Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Alan Milchman reviews Timothy Rayner’s Foucault’s Heidegger.
Foucault’s concept of critique is linked to his reading of Kant, not the Kant of the analytics of truth, of “the formal conditions under which true knowledge is possible”, but the Kant of “What is Enlightenment?” who sought an exit from the immaturity of subjection to authority. Critique, for Foucault, then, is tied to de-subjugation and desubjectivation, escaping from the prevailing modes of subjectivity, precisely what Heidegger’s other thinking and his vision of Ereignis entail. Indeed, the final Foucault’s preoccupation with the subject is no return to some kind of philosophical anthropology, inasmuch as he is clear that he is not speaking of a “substantive subject,” an a-historical or constitutive subject. Rayner claims—and his claim is a powerful one—that his “interpretation enables us to see how, in Foucault’s later years, the quasi-Heideggerian practice that had previously remained in the background of his critical activity moves to the foreground to become the philosophical activity of ‘thinking otherwise’ by getting free of, or ‘disassembling’, the self.” That mode of philosophical activity, in which access to the truth entails a process of self-transformation is what the final Foucault designates as “spirituality,” in contrast to the philosophical tradition that has shaped the modern West, that is based on self-knowledge and is a hermeneutics of the subject. As Rayner points out, there is another modern tradition, a counter-tradition, that includes Nietzsche, Heidegger, and, of course, Foucault: “Foucault calls this the ‘critical ontology of the present and ourselves.’ This second tradition, Foucault maintains, resituates ancient spirituality in a modern context by linking the activity of knowing the present to a transformation in the subject’s being.” That transformation proceeds through what Foucault terms “problematizations,” by which one can “transform everyday difficulties into coherent, problematic experiences” in which the historical crises of our experience in a domain of knowledge, power relations, or self-practices, provoke us to explore new ways of being, an event of thought that Rayner sees “as an ontologically tempered version of Heidegger’s concept of Ereignis, which is also an event of thought.”
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