Foucault’s Lectures on Subjectivity and Truth, X

Lecture of 18th March, 1981

The same code of prohibitions and permissions in sexual ethics is present in the later Stoics and other Graeco-Roman thinkers of the first and second centuries as in the Christian thought of Augustine, of Christianity as it developed from the the fourth century. However, the philosophical and religious discourse was very different. For Augustine the end of marriage and sexual activity is procreation but not out of hıman solidarity. It is further the perfection, which will bring about the return of Christ and to assist the other marital partner in avoiding sin (presumably the sin of non-martial sexual activity).

We should not see the Graeco-Roman intensification of the ideal of marriage as not just the phenomenon of a small elite, but as part of increasing practices and gradual success in imposing the intensification. This leads Foucault into some discussion of the relation between discourse and the real. He develops a distinction between the things that apparently make up existence to which discourse refers, and the truth in a discourse.

The true is more than real and we must ask why there is a true more than the real. The truth is not the same as the real, it is a supplement not present in the real. This is not the question of the truth or falsity of a proposition but the game of true and false that transforms the real. The supplementary game of the truth is not part of the economy of the domain to which it refers (presumably the domain of those aspects of discourse that do not deal with the true), it has a cost that is economic, political, social, and human that leads to sacrifice and war. It is not a useful game.It is  not unitary, scientific, or fundamental.

The games of truth and falsity, or véridiction/veridiction  (presumably not to b confused with Logical Positivist ideas of verification of the meaning and truth of propositions through observation, ‘veridiction’ comes from discussion of the mode of truth in semiotics and narrative, but with a more than semiotic aspect in Foucault), have effects in the real. There is a connection between the real and the game of truth.

There is a politics of truth in the relations between regimes of veridication and human practices. The experience of the subject is where the game of truth induces real effects with regard to sexual practices. The same applies to madness, illness, crime, and other domains. So Foucault suggests a way of thing about the books History of Madness, Birth of the Clinic, Discipline and Punish.

History should not just be about showing that the discourse of ‘philosophes’ (philosophers and related thinkers) reflects real practice, but also the ways in which discourse has gaps, exclusions, and censorship with regard to the real. With regard to the discourse of marriage in antiquity, the exclusion as the value of marriage is intensified, is the accompanying break down of the social fabric of the city with regard to citizenship, politics, public life and hierarchy, as the Graeco-Roman world moves towards monarchical absolutism. The rational logical unity of arguments about marriage in the Stoics are an evasion of the breakdown of the previous social fabric family structure.

Foucault moves onto criticise theories of ‘ideology’ (I presume that in large part this is a criticism of Marx and various forms of Marxism) for referring to the illusions of discourse instead of its real effects. He then moves onto a criticism of Weberian attitudes (which also seem to be criticisms of Hegel’s assumptions about the rationality of the real, though I suppose Hegelians would deny that Hegel sees ideal rationality in the real) towards rationally, with regard to assumptions about the rationality of the real as if the logos in the real (presumably the possibility of referring to it is discourse) which must be rationality. The real is never perfectly rational, that is practices are never completely in accordance with principles. There is a game in the gap between practices and codes, without which there is no real. Presumably Foucault suggests that the game of truth is connected with this gap, where discourse refers to practices and to codes, and the level of match between them.

The distinctions between the  critiques of Hegel, Marx, Marxism, and Weber are not very fixed. Debates about the relations between these four poles (which is already a simplification) are endless. Clearly Frankfurt School Marxism/Critical Theory contains ideas from Weber and specific ways of thinking about the relation between Hegel and Marxism. This also applies to Lukács, who was  member of a circle round Weber. The comments on discourse as evasion clearly has some reference to Althusser, though Althusser remains with notions of the distinction between science and ideology, which are part of what Foucault criticises. The idea of discourse existing in its effects has some elements of Weber in it, who was very concerned with power, charisma, tradition and related terms in his theory and his understanding of societies, as well as with rationality. One thing worth emphasising is that Hegel and Weber are just as much objects of Foucault’s attentions as Marx and Marxism, and there is no reason to think that Marx or Marxism has a privileged status for Foucault in relation to Hegel, Weber or various other currents of non-Marxist thought, though of course Marxist and non-Marxist thought exist in relation to each other.

The  very purist codification within Stoic thinking is accompanied by a game of truth, veridication, the effects of the code in practice (so presumably a continuation of the idea of a game between the code and practices, which is there is truth/veridication) and it is this which is transformed not by Christianity when it appears, but a process within Christianity over time. Foucault suggests, but I don’t think makes it entirely explicit, that questions of truth in discourse are closely related to moral codification, since the label of moral itself involves an assumption about possible real practices, and the real transformation of practices by codes.

The above refers to Subjectivité et Vérité. Cours au Collège de France, 1980-1981. Eds. François Ewald, Allesandro Fontana and Frédéric Gros. Paris: Seuil/Gallimard, 2014

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