Sunday, November 1, 2009

David Bentley Hart on Foucault's Concept of Freedom

“For Foucault and Deleuze both, the narrative of force is so pervasive that the political desire for ‘liberation’ becomes more and more idealized in their thought: no longer revolution, which is merely another totalizing expression of power, but only occasional and limited forms of resistance, conceived…by Foucault as a Stoical art of crafting the self (from volition to involution). In either model of freedom—of the restraint or diversion of the will to power—the Kantian subject, the inviolable individual, is retained, however diminished, concealed, and unacknowledged. This is inevitable: The Kantian myth of the subject’s moral freedom is the last bulwark against totalitarian impulses. The ghost of the subject must still emerge from one shadowy corner or another to rattle its chains and declare its right to power.

There is a piquant futility in all of this; as much as it preserves the assumptions of modernity regarding the punctiliar individual, the inalienable power of will, and freedom as the lifting of constraints from the will, this school of the postmodern reveals itself as a completion of the project of the Enlightenment, but insofar as it has dispensed with Kant’s unrepresentable but necessary moral analogy between the transcendental subject and God, it has also brought that project to its inevitable collapse…

The longing for an impossible freedom—the dream of a flight to the exteriority of nomadic migrations or to the interiority of self-creation—remains as a governing pathos, although it is obviously nothing but a metaphysical nostalgia.

Inevitably, again, there can be no ethos attached to this vision of things but that of affirmation…As an act of aesthetic evaluation, if it must first and unhesitatingly affirm the whole, it can be accomplished only on mountaintops, from an impossibly sublime perspective; but as soon as one enters into history, evaluation becomes an analogical process of ordering desires, and if one insists on entering history by descending from such heights, those desires and that evaluation may be for or of anything, any practice, however noble or barbaric, kind or cruel. It is nonsensical to assert that the “positivity” of affirmation is somehow a bar against the creative jeu joyeux of, say, fascism; every conceivable perception and desire is compatible—by way of whatever rhetorical negotiation—with super-abounding affirmation.”

- David Bentley Hart, The Veil of the Sublime, from "the Beauty of the Infinite."

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