Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Late Foucault

In an excellent appraisal of Foucault's lecture series at the College de France , Michael Hardt writes about the later books in this series, some of which are yet to appear in English. The two books in question, The Government of Self and Others and The Courage of Truth are the subject of Hardts' review in the NLR. Since the middle of this year, I have been reading the lecture series and have so far read most of Psychiatric Power, Society must be defended, Security, Territory, Population and am currently reading The Government of Self and Others.

Contrary to his early style which many including myself find inaccessible, Foucault's style towards the later phase of his life is perhaps simpler and easier to understand. Foucault draws upon inexhaustible sources of erudition and much of what we read among contemporary philosophers is influenced by Foucault. Foucault elaborates upon his concept of Biopolitics, further written about and commented upon by Agamben later on. The style of these lectures is brilliant, direct and though not interspersed with questions, it takes account perhaps of those questions which the great philosopher might have anticipated. Foucault speaks like the master and his inexhaustible knowledge seemingly has all the answers.

In The Government of Self and Others, Foucault elaborates on the doctrine of Parresia or truth-telling and helps us differentiate it from mere performative utterances. Parresia must come at a price, he reminds us, sometimes one has to pay with one's life. From Plato confronting Dionysius with Parresia to modern technologies of the self, this brilliant book seems to be as prescient as any of his other works. The brilliance in reading Foucault consists of his drawing examples from ancient and medieval times and showing how relevant they are to current times. We may, with our own ways, reflect and draw upon the world around us in the light of what Foucault wrote and make it easier for ourselves to understand or make some sense of what we think is happening to us or the world as such.

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