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An Aesthetics of Existence
The theorist who put forth the now classical post­ modern topos on the death of man in the 7960s reveals here a certain nostalgia for the subiect. Redefining in part the scope of his intellectual activity in the 7980s as constituting a new genealogy of morals, Foucault now centers his research on a subiect who turns his life into an exemplary work of art. The question of truth in politics is one which must be addressed by an intellectual whose parrhesia (free speech) functions in the name of knowledge and experience. Originally given on April 25, 7984 to Alessandro Fontana (a collaborator with Foucault on I, Pierre Riviere) for the Italian weekly Panorama this discussion subsequently reappeared in Le Monde on July 75-76, 7984. The translation is by Alan Sheridan.

AF. Several years have gone by since La Volante de savoir. I know that your latest books have presented you with a number of problems and difficulties. I would like you to talk to me about those difficulties and about this voyage into the Greco-Roman world, which was, though not unknown to you, at least unfamiliar. FOUCAULT The difficulties derived from the project itself, which was intended precisely to avoid them. By programming my work over several volumes according to a plan laid down in advance, I was telling myself that the time had now come when I could write them without difficulty, and simply unwind what was in my head, confirming it by empirical research. I very nearly died of boredom writing those books: they were too much like the earlier ones. For some people, writing

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a book is always a risk - the risk, for instance, of not pulling it off. When you know in advance where you're going to end up there's a whole dimension of experience lacking, namely, the risk attached to writing a book that may not come off. So I changed the general plan: instead of studying sexuality on the borders of knowledge and power, I have tried to go further back, to find out how, for the subject himself, the experience of his sexuality as desire had been constituted. In trying to disentangle this problematic, I was led to examine certain very ancient Latin and Greek texts. This required a lot of preparation, a lot of effort, and left me right up to the end with a lot of uncertainties and hesitations. A.F. There is always a certain "intentionality" in your works that often eludes the reader. His toire de la folie was really the history of the constitution of that branch of knowledge known as psychology; Les Mots et les choses was the archaeology of the human sciences; Surveiller et punir was about the installation of the disciplines of the body and soul. It would seem that what is at the center of your recent works is what you call "truth games." FOUCAULT I don't think there is a great difference between these books and the earlier ones. When you write books like these, you want very much to change what you think entirely and to find yourself at the end of it quite different from what you were at the beginning. Then you come to see that really you've changed relatively little. You may have changed your point of view, you've gone round and round the problem, which is still the same, namely, the relations between the subject, truth, and the constitution of experience. I have tried to analyze how areas such as madness, sexuality, and delinquency may enter into a certain play of the truth, and also how, through this insertion of human practice, of behavior, in the play of truth, the subject himself is affected. That was the problem of the history of madness, of sexuality. AF. Doesn't this really amount to a new genealogy of morals? FOUCAULT Not withstanding the solemnity of the title and the grandiose mark that Nietzsche has left on it, I'd say yes.

In a piece that appE 1983, you speak, in relation to towards ethics and of moralitiE the same distinction as that be and those that emerge with C FOUCAULT With Christial gradual shift in relation to the were essentially a practice, a s; had also been certain norms c individual's behavior. But the the search for an ethics of exist an attempt to affirm one's libel a certain form in which om recognized by others, and whi an example. This elaboration of one's _ art, even if it obeyed certain centre, it seems to me, of m· morality in Antiquity, where religion of the text, the idea of . obedience, morality took on in_ rules (only certain ascetic pracl the exercise of personal liberty From Antiquity to Christie that was essentially the sean morality as obedience to a s: interested in Antiquity it was reasons, the idea of a morality is now disappearing, has alre absence of morality correspond for an aesthetics of existence. AF. Has all the knowledg about the body, sexuality, t relationship with others, our b FOUCAULT I can't help but whole series of things, eve choices, around certain forms I
AF.
1. "Usage des plaisirs et techniques de [L.D.K.].

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AF. In a piece that appeared in Le Debat in November 1983, you speak, in relation to Antiquity, of moralities turned towards ethics and of moralities turned towards codes. 1 Is this the same distinction as that between Greco-Roman moralities and those that emerge with Christianity? FOUCAULT With Christianity, there occurred a slow, gradual shift in relation to the moralities of Antiquity, which were essentially a practice, a style of liberty. Of course, there had also been certain norms of behavior that governed each individual's behavior. But the will to be a moral subject and the search for an ethics of existence were, in Antiquity, mainly an attempt to affirm one's liberty and to give to one's own life a certain form in which one could recognize oneself, be recognized by others, and which even posterity might take as an example. This elaboration of one's own life as a personal work of art, even if it obeyed certain collective canons, was at the centre, it seems to me, of moral experience, of the will to morality in Antiquity, whereas in Christianity, with the religion of the text, the idea of the will of God, the principle of obedience, morality took on increaSingly the form of a code of rules (only certain ascetic practices were more bound up with the exercise of personal liberty). From Antiquity to Christianity, we pass from a morality that was essentially the search for a personal ethics to a morality as obedience to a system of rules. And if I was interested in Antiquity it was because, for a whole series of reasons, the idea of a morality as obedience to a code of rules is now disappearing, has already disappeared. And to this absence of morality corresponds, must correspond, the search for an aesthetics of existence. AF. Has all the knowledge accumulated in recent years about the body, sexuality, the disciplines improved our relationship with others, our being in the world? FOUCAULT I can't help but think that discussion around a whole series of things, even independently of political choices, around certain forms of existence, rules of behavior,
1. "Usage des plaisirs et techniques de soi," Le Debat 27 (November 1983), 46--72 [L.DX].

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etc., has been profoundly beneficial - the relation with the body, between man and woman, with sexuality. AF. SO this knowledge has helped us to live better. FOUCAULT The change hasn't just been in what people thought about and talked about, but also in philosophical discourse, in theory and critique: indeed, in most of these analyses, people are not told what they ought to be, what they ought to do, what they ought to believe and think. What they do rather is to bring out how up till now social mechanisms had been able to operate, how the forms of repression and constraint had acted, and then, it seems to me, people were left to make up their own minds, to choose, in the light of all this, their own existence. AF. Five years ago, in your seminar at the College de France, we started to read Hayek and Von Mises. 2 People then said: Through a reflection on liberalism, Foucault is going to give us a book on politics. Liberalism also seemed to be a detour in order to rediscover the individual beyond the mechanisms of power. Your opposition to the phenomeno­ logical subject and the psychological subject is well known. At that time, people began to talk about a subject of practices, and the rereading of liberalism took place to some extent with that in view. It will come as a surprise to nobody that people said several times: there is no subject in Foucault's work. The subjects are always subjected, they are the point of application of normative techniques and disciplines, but they are never sovereign subjects. FOUCAULT A distinction must be made here. In the first place, I do indeed believe that there is no sovereign, founding subject, a universal form of subject to be found everywhere. I am very sceptical of this view of the subject and very hostile to it. I believe, on the contrary, that the subject is constituted through practices of subjection, or, in a more autonomous way, through practices of liberation, of liberty, as in Antiquity,

2. Friedrich August von Hayek (1899- ). Austrian political economist who examined the relationship between individual values and economic controls. Richard von Mises (1883-1953). German mathematician and philosopher. Specialist in aerodynamics and hydrodynamics who set out to develop a frequency of probability theory based on an empirical method [L.D.K.].

on the basis, of course, of inventions to be found in the AF. This brings us to cOl hard: on the international plan of Yalta and the confrontatiOt home, we have the specter of to all this, little remains betwel difference of style. So how, gh is one to decide whether there FOUCAULT It seems to me and somewhat narrow. It sho kinds of question: in the first : not accept? secondly, if we do For the first question, one mt: we must not accept, either the prolongation of a certain stratE fact that half of Europe is ensl Then we ask the other I against a power like that of tl our own government and wi sides of the Iron Curtain, ar division as it has been establiE Union, there is not a great dea effectively as possible those w: for the other two tasks, we ha AF. SO we must not as~ Hegelian attitude and accept TI to us. But there is still anothe politics?" FOUCAULT I believe too ml there are different truths and truth. Of course, one can't ex] truth, the whole truth, and I other hand, we can demand oj truth as to their ultimate aim tactics, and a number of parti this is the parrhesia (free speech must question those who gO\i knowledge, the experience t] citizens, of what those who go'
I

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on the basis, of course, of a number of rules, styles, inventions to be found in the cultural environment. AF. This brings us to contemporary politics. Times are hard: on the international plane, we are seeing the blackmail of Yalta and the confrontation of the two power blocs. At home, we have the specter of the economic crisis. In relation to all this, little remains between the Left and the Right but a difference of style. So how, given this reality and its dictates, is one to decide whether there is any possible alternative? FOUCAULT It seems to me that your question is both right and somewhat narrow. It should be broken down into two kinds of question: in the first place, do we have to accept or not accept? secondly, if we do not accept, what can be done? For the first question, one must reply quite unambiguously: we must not accept, either the after-effects of the war, or the prolongation of a certain strategic situation in Europe, or the fact that half of Europe is enslaved. Then we ask the other question: "What can be done against a power like that of the Soviet Union, in relation to our own government and with the peoples who, on both sides of the Iron Curtain, are determined to question the division as it has been established?" In relation to the Soviet Union, there is not a great deal to be done, except to assist as effectively as possible those who are struggling out there. As for the other two tasks, we have a lot to accomplish. AF. SO we must not assume what might be called a Hegelian attitude and accept reality as it is, as it is presented to us. But there is still· another question: "Is there a truth in politics?" FOUCAULT I believe too much in truth not to suppose that there are different truths and different ways of speaking the truth. Of course, one can't expect the government to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. On the other hand, we can demand of those who govern us a certain truth as to their ultimate aims, the general choices of their tactics, and a number of particular points in their programs: this is the parrhesia (free speech) of the governed, who can and must question those who govern them, in the name of the knowledge, the experience they have, by virtue of being citizens, of what those who govern do, of the meaning of their

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action, of the decisions they have taken. However, one must avoid a trap in which those who govern try to catch intellectuals and into which they often fall: "Put yourselves in our place and tell us what you would do." It is not a question one has to answer. To make a decision on some question implies a knowledge of evidence that is refused us, an analysis of the situation that we have not been able to make. This is a trap. Nevertheless, as governed, we have a perfect right to ask questions about the truth: "What are you doing, for example, when you are hostile to Euromissiles, or when, on the contrary, you support them, when you restructure the Lorraine steel industry, when you open up the question of private education." AF. In that descent into hell that a long meditation, a long search represents - a descent in which one sets off in a sense in search of a truth - what type of reader would you like to meet and tell this truth to? It is a fact that, although there may still be good authors, there are fewer and fewer good readers. FOUCAULT Never mind "good" readers - I'd say fewer and fewer readers. And it's true one isn't read anymore. One's first book is read, because one isn't known, because people don't know who one is, and it is read in disorder and confusion, which suits me fine. There is no reason why one should write not only the book, but also lay down the law as to how it should be read. The only such law is that of all possible readings. It doesn't bother me particularly if a book, given that it is read, is read in different ways. What is serious is that, as one goes on writing books, one is no longer read at all, and from distortion to distortion, reading out of others' readings, one ends up with an absolutely grotesque image of the book. This does indeed pose a problem: is one to involve oneself in polemics and reply to each of these distortions and, consequently, lay down the law to readers, which I find repugnant, or leave the book to be distorted to the point at which it becomes a caricature of itself, which I find equally repugnant? There is a solution, however: the only law on the press, the only law on books, that I would like to see brought in,

would be a prohibition to together with a right to anon' each book might be read for i knowledge of the author is a from a few great authors, thi of the others, serves absolut. barrier. For someone like me only someone who writes b( books were read for themsl: qualities they may have.

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would be a prohibition to use an author's name twice, together with a right to anonymity and to pseudonyms so that each book might be read for itself. There are books for which a knowledge of the author is a key to its intelligibility. But apart from a few great authors, this knowledge, in the case of most of the others, serves absolutely no purpose. It acts only as a barrier. For someone like me - I am not a great author, but only someone who writes books - it would be better if my books were read for themselves, with whatever faults and qualities they may have.