The Banality of Cynicism: Foucault and the Limits of Authentic Parrhēsia
Foucault’s discussion of parrhēsia – frank speech – in his last two Collège de France lecture courses has led many to wonder if Foucault is pursuing parrhēsia as a contemporary strategy for resistance. This essay argues that ethical parrhēsia on either the Socratic or Cynical model would have little critical traction today because the current environment is plagued by problems analogous to those Plato thought plagued Athenian democracy. Specifically, authentication of parrhesiasts as a technique for authenticating their speech – the specific problem that the move to ethical parrhēsia in ancient Greece was designed to solve – becomes intractable in a social media environment, even with the added Cynical move to pure visibility. The problem is that contemporary society overproduces visibility as a condition for participation, which means that the context for authenticating parrhesiastic speech is one in which visibility is banalized and in which there is a surplus of speech which presents as parrhesiastic. The problem of authentication is thus a serious one, one which social media makes particularly intractable.
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