depends upon an account of a subject who internalizes the law or, minimally, the causal tethering of the subject to the deed for which the institution of punishment seeks compensation. [33]  Butler, Giving an Account, 15 [Le Récit, 15].[33]


In fact, in “‘Conscience Doth Make Subjects of Us All’: Althusser’s Subjection,” [34]  Judith Butler, The Psychic Life of Power: Theories...[34] Butler reads Althusser through Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morality. The scene of interpellation, where the policeman hails the individual, then becomes the site of an interrogation: how could it be that the address is followed by my turning around, when “I” don’t know that it is me? There is an originary aptitude for this turning. The turning is anterior to the formation of the subject; it is inscribed in an anterior complicity with the law. Before all critical comprehension of the law, there is an opening, a permeability, or a vulnerability. Butler uses the Nietzschean idea that conscience is a product of becoming human, but that it is only so qua bad conscience, the turning upon oneself of the aggressive drives that characterize the human animal. For Nietzsche as for Freud, access to culture passes by way of bad conscience, which is the very form of (social) morality. [35]  Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morality, trans. Carol...[35] Butler interprets the formation of the subject in interpellation as a reflexive turning on the self, where the subject is produced as bad conscience.


Althusser’s approach is inscribed more within the critique of the subject through the unconscious, as eternal as ideology, [36]  The unconscious is eternal—that is to say, it has no...[36] in a study of ideological state apparatuses, and the “structure of misrecognition” that is of interest to all research into ideology. [37]  Althusser is quite clear on this subject in “Freud...[37]


I say: the category of the subject is constitutive of all ideology, but at the same time and immediately I add that the category of the subject is only constitutive of all ideology insofar as all ideology has the function (which defines it) of “constituting” concrete individuals as subjects. [38]  Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,”...[38]


What is reflected in the imaginary representation of the world that we find in ideology, is not the conditions of the existence of men, their real world. Ideology is a representation of the imaginary relation of individuals to their real conditions of existence. Ideology thus exists materially in ideological apparatuses—family, school, police, and religion—and the abstract category of the subject serves only as an intermediary in the fabrication of individuals as concrete subjects.


[I]deology “acts” or “functions” in such a way that it “recruits” subjects among the individuals (it recruits them all), or “transforms” the individuals into subjects (it transforms them all) by that very precise operation which I have called interpellation or hailing, and which can be imagined along the lines of the most commonplace everyday police (or other) hailing: “Hey, you there!” […] Experience shows that the practical telecommunication of hailings is such that they hardly ever miss their man: verbal call or whistle, the one hailed always recognizes that it is really him who is being hailed. And yet it is a strange phenomenon, and one which cannot be explained solely by “guilt feelings,” despite the large numbers who “have something on their consciences.” [39]  Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,”...[39]


Althusser does not offer guilty feelings as the explanation of the turning around, and it is the category of the subject, not that of “bad conscience,” that interests him. He identifies “conscience” with the simple behavior of individuals-subjects, occupying posts that the social or technical division of labor has allotted them in production, exploitation, repression, ideologization, scientific practice, etc. For ideology is that which confers upon the individual the capacity to recognize himself in a social identity. It constitutes an imaginary gain, because this world of recognition functions, after the example of Lacan’s mirror stage, through a misrecognition in primordial reality. Subjects work by themselves, writes Althusser, because it is by way of an instance that functions as Subject—God in religion, where “God will recognize his own”; the state or the police for ideological apparatuses—that individuals-subjects recognize themselves in the place they occupy. And it is in the ideological self-evidence of recognition, In the effect obtained of the So be it, that individuals obtain a gain in identity or a gain in being, in the misrecognition of that which is at work in such a recognition—that is to say the reproduction of the relations of production and the relations of subordination or domination that derive from them.


Butler does not engage in the Marxist critique of the subject and ideology, but, in Giving an Account of Oneself, she now proposes to read Althusser through Foucault rather than Nietzsche, because although Althusser emphasizes what Lacanian theory can contribute to a structural analysis of ideology, he does not envisage the types of disobedience that such an interpellary law might produce. With Butler, the law can be refused, and it can be broken, or forced into a rearticulation that places in question the authoritarian rigidity of its unilateral functioning. The subject is not a necessary effect produced by norms, but neither is it completely free to disregard the norm that inaugurates its reflexivity. We fight against those conditions of our lives that we have not been able to choose for ourselves. If there is a power of acting, if there is freedom, it is in a struggle exerted in this field of constraints. The capacity to act “is never totally determined nor radically free.” [40]  Butler, Giving an Account, 19 [Le Récit, 19].[40]


What has been gained in the passage from the first collage (Althusser-Nietzsche) to the second (Althusser-Foucault)? In The Psychic Life of Power, the existence of the subject rests upon a “passionate attachment” to the norm. In Butler this expression translates a constraint that Althusser already mentioned, when he emphasized that an individual is ‘always-already’ a subject and that Freud had already shown this in the ideological ritual of expecting a birth: “Before its birth, the child is therefore always-already a subject, appointed as a subject in and by the specific familial ideological configuration in which it is ‘expected’ once it has been conceived.” [41]  Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,”...[41] What Althusser evokes, in emphasizing that this prior, or primordial, assignment is a more or less pathological, implacable structure, Butler formulates in terms of a passionate attachment to the law. This complicity conditions and limits the viability of a questioning of the law—for one cannot be too critical in relation to modalities that assure one’s own existence. Butler does not propose to construct a scientific discourse (a discourse without subject) on ideology, as Althusser hopes to do, but a “critical de-subjectivation,” a certain will not to be. [42]  Butler, Psychic Life, 130 [La Vie psychique, 197].[42] And this will, “negative” in a certain sense, she interprets as a constitutive desire of being, as power. In other words, the destruction of the subject, of the category of subject, does indeed have a limit. One can nevertheless employ the term “subject.” There is certainly a subject in the negative will not to be, that can be understood in the sense of an intellectual critique that consists in a certain critical reserve in relation to the norms of recognition that make the subject be, and which only make it be on the basis of a sphere of alterity that finds itself excluded, the sphere of invisible and unlivable lives which can be neither lost nor grieved for in public mourning.


What might such a desubjectivation mean? [43]  She reminds us of Foucault’s formulae, in his interview...[43] In Giving an Account of Oneself, it consists in the destruction of the substantial or identitarian subject, and in the way in which the subject is unmade by the Other; in other words, the way in which it is a subject permeable to the Other. This is not, however, the total destruction of the subject. At the moment of The Psychic Life of Power, this subject, following Agamben, is the simple fact of its existence as possibility or power, for Butler invites us to reinterpret the being of the subject as a power that no interpellation can exhaust. The “I” that would oppose itself to its construction supports itself upon this construction in order to express its opposition. A part of its power to act is drawn from its implication in the relations of power to which it opposes itself. To be implicated in relations of power, and even to derive its power from the relations of power that the “I” contests, means not being reducible to their existing forms. Such a power must be understood in the Spinozist sense that Butler gives it, [44]  Judith Butler, “The Desire to Live: Spinoza’s Ethics...[44] in other words, not as the possibilities of a potential subject, in the sense of Aristotle’s dunamis, but as a power to act (potentia, agency) in which is affirmed the identity of the power and the act.


Such a subject is found at once in the politics of the performative, [45]  Judith Butler, Excitable Speech: A Politics of the...[45] not as an underlying subject and presupposition that would “found” the power to act, but as a site of subjectivation. For Butler writes, following Derrida, on the effects of performatives, and the idea that a performative utterance only succeeds if it is iterable; it is inscribed in a citationality that is constitutive for it. The conditions of success for a performative utterance are linked to instituted rules (the right formula, at the right moment, through the representatives of an office that makes possible the accomplishment of such a speech act), but the performative is conditioned by a history wherein it is in reality cited, with greater or lesser success. An insult is rooted in a (sorrowful) history wherein one has always already been called a name. Subversion is found in the repetition itself, which is never identical in its effects, it is inscribed in citationality or re-citation. An individual or a group can take up an injurious or discriminatory name for itself and wear it defiantly, as in queer politics. In spite of the prohibition, the illegal residents of California can sing the national American hymn in Spanish—nuestro hymno—making public the “we” that has been made invisible. They do so in a risky exercise of performative contradiction, which is also the universal affirmation of a right to rights. [46]  See J. Butler and G. Spivak, Who Sings the Nation State?...[46]


Here we have so many exercises in performative contradiction which stand as a political subjectivation, as a critique of the norms of recognition that invisibilize and make unlivable lives that are not recognizable within such norms. Certainly we cannot use terms through which we have experienced violation as if they were external to us. But it is possible to occupy these terms that occupy us. We run the risk of complicity, of repetition, or of falling back into injurious interpellation, but we thereby give ourselves the opportunity to elaborate the power of mobilization engendered by the injury of an interpellation that was never chosen.


Such a subject is also found in the consistency with which Butler envisages living bodies, between Bodies That Count and What Makes a Life, [47]  Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex...[47] as socially produced by norms. [48]  On the body socially produced by norms in Frames of...[48] It is definitively such bodies that constitute the resource for the critique of norms. Through these analyses, we see how living bodies are produced by social norms. Thus, with Lacan, the symbolic universe splits between being and having, assigning the subject to one of the two symbolic functions. Butler, in “The Lesbian Phallus,” thus pleads, not without humor or force, for a circulation of the phallus, as an act of subversion of the naturalization operated in the appeal to a symbolic order. A critical usage of psychoanalysis is necessary to think the psychic life of power, but it also allows us to think the self in act, as living body and as vital critical resource. It is this body, produced socially and instituted by the norms of recognition, that Butler envisages in Frames of War. The subject is the living body. It is produced and instituted by norms; it is as such that it resists, materially or vitally—in other words, practically.


[1] Judith Butler, Giving an Account of Oneself (New York: Fordham University Press, 2005), 111–136; quoted text 121–122 [Le Récit de soi, trans. Bruno Ambroise and Valérie Aucouturier (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 2007), 113–136].

[2] Michel Foucault, “Structuralism and Post-structuralism: An Interview with Michel Foucault,” trans. Jeremy Harding, Telos 55 (1983): 195–211; Reprinted as “Critical Theory/Intellectual History,” in Michel Foucault, Politics, Philosophy, Culture: Interviews and Other Writings 1977–1984, ed. Lawrence D. Kritzman (London and New York: Routledge, 1990), 17–46, here, 33 [“Structuralism et post-structuralisme,” in Michel Foucault, Dits et Écrits (hereafter DE), vol. IV, eds. D. Defert and F. Ewald, with J. Lagrange (Paris: Gallimard, 1994) 444; in the 2001 Gallimard Quarto edition, vol. 2, no. 330, 1264)].

[3] Butler, Giving an Account, 37 [Le Récit, 37].

[4] Judith Butler, “What is Critique? An Essay on Foucault’s Virtue,” in The Political, ed. David Ingram (Oxford/Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2002), 212–228 [“Qu’est-ce que la critique? Essai sur la vertu selon Foucault,” in Penser avec Michel Foucault, ed. M.-C Granjon (Paris: Karthala, 2005), 75–104].

[5] Butler, Giving an Account, 19 [Le Récit, 19].

[6] See K. S. Ong-Van-Cung, “La Vérité du sujet. Descartes et Hegel dans l’histoire de la subjectivité de Foucault,” Idée et idéalisme(Cahiers sur le romantisme et l’idéalisme allemands) (Paris: Vrin, 2006), 185–203.

[7] Michel Foucault, The Use of Pleasure: Volume 2 of The History of Sexuality, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage, 1990), 8–9 [Histoire de la sexualitéII, L’Usage des plaisirs (Paris: Gallimard, 1984), 18–19].

[8] “What is Critique?,” in Michel Foucault, The Politics of Truth, ed.Sylvère Lotringer and Lysa Hochroth (New York: Semiotext(e), 1997),23–82 [“Qu’est-ce que la critique? [Critique et Aufklärung],” Bulletin de la Societé française de philosophie, LXXXIV (1990) (meeting of May 27, 1978), 35–63]. Butler’s “What is Critique?” is a commentary on this text.

[9] Foucault, “What is Critique?,” 27 [“Qu’est-ce que la Critique,” 37].

[10] Foucault, “What is Critique?,” 28 [“Qu’est-ce que la Critique,” 38].

[11] Foucault, “What is Critique?,” 73 [“Qu’est-ce que la Critique,” 53].

[12] Michel Foucault, “An Aesthetics of Existence,” in Kritzman, ed., Politics, Philosophy, Culture, 47–53, here, 50 [“Une Esthétique de l’existence,” (1984) DE II, no. 357, 1552]: “I do indeed believe that there is no sovereign, founding subject, a universal form of subject to be found everywhere. I am very skeptical of this view of the subject and very hostile to it. I believe, on the contrary, that the subject is constituted through practices of subjection, or, in a more autonomous way, through practices of liberation, of liberty, as in Antiquity, on the basis, of course, of a number of rules, styles, inventions to be found in the cultural environment.”

[13] Butler, “What is Critique?,” 216 [“Qu’est-ce que la Critique,” 87].

[14] Michel Foucault, History of Sexuality Volume I: An Introduction (New York: Vintage, 1990), 95 [Histoire de la sexualité, I, La volonté de savoir (Paris: Gallimard, 1976), 125].

[15] Michel Foucault, “What is Enlightenment?,” in The Politics of Truth, 101–134 [“Qu’est-ce que les Lumières,” DE, II, no. 339, 1391]: “We must try to proceed with the analysis of ourselves as beings who are historically determined, to a certain extent, by the Enlightenment. Such an analysis implies a series of historical inquiries that are as precise as possible; and these inquiries will not be oriented retrospectively toward the ‘essential kernel of rationality’ that can be found in the Enlightenment […]; they will be oriented toward the ‘contemporary limits of the necessary,’ that is, toward what is not or is no longer indispensable for the constitution of ourselves as autonomous subjects.”

[16] Butler, “What is Critique?,” 217 [“Qu’est-ce que la critique?,” 89]

[17] Foucault, “What is Critique?,” 32 [“Qu’est-ce que la critique?,” 39].

[18] Butler, “What is Critique?,” 217 [“Qu’est-ce que la critique?,” 90].

[19] Foucault, “What is Critique?,” 46.

[20] Butler, Giving an Account, x [Le Récit, 123].

[21] Foucault, “What is Critique?,” 73 [“Qu’est-ce que la critique?,” 59].

[22] On the Foucauldian notion of the subject and its difference from the Deleuzian conception, see K. S. Ong-Van-Cung, “Désir, plaisir, pouvoir: Un différend entre Deleuze et Foucault?,” in Savoir, domination et sujet, ed. J.-Cl. Bourdin, F. Chauvaud, V. Estellon, B. Geay, and J.-M. Passerault (Rennes, France: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2008), 193–205.

[23] Originary freedom is implied by the question of revolt. Recall the articles that Foucault wrote on the Iranian Revolution: “While revolts take place in history, they also escape it in a certain manner. Some movements are irreducible: those in which a single man, a group, a minority or a complete people asserts that it will no longer obey and risks its life before a power which is considered unjust. There is no power which is capable of making such a movement impossible. Warsaw will always have the ghetto which revolted and those insurgents who filled its sewers. In the end, there is no explanation for the man who revolts. His action is necessarily a tearing that breaks the thread of history and its long chains of reasons so that a man can genuinely give preference to the risk of death over the certitude of having to obey.” “Is It Useless to Revolt?,” (1979), trans. James Bernauer, in Michel Foucault, Michel Foucault: Religion and Culture, ed. Jeremy R. Carrette (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1999), 131–134 [“Inutile de se soulever?,” Penser avec Michel Foucault, 97].

[24] Butler, “What is Critique?,” 224 [“Qu’est-ce que la critique?,” 97].

[25] Butler, “What is Critique?,” 224 [“Qu’est-ce que la critique?,” 98].

[26] Foucault, “What is Enlightenment?,” 123 [DE, II, no. 339, 1392–1394].

[27] Butler, “What is Critique?,” 224 [“Qu’est-ce que la critique?,” 99]. Moreover, it is in this way that Foucault describes his role as an intellectual in “Is It Useless to Revolt?” (134 [“Inutile de se soulever?,” 794]): “I am an intellectual […] to be respectful when something singular arises, to be intransigent when power offends against the universal. A simple choice, but a difficult work. It is always necessary to watch out for something, a little beneath history, that breaks with it, that agitates it; it is necessary to look, a little behind politics, for that which ought to limit it, unconditionally.”

[28] Butler, Giving an Account, 5–6 [Le Récit, 5].

[29] “The Masked Philosopher,” in Michel Foucault, Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth. The Essential Works of Michel Foucault, ed. Paul Rabinow(Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin and Allen Lane, 1997) [“Le Philosophe masqué,” DE, IV, 106; in the Quarto edition 285, DE, II, 925].

[30] Michel Foucault, The Government of Self and Others: Lectures at the Collège de France 1982–1983, trans. Graham Burchell, Lesson of March 9, 1983, 354 [Le Gouvernement de soi et des autres. Cours au collège de France 1982–1983 (Paris: Seuil/Gallimard/Hautes études, 2008), 326].

[31] Foucault, Lesson of 23 February 1983, 288 [266]: “Philosophy has to tell the truth in relation to politics, it does not say what politics truly has to do. […] But, on the other hand, for a philosophy to put itself to the test of its reality, it is as indispensable now as in Plato’s time that it be able to tell the truth in relation to [political] action, that it tell the truth in the name of a critical analysis, or in the name of a philosophy, or a conception of rights, or in the name of a conception of sovereignty, etc. It is essential for all philosophy to be able to tell the truth in relation to politics, it is important for all political practice to be in a permanent relationship with this truth telling, but it being understood that the truth telling of philosophy does not coincide with what a political rationality can and must be.”

[32] Butler, “What is Critique?,” 226 [“Qu’est-ce que la critique?,” 101].

[33] Butler, Giving an Account, 15 [Le Récit, 15].

[34] Judith Butler, The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection, chap. 4, 106–131 [La Vie psychique du pouvoir. L’assujettissement et théories, trans. B. Matthieussent (Paris: Léo Scheer, 2002), chap. 4, 165–198]

[35] Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morality, trans. Carol Diethe, ed. Keith Ansell-Pearson [Généalogie de la morale, trans. I. Hildenbrand and J. Gratien (Paris: Gallimard, 1971)], II, 16: “I look on bad conscience as a serious illness to which man was forced to succumb by the pressure of the most fundamental of all changes which he experienced,—that change whereby he finally found himself imprisoned within the confines of society and peace. […]. All instincts which are not discharged outwardly turn inwards—this is what I call the internalization of man: with it there now evolves in man what will later be called his ‘soul.’”

[36] The unconscious is eternal—that is to say, it has no history. “If eternal means, not transcendent to all (temporal) history, but omnipresent, trans-historical and therefore immutable in form throughout the extent of history, I shall adopt Freud’s expression word for word, and write ideology is eternal, exactly like the unconscious.” Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation),” in Louis Althusser, On Ideology (London and New York: Verso, 2008), 1–60: 35 [Positions (Paris: Éditions sociales, 1976; reprinted in Sur la reproduction (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1995), 269–314: 295].

[37] Althusser is quite clear on this subject in “Freud and Lacan”: “Since Marx, we have known that the human subject, the economic, political or philosophical ego is not the ‘center’ of history—and even, in opposition to the Philosophers of the Enlightenment and to Hegel, that history has no ‘center’ but possesses a structure which has no necessary ‘center’ except in ideological misrecognition. In turn, Freud has discovered for us that the real subject, the individual in his unique essence, has not the form of an ego, centered on the ‘ego,’ on ‘consciousness’ or on ‘existence’—whether this is the existence of the for-itself, of the body-proper or of ‘behavior’—that the human subject is de-centered, constituted by a structure which has no ‘center’ either, except in the imaginary misrecognition of the ‘ego,’ i.e., in the ideological formations in which it ‘recognizes’ itself.” “Freud and Lacan,” in On Ideology, 147–171: 170–171 [“Freud et Lacan,” in Positions, reprinted in Écrits sur la psychanalyse. Freud et Lacan (Paris: Stock-Imec, 1993), 23–48: 47). This is a matter of a critique of the subject, as emphasized by Franck Fischbach in “‘Les Sujets marchent tout seuls’… Althusser et l’interpellation,” in Althusser: une lecture de Marx, ed. Jean-Claude Bourdin (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 2008), 113–145.

[38] Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,” 45 [“Idéologie et appareils,” 303]

[39] Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,” 45 [“Idéologie et appareils,” 305].

[40] Butler, Giving an Account, 19 [Le Récit, 19].

[41] Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,” 50 [“Idéologie et appareils,” 307].

[42] Butler, Psychic Life, 130 [La Vie psychique, 197].

[43] She reminds us of Foucault’s formulae, in his interview with D. Trombadori: “Interview with Michel Foucault” (1980), in The Essential Works of Foucault, 1954–1984, vol 3: Power, ed. James D. Faubion (New York: New Press, 2001), 252 [DE, no. 281, 862]. Foucault is fascinated by the experience of desubjectivation as an experience of the unlivable, but the texts of History of Sexuality II and of Dits et Écrits replace this fascination with the definition of the experience of self-transformation and they make of the writing of history such an experience of thinking otherwise than one thinks and experimenting with the limits of the necessary. See DE, 860.

[44] Judith Butler, “The Desire to Live: Spinoza’s Ethics under Pressure,” in Politics and the Passion (1500–1850), ed. V. Kahn, N. Sacamano, and D. Coli (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006).

[45] Judith Butler, Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative (London and New York: Routledge, 1997) [Le Pouvoir des mots. Politique du performatif, trans. C. Nordmann (Paris: Éditions Amsterdam, 2004)].

[46] See J. Butler and G. Spivak, Who Sings the Nation State? (Calcutta: Seagull, 2011), 65 ff [L’État global (Paris: Payot, 2007), 57 ff].

[47] Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex (London and New York: Routledge Classics, 2011) [Ces Corps qui comptent. De la Matérialité discursive et des limites du « sexe », trans. C. Nordmann (Paris: Éditions Amsterdam, 2009)]; Frames of War: When is Life Grievable? (London and New York: Verso, 2009) [Ce qui fait une vie. Essai sur la violence, la guerre et le deuil, trans. Joëlle Marelli (Paris: Zones, 2010)].

[48] On the body socially produced by norms in Frames of War, see Kim Sang Ong-Van-Cung, “Reconnaissance et vulnérabilité: Honneth et Butler,” Archives de philosophie,cahier 73-1 (2010).

Mark Olssen
University of Surrey

Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh,
11-13 September 2003

A critique is not a matter of saying that things are not right as they are. It is a matter of pointing out on what kinds of assumptions, what kinds of familiar, unchallenged, unconsidered modes of thought, the practices that we accept rest.... Criticism is a matter of flushing out that thought and trying to change it: to show that things are not as self-evident as we believed, to see that what is accepted as self-evident will no longer be accepted as such. Practising criticism is a matter of making facile gestures difficult. (Foucault, 1988a: 154)

Critique, for Foucault, aims at identifying and exposing the unrecognised forms of power in people's lives, to expose and move beyond the forms in which we are entrapped in relation to the diverse ways that we act and think. In this sense, critique aims to free us from the historically transitory constraints of contemporary consciousness as realised in and through discursive practices. Such constraints impose limitations which have become so intimately a part of the way that people experience their lives that they no longer experience these systems as limitations but embrace them as the very structure of normal and natural human behaviour. Within these limits, seen as both the limits of reason and the limits of nature, freedom is subordinated to reason, which is subordinated to nature, and it is against such a reduction of reason to nature that Foucault struggles. His commitment is to a form of `permanent criticism' which must be seen as linked to his broader programme of freedom of thought. It is the freedom to think differently than what we already know. Thought and life achieve realisation through an attitude of `permanent criticism' which does not have as its aim an objective of absolute emancipation, or absolute enlightenment, but rather aims at limited and partial operations on the world as well as acts of aesthetic self-creation framed within a critical ontology of ourselves and supported by an ethics and aesthetics of existence. The three central thinkers in terms of whom Foucault's notion of critique takes form are Kant, Nietzsche, and Heidegger, and it is in terms of these three thinkers that our consideration of Foucault's conception proceeds.

Foucault and Kant

Much of Foucault's approach to critique stems from his radicalization of the Kantian approach to critique. As James Miller (1994: 138) notes "Foucault never ceased to consider himself a kind of Kantian". In The Order of Things Foucault (1970: 384) tells us that Kantian critique forms an essential part of "the immediate space of our reflection. We think in that area". Further, as Miller (1994: 138) notes, in an essay completed shortly before his death for a French Dictionary of Philosophy1, Foucault also situates his own work within the critical tradition of Kant. This tradition, says Foucault, entails "an analysis of the conditions under which certain relations of subject and object are formed or modified" and a demonstration of how such conditions "are constitutive of a possible knowledge" (cited in Miller, 1994: 138)2

In Foucault's view, Kant founded the two great critical traditions between which modern philosophy has been divided. On the one hand, Kant laid down and founded that critical tradition of philosophy which defines the conditions under which a true knowledge is possible, of which a whole area of modern philosophy since the nineteenth century has been presented and developed on that basis as an analytic of truth; on the other hand, he initiated a mode of critical interrogation that is immanent in the movement of the Enlightenment and which directs our attention to the present and asks `what is the contemporary field of possible experience?' It is to this latter emphasis, starting with Hegel and leading through Nietzsche, Weber and the Frankfurt School, that Foucault locates his own work.

Foucault sees in Kant's essay `An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?'3 of 1784 the origin of a critical ontology of the present. Foucault summarises Kant's definition of the concept `Enlightenment' as a measure of man's "release from his self-incurred tutelage" (Kant, 1992: 90). Kant defines Enlightenment, says Foucault (1984a: 34), "in an entirely negative way, as an Ausgang, an `exit' or `way out' . . . he is looking for a difference: what difference does today introduce with respect to yesterday?" In this, Foucault discovers Kant as "an archer", as Habermas (1986: 165) has put it, "who aims his arrow at the heart of the most actual features of the present and so opens the discourse of modernity". As Foucault puts it:

The question which seems to me to appear for the first time in this text by Kant is the question of the present, of the contemporary moment. What is happening today? What is happening now? And what is this "now" which we all inhabit, and which defines the moment in which I am writing? ... Now it seems to me that the question Kant answers...has to do with what this present is...The question is: what is there in the present which can have contemporary meaning for philosophical reflection. (Foucault, 1986: 88-89)4

In considering the Enlightenment, what also must be taken into account, says Foucault (1986: 89) is that it was "the Aufkl�rung itself which named itself the Aufkl�rung". In this, it was " a cultural process of indubitably a very singular character, which came to self-awareness through the act of naming itself, situating itself in relation to its past and its future, and in prescribing the operation which it was required to effect within its own present" Thus, as Foucault (1984a: 34) summarises it, Kant indicates in his essay that the 'way out' that characterises the Enlightenment is a process that releases us from the status of our own immaturity, an immaturity in which we accept someone else's authority to lead us in areas where the use of reason is called for.

Kant links the process of release from immaturity to man himself. He notes that "man himself is responsible for his immature status . . . that he is able to escape from it by a change that he himself will bring about in himself". Hence Kant's motto for the Enlightenment: aude sapere (dare to know) (1984a: 34).

It is in this sense, says Foucault (1984a: 35), that the Enlightenment for Kant is both a collective process, as well as an act of personal courage. As integral to the conditions for escape from immaturity, Kant seeks to distinguish the realm of obedience and reason. Hence one must obey as a condition of being able to reason freely (Kant gives the example of paying one's taxes while being free to reason about the system of taxation in operation). Thus central to the Enlightenment in Kant's view is the public use of reason which "must be free . . . [for] it alone can bring about enlightenment among men" (Kant, 1992: 92). To resolve the issue as to how the public use of free reason can co-exist with obedience to the law, Kant proposes his famous contract with Frederick II. This, as Foucault puts it, "might be called the contract of rational despotism with free reason: the public and free use of autonomous reason will be the best guarantee of obedience, on condition, however, that the political principle that must be obeyed itself be in conformity with universal reason" (Foucault, 1984a: 37).

There is a connection, in Foucault's view, between the brief article `What is Enlightenment' and Kant's three Critiques, for Kant describes the Enlightenment as the moment when humanity is going to put its own reason to use, without subjecting itself to any authority. It is precisely at this moment, however, that critique is necessary since, as Foucault (1984a: 37-38) puts it, "its role is that of defining the conditions under which the use of reason is legitimate. . . . The Critique is, in a sense, the handbook of reason that has grown up in the Enlightenment; and, conversely, the Enlightenment is the age of the Critique". Thus, Kant's short essay on the Enlightenment constitutes "a reflection . . . on the contemporary status of his own enterprise" (1984a: 37). It is in this sense, as Foucault maintains (1984a: 38), that "this little text is located . . . at the crossroads of critical reflection and reflection on history".

Foucault takes Kant's text as the point of emergence of the question of modernity. As he puts it:

the question of modernity has been posed in classical culture according to an axis with two poles, antiquity and modernity; it had been formulated either in terms of an authority to be accepted or rejected . . . or else in the form . . . of a comparative evaluation: are the Ancients superior to the Moderns? are we living in a period of decadence? and so forth. There now appears a new way of posing the question of modernity, no longer within a longitudinal relationship to the Ancients, but rather in what one might call a `sagital' relation to one's own present-ness. Discourse has to take account of its own present-ness, in order to find its own place, to pronounce its meaning, and to specify the mode of action which it is capable of exercising within this present. What is my present? What is the meaning of this present? Such is, it seems to me, the substance of this new interrogation on modernity. (Foucault, 1986: 90)

Hence, for Foucault (1986: 89), Kant's essay introduces a new type of question into the field of philosophical reflection, one that sees philosophy "problematizing its own discursive present-ness" within the context of history. It is this historical contextualization that was Kant's reason for undertaking his work at the particular time, in the first place. In fact, the question he was addressing was one put to him and other Aufkl�rer by the Berlinische Monatsschrift. Fifteen years later Kant posed a similar question in response to the French Revolution of 1798. In his article `The Contest of the Faculties'5, Kant considers the question as to the nature of the French Revolution. What he was searching for was a `sign' of progress of the human race. In order to judge progress, reasoned Kant, rather than seek to follow the threads of a "teleological fabric which would make progress possible" (1986: 92) Kant thought it necessary "to isolate and identify in history an event that will serve as a sign for progress". Further, says Foucault (1986: 92):

The event that will be able to allow us to decide whether there is progress will be a sign, which is 'rememorativum, demonstrativum, prognosticom'. It must be a sign that shows that it has already been thus (the rememorative sign), a sign that shows that things are at present happening thus (the demonstrative sign), a sign finally which shows that things will always be thus (the prognostic sign). We will then be sure that the cause which makes progress possible has not been operative only at a particular moment, but that it guarantees a general tendency of the whole human race to advance in the direction of progress. (Foucault, 1986: 92)

Is there such a sign? Kant's answer was `the French Revolution' has such signifying value, although it is not the revolution as an event which constitutes the sign but rather "the way the Revolution operates as spectacle, the way it is generally received by spectators who did not take part in it but watch it, witness it and, for better or worse, allow themselves to be swept along by it" (1986: 93). It doesn't even matter whether the Revolution succeed or fail. What constitutes the sign of progress is, as Kant expresses it, that the Revolution is surrounded by "a wishful participation that borders closely on enthusiasm" (cited in Foucault, 1986: 93).

Hence, for Kant, the enthusiasm for Revolution "is the sign of a moral disposition of humanity" (Foucault, 1986: 93); it completes and continues the process of the Enlightenment, that event that denotes the long journey from humanity's immaturity to maturity. In Foucault's view, Kant's two questions -`What is Enlightenment?' and `What is Revolution?'- are the two forms in which he poses the question of his own present. They are also the two questions "which have continued to haunt if not all modern philosophy since the nineteenth century, at least a great part of it". For Kant, says Foucault, the Enlightenment constitutes both a "singular event inaugurating European modernity and as a permanent process manifesting itself in the history of reason" (1986: 95).

Foucault is less convinced than Kant that the Enlightenment is a long, slow, uphill pilgrimage based on the directing capacities of reason, and less convinced than Kant that the Revolution constitutes a sign of progress. For Foucault, rather than being a period or event based on conviction and certainty in man's newfound, mature dependence on reason, the Enlightenment signifies uncertainty and the need for caution. Similarly, the Revolution is not an event marked by the passage of enthusiasm which serves as a sure sign of progress, but an event that is an ambiguous occurrence and always potentially dangerous: "liable to succeed or miscarry, or to succeed at unacceptable cost" (1986: 92). Hence, while Foucault respects Kant's argument, he finds it flawed on several grounds: "many things in our experience convince us that the historical event of the Enlightenment did not make us mature adults, and we have not reached that stage yet" (1984a: 49). The Revolution that Kant took to be a sign of progress, although "born of rationalism . . . one is entitled to ask what part is played in the effects of despotism in which that hope lost itself" (Foucault, 1980b: 54).


Foucault's critique of humanism is consistent throughout his work. As he expressed it in a later essay, anthropological humanism takes various forms and can be seen evident in Christianity, Marxism, Existentialism, Phenomenology, even Nazism and Stalinism, says Foucault. In addition (1984a: 44):

Humanism is . . . a theme or rather set of themes that have reappeared on several occasions over time, in European societies; these themes, always tied to value judgements, have obviously varied greatly in their content, as well as in the values they have preserved. . . . From this we must not conclude that everything that has ever been linked with humanism is to be rejected, but that the humanistic thematic is in itself too supple, too diverse, too inconsistent to serve as an axis for reflection. And it is a fact that, at least since the seventeenth century, what is called humanism has always been obliged to lean on certain conceptions of man borrowed from religion, science, or politics. Humanism serves to color and to justify the conceptions of man to which it is, after all, obliged to take recourse.

In its more specific usage, however, humanism constitutes a condition of possibility of the Enlightenment episteme. It focuses on the study of Man placing the subject at the centre of life. Kantianism sees man as transcendental arbiter of reason and as both subject and object of knowledge, leading in Foucault's view to the fundamental incompatibilities in the conception of what man is and in the nature of modernist knowledge that he analysed in The Order of Things (1970: 316-322). For Foucault, man cannot be seen as a foundation or origin or condition of possibility of discourse. Kant's attempt to do so was part of his search for an original foundation "that would make rationality the telos of mankind, and link the whole history of thought to the preservation of this rationality" (Foucault, 1972: 12-13). Although Kant's 'analytic of finitude' made possible the sciences of man, man is placed in an unstable position as both the subject and object of knowledge. Hence, man emerges in the 'analytic of finitude' introduced by Kant as a "strange empirico-transendental doublet" because he is both the object of knowledge (that which knowledge seeks to know about) and the subject of knowledge (that which strives after such knowledge). Such a humanism introduces radical instabilities into the human sciences. As Hiley (1985:72) puts it:

Humanism, as Foucault understood it, exhausts itself in an endless back and forth

from one side to the other of man and his doubles: from man as the condition for the possibility of knowledge to man as himself an object in the empirical field; from man's attempt to become intelligible to himself by making accessible the unthought that always eludes him because it is that which makes thought possible; from man's curious relations with his history as historical and what makes history possible in which his origin always retreats. Humanism or the analytic of finitude, then, is 'warped and twisted forms of reflection,' and all those forms of reflection that take man as the starting point, that talk of man's liberation, that attempt to reach the truth about man are caught in the futility of the doubles.

Humanism, then, involves the claim that man, for Kant, exists at the centre of the universe as a finite being who can reason within limits which he cannot go beyond. Such a notion generates insoluble contradictions for the human sciences because it is based on incompatible conceptions of what man, his history, and mind are. Foucault (1970: 312-313) traces the play of these contradictions as they have emerged alongside of the empirical human sciences. Hence on the one hand our knowledge must be limited, as man knows himself as a finite being, as an objective of nature; on the other hand that finitude which establishes the limits of human understanding is claimed to be the condition that makes knowledge of this finitude possible (1970: 314-315). Hence the possibility of knowledge is established on limits to reason which deny it (1970: 317-318).

Kant's transcendentalism is thus underpinned by an anthropological conception of the subject. Foucault opposes Kantian humanism in the same way he opposed the Cartesian conception of the atomized and disembodied Cogito at the centre of the universe. For Foucault, the Cartesian conception of an autonomous and rational subject who is set apart from history depends upon a distinction between mind and body setting up a dualism of inner/outer. In this model, while the body is subject to the determinations of the laws of nature, mind is autonomous unto itself. In such a conception, knowledge is seen as grounded upon an incorrigible and indubitable foundation. Following Heidegger and Nietzsche, humanism, for Foucault, has a specific meaning which refers to the philosophical centrality or priority of the subject whose rational capacities, which are asocial and ahistorical, serve as a foundation anchoring objectivity and truth. As Fraser (1994: 191) states, humanism 'is the project of making the subject pole triumph over the object pole" representing man as constitutor, as free, as all knowing, and as master of their fate and destiny. Foucault's conception of the subject, influenced by Nietzsche, sees it as having no `unity', `essence' or integral identity.

It is in defense of this philosophical anti-humanism that Foucault presents his reading and adaptation of Kant. In his introductory commentary to Kant's Anthropology Foucault argues that this work is much more important to Kant's overall project than has commonly been represented6. By 'anthropology' Kant meant the actual empirical study of the human being, and in his Logic Kant suggests that anthropology might be regarded as the fundamental issue in philosophy, as all of the questions that he was centrally concerned with stem from the more basic question 'What is Man?' In his introduction to Kant's Anthropology7 Foucault suggests that Kant's own conception of the person's choice grows out of the network of social practices which constitute them. Yet in order to establish knowledge as secure Kant distinguished between the empirical and the transcendental, positing specific laws of cognition in order to ground objectivity against skeptical attack. Thus central to Kant's Copernican Revolution were (1) the establishment of lawful cognitive regularities to anchor objectivity, (2) the establishment of free will as a transcendental practice, and (3) the representation of human beings as constructing their moral and political worlds for themselves through the utilisation of the capabilities of reason. Although Kant believed that such a constructivism, if carried out according to the dictates of reason, would vindicate the traditional Christian idea of God, in Foucault's view the consequences of his transcendental critique was to establish human beings as having much greater creative capabilities than Kant had supposed. Hence, for Foucault (1960: 17), as Miller (1994: 140) recounts, "the world appears as a city to be built, rather than as a cosmos already given". In Foucault's view, then, Kant had failed to confront the constructivist implications that his insight regarding the transcendental power of human beings revealed. As Miller (1994: 141) expresses the point:

Instead of exercising the power of free will and imagining "a city to be built", Kant in his Anthropology tried to vindicate a "normative understanding", not only by codifying the kind of savior faire acquired in the course of everyday life, but also of accusing of "high treason" anyone who regarded such know-how as counterfeit and illusory. As Foucault sums up the argument of his thesis in The Order of Things, Kant's philosophy produces, "surreptitiously and in advance, the confusion of the empirical and the transcendental, even though Kant had demonstrated the division between them8

What Kant's Anthropology also reveals, in Foucault's view, is the contextual historical character of the categories which take root in, and develop in the social and historical customs and practices of a specific society. In this context, the role of the philosopher is to understand the historical nature of the a priori through a detailed examination of the social and historical practices (customs, language, habits, discourses, institutions, disciplines) from which a particular style of reasoning emerges and develops. It is in this sense, for Foucault, as Miller (1994: 140) puts it, Kant's Anthropology, far from being "a piece of crackpot pseudo science opens up an important new philosophical horizon". As Miller (1994: 140) continues:

Despite its apparent eccentricity, Kant's book underlines for Foucault the manifold ways in which "the self, by becoming an object" of regulated social practices, "takes its place in the field of experience and finds there a concrete system of belonging". This system is "immediate and imperative", no human being may escape it; it is transmitted in "the regulated element of language," organized "without the intervention of a force or authority," activated within each subject "purely and simply because he speaks".9

For Foucault, the unresolved tension of Kant's philosophical project is that he fails to appreciate the contingent and historically contextualized character of all truth-claims, i.e., to advocate a notion of critique which claims to transcend specific historical conditions through the exercise of cognitive faculties (of understanding, reason, and judgement) deduced a priori as timeless structures. The transcendental character of Kant's argument resides in positing a priori categories which are deduced to constitute the consciousness of the human subject, as that which organizes perception as a timeless and universal structure. In this sense, Foucault rejects Kant's claims to have established the universal grounds for the conditions of possibility of human knowledge, and Kant's claims for transcendental reason are replaced for Foucault by a principle of permanent contingency. By extension, Foucault disputes Kant's claim to have established a secure foundation by which to differentiate different types of knowledge claims, relating to science, practical reason, or aesthetics. The objective is to switch from a conception of critique as being transcendentally grounded, to a conception of critique which conceives it as practical and as historically specific. Thus Foucault says:

Criticism is no longer going to be practised in the search for formal structures with universal value, but rather as an historical investigation into the events that have led us to constitute ourselves and to recognise ourselves as subjects of what we are doing, thinking, saying. In this sense the criticism is not transcendental, and its goal is not that of making a metaphysics possible: it is genealogical in its design and archaeological in its method. (Foucault, 1984a: 45-46)

Hence, on Foucault's account, Kant's famous questions `What can I know?', `What ought I to do?' and `What may I hope for?', as James Bernauer ( Foucault, 1991: 46) expresses it, Foucault would "de-nature" and "historicize" them:

Not "What can I know?," but rather, "How have my questions been produced? How has the path of my knowing been determined?" Not "What ought I to do", but rather, "How have I been situated to experience the real? How have exclusions operated in delineating the realm of obligation for me?" Not "What may I hope for?," but rather, "What are the struggles in which I am engaged? How have the parameters for my aspirations been defined?"

Foucault's genealogical project is then a critique of reason whereby he seeks to introduce, to use Thomas McCarthy's (1994: 249) phrase "a sociohistorical turn" into the practice of philosophy. In order to explore "the nature scope and limits of human reason" we have to understand:

the intrinsic impurity of what we call reason - its embeddedness in culture and society, its engagement with power and interest, the historical variability of its categories and criteria, the embodied, sensuous and practically engaged character of its bearers... and this calls for models of sociohistorical enquiry that go beyond the traditional bounds of philosophical analysis. The critique of reason as a non-foundationalist enterprise is concerned with structures and rules that transcend the individual consciousness. But what is supraindividual in this way is no longer understood as transcendental; it is sociocultural in origin. (McCarthy, 1994: 243-244)

Foucault thus adapts Kant to support his socio-historical conception through which individuals are constituted in relation to a world of already given practices of a determinate historical terrain. In drawing on Nietzsche's method of genealogy, institutions and practices are historically investigated in order to trace the forms of power and lines of opposition between and amongst them. For Nietzsche our habitual modes of action and thought have an historical origin and bare the marks of conflicting individual wills to power of people, groups and classes in history. In On the Genealogy of Morals Nietzsche shows how our dominant moral codes emerged from the battle of classes and groups (e.g. Romans and Jews) in the past. Genealogy seeks to trace the lines of the battles that have gone into making the world as we know it in the present, natural. In this sense it contributes to problematizing our taken-for-granted beliefs and conceptions about the way the world is.

A further sense in which Foucault is anti-humanist arises in the writings of the 1970s, specifically Discipline and Punish, the History of Sexuality, and in his writings on power (see Foucault, 1980a). In these works, Foucault is concerned with the role of the human sciences in the emergence and maintenance of normalization through disciplinary bio-power. Bio-power, as David Hiley (1985: 73) tells us, is a uniquely modern form of power/knowledge which includes "disciplinary techniques for optimizing administration of bodies with regulatory controls over biological processes for the management of life" (Hiley, 1985: 73; citing Foucault, 1978c: 139). It functions via normalization to colonize every aspect of life. As Hiley (1985: 73) continues:

It is productive rather than merely repressive; it is capillary, decentralized and omnipresent, it operates through coercion, surveillance and discipline at the level of micro-practices rather than merely through ideological distortion; it is intentional and strategically deployed but nonsubjective, i.e., it is strategies without strategists.10

Liberal fears of anti-humanism

Following Nietzsche, Heidegger, Althusser, Lacan, the structuralists, Derrida, and Deleuze, Foucault's anti-humanism is specifically a philosophical thesis which represents humanism as bolstering a 'philosophy of consciousness' as entailed in the foundationalist claims of Descartes and Kant. As a consequence, Foucault's anti-humanism must be seen as undercutting only the modernist notion of the subject, and as such, much of the core of humanist values can be retained. As a philosophical thesis anti-humanism questions the values of autonomy, subjectivity and self-determination. One can, on such a view, still oppose oppression and domination, as well as those values that could be represented as 'anti-humanity'. As well, one still tries to equalise power, to liberate. What Foucault is opposing essentially then, is the modernist conception of the subject, articulated in the philosophies of Descartes and Kant, and which took root in the period of the Enlightenment developing from a number of threads that can be traced from the 15th to the 18th centuries. As Tony Davies (1997: 9) says "the word is of German coinage and ...its credentials are Greek". Humanism was a term which centred on the development of the individual by such writers as Burckhardt, Vasari, Machiavelli, and Marlowe. It entails:

the myth of the essential universal man: essential, because humanity -human-ness-is the inseparable and central essence, the defining quality, of human beings; universal, because that essential humanity is shared by all human beings of whatever time or place (Davies,1997: 24)

If 15th century Italy is one source of humanism, then the revolutionary discourse on rights is another, says Davies. When Rousseau, in the Social Contract (1762) announces that "L'homme est n� libre, et partout il est dans les fers', he distinguishes between abstract 'Man' and 'actual man' caught in their social position. Similarly, Thomas Paines Rights of Man (1792) or Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence (1776) all appeal to the abstract singularity and universality of Man. (Davies, 1997: 24-32). Humanism, then, posits a "timeless and unlocalised" condition, which is "Frederich Nietzsche's radical insight". In Human, All Too Human (1880), says Davies, (1997: 32), Nietzsche wrote that:

All philosophers involuntarily think of 'man' as an aeterna veritas [eternal truth], as something that remains constant in the midst of all flux, as a sure measure of things...Lack of historical sense is the family failing of all philosophers; many without being aware of it, even take the most recent manifestations of man, such as has arisen under the impress of certain religions, even certain political events, as the fixed form from which one has to start out...But everything has become: there are no eternal facts, just as there are no absolute truths.(Davies, 1997: 33; citing Hollingdale, 1973: 60-61)

And Nietzsche's message would also be that of Foucault: what is needed from now on is "historical philosophising" and with it "the virtue of modesty" by which he meant "a healthy willingness to resist temptation to confuse our own dispositions and values with some universal and eternal 'human condition' (Davies, 1997: 33; from Hollingdale, 1973: 65). At a philosophical level, then, Foucault rejects the Kantian paradigm of critique as grounded in the idea of an autonomous, self-constituting, transcendental subject.

According to Nancy Fraser (1994: 196) the foundationalist warrant that humanism justifies is not only philisophical but also political and strategic, in that humanist values are utilised by liberals in opposing absolutist government, the use of torture, and the violation of rights. Here, however, while it is true that Foucault opposes humanism in this sense, he does not thereby support absolute government, or torture, or the violation of rights. Rather, what he argues is that such causes are not adequately supported or opposed by humanist liberal arguments. Humanism is a discursive myth, and notions of autonomy and self-determination are illusions of a liberal hegemony form of disciplinary government which fail to recognise the historical constitution of selfhood. Such a discourse is at odds with both reason and experience.

Fraser also claims that Foucault could be seen as rejecting humanism on normative grounds which would be to introduce a relativistic argument that humanism is (just another) form of disciplinary bio-power in a world where all forms of power are disciplinary, and equally arbitrary. I have already rejected such an interpretation of Foucault in my book Michel Foucault: Materialism and Education (Olssen, 1999: chp. 7). Thus, expressed in terms of Fraser's language, my argument is that Foucault's anti-humanism, like Althusser's, is exclusively conceptual or philosophical. It is, as Fraser (1994: 207) has put it, "the project of de-Cartesianizing humanism". This is to acknowledge the Heideggerian, as well as the Nietzschean, influence on Foucault. For it was Heidegger, in his attack upon Cartesianism, who argued that what modern philosophy posited as universal and ahistorical, was in reality contingent and historically located11. Just as Heidegger theorizes the background system of beliefs and values that constitute Being, so Foucault sees humanism as a particular discourse of power/knowledge whose central figure is man. And, furthermore, "as the archaeology of our thought easily shows, man is an invention of recent date. And one perhaps nearing its end." (Foucault, 1970: 387).

Foucault's rejection of humanism cannot, thus, be seen as a relativistic rejection of ethics, freedom, or the possibilities of self-creation. Rather, Foucault explicitly advocates for a non-humanist ethical paradigm, which can be extrapolated for him, from his later works on ethics, to answer the charge, in Fraser's (1994: 196) terms, of why we should challenge a fully panopticized society. Although for Foucault, as for Spinoza, 'the body forgets nothing'12, in that it is subject to external determinations, as for Spinoza, it also has its own momentum or force for acting on the world. In opposing humanism, Foucault is not thereby rejecting agency or freedom for, like Spinoza, he sees the subject as possessing both passive and active dimensions13. It is not then that no humanist values are worthy of protection, but that modernist humanism radically misconceives them. If this argument is valid, then Foucault's rejection of modernity and its values is not a rejection tout court, but only of some aspects of it. Likewise, in rejecting humanism, he is rejecting a specific theoretical, philosophical discourse. The rejection of humanism, then, does not entail the rejection of humane values, despite historical associations between thinkers like Heidegger or Nietzsche with political movements like Nazism14. Such documented associations make an additional comment important, however. The existence of support for fascist causes by a thinker such as Heidegger, or the appropriation of several Nietzschean themes for the support of Nazi policies, cannot be seen as undermining or discrediting the thinkers entire philosophical ouvre. Nor can it suggest that themes such as genealogy, or the priority of the social over the individual could be represented as lending support to such causes, directly or indirectly, inspite of the fact that Nietzsche (like Wagner) was appropriated to the Nazi campaign. In this sense, as Davies (1997: 34) states, it is:

worth stressing that what is at stake in the Nietzschean not the endorsement of some proto-fascist brutality and humiliation but the analysis of one of the central myths of nineteenth century civilization, its 'religion of humanity', among whose monstrous offspring Nazism itself can be numbered.

Neither is it possible to see how Foucault's philosophical anti-humanism could plausibly be linked to such themes. Rather, it denotes Foucault's attempt to expunge a metaphysical remnant from the enlightenment. In this sense, then, it is a limited technical discourse which signifies his affinity with structuralism as it:

kicks away the twin pillars of humanism: the sovereignty of rational consciousness and the authenticity of individual speech. Thought and speech, which for the humanist had been the central substance of identity, are located elsewhere, and the self is a vacancy. 'I', as the poet Rimbauld put it, 'is an other'. (Davies, 1997: 60)

Critique as a permanent philosophical ethos

For Foucault because the Enlightenment has not evacuated the problems and dangers of earlier periods in history, the implications of his criticisms of Kant mean that the basis to critique must be as a form of permanent interrogative thinking:

The thread that may connect us with the Enlightenment is not faithfulness to doctrinal elements, but rather the permanent reactivation of an attitude - that is, of a philosophical ethos that could be described as a permanent critique of our historical era. (Foucault, 1984a: 42)

In that the Enlightenment emphasises `permanent critique', it emphasises a form of philosophical interrogation which "simultaneously problematizes man's relation to the present, man's historical mode of being, and the constitution of the self as an autonomous subject", says Foucault (1984b: 42). Critique, then, defines an `ethos' which has both a negative and a positive heuristic. In terms of its negative heuristic, Foucault identifies the need to refuse what he calls "the `blackmail' of the Enlightenment" (1984a: 42.). This refers to the pressure to be either "for or against the Enlightenment", to "accept the Enlightenment and remain with the tradition of its rationalism . . . or [to] criticise the Enlightenment and then try to escape from its principles of rationality" (1984a: 43). Rather:

We must try to proceed with the analysis of ourselves as beings who are historically determined, to a certain extent by the Enlightenment. Such an analysis implies a series of historical inquiries that are as precise as possible; and these inquiries will not be orientated retrospectively toward the "essential kernel of rationality" that can be found in the Enlightenment and that would have to be preserved in any event; they will be orientated toward the `contemporary limits of the necessary', that is, toward what is not or is no longer indispensable for the constitution of ourselves as autonomous subjects.

For Foucault, the Enlightenment comprises a set of events and complex historical processes located at a certain point in the development of European societies. This creates the necessity for a double conception of critique. On the one hand it must proceed genealogically under the influence of Nietzsche through an examination of the historical a prioris of all possible experience; on the other, it must seek to explore the possible limits to experience by exercising the transcendental freedom which Kant himself established as an essential foundation for critique . In this sense, the philosophical ethos of critique may be characterised as a limit-attitude, but in a different sense to that suggested by Kant:

Criticism indeed consists of analysing and reflecting upon limits. But if the Kantian question was that of knowing what limits knowledge must abstain from transgressing it seems to me that the critical question today has to be turned back into a positive one: in what is given to us as universal, necessary or obligatory, what part is taken up by things which are actually singular, contingent, the product of arbitrary constraints? The point, in brief, is to transform critique conducted in the form of necessary limitations into a practical critique that takes the form of a possible transgression. (Foucault, 1984a: 46)

Rather than accepting pre-established limits to reason based on Kant's transcendental analysis, the theoretical task becomes testing the limits which establish to what extent we can move beyond them. Foucault defines transgression as "an action which involves the limit...the experience of transgression brings to light this relationship of finitude to being, this moment of the limit which anthropological thought, since Kant, could only designate from the distance and from the exterior through the language of dialectics" (1977: 33, 49).

Such transgressive behaviour thus makes visible the limits to reason and in that it takes thought to its limit it serves as an arm in the critique of reason. As Miller (1994: 143) notes, for Foucault

transgression accomplishes a kind of post-Kantian 'critique' in "a three fold sense":

"it brings to light the conceptual and historical a priori; it discerns the conditions in which (philosophical thought ) can find or transcend its forms of stability; it ultimately passes judgement and makes a decision about its possibilities of existence".

Yet the limits to transgression are unsurpassable, as there is no neutral ground beyond power/knowledge from which critique could establish itself. As Foucault (1977: 34) states:

Transgression has its entire space in the line it crosses. The play of limits and transgression seems to be regulated by a simple obstinacy: transgression incessantly crosses and recrosses a line which closes up behind it in a wave of extremely short duration, and thus it is made to return once more right to the horizon of the uncrossable.

Criticism as practical politics

What criticism refers to for Foucault, in a concrete and practical sense, is an autonomous, non-centralised kind of theoretical production, one whose validity is not dependent on the approval of the established regimes of thought. In this sense, criticism has a local character because the attempt to think in terms of totalizing strategies or models proves a hindrance to effective action. Criticism thus involves the role of the `specific intellectual' and is linked to the insurrection of subjugated knowledges. By subjugated knowledges, Foucault is referring to the historical contents of knowledges that have been disqualified as inadequate to their task or insufficiently elaborated--naive knowledges that are defined as operating low down on the hierarchy of formal knowledge below an acceptable level of cognition or scientificity. But, Foucault does not mean by subjugated knowledge the unsuccessful paradigms of knowledge, but rather as Habermas (1994: 92) notes, he is thinking of:

the experiences of groups subordinated to power that have never advanced to the status of official knowledge, that have never been sufficiently articulated. It is a question of the implicit knowledge of 'the people' who form the bedrock in a system of power, who are the first to experience a technology of power with their own bodies, whether as the ones suffering or as the officials manning the machinery of suffering - for example, the knowledge of those who undergo psychiatric treatment, of orderlies, of delinquents and wardens, of the inmates of concentration camps and the guards, of blacks and homosexuals, of woman and of witches, of vagabonds, of children and dreamers.

For Foucault it is through the re-emergence of these low-ranking subordinate knowledges that criticism performs its task. And as Habermas (1994: 93) has observed there is a parallel here between Foucault's conception and writers like Luk�cs who attributed an immanent potential to the perspectives of the working class.

By 'buried', 'disqualified', or 'subjugated' knowledges Foucault is also referring to the 'local' or 'regional' character of knowledge, for genealogy can only do its work "once the tyranny of globalizing discourses is eliminated" (Foucault, 1994: 22 In this, Foucault strives repeatedly to distance the task of critique from its traditional pairing with the notion of revolution, or indeed with any ideal conception of an imagined society in the future. In this sense, historico-critical attitude must be an experimental one. This is to say, it must reject "radical and global" forms of analysis, as "we know from experience", he says (1984a: 46), "that the claim to escape from the system of contemporary reality so as to produce the overall programs of another society, of another way of thinking, another culture, another vision of the world, has led to the return of the most dangerous traditions". Thus, Foucault analyses "specific transformations", which are "always practical and local" (1984a: 46).

On these grounds, Foucault's conception of critique does not appeal to standards in the past, in the future or in reason, yet it seeks to expose unrecognised operation of power in social practices. This is why Foucault's conception of critique differs from that of Marxism, the Frankfurt School and Habermas. His aim is not the realisation of a rational society, but more pragmatically orientated to revealing "the contemporary limits of the necessary". His critique, in that it is not Kantian, also does not share the faith of a future utopia of the sort advocated by Marxists or by the leading writers of the Frankfurt School such as Adorno, Horkheimmer, or Habermas. As Rajchman (1985: 80) says, citing Geuss (1981), Foucault sees the model of an "inverted Enlightenment" as definitive of the very idea of the model of critical theory that has been developed within Marxism, and most especially by the Frankfurt School. Such models presuppose, in Foucault's view, the revelation of some concealed emancipatory truth about our `real' natures, just as much as they do about the real nature and limits to reason. It is the absence of some implicit or explicit ultimate measure or standard by which truth is assessed that explains why Foucault terms his own form of critical interrogation as `practical'. In this sense, its most immediate and central concern is to sound a warning on the dangers of power, and this becomes the main function of philosophy. As Foucault (1991a: 20) states, "on the critical side . . . philosophy is precisely the challenging of all phenomena of domination at whatever level or whatever form they present themselves--political, economic, sexual, institutional, and so on".

For Habermas, critical theory has both Hegelian and Kantian moments in that it attempts to realise an ideal historical state as well as to maintain universal claims for truth and moral reasoning. In addition, Habermas's critical theory shares the Kantian theme of the unity of knowledge underpinned by a conception of anthropological interests. In Habermas's conception there are three `interests' of humanity which correspond to the different relevant interests of inquiry. The first `interest' corresponds to the natural sciences, yields instrumental `means-ends' knowledge and is based on an interest in explaining; the second corresponds to the human sciences, yields interpretive knowledge and is based on an interest in understanding, and the third corresponds to critical knowledge and is based upon an interest in emancipation, or in becoming mature. For Habermas, knowledge acquired through these interests is rational to the extent that domination or oppression does not corrupt it, which is to say that communication is rational to the extent that it is unconstrained by force. Hence Habermas promotes a transhistorical and cross-cultural conception of rationality which locates it neither in the subject, nor the world, but rather in the nature of unconstrained communication, as resolved through argumentation or deliberation. Presupposed in every speech act, says Habermas, is the possibility of separating the `strategic' from the `communicative' uses of language, a circumstance that makes it possible to assess the validity of perspectives based on the force of the better argument alone.

Foucault sees Habermas's conception of critique as an idealist conception which traces the process of Enlightenment as the story of its movement toward its ideal realisation or end-state. This is the Hegelian theme which links Habermas's idea of critique to the realisation of history's ultimate goal, and which sees history as the self-realisation of humanity. He also rejects Habermas's assumptions concerning the systematic unity of knowledge and of the interests of the human race, which ground for Habermas, following Kant and Fichte, the major divisions in the sciences of inquiry. This in Foucault's view is to ground one's form of critique on an analytic framework of anthropological interests which underpin both the Hegelian and Kantian moments. Hence, Foucault attempts to purge both the humanist as well as the idealist aims of critique as they occur in Habermas's project, replacing it, following Nietzsche, with a model of history as a continuous and never-ending process of changing practices.

Foucault thus opposes Habermas in terms of his Hegelianism and his Kantianism: he rejects his conception of history, his conception of anthropological interests, his conception of reason, as well as his `utopianism' which together give rise to Habermas's notion of a rationality premised, as Jameson (1984: vii) has put it, on the idea of a "noisefree, transparent, fully communicational society" where "so-called validity claims immanent in ordinary conversation can be discursively redeemed at the level of discourse" (Peters, 1996: 40). As Foucault states, in relation to this issue:

[In Habermas's work] there is always something which causes me a problem. It is when he assigns a very important place to relations of communication and also to functions that I would call `utopian'. The thought that there could be a state of communication which would be such that the games of truth could circulate freely, without obstacles, without constraint, and without coercive effects, seems to me to be Utopia. It is being blind to the fact that relations of power are not something bad in themselves, from which one must free oneself. I don't believe there can be a society without relations of power. . . . The problem is not of trying to dissolve them in the utopia of a perfectly transparent communication, but to give oneself the rules of law, the techniques of management, and also the ethics, the ethos, the practice of self, which would allow these games of power to be played with a minimum of domination. (Foucault, 1991a: 18)

For Foucault, `strategic' action, conceived broadly as politically or ideologically distorted dialogue, necessarily supervenes on `communicative' action. It is always the question of maintaining the correct `balance of power relations in the present rather than seeking to exclude all forms of power from the world in the search for a different order of society. Hence Foucault rejects the idea, that he sees in Habermas, Marxism, and the Frankfurt School, of conceiving history as a single rational trajectory along which humanity fulfils its essential nature. For Foucault, power is more ubiquitous, diffuse, and corporeal; it infiltrates the fine textures of social existence as well as self-identity, and hence it is impossible to know one's true humanity apart from power's distorting effects (Foucault, 1980c: 96, 101).

In that the task of criticism is not linked to the objective of absolute emancipation, the commitment is part of a broader programme of freedom of the thinker which involves an ascetical moment of self-creation. In this sense, critique for Foucault involves both work on oneself and responding to one's time. In relation to the former, Foucault developed new forms of relating to the self, most clearly expressed in his ethical theories designed to resist the constraints of normalisation in an "ecstatic transcendence of any history which asserts its necessity" (Bernauer (1991: 70). As a modern example of work on oneself, Foucault points to Baudelaire whose "consciousness of modernity is widely recognised as one of the most acute in the nineteenth century" (Foucault, 1984a: 39). Baudelaire defines modernity as "the will to `heroize' the present". Modern man is the man who tries to invent himself through an ascetic elaboration of self. For Baudelaire this can only be produced through art. In TheCare of the Self and TheUse of Pleasure, however, Foucault recognises various forms of self-creation drawing variously on the Greeks, the Romans, the Renaissance (Burckhart) as well as contemporary models.

In that it is linked to the specific struggles of subordinated groups, the role of critique does not only function in relation to ethical and aesthetic self-creation of individuals and groups, but also in the transformation of the real-world structures. "Criticism", says Foucault (1988a: 155):

is absolutely indispensable for any transformation...(A) transformation that remains within the same mode of thought, a transformation that is only a way of adjusting the same thought more closely to the reality of things can merely be a superficial transformation . . . as soon as one can no longer think things as one formerly thought them, transformation becomes both very urgent, very difficult, and quite possible.

So criticism is integrally related to transformation and change, which, says Foucault, can only be carried out in a free atmosphere. This gives a programmatic role for the `specific intellectual' and for `thought'. His role, since he works specifically in the realm of thought, is to see how far the liberation of thought can make these transformations urgent enough for people to want to carry them out:

Out of these conflicts, these confrontations, a new power relation must emerge, whose first, temporary expression will be a reform. If at the base there has not been the work of thought upon itself and if, in fact, modes of thought, that is to say modes of action, have not been altered, whatever the project of reform, we know that it will be swamped, digested by modes of behaviour and institutions that will always be the same. (1988a: 156)

Thought, then, is a crucial factor in the process of criticism. Thought exists independently of systems and structures of discourse. It is something which is often hidden but which always animates everyday behaviour (1988a: 154-155). A critique is not a question of criticising things as not being right as they are. Rather, says Foucault (1988a: 154) "it is a matter of pointing out what kinds of assumptions, what kinds of familiar, unchallenged, unconsidered modes of thought the practices that we accept rest . . . Criticism is a matter of flushing out that thought and trying to change it: to show that things are not as self-evident as one believed, to see that what is accepted as self-evident will no longer be accepted as such (1988a: 154.).

Critique, then, is practical, in that it is through the arm of critique that Foucault wants to change our world, not simply our idea of it. As an intellectual he was opposed to the enlightenment emphasis on unity and normality, the lack of toleration for diversity as evidenced in the technocratic ways our cultures deal with sickness, insanity, crime and sexuality. The homogenising and totalizing forms of culture work in and through the apparatuses of education in conjunction with the Enlightenment project based on the sciences of Man. The role of the intellectual in this process is to challenge power. As Foucault (1977b: 208) explains to Gilles Deleuze:

The intellectuals role is no longer to place himself somewhat ahead and to the side in order to express the stifled truth of the collectivity; rather, it is to struggle against the forms of power that transform him into its object and instrument in the sphere of knowledge, truth, consciousness, and discourse. In this sense theory does not express, translate, or serve to apply practice: it is practice. But it is local and regional as you said and not totalizing. This is a struggle against power, a struggle aimed at revealing and undermining power where it is most invisible and insidious. It is not to awaken consciousness that we struggle but to sap power, to take power; it is an activity conducted alongside those who struggle for power, and not their illumination.

Critique, for Foucault, is the basis of his own conception of maturity. Whereas Kant sees maturity as the rule of self by self through reason, Foucault sees it as an attitude towards ourselves and the present through an historical analysis of the limits, and the possibility of transgression, of going beyond. Critique is thus a permanent interrogation of the limits, an escape from normalization, and a facing -up to the challenges of self-creation while seeking to effect changes in social structures on specific regional issues of concern.

Science, knowledge, relativism: comparing Foucault to Martha Nussbaum.

I would like to conclude this essay by relating critique to the central epistemological issues of relativism and essentialism. If genealogy is a method of critique that seeks to trace the history of a discourse, what is its own method of procedure? While as a method it searches for a buried and disqualified knowledge of struggles, Foucault does not believe that such a method proceeds through a more careful or accurate empiricism. Rather than being the handmaiden of the genealogical approach, in Foucault's view, the human sciences constitute a central object of its critical method. Neither genealogy nor archaeology thus has anything to do with a more rigorous approach to the assemblage of facts, and neither are they concerned with excluding metaphysical knowledge from empirical investigation. Hence, it is not through a more systematic empiricism, nor through a more forthright positivism that Foucault's methods work. What they seek to do, rather, is question science and accepted models of knowledge. As Foucault (1994: 22-23) states:


are not therefore positivistic returns to a more careful or exact form of science. They are precisely anti-sciences. Not that they vindicate a lyrical right to ignorance or non-knowledge: it is not that they are concerned to deny knowledge or that they esteem the virtues of direct cognition and base there practice upon an immediate experience that escapes encapsulation in knowledge...We are concerned rather with the insurrection of knowledges that are opposed primarily not to the contents, methods or concepts of a science, but to the effects of the centralizing powers which are linked to the institution and functioning of an organized scientific discourse within a society such as is really against the effects of the power of a discourse that is considered to be scientific that the genealogy must wage its struggle.

For Foucault, the human sciences arose in institutional settings that were structured by hierarchical relations of power. It was as a consequence of such relations that the sciences began to function as new disciplinary forms of power, replacing the coercion of violence which characterized the ancien r�gime with the gentler coercion of administration by scientific experts that characterized the enlightenment. In as much as Foucault's critical genealogical method traces the effects of the sciences, the discursive content of the sciences becomes part of archaeologies critical focus. In this, as Miller (1994: 152) puts it, Foucault's method:

is an archaeology that smashes its idols. The sciences of man are not sciences at all; in the pages of his book [The Order of Things]; nineteenth century linguistics, economics, and zoology are systematically treated as a type of fiction, parochial, transient, confining. Even Marxism, which Sartre just six years before had declared to be unsurpassable, Foucault gleefully dismisses as a kind of useless antique.

In his treatment of the sciences, however, it is clear that Foucault sees a certain discontinuity between the natural and the social sciences (see Habermas, 1994: 71). While he sees the natural sciences as having achieved a certain autonomy, and as having developed mature epistemological apparatuses, the human sciences have remained enmeshed in the micro-physics of power, and became inseparably linked and controlled by the anthropological turn ushered in and justified in the humanistic philosophies of Descartes and Kant. As Habermas (1994: 72) has put it:

A perspective arose in which the human being was perceived as a speaking and laboring creature. The human sciences made use of this perspective; they analyzed the human being as the being that relates itself to objectivations engineered by itself, the speaking and laboring creature. Inasmuch as psychology, sociology, and political science on the one hand, and the cultural sciences and humanities on the other, got involved with object domains for which subjectivity (in the sense of the relation to self of experiencing, acting, and speaking human beings) is constitutive, they found themselves in the wake of the will to knowledge, on the escape route of a boundless productive increase in knowledge.

Richard Bernstein (1994: 220) notes J�rgen Habermas's criticism that when critique is totalized it is caught in a contradiction as it has no standard. In this sense, as Habermas (1987: 275-276) has put it, genealogy " is overtaken by a fate similar to that which Foucault had seen in the human sciences". Yet Bernstein seeks to defend Foucault's position by relating critique to the exigencies of the environment, not in terms of truth, but in terms of the ever-present dangers in which people in history face. What is dangerous is that "everything becomes a target for normalisation"15. Furthermore, Foucault's "archaeological-genealogical analyses of problematiques are intended to specify the changing constellation of dangers" (Bernstein, 1994: 227). And, of course, for Foucault (1984d: 343), "everything is dangerous" and "if everything is dangerous, then we always have something to do". As Bernstein (1994: 230) argues, this makes Foucault "the great skeptic of our times...skeptical about dogmatic unities and philosophical anthropologies" as well as about the verities and axioms of the human sciences.

Bernstein's point that Foucault is a skeptic enables us to clarify a number of issues in relation to relativism, realism, and essentialism. Although Foucault is frequently charged with a strong form of epistemological relativism it is important to establish the connections precisely in order not to misrepresent him. While he rejects strong versions of metaphysical realism, which seek to posit a transcendent, ahistorical foundation, he may not necessarily disagree with the broad thrust of Martha Nussbaum's soft version of Aristotelian essentialism which involves some version of appeal to a "determinate account of the human being, human functioning, and human flourishing" (Nussbaum, 1995: 450). This is not to accept a particular essential ahistorical characteristics of human beings, but rather to accept an "essentialism of a kind: for a historically sensitive account of the basic human needs and human functions" (Nussbaum, 1995: 451). Nussbaum's account is an "historically grounded empirical essentialism" which she calls "internalist essentialism". This specifies formal characteristics or "the most important functions of human beings in terms of which human life is defined" (p. 456) Such a conception of the good is concerned "with ends, and with the overall shape and content of the human form of life" (p. 456). Such a conception, she says, is "vague, and this is deliberately so...for it admits of much multiple specification in accordance with varied local and personal conceptions. The idea is that it is better to be vaguely right than precisely wrong" (p. 456). Such a conception is not metaphysical in that it does not claim to derive from a source exterior to human beings in history. Rather, it is as "universal as possible" and aims at "mapping out the general shape of the human form of life, those features that constitute life as human wherever it is" (p. 457). Nussbaum calls this her "thick, vague conception...of the human form of life" (p. 457). Hence, her list of factors constitutes a formal list without substantive content, allowing for difference or variation within each category. Amongst the factors are (1) mortality: all human beings face death; (2) various invariant features of the human body, such as "nutritional, and other related requirements" regarding hunger, thirst, the need for food and drink and shelter; (3) cognitive: "all human beings have sense perception...the ability to think"; (4) early development, (5) practical reason, (6) sexual desire, (7) affiliation with other human beings, and (8) relatedness to other species and to nature (pp. 457-460).

As a list of purely formal factors or generic species characteristics, which can admit to cultural and historical variation, Foucault, in my view, could agree with the general tenor of Nussbaum's list, although he may wish to enter qualifications or caveats on specific features (sexual desire?). Foucault himself says that universal forms may well exist. In 'What is Enlightenment' (Foucault, 1984a: 47-48) he suggests there may possibly be universalizing tendencies at the root of western civilization, which include such things as "the acquisition of capabilities and the struggle for freedom", as "permanent elements". Again, more directly, in the Preface to the History of Sexuality, Volume II (Foucault, 1984b: 335), he says that he is not denying the possibility of universal structures:

Singular forms of experience may very well harbour universal structures: they may well not be independent from the concrete determination of social existence...(t)his thought has a historicity which is proper to it. That it should have this historicity does not mean that it is deprived of all universal form but instead the putting into play of these universal forms is itself historical.

Like Nussbaum, the factors he recognises as invariant do not derive from any "extrahistorical metaphysical conception" (p. 460). Also, Foucault's conception is very much in keeping with Nussbaum's "thick, vague conception of the good" (p. 456) in that it is concerned to identify "components that are fundamental to any human life" (p. 461). It is crucial, of course, that the recognised features of human life are formal and not substantive, otherwise the form of essentialism is unacceptable. He would be skeptical that the essential substantial properties of a human being can be distinguished from the accidental properties, in that the human being is historically constituted in the process of history.

Beyond this, Foucault does not deny that there is some form of determinate structure to the way things are, but he would argue that such a structure would be shaped and modified in the process of history. He could accept, no doubt, as well, that while human species characteristics may be transformed or modified in history, the process of change would occur at a different (i.e., slower) rate than most discursive or cultural phenomena, thus enabling comparisons between older and newer institutions and discourses. While in this sense there are still no foundations or invariant structures outside of the flux of history, this need not lead, as hard metaphysical realists sometimes claim, to a quagmire of relativism in terms of which there is no ground on which to stand. As Nussbaum (1995: 455) claims, for instance:

When we get rid of the hope of a transcendent metaphysical grounding for ... judgements-about the human being as about anything else - we are not left with the abyss. We have everything that we always had all along: the exchange of reasons and arguments by human beings within history, in which, for reasons that are historical and human but not the worse for that, we hold some things to be good and others bad, some arguments to be sound and others not sound. Why indeed should the relativist conclude that the absence of a transcendent basis for judgement - a basis that, according to them, was never there anyway - should make us despair of doing as we have done all along, distinguishing persuasion from manipulation.

Foucault does not deny that there is some way the world is. He is a skeptic who is a metaphysical realist of sorts. By this I mean he sees reality as having a material embodiment. But he also sees the power of our discourses as being able to construct realities and of realities as being filtered through the lens of our discourses. The chief difficulty, then, is in grasping reality, as every attempt to give an account of the real bears the imprint of the historical a priori. Hence, historically elaborated discursive systems both facilitate and distort our ability to see the real. In the human sciences, Foucault questions what sort of truth is available to us, and the sense in which the discursive apparatus of disciplines like psychiatry construct rather than unravel the real. Because there are no foundations in reason or fact to compare claims to, science is brought inside history, and can be subjected to critical scrutiny like anything else.


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    "Michel Foucault", in Denis Huisman, ed., Dictionnaire des philosophes (Paris, 1984), p. 941. Foucault used the pseudonym 'Maurice Florence' on this article. His interest in Kant is continuous throughout his academic career, and begins with his translation of Kant's Anthropology from a Practical Point of View into French in 1960 as his th�se compl�mentaire - a smaller supplement to his major thesis of publishable quality, Madness and Civilization. Foucault submitted his translation of Kant's Anthropology to the Sorbonne jury in 1960 along with a commentary of 128 typescript pages (see Foucault, 1960). Kant is also considered in depth in The Order of Things (Foucault, 1970) as the introducer of humanism to the human sciences. Again, Kant is considered in 'Qu'est-ce-que la critique' (Foucault, 1978), translated as 'What is critique?' (Foucault, 1996); in the 1983 essay 'What is Enlightenment?' (Foucault, 1984a); in 1984 in 'Un Cours Inedit' in Magazine Lit�raire (see Foucault, 1984), translated by Colin Gordon as 'Kant on Enlightenment and Revolution' in Economy and Society (Foucault, 1986). In addition, Foucault gives a brief discussion on Kant in his introduction to the English translation of Georges Canguilhem The Normal and the Pathological (see Foucault, 1978b); in his interview with G�rard Raulet 'How Much Does it Cost For Reason To Tell the Truth' published in Foucault Live (see Foucault, 1989: 240-243) and in his essay 'The Subject and Power', printed as an afterword in Hubert L. Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow (1983: 215-216), Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics . Also, as Hacking (1986:238-39) notes, Foucault read Kant at the Sorbonne under the Heidegger scholar Jean Beufret. He also comments that the discussion of Kant in The Order of Things had its origin in Foucault's doctoral thesis. See Kant, 1970. A different translation of the same article appears in Foucault, 1988c.

  2. The Contest of the Faculties is a collection of three dissertations on the relations between the different faculties that make up the university. The second dissertation concerns the conflict between Law and Philosophy and concerned the question "is there such a thing as constant progress for mankind?" Kant raised the issue of the French Revolution in seeking an answer to this question. Foucault translated this work into French for the first time in 1960 (see Foucault, 1960). It was only translated into English in 1978. The work has traditionally been seen either as crackpot or marginal to Kant's central philosophical enterprise. My own analysis and interpretation of Kant's Anthropology has been substantially influenced by that of James Miller (1993). Miller is citing Foucault from his article Preface � la transgression. See Foucault (1963) or Foucault (1977) Citations are from Foucault (1960: 72, 142, 100, 101) See Foucault (1977a: 26-27 and 176-177; 1978c: 93-94; 1980b: 96-101) See Martin Heidegger, 'Overcoming Metaphysics' in The End of Philosophy, trans. Joan Stambaugh (New York, 1973) pp. 84-110. The phrase is taken from Mich�le Bertrand (1983: 66) who applies it to Spinoza. Spinoza's conception of conatus incorporates the notion that our bodies, as well as being shaped by external determinants, also have a force or momentum of a positive sort. See Spinoza's Ethics, Part III 'On the Origin and Nature of the Emotions' (Spinoza, 1960). Nietzsche did not give any direct support to the Nazis, although as Davies (1997: 33) states, his sister Elizabeth became in her later years an enthusiastic disciple of the F�hrer. It is also true that the Nazis appropriated a number of Nietzschean themes and tropes - the �bermensch, or 'blond beast' into their own repertoire. It is also now well documented that Martin Heidegger committed himself to Nazism and also wrote approvingly about Nietzsche. He is citing David Hiley ((1988: 103).


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