Authenticity and Distantiation from Oneself: An Ethico-Political Problem


Scholars have often taken Foucault by his words and insisted that his philosophy is completely at odds and opposed to Sartre’s—and Beauvoir’s—existentialism. However, it is my contention that Foucault’s own appreciation and intense critique of existentialist philosophy stems from a series of misunderstandings with regards to the notions of the subject, freedom, and historicity. The purpose of my essay will be to explore affinities between Foucauldian and existentialist philosophy as found in Sartre and Beauvoir’s works, focusing particularly on the ethical notions of authenticity and distantiation from oneself. Indeed, if the existentialist ideal of authenticity as offered by Sartre and Beauvoir aims at a fluctuating self that “is what it is not and is not what it is,” it stands close to the Foucauldian subject of the aesthetics of existence who cares for itself as a subject that is none other than the subject of its own desubjectivation (to pick up on Giorgio Agamben’s analysis).  The aporia is that of a subject that must care for oneself, yet must distantiate oneself from oneself. Tackling this aporia and explaining its mechanism, my essay will show how the existentialist analysis of authenticity can help articulate the ethical and the political in Foucault, given that the caring self is always an ethico-political agent. The subject that emerges from these processes of individuation/un-individuation is an ambiguous fluctuating subject—the only possible actor in an ever-evolving and morphing political arena.

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