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Foucault’s 1984 course summary June 18, 2009

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I’ve now made a pdf version of my summaries of Foucault’s 1984 lectures, Le Courage de la Vérité, and included my response. Hope this comes in useful if anyone’s working on this stuff. You could also just click on the right category, and then you’ll get to see the comments too.

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Answering to Foucault June 18, 2009

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When I started reading the 1984 lectures, I was hoping that I’d be able to provide a different interpretation to that offered by the likes of McGushin and Bernauer, because their take seemed so unFoucauldian. As my notes have perhaps indicated, I believe these lectures are atypical Foucault in a range of ways that I’m not going into. The point is that some (but not all) of the arguments that made me uncomfortable did originate with Foucault and not his interpreters. So I feel obliged to give an answer to them, because I have taken these issues seriously. So in what follows, I will give my answer to Foucault. (more…)

Final Lecture: the fear of obedience March 30, 2009

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Foucault’s final lecture (whose 25th anniversary was on Saturday: I celebrated by getting a cold) makes the move from Cynic sovereignty to Christian obedience. He marks out the clear differences between Christian and Cynic parrhesia, and then goes through the uses of the word in the Old Testament (LXX), the New Testament, and the church fathers and mothers. His conclusion is that it is basically in cenobitic, or at least with institutional monasticism that pastoral power has its main roots, but that mystical Christian experience – which he associates with intimacy and freedom before God – will always have the potential to resist the more sinister ascetic pole of Christianity. (more…)

Lecture 8: spiritual combat March 27, 2009

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The penultimate lecture of the 21st March sets out to conclude Foucault’s study of Cynic philosophy so that he may move on to early Christianity in the final lecture. Once again, he is ill at the point, and warns that he may not be able to complete. There is no sign that this lecture was any shorter than the others though. It is certainly packed full of insight: he founds the philosophical life and later asceticism on the notion of the sovereign self militantly exercising its athletic reason to change the world. He argues that the ascesis of enduring insults, celibacy and separation from the world are all logical outcomes of the ethical thought of the classical world. Cynics are at the centre of occidental ethics by their installation of love in the relation between insulter and victim. Their disgrace is part of their pedagogical task of teaching the world the difference between happiness and unhappiness. That is their political program. (more…)

Lecture 7: the Other life March 25, 2009

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The seventh lecture, of the 14th March (I hope to catch up with myself and pretentiously post the final lecture on its 25th anniversary) takes us from the Cynic transformation of the philosophical understandings of the true life up to a mode of being that is beginning to resemble early Christian asceticism on a great number of points. That is where my interest in Foucault started, and so the points are more obvious (and perhaps contrived) to me, but he outlines these resemblances and transformations in the final lecture so everyone’s clear about it. So we start the lecture with a philosophical account of Cynicism and end it with an examination of Cynic humiliation/humility. (more…)

Lecture 6: Foucault wrings his hands about Cynics March 23, 2009

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The 6th lecture, from the 7th March, 1984, presents a picture of Foucault the Cynicism-researcher diametrically opposite to the last lecture. Whilst last time he drew wild parallels between the historical movement and the colourful developments in European art, politics, and religion, this lecture sees Foucault agonising – even obsessing – over the historical problems with studying Cynic philosophers in late antiquity. But then he’s back on track again, and sets up Plato’s notion of the true life as a framework against which to examine the transformations wrought by the Cynics. (more…)

Lecture 5: Arts of Existence March 18, 2009

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Foucault’s fifth lecture is an excellent example of how surprising it can be to read his stuff. There are three parts to it: first he wraps up Laches, then he introduces Cynic philosophy, and finally sketches out some of the ways this school can be detected in European history. It’s surprising because it involves discussion of Gregory of Nazianzen, the aesthetics of existence, Paul Tillich, the modern revolutionary, Dostoevsky, Christian spirituality and suicide bombers. (more…)

Le Courage de la Vérité 4: Plato’s Laches March 11, 2009

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Foucault’s fourth lecture on the Courage of truth is a reading of the Plato’s Laches. He says that no self-respecting professor of philosophy can avoid giving a course on Socrates and his death at some point in his life, and so this is it (“Salvate animam meam” he adds). This lecture sketches out a few more details concerning Socratic parrhesia before he leaves the period and goes on to talk about the Cynics. This is also the only lecture he gave this year without a break. I don’t think that’s significant… (more…)

A cock for life: Foucault’s third lecture March 10, 2009

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The third lecture of 1984 (the 15th February) examines Socrates’ appropriation of parrhesia. The transition I think he’s getting at is from the kind of truth-telling that opposes the powerful for the good of the collective towards the kind of truth-telling that opposes vanity for the sake of the good life (and this is where life is inserted into philosophical practice). But the main locus for this history is the last words of Socrates. (more…)

Lecture 2: Parrhesia in democracy and autocracy March 7, 2009

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The second lecture continues Foucault’s analysis of parrhesia, and takes into consideration the political context. Parrhesia is argued to be suited to monarchies rather than democracies, and in its relation to the prince, its essential character is to be found. He starts off with some reflections on democracy, and curiously ends up with an almost Trinitarian-shaped account of philosophy. (more…)