The Art of Telling the Truth: Language, Power and the Play of the Outside in Michel Foucault

Dissertation, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi (2015)
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In Foucault, thought is spatial, and unfolds within the density of becoming, in the void that separates the subject and the object. It is ontologically independent from the authority of the contemplating self, the ‘I’. Thought is a being of its own, and comes from the outside – the world of relationships. The present study poses to itself the following question: if thinking indeed comes from the outside, then under what condition thinking can encounter itself – its colour, texture and topography? That is, under what condition can man encounter himself and the world? Since this problem does not have its origin in Foucault’s work, this work does not arrive at any conclusion merely by analysing and evaluating his work alone. Rather, it aims to explore how Foucault has incorporated Kant and Nietzsche into his thinking, on the one hand, and contextualises him within the Western tradition in general and his responses to contemporaries Deleuze and Derrida, in particular, on the other. Consequently, this study is limited by the sheer weight of its own problematisation. However, the problem of ‘under what condition thought encounters itself?’ is here posed not for the sake of constituting a form of knowledge on it, but rather, it is asked from the point of view of ethics. This, in fact, demands a reordering of the forms of ontology that Foucault has developed at different stages of his career. There are three forms of ontology in Foucault’s work: the first analyses man as the subject of truth; the second takes up man as the subject of power; and the third analyses man as an ethical being. The present study reverses the order and examines his work in its totality from the standpoint of his later writings that deal with the problem of truth and ethics. It tries to connect two problems that pop up at different stages of Foucault’s career. The Order of Things asks the question, “what is man?” and in his later writings Foucault labours on the question, “how should I live my life?” This study tries to relate these two questions, as it unfolds itself.
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