Monday, December 17, 2012

Foucault: "What is Critique?" (1978)

"What is Critique?" is a title that Sylvère Lotringer, the editor of The Politics of Truth (1997, 2007), gave to a lecture Foucault gave in 1978.

Towards the end of the lecture, Foucault himself says that he could have given the talk the title "What is the Aufklärung?" but that he "did not dare" (p. 67). The anthology does however print the lecture right next to Kant's text with a palpable tension as a result.

The lecture is notable both for framing Foucault's own writings as a certain species of Enlightenment thought, and for containing an interesting discussion of the notion of governmentality. He says:
How to govern was, I believe, one of the fundamental questions about what was happening in the 15th or 16th centuries. It is a fundamental question which was answered by the multiplication of all the arts of governing—the art of pedagogy, the art of politics, the art of economics, if you will—and of all the institutions of government, in the wider sense of the term government had at the time.
So, this governmentalization, which seems to me to be rather characteristic of these societies in Western Europe in the 16th century, cannot apparently be dissociated from the question "how not to be governed?" I do not mean by that that governmentalization would be opposed in a kind of face-off by the opposite affirmation, "we do not want to be governed and we do not want to be governed at all." I mean that, in this great preoccupation about the way to govern and the search for the ways to govern, we identify a perpetual question which would be: "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." And if we accord this movement of governmentalization of both society and individuals the historic dimension and breadth which I believe it has had, it seems that one could approximately locate therein what we could call the critical attitude. (p. 44)

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