Michel Foucault and the «death of man»
by A. D'Alonzo
© copyright 2007 by Esonet.it – Esonet.com
Together with Deleuze, Michel Foucault has been the main exponent of the French studies on the Nietzsche-Renaissance that marked the start of post-structuralism. The word described a varied group of scholars coming from several disciplines, influenced by the linguistic structuralism of Saussurre and the anthropologic one of Lèvi Strauss. Nevertheless, after a fortunate initial success, structuralism started looking like a kind of neo-Platonism, with its refusal of diachronic succession and the exaltation of the invariability hidden in the relation among variables. Post-structuralists opposed the vertiginous incoherence of the Nietzschean genealogical practices to the Parmenidean refusal of the vitalistic becoming. There aren't any motionless structures and most of all there isn't a hierarchic primacy among structures. Once the positivist Marxist dichotomy between structures and superstructures declined, the conclusion was that structures were all the same. Even better, they are not even proper structures but rather ineffable centers of power that don't find a place in any determined topos. The relations between forces are much more important than the forces themselves, which must be considered as aggregations of differences. Self-conscience is a solemn fraud; the subject is radically played by the hidden unconscious determinations of thought. Therefore post-structuralism can dismantle the structures of power. Post-structuralism borrows the preliminaries of the Saussurean lesson and of the cultural anthropology of Lèvi Strauss annulling its humanistic dimension; but it dissolves everything in a nihilistic anti-mechanistic and anti-deterministic closure, in honor of the Nietzschean ‘ontological' energetics. Foucault was an enigmatic and shifty personality, his style of writing was hermetically abstract; his friend Gilles Deleuze once described it as ‘rarefied positivism, poetic in itself'. In the decade following the publication of his first work on the History of Madness he deliberately decided to eclipse himself, to delete the traces of his personality from his writing. In 1969 he declared in an interview that he wrote ‘not to have a face any more'. In the last part of his most complex and famous work, The order of things, Foucault announces that soon man will disappear like a face made of sand. The French thinker announces the death of man just like Nietzsche had proclaimed the death of God a century earlier. Nevertheless the third volume of his last monumental work The History of Sexuality , emblematically called Le Souci de soi ( The care of self , Note of the Translator), is a treaty on self and technique of self. How to conciliate all this?
Foucault himself said that he got stuck in the Nietzschean thought when he had finished his intellectual apprenticeship as normalien (Student of the École Normale Supèrieure , Note of the Translator) and compared the reading of the Untimely meditations to a ‘philosophical choc'. One of his fellow normaliens , Maurice Pinget, tells us about a Foucault immersed in the reading of Nietzsche under the sun of Civitavecchia, during a holiday in Italy. The young Foucault declares his huge interest for the subjects of madness, cruelty, power and sexuality; he reveals his intention to study them ‘under the sun of the great Nietzschean research'. For Foucault all the essays in the Untimely Meditations express Nietzsche's attempt to find his dimension, his highest need. Mainly he is impressed by the essay titled Schopenhauer as Educator ; he highlights a key passage:
‘The enigma which man is to resolve he can resolve only in being, in being thus and not otherwise, in the imperishable'. (Cf. F. Nietzsche, Schopenhauer as Educator).
This passage is considered very important by Foucault, one of the keys that imply the lifetime-long obsessive and troubled attempt to realize the program of the subtitle of Hecce Homo , to become ‘what we are'. It is an obsessive attempt for Nietzsche as well as for Foucault.
‘Every man knows quite well that, being unique, he will be in the world only once and that there will be no second chance for his oneness to coalesce from the strangely variegated assortment that he is <…> Be yourself! All that you are now doing, thinking and desiring is not really yourself.' (Cf. Id.)
It is natural to wonder how come Nietzsche and Foucault were attracted by these existential drives. Both Nietzsche, especially in the second ‘illuministic' period that marks the detachment from Bayreuth with Human, too human , and Foucault refuse the idea of inborn conscience. For Nietzsche the body is the result of many souls and the Ego is only the contingent and variable result of the discontinuous deployment of cultural forces. For Nietzsche the ‘great style', the ‘lesson of force' consists of ‘giving shape to chaos', of genealogically deconstructing the predetermined structures of morale, culture and religion, in view of a transvaluation. This is the only way to ‘give birth to a dancing star'.
‘Nobody can throw on the stream of life the bridge you must walk on, nobody but you <…> In the world there is only one path that nobody but you must walk; where does it lead? Don't ask, just follow it.' (Cf. F. Nietzsche, Thus spoke Zarathustra).
According to Nietzsche there isn't a general theory of liberation; each individual must find it by himself. To free the will to power, ‘to become what we are' can be a dangerous journey:
‘Man needs his worst things for his best ones' (Cf. F. Nietzsche, Thus spoke Zarathustra ).
‘The secret to gather the greatest fecundity from existence is expressed as: to live dangerously!' (Cf. F. Nietzsche, The Gay Science ).
Foucault interprets these aphorisms as an attempt to think the unthinkable. The path that leads to the centrum of knowledge must be found in Alterity, which because of its excess towards the Sameness, determines itself as Sameness. This is the thought of Out, Difference, ‘structuralism without structures'. I will go back to this point to try and conciliate the positions taken by the latest Foucault in the History of Sexuality with the structuralist theory of the ‘death of man'. To shed light on the problem we must pay attention to the young Foucault's readings.
In History of Madness Foucault defines madness as the destruction of the complex of chaos and form, as absence of work. The lesson of Human, Too human is studied further, where Nietzsche states that man is deterministically derived from a multiplicity of incomprehensible events and therefore he is not morally responsible for anything. The will to power guaranteed a feeble opening, a possibility of transcendence, where man could start all over again. Nevertheless, stuck between need and freedom, the will was never radically free and couldn't change totally its being-like-this-and-not-otherwise. Man couldn't be accused of his transgressions because ‘our domesticated, mediocre and castrated society' made the higher individual ill. Shame was the result of a moral disease; the sense of guilt was an invention of the Judaic-Christian ethics. It is corruption coded in ‘features impressed for many millennia' that has produced a debilitating prison for the body. In the pages of History of Madness Foucault re-states that uncontrolled fancies and libidinal-destructive drives are not immoral but natural. Perversions are experiences on the limits, points of no return that open the access to the Dionysian dimension closed to the human animal. The will to power is will to transgression, ‘beyond good and evil'. Naturally cruel drives have been imprisoned, coded inside man and turned into new virtually destructive drives. The human being is not responsible for it. The genealogy of techniques of control of ‘mad' drives is configured by the history of segregation and social seclusion started in the age of reason. The birth of modern Western reason announces itself by closing and removing the open space from the experience of ‘nonsense'. Nietzsche, like Sade, Holderlin, Nerval, Van Gogh and once Artaud, are the heralds of the far song of forgotten nonsense. Their works, which are perturbing in a Freudian sense, free the human animal energies from repression. They burst in a delirium of cruel and morbid fantasies before falling into the quiet abyss of madness or in the tragic embrace of death. In psycho-analysis the Es is often represented as an ocean, which with its rough and dark waters reproduces the restlessness of schizophrenia, like in the Ship of Fools by Bosch. The thought of Nietzsche's will to power crosses this quiet and introjected experience on the limits, it reveals the open space of this question without an answer, this inenarrable laceration; it thinks the unthinkable. Superman is the man who takes back absence, the emptiness drawn from the repressed madness; he coincides with the fool. In many debates of the time Foucault repeated that he considered the experience of madness the closest point to absolute knowledge, using the Nietzschean knowledge as paradigm. But if in the psychic delirium there are traces of transcendence, is the overcoming of metaphysics, of the rooted logocentric marriage between knowledge and power a path towards nonsense? Do the debated and disturbing ‘letters of madness' in Turin testify the personal apotheosis of Nietzsche in the happy result of the final overcoming? Foucault doesn't say it clearly, but he implies it:
‘It doesn't matter the exact date in the fall of 1888 when Nietzsche became completely mad and when his books started belonging to psychiatry rather than to philosophy; <…> Nietzsche's madness, viz. the collapse of his thought, allows the thought itself to open on the modern world. What made it impossible makes it present for us; what took it from Nietzsche gives it to us' (Cf. M. Foucault, History of Madness in the age of reason ).
Continuing with Nietzsche's work:
‘with madness a work that seems to sink in the world and reveal its nonsense <…> after all it involves the time in the world, dominates it and leads it; because of the madness that stops it, the book opens a vacuum, a time of silence, a question without an answer, it causes a laceration without remedy where the world is destined to wonder' . (Cf. Id.)
‘Discipline and Punish' opens with the detailed description of the torture of the regicidal Damiens. Foucault doesn't raise illuministic hymns to the disappearance of torture. The humanitarian aim of alleviating the cruelty of physical punishment has caused the despicable result of structuring the modern punitive society, the western prison system, inventing more and more sophisticated disciplinary techniques. The disciplinary system has later been extended from prisoners to soldiers, students and workers. The technology of power determines the two-fold effect of a ‘soul to know and a subjugation to keep'. Foucault continues the series of great Nietzschean transvaluations and he reverses the orphic-Pythagorean assumption of the body-tomb of the soul; the latter is the prison of the body. Conscience is the first technology of power.
In Nietzsche's Genealogy of the morale , which inspired Discipline and punish , it is said that once upon a time the homo nature acted driven by temporary whims. These human predators terrorized the peoples around them with cruel violence. In this primordial stage life was happy but short. Like Freud said a few years later, the primitive man is happier than the civilized one thanks to the free flow of his libidinal-aggressive drives. Nevertheless his happiness is short-lived because of the threat caused by his neighbors having the same drives. The modern man has swapped part of the primordial happiness of the state of nature for the safety of the social system. The control occurred through the imposition of what Nietzsche calls the ‘social strait-jacket'. Man was tamed through rules, habits, costumes, laws planned to turn him into a ‘predictable, regular, necessary creature'. The use of ‘mnemonic techniques' allowed the creation of a ‘proper memory of will', since memory by itself ensures the persistency of a docile behavior from these ex preys:
‘We burn something in so that it remains in the memory. Only something which never ceases to cause pain stays in the memory'' (Cf. F. Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morality ).
For centuries kings have used cruel instruments to subdue the barbaric attitude of their subjects; social peace was obtained by satisfying the collective thirst for violence with the image of promised blood. Public executions had the function to fulfill the masses' desire for blood.
‘With punishment there is so much celebration <…> watching suffering is good for people' (Cf. Id.)
The public show of tortures ensured the preservation of the original drives of the human animal. With time, though, the process of civilization removed these drives. Nevertheless, according to Nietzsche this wasn't a sign of civilization but rather of proper perversion, a threat to the trascendens that is will to power. For Nietzsche as well as for Foucault, to be cruel meant to exercise the will to power, viz. power without inhibitions. The victory of the social forces of repression interiorized new drives and new forces inside the human being.
‘All instincts which are not discharged to the outside are turned back inside. From this first grows in man what people later call his ‘soul'.' (Cf. Id.)
The structuring of the soul caused the dissociation of the human animal. According to Nietzsche the soul, viz. bad conscience, determined by the interiorization of aggressive drives causes a series of inner conflicts, the state of frustration that Freud calls neurosis (Nietzsche gets really close to this state and grazes the discovery of unconsciousness). By repressing his destructive instincts the human being was subjected to private and civil morals. But according to Nietzsche cruel drives kept influencing people from inside. Christian asceticism is the triumph of the interiorized aggressive drives; the pleasure of domain of self. In a few chosen ones the masochistic enjoyment of self-control strengthened the will to power with surprising and unexpected results:
‘All this active ‘bad conscience' <…> finally brought to light also an abundance of strange new beauty and affirmation, perhaps for the first time the idea of the beautiful ‘ (Cf. Id.)
Foucault, far from appreciating the beauty of self-control, is mainly interested into the liberation of the repressed drives. Foucault takes the lesson of the master; knowledge for him is the by-product of ungoverned corporal forces. Considering the soul as the prison of the body, the French philosopher invites to the re-valuation of ancient torture. Foucault expresses his deep skepticism towards the reforms that abolished torture, in the wake of the cultural impact of psychoanalysis during the protests in France in 1968. The French philosopher hurled himself at modern human sciences, like Nietzsche had done against Christianity; he thought they were guilty of introducing socio-cultural control techniques, especially through the disciplinary practices of the body. Modern man is born inside a series of regulations; meticulous rules and sub-rules, inspections, thorough supervisions on his body and his private life. This is the origin of the ‘prison society'. Bentham's panopticon, a circular architectonic structure with a tower in the center, introduces the system of total surveillance in prisons. It also becomes the new paradigm of the transition from the discipline in the age of reason to the modern disciplinary culture of supervision. Foucault's assumption is that prison doesn't destroy crimes but assimilates them, organizes and metabolizes them. It produces new crime and new corruption. Whilst Nietzsche admired Voltaire, Foucault radicalizes the view of the structuralists on the Illuminism, who considered it as a creator of falsely progressive instances of the anthropocentric rationalism and compares the ideas of the Enlightenment with a totalitarian program. Illuminism hides under a thin layer of humanitarianism its will to power. In this sense penal reforms are not aimed at toning down the cruel character of punishment, but rather:
‘To punish better; to punish perhaps with a diminished severity but to punish with more universality and necessity; to insert deep down in the social body the power to punish ' (Cf. M. Foucault, Discipline and Punish ),
Whilst the power of the king is spectacular, the power of discipline is soft, sinuous, deceiving, in other words totalitarian. It is exercised through discrete and continuous surveillance. Instead of manifested coercion, discipline ‘normalizes', brings back the ecstatic power of non-reason within the ‘panoptic' boundaries of conscience. No super-man can leave the flock. The will to power – what for Nietzsche and Foucault is trascendens – has its docile and presentable opposite in the Christian ‘bad conscience'. In other words it has its antagonist in the sick Ego of modern man, created by strong interiorized libidinal-destructive drives. On the contrary Foucault, like Nietzsche before, prefers exteriorized cruelty (or will to power) rather than the interiorized one, since it is more vigorous and active, whilst the interiorized one is weak and reactive.
During those years Foucault took interest in the most vicious and savage crimes; he proposed a particular reading of one of the most scandalous clinical cases of the time, the psychopath Pierre Rivière. Foucault was influenced by the fact that Nietzsche in the last fragments introduced the subject of the solitary criminal who fights against society and his values and had on the contrary condemned any mass movement, considered as an expression of the flock. The psychopath Rivière considered himself a philosopher and we know from Foucault's homonymous work that he studied philosophy and theology in his spare time. Nevertheless, he exterminated his family. For Foucault the fierceness of the abominable ritual of death used by Rivière to slaughter his family had a symbolic dimension. It was not a normal murder, but a crime contrary to nature, to any law impressed in the conscience and to any glimpse of affection. The inconceivability of Rivière's violence irresistibly attracted Foucault, who saw into it the seal of the countercultural model towards modern and ‘normalized' society. The French philosopher exalted the figure of the psychopath Rivière as a popular archetype, expression of the beauty and greatness of the crime, demonstrating how men can rise against power and infringe the law. Nevertheless I don't think that Foucault wanted to integrally reduce the Nietzschean super-man to the paradigm of a psychopathic criminal like Rivière. The Nietzschean super-man and his will to power can't be expression of a society that, being punitive and prison-based, produces psychopaths and mad criminals. Pierre Rivière was rather a victim of the system, an involuntary creation of the mechanisms of power, like all post-modern serial killers. The super-man as Nietzsche conceived him doesn't have anything to do with society, with the mass; Zarathustra retires to live in confinement among the tops of the mountains and his only two friends are two animals, an eagle and a snake. Zarathustra's lucidity and clairvoyance don't originate from human contact or social rebellion, but from his being completely separated and isolated, from his living in exile from other men. The loneliness that gives Zarathustra the strength to live among the glaciers and the abysses of the mountains is not the consequence of a deviancy or of an inner laceration. Therefore for Zarathustra the ‘Spirit is the path that cuts in one's own flesh', it is the ‘great style' of whom, controlling and giving shape to his own chaos, can ‘generate a dancing star'. All this is far away from Pierre Rivière and his criminal pathology, which can be at the utmost the expression of a degenerative disease that turns into private violence against the same society that is responsible for creating alienated and maladjusted victims of the system.
Nevertheless, in Foucault's defense for elevating a sorry clinical case of the time to the subject of a philosophical essay, we must not forget that the political-social scenario behind the philosopher's thought is made of the protests in May 1968 in France. During those years Foucault exaggerated with these ideas; he even backed the Massacres of September 1792 as a paradigm of justice!
Besides these grotesque provocations, we must remember that the culture of the time, with people like Marcuse, Freud, Bataille, stated that the capitalistic society was built on the repression of drives, in particular of the libido (the late Foucault refused this thesis). The dismantling of the interlacement between knowledge and power, the western logocentrism should have started from the liberation of the repressed experience. It is legitimate, then, to see in Foucault's Discipline and punish and Pierre Rivière rather than the prophet of revolutionary ultra-violence, the theorist of liberation, of Dionysian catharsis of the repressed desire, a total, erotic and mortal desire. The will to power is transformed into a will to liberation. But if catharsis frees the original drives from the logocentric censorship together with the Ego, doesn't it open a completely different space for the subject? Is not perhaps Discipline and Punish a new ‘great Nietzschean research' to think the Unthinkable? According to Foucault, from this perspective Nietzsche's work remains a privileged trajectory to articulate the thought of Out, Difference. This can be also verified in the short essay Freud, Marx, Nietzsche , where Foucault proposes to study the techniques of interpretation of the three thinkers. The French philosopher introduces the suspect on the non-transparent referentiality of language. The meaning is not transposed in the word; an exceeding residue prevents its instantaneous revelation. Foucault also proposes the possibility of a non-exclusively alphabetical but also semiological language. Up to the sixteenth century signs had a standardized homogeneous space; they covered the human knowledge with a descriptive-observing and therefore metaphysical process. In the nineteenth century with Freud, Marx and Nietzsche signs belonged to a dilated dimension, a differentiated depth, which must not be intended as interiority but rather as exteriority. This is how the first intuition of Difference was born. In particular, according to Foucault, Nietzsche returns to the Outside the philosophical dignity that Western metaphysics took away:
‘There is in Nietzsche a criticism of the ideal depth, of the depth of conscience, accused of being an invention of philosophers; <…> Nietzsche shows how it involves resignation, hypocrisy, a mask; when he goes through the sign to denounce them, the interpret must go down along the vertical line and show that the depth of interiority is in actual fact something else rather than what it expresses' (Cf. M Foucault, Nietzsche, Freud, Marx ).
According to Foucault the eagle fly of Zarathustra, its mountains reveal the nihilistic game of the perspective reversal of depth, which we discover has always belonged to surface. The abyss itself is only an ‘absolutely superficial secret'.
‘In the measure where the whole world becomes deeper offering itself to the view, we realize that all that made man's depth was nothing but a childish game' (Cf. Id).
According to Foucault Marx shows that in the western bourgeois culture all that seems to belong to the depth actually belongs to the surface. On the same principle Freud makes a distinction between Ego and Es, considering the former as a final result of the tension between Es and Super-Ego rather than an inner fortress of conscience; he considers it merely as the ‘tip of the iceberg'. The second point of interest of Foucault refers to the further elaboration and the extension to Marx and Freud of the Nietzschean intuition on the value of interpretation as infinite task. In particular Foucault studies the ‘superstition' of the beginning. The hermeneutic practice leads to a regressive moment that doesn't imply any origin, because there isn't any cause, but on the contrary it risks the dissolution of the interpret himself. The beginning is only a virtual point, a further trace; interpretation can never be considered exhausted. Especially Nietzsche knows very well, according to Foucault, that philosophical research is after all nothing but philological practice; this practice can't stop being infinitely open. Once again Foucault connects the methodology of inexhaustibility of interpretation with the ‘psycho-ontological' level of the dissolution of the subject ‘Nietzsche' in the meaning of madness; he opens the thought to the vertigo of Unthought-of. Madness is the great attraction of Nietzsche's thought; Freud as well was charmed by it, although in a therapeutic form:
‘This experience of madness would be the ineluctable consequence of a movement of interpretation that gets closer to infinite, to its center and it sinks, charred' (Cf. Id.)
According to Foucault the hermeneutic experience can never be considered concluded because there isn't actually ‘something' to interpret. There isn't a semantic priority of certain signs on others. Anything in itself, a noumenon that escapes the understanding of the object is never originally given to the space opened by the hermeneutic horizon. There is nothing besides pure interpretation; on the contrary of the famous Plato's cave, here is only a matter of shadows of other shadows. Traces on traces. Signs on signs. According to Foucault the Nietzschean teaching is not aimed at true knowledge but at a perpetual skepsis ( research, Note of the Translator ) of endless casual interpretations. Words themselves are nothing but interpretations, pure meanings without referents. Language is nothing but a metaphor always been subtracted. The interpretation of Nietzsche given by Foucault in these pages clearly opens to the Unthought-of, to the Difference.
‘In Nietzsche the interpreter is the truthful one. It is veracious not because it seizes a sleeping truth and says it, but because he pronounces the interpretation that every truth has the function to cover. Perhaps this primacy of interpretation of signs is the most decisive act in contemporary hermeneutics.' (Cf. Id.)
Nietzsche in particular, but also Marx and Freud, teach that signs are only interpretations. The first book of the Capital clearly shows it when it deals with money, according to Foucault. The study of hysteric symptoms refers to the same conclusions of Freud. Good and Evil are revealed in Nietzsche as masks. Signs become only covers of interpretations, not meanings; therefore they lose their function of meaningful words. Foucault thinks that this is the fundamental intuition and the great merit of Nietzsche, Marx and Freud. According to Foucault, if the meaning dissolves, hermeneutics is only the interpretation of the interpreter. But if everything is always only interpretation, hermeneutics constantly refers to a hermeneutic circle; indeed it only interprets interpretations. Foucault closes his essay by putting semiotics and hermeneutics in antithesis. For the French thinker semiotics refers to Marx and it believes in the absolute existence of signs; it claims to recognize the consistency of the dichotomy Inside-Outside and distinguishes between superstructures and structures. On the contrary Nietzschean hermeneutics wraps on itself:
‘It enters in the field of languages that don't stop involving each other, mythical region of madness and pure language' (Cf. Id)
From the start of his most obscure and famous book ‘ The order of things' , Foucault dwells on the pictorial work by Velásquez, Le Meninas. In this picture the Flemish painter shows himself in the act of looking at the observer and he represents his true models, viz. the king and queen of Spain, only indirectly, through a fainted reflection on a mirror at the back of the room. The true subject of the painting, the king and queen, occupy the same position of the spectator in Velásquez' work; they are hidden. Foucault elects the painting to paradigm of the representation where the subject is always absent, is elsewhere. The subject always escapes his representation. Referring to the assumption of structuralist theories, in particular of Lévi-Strauss, the French thinker conceives history not as a humanistic product, but as an incoherent series of heterogeneous ‘epistemes' (‘cultural codes of self-representation'). For Foucault they are proper epistemic caesuras that demonstrate how there can't be continuity between historical epochs. The continuum is only given inside epistemes. The birth of representation of the classical age from the ruins of the similarity with the renaissance is the first epistemic mutation described in the book. Therefore the representation will be the paradigm of the classical episteme, a time roughly included between half of the seventeenth century and the end of the eighteenth century. Now, according to Foucault, in the painting by Velásquez the essence of the new paradigm is enclosed: ‘a kind of representation' according to the French thinker, ‘of the classical representation. What Le Meninas (1656) expresses is the ascertainment that the subject cannot escape representation. The painting did nothing but testify a change that occurred shortly afterwards. Indeed, in 1800 the classical episteme declined; the analysis of wealth, natural history and general grammar inaugurated in the age of representation were replaced by the new episteme, respectively by political economy, biology and philology. Therefore language and word stopped being considered provided with a steady nature and revealed themselves as fields submitted to their own historicity. The consciousness of the historical dimension emerged. The three new disciplines didn't have any relation with the old ones, there were no red thread to connect them to each other in an anthropological continuum:
‘Philology, biology and political economics were not formed in the place of general Grammar, natural History and Analysis of wealth, but in the places where these sciences didn't exist, in the space left blank by them, in the depth of the furrow that separated the great theoretic segments and was filled with the buzzing of the ontological continuity' (Cf. M. Foucault, The order of things ).
Therefore Foucault denied the possibility of a ‘bridge' between an episteme and another. History only registered deep and radical fractures. Through the modern episteme, man was recognized in his own dimension, finitude. Whilst the classical episteme didn't privilege a specific field of man by theorizing an abstract human nature, the modern one was radically anthropological and its categories essentially revealed ‘an analysis of (human) finitude'. The contemporary world is indeed obsessively imbued with humanistic historicism; our theoretical perspective is diverted by anthropocentric fetishism. Foucault, mindful of Kantian suggestions, invited to the re-awakening from the ‘anthropological sleep', which newborn human sciences were responsible for. In Las Meninas man as a central subject of knowledge is absent and this makes the painting by Velásquez the paradigm of classical episteme. On the contrary, modern episteme pushes itself beyond any compensating proposition, inaugurates the anthropocentric assumption; through the newborn human sciences it turns man into the fulcrum of research for knowledge, even in the consciousness of his finitude. According to Foucault all this is an overestimation of the human role and dimension; man is only a transitory figure, a transient passage destined to be soon forgotten in the enigmatic epistemic becoming.
‘Man is an invention of which the archaeology of our thought easily shows the recent date and perhaps his close end. If such disposition should disappear like they appeared, if because of a certain event <…> they fell as it happened in the eighteenth century for the grounds of classical thought, we can certainly bet that man would be canceled, like a face drawn on the strand.' (Cf. Id.)
In this instance as well, in Foucault's view, the epistemic caesuras must be related with the Totally Other, the Unthought-of. Otherness, which in this case is the epistemic disconnection, is, according to Foucault, all that exceeds the margins of human self-representation in every sequence of knowledge:
‘The unthought-of <…> doesn't reside in man as shriveled up nature of a stratified history; towards man it is the Other, the fraternal and twin Other, not born from him or in him, but side by side with him and at the same time, in an identical novelty, a duality without appeal' (Cf. Id.)
Like Nietzsche with the announcement of the ‘death of God', Foucault with his bet on the ‘death of man' wants to confirm that history doesn't have a secret teleology, a Hegelian intrinsic need. History is eternally young. There are only endless interpretations that produce a permanent creation that lacks a neutral objectivity, which is only anthropocentric prejudice. Nietzsche attacked Christianity, guilty of mystifying the irrational course of the becoming. Foucault attacks human sciences because they have become technologies of power at the service of a punitive society and bring the Unthought-of and the Difference back to the Identity. They re-absorb the Unconsciousness of the Ego. Therefore human science, replacing Christianity in its millenary cultural influence, reproduce the reassuring ‘fairy tale' of an organization homogeneous to our social paradigm. Once again the Other is observed and controlled from the reassuring and totalitarian perspective of the ‘ratio-euro-centric' Identity. According to Foucault modern human sciences take on the heritage of Christianity. Psychoanalysts, sociologists and anthropologists have the social role to replace and integrate the function carried out by the Christian priest in the control of body and sexuality. The only exception is Lacan's psychoanalysis, which doesn't retrace the Es to the Ego, but completely focuses its attention to the former and respects its otherness. Therefore Foucault's archaeology appears as ‘heterology'.
In Foucault's particular interpretation of Nietzsche he forces, so to speak, the thought of the latter until it coincides with his own. The Nietzschean announcement of ‘God's death' connected with the eternal return and the superman, coincides with the same bet in ‘ The order of things' :
‘Nietzsche's thought <…> announced in the form of imminent event of the Promise-Threat that soon there wouldn't be man any more, but rather super-man; in a philosophy of Return this meant that man had disappeared a long time ago and never stop disappearing' (Cf. Id.)
Since Nietzsche came from philology, Foucault reckons that he would be the first one to try a criticism of humanistic anthropology. Foucault radically reverses the Heideggerian interpretation and doesn't consider Nietzsche the prophet of techno-anthropocentrism, but its forerunner in the bet of the ‘death of God'. Nietzsche thinks the Unthought-of; he is a thinker of the Difference.
‘Through a philological criticism <…> Nietzsche found the point where man and God belong to each other, where the death of the latter is synonym of the disappearance of the former, where the promise of the superman means mostly the imminence of the death of man.' (Cf. Id.)
The problematic extension, in a key of genealogical research on the formation of the modern subject, of the topics of subjection intertwined with knowledge is dealt with by Foucault in ‘ Power/Knowledge' . He radicalizes the Nietzschean conclusions that every will for truth is after all only a will for power; he structures his perspectivist conception of knowledge and intertwines it with power. Nietzsche stated that knowledge lacks truth, since the latter is already a by-product of the will to power. According to the Heideggerian interpretation, the Nietzschean nihilist perspectivism must be interpreted as ontology of subjectivity. The Nietzschean ‘ Alles ist Kraft!' was, according to Heidegger, the accomplishment of anthropocentric metaphysics. Foucault reverses the alleged ontologism of the will to power in a dimension of libertine criticism of culture. If truth is essentially determined by the control of technology of power, then the Ego of the individual, its historical-cultural formation doesn't exist in its own dimension. The subject must dissolve in a relation of ‘de-subjectivation'. Power must not be expressed always and exclusively in repressive terms, but it must be thought of in productive terms. Power produces reality. Power structures positive mechanisms where it inscribes discursive practices of truth. Foucault aims at analyzing the ‘how' of power, viz. to study through which means it is exerted. Power acts re-actively on the actions of the body, not on the body itself. There can be domain only on free subjects, indeed on condition that they are free. Foucault reaches a dynamic idea of power: there can't be any ‘stronghold' of power, any class withholder of the means of production. Power can't be owned hypostatically: it must be exerted. For Foucault it is not violence or consent, but a structure of actions on other actions. Foucault makes a distinction among the theories of power; he finds an ‘economical' one, a ‘non-economical' one and one that considers power as ‘war'. The economical theory considers power as something owned like a property. Liberal and Marxist ideas come from these theories. The non-economical theory refuses the idea of power as a property and sees it in terms of ‘relation of force'. This is Hegel's, Reich's and Freud's position. Foucault refuses both the economical and the non-economical theories, since power is perceived as repression in them. We have seen how Foucault thinks of power in productive terms. Foucault takes on the last theory of power as war.
‘Power is a war, a war continued with other means.' (Cf. J. Miller, The passion of Michel Foucault , where Foucault reverses the famous motto of Clausewitz).
According to Foucault power is never sensational, but quiet; it is ‘a silent war' that inserts the fight in the social corpus and inside every single individual. Foucault remembers that Nietzsche often used to describe the will to power as a ‘relation of forces'; therefore he links the Reichian hypothesis of power as repression with the relation with war that he attributes to Nietzsche. According to Foucault, repression is:
‘The setting up, inside this pseudo-peace, of a relation of perpetual force' (Cf. M. Foucault, Power/Knowledge ).
Repression is only a by-product of power. Power is mostly production and then, since individuals are its products, it is repression as well. Foucault radicalizes the Nietzschean assumption of perspectivism; he gets to the point of conceiving power neither as individual and collective will nor economical interest, but rather as self-representation. Power is omnipresent not because ‘it includes everything, but because it comes from everywhere'. Power is an abstract entity, omnipresent and totalizing (‘ Alles ist kraft!' ). But whilst the Nietzsche's will to power was granted to the superman, Foucault's power is disconnected from any idealized subject (Zarathustra) and even less from any Marxian collective identity (bourgeoisie). On the other hand we have already seen that Foucault uses the concept of superman only to design the ‘overcoming-of-man' towards the death of man. By describing power as an abstract entity Foucault completely eliminates from it the action a priori of the subject-identity and therefore he re-opens to Difference. Radicalizing the Nietzschean will to power without the subject of superman, which is only the promise of the death of man, Foucault tries to think the Unthought-of. Once again Foucault's reading of Nietzsche is aimed at the research of Otherness. In ‘ Power/Knowledge' Foucault describes the feudal society where the sovereign power was structured in a ‘general mechanics' of domain and the particular kept a heterogeneous position in relation to the network of power. Bourgeois society was characterized by the disciplinary domain it exerted not on the land, as in the royal model, but on the bodies and their actions. This paradigmatic change marks, according to Foucault, the arising of modern prison society, where the constant control prevails on inconstant taxation. Foucault aims at analyzing the power in an ascending direction, from the periphery to the top. Power is not only omnipresent, but also anonymous and all-inclusive. The ‘dynamical structure' of power is totalizing; nobody, neither dominating nor dominated can escape it. Foucault's idea of power is ‘pancreatic', omnipotent; it flattens concrete social relationships in abstract domain schemes. Everything is power in Foucault's social view: ‘ Alles ist Kraft!' . Foucault replaces the Hegelian scheme ‘conscience/freedom' with one taken from the Nietzschean perspectivism of the centers of force. This is the only point of Nietzsche's lesson absorbed by Foucault. His only interest is the perspective game of wills to power, which, being brought back to the instance of Difference, must proceed to a gradual de-subjectivation of the wills to power themselves. As we have already seen, superman and eternal return are only used to forewarn of the imminent end of man. The will to power is exclusively social energetism; therefore an archaeological-genealogical analysis of the centers of power must lead to the nth attempt to think the Unthought-of. Nietzschean energetic perspectivism is functional to the thought of Difference. In his last work, ‘ The history of sexuality' , the Ego as a by-product of the dynamics of power is analyzed and genealogically reconstructed from inside. Foucault tries now to outline how the power is manifested inside the modern subject. The power is analyzed starting from the techniques of the Ego, therefore through a Nietzschean perspective reversal of the topics studied up to ‘Power/Knowledge' . In particular Foucault aims at transposing sexuality in discursive practices, in the light of the technologic polymorphism of power. Starting from the renaissance sexuality reveals itself as a privileged instrument to disclose the truth of the individual. The West is not interested in the consecration of the sexual dimension like the East is; therefore it doesn't aim at elaborating sophisticated erotic techniques but rather at controlling the individuals in a personalized manner. Foucault disowns the Freudian/Marcusian scheme of the sexual repression of the western society. Once again the power doesn't repress but produces the mechanisms of truth. Western sexuality undergoes a productive and propositional rather than repressive control. As we can see Foucault extends his abstract Nietzschean view of social energetism to genealogic research. The discursive practices of power don't repress sex but invent it. Sexuality becomes the subject of cultural study. In the Greek era eroticism was not considered as a dangerous or destabilizing activity; the only veto was on excesses. The Greek wisdom consisted of limiting the erotic drives to the actual erotic needs of the individual. Only transgression for the sake of it was censored. Sex became the verification of self-control. Foucault uses the term ‘stylization' to describe the self-control in Greek man's behavior. Inside the polis he had abundant freedom of action. In these Foucaultian considerations it is possible to see a reference to the Nietzschean ‘grand style', to ‘giving a form to chaos'. In conclusion, Greeks didn't demonize eroticism but deprecated excesses. The stoic ethics of ‘cura sui' ( care of self , Note of the Translator) comes from here. Furthermore they, in particular Plato, distinguished between ‘noble', spiritual and ‘vulgar' or exclusively sensual love. The Christian world unified eroticism taking away its hedonistic aspect; sex was vulgar anyway. The caesura didn't fall inside the quality of the love relationship any more but in its nature; Greek pederasty was widely condemned, heterosexuality tolerated only inside the wedlock and made functional to procreation. The ‘confessional' man of Christianity replaces the Hellenic ideal of self-control in the use of pleasures. Christianity interiorized libido; as in ‘ Discipline and Punish ' Foucault takes on the Nietzschean lesson of ‘ Genealogy' on the introjected will to power. Furthermore the French philosopher in ‘ Usage des plaisirs ' focuses the attention on the willpower of the subject. Indeed in his unfinished ‘ History of Sexuality' Foucault particularly insists on the ‘ enkrateia' ( self-mastery , Note of the Translator) and on the Christian confession, which, at least at the beginning, imply a strong subjectivity. In these pages the subject doesn't seem so much of a by-product of power/knowledge, but rather an independent variable. We have reached the hoary final issue of how to conciliate Foucault's final re-evaluation of the subject with his previous works. You will remember that at the beginning we mentioned the influence of the ‘ Untimely' on the young Foucault. When reading that book Foucault underwent a kind of philosophical imprinting, which marked in every stage of his research the obsession of the research for the Other, the Exceeding, of one's own Damon, which would mean to answer the question about ‘being so and not otherwise'. As we have seen for Foucault the Other is the Same. Searching for our roots, freeing the repressed experiences means essentially to be in relation with all that exceeds metaphysical Logocentrism. The Unreason-Difference leads to the secret wisdom of the center of our own being-so. It is clear that for Foucault the Other is Unconsciousness, whilst the Ego is genealogically structured by the mechanics of power. The de-construction of power leads to the space of absence of the Outside, which correlatively re-writes and un-veils its own centrum. This is the key of ‘structuralism without structures' of Foucault; to get in contact with the Unthougth-of means to draw a new form of Identity, which doesn't re-assimilates the Difference but infinitely relates with it. Because only the Other can un-veil the secret on oneself. In this perspective Foucault's Nietzsche is essentially a thinker of the Difference.