Foucault’s Fearless Speech

Michael Foucault
Fearless Speech
Area: Rhetorical and Critical Theory
Notes from class (read with “White Mythology”)

•    Sophistic/Socratic showdown
o    Turn to ethics in critical theory today
•    Derrida: post deconstruction ethics
•    Socratics: remember; past/future
o    Socrates: afterlife
•    Sophists: grounding in present
•    Virtue v. virtuosity
•    Hegel: being and not being
•    Virtue to virtuosity: Marx, Arendt
•    Freedom and the ethical—perversion of thinking
•    For Hegel: the use of doxa—what’s accepted
•    Align Derrida with Socrates?
o    Singularity
o    Irony
o    Questioning
•    Foucault and the Sophists
•    Discourse and technology: ethical turn
•    The disconnection of truth
o    Hesiod and Plato
•    Sophists’ truth: create what is, not actually telling what is now
o    Futurity
•    Foucault’s “Discourse on Language” –attack on Derrida (although not explicitly stated)
•    Philosophy and Rhetoric: For Derrida: Net; For Foucault: back and forth
•    Philosophy is philosopheme
•    Ellipsis of ellipsis
o    Always something missing
•    Catechresis—use in a way that it’s not
•    Derrida: always past/futurity
o    Back to origins—possibility of what could exist
•    Foucault: ‘history of the present’
o    Emergence
o    What’s different today in connection to yesterday
•    Derrida: Can’t be replied on—open to deconstruction
•    Foucault: what can they do?
•    Derrida: Interest is shifting
•    Foucault: Why this shifting occurs
•    Derrida: Less interested in past, more futurity
•    Foucault; repressive hypothesis
•    Sedgwick: Dominant v. resistant
•    Butler: Precarious—risk
o    Virtue and vulnerability
•    Danger and cost: Foucault—Different economy than Derrida
•    Exchanges for an open field of exchange
o    Derrida: Macroeconomics    Foucault: Microeconomics (understands the specifics)
•    Socrates: needs to prove ethos
o    Risk of bringing death
•    Scarcity of ethics, not truth
o    Now achieve something, not just saying
•    Ethics can’t be outside—commodified relation
•    Question of wants/needs v. victimization
•    Irony/humor distinction
Critical moments in the text/notes
•    Parrhesiates: someone who takes a risk to speak
•    Should always be regarded as the truth because of the risk one takes
•    Power relations: a parrhesiates always risks loosing something
•    14: “The parrhesiates says what is true because he knows that it is true; and he knows that its true because it is really true.  The parrhesiatesis not only sincere and says what is his opinion, but his opinion is also the truth.  He says what he knows to be true. […]  there is always an exact coincidence between belief and truth.”
•    39: “Indeed, from the perspective of the law, seduction was considered more criminal than rape.  For when someone is raped, it is against his or her will; but when someone is seduced, then that constitutes the proof that at a specific moment, the seduced individual chose to be unfaithful to his or her wife or husband, or parents, or family.”
•    Parrhesia and democracy can’t mix: everyone’s granted freedom ≠ unity
•    Parrhesia ≠ sophistry
o    102: “Parrhesia is opposed to self-ignorance and the false teachings of the sophists”
•    Parrhesiates become personal/self-reflexive
•    Verification and surveillance
•    Relatoin of self to truth
•    126: “But that’s Diogenes’ game: hitting his interlocutor’s pride, forcing him to recognize that he is not what he claims to be—which is something quite different from the Socratic attempt to show someone that he is ignorant of what he claims to know.”
From Untimely Mediations
Via Seneca’s De tranquillitate animi, Foucault’s discussion of self-diagnosis uses the notion of “rocking” to illustrate how an individual balances one’s life. (Much to Foucault and Seneca’s disadvantages, WebMD was not yet invented, or else self-diagnosing would have been, obviously, much more accurate and oh-so easier…) Seneca initially shows that “philosophy is not merely an alternative to political life,” but rather “philosophy must accompany a political life,” thus one rocks between the two in order to show balance in the public eye (150, emphasis mine). However, this rocking is neither progressive nor productive, and therefore it restrains self-mastery as one cannot advance in either subject. Foucault describes this dilemma in the following passage:
“[Seneca] does not know exactly what is the reason for his waverings, but he characterizes his malaise as a kind of perpetual vacillating motion which has no other movement than ‘rocking.’ The boat cannot advance because it is rocking. […] Here we have an oscillating motion of rocking which prevents the movement of the mind from advancing towards the truth, towards steadiness, towards the ground” (153-4).
I believe the image of rocking serves a unique purpose in both of the texts we read for this week. For Foucault, the rocking image suggests that one cannot separate power from truth, and further, that truth cannot be separated from the self. In these two cases, truth sways between the self and power. Since parrhesia involves possible loss and some type of risk (i.e. a king cannot be a parrhesiates) Foucault clearly states that the parrhesiastes, while not technically in power, is actually the individual who possesses momentary control. The rocking, here, suggests the shift in power relations, as the actual one in power (the king, for example) must voluntarily subordinate himself to the truth-teller, who now has the king at his mercy.
Parrhesiastes functioning within a monarchy is one thing, but the rocking between parrhesia and democracy cannot work. The parrhesiastes possesses some valuable truth, and it takes courage to present this information to a superior. The parrhesiastes says “something dangerous—different from what the majority believes” (15). However, in a democracy everyone is granted free speech, and “parrhesia is granted to even the worst citizens” (77). There is no risk in telling the truth if everyone has a truth—there is no unity if “democracy has become lack of self-restraint; liberty has become lawlessness; happiness has become the freedom to do whatever one pleases […] it is impossible to enjoy both democracy and parrhesia” (83). In a democracy, the truth is maintained by the demos, whereas parrhesia must be individual. The truth, here, becomes separated from the self.
(Here’s where I have a point of self-contention: if the truth becomes separated from the self, wouldn’t this mean that the rocking stops, and progress can begin? I don’t think this is what Seneca or Foucault was trying to imply, and so maybe this is something we can talk about in our meeting. What happens when truth becomes separated from the self? From power?)


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