Foucault’s Ethical Ars Erotica


If Foucault is best known for his 1970s work on the disciplinary subjectivations that characterize modern biopower, his ethical project of the early 1980s is generally viewed as an attempt to rethink subjectivity through a return to the self in the ancient world. This standard view of Foucault is not inaccurate. But the view is flawed by its lack of attention to the ethical thinking that emerges from the beginning of Foucault’s life-long project to interrogate the relation between subjectivity and truth. Importantly, with the recent appearance of the first full English translation of Foucault’s first major book, History of Madness, Anglophone readers now have the opportunity to retrace the ethical thread that runs through Foucault’s work from start to finish. In 1961, History of Madness begins to articulate an ethics that Foucault will describe in the 1980s as a practice of freedom in relation to others. Specifically, Madness presents us with an ethics of eros: a desubjectivating thinking that will continue through Foucault’s archaeologies of the 1960s, his genealogies of the 1970s, and his “return” to the subject in the early 1980s.

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