Unlike Derrida, with whom he had frequent, highly public polemics, Foucault says relatively little about Heidegger. Much of that is incidental: in a 1983 interview, for example, while talking about the postwar influence of Sartre, he notes parenthetically that “the roots of Sartre, after all, are Husserl and Heidegger, who were hardly public dancers” (Aesthetics, 452). In his 1982 lecture on the “Political Technology of Individuals,” Heidegger’s name shows up in a list of those who are in the “field of the historical reflection on ourselves” (Power, 402). But, in a late interview, he says that “my entire philosophical development was determined by my reading of Heidegger” (see the discussion here). He makes a comparable remark in one of the Hermeneutics of the Subject lectures; in response to a question, he names Heidegger and Lacan as the two 20c thinkers who have dealt with the subject and truth, and says that “I have tried to reflect on all this from the side of Heidegger and starting from Heidegger” (p. 189). What are we to make of this?
The limited point I wish to make here is that there is also evidence in Foucault’s last lecture course, The Courage of Truth (CT), of an engagement with Heidegger. I suggested in an earlier post that there was a specific “parting shot” at Derrida; the evidence for engagement with Heidegger is along the same lines: he doesn’t name names, but it’s pretty clear what he’s talking about. The references matter because they some of the luster off the idea that Foucault continued to get that much out of Heidegger. At the same time, I think they establish that Foucault is not only interested in Heidegger as an existentialist. Aret Karademir makes that case, aligning an existentialist reading of Heidegger with an existentialist account of the late Foucault, specifically aligning the two of them on the idea that the sort of creation of oneself as a work of art in late Foucault strongly parallels Heideggerian authenticity. The argument here is specific to the post-Kehre Heidegger. I’ll argue that Foucault’s Cynic would get the Heideggerian stamp of approval in this post, but then that this indicates Foucault’s disapproval in the next.
In CT, Foucault situates his remarks on Heidegger in the context of the seventeenth century, in a contrast between Spinoza and Leibniz. Spinoza, Foucault proposes, was “the last great figure for whom philosophical practice was inspired by the fundamental and essential project of leading a philosophical life” (CT 236; he refers specifically to Spinoza’s Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect). For Leibniz, on the other hand, “philosophy always manifested itself and was practiced through a number of what could be called modern activities: he was a librarian, a diplomat, a politician, and administrator, etcetera” (CT 236).
After setting up this contrast, Foucault says:
“In any case, I would simply like to suggest that if it is true that the question of Being has indeed been what Western philosophy has forgotten, and that this forgetting is what made metaphysics possible, it may also be that the question of the philosophical life has continued to be, I won’t say forgotten, but neglected; it has constantly appeared as surplus in relation to philosophy, a philosophical practice indexed to the scientific model. The question of the philosophical life has constantly appeared like a shadow of philosophical practice, and increasingly pointless. This neglect of the philosophical life has meant that it is now possible for the relation to truth to be validated and manifested in no other form than that of scientific knowledge” (CT 237).
What is the argument here? As I read it, I take it that Foucault is suggesting that we moderns think that the way to approach and discover truth, as well as the way to distinguish truth from untruth, is found in the enterprise of “science.” I also take it that this isn’t a controversial interpretation of Foucault. The other part of the suggestion, then, is that he wants to say that somehow taking seriously the question of philosophical life and what that would be presents alternate or different ways of relating to truth, or different truth functions. It would presumably also thereby challenge the hegemony of scientific knowledge. The terminology is a bit hard to nail down precisely, but I take it that the point is something about how different ways of life exhibit different ways or kinds of truth. The example from later in CT is that the cynic life is supposed to present a “manifestation of the truth” (CT 309).
There are several ways this happens. First, the cynic life performs “a relationship of physical, corporal conformity between the Cynic and the truth” such that the cynic who says not to steal, then does not do so (CT 310). Second, the “Cynic life must also include precise self-knowledge. The Cynic life is not just the picture of the truth; it is also the work of the truth of self on self” (CT 310). Third, the self-knowledge in question “must not only be self-appraisal, but also constant vigilance of self over self which essentially has to focus on the movement of representations” and how he represents himself to himself (CT 311). Fourth, the cynic has to watch others; “he must watch what others do, what they think, and he must be in a position of constant inspection with regard to them” (CT 311). But the Cynic cannot be a nag; he must consider both himself and others as part of humankind:
“The Cynic addresses all men. He shows all men that they are leading a life other than the one they should be leading. And thereby it is a whole other world which has to emerge, or at any rate be on the horizon, be the objective of this Cynic practice”(CT 315).
I am omitting some textual work here; in particular, Foucault is careful to remark that these versions of Cynicism are filtered through Epictetus (more about this in a moment) and thus carry somewhat of a stoic agenda. However, they are all forms of truth as what Heidegger would call its originary sense of “unconcealment;” the whole point is to challenge the hegemony of a correspondence theory. More precisely, there are at least two points of significant intersection.
First, the Cynic’s life is meant to always be on its guard against misleading representation, particularly of himself in relation to the world (and of how others represent themselves). The reliance on representation is one of the main things Heidegger finds wrong with modern science. Thus, for example, in the “Age of the World Picture,” we read that in modern science “nature and history become the objects of a representing that explains …. Only that which becomes object in this way is – is considered to be in being” (127). That is:
“where the world becomes picture, what is, in its entirety, is juxtaposed as that for which man is prepared and which, correspondingly, he therefore intends to bring before himself and have before himself, and consequently intends in a decisive sense to set in place before himself” (129).
Thus, “world picture, when understood essentially, does not mean a picture of the world but the world conceived and grasped as picture” (129). The Cynic’s performance of truth, then, is designed to interrupt the tendency to present the world as picture, by way of “precise self-knowledge” and attention to the “movement of representations.”
Second, the Cynic is supposed to perform the same sort of world-founding function that Heidegger assigns to authentic works of art. I expect this point is contentious, so let me make a basic case for it. The Cynic is like a slightly indirect version of Van Gogh’s painting of the peasant’s shoes: it is through this art that we can understand the entire world in which we find them. The shoes don’t represent the world of the peasant, but they nonetheless disclose it. The shoes stand in for the temporal reliability of the peasant’s life, and in so doing, “The art work let us know what shoes are in truth” (35). As he summarizes:
“Truth happens in Van Gogh’s painting. This does not mean that something is correctly portrayed, but rather that in the revelation of the equipmental being of the shoes, that which is as a whole – world and earth in their counterplay – attains to unconcealedness” (56)
In Heidegger, then, the shoes disclose the mud and farming. The Cynic discloses the Greek codes of propriety by living the Greek ideals of naturalness; “Cynicism is thus this kind of grimace that philosophy makes to itself, this broken mirror in which philosophy is at once called upon to see itself and fails to recognize itself” (CT 270). That is, the Cynic is the self-creation through which the truth of his society reveals itself: by driving a wedge between the principles of naturalness and the principles of philosophers bearing the same name, the Cynic un-conceals the social codes of the Greeks through an act of Gelassenheit: letting them show themselves as they are. This is, of course, exactly what Heidegger says (at the end of the “Question Concerning Technology”) that a better techne would do.
Thus we have the “famous Cynic behavior. Diogenes ate in public, which was not easily accepted in traditional Greece. In particular, Diogenes masturbated in public. Crates too, having agreed to get married because his wife promised to lead exactly the same stlye, the same mode of life as him, made love with her in public” (CT 255-56). This means that:
“Under the slogan of the unconcealed life, traditional philosophy basically assumed or renewed the requirement of propriety; it accepted its customs. Applying the principle of non-concealment literally, Cynicism explodes the code of propriety with which this principle remained, implicitly or implicitly, associated. This is the shameless life” (CT 255).
Importantly, however, there are multiple Cynics, and one of the things that happens in Epictetus’ presentation – in which he “he limits, or regulates as it were his portrait of the Cynic in terms of what are quite simply Stoic principles” (CT 310) – is that the Cynic cleans himself up: the Cynic is the “physical model itself of the truth, with all the positive effects this model may have” (CT 310). Accordingly, Epictetus says that “Cynics should avoid excess poverty, dirt, and ugliness. For the truth must attract; it must serve to convince. The truth must persuade, whereas dirt, ugliness, and hideousness repel” (CT 310).
Among other things, this version of the Cynic would appear to have yoked the performance of truth to a representation of truth: as Foucault puts it, for Epictetus, if the “Cynic life must be a manifestation of the truth,” then “the Cynic is therefore like the picture of the truth” (CT 310, my emphasis). Not the God of the philosophers, perhaps, but their Cynic. I’ll pick up next time from there.