From the End of Man to the Art of Life: Rereading Foucault’s Changing Aesthetics

Kenneth Berger

Abstract


In Foucault’s writing throughout the 1960s, in which he foregrounds the critical function of language and signification, works of art and literature – and works of avant-garde art and literature in particular – appear prominently and are the objects of sustained theoretical investment. In the 1970s, however, as Foucault moves away from his earlier concern with language’s capacity to dissolve “man” and begins to concentrate instead on the ways in which man is governed, works of art and literature no longer possess the same political promise for him and drop out almost completely from his writing. Yet the question of aesthetics does not disappear for him entirely, and, in his final years, he returns to it, though with his analysis now directed at what he calls an “art” or “aesthetics of life.” In this paper, I examine these developments with the aim of drawing out the connections between Foucault’s changing view of aesthetics and the larger transformations that take shape within his overall project. Against this background, I argue that Foucault’s call for an art of life, in which the individual develops techniques for continually reinventing his or her existence, does not necessitate abandoning the avant-garde aesthetic practices that he had previously advocated. Rather, I assert, his conception of an art of life – when read in conjunction with his theorization of critique as a “permanent” questioning of the limits imposed on us – offers a new framework for reimagining both the function of those practices and their legacies in culture today.


Keywords


Foucault; Aesthetics; Life; Critique; The Avant-Gardes

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References


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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.22439/fs.v0i24.5529



Copyright (c) 2018 Kenneth Berger

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